Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Memories of Horror

All my life, I have been a huge fan of the horror genre. I can't really explain why or how my fascination with it got started because I honestly just don't know. I just know that ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated not only with the horror genre in general but also with anything strange or out of the ordinary. Maybe it was because I was a strange little kid when I was growing up (if you knew my family, you would know that I'm sort of an anomaly among everyone else) and therefore, I related to strange creatures or maybe it was because monster movies appealed to my childlike innocence and wonder or maybe, as a little boy, I just thought monsters were cool. Whatever the reason, as far back as I can remember, horror films and monsters have always been entangled with my life and they've never come apart, not once. Therefore, needless to say, growing up on a mountain in Tennessee in a very religious and Christian-based family and community, I've also had to deal with the attitudes of some of the adults in my life. While Mom was okay with me watching most horror movies, she wouldn't allow me to watch anything from the 70's onward when I was a kid, mostly because she was afraid it would scare me. Nowadays, obviously, she doesn't care (just so long as she doesn't have to watch it) but back then, she was fairly protective. Dad, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: when I was growing up, he didn't really care what I watched but in my late teens, he found religion and for a while, he was sort of on me about watching anything horror-related. He finally calmed down when he realized that he wasn't going to change my mind but it was problematic there for a while. My grandparents have never really cared but one of my uncles had a major problem with it at one point. Like my dad, though, he finally backed off. The funniest one if my aunt, who always said that she hated horror films but she and I have watched countless ones together and not only has she not been terrified except for some jump-scares but she's ended up enjoying them! While my family has mostly accepted that this is who I am, to this day I still have to be careful when I meet friends of the family who are often not so understanding about the genre I love and the fact that the movies don't make me want to go out and kill someone (you wouldn't believe how many times I've had that annoying conversation with someone).

Besides the occasional disapproving adults and family members, I also had to contend with my peers at school. I often got mocked in school by any jerky kids who found out about how much I loved these movies. Elementary school was an especially bad time for that (it didn't help that the school I went to was horrible but that's another story altogether). For one thing, I didn't have many real close friends during that time save for maybe my cousins and some other classmates who were as isolated as I was. While they often did take an interest in what I liked, most of the other kids either just ignored me or mocked me without end. While it did get to me sometimes, I never lost my love for the genre and by the time I got to high school, I met some better people and they often thought it was cool to love horror and sci-fi. Occasionally, I would run into a jerk (mainly this one guy who was the definition of a film snob and made fun of me for some of the stuff that I openly admitted I was a fan of) but from there on into college, I didn't have that many problems with people giving my crap for my interests. The one thing that came out of those experiences was that I refuse to tolerate anybody giving someone else crap just for stuff they like. Basically, if I see you doing that to somebody, I have no use for you. But I'm getting off-topic. What I trying to say is while my love for the genre has caused some bumps in the road, I wouldn't trade my memories of it for anything and that's what this post is going to consist of. This is going to be a little trip down memory lane where I talk about my fondest memories of all things have to do with the scary and supernatural, from when I was a little kid up to recent years. Some of them will be very profound moments in my movie-viewing life and others will just be little bits of nostalgia that make me smile when I think of them. Hopefully, this will bring to mind some of your favorite memories as well. So, gather around the fireplace and let's take a trip down my (and your) memories of horror.

Since I can't pinpoint exactly what my first memory of the horror genre was, I'll just start with something that's meant to envelop my earliest memories in general. There were two majors brands of horror that I was aware of when I was a kid. One is what I would always refer to as classic horror or old horror. That was basically anything to do with vampires, werewolves, mummies, Frankenstein, and so on. Obviously, I eventually learned that the word for that subgenre was Gothic horror. Anyway, I guess since as a kid I loved Halloween decorations (which I will expound on further later) and they always involved those types of monsters, that that's how I came to know them. I just found those classic creatures fascinating as well as the environments they were often featured in: dark, cobweb-filled castles or fog-shrouded forests with a full moon in the sky. I can certainly see why those images influenced Tim Burton because, for a little kid with a vivid imagination like myself, there was nothing better. In any case, when I was very young, probably around four or five years old, both my parents worked during the day and more often than not, my grandmother on my father's side would be the one who took care of me. She would often leave me alone in the TV room and I would flip through the channels. Every so often, it would land on the Sci-Fi Channel and that channel exposed me to some of my earliest memories of Gothic horror. I remember several important programs I saw on there. The first was an episode of the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea TV show that featured a werewolf. Although I saw that same episode again many years later, I don't remember much about it but it kept my easily distracted young mind occupied. The second was the very first classic Universal horror film I ever saw: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. It was on right after that aforementioned episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and it was a spectacle that I would never forget. It was just amazing to a little kid to see Larry Talbott slowly morph into the Wolf Man while lying in a hospital bed and then proceed to stalk the streets and murder a police officer. It was equally unreal to see Talbott find the Frankenstein monster frozen in ice beneath the ruins of an old castle and then see him walking around. Obviously, I knew of these characters but here they were, right in front of me on the TV screen! It was awesome! Sadly, though, I missed the final battle between the two. Somehow, the channel ended up getting changed and that's too bad because I know that would have excited me beyond belief. Finally, I often saw episodes of Dark Shadows on Sci-Fi Channel. Needless to say, at that young age I was unable to understand what was being talked about and I didn't have the attention span for it either but the look of that show was something I really liked, with its Gothic production design and so on. I remember the ending of one episode where Barnabas Collins is about to bite somebody and someone, I think it was his mother, is watching and she screams, causing him to see her and ending the episode. Again, that was awesome for a little kid like myself to see!

The other big subgenre that I was into at that time was giant monster movies, particularly the Godzilla movies. Godzilla is a character that has been in my life since my very earliest memories. Once again, it's all thanks to my grandmother, who had bought a bunch of random movies in order to keep me occupied while she did whatever she had to do. She didn't even care what they were but she just knew that they were stuff I would like. One of them was Godzilla vs. Megalon, which I'm sure she bought just because she knew how much liked dinosaurs. Well, what she didn't know was that when she showed me that movie for the first time, she started a whole new obsession: a love for giant monster movies and the Godzilla movies in general. I became absolutely enamored with that franchise, trying to see all of the movies and renting what ever ones my local VHS store had many times throughout my early childhood. To this day, I'm still a big fan and, in fact, I think Godzilla may be my favorite character in any media ever (I'll go into full detail about how much he's meant to my life when I eventually review that series). I became really interested in seeing other giant monster movies and while I saw a few at that early age, I didn't really see that many until I was much older. I do have fond memories of seeing Rodan one night with my cousin as well as watching War of the Gargantuas one time with my grandpa when I had to spend the night over at his house. Of course, I also became aware of King Kong as well. The ones I was most familiar with during my early childhood were the 1976 version with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange and its 1986 sequel, King Kong Lives, since those were the only two our VHS rental store had. I didn't see the 1933 original for the first time until many years later. My biggest exposure to giant monster movies overall was from a VHS tape I bought at a very young age called Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies. It started off with an intro that talked about how most of the general public's "knowledge" of dinosaurs comes from the movies and from there, became a compilation of trailers for all sorts of monster flicks and not just those that involved dinosaurs. Some of the movies that were featured on that compilation were stuff like Them!, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Tarantula, The Giant Claw, Gorgo, Reptilicus, The Loch Ness Horror, The Crater Lake Monster, One Million Years B.C., the 1960's version of The Lost World, several of the Godzilla movies, and many others. Like I said, I didn't actually a lot of these movies until I was much older but that tape and this whole subgenre in general was a big part of my childhood.

There were two libraries that I went to when I was a child, one in my elementary school and another near my aunt's house, whom I would visit every Friday, and whenever I went there, I would mostly check out books about monster movies. What was very convenient was that both libraries often got the same books and being the type of person that I was, I read them over and over again. My favorite was a series of books from Crestwood House about movie monsters. These books, all of which were written in like the mid-70's or so, talked about the various movies featuring what ever monster was being discussed and they were written in a style that was easy for an elementary school student to read. There were two distinct types of books in this series: some talked about the history of movie monster franchises, like Frankenstein, King Kong, Godzilla, the Wolf Man, and so on while other books were entirely devoted to telling the story of one particular movie, like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, and The Deadly Mantis (because of that particular book, I knew that latter movie by heart long before I actually saw it). There were also other books that talked about these monsters as well as the lore and legends surrounding them (for instance, the book on vampires talked about real vampire bats at one point and the one on werewolves had a section on real wolves). I can't remember if these were published by Crestwood House or not but, in any case, these books had been written more recently as they featured color photographs, which those older books did not have, and talked about more recent films like Bram Stoker's Dracula and the like. While I did enjoy reading these books, since they made me aware of other films that I didn't know about like the Hammer films and such, I preferred the older ones more. I also remember some books that were strictly about science fiction monster movies and these informed me about such films as The Thing from Another World, War of the Worlds, and others. While we're on the subject of books about movie monsters, one that I must mention is one called Monster Madness, which I got when I was perhaps eleven years old or so. It immediately got my attention because it had Godzilla on the cover and it was your typical book on the subject, talking about all the famous monsters but it also made me aware of some films that were unknown to me like Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, and Day of the Triffids as well as talking about some movies that I was too young to see at the time, like Alien and An American Werewolf in London. The most important part of that book was a little filmography in the back for each monster and, even though it was hardly accurate (it failed to mention all of the Hammer Frankenstein films even though it did so for Dracula and it didn't come close to listing all of the Godzilla movies), it at least gave me a temporary guide for all of these movies that I wanted to seek out.

Besides movie monsters, I would also check out books about supposed "real" monsters from these libraries. I had become fascinated with the paranormal from an early age, due mainly to a tape played on the toy robot 2-XL that was about monsters, and because of that, I read a lot of books about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, and ghosts in general. I found the idea that were possibly real monsters lurking within forests, jungles, and lakes to be really cool, not scary. Crestwood House published a series of books on the paranormal as well and I checked them out many, many times over the years (mainly the one about the Loch Ness monster since that was the only one the library near my aunt's house had) as well as a series of books called Great Mysteries. With the latter, I mainly checked out the book about Bigfoot but I also read the one about poltergeists (which was a huge mistake because it made me very paranoid and afraid that there was a poltergeist in my very house, due to coincidences that happened around that time) and tried to read one about the end of the world but I didn't get very far because it scared me too much. In any case, looking through these books was amazing to me, particularly when I got to see stuff like the surgeon's photograph of the Loch Ness monster or the famous still from the Patterson film of Bigfoot. Again, it was insanely cool to think that were real monsters in the world and that I was looking at possible evidence. I remember another series called Ghastly Ghost Stories, which I think was also from Crestwood House, which were books on various paranormal subjects. They mostly contained well-done (and sometimes freaky-looking) drawings rather than photographs and, despite the series' title, there were books on subjects like real monsters, vampires (which is how I became aware of the real Dracula, Vlad the Impaler), werewolves, zombies, and strange phenomenon like animals falling from the sky and so forth. A book from this series that I particularly liked reading was Haunted Hangouts, which talked famous haunted houses throughout the world. One story, titled Nightmare on Chase Street, which was about a family moving into a haunted house, struck me so much that I read it enough to wear I practically re-wrote the whole thing one day in school (I did it instead of the assignment I was supposed to do!) There was another book that I often checked out from one library that was not only about supposedly real monsters but also introduced me to monsters from Greek and Roman mythology like Medusa, the Cyclops, the Minotaur, and the Sphynx. Needless to say, these books were a young monster lover's dream and even writing about them now makes me smile.

