After Morgan Creek retained Major League, Ace Ventura and the rights to The Exorcist in spite of the company’s sell-off of over seventy films in its library, the boogeyman of modern film reared its ugly head. The word “remake” was on everybody’s lips, and this was a particularly strong discussion when it came to The Exorcist.
It was like Voldemort to Harry Potter. The sound of it alone was enough to make you cringe and everybody had a “Don’t say that!” reaction if you had the gall to bring it up. Being protective of one of the most iconic films in the horror genre is more than understandable.
More than 40 years later, the legendary makeup done by Dick Smith still holds up to any modern effects, and the performances given by Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Dietz and the rest of the cast are the stuff of nightmares. The public is traumatized by a litany of awful reboots and ridiculous dissections of our favorite films and characters. Worse yet is that fact that the list seems never-ending and an original idea in Hollywood is almost becoming as accessible as a paranormal experience. You might need a medium, a white candle, the blood of a virgin and a spell book to summon a great original film as it just becomes easier to cash in on an existing franchise and exploit a preexisting idea and audience.
Rehash. Assume your audience is too stupid to realize this is regurgitation. Cash check. Party in the Hollywood Hills. Repeat.
I just cracked the major film production code. You’re welcome.
Remaking The Exorcist is beyond taboo and I hate the idea as much as anyone else. In the interest of breaking my own bias I challenged myself to be fair and come up with the pros and cons of revamping an iconic piece of horror cinema and ways in which it might (and I use that word very lightly) be okay. Morgan Creek released a tweet stating that they had no such plans to do so in response to William Friedkin himself stating that he was strongly against seeing them go down that road, but the fact is that exploring the merits of a remake becomes necessary to keep our sanity as the cash cow mentality still rules major film. I’ll grind my teeth and begin with the reasons that it can be a great asset to reboot franchises and favorites and I’ll try not to sweat in the process. Wish me luck.
There is something to be begrudgingly grateful for when a franchise or classic is given new life, and that is the flood of new fans and money given back to the franchise. It keeps it running and ensures that it reaches a whole world of people that otherwise might have no real idea what you’re talking about when you say it’s amazing. Do they understand people think it’s amazing? Yes. Have they experienced it for themselves? Probably not, after a certain point. They just take for granted that everyone says it was great in its day. I knew a mass amount of people who had not ever seen The Omen; however, when the reboot was released in 2006, there were many that saw the original just for the compare and contrast. I like that (even if in a roundabout way) it allows the original to come back into circulation in a much more aggressive way.
Come on, you know nobody wants to be the one to admit to the hipsters and purists that you never saw the original. Specifically regarding The Exorcist, it has been 42 years since its release, and I do not want it becoming an old ghost story that people talk about like a relic. Is that likely to happen? I doubt that as much as I doubt that I’ll be satisfied with a remake. I do know that as time goes on, that just ends up being the case all too often. More and more people have “heard about it, but never actually seen it,” and more don’t see it because they “don’t watch older movies.” Yes, this is a thing. They assume it will be dated and out of touch so there are movie-goers that, be it conscious or unconscious, won’t watch anything made before 1985… especially the younger generation. That time frame increases with each generation. It’s good to keep the memory and artistry of such classics alive, and sometimes it’s more than keeping it alive.
Sometimes they DO actually revive it. My favorite example of this is the Rob Zombie remake of Halloween. It is an iconic and classic piece of horror culture and he gave it a whole new look and feel while allowing it to still BE what it was. Never once did I feel like I was watching some half-assed money-grubbing version of the movie. He added a little bit of very well done backstory on young Michael Myers and his poor tragic mother without making it some useless insert that took over the movie because he was desperately and didactically trying to make it HIS. He gave it a fresh modern look and feel while keeping that 16 millimeter look and using costuming to preserve the era of the original. The result was a perfectly refreshed and new version of the movie I loved, while being so respectful of the first one that even my parents, who were among the original audience, were impressed.
If they were to decide to take on William Friedkin’s legacy at any point, the same amount of reverence would have to be paid to gain any respect from an audience. Some fatal mistakes I see being made are changing Regan’s personality to make her a “modern teen” or making her mom a religious nutjob of Carrie-like proportions. The base characters successfully terrified us because of the contrast between their simple everyday innocence and the violence of a group torn apart by the devil himself. Modern films like to thrive on conflict to beat you over the head with the extremes of the situation and this would need to be handled with much more care than that. Simplicity is what made this what it was and that is not something the modern world is good at.
