Horror 365, Movie(s) 45: 5 Creepy Scenes Not From Horror Movies

Today we depart a bit from the more bona fide kinds of horror. But many is the moment that is far more chilling and disturbing than any jumpscare, and such a moment often comes from a place that is not directly horror related.

You know what I’m talking about. The flying monkeys from Wizard Of Oz. The boat ride from Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (Wilder, not Depp). The endless stream of darkness for the sadistic bastards over at Disney. These things left deep psychological scars on a number of us.

Here then is a handful of others you might have forgotten or missed.

#5 Oedipus (1957, Tyrone Guthrie)

I teach this play in my Introduction To Literature class, and I show this version, or at least part of it, to give folks a sense of how the Greeks might have done it. But the masks. Unsettling.

Citizen of Thebes? Cthulhu? Who can tell?

Many of my students think so as well. Also, according to IMDB, one of the members of the chorus was William Shatner. Short of contacting Shatner himself, I have no way to verify or specify this.


#4 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968, Ken Hughes)

On one hand, this is the first time I saw Benny Hill. On the other hand, two words. Child Catcher. He captures children because the Baroness Bomburst (nice name) abhors them so much that she and her husband, the Baron of Vulgaria, have outlawed them. The Child Catcher, played by ballet dancer Robert Helpmann, is about as all-around ickified as you can get. And that’s without any of the really sick overtones you won’t be able to avoid.

SKULLS- 1 (I hate this movie)

#3 Richard III (1956, Laurence Olivier)

I love this play, and I’ve seen a number of film versions of it. Olivier’s is still my favorite although, admittedly, anyone seeing it for the first time now is gonna have a hell of a time getting past the fact that Olivier’s Richard III looks like Lord Farquaad.

“Yes, I know the Muffin Man.”

Clearly this wasn’t an accident, and it’s weird enough in its own right.

But that’s not what I’m talking about. No, there’s another scene where the two princes arrive, twelve-year-old Edward V and his brother, the nine-year-old  Duke of York.

Richard is to serve as their Lord Protector. Bad plan. There ensues a verbal sparring match between Richard and his nephews, ending with this reference to Richard’s hunchback from the young Duke of York:
“Uncle, my brother mocks both you and me;
Because that I am little, like an ape,
He thinks that you should bear me on your shoulders.”

Olivier turns with a look of such utter venom that the prince staggers back. Even if you’ve never read the play or know nothing about the fate of the two princes, you know immediately these tykes are dead meat. It’s worth pointing out that Sir James Tyrell, the man who takes care of this for Richard, is none other than Patrick Troughton. “No! Not the second Doctor!” ‘Fraid so.


#2 The Lost Weekend

Well before such addiction nightmares as Requiem For A Dream or Trainspotting and well before he showed up in such science fiction/horror classics X: The Man With The X-ray Eyes and uh, Frogs (I couldn’t help myself), Ray Milland gave us a snapshot from the life of hardcore alcoholic, Don Birnam. During a bender of several days, he escapes from an alcoholic ward, steals a bottle of whiskey from a liquor store, and continues to drink in his apartment.

Then the hallucinations start. Don notices a small hole in the wall. The hole becomes larger, and soon a mouse sticks its head out. Suddenly a bat flies in and devours the mouse as blood runs down the wall. This sends Don into an unhinged screaming fit and is pretty damn unsettling for viewers as well.


#1 Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse)

Joel Grey is, of course, sinister enough to deserve an entry all his own, but I’m talking about an altogether different level of sinister. Brian (Michael York) and Max (Helmut Griem) are at a beer garden when a young voice starts belting out “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.” Cut to the singer. A young man. Blonde. Suspiciously, stereotypically blonde.

The camera pedestals down, and our suspicions are confirmed. The further the song progresses, the more and more people join in, and the more forbidding its tone and their expressions become. The older people in the crowd look uneasy, and by the end, almost everyone else is singing. The Nazi youth dons his cap and stands in full salute as those joining him in song look increasingly hostile and vicious. Like a trump rally.