While we're on the subject of the paranormal, I feel I should mention two shows on the subject that I really like. One was the classic Unsolved Mysteries. To me, that was and still is one of the most terrifying shows ever put on the air. I remember when I was little that I was terrified of that show for a number of reasons. One was that I was too young to understand that what I was seeing was a reenactment so when I would see this stuff, I would think it was real. Some segments that absolutely scared me to death was stuff like a story they did on Champ, the Lake Champlain monster (and I'm really mad they didn't put that one on any of the DVD releases), Resurrection Mary, and the Kecksburg UFO. Resurrection Mary particularly frightened me because of the scene where those people drive past her while she's walking on the side of the road and when they turn around to look at her, both they and you see that there's nothing but a black void where her face would be. (I'm also annoyed that the version of that segment that they put on DVD isn't the one where they actually comment on that because I thought that was the scariest part.) Just thinking and writing about that while I'm at the house all by myself is really freaking me out. To be honest, that show's ghost and UFO segments still scare me way more than any horror film ever could. I can't explain why but it just does. If you want to be really creeped out, just watch that stuff late at night with all the lights off. I guarantee you they won't stay off long! The other reason that show was effectively creepy was because of Robert Stack. I remember being afraid of him due to that show and any time he would pop up in anything, I would either turn the channel or leave the room! His voice just lent itself to that kind of show and it's the kind of voice you would want to tell you a scary story late at night. So, yeah, Unsolved Mysteries was great. Equally great in my opinion was another paranormal show called Sightings, which I watched on the Sci-Fi Channel in my early teens. Like Unsolved Mysteries, this show really had the ability to creep me out like nothing else could. The story that got to me the most was their ongoing investigation into the Heartland Ghost, which was the case of a family being terrorized by the spirit of a young girl who often attacked and scratched the husband of the household. The photos purporting to show the ghost, named Sallie, as well as an audio recording of an eerie sound believed to be her just freaked me out to no end. Their stories on UFO abductions and cattle mutilations also gave me the creeps but, like Unsolved Mysteries, it was their stories on ghosts that always scared me beyond belief. Besides the Heartland Ghost, they also discussed stories about a woman and her daughter being terrorized by the ghost of an evil man (there was an EVP of him apparently saying, "The baby is staying," which was eerie) as well as another about a family who helped a kindly spirit cross-over only for an evil one to come through the door and take her place. Really spooky stuff. Unfortunately, Sightings hasn't been in syndication for a long time and there are no DVD releases of it either. Occasional clips can be found on YouTube but for the most part, it's kind of been forgotten and that's a shame because I thought it was a good show.

As you probably guessed from what I said about Halloween decorations, I absolutely loved Halloween as a kid. It was probably due to a combination of the change in weather and the way the holiday is celebrated with all of the decorations but regardless, I just enjoyed the time of year so much back then. I would always love going somewhere during October because, on the way back at night, I would get to look at all of the lights and decorations that had been put up on the various houses. One house that I particularly liked was this rather large one on a hill because the owners always put up a makeshift, human-sized vampire, a scarecrow, and they would hang a ghost with a glowing plastic jack-o-lantern for a head between two small trees. I actually thought that was stuff that you could get at a Wal-Mart or something; I didn't get that that was stuff the people who lived there made themselves. I particularly relished in dressing up our own house for the season as well. I would make parents pull out all the stops. We'd get fake cobwebs, plastic spiders, rubber bats, plastic pumpkins, various types of fake ghosts, and all sorts of leaf-bags that I would eagerly fill to the brim with the dead leaves in the yard and then put in front of my house. I remember these little tiny ghosts that we would tie on the top of our front parch as well as those aforementioned plastic pumpkins that you could plug into the wall and they would light up. I always thought that we got a different type than everyone else had because ours didn't have a stem (obviously, we just ended up buying one that was simply missing its stem). Best of all were these little models of the classic movie monsters that you could get at Wal-Mart and would move and make noise when you turned them on. I ended up getting three: Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and the Wolf Man. I really, really wanted one a Gill-Man figure that was part of that line since I thought he was such a cool-looking monster but it never came to be. Even if I couldn't buy the decorations in the stores, I just liked looking at them. I liked the look of stuff like these big, balloon bats that you inflate and hang from the ceiling, these purple Frankenstein's monster or zombie figures that I often saw, fake witches that you could hang up, and many, many other fake ghouls that you could purchase. And, of course, there was trick-or-treating on Halloween night. I went through an assortment of costumes in my childhood: a vampire (with fake, plastic fangs), Frankenstein's monster, a typical ghost costume with a bed sheet and eye-holes (which I could not for the life of me keep in front of my eyes), and, when I was going through my Star Wars phase, Darth Vader. Most of the houses I went to while trick-or-treating were fairly ordinary but there was one enormous house, which has since been turned into a restaurant that was quite amazing. But I have to sum up my memories of Halloween in one nice image, it would be a sight that has stayed with me throughout the years. I don't remember where this was or how I came to be at this location other than I was with somebody who needed to stop off at this particular place for a few moments. But, in any case, it's an image I have of a house on a large hill in the middle of a vast, open field. There was a scarecrow in the little bit of yard next to the house that was positioned right in front of the view of a perfectly blue, cloudless sky and, from where I was looking at it, the slowly setting afternoon sun was casting a lot of warm, yellow-orange autumn light on it from the right. I can't explain it but to me, that one image just sums up the autumn season and Halloween in particular for me.

Remember when you were a kid and you watch cartoons on Saturday mornings? Well, naturally, I did the same thing and there was a lot of cool stuff on the three local stations that we had at the time. I have fond memories of Tales from the Cryptkeeper, the animated, kid-friendly version of Tales from the Crypt, the latter of which I had no knowledge of at the time. I remember episodes such as one about two kids breaking into a creepy mansion and running into various monsters inside; one where two kids get shrunk down to the size of bugs and have to endure the wrath of the ants they tormented before they shrank; one about a boy discovering that the exhibits in a wax museum come to life (obviously inspired by the film Waxwork), and one about an invisible entity helping kids at a summer camp deal with a very strict camp counselor. I also seem to remember one episode that had a scene where two kids are chased on a raft by a green blob, similar to the most famous story from Creepshow 2. I also really liked the Cryptkeeper himself and the way he would evilly laugh during his segments (although, when I caught a glimpse of the live-action cryptkeeper at that age, I didn't like him at all!) Besides that show, I also watched the animated Addams Family a lot as a little kid. It was the only incarnation of The Addams Family that I knew at the time other than that episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies that featured them (when Fred said that he'd seen that show on TV, I always thought he was referring to the cartoon). I remember just really liking the members of the family, as weird and macabre as they were, and delighting in their dealings with the Normanmeyers, the patriarch of whom ran an underwear company and was obsessed with the stuff, which always perplexed me even at that age. I remember episodes such as one involving Gomez trying fail at something since he's succeeded at everything else; one where Uncle Fester tries to create a girlfriend for Lurch; one where the two recurring spy antagonists try to rob the family but have to deal with Thing; one where N.J. Normanmeyer runs away to become a member of the family but has trouble fitting in during a family reunion; one where Thing grows to an enormous size; one where Wednesday and Pugsley contend with the legend of a ghostly figure known as the Puttergeist while trick-or-treating on Halloween; one where the Family creates its own TV station; and one where, to his dismay, Uncle Fester grows hair on his head. I remember many, many others, though, and listing them all would take up too much time so we had best move on but I really liked that show and still do. And even though it didn't come on Saturday mornings, I do have memories of watching The Munsters. I don't remember specific episodes, mind you, but I liked watching it just because I liked the creepy, old house they lived in as well as the fact that Herman Munster looked like Frankenstein's monster (in fact, I thought he was so and always called him Frankenstein, too young to understand that he was a parody or even that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the monster). It was just a great show for a kid like me to watch, particularly around Halloween time.

There were also horror-themed episodes of classic cartoons and TV shows that I enjoyed watching at that young age. Like any kid, I loved the Looney Tunes (and still do) and I enjoyed creepy cartoons featuring them, like Hyde and Go Tweet, where Tweety gets into the Mr. Hyde formula and constantly changes into a monstrous bird and chases Sylvester; a similar Bugs Bunny cartoon, Hyde and Hare, where Bugs goes home with a man who turns out to be Dr. Jekyll and is constantly chased throughout the house whenever Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde; Claws for Alarm, where Porky Pig and Sylvester stay in a creepy old hotel in the middle of a ghost-town and Sylvester has to keep these evil, homicidal mice from killing both him and the oblivious Porky; Transylvania 6-5000, where Bugs Bunny ends up at a castle in Transylvania and has to deal with the vampire that lives there; The Duxorcist, a 1980's Daffy Duck cartoon where Daffy helps a female duck rid herself of the ghosts who are possessing her; and Hair-Rasing Hare, where Bugs is lured to an evil scientist's laboratory so he can feed him to Gossamer, the red hair-covered monster. There was also Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, a movie where Daffy creates a Ghostbusters-like paranormal investigation agency with Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig as his assistants. This is one of those compilation movies that Warner Bros. put out, where the main story is interwoven with various classic shorts and it's by far one of the best. There were also a lot of horror-related Disney cartoons that I watched a lot (and, like the Looney Tunes, I still love these cartoons). My favorite was always Donald Duck and the Gorilla, where a monstrous gorilla named Ajax breaks into Donald's house one stormy night and chases him and his nephews (the final chase still cracks me up to this day); Duck Pimples, where Donald gets so wrapped up in a suspenseful radio program that he begins having delusions about being caught up in a gangster story; The Haunted House, a 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon where Mickey takes shelter in a creepy house only to find it inhabited by a bunch of living skeletons; and, speaking of which, I also watched The Skeleton Dance, a 1929 Silly Symphony about a group of skeletons coming to life and making music in an old graveyard late at night. Finally, I have to comment on those old Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons that I saw every now and then when I was very little. The one that sticks the most in mind is There's Good Boos To-Night, where Casper befriends a little fox cub only for the little thing to be shot and killed by a bunch of hunters at the end of the short. To this day, I still can't believe that such a cartoon would get that dark. Granted, the fox does come back as a ghost and reunites with Casper but still, that was horrifying! Cartoon-makers back then had some serious balls!

While I watched some other horror-related episodes of other cartoons (most notably Scooby-Doo, which had some fairly spooky moments with that episodes about the ghost diver, that ghost from outer space, and the zombie-like Creeper), one cartoon that had some of the scariest ever was Johnny Quest. While it was mainly an action-adventure show, Johnny Quest had some particularly frightening episodes. The one I remember the most was The Invisible Monster, where a scientist ends up creating an invisible energy monster after an experiment with molecular energy goes awry. That episode has all of the makings of a horror film, with the monster going around and destroying the jungle and villages while absorbing any living thing it comes across, almost devouring Hadji at one point, and making bizarre warbling screams and howls the entire time. The scene where the Quest team arrives at the destroyed laboratory and investigates it is exceptionally eerie, as well as the scene later on when Dr. Quest explains to everybody what the monster is. The climax is very tense and exciting as well. Another good one is The Sea Haunt, where the Quest team becomes trapped aboard an abandoned ship in the middle of the ocean that has a Gill Man-like monster lurking aboard. It was a very creepy episode because the monster was quite intimidating in terms of its look and the growls and roars it made. They also come across this Chinese cook who, while fairly stereotypical, is entertaining nonetheless with the stuff he says and how he helps them fight back against the monster. The Curse of Anubis was one that featured a mummy slowly but surely following the one who desecrated his tomb across the desert. The music that played whenever the mummy walked was very suspenseful and tense. The Robot Spy was an eerie episode because of how the title creature, an enormous spider-like robot with one big red eye on its ball-shaped body, stalked the premises of a military installation completely silently. It was a very creepy image, especially when the spy paralyzed a guard with these antennae it produced from its body. Finally there was Monsters in the Monastery, where the Quest team visits a small Himilayan village that is being terrorized by an aparent race of abominable snowmen. While the initial yetis turn out to simply be criminals dressed up in fur suits, they're all eventually killed by a real yeti, and the ending scene with him is particularly bone-chilling. There were also creepy episodes of The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, the 1990's revival show, such as In the Darkness of the Moon, which featured a werewolf; AMOK, about a monstrous sloth-like creature the Quest team encounters in the jungle; various episodes about ghost ships and a ghost in the old west (I cannot remember those episodes' titles); Ghost Quest, where Johnny, Jesse, and Hadji end up on an island inhabited by ghosts (very creepy episode from what I remember); Eclipse, where Hadji is bewitched by a lovely woman who turns out to be a demon who steals people's youth to retain her own; The Haunted Sonata, where the ghost of a deceased song-writer haunts a music hall; and Less Than Zero, where the Quest team investigates an extremely haunted house. Those episodes were great but I still think those from the original series were much scarier.

