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Dirty, Filthy Horror

September 22nd, 2011 by unkle lancifer · 19 Comments

So I came across a German trailer for THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) sneaking around YouTube and it got stuck in my head. The trailer is so dark, damaged, scratched up and weathered that it feels like an unscalable wall of gloom. I’ve never seen the film look shabbier and I’ve never seen it look as intriguingly sinister or lurid either. Maybe I’m experiencing a rubber band effect from being exposed to too much slick high definition lately, but it got me thinking about the movies I enjoy that gather strength by the fact that they revel in their own grunged-out grittiness.

PSYCHO (1960)

PSYCHO may seem like a starkly handsome film now but when you compare it to HITCHCOCK’s earlier flashier flicks, it’s obviously a deliberate step away from artifice and glamour. Marion Crane stumbles into a world that is rotting and falling apart and HITCH’s emphasis on keeping it candidly real went so far as to showcase the first flushing toilet seen in American film. PSYCHO is nothing if not about the blemishes and stains that can’t be scrubbed away; not even in the shower.


Some folks might assume NOTLD’s shabby chic aesthetic is due to its age but if you consider the fact that it was released the same year as ROSEMARY’S BABY, you get a better idea of just how scrappy and low brow this production is. The film’s non-existent budget surely influenced the end result, but director ROMERO’s blunt news footage approach turned the minus of poverty into an integral plus. NOTLD’s public domain status insures that a dingy looking copy is never more than a Google search away.


Remaster it, put it on DVD, smack it with a Blu-ray high definition stick, hire a zillion cherubs to polish it with Jesus’ tears, it doesn’t matter. TEXAS CHAINSAW will always look like it’s been dragged through the mud since the beginning of time and that’s why I love it. No need for blood, the ultimate horror here is derived from committing the unspoken American sin of looking under the carpet where the trash has been swept.


Here’s another example of a limited budget being an asset. SNBN is dark, cold and grey throughout and it utilizes its authentically well-worn locations to their creepy fullest, but it is the film’s cracked and crusty sepia toned flashback sequences that really chill the bone.


I may have just created a portal to hell by including CATHYS CURSE and PSYCHO on the same list and I’m fine with that. CATHY’S CURSE’s heap of garbage, ratty demeanor is not an artistic choice but the result of brain damaged filmmakers and the reality that nobody would want to remaster the film due to the process involving having to watch it. I stand convinced that every repulsive rust and avocado hue from the seventies dived into this celluloid cesspool to die. That said, one of my favorite aspects of this abomination, besides its doctrine of non-stop nonsense, is the fact that its base fugliness is heightened by its shredded, war torn ill kept state. What a Mess-terpiece!


I’ve never seen a copy of this movie that doesn’t look like hell and I don’t think I want to. Huge chunks of it are completely indecipherable but that’s part of what makes it work for me. SOAWN goes beyond delivering nicked and damaged visuals; it offers a wave of crunchy crumbling sound too!


Here’s an underrated movie with no shortage of atmosphere. D&B has several shockingly gruesome set pieces but for me there’s one ragged insert that shadows over the others. In it, one the main characters is revealed to be not quite what they seem via a battered and dingy amateur home film, the texture of which contrasts with everything else we’ve seen.


Finally available on DVD, I was initially disappointed when I threw NIGHTMARE’s disc in my player and noted the extensive scratches and damage that it still retains. My chagrin dissipated quickly when I realized that NIGHTMARE’s sleaze trash, grind house nature was in fact perfectly framed and amplified by the scourge of visual imperfections.


I have to include this recent discovery. One of the great joys of watching COT is basking in its ramshackle mangled mahogany state.


How ironic that when Hollywood jumped at the chance to capitalize on BLAIR’s success with a sequel that the first thing they jettisoned was the original’s coarse and crude threadbare look. C’mon, the film’s ace in the hole for igniting imaginations was its unrefined, vague as the shroud of Turin visuals.


From the kaleidoscopic channel surfing static strewn barrage of HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES to the acrid dusty rust heaps of THE DEVIL’S REJECTS to the swirling melted Jolly Rancher bag of his HALLOWEEN re-duo, ZOMBIE’s visuals are never not rug burn raw and bursting with imperfect unkempt energy.


Hey, so that was an eclectic (sloppy) assemblage of films wasn’t it? I almost included SE7EN(1995) and PLANET TERROR (2007) but decided that rather than earning the holes in their jeans, they bought them pre-weathered at designer stores. Maybe I should have separated the films by those that were scruffy on purpose, those that were ratty due to budget and those that were torn up due to not being well preserved but I didn’t. I mostly just wanted to talk about the wondrous effect that the marred, sullied, untidy image has on me when I watch a horror film and what can I say? I like things a little messy. It’s a matter of taste.

Tags: General Horror · Kinder-Editorial · Kinder-Spotlight · Trauma-Movies

19 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I really want to see Cathy’s Curse… God help me, but I do!

    There is this movie called The Child that I think really benefits from that low grade film quality. Also, the weird post dubbing helps out too. I agree that sometimes films are better when they have those scratches and washed out quality…

    Groovin’ theme. Me likey! Thanks for all the great images too!

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

    ABN, I keep meaning to get to that one! The trailer features my favorite 70’s lightening sound over & over….

  • 3 cmcmcmcmNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 10:12 am

    i am completely and totally in love with this entire post. and that Cemetery of Terror guy is SCARY!!! i can’t wait to see that!

  • 4 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Hilarious. There was some energy in the air!

    I don’t know what it is about that movie, but it freaks me out. The last 15 minutes or so are off the cuff.

