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Tip of the Scalpel

Tip of the Scalpel to The Howling – A Movie to Bark at the Moon For!

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Man at bar: Hey, Ernie? Put that pepper steak on for me, would ya? And a hamburger for the lady.
Ernie: How do ya want that?
Man at bar: How do you want it, honey?
Marsha Quist: Rare.

Are you kidding me? It’s been over 30 years since Joe Dante gave us The Howling? It’s really been more than three decades since the release of this perfectly epic werewolf tale. In the years that have passed since the release of this film, Presidents have come and gone, wars have been fought, and the Red Sox even won the World Series… twice. But no one has made a better werewolf film than The Howling.

Tip of the Scalpel to The Howling - A Movie to Bark at the Moon For!

Others may have their favorites, but for my money the greatest werewolf film ever created is The Howling. And for that reason this Tip of the Scalpel goes to the best of the best of the films featuring the hairy lycanthropic beasties…The Howling.

Centered around horror movie hall of fame actress Dee Wallace, The Howling delivers everything you could want in an 80’s horror film: blood, sex (even werewolf sex, does it get any better? Watch the toenails, please. Yikes!), tongue-in-cheek humor and F/X done the old-fashioned way, with latex and a paint brush. No CGI here. Not even close. Just artist and canvas. In this case the artist happened to be special effects expert Rob Bottin, and his canvas was a blood-soaked colony of werewolves. Not your traditional blank slate, but the results speak for themselves.

And on the topic of the F/X, let me emphasize the piece de resistance of this film. Anyone who saw The Howling knows exactly what I’m referring to. It is, of course, the transformation scene of Eddie “The Mangler” Quist (Robert Picardo) as he changes from his human form (which is certainly creepy enough in its own right) into the werewolf. Well, almost into the werewolf; some timely acid in the face slowed the transformation right down. But that scene really drove this movie home for me. It began with Eddie pulling a bullet out of his forehead (you may remember it was put there by police officers thwarting his initial attack on Ms. Karen White) and continued with all the expected jaw elongating, fingernail growing, chest heaving and hair sprouting that you’ve come to expect from a werewolf transformation. And it was perfect.

Tip of the Scalpel to The Howling - A Movie to Bark at the Moon For!

We seem to have forgotten the power of a werewolf transformation scene. That IS the movie. Yes, werewolves are scary when transformed, stomping around all fangy and clawy and slobbery, but nothing beats the gut-wrenching scene as the poor cursed individual changes (the slower, the better) into the drooling beast. We need to see everything up close. The current trend seems to have werewolf transformations happening instantaneously. Twilight (although far from horror) is one of the few films using werewolves these days, and the change is instant. One second they are bare-chested man-boys running around; then, bang-o, they are wolves. And not even werewolve. Come on, how scary is a wolf? We need big seven-foot, hind-leg-walking, giant-eared WEREWOLVES! Even “True Blood” fails when it comes to werewolf transformation scenes, also going with the instant shapeshift.

Of course American Werewolf in London is well known for an excellent transformation scene with perhaps only The Howling being its superior. The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro had the right idea about the transformation scene, but by the time they got around to doing it, most of the audience was asleep. Kudos for the effort, though. And you may remember Jack Nicholson in Wolf; again, the right idea, but even that was over 17 years ago. We can mention Ginger Snaps or Dog Soldiers, but these films are also over a decade old. Nothing recently has come close to capturing the werewolfy awesomeness of The Howling. This may be the calm before the storm, however. It wasn’t long ago that vampires were the toast of the horror community. And right now zombies are the…ahem…flavor of the week. It’s very possible that werewolves are next.

Tip of the Scalpel to The Howling - A Movie to Bark at the Moon For!

Yes, The Howling did spawn an unending slew of pointless sequels, never coming near replicating the quality of the original (although still appreciated by some). But what great horror film hasn’t been guilty of this? A Nightmare on Elm Street? Yes. Friday the 13th? Hello? Can anyone say Jason Takes Manhattan? H20, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. And don’t even make me break out Leprechaun in the Hood. The point is you rarely hear The Howling mentioned in discussions of the greatest horror films ever made, and it has every right being in that conversation. At least in the werewolf sub-genre of the conversation. Everything from the crazy peep show scene right up to that perfect final line just works magnificently.

