1. What is the first film that ever scared you?
Hell, I spent most of my early childhood in constant terror. Between Dog Satan from All Dogs go to Heaven, psychopathic ‘toons from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and all-devouring tiger-caves from Aladdin, there wasn’t a kid’s movie made that didn’t curdle my blood in some way or another. Still, nothing compares to the first fright flick that I saw: Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. I must have been four or five. Back then, a movie rental was a special treat. I was allowed to stay up late and my mom made popcorn. All went well at first – in fact, I remember having a great time – but then BANG! Anjelica Huston TEARS OFF HER SCALP to reveal a HIDEOUS MELTING WAX/VAMPIRE/RAT/BAT/THING.
The tape was swiftly ejected and replaced with Robin Hood, but it was already too late. The damage was done. The sight of a hairless, vulture-faced mutant emerging from the husked skin of Anjelica Huston was enough to give me nightmares for weeks. To this very day, I still find something very unpleasant about The Witches.
2. What is the last film that scared you?
Eh – that’s difficult to say. These days, the best I can hope is a mild case of unease. That said, I saw Wild at Heart about a year ago, and that flick made me pretty uneasy. About three-quarters of the way through the film, there’s a scene in which a slick, satanic Willem Defoe tries to rape Laura Dern’s character. Every single aspect of this scene is grotesque – and not grotesque in the regular, garden variety way, but grotesque in that ugly, fever-dream way that haunts your brain cells for days on end.
3. Name three Horror movies that you believe are underrated.
1) Ravenous: Ever see the trailer for Maximum Overdrive? In a nutshell, Stephen King stands there, points at the audiences, and whines, “I’m gonna scare th’ HELL outta you!” Rather than actually do something clever, he just arches his eyebrows and loudly announces his intention to frighten us all to death with his bad-ass, supercool new movie.
Now, I think that a lot of horror movies make that exact same mistake. They’re so desperate to be taken seriously that they dial the intensity up to eleven without anything to back it up. The result is often overwrought and self-important, and worst of all – boring.
Fortunately, there are movies like Ravenous. This movie is a perfect example of a film that takes itself seriously without being especially serious (if that makes any sort of sense). It’s a wild sort of movie. Gruesome, weird, and very funny – sometimes all at the same time. Ravenous is proof that humor can be a tremendous asset for a scary story. Also, the soundtrack is terrific.
2) The Haunting (1963): This is an elegant, self-assured haunted-house movie. The central conceit is brilliant. Rather than a gloomy old house filled with evil spirits, this gloomy old house IS an evil spirit – a malevolent entity that swallows up the weak and the lost. It’s all accomplished through power of suggestion of course, but I love the idea that a building, by virtue of its design and construction, can possess a crude soul. All the better if that soul can become “diseased and deranged.”
3) Alice, Sweet Alice (Communion): A lot of contemporary horror films don’t have any grit. I’m not referring to the sort of sprayed-on, industrial video, blue-filter grit that you get from movies like Saw – I mean actual, tangible despair and decay. Alice, Sweet, Alice is such a movie, featuring crumbling buildings, empty streets, and filthy apartment houses. This movie doesn’t attempt to create a fictional world of grime and nastiness, rather, it taps into the very real grime and nastiness of suburban America during the 1970s: a bleak, hollowed-out world, haunted by paedophiles and maniacs.
4. Name three horror movies that you enjoy against your better judgment.
1) Waxwork: This movie begins with the jerk boyfriend from Twin Peaks falling into another dimension and getting mauled by a werewolf. It ends with Patrick MacNee and the kid from Gremlins in a life-or-death swordfight with a horde of wax monsters that have been brought to life by a satanic voodoo ritual performed by David Warner. I dig it.
2) Demon Wind: “What if Tommy Wiseau wrote and directed The Evil Dead?” That’s how my brother summed up this movie, and I can’t think of a better description. Suffice to say, it’s very peculiar.
3) The Uninvited: I watched this last week with a big crew of people and I had a blast. Good storytelling be damned! Good acting be damned! I want to see George Kennedy get murdered by a mutant, killer housecat! A killer, mutant housecat that LIVES INSIDE ANOTHER HOUSECAT!!
5. Send us to five places on the Internet!
–The Hyper Kitchen! A two-fisted blog that serves up food for thought on a semi-regular basis. Expect interesting articles about science, monsters, and other thought-provoking topics.
–SRBissette.com! The website of Swamp Thing artist Steve Bissette – stand up guy, ace horror illustrator, and monster movie guru.
–The American Barbarian! Home to several different webcomics created by GODLAND artist Tom Scioli. It’s good stuff!
–Vietnamese Chicken Salad! Make some right now! Now, dammit!
–Ha ha! It’s Burl! It’s Burl! He reviews movies. One day, he’ll review all of them!