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April 29, 2010

A TRIAL OF INFLUENCE: PENNYWISE AND FREDDY

A TRIAL OF INFLUENCE:  PENNYWISE AND FREDDY
                                     
PennywiseA few years back, Ladies and Gentlemen of The Jury, I had the random chance of meeting Frank Darabont at a party.  As soon as I spotted him, myself under the influence of many slices of cake and even more libations, I pointed and shouted, "DREAM WARRIORS!" at the top of my lungs.  I then proceeded to attack hug the guy while cake shrapnel flew from my lips.  I have to give the man credit for his stoic patience.  He could have easily clobbered me one, and perhaps should have.  This was, after all, before a mutual friend was able to introduce us.  Should I be somewhat embarrassed for this behavior?  Because I'm not.

 

But I digress.  For those who don't know, Frank Darabont was involved in the script writing process of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, my personal favorite of the ELM STREET series.  This was the first of the series that really introduced a campy sense of humor into the mix, which I believe led to Freddy's mainstream popularity and inevitable over-saturation.

 

As fate would have it, Icons of Fright founder Mike Cucinotta’s recently visited Los Angeles, and during his jaunt, we got into an interesting discussion NOES 3.  I think it was on my second beer and halfway through my bacon and bleu cheese infested burger that I started connecting certain commonalities between Wes Craven's character Freddy Krueger and the ever creepy Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT.
 
Frank Darabont is a well known film and television director, but he’s most famous for Kruegerhis work with horrors most famous writer, Stephen King. They developed a relationship with Darabont’s first film, a short based on King’s story “The Woman in the Room,” and since he has received Academy Award nominations for his screen adaptations of King’s works THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE GREEN MILE.  Whilst immersing my teeth into the bacon filled burger patty, this epiphany sort of up and smacked me in my bleu cheese-covered face.  I don't believe A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS would have become the film we know today if it weren't for Stephen King's IT.  
 
Please the court, I'm also going to go ahead and just say this:  Pennywise is the clown equivalent to Freddy Krueger.
 
I've had an immense fear of clowns.  A clown does not need to open its mouth and speak to strike terror in my feeble little love muscle. (By feeble little love muscle, I mean of course my heart.  Get your mind out of the gutter, people!) Pennywise, on the other hand, opens his mouth and speaks in a sarcastic cigarette and scotch stained voice that sounds like Tom Waits' evil cousin from New Jersey.  There's something absolutely creepy about a clown's "innocent" and "joyful" appearance juxtaposed with the voice of some slob who would probably be found on the front page of the Megan's Law website.  
 
Please have the court note I am not at all trying to imply Pennywise’s appearance invokes any sense of innocence or joy in me.
 
The charisma and sense of humor that Tim Curry brought to that role is genius.  I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role of the demented demon clown.  I feel the same about Robert Englund’s iconic performance as Freddy Krueger.  Though his scarred and bruised appearance is neither innocent nor joyful, his dialogue becomes a constant stream of one-liners that he spews at his victims.  Though he never wears face paint or wraps balloons into giraffe shapes, he clearly plays the clown.

 


Exhibit A: The Striped Sweater.

 

We are already familiar with Freddy's burnt face, his dirty fedora, and his razor glove; but it's his red and green striped sweater that stands out to me.  There's something somewhat clownish about stripes.  The stripe motif has been used time and time again from the earliest images of court jesters to Ronald McDonald, from Marylin Manson to Willy Wonka.  You Juggaloes know what I'm talking about. For those reading this who aren't of the Juggalo variety reading this, a "Juggalo" is the name given to a fan of ICP or Insane Clown Posse.  The stripes on Freddy's sweater lends to the colorful persona Robert Englund brought to the screen.  The reason I always preferred Freddy to Jason, is that Freddy showed personality.  Sometimes the best way to convey horror in a story is to break down the fourth wall and wink at the audience. What Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers lacked in flavored depth, Pennywise and Freddy picked up the slack. Upon viewing both IT and any NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET film from PART 3 and beyond, both characters take part in a sort of twisted foreplay before the kill. To them it's the act of teasing and toying with their victims before their demise that makes their characters stand out and keeps them interesting to watch.  The kill may be the payoff, but the sheer joy comes in the comic taunting.

 

The Miriam - Webster Dictionary defines the word "boogeyman" as an imaginary evil character of supernatural powers, esp. a mythical hobgoblin supposed to carry off naughty children.
 