So you take it from here. Go watch, or rewatch, The Howling in all its hairy goodness and get a little refresher on what horror movie-making was all about before the magic could be made with the wonders of CGI. Are some scenes in The Howling a little cheesy looking? I suppose by today’s high standards, yes, I’d have to say they are. But put yourself at the theater 30 years ago. John Hinckley had just tried to knock off President Reagan, the Space Shuttle Columbia is preparing for takeoff and there you are in your theater seat ready to experience The Howling. And with that we give a slobbery Tip of the Scalpel to the best of the best of the werewolf films, Joe Dante’s The Howling. Awwwooooooo!

Tip of the Scalpel to The Howling - A Movie to Bark at the Moon For!

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Tip of the Scalpel

Doctor Gash’s Tip of the Scalpel to The Walking Dead

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Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel to The Walking DeadIf a Tip of the Scalpel to “The Walking Dead” came out a couple months ago, just after the mid-season finale, you guys would have certainly been like, “Atta boy, Gash; you nailed again!” and “Another Scalpel right on the money, Gash.

But right now, maybe you don’t necessarily agree so much. Read on, my friends.

Believe me, Dreadies, I was right there with you on Sunday night, watching Season 4, Episode 3 thinking, “What the fuck is going on tonight?!” We have Daryl and Beth lost in the woods, Tyreese with Carol and a gaggle of children blindly following a train track toward a potential sanctuary, Glenn and Maggie blindly searching for each other, and some intriguing new characters just introduced to the television audience a week earlier; and what are we watching? Rick trapped under a bed and Carl and a new smiley Michonne digging what seems to be needlessly deeper into her back story. And here we all sat thinking, “WTF! Please… advance the story!”

And, like you, I went to work the next day and gathered with my “TWD” watching brethren and bitched about the episode. Amongst the comments tossed into the conversation were, “I cannot fucking stand Carl!” and “Where’s Daryl?” and “What’s up with the guy with the mullet?” I feel your pain, guys, but that’s also the reason that the only possible subject of this Doctor Gash Tip of the Scalpel could be “The Walking Dead.”

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

Yes, right now, in this 11th episode of Season 4, things seem to have derailed a bit. But we’ve been here before. Haven’t we all heard, and maybe even said, all these complaints before? Do things like this sound familiar: “They’ve been at the farmhouse for too long”; “They’ve been at the prison for too long”; and “Where are all the zombies?” But regardless of the complaints throughout the entire series, “The Walking Dead” is still one of the few shows on television that can absolutely floor you with an episode at any time. It doesn’t have to be a finale; “TWD” is so good that it can, and does, consistently, floor viewers with an episode without a hint that a powerfully emotional one is coming.

As the highest drawing show on cable television, “The Walking Dead” was instrumental in helping the zombie to usurp the vampire as the monster du jour. From the moment Rick fired a single shot into the head of actress Addy Miller in the first scene of the first episode, viewers were enamored by “The Walking Dead.” And even when we have issues with the show, it’s not because we’re falling out love with it. It’s because we are so much in love with it. “The Walking Dead” has taken us from that walker-infested hospital in Atlanta to a welcoming campground to an initially standoffish farmhouse to a stronghold of a prison to now… To what? The only problem with “The Walking Dead” right now is we don’t see the endgame of the season. It looks scattered. It looks disjointed. But fear not, good citizens of Gotham; I’ve got a damn good feeling that the people that have brought us so many absolutely incredible episodes have everything under control and know exactly what they are doing.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

Think back. We needed a quality ending between Rick and Shane, and we got it. We needed something intense to happen when a baby was born amongst all this insanity, and we got it. And we needed The Governor to die in just the right way, and we got it… eventually “The Walking Dead” has consistently withstood criticism during the middle of its seasons, almost without fail. And “The Walking Dead” has delivered absolute haymakers, episodes that simply blow viewers out of the water, over and over again. There is a certain pacing to the show that the creators accept that seems to jostle fans a bit, but when each season draws to a close, fans are normally so stoked with the action and the suspense for that which lies ahead that the conversations examining what has happened and what is coming in the future for our weary survivors rage on for long after the seasons’ final episodes have aired.