It is a matter of finding the balance between new material and not straying so far that it isn’t even what we came to see. There will never be an end to people that bitch about remakes, but IF you choose to see one, on some level, you do want to see something you recognize. “If it’s so close to the original, what is the point?” My only rebuttal is that if you are hoping to see a different movie, why see a reboot? A fresh take on the original source material is the whole point, so don’t see House of Wax or The Hills Have Eyes with a release date after 2000 because, by your own logic, you should only see the original because those are pointless remakes… that I happen to love. (Seriously. House of Wax. Put that on. Now. Good. Cheesy. Fun. In the best possible way.)
The new technology on a project like The Exorcist could be an asset or an enemy, and that is mildly terrifying. The lack of major digital tampering is what made it so chilling, and the organic quality of it was really incredible. I feel like it’s part of what makes it so timeless. If handled well, there are many scenes that could have their game stepped up by the talents of an excellent visual effects artist, but it is, again, all about balance. The kiss of death to many a project is not knowing when to quit with the C.G.I. (I’m looking at you, Fright Night 2011.) The spider walk is a legendary scene for its terror factor (and is a personal cringe-worthy tick of mine) that could be made smoother with modern technology. My fear is digital vomit that makes you wish to god that they would just switch back to the damn pea soup and overdone fog that makes it look more B-movie than cult classic, as the title deserves. That coin toss is why so many of us are already begging the film industry to leave well enough alone. It could be great. It could be terrible. None of us are sure we want to risk finding out which.
The cons are endless, but I will stick with the most obvious, the first of which is that there are too many incredible ideas out there to be burning money and energy on what was already done right the first time. There are endless stories of filmmakers with amazing concepts that almost didn’t get made, and meanwhile, they’re hunting down people to remake these business ventures. Amazing films had an almost impossible time getting any support from a studio, and there are remakes that had multi-million dollar budgets before they had a working figurehead. The goal should always be innovation first and foremost in the arts to keep the industry thinking and moving. Ideas inspire ideas, and when your sole activity is recycling existing ideas, the innovative ones get left behind or buried. Kevin Smith has stated many times, “It costs nothing to encourage an artist,” and that is something that needs to be remembered. Focus on new scripts from many sources and keep looking for the next fresh thing instead of clinging to the same franchises because they make money. When the amount of rehashed ideas in cinema has become a frequent punchline, there is definitely a problem. Independent films will become the new classics (and in some cases already are) if mainstream companies don’t try to up their innovation game.
The other major con plaguing me is the censorship guideline changes since The Exorcist came out in 1973. They barely got away with what they got away with then, and now it seems like people complain about almost everything in comparison. Anything they could do to increase the intensity or shock value to even TRY recapturing the terrible magic of the first one would be met with hate mail, MPAA rating fights, restrictions, and battles over whose financing gives them the final say, since the amount of money it would take would force it to be made as a movie by committee. I would be far more open to seeing a freeform, no holds barred interpretation that explores how gruesome it could really be than a restricted, carefully crafted compilation of business decisions. Is this too far? Will the Vatican bankrupt us for this? The cross to the crotch is fine, but be careful with the flies, we don’t want to piss off PETA. I can’t imagine that kind of environment allowing for a truly competitive version that would be worth seeing. The original budget was 12 million dollars, and a big budget blockbuster today would consider that the tip of the iceberg. Until they can stop completely prioritizing the business side of these types of films, a remake would not be allowed the freedom it needs to be cutting-edge.
