Scariest non-horror films or scenes – by Dan Gillotte (guest post to SATM)

The following guest post is by our  friend and surrogate brother Dan Gillotte. A favorite Dan memory is dissecting the film Pulp Fiction. I was an idiot – stating the film was “vapid”.  Dan responded nonchalantly, “Really? You should watch it again then.” I did and have about 30 times since. Thanks, Dan.

No Country for Old Men (2007) – I saw it at a late show on a Monday night. I was one of 
the only people in the theater and left to an empty parking lot. Drove home through deserted streets half expecting Javier Bardem to kill me at every intersection. The tension in that movie is insane. Gut-wrenchingly loaded with foreboding.

Reservoir Dog (1992) – Another tension fest, but the topper is the ear scene, when Mr. Blond is torturing the cop that is tied up and has his mouth duct taped shut. Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” is playing and Mr. Blond is dancing with a straight razor in his hand! Holy crap is that scene disturbing. I thought this was the most graphic thing I had ever seen, but when I watched it again over time, I realize that Tarantino really shows VERY little actual active violence. He just stuffs every frame FULL of menace and terror.

Black Sunday (1977) – My first John Frankenheimer film seen as a child, I have no idea why my parents let me watch it. It left a lingering fear of stadiums and snipers and terror of senseless violence coming out of nowhere.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – either the 50s OR the 70s version (though I like the, 1993, Abel Ferrara version too). The idea of being replaced by a look alike OR being left as everyone ELSE is replaced is terrifying to me. The end scene of the 70s version terrified me when I saw it on a 13” TV when I was 10 and every time since. Shrieking Donald Sutherland? Yikes!

Dan is a life long film lover with a desire to one day host a dystopian future film series.

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The Scariest Movies I Ever Saw –

But, first the scariest movie I never saw. In our little city, before there was Netflix and about a million other in-home film viewing choices there was (and is) Videoport on Middle Street. It seemed everyone who was cool, awesome and earnest in their love of films has worked there including my sister Betty. One afternoon I walked in to rent the film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). It was several years after its release but Siskel and Ebert had just done a thing on best scary films or something like that.

Tony Reiger was behind the counter – Tony of the black pompadour and possessor of true kindness. I handed him the film or actually the VHS tape. Tony smiled and nodded his head looking at the film I picked and said, “Kari, I am not going to let you rent that film.” I laughed, “Ha, ha.” He wasn’t joking – “No, I mean it, put it back. I can’t do that to you. I’ve seen it and I know you can’t handle it and it would haunt you forever. And, it would be my fault. So, no.”

You know what, I knew he was right but still I persisted and said I would fast forward through the really gruesome stuff. He responded, “You like Jim Jarmusch. Get a Jim Jarmusch film.” And, so I left with Night on Earth (1991). Thank you, Tony. You were right; I could not have handled it.

One of the other films Siskel and Ebert talked about in that episode was The Honeymoon Killers (1969). Directed by Leonard Kastle it is maybe the bleakest film I have ever seen. (The day I rented it Tony was not working.)

It is based on the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck – known as the Lonely Hearts Killers – who murdered women Fernandez had conned into marry him. The film is shot in black and white with a grainy documentary-style look. The film has a heavy, smothering feel that is anxiety producing. In a word chilling. Shirley Stoler and Tony Lo Bianco play the creepy killer couple. Both are more than believable in their roles and they look like real people not beautiful actors. Stoler is amazingly terrifying as a killer without a speck of remorse. And, their victims are helpless. Stoler’s character is also a nurse. There is something sinister about a lady in a 1960’s nurse uniform killing people. I know Freddy Kruger is fake but this chick is for real. (If Stoler hadn’t been an over-weight plain looking woman she would have had the career she deserved. Too bad Hollywood can’t tolerate imperfection.)

So you don’t think it’s just a low-budget thriller – François Truffaut said it was among his favorite contemporary American films.