Horror 365, Movie 44: The Shrine

The fine folks over at The Lovecraft Ezine have a number of Good And Useful lists. One is Mike’s List Of Lovecraftian Movies, most of which I’ve giddily made my way through.

shrineThat’s how I stumbled across The Shrine which I’d never heard of until then. Since Lovecraft Ezine is one of my go-to sites, I reckoned The Shrine was worth a try.

For the most part it was. As a frame of reference, think Blair Witch Project meets The Fog meets Dagon meets Night Of The Demon meets just a little Evil Dead. Hell let’s throw in a dash of Black Sunday while we’re at it. It’s quite a mix and makes a good bit of The Shrine seem very familiar.

This familiarity works to the film’s advantage by becoming a diversionary tactic. We may have our suspicions about where the plot is headed, but the resolution still comes as a surprise. Not on an M. Night Sixth Sense level, but a nicely handled, satisfying little twist nonetheless.

Carmen, a reporter, wants to look into the disappearance of a number of tourists from a specific place in Poland over the last 50 years. Her editor vetoes it. She decides to go on her own and convinces her younger, more inexperienced colleague, Sarah (Meghan Heffern), to come with her. She also convinces her boyfriend, Marcus (Aaron Ashmore), but fails to mention the undertaking has neither the support nor knowledge of her editor.

Carmen isn’t very engaging as the main character. Cindy Sampson does a respectable job with the role, but there’s just a little too much Blair Witchiness going on. To be fair, there have been dumbasses long before Blair Witch Project who have waved off the protestations and warnings of the group, and there will no doubt be many to come.

Gotta satisfy their own curiosity, establish dominance, assert authority, demonstrate bravery, prove themselves, prove it’s all hooey, get that story, yada yada yada. It always ends in disaster, like in Evil Dead. And American Werewolf In London. And The Cube, The Ruins, The Descent, etcetera.

But Blair Witch Project added some new, annoying qualities to this dumbass type. The de facto leader of Blair Witch Project is a pushy, controlling, belligerent megalomaniac. This new style of “leader,” male and female, will show up in dozens of remote locations to come, hijacking their groups to at least partial destruction. Carmen is no exception.

Despite Carmen’s detestability, The Shrine is imminently watchable. Once our plucky trio finds the remote village in question, they quickly start asking the wrong questions and running afoul of the residents. Duh. In particular, the young, shirtless butcher accosts them, knife in hand, and tells them, “There is nothing for you here.”

They also notice two things. First, residents seem suspiciously over-worshipful when it comes to the ominously robed clergy of the village church. Second, there’s a section of the nearby forest that’s always shrouded in fog which can be seen hovering in (dare I say?) eldritch fashion (yes, I dare) above the trees. What’s in the fog? What happens if you try to find out?

Damn good questions.

I’m not gonna tell you, but I will say that the answers prove most Lovecraftian. They also prove irresistible to Carmen. Unfazed by the warning, she insists on going back, leading to the age-old question: why don’t people listen to the locals? Like, ever?

Some time when you’re bored, try this. Pose a horror movie scenario to your friends and ask what they’d do. I’ve actually asked people about this in connection with several movies (for real, I do this).

Here goes. You travel with two friends to a remote Polish village from which a number of people have disappeared. You see a strange church and its strange priests as well as a section of forest shrouded in permanent fog. You are told in a hostile manner to leave. You pretend to leave only to double back and investigate and come to said impenetrable looking fog bank in the forest. Do you go into the fog?

If you’ve seen The Fog and/or The Mist and/or The Beach House, the answer is, “Oh hell no!” If you’ve seen Hostel, you might not set foot anywhere in what was once the Eastern Bloc. However, my favorite answer so far is, “What do you mean, ‘pretend to leave?'”

Okay so it turns out that people who wander into this village really do on occasion end up dead.  It also turns out that they invariably go to see what was in the fog then end up being killed in what looks like a ritualistic sacrifice.

Looks, however, can be…well you know.


8 onscreen

Horror 365, Movie 43: Homicidal

homBefore The Skin I Live In, Sleepaway Camp, or Dressed To Kill, there was William Castle’s Homicidal. If you’ve never seen it, you should probably stop reading. There’s no way for me to talk about this movie without giving away the ending. There. You’ve been warned.