In the end, it’s all about preserving an idea. At this point, if you can’t bring something new to the table, let the original stand on its own. It’s had people fainting, puking, and all-around freaking out for almost 50 years, which is a serious indicator that it doesn’t need help. I think a good majority hope that original ideas will dominate once again, and we have a bright future of death and dismemberment to look forward to in the world of horror once the reign of remakes and mass-production success have subsided (because it is a well-accepted knowledge that it will never actually go away). May Ellen Burstyn live in infamy for her performance as Regan’s exhausted and abused mother. Nothing will compare to the incredible powerhouse that was Linda Blair’s chilling performance when she was barely more than a kid. Blair herself, in an interview with Dread Central, stated, “People have tried to master what Billy made in this movie and recreate it again and again, but they just haven’t been able to,” and I agree. We have seen attempts to recapture that brand of lightning in a bottle, and the glass breaks nearly every time. The best course of action is just to let it remain the legend that it is and let it go down in history as an original that stands on its own. Besides, as crappy Exorcist ideas go, I personally think that quota was filled by The Exorcist: The Heretic. Sorry, Not Sorry.
Zena’s Period Blood: The Lure of it All
It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”
“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.
All right, guys. Sorry that this review will get personal, but this is ultimately my love letter to director Agnieszka Smoczynska for her expert filmmaking. You may come across verbiage that is inappropriate and may get me fired, but I know no other way to write about this film. The Lure is a freaking horror musical with way too much good bait not to be caught by it. See what I did there? Well, expect more of my fangirling because that’s all you will get.
Even the beginning credits, hovering ghostly over an illustrated intro, uncover a glimpse of the enchantment of mermaids in a lagoon crowded with their leftovers, which we witness are human skeletons. At the end of this magnificent, almost museum-like exhibition, you see the hands and kiss of a mermaid luring another human into the water. Here, you understand your uselessness in warning future humans of this alluring peril.
The live action begins at night with three members of a cabaret band singing on a beach. Instantly, you see what dilemmas will occur as soon as two pairs of eyes emerge from under the sea. Silver (Marta Mazurek) appears first, a blonde mermaid with eyes of astonishment and love for the form and voice of the shore-fixed human boy Mietek (Jakub Gierszal). Golden (Michalina Olsanska) emerges second, eyes of animalistic hunger that she uses to lure her victims before feeding. At this point, you could pause the film and deduce the conflict you will endure: Silver wants to be with Boy; Golden wants to eat humans; Boy sees new, hot girl. But trust me… play the movie and never pause it again.
The Lure excels at giving you its own history, anatomy, and peculiarities of a mermaid. It does it in such a stylish way through camera movement, reasonable curiosity, and attractive scores. Even at the moment we discovered that mermaids in human form don’t have vaginas or buttholes, I felt that I was in the room with everyone else with an interested but let’s move on look. All of these delightful oddities happened under splashes of effervescent colors reminiscent of Dario Argento’s 1980 classic Inferno. Smoczynska seamlessly blends the old and the new.
And it’s all horror. I specifically remember when Zygmunt, the nightclub manager, asked the mermaids where they learned to speak Polish. They answered, “The beaches of Bulgaria.” Okay. Here, I would’ve asked, “Well, why aren’t you in Bulgaria anymore? What happened to the person who taught you guys Polish?” But Zygmunt only noticed their sex appeal inflating his cash flow. The mermaids were hot and could sing. I’d probably be in the I’m-totally-winning-and-nothing-can-stop-me mood as well. He already had a profitable band called the Figs n’ Dates. Adding these mermaids to the mix just multiplied the moola.
Matter of fact, the mermaids were such stars that they formed their own band, The Lure. The Lure should be a band in real life. If they were, my dream would change from taking over the universe in a Ric Flair speedo to just being the band’s only background dancer. At that point, just call me The Twerk Sage or Headmistress Twerk, because I’d be the master of the art of twerking. I actually thought about this. Check it out. I’d grow my underarm hair long enough to braid it to the hair from my scalp. Then I would connect the red lipstick from the corners of my lips to the corners of my bloodshot eyes. Yes, you’d be disgusted. But I’d do all this to prove that my twerking is so mesmerizing that you can’t help but stay in the club and stare at me. And guess what? I’m staring back at you—just you, my armpits sweating and all. But I stop only when the music stops. I’d be mind-blowing. I’d have to be. I refuse to be the only one in the band (or the cast) that lacks talent. Hopefully, this is a testament to the great acting, music, and overall production you will witness when you see this movie. Don’t worry. I’m not in it.