My first scariest film was In Cold Blood (1967). We had a TV in the basement of our house. The basement also housed a tool room, the furnace room and a room filled with plaster of Paris (our mother had a little in-home business making plaster molded knick knacks). I sat transfix in front of our crappy black and white TV watching a true life horror film – where two of the characters are killed in their basement – while two stories above my family slept.

In Cold Blood maybe the first of the true-life home invasion films. The Clutter family is slaughtered in the middle of the night by two ex-cons in their isolated Kansas farmhouse. The film is based on Truman Capote’s novel of the same title. Richard Brooks directs and the use of black and white film also lends a disturbing documentary feel to the movie. I knew the story so I knew the Clutters have no chance of surviving. Knowing that makes the film even bleaker, more frightening. When the teenage Nancy Clutter heart-breakingly played by Brenda Currin is killed not a drop of blood is seen and it is still terrifying. And, even a thirteen-old-like-me knew the murder of the father and his son in the basement was one kind of hell on earth.

Robert Blake, who went on to star in the TV series Baretta and in real life likely killed the mother of his daughter, played one of killers.

One thing I know about myself is I am always more frightened by real life horror stories. I also learned a lesson that Tony Reiger had recognized in me that day I thought I wanted to rent Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer. You have to know your limits.

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What Goes Bump in the Night

I love most all types of horror movies. Recently I have been pulled toward zombie, and the more specific infection, stories. I liked I am Legend (2009) – an infection movie starring Will Smith – the first time I saw it. Then the second time I watched it (with Kari) we made fun of the whole movie. This tends to happen when I watch movies with Kari. We almost got kicked out of Cold Manor Creek (2003) when Kari, Ward, Johannah and I made up dialogue during the film while watching the movie in the theater. Loudly. It was obnoxious to be sure but our movie was better.

Back to my new found love of zombies. I have to thank the AMC series The Walking Dead (2010 -). I have been hankering for a good group dynamic story since Lost ended last year and I think I found it. If you haven’t checked it out the first season is playing on demand right now. The new season begins Octobe 16. Great flesh eating noises and really good ‘what comes next after the apocalypse’. Short answer is the same as before. Humans, come to find out, like structure. And hierarchy. And if you were a douche bag before the catastrophic event that precipitates the zombies then chances are you are still a douche bag a few months into the aftermath.

A cable network called Chiller exists. Most of the movie scenarios begin with “A group of college students withstand…” and then fill in the blank. If Sasquatch or Bigfoot ends this sentence I most likely will take a look. Typically these college student type movies:

A.   Do not take place at a college campus but oddly enough in the woods. It isn’t important to the story that they be college students. Really the demographic for this type of slasher movie should include woodsmen. Loggers at risk movies could be a new genre of horror films.

B.    Always, always includes a scene where now the numbers of this group are down to the “smarties”.  And what do they decide? They decide unanimously to separate. A scene begins in some sort of makeshift safe house and one of the surviving good looking people says something like “Okay, we’ve got to separate to stay alive”. And everyone agrees. When did safety in numbers as a basic survival skill stop being taught in our society? The Buddy System?!

C.    There is always time for sex. I’m a fan but if someone is slashing their way through my group of peers I would abstain.

In the 1970s Wes Craven’s (The Last House on the Left – 1972 and The Hills Have Eyes1977) and Tobe Hooper’s (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – 1974) films built upon the horror classics that came before and rather than aliens or storybook monsters they heralded in a new batch of boogeymen. Call them the in-bred mutant hill people. I felt like these folks could actually exist. I slept with my lights on for weeks after watching these movies.

Craven and Hooper with the help of Japanese porn horror gave birth to an unwatchable genre of American movies that can be found in the Hostel and Saw franchises. Call me a wimp but I don’t like extended torture scenes that last upwards of 90 minutes. To be fair I have not seen any of these movies, nor have I seen any of Rob Zombie’s movies (although I love that he employs Sid Haig of the Ed Hill/Pam Grier collaborations of the 1970s). But…yuck.