There other horror films that I vividly remember either watching in their entirety or getting brief but ever lasting glimpes of when I was a young kid. One I watched many, many times as a little kid was Gremlins and I know I'm not the only one. It was one of those odd movies that was kind of a horror film but also had elements that kids could enjoy like Gizmo and all the cartoony gags caused by the gremlins. Even though there were moments in the film that really freaked me out, the main one being the scene where the gremlins hatch out of their coccoons, it was a movie that I just couldn't resist and was one I rented many times from my local VHS shop. One movie that I caught a brief but extremely frightening glimpse of due to my cousin, (I don't know how he got a hold of this movie because he was the same age as I, which was four at the time), was Night of the Creeps and the scene in particular was when the dead cat comes back to life and appears at the door with the skin on its face eaten off. It was only for a second but it was definitely enough for me to tell my cousin to get that VHS out of the player. I saw a bit of the film The Guardian one day but Mom turned it off when it became apparent that the film wasn't going to be the normal flick it appeared to be (we'll come back to that). I vividly remember seeing the last third of Evolver, the movie about the toy robot which turns out to be a killing machine. It didn't scare me, though. I actually thought it was cool and it entertained me to the very end. I didn't know it at the time but there was one day when I got a very brief glimpse of Graveyard Shift. It was the scene where they're cleaning downstairs in the basement and they catch a glimpse of the monster's rat-like tail. Again, I wouldn't see that movie in its entirety until years later. My dad and I watched a good deal of the movie Man's Best Friend together one night and while I really like it at the time, it turned out to be a movie that didn't age well when I saw it again years later. One I saw quite extensively one snowy day was, interestingly enough, The Abominable Snowman, a 1957 Hammer film about a group of explorers who venture into the Himalayas to search for the legendary yeti. Obviously, as somebody who was fascinated with the paranormal, I couldn't miss this movie and it did not disappoint. It was a very eerie film, with unforgettable images like a yeti's hand clawing its way from underneath a tent, the men hearing the mournful howls of other yetis when they killed one, and the climax where you finally get a look at the face of one of the creatures, which was a haunting image due to the fact that you could only see the top half of the face and what little you could see was creepy to say the least. I was very happy when I finally found that film years later and was able to see after such a long time. And finally, that same snowy day, I got my very first glimpse of the movie that would eventually become my favorite horror film of all time: John Carpenter's The Thing. I just remember Mom and I flipping through channels when we came across the kennel scene where the thing begins absorbing the dogs. We only saw the spider-legs so we assumed that it was just a movie about giant spiders. But, man, when it went on to that first shot of the slimy, hairless dog-creature with tentacles and stuff, Mom and I were both like, "What in the...?" We only watched it for a few more seconds and once that plant-like appendage came out of its side, Mom decided that was enough and changed the channel. We'll come back to The Thing later on but, holy crap, you want to talk about a way to give a kid nightmares for weeks!

Speaking of giving a kid nightmares, one night in January when I was eight years old, I saw a movie that I didn't expect to freak me out but it did. It was the 1958 classic, The Blob. I know I already told this story when I actually reviewed the movie way back when but since we're talking about memorable moments of horror from my childhood, I'm going to go into it again. I had heard the title The Blob before due to the books about movie monsters from Crestwood House (I never came across the actual book but I saw the title as part of the listing of other books in the series) but I didn't know what it meant. I wasn't even sure what a blob was actually. But, in any case, I sit down to watch this movie and the way it starts out, with that silly song Beware of the Blob, lulled me into a false sense of security. But that was shattered soon enough as I watched this old man poke and prod this little meteorite that fell in the woods near his house, eventually causing it to crack open to reveal the blob. From there, the film became extremely frightening to me as I watched the blob attach itself to the man's hand, slowly eat him alive, grow ever bigger and bigger as it consumed more people (which always freaks me out for some reason), and the while, Steve McQueen and his buddies are trying to warn a bunch of townspeople who refuse to listen to these teenagers. One of the things that I found scary was that it was very plausible to me that the town where this takes place could be the town that's near my own house (and I live in the woods) as well as how most of the townspeople have gone to bed and are unaware of the threat that's lurking nearby (I often wonder what would have happened if McQueen and his friends had decided to wait until morning like everyone else). One scene that messed me up was when the blob comes through air-conditioning vent in the move theater's projection booth and immediately devours the projectionist. After the movie was over, I had to take a bath and believe me, I kept my eye on the similar ventilation vent near the bathtub the entire time. Finally, worst of all, the ending to the movie offered no resolution whatsoever. They don't kill the blob (Dave, the police lieutenant, says he doesn't think it's possible to kill it) and, instead, are only able to drop it in the Arctic, with the reassuring THE END title morphing into a question mark, which was not comforting to me in the slightest. After that night, I was both terrified and fascinated with the film, often talking about it to anybody who would listen. It would be years until I would gather up the courage to see it again. This story is the reason why I tell anybody who asks about it that this movie and I are old friends.

The elementary school that I went to was, as I said earlier, a nightmarish place. A lot of the teachers were either just there to get a paycheck or were just plain nasty, most of the kids were annoying jerks, and the food in the cafeteria was lousy (there was a rumor that it came from the prison!) In addition, whenever the teachers didn't have something planned for a given class period, they would just make you watch movies. Most of the time, the movies were okay. They were stuff like We're Back! A Dinosaur Story, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (which I liked even though I thought the show was retarded, so go figure), and other stuff. But, every once in a while, the teachers would force us to watch something that all of the other kids enjoyed but scared me to death. I'm really embarrassed by the thought that this stuff freaked me out but it did (I was a kid that was easy to scare when I was growing up). One was a little known live-action Disney flick called Mr. Boogedy. It was about a family who moved into an old house in New England only to discover that it's haunted by an evil ghost known as the Boogedy Man. I saw this movie again for the first time in years a while back and it's extremely cheesy and silly but it messed me up. It had some pretty scary music for a kid's film and there were some creepy moments, like when the Boogedy Man is watching the family or when he causes the older daughter of the family to faint. When you finally see him, he's pretty disgusting for a character in a kids' movie, with a hideous green face. I had nightmares about that damn movie that night when I saw it. I also remember being scared of Hexxus, the villain in FernGully, which we watched one other time. It was because I didn't know what was going on. First I'm seeing a movie about these fairies and such and then, when you least expect it, I'm seeing this sludge-like blob with a mouth that turns into a cloudy specter who sings about why he loves pollution. It got particularly bad at the end of the movie when Hexxus becomes a giant, tar-covered skeleton with fire behind his ribcage. If you don't soften the blow, that can weird out a little kid! They even showed us some strange documentaries about carnivorous plants that kind of weirded me out because of the strange, hypnotic music they played during scenes where the plants were eating insects. They didn't exactly scare me or give me nightmares but they were weird nonetheless.

It was in elementary school one day (though I can't remember what class or grade it was) when we were told a creepy ghost story. I can't remember if it was a visitor to a class or just whatever teacher we had but, in any case, they played us a recording of the story of Tailypo (or Tailybone, whatever it's called). It started out innocent enough since the guy who was telling the story had a nice, soothing voice but it wasn't long before it got creepy when the protagonist, a hermit, is in his cabin with his dogs when a bizarre creature comes up through a hole in the floor of the cabin. (I've since discovered that this is one such version. In others, the guy and his dogs are out hunting when they come across the creature.) The guy shoots at the creature or attacks it with an axe (I can't remember which), leading to its tale being severed. The creature escapes from the cabin and the hermit, though bewildered about what he just encountered, decides to cook the tail. However, that night, the creature comes back to reclaim its tail, saying, "Tailybone, tailybone, I want my tailybone." (They never explain what this creature, called a Tailypo, is, making it all the more scary.) The hermit sics his dogs on the Tailypo three times in a row and each time, one of the dogs doesn't come back until none of them are left. (One thing that was really creepy was how the narrator would describe how the hermit would yell for his dogs but all he would hear was the wind blowing. The sound effect used to simulate the wind added to the atmosphere of the story.) Eventually, the Tailypo attacks the hermit himself and kills, apparently tearing down the cabin in the process. The story ended with an eerie conclusion stating that, if you want, you could go to the forest where this took place but all you'll see of the cabin is the chimney and bits of wood. However, the narrator said that on dark nights with the full-moon in the sky and the wind blowing through the trees, you can hear, "Tailybone, tailybone, I got my tailybone." Since then, I've read that some tellings of this story are much more horrific, with the Tailypo skinning the man alive and such. Whatever the case, this is perfect, "Tell me a scary story," type of material. If you've never head of this before, I would highly suggest tracking down a recording. It's a story that I suspect would be very good for a dark night around a campfire.

The topic of stuff that I was forced to watch in elementary school leads me to another part of my childhood: Goosebumps. You remember Goosebumps, right? If you were anywhere from eight to thirteen years old in the mid-90's, you either read some of these books or at least heard about them. As for me, I first became aware of the franchise not because of the books but because of an advertisement for a board game based on it. I never played the game so I didn't think much of it but I do remember that commercial. My real introduction to Goosebumps came when they started producing the TV series and released some of the episodes on video. One dreary day in the third grade, we were made to watch The Haunted Mask. Everybody else was really excited by it and enjoying it but for me, I was absolutely terrified of this story of a girl who, in order to get back at the kids who torment her by scaring her, takes an extremely creepy-looking mask from a weird old shop. Things get particularly scary when she puts the thing on and it slowly begins to change her personality. Eventually, she tries to take it off but can't and shortly thereafter, discovers that the mask is actually a real face and is slowly replacing her own. I cannot tell you how scared I was by that. That was on a Friday and that Saturday, Mom had to work for some reason and Dad, who has always worked the night-shift, slept most of the day, leaving me to sit on the chair in the living room the entire day, too scared to even go down the short hall to my room! But, as always happens to me, whenever something truly frightens me like that, I become fascinated with it. Eventually, I started casually reading the books. I didn't become a hardcore fan or anything but whenever I had some slow time at school or I was visiting a library, I would glance through them. I even ended up owning some, like Ghost Beach and Calling All Creeps!. I never really read them, God knows, but I did have them in my house at one point. I eventually owned and read the book The Haunted Mask, which is basically the same story as the VHS episode based on it, and, while the idea was still creepy, I did enjoy the book more than the actual episode. I also often read the sequel, The Haunted Mask II, which told the story of one of the kids who always frightened the girl from the first one breaking into the same bizarre mask store and taking another mask. Predictably, after he puts the mask on, he can't take it off and has to seek the original girl's help. I never saw the VHS episode of this because I was too chicken but I did finally see it just a few years ago and I was quite disappointed that its plot was very different from the book.

After The Haunted Mask, the only other Goosebumps episode that I saw was when we watched A Night in Terror Tower, a story about a brother and a sister who, while taking a tour of an old medieval torture chamber in London, become lost, are chased by a figure wearing an executioner's mask, and eventually end up back in the Middle Ages. For some reason, this was one that didn't scare me and I was more than willing to watch it whenever we had a choice. However, I steadfastly refused to watch any others that were out at the time, like Stay Out of the Basement and The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (the latter of which I was almost forced to watch by the son of my aunt's live-in boyfriend but my frightened protests forced him to take the VHS out). However, I was intrigued by the books, mainly because of their hand-drawn covers. One called The Barking Ghost got me because the cover showed a vicious, pale dog with glowing red eyes and a snarling mouth; A Shocker on Shock Street had a gigantic praying mantis on the cover, which reminded me of the 1950's monster flick, The Deadly Mantis; and The Curse of Camp Cold Lake, from what I can remember, had a picture of a skull-like head rising from a lake. Just the concept of many of the books interested me. It Came from Beneath the Sink seemed very frightening with its story about a family moving into a new house only to discover that there's something evil living beneath their sink (you can imagine my dismay when, many years later, I found out that the monster turned out to be an evil sponge). My Hairiest Adventure freaked me out because just the idea of something happening to you that you can't control has always scared me. I also thought How To Kill a Monster sounded cool with the idea of two kids trapped in their grandparents' house with a monster that lives in a room at the top of the house. Like The Haunted Mask, there were some books that ended up having a bunch of sequels due to their popularity. The one with the most was Monster Blood, which started out as a story about a couple of kids who find an old novelty item called Monster Blood but soon learn that the stuff devours everything in its path and turns animals into monsters. (Needless to say, that former aspect of the plot reminded me of The Blob.) The book went on to spawn three sequels, with Monster Blood II focusing on a hamster being turned into a monster by the stuff (that mutated hamster became a popular character in his own right, even becoming a toy you could get with some kids' meals: I really remember the advertisement for that as well), Monster Blood III having the main kid from the first story accidentally eat some of it himself, resulting in him becoming a giant, and Monster Blood IV (which I didn't even know about when I was a kid and, as it turns out, this was the last of the original Goosebumps series) having the characters from the other stories contend with a new breed of the Monster Blood that has taken the form a worm-like creature and can multiply. Another popular one was Night of the Living Dummy, which featured a Chucky-like evil dummy as its antagonists. The only one I read was the second one, where a would-be ventriloquist receives the evil dummy as a replacement for her broken one and she then has to contend with him. There were three books in that series. Inevitably, as with most things when you're a kid, my interest in Goosebumps (which, again, was casual to begin with) faded and it became nothing more than a relic of my childhood. Now, I just look at the books and the TV show and just smile, knowing that this stuff cannot possibly scare me now after all the horror films I've seen since then.