The standout performances were often encapsulated in handheld camerawork that triggered intimacy between you and the story, which you wanted when you were first seduced by these characters and this world but ultimately despised with the realization that everyone would suffer in the end. Some things happened so seamlessly in this movie that I didn’t even realize the movie magic I had just witnessed. For example, I actually thought I had viewed the transformation of a human-shaped figure into a mermaid; but after exploring closer, I realize that Smoczynska simply understood my brain and chose to David Blaine the crap out of it. Like, how am I writing her this love letter when I’m already married? See? She’s good.
Another detail that stood out was that the girls passed out when they were away from a body water for too long (e.g., a pool or a bathtub). The only thing I can compare it to is me with a new purse. My husband often finds me in a tactless, unconscious position throughout the world if a new bag hasn’t entered my life in a specific amount of time. As a lesson to everyone, find somebody who knows how to water you properly so you can stay alive. Now, back to the review. Actually, back to marriage. Communication is important. Sometimes I wonder why my husband can’t just read my mind. Perhaps it’s for the same reason I can’t read his. I have better things to do. But it would be great to communicate in some other way than just talking. For example, Golden and Silver communicate using what I gathered was sonar. You will hear it throughout the movie as metallic, oceanic vibrations. How convenient would that be, communicating with my husband in a posh dining restaurant, letting him know that that skank in the window booth needs to stop looking over here before I add more blush to her cheek with my elbow? See why I need the Ric Flair speedo?
Speaking of clothing, I applaud the costume design, led by Katarzyna Lewinska. Although the costumes were straightforward, they were unforgettable and fit expertly in the world. I saw costumes that I called instant wears. Zena’s English Dictionary (which I am making into a real thing) defines “instant wears” as any outfit that an individual sees, screams at, Instagrams immediately with caption #fashiongoals, searches Amazon for, finds (of course), places into shopping cart (of course), and verifies delivery date so that unworthy members of the household know that he or she is expecting a package. Speaking of instant wears, I would wear this movie if it was an outfit. That’s how much I loved it. You’re wearing The Lure. Well, why yes, I am. That sounds spicy.
The Lure left me with opposing emotions of fulfillment and deficiency. On one hand, I had just experienced a great musical with great visuals; on the other, I had been ripped apart by Silver’s final decision, almost solidifying that I could never endure this journey again. I usually keep movies like this on my shelf. This allows me to relive particular scenes mentally without being lured into the entire excursion that leads to the inevitable heartbreak.
Check out The Lure as soon as you can. Yes, it is named after the band in the film. However, there is so much that will lure you in. There is so much that lures characters to each other—the lure of the unknown, love, money, hunger, and so much more. You, too, will ask yourself: What did I just watch? Why did I just watch it? And how have I not seen anything like it before? This is a great horror. Point blank. PERIOD.
Zena from Zena’s Period Blood
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.
Bobby Joe vs Evil Dead: The Female-Driven Evil Dead Spin-Off That Should Have Been
Whatever Happened to Bobby Joe?
That is a question that has plagued me since the first time I saw Evil Dead 2 at a party in high school. There might be a comic book that explains her final fate, but I don’t know about it, so I’m writing this up all the same.
This is my pitch for not only what happened to her after she was drug out into the middle of the woods by killer trees but also what could have happened after to our badass backwoods beauty queen (BBBQ).
Let’s call it: Bobby Joe vs Evil Dead
To begin, let’s start with the last time we saw little ol’ Bobby Joe. The poor girl got a mouthfulla eyeball and a hair fulla Ash’s hand and ran off into the woods alone, only to be taken by the trees. Dead, right? I call BS. After all, we have seen numerous people attacked by the Evil Trees (Cheryl, Scotty, and Mia spring to mind) and guess what? All of them survived, to varying degrees.
The point is the Evil Trees tend to, you know, molest and mutilate, but they aren’t known for their life-taking skills. Therefore it makes total sense that Bobby Joe survived her encounter with the trees out there. But that begs the question, “What happened to her?”
One of the coolest aspects to remember about her character is that she is (to my memory) the only character in the Evil Dead series that is “killed” and doesn’t come back as a Deadite. Strange huh? Almost seems like Raimi and co. were setting her up for an eventual return and then just kinda, I guess, forgot about her. But let’s not make the same mistake over and over, Bobby Joe needs her redemption and she needs her revenge. Bobby Joe needs to reemerge as the series’ badass female hero. But how?
