Lady Lazarus’s 2014 Halloween List: Scary Movie Moments.

Hello, my Darklings! It may be a relatively balmy afternoon in Toronto, but the warm weather’s not fooling Lady Lazarus.  It is undeniably mid-October, which means it’s that time of year to carefully craft a horror-themed list in anticipation/celebration of Hallowe’en.  While the tagline for this blog “musings on the macabre” indicates my year-round fascination with all things spooky and disturbing, come Hallowe’en, this fascination finds full expression in mainstream culture. In short, I can hoist my horror-freak flag up high.

This year, I decided to go with the theme of “scary movie/TV moments”, meaning those scenes that, for me, contain particularly potent images of horror. As always, this is a highly subjective list. Your list will likely vary. One curious thing I noticed when crafting my list is that all the scenes share a common element. Read on to discover what that would be.

1. Hospital hallway scene from Exorcist III: Legion (1990). William Peter Blatty’s novel Legion is the true sequel to The Exorcist, and not that ridiculous, let’s-cash-in-on-the-original Exorcist II that starred a somehow “re-possessed” Regan (with Linda Blair reprising her role) and a bunch of locusts. When I heard that Blatty himself would direct Exorcist III: Legion, I was actually hopeful that the movie wouldn’t suck. Well, it did. Except for this scene, which is a classic jump-scare moment, expertly done. I don’t want to spoil the moment if you haven’t seen this film, but I would like to point out how well the slow pacing, the static camera, and the everyday banality of the moments leading up to the jump-scare serve to underscore the horror.

Bob2. There are two things that creep me out about the character of Bob from David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks. Firstly, it’s his appearance. He’s a bedraggled, denim-on-denim denizen of a very seedy underworld, with wild eyes and a maniacal grin. His long hair, toothy grin and feral nature casts him in the role of the Big Bad Wolf, only the world that he emerges from is not one of fairytales, but of nightmares. The second, even more chilling aspect of Bob is how he always just appears, seemingly out of nowhere. One moment, there you are sitting on the broadloom of your parent’s tastefully decorated, circa 1980’s suburban home — complete with floral arrangements and throw-cushions — and suddenly BAM! There he is, climbing over your Mom’s couch with that sinister grin, making his way directly towards you. Whatever his plans, you know it’s not going to end well. Much like the psycho-killer in the scene above from Exorcist III: Legion, it’s Bob’s sudden, inexplicable appearances that always freaked me out.

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3. I first saw Ju-On (2002, dir.Takashi Shimizu) at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2003, and it still remains one of my favourite J-horrors of that era. While I have to admit that the latter half of the film is mainly comprised of a relentless succession of jump-scares, Ju-On still offers up some great visuals, such as the image of the ghost-woman Kayako slooooooowly crawling down the stairs towards the horrified heroine Rika. The image that has always stuck with me, however, is the one depicted above — with Kayako suddenly materializing underneath the bed covers, and directly on top of her victim. Can you imagine lifting your bed sheets to see that face staring up at you? NO.

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4. Yes, ok, The Exorcist (1973, dir.William Friedkin). I know it’s a given on any horror movie-related list, but there’s a really good reason why that would be. It’s just that good. I’ve already mentioned in a past post the freaky demon-face that haunted all our childhood dreams — if you happen to be of a similar vintage to me — but the image I’d like to address is the one with Father Karras’s mother suddenly appearing on Regan’s bed during her prolonged exorcism. Other than the fact that the scene cuts to this image so abruptly, eliciting a jump-scare moment out of the audience, it’s the sad, questioning expression on her face that I find so unnerving.“Why, Demi? Why?” Indeed.

So, that’s it. Have a safe and happy Hallowe’en, kids. I hope to, as long as nothing sinister suddenly appears around me.

Horror Films 101: Movie moments that traumatized my childhood.

A still from the animated film version of “Watership Down,” showing the last, terrified moments of a rabbit’s life.

1. The destruction of the rabbit warren and wholesale slaughter of its occupants in the 1978 film adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down. The filmmakers did not shy away from the darker shadings of Adams’s novel,  and the violence contained in the source material appears, quite graphically at times, on screen. The scene of the warren destruction is rendered in an abstracted fashion, but is nonetheless effective in conveying the horror of the rabbit massacre. Walt Disney, this ain’t.

The ‘demon face’ was that of Eileen Dietz, who also starred in Happy Days and General Hospital. Oh, what a little make-up and effective editing can do.

2. The freaky demon face that flashes on-screen in William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic The Exorcist. In the (far superior) original theatrical release of the film, this ‘demon face’ only appears twice: once, during the nightmare sequence of Father Karras, where he envisions his elderly mother standing at the top of a stairway leading down to the NYC subway; and lastly, during Regan’s exorcism. Each time, the face only flashes on-screen for mere seconds — just enough time to burn onto your retina and torment you for the rest of your days. According to the trivia section of imdb.com, the ‘demon face’ was supplied by the actress Eileen Dietz, who also stood in as a body-double for Linda Blair in a couple of scenes. In the  director’s cut of the film (released in 2000), the face appears with considerably greater frequency, diluting its impact.

“Let me in, Mark…screeeetch….screeeetch…let me in…”

3. The vampire kid scratching on his friend’s bedroom window from the 1979 made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot. Director Tobe Hooper, best known for his masterpiece of the macabre The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, fully understands the dark, seedy underbelly that lies just beneath the surface of small town, white-picket-fence America. Few directors — other than, perhaps, David Lynch — have as great an insight into the ‘suburban Gothic’. The vampire of Hooper’s film is not a romantic seducer but, in keeping with the German Expressionist tradition of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, he’s a ghoulish, hideous monster with a taste for the blood of children. This scene with the undead child paying a nighttime visit to his former playmate scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid. It was, in part, the awful sound that his fingernails made as he scratched the glass, beckoning to his friend to open the window.

4. Ben Gardners’s head suddenly appearing through the smashed hull of his sunken boat in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 masterpiece Jaws. Even though, as an audience member, you know exactly what Richard Dreyfuss is about to stumble across, I betcha it’ll still make you jump.

5. The terrifying tale of Large Marge from Tim Burton’s 1985 Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. No, seriously. It’s a creepy — and classically Tim Burton — moment. Just tell ’em Large Marge sent ya.