The main fact of the case is this: Both Pennywise and Freddy Krueger are the perfect embodiment of the word "boogeyman". Their evil actions and hideous appearances are only outshined by their humor infused personalities which make them almost charismatic and like-able at times.  
 
Exhibit B: Environment

 

Time and again, our heroes and victims face both monsters on their own turf.  The Wizard Master confronts Freddy in a long dark and dank hall quite similar to the corridor where The Loser Club battles Pennywise with battery acid. Freddy Krueger's dreamworld begins and ends in a boiler room.  Pennywise's subconscious world begins and ends in the sewer.  The word "subconscious" when broken down, leaves us with "sub," meaning under; and conscious which mean awareness or wakefulness.  So given this information, it's easy to deduce that the homes of both characters further paint the definition of the word "subconscious" whether in a dream or not.

 

Exhibit C: Childhood Imagery
Certain images can play with emotions to bring on nostalgia.  With that said, there is the repeat usage of certain images that conjure an emotional response and thoughts of childhood innocence in various characters in both movies. There's the little girl on the red bicycle and the appearance of Nancy's deceased father in DREAM WARRIORS.  In IT, there's the red balloon, the appearance of Ben's deceased little brother Georgie, and the paper boat floating down the gutter to the sewer where Pennywise invites the little boy to float.  These images, are the bait the monsters use to lure their child victims to their demise.  It’s a similar m.o.:  use bright and shiny things, and family connections the children leaned on to snare them in for the slaughter.  Use the child’s fondness against the child.  Absolutely sinister.

 

Exhibit D: Teamwork
 
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, my final exhibit.  One of the first tenets I learned of socializing with others when I was a boy was teamwork.  All little kids are taught the good nature of playing well with others, as opposed to kicking sand at their playmates in the sandbox.  This carries over into both films.  If anything, one of the morals of each movie could easily be "There's No ‘I’ In Team".  Both the members of “The Losers Club” in IT and the mental hospital patients in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS realize there's power in numbers.  The Losers Club’s members band together as children in the 1950s to beat back the great evil of Pennywise;  and they must reunite to do the same some 30 years later.  They succeed mostly because they act as a band of brothers, and do not allow themselves to be separated from the pack.  The patients find strength in solidarity, and even as their members fall, they win out eventually because they fight as one.  Though they’re forced to enter the enemy's turf and fight on his home field, they battle the monster together.  They come to the realization they are stronger together, than apart.   
 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, in closing, I have no solid proof that Stephen King's original publication of IT had any influence in Frank Darabont's final draft of THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS script.  IT was originally published in 1985.  DREAM WARRIORS hit theaters in 1987.  It is common knowledge that Frank Darabont and Stephen King have a close working relationship.  This friendship has brought many great stories to the big screen. I am, however, convinced, given the character similarities in both Freddy Krueger and Pennywise, as well as plot, and story devices, that King’s influence on Darabont’s writing certainly shaded Freddy Krueger, and that King is in some part responsible for what Krueger was to become, even if he never personally wrote so much as one word of Freddy’s dialogue.  

 

Mr. Stenographer, you can go ahead and quote me on it! 

 

Beep Beep, Richie!  We all quote down here!  When you’re down here with us, you’ll quote to!

 

The prosecution rests!

--Aaron Pruner

April 26, 2010

Actor Michael Pataki Dies

He was never going to replace Bela Lugosi in the public zeitgeist.  In fact, if you named five actors who played Count Dracula, it's likely he never even came into your thought process.  But Michael Pataki was a solid contributor to the genre, and a fine character actor in general.  And now he has passed on, after suffering with cancer.

Mainstream movie fans are most likely to associate Pataki's face with  Nicoli Koloff, Ivan Drago's manager in the megahit ROCKY IV.  It was his most high profile part in a long, and varied career.  Horror fans will likely conjure up HALLOWEEN 4, where he played Dr. Hoffman, the man in charge of keeping Michael Meyers under wraps, and insulting Dr. Loomis.

But Pataki's career in horror goes well beyond that entry.  He essayed a gay prisoner in ZOMBIE HOUSE, directed by horror actor John Saxon;  one of the townsfolk in Dan O'Bannon's DEAD AND BURIED;  one of the worst school administrators in film history in the school slasher GRADUATION DAY;  and not only Count Dracula himself, but a descendant of the count as well in ZOLTAN:  HOUND OF DRACULA.  Though some of these flicks run south of the quality equator, Pataki never played them for a joke.  He did a credible job, whether in low budget horror or in a classic episode of STAR TREK, in which he spoke Klingonese.