Let’s get into it now. Bobby Joe is pulled off by the trees and, duh, fights back. Or maybe gets Mia and Cheryl’d but still walks/limps away from the ordeal. Now she’s pissed. That could work, but I have one better. She is pulled off by the trees and just as things are about to get really bad, she is rescued.
Rescued? Yes! By who? We’ll get to that. First I want to make sure to point out that just because she recused doesn’t mean she is a weak character. After all, Ash is about the weakest of all characters for most, if not debatably all, of the Evil Dead films, so this isn’t a damsel-in-distress situation. It’s a means of introducing a very interesting side spin-off to this spin-off.
So, Bobby Joe is being taken by trees when a shadowy male saves her at the last minute. They fight off the trees and then turn to each other… but don’t recognize one other. “Who are you,” she askes the man in the shadows with bitchin’ hair. And out steps, you guessed it, Scotty from the original The Evil Dead.
We’re now in an alternate timeline because the cabin sure as hell could pull off that kind of thing and now we live in a world where all of the events from all of the Evil Dead films – including the remake – can co-exist.
But back to the Scotty thing at hand. What happened was Scotty walked off from the original film and was going to be beaten by the trees but then happened upon Bobby Joe. The two then head back to the cabin where they find Ash fighting with Linda’s Deadite. They accidentally distract Ash and Linda whacks off HIS head with the shovel. Ash is dead!? This is getting crazy now. Yes, with Ash dead, Scotty and Bobby Joe fight off the remaining evil in the original film, with only Bobby Joe making it to morning.
This time around she is the one to lose her hand. This time around she takes up the chainsaw appendage. This time she is the victor. But just as the sun is rising and she moves out of the cabin in the woods – the Applehead Demon attacks! She reads from the book of the dead and the portal opens bringing us up to speed with the end of Evil Dead 2. Bobby Joe is sucked through the portal and lands, yep, in Army of Darkness.
We’re not through yet. Bobby Joe lands just where Ash did but this time she isn’t surrounded by knights played by Sam Raimi’s siblings. This time she is all alone. But wait… there is a cave a ways off… she enters to find Ash sleeping from too much of the sauce – and wakes him up.
Now it’s Ash & Bobby Joe vs Army of Darkness II: Dead by Modern-Day.
That’s a working title, by the way. But yes, Bobby Joe has now found her way into the original Evil Dead timeline and will join forces with newly awoken Ash (following his adventures in Army of Darkness). The story continues from there with the alternate heroes of the two Evil Dead universes going back-and-forth on who’s more badass, and their general shenanigans as they fighting their way through history (courtesy of fun and ironic random time-jumps via the main evil force).
Will the two chainsaw-handed warriors take to each other like soulmates and quickly join forces or will they see each other as arch-enemies? After all, Ash did shoot Bobby Joe accidentally in Evil Dead 2, and I highly doubt she’s just going to let that go. The mind reels with possibilities.
In closing, yes, all of this is a bit silly, but what have the Evil Dead films become other than sillier and sillier. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I would love to know the origin story of Bobby Joe. What must it have been like to grow up as a BBBQ? How did she end up with such a catch as Jake? These questions intrigue the hell out of me and I would love to see them explored in a possible comic series.
The Evil Dead series needs a strong female lead. In the years since the original trilogy, both the remake and the STARZ series have tried to give us strong “Female Ash” characters with Jane Levy’s Mia and Lucy Lawless’ Ruby. While both were arguably successful attempts (I love Mia especially), I still think the best candidate was always Bobby Joe from Evil Dead 2.
That’s my pitch. What do you think? Let us know!
10 Terrifying Moments from Kids’ Movies That Haunted Our Childhoods
When the trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story dropped a couple weeks ago, I watched it with a tinge of dread. See, Han Solo traumatized me as a child. I was 7-years-old when I saw The Empire Strikes Back in theaters, and the scene where Harrison Ford gets tortured at Cloud City gave me my first bona fide panic attack. It was dark, intense, and completely out of left field in an otherwise fantastic franchise where no one ever bleeds (or screams).