So where are we now? We’re in another small lull for “The Walking Dead”. The creators are building up to some new crazy, intense action. But first the bills have to be paid. Foundations must be laid, which means we aren’t going to get explosiveness every week. We’ve got to take the action with the foundation. We’ve got to take the episodes that blow your head off with the episodes that seem to go nowhere. All we can do is trust that the geniuses behind “The Walking Dead” who have given us so much insanely powerful entertainment over these past few years know exactly what they’re doing, even as so many of their fans are screeching and turning to social media to voice their displeasure as to where the show is headed. All we have to do is sit back. Sit back and let the season play itself out. There’s no reason to jump the gun and say the show is broken. Wait five weeks and see what you think after the Season 4 finale.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

Let me finish with this. Please feel free to take to the comments section below and tell me I’m wrong. Tell me “The Walking Dead” has jumped the shark or lost direction or just doesn’t interest you anymore. I welcome anyone to do that. Is it a soap opera with zombies? Hell yes. Is pro wrestling a soap opera with scantily clad mega-men in short-shorts. Absolutely. Serial television is all soap operas. The viewership just depends on what flavor you like your soap. If you are disenchanted with “The Walking Dead” right now, do yourself a favor; keep tuning in on Sunday nights, and by the time Season 4 is said and done, you’ll be happy you did. There are old conflicts to be worked out and new ones to discover. Our weary travelers all seem to perhaps be funneling back toward one another. What could possibly lie ahead?

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

Please, go out and enjoy all the horror-themed television programming you can find. It’s great to see that there is so much out there right now. But please do not forget to be there on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on AMC. An absolutely fantastic television show is there, and you don’t want to miss what’s coming next.

To stay up-to-the-minute on all things walker related, follow @WalkingDead_AMC on Twitter and visit “The Walking Dead” on Facebook. For more be sure to hit up the official “The Walking Dead” page on AMC.com.

The Walking Dead Season 4 on AMC TV

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Tip of the Scalpel

Doctor Gash’s Tip of the Scalpel to Evil Clowns

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Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel to Evil ClownsCoulrophobia. Fear of clowns. Yeah, folks, it’s real. We’re not sure if it’s a generational thing or a nature versus nurture thing, but the time of the clown as a happy-go-lucky bringer of good cheer has gone by the wayside.

These days you’re more likely to see them blood-soaked and maniacal in your local Halloween store than making children laugh with their goofy antics. However, in our ongoing quest to understand human fear, we’ve researched and discovered that society (of course) is most likely to blame for giving these once beloved jesters a bad name.

And being a card-carrying coulrophobiac myself, it’s with great pleasure (and trepidation) that I give you a look into the vilification of these poor souls in this Tip of the Scalpel to Evil Clowns.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

We can hypothesize as to why so many people are now disturbed by clowns. However, let’s look at what we do know for a fact. They’re perennially smiling but can’t be happy having to work children’s parties every friggin’ weekend and being forced to wear ridiculously oversized shoes that have to make walking a pain in the ass. And they hide behind face paint. How many good-intentioned people have you ever known that continuously hide their faces? Except perhaps for The Ultimate Warrior and Ace Frehley. Other than that, face paint usually means bad things are about to happen. Am I right, Juggalos?

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

Let’s look at the theory that coulrophobia is an inborn fear. This is possible, I suppose. In fact, research by the University of Sheffield showed that children are generally frightened of clown-themed decor in hospitals. We researched deeper and found that Dr. Ronald Doctor (Okay, that sounds like a fake name. Thanks, Wikipedia!), a psychology professor at Cal State Northridge, states that young children are “very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face.” Hey Bozo! They’re talking to you, you grease-painted menace.

But I’m really not buying into the inborn fear side of this argument. It’s quite obvious that society has been doing its best to drive a wedge between children and clowns for years. And it seems that it’s finally succeeded.

We can’t blame the whole problem on John Wayne Gacy, but he did nothing to advance relations between regular people and the clown population. It certainly takes a bit of time to heal the wounds left by a balloon-toting lunatic on a 33-person killing spree with bodies crammed into his cellar. That’s just not something the general populace tends to overlook quickly. Strike one, clowns!

The entertainment world has certainly been just as guilty in the downfall of the clown. They’ve absolutely peppered us with images and tales of clowns doing all kinds of despicable things. First and foremost, how about The Joker? The Clown Prince of Crime has been terrorizing the good citizens of Gotham City for over 70 years! Do you think a little thing like that goes unnoticed?! Or how about Ronald McDonald? Does he really think that we don’t know he’s been single-handedly clogging arteries, promoting heart-disease, obesity and general bad heath for decades. Do you think slapping his face on the side of a Happy Meal box is going to make up for that? I don’t think so. He’s gotta go. And he can take The Hamburglar and Fry Guys with him. They all creep me out.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

How about the music industry? The Insane Clown Posse don’t exactly evoke a warm and fuzzy feeling in people. And Slipknot has a member who embraced the evil clown persona in Shawn “Clown” Crahan (also known as #6 for those of you keeping score at home). Crahan really understands the idea of the traditional values clowns represent. Nothing says good clean family fun like a big red nose and an inverted pentagram carved into your face. Now that’s what I call fun. Send in the clowns? My ass.