October of 1998 was a very important time for my ever-growing love of the horror genre. It was then at the beginning of the month that I saw advertisements that Turner Classic Movies was going to be showing a lot of the classic horror films from the 30's and 40's. I almost crapped myself. As someone who had been growing up reading about the classic movie monsters, it was about time that I actually got to see the movies featuring them. It was on the weekend before Halloween that month that I saw some of these flicks for the first time. That Saturday, I saw Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein back to back. It was absolutely astounding for me and I ended up loving both films to death. Later on that night was The Mummy and The Invisible Man but I didn't get to see those because my cousin was spending the night with me and I was hanging out with him. That night, we did try to watch The Wolf Man but, unfortunately, it was late and he kept falling asleep so we had to go to bed, although we did make it to when Larry Talbot becomes the Wolf Man for the first time. The next day, I saw a lot of Dracula, although I missed the ending of it. But, fortunately for me, The Wolf Man was on again that afternoon and I was able to see the entire movie. It instantly became one of my absolute favorites from that point on. The next Saturday, which was Halloween, I was disappointed that TCM wasn't showing any more of those movies but instead showed stuff like The Ape Man and I Walked with a Zombie, stuff I wasn't interested in at the time. I wanted monsters, not stuff like that! The documentary Universal Horror premiered that night and while it was nice to watch, it made me yearn even more for the actual films. That's what led to my obsession with seeing and owning all of these classic horror films that I could. On VHS, I ended up getting The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Dracula, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon (which I was very happy to see since I thought the creature himself was such a cool-looking monster), House of Frankenstein, and The Mummy. So, I was a pretty monster-happy young kid at that time.

That Halloween night was also the beginning of another love of mine: the Hammer horror films. That night, while looking for something to watch, Mom and I saw the last third of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, the second Hammer Dracula movie with Christopher Lee. While I had heard the name Hammer before, I didn't know that this was one of those movies at the time. All I did know was that this was a much scarier version of Dracula than the classic Bela Lugosi film I had seen a week earlier. It really thrilled me, especially the climax where the heroes battle Dracula on the frozen moat outside of his castle and eventually send him falling into the icy waters. It made me want to see more of these movies as well as the Universal flicks and, thanks to AMC, I soon would. It kind of hurts me to look at AMC nowadays and see what it's become when back then, it was a very classy, well put together channel. On Friday nights, AMC had a block called Friday Night EFX, hosted by the late great Stan Winston (whom I didn't know at the time but would eventually come to really admire) where they would first show an episode of a show called Cinema Secrets, which documented various kinds of special effects techniques, and, afterward, would play a classic sci-fi or horror film. In one episode of Cinema Secrets that focused on the classic monsters, I learned a little more about Hammer. And one night after Cinema Secrets, I got to see The Curse of Frankenstein, the original Hammer Gothic horror film. While it was much bloodier than the films I was used to at that time, made even more striking by it being filmed in color, it wasn't long before I became a fan of Hammer. In fact, Friday Night EFX introduced me to a lot of films such as The Thing from Another World, Die, Monster, Die, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Frankenstein Conquers the World (one of Toho's strangest kaiju flicks), The Curse of the WerewolfRevenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us, How To Make a Monster, and other such flicks. AMC also had something on Saturday nights called American Pop, which was basically a show that highlighted all things retro and they often played some interesting movies. It was thanks to that block that I saw movies like The Return of Count Yorga (long before I saw the first one), Blacula, Frogs, and I Was a Teenage Werewolf. We'll come back to AMC shortly but, in a nutshell, that was the first major part it would play in my ever-growing love and knowledge of horror and monster flicks.

Another channel that contributed immensely to my love of the genre was the Sci-Fi Channel. Not only did it show me my first Universal horror flick when I was a very little kid but it also introduced me to a couple of horror-related TV shows that I watched back in the day. One was the immortal classic, The Twilight Zone. I freaking love this show. Although I had heard the name before (thanks to advertisements for a TNT showing of the 1983 film), I was really introduced to it when Mom and I watched one of Sci-Fi Channel's New Year's marathons of it (which is a tradition that I'm glad they still do and I try to catch it whenever I can). I was hooked immediately and it shouldn't be difficult to understand why. Just about every one of those episodes is a small masterpiece. Some I really like are The Eye of the Beholder (or The Private World of Darkness), which Mom already knew about because she had seen it many times when she was a teenager; Living Doll, which Mom can't watch to this day but I really enjoy; The Invaders, about a woman in a small cabin being terrorized by small creatures from another planet; A Most Unusual Camera, where a group of crooks end up with a camera that takes pictures of the future; The Howling Man, about a man who comes across a monastery where the men inside are keeping prisoner someone whom they claim to be the Devil; The After Hours, where a woman becomes locked inside of a department store at night and discovers the eerie truth about both the store and herself; A World of His Own, where a playwright is able to create any person he wants simply by describing them; The Odyssey of Flight 33, where an airliner ends up traveling back in time; It's a Good Life, about the evil boy who controls an entire town with his supernatural powers; A Kind of Stopwatch, where an annoying man comes across a stopwatch that can freeze time; and, of course, the classic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. I could go on forever talking about The Twilight Zone but I'd better save for when I eventually review the show but, regardless, Sci-Fi Channel introduced me to Rod Serling's incredible genius. Another show that I watched regularly was Dark Shadows. If you'll recall, I said I caught brief glimpses of the show as a small child but it wasn't until I was older and had a better attention span that I actually began watching the show. I don't have as much to say about Dark Shadows since I haven't seen it in years and it doesn't play anywhere to my knowledge (or at least on any channel that I get) but I have fond memories of it, from the memorable character of Barnabis Collins to the evil witch Angelique and so on. I really liked the Gothic setting and atmosphere of the show as well as some of the story arcs, like the one involving a ghostly child that Barnabis has a connection, the one where a seance sends the main girl (I don't remember her name) back in time and she is put on trial for being a witch, the one where the creepy Quentin Collins is discovered still living in the main house, the one where they come across a man who is cursed with being a werewolf, and so on. It's a show that I would definitely like to revisit some time (but I'm not buying the ridiculously large amount of DVD sets to see it though).

I also have fond memories simply of what Sci-Fi Channel once was in general. Besides those two shows, I also watched Sightings, which I talked about earlier, I liked how they once devoted each day of the week to marathons of their original series like Sliders, The Invisible Man, and so on (I never watched those shows, mind you, but I still thought that was a neat idea) and the cool ways they would advertise what ever movie they were going to show. I vividly remember their promos for Hellraiser, David Cronenberg's The Fly, Child's Play, and other such movies. I also remember when they had a marathon of horror film sequels, one movie for each night of one week, like Child's Play 3, Psycho II, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, and one that I'm blanking on right now. They did a Child's Play marathon one Saturday that had a great promotion and also remember being creeped out by one they did for a showing of the little known movie, Trucks. So, to sum up, Sci-Fi Channel was very cool once upon a time. Unfortunately, like most of the channels I grew up on, it's not what it once was. Wrestling and dumb reality shows dominate it now, which makes no sense to me, and they even had to start spelling the name in a stupid way. SyFy? Seriously? I'd better move on before I go on a tangent.

As you've probably noticed by now, I haven't gone into much detail about movies from the 70's onwards. Well, the reason for that was not only did my parents not allow to see them during this time period but I was also just plain scared of them. That's also why I haven't mentioned MonsterVision or Joe Bob Briggs simply because, while I knew of the show, I just didn't watch the stuff that was shown on there. One example is that I was immensely terrified of Chucky ever since two of my cousins, who always loved to torment me when we were young, put on Child's Play 3 one day. All I remembered from that brief viewing experience was the beginning where Chucky is a mass of molten plastic and when he kills the chairman of Play Pals in his office. I was only five at that time and that little bit was enough for me. I was so scared of Chucky after that it's not even funny. I knew a little bit about Jason and Freddy Krueger as well. While I had never seen any of the movies, my cousins were fans and told me a little bit about them. I knew that Jason was the guy with the hockey mask and that Freddy was a really ugly guy with a clawed glove on one hand. But that was all I knew. I didn't know what their respective movie series were called or what they really were as characters. I learned that when I started venturing into the horror section of my local VHS rental shop and looked at the various box-covers as well as read the synopses on the back. That's how I learned that Freddy Krueger was a dead child-murderer who returns to kill you in your dreams. The synopses on the back of the Friday the 13th videos, however, didn't really explain whether Jason was alive, dead, or even human for that matter. The wording on the back of the box of the original movie confused me and made me think that both Jason and his mother killed the people in that one. Also, I only understood that something was called Part 2, Part 3, and so on if it was part of a TV show and was a cliffhanger. Therefore, I thought the Friday the 13th movies were all one long continuous thing like a TV show (I was too young to understand how sequels worked then). For some reason, I also thought there were twelve of those movies (you would think thirteen but I thought there were twelve) and that The Final Chapter was exactly what it purported itself to be (again, too young to get it). Some of those VHS boxes really messed me up. Some had disturbing covers, like the ones to The Howling V and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, while others had some freaky images from the film on the back. Hellraiser had a picture of Frank on the back, which freaked me out, and Hellbound had a picture of Kirstey pulling off Julia's skin, which I think messed me up even worse. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 had one of the Freddy-snake swallowing Kristen, which got to me because I thought Freddy was just a child-killer. Equally freaky was the picture of that one girl's bloated face on the back of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 (which I did not understand at all) and the one on the back of Wes Craven's New Nightmare with Freddy's mouth opening wide and attempting to swallow Miko Hughes (again, I was thinking to myself, "He eats kids?!") Now I'm seeing him eating someone alive! Terrorvision had a picture on the back of its box of the monster coming up through the floor in a house. The sight of that damn thing with that big ol' eye bursting through the floor traumatized me and I thought it was going to come up through our floor and eat me! There are others that I could mention here but those are the ones that stick out to me. Basically, that VHS store was a good place for me to confront what I was afraid of, which would prepare me for what was to come down the road.

Even though I wasn't watching the movies that were coming out at that time, I did experience two big phenomenons in the late 90's. One was Scream and while I was too young to see the film or understand its gimmick of pointing the finger at the genre and its cliches, I do remember everybody talking about it. Kids at my school were talking about it and how cool that they thought it was, even though they were probably too young to be watching it in the first place. My two cousins that loved to torment me actually started watching the first movie one day when we were over at my grandmother's house. They didn't get very far into the movie since my grandmother made them cut it off before Drew Barrymore got killed (not for the violence, mind you, but for the language) but I did remember what little I saw of those few minutes. I also remember seeing advertisements for Scream 2 and that was the first time I saw Ghost-Face since the ads and TV spots for the original that I saw didn't show him. Before I knew it, I started seeing that mask everywhere and it was the only movie-licensed maks that I ever saw in stores around here near Halloween and it still is. I never see Michael Myers masks or Jason masks (I do see those generic hockey masks but they don't count) but I always see Ghost-Face. Is that mask really that popular? It's weird. Anyway, Scream obviously led to I Know What You Did Last Summer and, like Scream, I didn't know exactly what it was or anything but I did know it was the new big scary movie and everyone was talking about it. And like Ghost-Face, I didn't really see the killer until I saw ads for I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and I must say that fisherman really intimidated me, with his dark raincoat, hidden face, and hook for a hand. Again, it may seem pointless that I'm talking about these movies and their phenomenons since I wasn't seeing them but all I can say is when something is that popular, you're going to hear about it even if you're too young to see it (case in point, I heard about There's Something About Mary even though I obviously couldn't see it because everyone was talking about it). Also, I just like thinking back to this time. I know a lot of people look back at that trend with disgust but, honestly, it reminds me of when horror movies were still fun and not all doom and gloom, which I will expound at the end of this.