The movie The Strangers (2007) scared the piss out of me. Spoiler alert. No hope in this movie. But it isn’t horror porn either. It is a direct link to the early Hooper and Craven movies with a little Scandinavian horror thrown in. Sad and scary and you know how it will end and so do the characters and yet they fight until they are resolved with the inevitable. Wow, this is some scary shit. Disaffected youth thrill killers always prove scary. Check out the movie if you want legitimate heebie-jeebies.

I also want to go on record stating The Blair Witch Project (1999) also scared me senseless and I came to the epiphany that one of the reasons I instinctively hate camping is the simple fact: nature is scary. Especially in the dark and only a thin layer of nylon protects me from whatever the hell that was in the movie. The scene when the walls of the tent are punched in, all the while hearing creepy disembodied children’s voices, still gives me the chills.

Horror has many faces. What scares you might not scare me (although doubtful because at this point in October I jump at every little shadow). Our mom’s first memory of being scared at a movie was The Wizard of Oz (1939). She cried when the witch melted. That’s our mom! Always for the misunderstood.

Our question to you this month is: What was the first movie that scared the piss out of you? Comments made on the blog welcomed!

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Scared Straight –

At a Halloween party in the early 1990’s I dressed in what I thought was a genius costume. I wore a black dress with pearls and an old lady haggy mask with long silver hair pulled into a tight bun at the base of my neck. I had a “Hello, My name is” tag on with the words ‘Mo Dean’ written in. I spent the rest of the night explaining she was John Dean’s wife. He served, as the White House Counsel to Richard Nixon and his testimony was pivotal to the Watergate proceedings. She was a stand-up blond who sat behind her man. OK, you don’t get it either. She was a pop icon for me. But, for everyone else at the party it fell flat.

The movie is Nuts (1987). It starred Barbra Streisand as a high priced call girl accused of murdering a client (Leslie Neilson) and Richard Dreyfuss as her court appointed attorney. I think she stabbed  Leslie to death and maybe it was bloody but that’s not what makes this film horrifying. It’s the fact that Babs at age 45* plays a $1,500 a night call girl! Truly scary.

There is a scene where she walks the length of a bar and all the men turn to stare at a pleasant looking, middle-aged lady in a gray suit. Sure the skirt is above the knee and she is an attractive woman but really? Have these guys been stuck in the bar for ten years and haven’t seen a woman since the late 70’s? (I am probably making this up but I think she was the only woman in the bar scene which makes me think it was really a gay bar and they were salivating because Barbra Streisand just walked in the room!)

Debra Winger was originally slated to the play the role. She would have been 31-years-old at the time. All that lazy screenplay writer would have had to done to make Barbra believable as $1,500 night hooker is to have her be a fetish call girl. She could be one of those pros who have clients that like to wear diapers and be spanked or sang to (Hello! Right up her alley! So to speak).** “Papa Can You Hear Me?”

You figure the cost of keeping stocked in adult diapers and industrial sized talcum there’s your $1,500 a night right there. Not to mention changing the stinky diapers of adult men. But, no, we are suppose to think she’s hot and gets these men all hexed up with her nude color panty hose and her sensible shoes.

And, how did they get Mister-Big-Shot-Serious-Actor-Dreyfuss to fall for this? Oh, that’s right he did Mr. Holland’s Opus. Nuff said.

This reminds me of the fiasco Yentl (1983). Barbra who at age 41 plays a twenty-something female impersonating a male Yeshiva student who has sex with Amy Irving using a candle. Why couldn’t it have been that cute Molly Ringwald going all gender-bending? She would have been maybe 19 years old at the time. That would have been hot and maybe have given Ringwald a career changer. (Miss Streisand looked like what she was a 40- year-old lady with a impressive rack)

Here’s the lesson just because to it makes sense to you doesn’t make it believable.

That next year for Halloween I went as The Invisible Man.