That said, let’s get the reveal right out of the way. Jean Arless (the one-time stage name of Joan Marshall) plays Emily, a live-in caretaker for a woman named Helga. Castle apparently preferred the name Jean because it was more gender neutral. Arless, you see, also plays Emily’s, uh, “husband,” Warren.

Arless is compelling in both roles. It’s claimed she went so farr as to dub Warren’s lines herself as she supposedly had the ability to alter her voice making it much deeper.

The eeriness of her appearance is amped up nicely by makeup that achieves an Uncanny Valley effect regardless of gender. It only gets weirder from there with a plot that is deliciously convoluted. On paper it may come off as a bit silly, but onscreen it works.

Warren, you see, was born female. He was delivered by a nurse, the aforementioned Helga (the local doctor being conveniently sick). Helga and Warren’s mother conspire to list Warren as male on the birth certificate and get the county clerk to go along with this.

Warren is raised as male. He has a half sister, Miriam Webster (unfortunate name). Their parents die in a car crash when the children are young, and Warren goes off to Denmark with Helga (like ya do). It’s never specified why. He returns at the age of twenty with Helga (who has had a stroke) and her live-in caretaker, Emily.

Before we meet Warren, in fact, Emily kills a justice of the peace then returns home to tell Helga who is mute and confined to a wheelchair. Come to think of it, a number of folks in Castle’s movies can’t talk. Huh.

Anyway, now that Warren is about to claim his inheritance, he has to kill everyone in the way. He does this through Emily. Emily kills the justice of the peace (who happened to be the county clerk who signed the birth certificate), Helga, and intends to kill Miriam.

Convoluted. Deliciously. And nearly as full of holes as Blackburn, Lancashire. For example:

  • Why does Emily have to kill Miriam? Miriam only gets the inheritance, it turns out, if there is no male heir, but there is, kind of: Warren.
  • How is the house exactly the same as it was during Warren and Miriam’s childhood? Warren was in Denmark. Miriam doesn’t live there. One assumes she was brought up by her biological mother (we don’t really get the backstory on that).
  • Why doesn’t Helga ever write anyone a note saying something like, “Emily is going to kill me,” or even, “Help!”
  • Speaking of Helga, what happened when she took Warren to Denmark, land of the first sex reassignment surgery? Well, as the detective says at the end, “What happened there we don’t know.” Or do we?
  • Possibly the biggest plot hole of all, why doesn’t anyone recognize Emily? The big reveal is merely Emily taking off her wig. Nobody saw any resemblance this entire time? Really?

Numerous comparisons can be between Homicidal and Psycho. To be fair, Castle may well have lifted a few shots from Hitchcock:

balsom breslin


It’s more difficult, though, to determine who’s copying whom in terms of film exploitation, showmanship, and straight up gimmickry. Hitchcock could grind out the hype in true P.T. Barnum style, but Castle was masterful at this. Pretty much every movie had a gimmick: audiences voting on endings, life insurance policies for getting scared to death, Percepto.

Homicidal was no exception. It opens with Castle doing needlepoint and talking to the audience about the story. Très Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Before the big reveal, Castle hits us with a Fright Break. A clock comes up on the screen, and anyone too frightened to see the end of the movie has 45 seconds to leave the theater.

Beautiful stuff.

There are also significant differences between the two in terms of Norman Bates and Warren. Norman dressed up like his mother and killed people. Warren lived most of his life as male even though he is biologically female.

The point for Emily/Warren is that this is not, in fact, a gender issue. Warren was brought up male in order to inherit his father’s estate which supposedly was only going to go to a son. As is so often the case, it’s all about the money. Well, money and misogyny.

One more distinction–Norman Bates hears his mother’s voice in his head. Emily/Warren put up a façade to claim an inheritance. The point, however, is that this was not a sexual identity story as much as a long-term grift. Warren maintained an illusion while Norman is trapped in a delusion.

Ultimately, everything revolves around Warren masquerading as Emily. I like to think of it as a sort of noir hybrid of Victor Victoria, Sleepaway Camp, and Psycho. Sociologically, you can make of that what you will.


3 onscreen
(4 if you count Warren/Emily separately)