The other horror phenomenon that I remember fondly is The Blair Witch Project. I became aware of that due to the Sci-Fi Channel when they started advertising their "documentary," Curse of the Blair Witch. I didn't know what this was but, like everyone else, I assumed it was about a true case. I asked Mom if she had ever heard of the Blair Witch and she said that she had heard of the Bell Witch but this was a new one on her. I never saw the documentary but it wasn't long before I started seeing the TV ads for the film itself. Again, I didn't know what this was. Like everyone else, I had no knowledge of the "found-footage" subgenre and I bought into the idea that this was real footage recovered from the woods that they were releasing in theaters. I had never heard of anyone doing that before and I figured, "Well, I guess that would be creepy to see." And, like Scream, everybody and their mother was talking about the film. In fact, I heard about it much more than Scream when it was out. The son of my aunt's live-in boyfriend had gone to see it and he said it really was one of the scariest movies he had ever seen. That's what everybody was saying about it. Cartoon Network did a parody of it during Scooby-Doo marathons they played on the weekends during the whole month, called The Scooby-Doo Project. It a bunch of clips that were meant to be found-footage of Scooby and the gang disappearing in the woods during their latest mystery. It was actually pretty funny and even had some creepy music and segments, including a fake news report saying that no trace of the gang had been found. And, for some reason, the library at my high school ended up with a book that "documented" the actual Blair Witch case. I'm sure somebody had the book with them and accidentally left it in there because I don't know why any school would intentionally ask for that book. Anyway, I looked through it and, still thinking this was legit, I read the last entry that said, "Something lurks in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland. All those who venture to find it should take considerable care," or something to that effect. I thought it was pretty creepy stuff. I'm not exactly sure when I discovered that it was all a hoax. I may have first suspected it when Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 came out the following October, which was a real movie and not another found-footage flick. But, eventually, I heard people talking about how the whole thing was a hoax and now everybody hated it because they were tricked. I was just like, "Oh, okay." I hadn't seen the movie so what did I care? But the memory of that phenomenon is still something that I think about around October and, like Scream, I wish that more horror movies that unite the entire country like that, including perfect strangers, would come out more often.

Late 1999 and 2000 in general were huge steps in my ever-growing infatuation with horror. It was October of '99 when I began to take the plunge and see more modern horror films. The week leading up to Halloween, I saw The Guardian for the first time since I caught a glimpse of it when I was younger. I came in at the point where Ned discovers Camilla really is and is trapped and eventually killed in his house by her wolves (because of the wolves, I thought it was The Howling at first). I thought it was a creepy but enjoyable flick overall (even though what I saw was the TV version, which cut out the theatrical ending). That Halloween weekend was when AMC's MonsterFest kicked into high-gear and I saw such flicks as The Deadly Mantis for the first time, the original Gamera, Rodan for the first time in years, and other such films. However, that Saturday night was when everything really changed. I was flipping through channels and came across the original Child's Play. The minute I saw Chucky, I flipped to another channel but I couldn't help but come back because of my curiosity. I watched movie from the scene where Chucky comes alive and attacks Karen Barclay to the end. Right after that was Child's Play 3, which, again, I watched from the middle to the very end. Mom actually joined me and she couldn't believe that I was watching Chucky since I had been so scared of it up to that point. While I was still a little tense, I actually enjoyed myself as well and, therefore, despite the fact that a lot of people think Chucky is stupid, I'll always consider the Child's Play movies to be the first modern horror movies that I ever saw. But I had no clue exactly what I was in for the following day, on Halloween itself. That's when I saw the movie Halloween, appropriately enough. A couple of my cousins had it on at my grandmother's house and I was just coming in and out of the room, not really paying attention to it. After my cousins left, I actually walked into the living room, sat down, and watched it. I had heard of Halloween before but I didn't know what it was about. I figured that it was probably about ghosts or something like that. Little did I know that it was fundamentally about the boogeyman. I can't tell you how frightened I was during the last fifteen minutes of the movie when Michael Myers was chasing after Laurie and followed her all the way back to the other house. And, like The Blob years before, the film offered no resolution whatsoever, with Michael's body vanishing into the night at the end. Halloween II was on right after that but I didn't watch much of it except for the last third when Michael stalks Laurie in the hospital and is eventually set on fire in an explosion. I do remember going into my grandma's dining room to eat lunch, which she always fixes for us on Sunday, and leaving the TV on. As the opening credits for Halloween II rolled, that was the first time I really heard the theme and I was thinking, "Oh, my God, that's creepy!" Those memories are why Halloween is very special to me because I saw it before I saw any of the Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movies and, therefore, it remains my favorite of all of those franchises.

The year 2000 as a whole was a big year for me as well. First, I got a computer at the very beginning of the year. Now, thanks to the internet, I could do all the research I wanted on the world of the genre. I visited a lot of different sites to learn as much as possible about horror films that I was unaware of and I also visited a lot of Halloween fan-sites and read up on the series as a whole, since I had only seen the first two at that point. I also saw some films that year that ended up becoming more personal favorites of mine. One was The Terminator, which I fell in love with instantly due to its awesome blend of sci-fi, action, noir, and so on. Another was Predator, which thrilled me to absolutely no end (Mom almost made me turn it off because of the strong profanity but I was able to watch the whole thing). It was also that year that I was introduced first-hand to Alfred Hitchcock. I had heard his name before and I knew he made Psycho (although I didn't know what the story of that film was) but I had no idea just how much of a revered filmmaker he was. The first movie of his I ever saw was The Birds. It was around New Year's when I first saw it and that same year, I got the VHS of it (much to Dad's chagrin; he hates that movie). Needless to say, I loved that movie from the moment I first saw it and it remains one of my favorite Hitchcock films. It was that October that I saw Psycho for the first time, after hearing so much about this legendary film. Again, I understood immediately why it was considered a classic and, thanks to those two films, I was a big Hitchcock fan from that point on. During AMC's Monster Madness that year, I saw some more horror films that I now absolutely love for the first time, like The Fly (the original, mind you, and both Mom and I were thoroughly creeped out by it), a little bit of House of Wax (that Monster Madness was kind of my introduction to Vincent Price as a whole), and other such films.

There were two major things that happened to me in 2000. First, in September of that year, while looking around at an On-Cue (remember that chain of stores?) in Winchester, I came across the book Creature Features by John Stanley. I had been looking for some sort of book like that for a while by that point and after skimming through it, I could tell that it was definitely what I was looking for. It was a guide to a lot of movies that I had never heard of before and it was also interesting to read someone else's opinions on movies. This was all knew to me, actually. Up to that point, I had pretty much liked any movie that I saw or at least thought that I should. That book actually showed me that it was okay not to like a movie for various reasons. I was even amazed at some of the movies that he didn't like and, at that point, I didn't have the self-esteem or even the knowhow to disagree with someone so I just assumed that the movies that he said were classics were so, the ones that he said were bad really did suck, and so on. It would be a while before I would learn to form my own opinion about something. But, in any case, I still contend that book was one of the best buys I ever made. It's still sitting in my bookcase even as we speak and while it's a little worn with time and quite outdated, I still like looking through it to this day, especially to see what Stanley thought of movies that I hadn't seen when I first bought the book.

The other big thing that happened to me was that Christmas when I got The Terminator, Predator, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day of VHS as presents. They were the first R-rated films that I ever owned and, holding the VHS's after unwrapping them, I felt kind of naughty, since I was only thirteen at the time and now had movies meant for seventeen year-olds. Funny thing is that I asked my aunt, who got me those movies, to also get me Halloween and Halloween II but when Mom found out about that, she went behind my back and told my aunt not to do so. I was rather disappointed to say the least when my aunt told me about that. She rectified by getting me Halloween and Halloween H2O (I had also asked for II but she couldn't find it) for my birthday the following year. When I got them when I visited my aunt after my birthday had come and gone, I was a bit nervous that Mom would get angry about it when she found out but, weirdly enough, she didn't really care about it. Go figure. Anyway, watching The Terminator on VHS for the first time after I got it taught me a lesson on another subject: censorship. When I had seen it and all the other violent flicks I had ever watched on TV, I assumed that everything I saw was the whole movie. I didn't understand that there was stuff that had to be cut out of network showings, like graphic violence, sex, and stuff. I remember when I watched the film and the Terminator cut up his arm to fix it after he had been shot and later cut out his own eye, I was thinking to myself, "I don't remember seeing this stuff on TV." And the sex scene with Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese was something I really didn't remember (I thought bare breasts were only shown in pornos, not real movies!) So, those movies are what taught me that whenever I first saw films on VHS, the content might be quite different from how it was on TV.

From that point on, I started seeing more films in earnest. I learned about the masters of horror from the 70's onward like John Carpenter, George Romero, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, and so on and became interested in seeing as many of their films as I could. I became a particularly big fan of Carpenter, especially after hearing and seeing him for the first time on a featurette after the movie Halloween on the VHS that I got. After I saw Christine as well, I knew right then that he would be one of my favorite directors ever. In early 2002, I saw a movie that I felt I wasn't allowed to see due to my Christianity-oriented family: The Omen. As I said, because of my family, at the time I wasn't really allowed to see movies dealing with Satan like The Exorcist (especially because Mom has always despised that movie but I, of course, eventually did see it as well) and, for the most part, I listened to them. But, when I saw The Omen for the first time, I became enthralled with it and knew that it was a movie that I could help but really like. Rebelling against my family yet again, I eventually ended up with The Omen as well (it's because of those special circumstances that I've always liked The Omen more than The Exorcist, just so you know). Around that time, I also saw the remakes of the classic 50's science fiction movies and, oddly enough, I ended up seeing them in the opposite order of their release. First, I saw the 1988 version of The Blob. Now, I still hadn't quite got over my fear of the original and, obviously, seeing this film, which is basically the original on steroids, didn't help. That really scared me the first time I watched it, I must say. However, as with everything that used to frighten me, I eventually grew to love it and that movie ended up being one of the first DVDs I bought when I got my player in June of 2002 for my birthday. Spring of '02 was when I saw David Cronenberg's The Fly. That freaked me out even more than The Blob. I liked Jeff Goldblum a lot since I've always really loved Jurassic Park but I wasn't used to seeing him like that! The "birthing" scene and the last fifteen minutes of the movie in particular really disturbed me. And, finally we have John Carpenter's The Thing, which I saw that August. I didn't know what to expect from it. I had avoided it for a long time because I loved The Thing from Another World so much but I decided then to finally see it. I had heard that there some insane special effects in the movie and that it was an all-around creepy movie. You can image my surprise when I put it in and it got to the dog scene, which I had seen as an eight-year old. I was like, "That's what that was!" First time watching the movie, I was just like, "That was good. Awesome special effects. Overall, it was good." But, upon watching it more and more, especially since I got the PC game that Christmas, it slowly became a movie that I absolutely loved and, finally, I was able to call it my favorite horror movie ever. Lastly, I have to mention that I saw Psycho II during that summer since it, Psycho III, The Blob '88, and Jaws: The Revenge (yeah, I know) were the first DVD's I ever bought and watched. I had always heard that Psycho II was just okay or that it sucked but when I finally curious and watch it, I said to myself, "This is a great sequel! Why do so many people say that it sucks?" That was the movie that made me realize that it was okay to disagree with other people's opinions on this stuff. So, from that point on, I stopped following the herd and have always come up with my own opinions about what ever movie I've seen.