P. S. – I will try to make my next Halloween post about a traditional scary movie.

* In 1987, she doesn’t look like a 2011 Hollywood 45-years-old who has a lot of work done (Demi Moore) or the impossibly beautiful (Halle Berry) she looked like a real 45-year-old lady.

** If I remember correctly this fetish was covered in-depth by Phil Donahue around that time so everyone in the audience would have been like, “Oh, yea, I heard about this I saw it on Donahue.”

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Ghost Stories – this post is by ‘boots1965’

In honor of Halloween all posts from now until October 31st will be horror films of one kind or another.

One of the reasons I chose New England as my adoptive homeland rather than staying in the Midwest is some of my favorite books and movies take place here. One of my all time favorite books and movie adaptations is The Visitors (1965, by Nathaniel Benchley, papa to Jaws author Peter). The subsequent movie, The Spirit is Willing (1967) is a great version of the book. Set in Northern New England in the 1960s, the story starts with a middle class mom, dad and teenage son leaving New York City for some much needed R&R.

The father has had a nervous breakdown and so they head up coast looking for respite. The family settles on a broke-down old coastal Captain’s house to live out the summer and re-group. The house turns out to be haunted by thee very strong ghosts who torment, flirt, and cause ill to the family.  The husband is the sensitive-type and the wife is a realist.  This difference in personalities is the life lesson of the story. Sid Caesar plays the husband in the movie and Vera Miles play the pragmatic wife. The son is played by Barry Gordon. The famed horror exploitation director William Castle helmed the movie.

It was my friend Caroline who first discovered the novel the summer I turned twelve. She and I share many passions – the lure of small coastal communities, ghosts, and mysteries are but three. The book had all three!

Later that summer we were watching late night TV when we came upon a movie titled The Spirit is Willing that seemed so similar in description to our new favorite book we decided to watch it. It was the film version of The Visitors! This was way before the internet so we had no idea that a movie had been made based on our favorite book. All the next day we talked about it. We went over every scene and compared it to the book. And then later that night we turned on the TV and it was about to begin – again! Magical stuff for a pair of twelve year-old’s. We never saw the movie again.

About ten years ago my friend John ordered an out of print copy of the novel. To this day, Caroline and I trade it back and forth. She also found the whole movie on You-tube recently. But you have to watch it in ten minute installations and the copy is terrible.

Prouts Neck Cliff Walk, Scarborough, ME

This story changed my life. I moved to Portland, Maine (my home still) partly as a result of loving the book and movie so much. It was a real treat for me after I first moved here and visited the other coastal towns like Bath and Bar Harbor and saw the huge mansard roofed or elegant Victorian buildings of the long dead Captains and saw the beautiful and sometimes outlandish embellishments on the houses. And, I know why coastal Captain houses included those seemingly crazy embellishments from Nathaniel Benchley in The Visitors: when the Captains were land-bound they grew bored not steering a ship or watching for storms or the other scary stuff Captains do at sea. To occupy their time on land they made intricate moldings and facades and cornice pieces and attached them to their home.

The Visitors also taught me that to hold on to beliefs at the detriment of sanity can be a losing battle. Sometimes you have to bend so as not to break. In the story you think it will be the husband who goes crazy over the ghostly sightings given his recent break down. But he becomes an amateur detective, going to the local library and researching ghosts and talking to locals to find out more information (this is a great technique in suspense/horror movies – What Lies Beneath, 2000 and Rosemary’s Baby, 1968). The husband is validated by his inquiries – everyone thinks the house is haunted for various reasons and he can accept the ghosts: the vindictive Felicity, the flirty Jenny, and the malevolent Ebenezer. The wife, on the other hand, does not believe in ghosts – so, ghosts can’t exist even when they do. So, no matter how much evidence is put forth to the contrary she cannot accept it. She can not accept what is in front of her and as a result she is driven insane (this is a gentle story so the insanity only lasts for a short time). The husband is empowered by his beliefs and his new found pro-activeness regarding the ghosties and he is triumphant. He is a brave man, after all, and can return to NYC and be a man’s man in the mid-1960s again.