As a character actor, Michael Pataki was a fine contributor to the genre.  Seek out his works if you want to see how to survive several decades in the genre, even if you're second banana as Count Dracula to the count's dog.

Michael Pataki

--Phil Fasso

April 17, 2010

CONVENTION REPORT: SATURDAY NIGHTMARES, March 19-21

Saturday Nightmares Logo

 

CONVENTION REPORT: 
Saturday Nightmares, March 19-21

Con of the Dead:  Saturday Night’s All Right for Zombies

The Marquee

If you’re a fan of George Romero, and you live in the tri-state area, I have a question for you:  Where were you on March 19-21?  Because not nearly enough of you were in Jersey City, NJ at Saturday Nightmares, meeting Romero and a multitude of actors and actresses involved in his movies.  As I stated in a promo piece for the convention, this was a dream show for those who love all things Romero, with guests from MARTIN, CREEPSHOW, his first three DEAD movies, TWO EVIL EYES, and as a bonus, the man who directed DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD.  If you missed out on this one, you missed out on one Hell of a show.

Your Ticket Awaits

A week before, Icons founder Mike Cucinotta and I had traveled through the Apocalypse to get to a convention.  Given this show’s penchant for the undead, I was now traveling to a show to get to the Apocalypse.  Not that the trip was that far off from literal Hell.  Instead of being at war with the Heavens, X and I were locked in combat with cross-town traffic in the world’s greatest city, Manhattan (and by “great,” I mean “really, really big,” not “I had a great time being stuck in cross-town traffic”).  The whole trip from my house on Long Island to Jersey City should have taken less than an hour;  but gridlock across a narrow strip of NYC gave us a jaunt that took more than 3 hours. 

 

After the exhausting time in the car, we arrived.  I knew next to nothing about Jersey City, but my education in the area surprised me.  To be kind, it’s not exactly a nice area.  Gritty, urban and run down, I was astounded that it was home to a landmark movie theatre.  But that wasn’t the only surprise.  I’d also never been to a hotel without a parking lot before.  As we parked to bring in our bags, X held up the picture of the hotel on his internet directions, and noted that they must have airbrushed all the busted windows on the house next to it.  The hotel itself... not anything I would recommend.  Welcome to Jersey City.

Inside the Theatre with THE TWILIGHT ZONE

We parked in a paid lot behind the convention, and by the time we made it to the door, it was already 6:30 p.m.  I was pleasantly surprised with the venue itself.  Saturday Nightmares was held at the Lowes Theatre in Jersey City, a landmark theatre that has been around for almost a century.  The place had a beauty and a grandeur that your modern multiplex around the corner will never have, as well as a historic perspective.  My words can’t possibly describe just how impressed I was with the Loews (that’s why I used a camera). 

The Chandelier

A decent vendors room was set up downstairs, as the guests were set up on the second floor, with narrow walkways leading to Romero on the far side from the stairs, where Ken Foree and David Emgee sat across from the master, as John Amplas and Adrienne Barbeau flanked him on either side (Amplas was stationed in front of an antique organ, with a sign that constantly reminded him not to touch it).  A truly unique venue made this convention stand out from every other I’ve attended, and gave it a touch of class and distinction.

A View from the Balcony

I was also impressed with the guest list.  I’m a huge fan of Romero’s work, as I know so many of our readers are.  For a first-time promoter, Mike Lisa was able to pull together a Romero-themed show with a decently sized guest list that should have drawn thousands of fans from all over the area.  Consider that this show was about 10 minutes outside of NYC (well, okay, give or take three hours if you were riding with X).  So where was everybody?  I’ve seen Romero at a half dozen shows, and never once have I seen him without a long line;  people will stand for hours to meet this living legend, and happily so.  Imagine my shock when his table was dead empty several times on Friday night, and at least twice on Saturday morning.