The list of evil clowns in film and television has expanded exponentially through the years. Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding in House of 1000 Corpses comes to mind immediately, as does that freaky clown puppet that Jigsaw always works into his Saw traps. I think it’s more the voice in that case though. He’s only three feet tall and riding a tricycle, so physical intimidation kind of goes out the window on that one. And although campy, Killer Klowns from Outer Space represents still another example of these evil bastards among us. It just doesn’t stop. Who could ever forget Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s It, one of the ultimate evil jokesters?

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

But certainly, the single most horrific example of a clown that scarred more children than any other came in 1982 with the release of the legendary horror film Poltergeist. And I could stop writing right here because every single person who grew up around that time knows the exact scene I’m going to talk about. Aside from Carol Anne, there was a young boy, her brother Robbie, in Poltergeist. He had a large clown doll that was kept in a chair at the foot of his bed. He hated this doll and was completely freaked out by it (which leads one to ask why the hell his parents kept the thing by the foot of his bed if it made him nearly crap his pants every time he saw it). Now it wasn’t bad enough that he already got yanked out of his bed by an evil tree branch that busted in his window one night, but as the haunting gets worse, the clown disappears from its chair. It reappears suddenly with a new, demonic looking face and pulls the boy under the bed of all places and tries to strangle the life out of him. At that point I was damaged. To throw gas on the fire, shortly after this Craig T. Nelson hallucinates, tearing all the skin off his face after eating a chicken leg full of maggots. But that didn’t matter; nothing that followed the attack by that face-painted freak could have compared. The damage was done.

As clown horror rolls on, we can now eagerly anticipate an Eli Roth-produced film entitled Clown (basically an evil clown version of Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause). Apparently, a group of filmmakers produced a fake trailer for a movie called Clown. They jokingly attached Roth’s name to it. When Eli caught wind of the film idea and trailer, he loved it. And now, much like Machete and Hobo With a Shotgun (fake trailers from Grindhouse), Clown will become a real-life movie. Great. Coulrophobics worldwide, rejoice!

You’ve tortured us for years, clowns… and it seems like it just keeps getting worse. We’ve got to hand it to you with a Tip of the Scalpel to Evil Clowns.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

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Tip of the Scalpel

Doctor Gash’s Tip of the Scalpel to Childish Horrors, Part 2: Monopoly and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel to Childish Horrors, Part 2: Monopoly and The Texas Chain Saw MassacreHello Dreadies! It’s been awhile since I’ve sent a Scalpel your way, but I’ve got just the little nightmare to tickle your funny bone…

This story involves The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; a young Doctor Gash; my eight-year-old, impressionable and unsuspecting brother; and a game of Monopoly that ended in the most horrific of ways.

As a child of the 80’s, I grew up during the golden age of slasher horror. And the advent of the video rental store gave us all a chance to see the movies that had heretofore been only available at the theaters. Now you could simply go to a store and… rent a movie?! Who would have ever thought of such a thing? This was the trailblazing, groundbreaking time that was the glorious ’80s!

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

However, at first, the system was far from perfect. As I mentioned in a past article, the Rite Aid drug store in our cozy town of Catskill, NY, circa 1985, had the first video rental we’d ever seen. To illustrate the setup, it wasn’t your traditional display with VHS boxes on the wall; rather the images from the front and back of the movie boxes were printed out and slid into a panel, four films per panel. Then you flipped through the panels like checking out posters in a store. Each film had a corresponding number that you wrote down or remembered and brought to the clerk. As this was the only video store in town, most of the films were usually out, so you would bring a few choices up with you, which would undoubtedly lead to a conversation like this:

You: “Can I get number 335?”
Clerk: “Sorry, that’s out.”
You: “How about number 118?”
Clerk: “Sorry.”
You: “Number 211?”
Clerk: “Yup, we got it…Oh no, sorry, that’s out too.”

They eventually got the brilliant idea to put little tags on all the movie panels which signified if the film was available or not, thus drastically cutting down on your interaction time with the movie distribution specialist, or as he was more commonly known, the Rite Aid Video Desk Clerk.