If you ever see this movie on cable please, please, please watch it! And if you love New England stories check out Nathaniel Benchley. He wrote about class and Islanders vs. Off-Islanders, and a whole host of observations of Yankee living.

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The Last of the Mohicans – by notatypicalmom

One of my brushes with fame is when I met Gregory Peck. Several years ago he came to Portland to present his one man show called something like An Evening with Gregory Peck. I had to see him. More than that I wanted to meet him. How to finagle that? I would serve as a volunteer usher at the theater! The voice mail I left for the volunteer coordinator was so “hilarious” (wasn’t really trying to be hilarious) he put me ahead of other people who called to volunteer.

The line-up of ushers looked like this – me and two couples. The couples both seemed to be comprised of straight women married to gay men. They were all in theater together at some community playhouse. I was no one to judge having dated gay men. I don’t know if I would have drawn the line at marry one because neither asked. (Now only straight guys for me. My husband in particular.)

The afternoon of the performance we arrived for a dry run. While standing in the lobby HE walked in with an entourage. OMG! (I know it’s really over used but OMG!) He looked like a big, dreamy movie star. He must have been about 84 years old but he still had it. He and his personal assistant, Nancy (a clenched-jaw WASPy-type), were introduced to all of us. We each tried to stammer out the same sentiments which were something like, “Mr. Peck, it’s such an honor to…and you are so…I loved you in…” Nancy really efficiently put the kibosh on that kind of talk. She shook her head at our little group and frowned as if to say, “Good lord, he’s only heard that babble about a million times.” What she did say was, “Alright, then. Greg, let’s go in the theater.” We were allowed in and instructed to sit quietly while they did the sound and lighting check.

Standing on the stage he spoke in that amazing Gregory Peck voice. Sitting there, watching and listening to him I saw Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird). I saw Joe Bradley (Roman Holiday). I saw Captain Keith Mallory (The Guns of Navarone). I saw Commander Dwight Lionel Towers (On The Beach). I saw Lewt McCanles (Duel in the Sun). I saw Sam Bowden (Cape Fear). I even saw Robert Thorn (from that crappy film The Omen).

The stage manager asked how he wanted to proceed that evening. That beautiful booming voice, “Well, I’ll tell some engaging stories about my films and then open it up to questions from the audience.” “If someone asks about Audrey Hepburn which they always do I will tell my amusing Audrey Hepburn stories.”

During this Nancy yelled to him from the back of the theater “I am going to the bathroom!” There was no indication he heard her.

(At this juncture I should mention that I have a long history of misunderstanding words. As example, I thought the AC/DC song Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap was Dirty Jeans Wash Those Jeans.)

So, Mr. Peck gives some more detail on the evening’s proceedings and interrupts himself to ask Nancy a question about something. I can’t remember what. He says booming from the stage, “Nancy?” “Nancy?” “Where’s Nancy?”

Here is my chance to talk directly to Gregory Peck! I stand up and yell, “She’s in the bathroom!” He looks in my direction with a quizzical expression on his face. Then complete silence in the theater from the twenty or so people standing about.

Then, “Greg (I can tell it’s Nancy and she sounds pained, tired and hateful all at once) I’m in the balcony.” I look up and there she is leaning over the rail. She briefly and disdainfully looks at me. I am horrified! I want to crawl under the seat. I want to die.

As I was leaving I asked the volunteer coordinator if I could come back for the performance that evening. He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about.

Actually, no one said anything about it. It was like it hadn’t happened. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I came back for ushering duties and An Evening With Gregory Peck. His performance is a blur. I just know it was magic.

After it was over I was sitting with some ticket paying friends regaling them with my “conversation” with Greg. They were dying laughing. I noticed my fellow ushers across the aisle were in hysterics. In fact, one of them was crying he was laughing so hard.