 

Was it the location?  Perhaps Jersey City was out of the convention loop (though Chiller hosts its show in Parsippany, NJ, so this doesn’t make much sense), so maybe that was it.  Was it that it was a first time show without any history?  Possibly.  Maybe it was promotion;  if not enough people hadt heard of the show, then it would explain the light traffic (and oh, how I love the words “light traffic” after this con).  Whatever the reason, there should have been a lot more fans out to support Mike Lisa and his first outing.  If we as a community don’t come out for burgeoning shows such as Saturday Nightmares, we’ll be stuck with the same old, same old, complaining about one show’s small guest list or another’s quality of guests.  And it will be our own fault.  Fortunately, business was much more brisk on Saturday, and I’m sure once Mike works out some of the kinks, he’ll have a much more successful second show.  I look forward to attending Saturday Nightmares shows for many years to come.

 

For those who did attend the show, there were some great highlights.  If you ever wanted to spend some quality time with George Romero, this was the con for you.  Romero had time to wander and greet the friends he’d worked with over the years, and he was gracious when fans approached him during these jaunts.  Then there was the comedy act at the top of the stairs.  Hook a right and you were greeted by the pairing of Joe Pilato and Gary Klar.  These two DAY OF THE DEAD buddies spent the whole two days I was there making ample fun of one another, ripping on such topics as Pilato’s hair and Klar’s appearance in LEGAL EAGLES.  Nothing was off limits, and you got so much more than an autograph and a picture for your money.  I even bought an interesting hat from Klar that just about sums his character Steele’s view on headwear. 

An Impromptu Script Meeting for DEADTENTIONDAY OF THE DEADTENTION

Gary Klar spoke about how zombie author Kim Paffenroth had stopped by to give him a copy of his Romero critique Gospel of the Dead.  X and I also gave him a copy of the script for our madcap zombie comedy DEADTENTION, and it turns out X and Klar both know special effects artist John Caglione.  It's a small, undead world.

This was one of those cons where every guest I spoke with was genuinely kind, and that definitely leaves a positive impression long after the glow of meeting new stars of the horror world wears off.  From Amplas to Roy Frumkes, to my friend Gary Streiner and his brother Russ, this was an amiable group, all of whom had kind things to say about Romero and their relationship with him.

Roy Frumkes and Fasso

I had some personal highlights too.  Though I missed Frumkes’ new version of DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD, he was gracious enough to give me an audio interview;  as were Pilato, Klar and Amplas.  These four were extremely giving to Icons fans, as they spoke candidly about their careers and George Romero.  I got to see NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 35mm (see my comments on that experience below) and though I left Saturday evening, the event hosted a print of CREEPSHOW and a Blu Ray screening of DAWN OF THE DEAD.  During the day, episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE played (though it seemed the same six episodes played again and again). 

John Amplas and Fasso


This was also the first time I met Ken Foree and David Emgee.  Though I have a slew of autographed pics from DAWN OF THE DEAD,  I sadly realized recently that I had none with the four main cast, and all four were scheduled to be there.  Unfortunately, Gaylen Ross cancelled to promote her new documentary, and as Emgee told X and me, Scott Reiniger's wife had fallen ill, and he had to tend to her.  Though I was disappointed not to meet him, I send my best to his family.  Foree was affable with me, and his line was fairly consistent for the weekend.  Poor Emgee looked shot from his flight on Friday night, but he was nice enough. 

Foree and FassoDavid Emgee and Fasso

And then there was Russ Streiner’s toast.  Having read my previous report promoting the NOTLD screening, Russ had invited me to raise a glass my departed mother.  I was extremely touched as Gary joined us in honor of June Fasso.

Fasso and Friends He Cherishes

If you are a George Romero fan who lives in the tri-state area and you passed on Saturday Nightmares, shame on you.  When a promoter such as Mike Lisa offers a top flight guest list aimed squarely at you, you should come out and support his convention.  He’s already hard at work on getting together the second Saturday Nightmares, out to please the fans, and if it’s anything like this past show, it’ll be well worth attending. 

Film Buff X Enjoys His Popcorn 

--Phil Fasso

 

 

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Screening

My heart was racing.  A thrill was shooting through my system.  My head may have started to swoon.  The whole scene seemed impossible, when my mind tried to process it.  Gary Streiner was sitting to my right, and I swear to you, Mom was sitting on my left.  And in front of me, a spectacle to behold, the credits for NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD were rolling on the big screen.

Mike Lisa had made this possible.  He had put together Saturday Nightmares, a Romero-rrific event if ever there was one;  he had assembled guests from NOTLD;  he had brought in Gary Streiner as part of that classic film’s legacy;  and, most precious to me, he had gotten his hands on a 35 millimeter print of the film itself, and intended to show it.  In a word:  beauty.