I first saw the original Nightmare on Elm Street in October of '02 and after getting it on DVD that December, it quickly became another franchise that I liked very much and whose films I was determined to see all of. The following year marked the first time I had really watched any of the Friday the 13th films, after getting glimpses of The Final Chapter and Part 2 respectively beforehand. While Part VI remains my favorite, now that I think about it the one I first saw completely from beginning to end was the one everyone hates: Part V. (If you go back to my reviews of the films, I may have said something different but I've now realized that Part V was indeed the first one I saw all the way through.) In any case, that was another franchise that I began collecting in earnest and by the end of 2003, I had all of the films on DVD. And while I didn't see Freddy vs. Jason in the theater, I eventually saw it on DVD the following spring. Despite some obvious flaws, I really enjoyed it, thought it was a fun flick, and I still get some fun out of it to this day. I'm actually sad that there wasn't a follow-up to it because I would have loved to have seen more. After that, I saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in late 2004. While I ended up seeing the remake first, I saw the original film not too long afterward. At first, I wasn't quite sure what to think of it. I felt that it was kind of dated and I wasn't expecting the film itself to look as... crappy as it did, although I later learned that was the point of the film. But, after watching it more and more, I eventually understood why it was regarded as a classic and now I can safely put it in my top ten, which I did. After that, I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time from beginning to end after having caught glimpses of it (which, as it turns out, were from the awful re-edited 30th Anniversary Edition) and I loved it immediately. Needless to say, that eventually led me to Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead and so on.

October of 2004 marked a couple of more points for me, which consisted of two specials I saw on TV around Halloween. One was Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments, which I thought was an absolutely amazing special. Not only did I appreciate the fact that it celebrated movies that I had loved for a long time but it introduced me to a lot of movies that I had never heard of before, such as Zombie, The Beyond, The Changeling, SuspiriaBlack Christmas, and it also showed me clips of movies that I had heard of but never seen before, like The Haunting, Don't Look Now, Candyman, Dawn of the Dead, Hellraiser, and many, many before. It introduced me to other horror filmmakers that I had never heard of before, particularly the Italian directors like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava as well as people like Guillermo del Toro, Stuart Gordon, and Bob Clark. In addition, I was actually able to see people I had heard of many times before like Tom Savini, George Romero, and others. That was and still is an awesome special and I enjoy watching whenever it comes on around Halloween. And then, on Halloween night that October, I saw Masters of Horror. I'm not talking about the TV show but a documentary covering the films of the modern horror filmmakers (for some reason, Sci-Fi Channel listed it as Boogeymen II: Masters of Horror, trying to tie into that compilation film apparently). It talked about John Carpenter, George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven (oddly enough, his segment focused mainly on The Serpent and the Rainbow), Guillermo del Toro, and Dario Argento. Again, this was another well-made, entertaining documentary that was very informative for someone like me. Granted, I will say that I think I overdid it that October and by the time Halloween had come and go, I was almost physically ill because I had seen so much horror stuff but that was still a fun time for me nevertheless.

These specials helped me take another important step, one which has led me to what I do on this blog: film analysis. I started to really think about film at that point and what a lot of these movies meant. Two books that I eventually got, specifically a guide to horror films that analyzed such flicks as Nosferatu, The Bride of Frankenstein, Eyes Without a Face, Horror of Dracula, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cannibal Holocaust, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and others, really pumped some analytical juice into my brain. I also discovered that films that I had enjoyed for years simply as pure entertainment, like the Universal horror flicks, had more meaning to them than simply being cool monster movies (that realization was mainly thanks to documentaries on the various Legacy DVD sets put out by Universal). Even Godzilla had a lot more to him, which I discovered when I got an awesome book called Godzilla On My Mind and eventually got the two-disc DVD featuring the original Japanese Gojira. I am convinced that all of that stuff has led me to what I'm doing today. Plus, it didn't hurt that in high-school, I had a tough-as-nails English teacher who pushed me and about drove me nuts but taught me to think deeper about stuff (I had to write a ten-page paper on Hamlet and get a good grade on it in order to graduate so I kind of had to become the way I am!) She's the reason why none of these reviews are ever short. I just can't do a short review. I'm sure my mind, which tends to absorb everything in a film, is another reason but she's the main one.

To end this, I think I will now talk about what the horror genre has become in recent years. To be quite honest, by the time I entered college and got very deep into it, I was a bit bummed about the trends that were popping up in the genre. I never was a fan of the so-called "torture porn" subgenre and I'm still not. While I thought the first two Saw movies were decent, I lost interest in the series after the third one and I've never cared for the Hostel movies or anything Eli Roth has ever made. I'm really glad that trend eventually faded away. I've also never been a fan of the really extreme stuff that has been made in recent years. I did a whole post last year on why I would never review things like the August Underground movies, A Serbian Film, Inside, Martyrs, and all of their kind so I don't want to repeat myself but I don't see how that's entertainment. This is just me but when I watch a horror film, I watch it either to be scared or just for entertainment. Those types of movies make me feel like crap and I don't get any enjoyment out of them. The closest thing to those films that I've ever seen is Cannibal Holocaust and while I do kind of admire that film for its sheer balls, I also think that Ruggero Deodato crossed the line in ways that's rather unforgiveable. I also have to comment on the sad remake trend that popped up in the 2000's. Now, while I have enjoyed some remakes like those of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, Last House on the Left, and Friday the 13th, the sheer amount of these remakes is very disconcerting, proving that Hollywood has run out of new ideas, and a lot of them are abyssmally bad, particularly Rob Zombie's bastardizations of the Halloween franchise and the 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street. But, every once in a while, you do come across movies that give you hope for the genre. Some of my favorites from recent years have been The Descent (my favorite of the 2000's), the Paranormal Activity movies, Cloverfield, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, and Insidious (which I think is one of the scariest movies in years). But, unfortunately, those films are few and far between and are becoming more and more rare as the years go on. However, that said, I don't think I'll ever drop out of the horror genre completely. I think there always will be new stuff to talk about and new movies to get excited about. Some of them may be bad but the good thing about the horror genre is that it always has a surprise for you when you least expect it.

So, that's it. Those are my fondest memories of the horror genre, from my earliest ones to how I've evolved in viewing it throughout the years, from the ones that were profound to the ones that just simply make me smile whenever I think about them. I hope you've enjoyed this incredibly long post and I also hope that it brings to mind some of your favorite memories of the genre throughout your life as well. So, until next time, keep watching horror and have a happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Black Christmas (1974)

I'm not exactly sure when I became aware of this film. I'm pretty sure that I first heard the title on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments in 2004 but it wasn't until a few years later, possibly when I started listening to Deadpit Radio and began reading up more and more on horror films of the 1970's, that I actually became intrigued by Black Christmas. I've always enjoyed finding those obscure films that fall into the cracks and are actually similar to and perhaps influenced more well known films. In this case, it was the connection to the slasher genre and Halloween specifically that interested me. Being a huge fan of the Halloween franchise and hearing rumors that Black Christmas may have had some influence on that original film, I knew I had to see this movie (plus, the clips that James Rolfe showed in a review of the movie he did on his website as well as others that I had seen from the film looked really cool). Finally, in December of 2009, I got the 2006 special edition DVD of the film and watched it one Saturday evening that January. Some movies have to grow on you but others you like from the moment you first see them and for me, Black Christmas proved to be an example of the latter. I thought the movie was quite good. Granted, the characters and acting were nothing special but I was really impressed with the mood the film created and how skillfully it made me uneasy in spots. The ending especially gave me the creeps in spades. Plus, I really enjoyed the sense of humor that the film as well. While I do still think Halloween is a creepier and more well-made film overall, I think Black Christmas more than holds its own and should get a lot more attention than it deserves actually.

During a Christmas party at a sorority house one night, an unseen man spies on the partygoers inside and then climbs up a trellis on the side of the house and enters the attic. Soon after, the girls receive the latest in a series of obscene and disturbing phonecalls where the caller makes bizaree sounds as well as says some very perverted stuff. One of the girls gets on the phone and takes on the caller, who eventually tells the woman that he's going to kill her. Not long after that, another one of the girls is attacked and killed by the stranger in her bedroom, unbeknownst to everyone else. The killer then takes her body up into the attic and props her body up in a rocking chair. When the girl fails to meet her father the next day to go home with him for the holidays, he goes to the sorority and eventually to the police. At the same time, one of the sorority girls, Jess Bradford tells her boyfriend, aspiring musician Peter, that she is pregnant with his child but wants to have an abortion. Peter is not happy about this news at all and tells Jess that they are going to meet that night to settle the issue. Meanwhile, the police starts an investigation on the missing girl, while more obscene calls are received at the sorority house and the housemother is eventually murdered by the stranger in the attic, who promptly hides her body up there as well. That night, the police tap the sorority's telephones so they can trace the obscene phone-calls. However, more of the sorority's inhabitants fall prey to the killer and Jess eventually ends up alone in the house with him. By this point, the question is if the murderer could be Peter, who is furious at Jess for not changing her mind over the abortion or if it's someone else altogether.

It's really interesting to think that less than a decade before he created one of the most beloved, and unavoidable, holiday films ever in the form of A Christmas Story, director Bob Clark made a dark and disturbing look at the most joyous time of the year with this film. Now, Clark is someone who had a very interesting career, I must say. I may not be interested in all of his films (the Porky's movies just aren't my cup of tea) and he may have done one of the movies where Sylvester Stallone made an absolute fool out of himself with Rhinestone, but I am interested in seeing the other horror films he did like Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Deathdream (the latter of which I hear is actually a mini-classic). It seemed like he was a really nice, likable guy as well as being quite talented and should have gotten the chance to make more films than he did. Not only is it sad that he was killed, along with his son, in a traffic accident in 2007 but also, his last movies were stuff like The Karate Dog and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. Too bad he didn't get to make more good movies before his life was cut tragically short.

Black Christmas is one of several movies that are credited with creating the slasher subgenre. No one is able to decide exactly which film did so but it's always the same three or four movies that are credited with doing so. Psycho (and, to some extent, Michael Powell's notorious Peeping Tom from the same year), is often credited as being the first major building block for the slasher films, obviously with the concept of a knife-wielding killer and so forth. The same year, and month for that matter, that Black Christmas was released, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is also often considered to be a contender for the title of the first slasher movie, hit theaters. Personally, while that is an effectively frightening movie all-around, I see it more as a bad-ass grindhouse movie rather than as a slasher movie. And then, of course, there's John Carpenter's Halloween, which was released four years after Black Christmas and is widely considered to be the start of the slasher film since right after that came Friday the 13th and so on. As I said way back in my review of it, I think the original Friday the 13th is the prototypical slasher film. While all of those films before it were definitely classics, all of the slasher movies that were released in that boom period from 1980 to 1984 were copying Friday the 13th since that movie was the first of those types of movies to be released on a national scale and was a huge hit as a result. So, while I do think that films like Black Christmas and Halloween set the template, Friday the 13th was the movie that made it popular and bankable.

There's also apparently another interesting connection between Black Christmas and Halloween. Bob Clark once said that a couple of years after he made the film, he and John Carpenter collaborated together on a film that ended up never being made and that, according to him, Carpenter asked him if he ever intended to make a sequel to Black Christmas. While Clark said no, he did say that he told Carpenter how he would have done a sequel and that idea involved the killer coming back and beginning his killing spree again on Halloween. However, Clark said that he never felt that Carpenter stole that idea for Halloween and, in fact, executive producer Irwin Yablans is the one credited with coming up with the idea for setting that film on Halloween and even having it be called as such. Carpenter, on the other hand, denies that he took any inspiration from Black Christmas and even once said that he felt that Black Christmas was the "wrong" way to do this type of film. While Carpenter is one of my favorite directors of all time, I sometimes feel that he isn't exactly honest about some things when he's interviewed and I do think he had to have taken some inspiration from Black Christmas. If you watch the two films back to back, you can see some cross-over, most notably with the concept of camerawork meant to portray the killer's point of view, young people getting butchered, and so forth. But, to be fair, I think those basic elements are where the similarities end. To me, the story of Halloween, the character of Michael Myers, and so on all came from Carpenter's mind, although, again, I do think Carpenter borrowed more from Black Christmas than he wants to admit.