I see now it hadn’t gone unnoticed. “But, none of you said anything! No mention of it until now!?”

One of the guys choked out between laughs, “You said bathroom to Gregory Peck!”


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The Last Hurrah –

As monster movies go Jaws (1975) tops my list. The killing machine that threatened the little island community of Amity was shot on Martha’s Vineyard. The first time we see the shark’s jaws – which is about a third of the way into the movie – is through Chief Brody’s eyes. He is the lesser shark hunter to the sea worthy Quint and Hooper, throwing chum in the water and pissed off with his lowly job until the monster emerges, shooting out of the water. His response after seeing the giant maw full of rows and rows of huge teeth is the now classic line “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

Fritzi Cohen who portrayed a concerned business owner in Amity, utters a less famous line, although a line I might add that spoke to the economic worries of an entire town that is dependent on summer tourism. She says in response to some dimwit who asks “Uh, is that 3,000 dollar bounty on the shark in cash or check?  “That’s not funny. That’s not funny at all”.

I interviewed her a while back for a public access show Kari did in the 1990’s. The segment was called “When Dreams Come True: The Fritzi Cohen Interview”. And there was no irony there. Kari did me a solid in setting up the interview. I took full advantage of having a cast member from Jaws for sixty uninterrupted minutes. She was held captive by a camera and me. Fritzi showed up with her own lighting guy – a sweet skate punk who adored her. I was nicely lit as a result. Kari had found wonderful 1970’s orange swivel chairs with a Jaws poster as our back-drop.

I asked nerdy questions about Jaws and, she, graciously answered them. Right before the cameras rolled she handed me her extensive extra/walk on/one or two line appearances in film and television. She said I know you want to talk about Jaws but if you run out of questions here is my resume. Ask me anything. I didn’t run out of questions. I had painstakingly written a list of questions about Jaws and I asked all of them. Her answers thrillingly led down many different paths about the making of the movie. Roy Scheider was nice, tanned a lot and kept to himself. Richard Dreyfuss was loud (maybe that meant drunk?), and Robert Shaw was “Something!” (again, she might have meant drunk but she was so nice about discussing each of them). And, “Stevie Spielberg was great”. Yes, Stevie.

Back to the movie and to the great chemistry between Scheider’s Brody and Dreyfuss’ Hooper: nice bonding scene when they need to get drunk in order to cut open a shark and quite possibly have the little Kintner boy spill out.

Then the topper of all bonding scenes when the three hunters are together on the boat theAuroraand they share their scars to one another. Of course Captain Quint has the worst and saddest scar of all. Post traumatic stress syndrome in a man who is not aware of it at all can be deadly. This sets up one of the best scenes in the movie – theIndianapolismonologue. A horrible and accurate war time account of sharks feasting on American soldiers in the South Pacific, after they helped deliver the H-bomb their boat is bombed.

“So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

It is a brilliant piece of writing by writer-for-hire John Milius and the actor who played Quint, Robert Shaw. Story has it they holed up together in Shaw’s Martha’s Vineyard bungalow for a weekend and wrote the scene. Show me the way to go home. I’m tired and I want to go to sleep. I had a little drink about an hour….

A good friend of mine is from The Vineyard. I have stayed there more than once with she and her family.  Her family indulges me – touring different Jaws sites and telling me the  most mundane details of that summer Stevie and his crew were on their island so I could learn just one more local moment of this movie I love so much.

I know this movie by heart and I always come away from it with the following:

I love Martha’s Vineyard

I love the ocean

I love the creatures in the ocean

Monsters and their hunters are two sides of the same coin. One does not exist without the other.

I feel sorry for the shark.

That’s me, though, and as summer is going away and the crisp nights of autumn are upon us it might be a good time to watch the monster of all monster movies. And say goodbye to summer for another year. Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies… (that last one is for the Jaws fans like me).

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