    I got to see it in the theater a few years ago and everyone was laughing. It’s inept for sure, but I was all sinking in my seat. It’s how I roll!

    Thanks for that trailer, I had not seen it before!

  • 5 David FullamNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Love me some House of 1000 Corpses. And The Child really is an interesting little film.

  • 6 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

    What? No original Evil Dead?

    I thought the reason they threw away the grittiness of TBP in the sequel is because so many people complained about getting motion sickness in the theater with the original.

  • 7 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    Oh, and totally off topic but it freaks me out every time I see it – does anyone else feel that the guy in the Terror Train ad on the sidebar here looks an awful lot like Gene Shalit?

  • 8 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm

  • 9 knobgobblerNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Great post!
    I’ve been ranting for a while against all the folks trying to cajole me into the church of ‘HD’ and ‘Blue Ray’… I’m just not buying it.
    Most of my favorite movies are grainy and gritty and low budget. It’s not just horror movies, all those gritty crime epics from the 70s demand their dirt remain unswept.

    I’ve never seen that photo of the dead woman in Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane… was that ever in the movie?
    Where is that Rob Zombie ‘photo of man on couch with skulls’ from?

    Thanks for the greatness!

  • 10 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Oh gee, thanks Unk! As much as I love Gene, that’s the thing of nightmares! It’s actually worse than the Jenny Craig commercial where Carrie Fisher sings “I’m eating Jenny!” like if cannibalism is a great way to lose weight.

  • 11 Deaf EarsNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I just watched DEAD AND BURIED last night! I dug the atmosphere and the 80s cheese, but the wrap-up was too ridiculous even for a horror film. It was fairly unsettling up to that point, though.

  • 12 Mike JonesNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    A very enjoyable article. I definitely agree that scratches, bumps, and sound pops only add to the fun. I don’t know if you’ve seen a little number called THE VIDEO DEAD (1987). I found this thing on the bottom shelf of my local Mom & Pop video store, and even the case was beat up and old, much like the film — it wasn’t great, but the general sleaziness added to its appeal.

  • 13 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 8:11 pm


    The LGWLDTL image is from the movie, that’s Mrs. Hallet in the basement & all the Rob Zombie images are from House of 1,000- that one flashes for just a second. It kind of matches the TCM image of the skull couch!

    I too swore I would not get a Blu-ray player but one snuck in my house disguised as a PS3! I’m still getting used to it. Thank god Youtube is still keeping it real with VHS quality!


    I may have to do a Carrie Fisher cannibalism poster now!


    The ending of D&B is a bit hard to swallow but it blew my mind when I first saw it. (It was before that kind of ending was so overdone.) I totally agree about the great atmosphere.


    Video Dead is a perfect VHS horror flick. It’s on Netflix Streaming. I have to watch it again soon!

    I still have boxes and boxes of VHS. I’ll never give them up!

  • 14 Jami JoAnne RussellNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Well, Unk, it would go great with that “Adult Trauma” e-mail I sent awhile ago in which I confessed that commercial freaked me out! LOL Notice that it’s no longer on the air? And Jenny Craig on YouTube cut that part out of the commercial before uploading it.

  • 15 arthur teagardenNo Gravatar // Sep 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    This post makes me want to challenge Aunt John to a duel for your fair hand. Funny and on the money! I want to mention Twisted Brain, aka Horror High I think. I saw it on late night telly back in the dark ages before cable, either on Chiller Theater or Creature Feature. A teenage Jeckyll & Hyde that was probably cut but still gruesome and shocking to me at the time, and so delightfully grubby and washed out. Thanks again for a grand post and a gaggle of groovy comments too!

  • 16 Richard KastanNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Great post! I’ve said many times that as much as I appreciate the amount of work that has gone into ‘restoring’ movies like THE EVIL DEAD for DVD and BLU-RAY, my best memories from many of those movies are seeing them (over and over) in their dark, dark, bargain-bin VHS transfers from the late 80’s and early 90’s. You could pick up THE EVIL DEAD on tape for $5.00 at K-Mart and the fact that it looked like it had been dragged through the mud and projected onto a dirty towel made the experience SOO much more viceral. The DVD, beautiful as it is, just isn’t as SCARY.

    I also love the fact that no matter how much you ‘remaster’ CHAIN SAW, you can never remove the grimy authentic-ness of it. Even on DVD you feel like you need a shower after watching it…

  • 17 ollonoisNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    hey, I’m Francisco from Spain, are you serious when you say Cemetery of terror is an enjoyable film???!!! I can’t understand, although Hugo Stiglitz is a good actor, he even worked with John Houston in Under the volcano, that film is absolutely silly, inept, childish… but if you think is worth the watching you should enjoy the italian telefilm of Lamberto Bava, Una notte al cimitero, Graveyard disturbance, the same feel and tone of silliness

  • 18 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Hello Francisco! Yes, I really do enjoy Cemetery of Terror! It is silly but that is alright with me!

    I thought I had seen Graveyard Disturbance but watching the trailer again I’m not so sure.

    It is the same movie that they are watching in DEMONS right?

    I must have a thing for graveyards because I like “The Iron Cross” too…

    I did play in the graveyard as a kid and try to imagine that the whole world was a cemetery! Maybe that’s why!

  • 19 turnidoffNo Gravatar // Sep 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    This is a GREAT POST! Unk is dead on! Although you missed Deranged(1974). And even Dawn of the Dead (1978) has that last 70’s local TV commercial production feel going for it. It always gave me the hebbie jeebies.

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