I have some rather mixed feelings about the film's main character, Jess Bradford, played by Olivia Hussey. I do think that she acts rather insensitive about her boyfriend Peter's feelings on the matter that she's pregnant with his child and that she wants to abort it. She comes out and says that she's already decided what she's going to do and that Peter has no say in the matter whatsoever, even telling him that she originally never intended to tell him anyway. She can see how much the revelation is upsetting Peter but still, she doesn't budge and makes it clear that she doesn't care what he thinks. That is rather selfish of her, I must say. Also, Peter makes a good point when he says that she sees this baby as nothing more than a nuisance that she wants to get rid of. The way she talks to him, she acts like it's all his fault. I just get that vibe when she says stuff like, "Would you please stop attacking me so we can have a rational, adult conversation?" Maybe it's just because I'm a guy but I feel, "You know, Jess, it takes two to tango. You were the one who had sex with him without protection so this situation is your fault. You should let him have some say in the matter and not just shut him out completely." I also think it was rather insensitive of her to tell Peter about the pregnancy on the day where he's supposed to have an important piano recital and, naturally, he's too upset about the news to concentrate and he blows it. However, as we'll get into, Peter isn't exactly a stable person but still, I think Jess was more than a little insensitive to how he felt about the situation. Now, because of this, you would think that I wouldn't like Jess at all but I do. She comes across as somebody who does care about her friends, like when Barb offends Clare at the beginning of the film and when Clare heads up to her room, Jess can tell she's upset and tries to assure her that Barb didn't mean what she said. Also, to her credit, when Peter calls late in the film and is very upset, she does try to calm him down. And, finally, when Jess finds out that the man making the disturbing phonecalls is in the house with her, instead of leaving Barb and Phyl alone with him, she arms herself with a fireplace poker and heads upstairs. Granted, Barb and Phyl have already been murdered but at least Jess was still good enough to at least attempt to save them. Overall, I would say that Jess is definitely a good person but just got herself in a situation that she didn't know how to handle in terms of her pregnancy. Now, if she had been an out and out bitch to everybody, that would have been another thing entirely but for the reasons stated above, I still cared about her in the climax when she's being chased through the house by the killer.

When I first saw this movie, I wasn't aware that Keir Dullea who plays Peter was the same guy who played Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I guess just didn't make the connection but then again, that movie is one you watch for the visuals rather than the acting (besides, Dullea looks a lot different here than he did in that film). In any case, like I said, Peter is a character that I really feel for. He's initially thrilled to learn that Jess is pregnant but becomes extremely upset when she tells him that she's going to abort it and that he has no say in the matter. He's so upset and distracted that he miserably fails an important piano recital (like I said, I think Jess was at fault for telling him that news on the very day of the recital). And I can also understand his frustration about Jess' attitude about the baby because, let's face it, she is coming across like it's nothing more than an inconvenience and not a living human being growing inside of her. So, yes, I do feel for Peter. But that said, it's also clear that Peter has some serious emotional problems. He's more than a little neurotic, practicing his piano skills almost nonstop for three days to prepare himself for the recital, and when he fails it, he angrily smashes his piano to pieces with a mike stand. And when he meets with Jess that night to discuss what they're going to do about her pregnancy, he tells her that he's quitting his practice and marrying her. Now that, I think, is rather crazy of him to expect her to drop everything that she's doing and marry him just because he's messed up his future. And, like I said, while I do understand his getting upset at Jess due to her attitude about the baby, I think threatening her the way he did was going overboard. His actions end up implicating him in the recent disappearances and the way he lurks around the sorority house and watches it, it would make you suspect that he is the killer. He ends up unknowingly causing Jess to think that he is so when he breaks his way into the basement where she's hiding after being attacked. While he did so only because he heard her screaming, this leads to her killing him with the fire-poker when she thinks he's trying to attack her. By the end of the movie, everybody is convinced that Peter was the killer but, as we find out, he was just a red herring and the real killer is still lurking in the attic of the sorority house. You have to feel bad for Peter. He was a well-meaning but tortured guy whose emotional problems and erratic actions got him killed and branded as a murderer afterward, allowing the real one to remain uncaptured.

The inhabitants of the sorority house are a colorful bunch to say the least. The most memorable one is Margot Kidder as Barbara Coard, or "Barb" as everyone calls her. She's the residential drunk, always getting plastered at a moment's notice and also has quite a mouth on her both in terms of profanity and graphic sexual innuendos. She's got the balls to actually get into an arguement with the obscene caller at the beginning of the movie, telling him, "Why don't you go find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it? That'll give you a charge." She has a bad habit of being a bit of a bully towards the other girls, particularly Clare, whom she offends after that obscene phone call, implying that she's a "professional virgin." We learn early on that she's been at Clare for a while and when she disappears, Barb is sure that everybody thinks that she drove Clare away, lashing out at Clare's father, the housemother, and one of the other girls after becoming extremely drunk. She has some problems at home as well, getting a call from her mother at the beginning of the movie that informs her that she can't come home for Christmas because she's going off with some guy, prompting Barb to tell her mother that she's a real whore. Fortunately for her, Jess and Phyl take pity on her and accept an offer to go skiing with her in a few days. Despite what a troubled person she is, Barb is a real hoot with some of the stuff she says. There's a moment where she's offering this little kid some booze and when he takes a sip, she says, "I think the little bugger's schnockered, son of a bitch!" Later on when Sergeant Nash asks for the number of the sorority house, she tells him that it's Fellatio 20880 and Nash, being the complete dumbass that he is as we'll see later, falls for it. And before she lashes out at everybody at dinner that night, she drunkenly tells them that there's a species of turtle that can have sex nonstop for three days. She goes on to say that she knows this because she went to the zoo and watched them. However, she makes it clear that she didn't stay for the whole three days and instead went over to watch the zebras, which only took thirty seconds because of premature ejaculation. Even if Barb is a drunken, slobby bitch most of the time, I can't help but crack up at some of the stuff she says.

For me, the most uninteresting tenant at the sorority is Phyllis Carlson or "Phyl" (Andrea Martin). She's not a horrible character or anything but she's basically just a goody two-shoes type character. Don't get me a wrong, there is a place for those types of characters and some of my favorite characters of all time do fall into that category, but Phyl just doesn't grab me that much. Still, we do see how sweet and caring she is when she becomes worried over Clare's disappearance and later in the night, she breaks down crying, suspecting that Clare is probably dead and says that she feels so bad for Clare's father. That was nice. So, not a bad character but just not that memorable to me. Now, the housemother, Mrs. MacHenry (Marian Waldman) is something else altogether. She could be my favorite character in the entire movie because of how hilarious she is. I think she does like being the housemother but is glad to get away when she can. Like Barb, she has some awesome dialogue, like at the beginning of the movie when the girls give her this horrendous nightgown as a present and while she says the obligatory thank you, under her breath she says, "Got about as much use for this as I do a chastity belt." Later when she's brushing her teeth and sees herself wearing the gown in the mirror, she comments, "Jesus, I wouldn't wear this to have my liver out." I also like it when Clare's father visits the sorority and he chastises Mrs. Mac for the atmosphere and decor of the house. In a scene afterward, she's mocking his statement, "I didn't send my daughter here to be drinking and picking up boys," to which she says to herself, "Tough shit." She knows the morals of the girls that stay in her sorority, saying, "These broads would hump the Leaning Tower of Pisa if they could get up there." And there's a really funny running gag with her in that she's got booze bottles hidden everywhere in the house, like in a book with a bunch of pages cut out around it and even in the upper section of a toilet! Despite all of this hidden liquor, she never gets drunk like Barb though. Finally, I have to mention this stuff that she sings while she's packing to go to her sister's for the holiday: "Alligators come through the gate, but goodbye leg if you get away late! Lollies love to pop!" That's awesome. It's a shame she gets killed soon after that. There are other people in the sorority but other than Clare, the others are never named and they go home for the holidays after the first part of the movie so they don't matter anyway.

Since Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin) is the first person to get killed in the first ten minutes or so of the film, there isn't much to say about her. All you learn is that she has a rather proper and conservative father whom Clare wants to eventually introduce her boyfriend to but not before she lets her father get used to the idea of her having one and that Barb is constantly getting all over her for one reason or another. Other than that, there's nothing to say, although Clare, ironically, becomes the iconic image of the film when she's killed with plastic sheeting stretched over her face, some of which got sucked into her mouth, and her body is set on a rocking chair in the attic. You really do get to know Clare's father (James Edmond Jr.), whom begins looking for his daughter when she doesn't meet him to go home for the holidays. Mr. Harrison is as strict and proper as you would expect him to be, even a little stoic. The minute he meets Mrs. Mac, he tells her that he's not at all happy with the state of the sorority house, which consists of raunchy posters on the walls as well as the fact that his daughter's been involved in a lot of drinking and partying as well as dating boys.  Despite his strict ideals, you really feel bad for the poor guy when the police initially don't take Clare's disappearance seriously, when Barb lashes out at him and everyone else because she feels they're blaming her for Clare's disappearance, and when he and everyone else are searching in the park, which results in the discovery of a dead child. You especially feel bad for him when it hits you that he's going through all this crap to find Clare, hopefully alive, but in reality, unknown to him and everyone else, she's dead and her body is in the very house that most of the film's action takes place in. Mr. Harrison eventually suffers a strong case of shock at the end of the movie has to be taken to the hospital so his story is just sad all-around. It's also interesting to see Art Hindle, who would go on to appear in Philip Kaufman's remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and also star in David Cronenberg's The Brood, in the small role of Clare's boyfriend, Chris. Hindle is really just kind of there and doesn't have much of a part in the film but he does come across as genuinely caring about Clare as well as determined to find her. And he's the one who puts stupid Sargeant Nash in his place when he doesn't take her disappearance seriously. (Interesting note: Warner Bros., the American distributor of the film, asked Bob Clark to shoot a new ending where Chris is revealed to be the killer but Clark stuck to his guns and refused to do so.)

The most well-known actor in the film is John Saxon as Lt. Fuller, a character that's rather similar to his role in A Nightmare on Elm Street a decade later. I thought Saxon, as always, handled himself rather well in this film. Saxon is one of those actors who kind of gives the same performance over and over again, with the only difference being whether he's playing a good guy or a bad guy but he has such a presence to him that you can't help but enjoy him. Fuller is definitely a sympathetic, take charge-kind of cop whom, once he hears about the disappearance of Clare Harrison, gets right on the case at the same time he's helping a hysterical woman find her missing daughter. He goes as far as to lead a search party in a nearby park to find both missing girls and he also installs a tap on the sorority's telephones in order to trace the obscene phonecalls they're receiving. He's the one who suspects that Peter has something to do with what's going on due to his actions and his anger at Jess over the pregnancy. By the end of the movie, like everyone else, he's convinced that Peter was indeed the killer. Little does he suspect that the real killer is still hiding in the attic. On the other side of the police in this film is Sargeant Nash (Douglas McGrath). Nash is a complete idiot in every sense of the word. He wants desperately to do good at his job but he either doesn't think things through enough or is just absolutely rock-stupid. He doesn't take Clare's disappearance seriously, which leads to him getting chewed out later on by Chris, is too dumb to know that Fellatio is not a real exchange, doesn't make the connection that since the report of obscene phone-calls is coming from the house where the missing girl lived, that it might be important to investigate, and at the climax of the movie, blows Lt. Fuller's instructions not to tell Jess that the obscene caller is in the house. It's weird because I should hate Nash because of how arrogant he is when Clare is first reported missing and also because his stupidity complicates things but I find it really hard to hate dopey characters like him unless they're so stupid that they become annoying after a while (which Nash almost becomes but not quite). Plus, his dumbness leads to one hilarious moment that we'll get to later.

There are a couple of other characters I want to quickly mention. One is Phyl's boyfriend, who I think is named Patrick (Michael Rapport), who gets roped into playing Santa Claus at a department store or whatever that place is. In any case, he's not too thrilled about being forced to play Santa in the first place but when he hears that Phyl has cancelled a date they were supposed to go on during the holiday, he becomes absolutely cantankerous. It's really funny to see him wearing a Santa suit and have a kid sitting on his lap while he's saying stuff like, "Ho ho ho, shit," and ripping Barb a new one, calling her a bitch and the like. Finally, I feel that I must mention Les Carlson as Graham, the technician who puts the tap on the sorority phones in order to trace the obscene calls. Carlson should be well known to horror fans, having appeared in a few David Cronenberg films like Videodrome and The Fly. Nothing really special about his character but I just thought it was interesting to see Carlson pop up in another Canadian horror flick.