I might be the only one who had such an adverse reaction to Solo’s torture (which happens, primarily, off-screen), but those of us who came of age in the 1980s can probably relate to encountering terrifying moments in otherwise kid-friendly films. For the most part, these were the days before PG-13, meaning there was a ton of leeway for movies that fell in between the extremes of Cinderella and The Shining.
In retrospect, 1980s kids were subjected to a litany of scares that would be considered highly inappropriate by today’s standards—perhaps explaining our generations’ intense love of horror! Return with me now to those terrifying days of yesteryear with 10 terrifying moments from kids’ movies that haunted our childhoods!
The Tunnel of Terror in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
The only film on this list that wasn’t produced and released in the 1980s (and the only one I didn’t see in theaters) is nonetheless one every child of the era has seen: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from 1971. I remember my parents telling me that I was in for a treat when they sat me down in front of the TV at the tender age of 6.
I was already unnerved by the tall man in the trench coat and the bizarre antics of Gene Wilder’s Wonka, but that boat-ride scene completely destroyed my childhood. It wasn’t even the chicken decapitation or the centipedes that rattled me; it was Wonka’s unhinged shrieking! To this day, the scene gives me the willies (pun intended!); Wilder truly channels the dangerous intensity of a lunatic.
Gmork attacks Atreyu in The NeverEnding Story (1984)
The NeverEnding Story was an exciting alternative in the Disney-dominated landscape of kids’ movies in the 1980s—exciting and dark! But a kid trapped in an attic, a horse drowning in a swamp, a nihilistic turtle, and a devastating void all paled in comparison to Atreyu’s confrontation with the insidious Gmork.
Those green eyes staring out from the cave froze my blood. The fact that it could speak made it infinitely more terrifying; this wasn’t some primal beast, this agent of The Great Nothing was a cunning and merciless villain. The matter-of-fact way it informed Atreyu that he would be his last “victim” was beyond bleak. When the monster attacked as thunder roared and lightning struck, I screamed.
Though many aspects of The NeverEnding Story show their age, this moment remains, objectively, as scary as any horror movie werewolf attack.
The Wheelers Descend in Return to Oz (1985)
When Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) first arrived in Oz back in 1939, she was greeted by a community of cheerful Munchkins. When Dorothy (reprised by Fairuza Balk) returned to Oz in 1985, her reception was much colder.
The eerie silence of a seemingly abandoned wasteland was broken by an assault by Wheelers: colorful, mechanically enhanced cousins of the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. As adults, we can laugh at the impracticality of villains who can’t even maneuver stairs, but we weren’t laughing as kids, I can promise you that!
While the hall of heads, an unintentionally terrifying Jack Pumpkinhead, and a truly demonic Gnome King are perhaps the scariest moments of Return to Oz, the sudden and unexpected arrival of the Wheelers was a truly devastating moment. It obliterated all our happy memories of Oz in an instant, transforming the land of enchantment into a labyrinth of evil.
Large Marge Tells her Tale in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Many of the films on this list are dark from start to finish, containing multiple terrifying moments. But part of what makes the tale of Large Marge so impactful is that it appears in an otherwise completely lighthearted film. Sure, man-child Pee-wee Herman has always been subversive in ways that only become apparent as we get older, but he never dabbled in ghost stories or jump scares.
Luckily, the scary face of Large Marge was as funny as it was shocking, so even though kids like me hit the ceiling, our fears quickly dissolved into fits of hysterical laughter. Today, I remember practically nothing about Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but I’ll have fond memories of Large Marge until the day I die.
The Emperor Turns to Ash in The Dark Crystal (1982)
Over 35 years after it’s release, The Dark Crystal remains a unique and beautiful anomaly. Jim Henson’s G-rated Muppets were left in the workshop! This film was populated by fascinating and terrifying characters, conveying a tale that wasn’t dumbed down for its audience. These factors give the film profound resonance and contribute to its status as an enduring classic
Like the title warns, this film is dark. The Skeksis are demonic, Augrah is arresting, and the Garthim are pure nightmare fuel. The process of draining Pod People of the essence and the stabbing death of Kira are horrifying. But it was the death of the Skeksis Emperor that really hit me like a ton of bricks.
