It was pointed out to me recently that I’m pretty good at sidestepping “bona fide” horror when I put my mind to it. That’s fair. But horror, I suppose, is where you find it, so let’s have a look at some more stuff that doesn’t (for me) qualify as horror but still has some pretty creepazoidinal vibes.
#5 The Art Of Noise, “Close (To The Edit)”
Before choppy, accelerated movements became a horror cliché, there was “Close (To The Edit).” Like I said, I forgot how bizarro this was. The music is weird enough. So is the band. By far the most unsettling part of the video is the girl. It’s bad enough that she could have fit right in to Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield.” It’s far worse that she looks like she could crawl out of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s basement and go all Annabelle on you.
#4 White Lightning
I like Burt Reynolds movies. There I said it. There are actually two unpleasant things about this movie. The first (and originally the only one I planned to point out) is right at the beginning. During the opening credits, Sheriff J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty) murders a young couple. He and a henchman tow a canoe into the swamp. The victims are tied in the canoe which is full of cinder blocks. He then blows a hole in the canoe with a shotgun. They struggle as it sinks, and the bad guys paddle away. It’s a simple scene. No gore. But it’s one of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen. I feel kind of the same way when the rednecks kill Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, and the hippy kills Robert Blake in Electra Glide In Blue. But the other thing, which I didn’t realize until I revisited White Lightning, has to do with a Lovecraftian Michael Shea story called “Fat Face.” For reasons I can’t adequately explain, when I think of the character Fat Face, I picture a cross between Sheriff Connors and Butterball from Hellraiser.
#3 Lene Lovich, “New Toy”
If you watch/listen to “New Toy” and think it sounds familiar, you may be a Thomas Dolby fan. He wrote it a few years before “Hyperactive.” I saw this video one morning just before I ran out to catch the bus to school. I was shaken up until some time after lunch. There isn’t anything visually that’s all that disturbing except maybe one image around 1:51 that looks like it could have come out of Blair Witch Project (if you found that dismaying which I sadly did not). The worst part is right near the end with Lovich repeating, “New toy! New toy!” It’s the voice. I don’t know if there is a particular pitch or timbre or whatever that has this effect on me, but it happens with alarming frequency. Segments of The Shining and A Clockwork Orange have me convinced that Kubrick was kind of a sadist. Judge Doom’s death in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is no picnic either, and the whole “Help me!” thing in The Fly (1958) freaks me out completely.
#2 Blade Runner
I know. You might be thinking that the Frankenstein overtones alone are enough to count Blade Runner as a horror movie. I remain ever on the fence about this. I still regard it primarily as a noir-style thriller with a science fiction setting. You might also be thinking that I’m going to talk about the eye-gouging scene, but I’m not. For me, the creepiest scene in the film is the death of Pris (Daryl Hannah). The whole thing starts out in a room full of J.F. Sebastian’s (William Sanderson) dolls, and one of my rules of horror is “Dolls are evil. Always.” Pris’s attack on Deckard is violent enough, but once he manages to shoot her, the kicking, screaming, and flopping around on the floor results are tough to watch.
And at #1 Sunset Boulevard
I know. Some folks would classify this as Grande Dame Guignol. I wouldn’t. A forerunner of the subgenre certainly, but to me it’s strictly noir and not quite a horror movie. The “ready for my close up” scene is iconic, but I would point out a couple of Lovecraftian stories that make it even weirder. First is Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Pickman’s Other Model (1929).” It features Vera Endecott, a silent movie actress described as “a woman whose loveliness might merely be a glamour concealing some truer, feral face,” and compares her to such contemporaries as Musidora, Theda Bara, and Pola Negri. There’s also “the Innsmouth look” which Lovecraft details at length in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and Brian McNaughton deals with in “The Doom That Came To Innsmouth.” McNaughton’s narrator describes how his grandmother “was always claiming famous people as ‘really one of us,’ Gloria Swanson and Edward G. Robinson, for instance.” Put all that together then watch Gloria Swanson creep toward the camera and into your nightmares—right behind the kid from “Close (To The Edit).” Probably holding meat cleavers.
Sweet dreams kiddies.