While there is quite a bit of humor in the film, it's not overt as it is in other horror films like An American Werewolf in London and it also doesn't interfere with the mood either. When it hits, it's quite funny but it sticks around for only a few moments before going on with the story and it feels very natural instead of forced. I've already mentioned a lot of the funny lines from characters like Barb and Mrs. Mac but there's other stuff to talk about. One that I find really funny is when Lt. Fuller is about to call the sorority when he finally looks at the number that Sargeant Nash wrote down from Barb. When he reads it, his reaction is hilarious. He's like, "What the hell is this?!" This other cop then cracks up laughing and Fuller finds it really funny as well. When he questions Nash about it, Nash tells him how it's a new exchange. Fuller says, "Nash, I don't think you could pick your nose without written instructions." He sits back down and the other cop continues busting a gut while Nash just stares at them with that dumb expression on his face before finally saying, "Oh, I get it. It's something dirty, ain't it?" That scene always causes me to at least crack a smile (which is needed because the very next scene is when Peter basically threatens Jess about having an abortion). There's another great moment later on when another cop and this crotchety old man get pulled into the station and you find out that the old man shot the cop right in the rear! The old man rants, "I'm not letting no son of a bitch trespass on my land in the middle of the night! I don't care what he is!" When Fuller is told that the guy fired on an officer, the old man yells, "You goddamn right! I'll do it again, too! The bastard was trespassing!" The wounded cop says, "I'm gonna make the son of a bitch pick every one of 'em out with his teeth," to which the old man says, "Next time you're gonna get the gun up your ass... sideways!" After that commotion, Fuller turns to see the cop that was laughing earlier at Nash's stupidity about to crack up again and, while trying to contain his own laughter, tells him, "You laugh and I swear to God I'll bust you to boyscout!" That's hilarious.

The humor aside, this film is first and foremost all about atmosphere and mood to create tension and it does so quite well. A majority of the film takes place at the sorority house and while the place at first doesn't look like a location that would inspire fear, with its humorously raunchy wall decorations and light atmosphere due to the rowdy girls who live there, when most of the girls leave for the holidays, it does become quite creepy, especially when night falls. The camerawork that pans around the hallways, showing the length the halls and the hint of a corner at the end and so forth really help set the mood and, ironically, the Christmas lights and fireplace in the main room lend themselves to the atmosphere as well. The attic where the killer hides is especially eerie because of the darkness and all the junk that's crammed up there, punctuated even more so by the shots of Clare's body in the rocking shair next to the window. I find it rather creepy that the body was up against the window the entire movie and yet, it was never seen because the window is so high up. The same goes for the basement that Jess hides in at the end of the film. It's a really, dark eerie location filled with a lot of junk that is darkly lit and you can't quite tell what it all is. So, yeah, the sorority house becomes a spooky setting by the end of the film, especially during the very end when Jess is left alone and the house is darkly lit. Very creepy.

Bob Clark took the "less is more" concept to the hilt in regards to the movie's killer. He remains a complete enigma for the entire film. You never find out who he is, where he came from, or why he's killing people. You don't even get to see him. The only scene where you kind of get a look at his face is when he murders Barb in her room but even then, his face is mostly hidden in shadow. The rest of the time, all you get are shots of his shadow, POV shots, a well-known and particularly creepy shot of his eye watching Jess from behind a door, and glimpses of his hands. So, basically, who he is isn't even up to speculation because you're literally given nothing to go on. As I said earlier, Peter is portrayed as a possible suspect throughout the film and they subtly punctuate this by having the killer wear a shirt that seems very similar to Peter's green sweater. If you carefully watch some of the moments where you see the killer's hands, you can tell that he is indeed wearing a shirt that does look like Peter's sweater. But, by the end of the movie, it's revealed that Peter was just a red herring and the real killer is still on the loose. For what little you see of the killer, the film makes up for it in the fact that you hear him an awful lot. He's sort of like an in-verse of Michael Myers in that you see Michael but he's completely silent whereas you never really see this guy but he's quite vocal. Obviously, he makes obscene phonecalls and you learn that he's been doing so for a while (suggesting that he's been stalking the inhabitants of the sorority house long before he made his way to the house and started his killing spree). The phone calls mainly consist of him making all sorts of weird noises like slurping, snorting, laughing, yelling a bunch of nonsense, imitating several different noises, and saying a bunch of graphic sexual stuff. The only time he says anything calm and rational over the phone is when Barb provokes him and he says, "I'm going to kill you," which is really eerie when put up against all the other insane stuff he does. Some of the phonecalls actually shed some possible light on his identity, suggesting that his name is Billy and that he had an incestual relationship with his younger sister, Agnes. This comes from him imitating a conversation between several different people, where he yells stuff like, "Where's the baby?!" "Where'd you put Agnes?!" "You left her alone with Billy?!" "Billy, no!" He also constantly talkes to himself as well and a couple of times he says, "Agnes, it's me, Billy," and "You won't tell them what we did." Whenever he attacks someone, he starts yelling and screaming like an absolute maniac, which I find scary because, while he sounds like a kook who is enjoying scaring and killing people the rest of the time, here he sounds really pissed, particularly when he's chasing Jess at the end of the movie after she hits him with the door to a room. After he kills Mrs. Mac, there's a weird moment where he watches the taxi that was supposed to pick her up drive off and then he goes crazy, running around the attic and smacking things while yelling at the top of his lungs. God knows what caused that but it further proves that this guy is is really unstable.

Despite his insane babbling, there is evidence that he is very intelligent and is watching and listening to everything that goes on in the sorority. It's when he talks to Jess over the phone and says, "Just like having a wart removed," which is what Peter said to describe how Jess seems to view the prospect of abortion. In fact, he may have said that to further implicate Peter, suggesting that he'd been watching long enough to know that Peter would be a great scapegoat due to his neurotic tendencies. Heck, since he's in the house, he likely knew that the phones were bugged and may been listening in on the conversations between Jess and Lt. Fuller to see if his plan to implicate Peter was working. You can even see Billy's shadow in the background in one scene where Jess is talking to Fuller, so he's apparently interested in what Jess is saying while she's on the telephone. That's very effective in my opinion because I always find it really scary to think that somebody is not only crazy and dangerous but that there is also real intelligence behind the madness as well.

Like Halloween, the body count in Black Christmas is low both in terms of the number of victims and in terms of actual blood spilled. While there is a bit more blood here than in Halloween, it's not a gore-film in the slightest. The first death is Clare, who is suffocated when Billy grabs her and stretches plastic sheeting across her face. Her death is short and sweet but her body is carried up into the attic and set in a rocking chair against the window, which you see many of shots throughout the film, (including some where Billy is rocking it and quietly singing nursery rhymes, which is eerie beyond belief). Mrs. Mac is killed when she goes up into the attic looking for her pet cat Claude (whom Billy took up there with him for some reason, most likely to lure her up there) and gets a crane hook right in the face, which Billy proceeds to use to hang her body up in the air. The most graphic death in the film has to be that of Barb, whom Billy stabs to death in her room with a small glass unicorn sculpture she has up there. There's a fair amount of blood in this murder but it's not flying everywhere like in a splatter movie. The rest of the victims are killed off-camera. Phyl is later found dead alongside Barb and while you never find out how she was killed, she was probably stabbed to death as well. And finally, a police officer left to guard the sorority is found dead in his patrol car, his throat having been slashed (again, not a graphic effect in the slightest). Also, Peter, of course, is bludgeoned to death off-camera by Jess since she thinks he's the killer (the aftermath of that isn't too graphic either). It's also suggested that Billy may have murdered a young girl whose body (which you never see) is found in a nearby park but it's never proven. I don't really know if he did it or not myself, since I don't think Billy would have left the attic during the day since he could have been seen but, then again, he did go outside to kill that policeman and even though it was at night, somebody could have seen him there since it was right on the street so who knows? Billy may or may not have also been responsible for a rape that Clare mentions at the beginning of the movie. So, all in all, fans of gore would probably be disappointed by Black Christmas but this isn't that type of movie. It's about atmosphere and suspense and I for one really like that not all of the crimes are concretely linked to the film's killer, leaving it for you to decide whether he was responsible or not.

Like Michael Myers, I think it's possible to surmise that Billy may be more than human. This isn't suggested by the fact that he won't die or anything like that but is done so more subtly. Listen to those phonecalls, where he makes all those bizarre noises and also imitates several different voices, sometimes two or more at once. During the very first obscene phonecall of the film, Clare wonders if those sounds could be created by just one person. In fact, those sounds were, in reality, created by the voices of two or three people at the same time, including Bob Clark himself. Putting aside the different voices speaking at the same time, Billy also seems to be able change his voice rather skillfully. Now, I know it's possible to change your voice through tones and volume but Billy's voice appears to change throughout the film. Maybe it's just me but I thought the voice on the phone at the beginning of the movie sounded very different from the one that spoke Billy's last line in the film. And let's not ignore the fact that he's able to make his voice sound very much like that of a woman over the phone, so much so that Jess thought it actually was a woman after listening to one call. Besides the voice thing, Billy seems to be able to appear in places rather skillfully, most notably when Jess discovers Barb and Phyl's bodies near the end of the movie. When she opens the door to the room, it seems to open all the way and hit the wall and yet, she soon turns and sees Billy looking at her from the crack of the door. He did something similar earlier when Phyl walked into Barb's room and then suddenly the door shut after she walked in, suggesting that Billy was behind the door and waiting for her. How was he able to stay behind the door and remain perfectly still and unseen even when it was open as far as it could go? Maybe I'm just reading into this a little more than I should but I can't help but wonder about it. Human or not, though, the ending is creepy as shit. Jess is left alone in the house while the police take Mr. Harrison to the hospital, the camera pans away from her room and eventually goes up towards the attic, where you hear Billy singing to himself. The last shot is a closeup of the face of Clare's still undiscovered body, with Mrs. Mac hanging in the background, and you hear Billy say, "Agnes, it's me, Billy." The camera slowly pulls back away from the window to reveal the entire sorority house, as the credits roll and you gradually hear a phone ringing. That is scary stuff right there and it freaked me out the first time I saw the movie. It gave me a feeling of not wanting to look out the window for fear of seeing something that I did not want to see!

There's isn't much music in Black Christmas to be honest. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the "score" is made up of sound effects that are meant to just creep you. The main sound that you hear throughout the film is a low, rumbling piano that is meant to suggest Billy's presence or make you feel uncomfortable in the darkness of the sorority house. Also, in the scene where Peter is smashing his piano to pieces, you can hear the rumble every time he comes down with the mike stand. Whether it's meant to be on the soundtrack or the actual sound of the piano keys being smashed I'm not sure but it's an interesting touch nonetheless. In any case, composer Carl Zittrer said that the created the sounds by attaching various objects like forks and knives to the piano's strings and then playing the keys like normal. He would also distort it even further by recording on audio tape and then slowing the tape down. The effect is quite unnerving. There are also some eerie sounds that you hear at the beginning of the film when Billy is lurking outside the sorority as well as later in the film which are also creepy. Combine that with the typical sounds of Christmas, like a group of carolers singing outside of the house while Barb is being murdered, and you've got a soundtrack that, while not exactly iconic, does its job well in making you uncomfortable.

For my money, Black Christmas is a minor classic. It's atmospheric, eerie, has a creepy enigma of a villain, some likable characters and good acting, good humor that doesn't interfere with the mood, and an ending that's sure to give you the shivers. I really do think it's a film that deserves to stand alongside Halloween, Psycho, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre because it's every bit as influential as those films and it's a shame that it's not as well known to the general public as they are. I know there was a remake in 2006 but I've never seen it because I've heard a lot of bad things about it, including that they explain everything about Billy, which is a huge mistake. I'll stick with the original film and you should too. If you've never seen it, give it a watch. It's quite an enjoyable minor horror classic.