The insanity that is Joe Pilato had hit the venerable stage of the Loews Theatre earlier.  Explaining that it had been around since 1929, to a robust applause he then introduced the cast of NOTLD, all of whom he said he would “bed down” after the film.    With a few words each, Russ Streiner, Bill Hinzman, Charles Craig, George Kosana, John Russo, Kyra Schon and Gary Streiner introduced the movie that is their legacy.

And then it began.  And the first thing Gary said was, “I love every scratch on this print.”  And there it was.  I loved every scratch on that print right alongside him.  As the car drove up the deserted country road, Gary informed me he was actually driving it so many years ago.  As soon as he had filled me in, it dawned on me:  I was watching the film my mother had seen in theatres so many years ago, with someone who was directly involved in it, someone who had become a good friend of mine.  This was the definition of “surreal.”

This was the definition of “wonderful.”

Gary continued to provide a running commentary as the film went on.  Behind us, a fan eventually got annoyed.  “Come on!”  It came to me much later that I could’ve turned around and shouted, “Christ, man!  I’m getting a commentary on the film from Gary Streiner, who was in NOTLD!”  But I wouldn’t let a rightly irate fan ruin the moment.  I got Gary on his feet, and we jostled to an empty area on the far left.  There, he regaled me with tales about Duane Jones, run-and-gun shooting in D.C. and so many other things I would never have gotten without him beside me.

It wasn’t just Gary with me, though.  It was Mom.  She was right there with me, watching just as she had back in 1968.  She was a part of our conversation, even if she didn’t say a word.  She held my hand as a movie I knew every breath of had my heart pounding and my pulse racing, as if I were seeing it for the first time.  Mom was with me.  Sure, Ben and Harry Cooper were in danger.  But I was safe.

As Ben had his fateful encounter with Vince Survinski and the end credits came up on the screen, I was in a state of glee.  In a world that is so full of chaos that zombies may as well be attacking us in the farmhouse, I could still enjoy life.  Life could still be good.

I have Mike Lisa to thank for this.  His gracious attitude toward George Romero’s fans offered me an opportunity I’ve waited my entire life for.  And I have Gary Streiner to thank, for his friendship, his knowledge of the back story and willingness to share it with me, his audience tonight.  And I have Mom to thank, for being with me tonight, in my heart, where I always carry her, so we could share a viewing of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  I lost her to cancer last June, but thanks to Mike and Gary, she and I got to share something special tonight.

--Phil Fasso

 

April 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to Max von Sydow

Max von MontageFor many horror fans, THE EXORCIST is the greatest horror film of all time.  Back in 1973, the film horrified audiences, and its reputation precedes it nearly 40 years later.  A big part of its success lies in the character of conflicted priest Father Merrin, and credit must to go actor Max von Sydow for his portrayal.  Today, von Sydow turns 81.

 

von Sydow's presence in genre films goes back several decades prior to THE EXORCIST and across the Atlantic.  The Swedish born actor first made his name in Ingmar Bergman's classic THE SEVENTH SEAL, as a soldier stalked by Death himself.  The director and actor cemented their importance in tandem in 1960, with THE VIRGIN SPRING, the basis for Wes Craven's LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

 

In the years following THE EXORCIST, von Sydow would appear in lighter fare, including CONAN THE BARBARIAN, JUDGE DREDD and the adaptation of Stephen King's NEEDFUL THINGS.  He also provided the voice for Vigo in GHOSTBUSTERS 2.

von Sydow's credits extend beyond the genre.  He was generally well-received in the role of Jesus Christ in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, and last year appeared in several episodes of THE TUDORS on cable.  In 1989, he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his lead role in PELLE THE CONQUEROR, a film that brought him back to his Swedish roots.

Max von Sydow has been a presence in film for more than 50 years.  Though his movies aren't always classics, he's been consistently excellent throughout his entire career.  And he played Ming the Merciless in FLASH GORDON.  For that I applaud him.

Happy Birthday, Max!  May you enjoy 81 more!

Max as Ming

--Phil Fasso

 

Contest - Win the 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray of DAY OF THE DEAD!

