It’s a Horror to Know You: W.S. Smith!
What is the first film that ever scared you?
Beyond the old Universal classics and a small handful of Hammer (and Vincent Price) films, horror was pretty much frowned upon in my house as a kid. Neither of my parents were horror fans. As far as I know, my father went to his grave that way and my mother still is. What really opened my world to horror was late night cable TV. On weekends, I would stay up late, watching reruns of Monty Python or Benny Hill on PBS until my parents were asleep and then switch over to HBO or the like to see what grand displays of fear they were showing. The first movie that ever really scared me deep down was William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST. I saw the full, uncut version of this late one night when I was 9 years old. Nowadays, the idea of possession by the devil (or anything else) seems silly and, although, the movie no longer scares me, it’s still a very well made example of the craft. Creepy shots devoid of any warmth or comfort, phenomenal performances by the cast, etc. But, as a small child, it was the most terrifying thing I’d ever encountered.
What is the last film that scared you?
These days, being scared by a film is a rarity. I don’t consider the occasional “shock” to be true fear. Lots of movies offer little shocking moments here and there, but they lack the pervasive feeling of dread that horror movies used to provide. Now, when I think of a movie scaring me, I think about the overall feel of the film, not specific instances within it. Most recently, the most uncomfortable I’ve felt during a movie was Takashi Miike’s GOZU. Miike’s work has always given me a sense of being “off” whether that’s a girl hacking a man’s legs off with wire while sticking him with acupuncture needles, a man killing another man by shoving his fist down his throat, or someone being drowned in a kiddie pool full of feces. He’s insane. And, it would seem that GOZU, a film about a Yakuza hitman descending into madness after being ordered to kill his best friend, is nothing more than Miike’s personal insanity put to film. An incredibly uncomfortable watch that must still be seen!
Name three horror films that you believe are underrated.
1. Tony Maylam’s THE BURNING. It’s easy to dismiss this film as a knockoff of Friday the 13th and its killer, Cropsy, as a knockoff of Jason Voorhees, but it and he are so much more than that. Despite the fact that Friday the 13th became the world-famous series of films, I think that The Burning is far superior to the first Friday in many ways. Even the lack of Kevin Bacon doesn’t hurt the movie in comparisons (joke).
2. Stuart Gordon’s FROM BEYOND. As great as The Re-Animator series of movies is, it was From Beyond that cemented Jeffrey Combs as my favorite B-movie actor. His performance is completely tortured and frail in his otherworld-induced madness. Not exactly a faithful adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story, but what can you expect when you turn a 3 page story into an hour and a half long movie? And, if we’re being honest, the inclusion of Ken Foree in the cast can only help a film, not hurt it.
3. John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. Another Lovecraft-inspired story although not based on any of his works directly. Jurgen Prochnow’s character of Sutter Kane is exactly what Lovecraft fans would like to think Lovecraft was actually like. Reality, unfortunately, shows us the truth of the situation. Nonetheless, this movie is creepy all the way through and contains one of Sam Neill’s best performances of his career. Would it be too bold of me to suggest that In the Mouth of Madness is John Carpenter’s second best film after The Thing? I don’t think so.
1. Sergio Martino’s TORSO. As much as I love Dario Argento’s work, Martino very likely gave us the best representation of “grand guignol” or “giallo” films ever made with Torso.
2. David Cronenberg’s THE BROOD. The master of “body horror” shows us his chops with this 1979 masterpiece starring Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar as a psychologist and his patient whose misplaced rage gives birth to a whole brood of little rage entities.
3. Scott Reynolds’ THE UGLY. A New Zealand film about a serial killer turning the tables completely around on his psychologist through a course of interviews. This is a rarely seen gem that I found only because I spent a few months on New Zealand around the time of its release.
4. Pieter Van Hees’ LEFT BANK. All I really have to say about Pieter Van Hees is that he is very likely the Belgian answer to Canada for David Cronenberg and if you haven’t yet seen Left Bank, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
5. Stefan Ruzowitzki’s ANATOMIE. Technically, this might be more of a thriller than a horror, but what the hell? A German medical student played by Franka Potenta discloses a frightening conspiracy within her medical school that includes grisly murders and an old secret Nazi society.
6. Frank De Felitta’s DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW. So what if it’s a made-for-TV movie? This classic, family-friendly scarefest still holds up after all these years. Great performances from a lot of actors whose names you might not know, but their faces will all be familiar.
Name three horror movies that you enjoy against your better judgement.
1. Tom Six’s THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to hate this movie when I heard about it. But, upon watching it, I discovered that it’s much more than just gross. It’s sincerely creepy. The performance of Dieter Laser as the insane doctor is over-the-top, but exactly what it needed to be.
2. Chris Angel’s WISHMASTER 3: BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL. While this film definitely suffers from the absence of Andrew Divoff as the djinn, it’s still thoroughly watchable. We even get a pleasant (and rare) good performance from Jason Connery.
3. Krishna Shah’s HARD ROCK ZOMBIES. It’s just so ridiculous. I mean, a glam-metal band turned into zombies by an old curse put in place by an in-hiding Hitler who comes out of hiding once his zombies come to be. Seriously? Yeah, seriously.
Send us to five places on the internet.
1. 48 Hour Film Project. The official website for the 48 Hour Film Project; a competition for anyone and everyone who wants to make a 4-7 short film in a weekend. It’s stressful but loads of fun.
2. The Richard Dawkins Foundation. The website for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Enough said.
3. Kickstarter. A great site for people seeking funding for creative endeavors from music to movies to tech.
4.Lucas Faust. A shameless plug for my brother’s website (named after my nephew) which showcases his music and art.
5. Movielic.com. A great source for anyone who has the inclination to show movies for free to their community.