As you flipped through the panels, you saw all the usual suspects for the time: Return of the Jedi (this was before you had to refer to it as Episode 6: Return of the Jedi), Ghostbusters, Vacation, Beverly Hills Cop and Gremlins just to name a few. It also had some of the great horror films of the time: Friday the 13th was represented up through The Final Chapter and, although Freddy Krueger was the new guy on the block, A Nightmare on Elm Street was there as well. But nothing called to us the way the final panel did. On that panel was initially just one film, and that panel terrified and intrigued us relentlessly. It was partially the cover art of the film, partially the title and partially the quote from Rex Reed on the box which said, “The most horrifying motion picture I have ever seen.” That panel contained The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

I don’t remember exactly how my friend Steve and I convinced my mother to rent The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for us at the tender age of 11, but she did. It wasn’t the most shining example of exemplary parenting, but in her defense, she obviously wasn’t up on her 1970′s cult horror films. And honestly, if you can keep kids quiet, you do what you have to do. So there we sat that afternoon, surrounded by GI Joe figures, watching one of the most disturbing films ever created.

If this wasn’t bad enough, about three quarters of the way through the film my brother Ryan comes home. My little brother. My eight-year-old little brother. And what does he do? Seeing how there’s a pile of GI Joes on the floor and a movie on TV, he plopped right down next to us and watched the end of the film. You know, the entire dinner scene with Marilyn Burns tied to the chair screaming bloody murder, Grandpa and the hammer and the tub to catch the blood, the rotten meat on the table, Jim Siedow freaking out and Leatherface chasing her through the woods, dropping the saw on his leg and going ape shit when she escapes, now completely insane. There I sat, we all sat, in stunned silence (probably clutching a Snake Eyes figure to my chest) knowing nothing would ever be the same again.

In an even more unfortunate turn of events, my parents had a regular volleyball game they played on Thursday evenings. So they took Steve home and left me to watch my brother for a couple hours. Another five-star parenting moment. But even with the film still fresh in our minds, we felt we could handle this situation. Alone in the house shortly after a pre-teen viewing of Texas Chain Saw? We could do this. Heck, we were 8 and nearly 12 years old. Practically grown-ass men.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel to Childish Horrors, Part 2: Monopoly and The Texas Chain Saw MassacreI should add we lived a secluded area, and many of the neighbors heated their homes with a wood stove. And you probably can see where this is going. Although we couldn’t see our closest neighbor, we could hear him. He was, of course, cutting wood with a chainsaw. How ironically terrible. And although both of us heard the saw, neither of us would acknowledge it. I think we figured as long as we didn’t mention it, it wasn’t there and things would be okay. We decided to play Monopoly to take our minds off our inevitable impending doom.

Now for the final scene… there we sat, alone in the house, playing a Monopoly game that no one gave a crap about or was even paying attention to, listening to the neighbor (please God let it be the neighbor) cut wood with a chainsaw. The saw eventually stopped (but believe me, the damage had been done) and it began to get dark. As I said, we lived in a wooded area, on top of a big hill. Living on the hill allowed you to see headlights coming up the driveway when someone arrived. If you didn’t see headlights, you certainly didn’t expect the front door to open.

We didn’t see the headlights. I don’t know why we didn’t see the headlights of my parents’ car as they returned home, but we didn’t. All we heard was the front door open unexpectedly and everything after that was just a blur. Absolutely sure it was Leatherface that had just opened the front door, I bolted. I don’t know where I was running, I just ran… leaving the eight-year-old to fend for himself. However, he didn’t harbor the same delusions of escape I did. His now freshly-warped young mind told him the best thing to do would be to simply get this over with. He turned around and just lay down on his back in the middle of the Monopoly board (houses, hotel and all jabbing him in the back). Basically saying, “I’m not going to make this difficult for you. Just afford me a similar courtesy and make it quick.” Well, he didn’t actually say that word for word (what impressive linguistics it would have been for an eight-year-old) as much as his body language communicated it.

Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel

My parents walked in on this scene… one child cowering behind a hutch in another room and a ghost-white eight-year-old lying spread eagle in the middle of a Monopoly board with fake money and real estate deeds strewn around room and the thimble stuck to the side of his face and an orange $500 bill clutched in his sweaty hand. It was perhaps then that they realized they needed to be a bit more diligent in policing their children’s movie and television content. Thankfully that policing never happened and it is because of that lapse in parenting common sense that I am here with you on Dread Central today!

If you dug this story, be sure to check out the original volume, Doctor Gash’s Tip of the Scalpel: Childhood Horrors Part 1: Cuatros Cuertas.

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