We love contests! We love it even more when we're able to open them up both our US and UK readers! We've got 3 copies of Arrow Video's 25th anniversary Blu-ray of George A. Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD to give away. All you have to do is get us your name and mailing address and send it into: dayofthedead@iconsoffright.com This 2 disc set, which will drop April 5th in the UK, is loaded with special features:

Day of the Dead Blu-ray! 

-Specially commissioned for this 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Day Of The Dead, the world exclusive 24-page comic ‘Day Of The Day: Desertion’ is written by ‘Hack/Slash Meets Re-Animator’ co-writer, Barry Keating, and ‘Halloween: Nightdance’ creator, Stefan Hutchinson.

-'For Every Dawn There Is A Day’ collector’s booklet, which is an essay on the making of the movie that collects brand new interviews with Romero, Savini, editor Pasquale Buba, assistant director/composer John Harrison and actors Joe Pilato, Lori Cardille and Gary Steele', written by Calum Waddell

-Two all-new documentaries:

‘Joe Of The Dead’ (directed by Calum Waddell) actor Joe Pilato talks about his career in movies - from his early appearance in the little-seen Pittsburgh horror outing ‘Effects’ (which also featured Romero regulars Tom Savini and John Harrison) to his small parts in ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ and ‘Knightriders’ and, of course, his work as Captain Rhodes in Day Of The Dead. In addition, Pilato addresses the remake, where his career went following Day of The Dead's disastrous box office upon its initial release and his thoughts on the movie being rediscovered and hailed as a classic. 


In ‘Travelogue of the Dead’ (directed by Naomi Holwill), we join Pilato as he travels across Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow in October 2009 celebrating the 25th anniversary of Day Of The Dead and witness him meeting the fans, reciting his most famous lines from the movie - live and on stage - and drinking with the best of them!

The two-disc 25th Anniversary Edition Day Of The Dead (cert. 18) will be released on Blu-ray (£24.99) by Arrow Video on April 5th, 2010.

Special Features
Four sleeve art options; double-sided fold-out poster; ‘For Every Dawn There Is A Day’ collector’s booklet; ‘Day Of The Dead: Desertion’ – an all new exclusive 24-page collector’s comic featuring new Bub storyline; 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and 1.0 Mono audio options.

Disc One (Blu-ray)

Theatrical feature; audio commentary with special effects team of Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, Everett Burrell and Mike Deak; Joe Of The Dead – Acting In A Romero Classic; Travelogue Of The Dead.

Disc Two (DVD)

The Many Days Of The Dead; Behind the Zombies footage; Romero Zombography;
Photo Album of the Dead; Souvenirs of the Dead; Night Of The Living Dead trailer; Dawn Of The Dead trailer; TV Ads of the Dead; The Audio Recollections of Richard Liberty; Wampum Mine promo

 

April 07, 2010

The Martyrdom of Nerves: Fear's Effects on the Body

The Martyrdom of Nerves:  Fear’s Effects on the Body

Hey there, kids.  Today, I’m going to talk to you about the body's manifestation of fear.

MARTYRSTo be more specific, I'm going to discuss with you my experience watching the movie MARTYRS.  I've gotten to a point in my life where, for the most part, horror movies don't scare me anymore.  I've become desensitized, if you will.  I partially blame a certain social network site I used to work for. I won't mention any names but MY job at this SPACE was filled with some interesting responsibilities.  Some of which included reporting child pornography to the FBI and moderating content that included beheading videos and real death footage taken from hidden cams, among other things.  Of course, there were also the regular work gems Lemon Party, Goatse, and Tub Girl.  If you plan on looking these up, be warned...they are definitely gross and definitely NSFW. Besides that, you can also probably chock it up to my age and experience;  but I tend to pick apart story and observe an actor's performance instead of letting the process of suspension of disbelief overtake me.  This has been the case with most recent horror movies.  That is, until I watched MARTYRS.

I had been aware of the buzz and rumors of this movie for months before I actually sat down to watch it.  It had a very limited run in theaters and then was quite difficult to get a hold of on DVD for a time.  During this period, I heard opinions and rumors that pretty much translated in so many words to "Do not watch this movie!" or "Sickest thing I've ever seen!"  Really now?  The sickest thing I had ever seen was a deranged clown dancing in the rain at night on a long stretch of deserted road in Northern California.  True story.  Surely, no movie could match that.