There was something metaphysically terrifying about this moment; not only is the idea of a creature crumbling into ash creepy as hell but the effect was gasp-inducing. As a child, it was something I’d never seen before, a concept I’d never imagined, and it floored me. Death had never been conveyed with such shocking profundity.
The Lab Rats are Injected in The Secret of NIMH (1982)
When I sat in the theater in 1982, I don’t think I realized that The Secret of NIMH wasn’t a Disney movie, but I realized soon enough Mickey and Minnie weren’t hangin’ with these rodents! The Great Owl was petrifying and the finale was as harrowing as anything my young psyche had yet experienced, but it was the flashback of experiments conducted on lab rats that stuck with me and haunted my childhood.
It wasn’t just the brilliant animation that powerfully conveyed the rats’ pain as syringes were plunged into their bellies, it was a brutal moment of education they don’t teach kids in school. It was my first introduction to the realities of animal experimentation, and the fact that grown-ups would perpetrate such atrocities felt like a betrayal
The Ending of Time Bandits (1981)
In retrospect, it was irresponsible for any of our parents to think that Time Bandits was a kids’ movie just because the main character was an 11-year-old boy. In 1981, the only other film Terry Gilliam had directed was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yes, Time Bandits is funny and exciting with motifs common to kid-friendly time-travel fiction, but the film is nearly hopelessly bleak from start to finish.
Kevin (played by Craig Warnock) is completely neglected by his parents and essentially kidnapped by a troop of interdimensional robbers. He’s made complicit in a series of crimes throughout many dangerous eras, forced to endure wars and even the sinking of the Titanic. Eventually, Kevin is dragged into a realm of ultimate darkness. Though triumphing over Evil personified, he’s abandoned by God before returning home—only to find his home engulfed in a blazing inferno.
Though rescued by firemen, Kevin’s parents didn’t even realize he was missing and are soon reduced to piles of ash by a stray bit of concentrated evil. The friendly firemen take little notice, leaving our young protagonist utterly alone.
Faces Melt in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
A lot of my peers will count the human sacrifice scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as one of the most terrifying moments of their childhood. Not me. After what I’d endured in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I was ready for anything.
Since it gets less attention than its predecessor (bonus fact: Temple of Doom is a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark), I think people forget just how scary Raiders really is. It’s worlds darker and grittier than Doom, which has a colorful, comic book pallet by comparison, not to mention a clear emphasis on comedy. The spiders, the snakes, the boobytraps: they all put monkey brains and extracted hearts to shame.
But the climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark is more intense than most horror movies, past and present. The face-melting evoked Cold War Era fears of nuclear annihilation and the idea of a vengeful God was devastating.
The Death of Shoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
I wasn’t always the jaded gorehound I am today; I was young and sensitive once. And even though I was well into puberty by 1988 (or maybe because of it) I was especially traumatized by a moment in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The hard-boiled plot loaded with barely veiled sexual innuendo was, for the most part, completely buried beneath a cacophony of cameos from just about every cartoon character ever penned.
But it wasn’t the fever-nightmare of Roger’s mania or even the emergence of Judge Doom’s true form that devastated me; it was the execution of poor Shoe, a paradigm of animated innocence unceremoniously dropped into a barrel of “dip” (a toxic concoction made from turpentine, acetone, and benzene).
Most kids in their early teens couldn’t stop thinking about Jessica Rabbit; I was haunted by the death of Shoe.
Supercomputer Makes a Human Cyborg in Superman III (1983)
There’s an evil streak that runs throughout Superman III, the third film to feature Christopher Reeves as the titular Man of Steel. While Superman II had its dark spots (specifically the devastation caused by Zod and his companions) there’s an undercurrent in Richard Lester’s follow-up that’s absolutely wicked—containing a scene that contributed to the destruction of my childhood.
A makeshift batch of Kryptonite turns Superman into an immoral, selfish thug before he participates in a troubling fight to the death with himself. But as unsettling as the concept of an evil Superman may be, the scene where the supercomputer turns Vera into a cyborg was some next level shit for 10-year-old me.
I re-watched the scene in preparation for this article and was shocked at its similarities to the moment in Hellraiser II when Dr. Channard is transformed into a Cenobite—especially the wires! No wonder it scared the hell out of me!
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