It was when I heard Clive Barker had signed off on Pascal Laugier to direct the HELLRAISER remake that I decided to buckle down and watch this "scariest movie ever".  Remember when PARANORMAL ACTIVITY was in theaters and the commercial advertised it as "The Scariest Movie Ever Made"?  That was a crock.  MARTYRS, on the other hand, deserves that statement stamped all over its advertising campaign and packaging.  I will go on record now and say MARTYRS is probably the scariest movie I have ever seen, even if there are no clowns in it.

Just to be clear, I watched this movie a year ago in the comfort of my own home on my comfortable couch with the comfortable company of my best friend.  We watched this movie during the day.  Not your typical middle of the night, all lights off environment for horror movie watching.  Still, this movie got under my skin like a bad case of Satan scabies.  Ok, I just made that up.  There is no such thing as Satan scabies...or is there? 

Here I am, a year later, and just merely thinking about this movie makes it hard for me to go to sleep at night.  Seriously.  There's a limit to the porn and cartoon chasers one must view to clean the mental palate before you just have to give up and accept the scars this movie leaves all over the psyche.

Recently, seeing French horror movies like INSIDE and FRONTIER[S], I was already expecting some gruesome visuals and story.  With Pascal Laugier, though, there was something added I wasn’t expecting.  This film produced a sense of dread and anxiety that I have not felt while watching a movie in a very long time.  Throughout the entire sitting, I found my entire body tense.  By the end of the film, I was sore.  I felt like I had just finished three sets of neck pushups. Yes, neck pushups. The last time I remember having this reaction to a film was the first time I ever watched THE EXORCIST.  Mind you, I was 6 years old and too young for neck pushups.  At this point in my life, it takes a lot for a movie to garner such a reaction from me where I literally am sore after it’s over.

Please take note and consult a physician or trainer before attempting neck pushups as you may harm yourself from doing something stupid such as the aforementioned neck pushup.

Laugier's use of sound makes a woman's scream just about the most horrific thing my ears could take besides maybe a baby crying.  Well, maybe a clown baby crying.  There's the numerous scenes with the creature who does many inhuman things with her spine.  This was one of the details that made Jennifer Carpenter's performance in THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE so creepy to me; the almost impossible looking positions she got her body into.  There's another instance in the film that brings the tortured female captive into a living room lit by the day.  Such a gruesome sight walking around a once occupied family's living room in the middle of the day.  Not only did the environment lend to a feeling of safety and comfort but the fact it took place during the day lent a different feel to this movie.  Then, of course, the big finale of the film gave me a new found respect for the human anatomy.  The director did not compromise his story or succumb to normal horror movie conventions.  Oh, and he succeeded in scaring the crap out of me.

So much crap was scared out of me, I had to wear a diaper.  I'm totally joking...or am I?

By the time the film was over, my body had developed a certain state that I can only describe as living rigor mortis.  I was so damn tense, my hands had become claws and I could have developed lock jaw with the way my mouth was stuck open.  My best friend was huddled in a knees-to-chest upright fetal position on my couch.  This movie snuck the fear into my body like a roofie in a co-ed's cocktail at that frat party you never told your parents about.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines fear as “A feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger.”

The best way I can describe my stance on MARTYRS is similar to how one might feel taking the wrong turn in Compton at 2 am with a sweet ass and an empty tank of gas.  It may be a dangerous experience but now you know not to go down that road.  You're a better person in gaining such knowledge through a rather unpleasant experience.  This movie is that wrong turn.

It's like this movie seduced me with sweet nothings in my ear hole and then without warning, donkey punched me with violent excitement, invaded my no no parts without any decency to hold me afterwards, and then locked me in the bathroom feeling used and smelling like sardines. To this day, I’m not sure if I can honestly say that this is a good or bad thing though. I mean, at least they had the courtesy of putting me in the bathroom to clean up.  Am I right or am I right? MARTYRS, for me was about the very uncomfortable diaper wearing, neck push upping, donkey punching, sardine raping journey getting there.

Laugier’s storytelling and directing find fresh ways to make the nerves jangle.  So many new horror movies today have no ill effects on my body at all,  and that leaves me quite jaded.  But MARTYRS has certain scenes and images that still stand out in my head to this day, images that twist my guts, that make me cringe, that make my frame contort into uncomfortable, unnatural poses, and I watched the movie a year ago.  I will go on record and say I did not enjoy watching this movie.   But it definitely left a visceral impression, and a neck cramp that just won’t leave me.

--Aaron Pruner