Tales from de Crib!: Part One

By Michael-Louis Ingram
Updated: October 27, 2008

PHILADELPHIA – As the evening sky gives in to the October luminescence, the chilling winds wafting through Pluto’s windows gently flit at the candles on the nightstand in Persephone’s wedding chamber…

Between the scurrying of shadows and the prowl of nocturnal beasts, an eerie quiet befalls the area. Then a constant thump . . . thump . . . thump. . . cuts like a cleaver through the air.

As your heart races, you think to yourself dressed as the baseball guys from the “Warriors”, “You can have the Twix bars and peanut butter cups — but the miniature Snickers bars leave here over my dead body!”

When the freaks do come out at night, the best thing to do (if you can’t make it to New York City’s parade; sorry, Philly — it really is the best one) on Halloween is curl up with a scary movie.

Trick or Treats notwithstanding, horror films may have evolved from their initial premise, but their goal is always the same — to scare the SugarHoneyIcedTea out of you!

Sometimes they totally miss the mark; they may provoke a nervous laugh, or turn you off. But every now and then, one flick comes along — that gave you nightmares, cold sweats, and severe piloerections.

That’s “goose bumps”, you naughty thing, you…

Horror History

While horror may be the general term for this genre, what’s scary has been constantly redefined throughout the years. For some New York sports fans, it could be the ending of the last two Met seasons!!

However, original images of ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, the dead and undead intertwine with mystery, suspense, science fiction, animation and video games to translate into an all-encompassing vision of horror today.

Arguably the first silent horror film, ” Nosferatu, the Vampyr“(1922) reinforced fears instilled in people about darkness, and it wasn’t until 1931 when Bela Lugosi speaks wistfully about “the children of the night” that the symbol manifested itself as Count Dracula.

The theme of the dead rising from the grave and stalking the living combined later with re-animation, as the post-war era was given with films like ” Frankenstein“(1931), ” The Mummy“(1932), ” Isle of the Dead” (1945) and 1941′s ” The Wolf Man.

Cinema in the 1950s was basically about two central themes: the danger of atomic radiation after dropping The Bomb, and Earth invaders from outer space. Fallout from the A-bomb is bad enough; but when aliens want to move in, gentrification takes on a totally different trip…

In the introspective, soon to be remade science fiction classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, (1951), Earth’s leaders are warned not to inflict their destructive ways upon the rest of the universe, now that they have harnessed the power of the atom.

Frankly, we’re all still here only because Patricia Neal remembered the phrase, ‘Klaatu barada nikto,’ (which means, ‘please don’t vaporize our asses into nuclear waste!’)

Drive-in theater hits like ” Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” (1956), ” Beginning of the End,”(1957) ” The Giant Behemoth” (1959) ” Rodan“(1956) and ” Them!” (1954)were successful in scaring millions of moviegoers out of their allowances.

Their blockbuster moments were all about creatures experiencing a growth spurt due to radiation. While they ruled over all in black and white, Godzilla was never the same in color (Memo to all Japanese designers: green is a NOT a color any stylish monster wears while pillaging a city!).

Invasion of the Body Snatchers,”released in 1956, used the plotline of alien attacks from outer space as a metaphor for fighting against Communism. Souls of victims were sucked dry as they slept by “seed pods” awoke as godless automatons, bent on survival by absorbing all the uninitiated into their cause.

This film was one of the strongest anti-Communist pieces of the Cold War period. Kevin McCarthy’s screaming “They’re here already — YOU’RE NEXT!” will live forever as a shining example of 1950s horror.

Philadelphia resident Diana Lee says it is one of her all-time favorites. “What sticks in my mind is the whole seed-pod concept,”explains Lee. “Just the idea of sleeping and waking up as something else is very unnerving; but there are definitely times when I have felt that way.”

Any teams going against the New York Yankees of that era can attest to that fact.

Fiend Without a Face” (1958) took a different turn, featuring invisible creatures revealed as cannibalistic brains, but only after exposure to excessive atomic radiation.

George Romero would later combine both themes and weave them into a masterpiece of black and white horror, bridging the gap between aliens and radiation. ” Night of the Living Dead“(1968) created flesh – eating zombies, bent on using Earth as their personal backyard buffet.

Hero Duane Jones nobly carried on the tradition of Black guys getting killed off in motion pictures. Hey, shit happens . . .

Moving into the 1960s, space invasion is now the norm.

Now we do the invading, which doesn’t sit well with the neighborhood’s inhabitants. To paraphrase Ib Melchior’s Martians in ” The Angry Red Planet” (1960) “Men of Earth – - we of the planet Mars have a message for you, and it ain’t ‘live long and prosper.’ Don’t come back!”

You know, after we sent that last Mars probe to the planet in 2004 (only to have it suddenly stop sending messages) I’d leave Mars the fuck alone if I were us…

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the forces of good and evil choose up sides for the ultimate movie match – up.

Going To Hell

Since time immemorial, the Prince of Darkness and his minions have endeavored to do as much damage as possible to mankind on celluloid.

” Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) involved a coven of witches, acting as midwives in prepping for the birth of the son of Satan.

The creepiness of the Dakota apartment building in New York City, which would later be the backdrop to the murder of Beatles’ singer/songwriter John Lennon, added to the eeriness within its walls.

>The Biblical implications offered in Richard Donner’s direction of ” The Omen” (1976) spawned a trilogy of terror and an unsettling atmosphere that kept many viewers awake at night.

But for sheer, sustained suspense, ” The Exorcist” (1973) may well be at the head of the class of horror.

Bump in the Night

No discussion of horror would be complete without that staple of spookiness, ghosts. Ghost movies seem to come and go, as ghosts are wont to do. Probably the most stylish ghost flick was not the love story of the same name where Whoopi Goldberg contacts Demi Moore’s ‘boo’ (Patrick Swayze) from beyond, but Val Lewton’s ” The Uninvited” (1944).

Lewton’s style in all his movies was working with imagined fear and minimal special effects. Just as “Ghost” used “Unchained Melody” as its connected theme, “The Uninvited” is probably the only film of its genre known for a big band era standard (“Stella by Starlight”).

Fright Master William Castle’s ” House on Haunted Hill” (1958) and ” 13 Ghosts” (1960) provided filmgoers with the pass – the – popcorn, grab – your – date horror fest most were used to, as did Robert Wise’s ” The Haunting” (1963).

The best modern ghost effort to date was when Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg managed to tag – team story and FX into a chilling package in ” Poltergeist” (1982).

Newspaper editor Mike Bruton likes ‘House’ for what’s not in it. “What makes it work for me is the lack of effects, the pace of the film and the actors creating the notion something can and will happen.”

Victims, Valkyries, and Vixens

From the 1970s to the 1990s, female victims were a dime a dozen; but heroines, while few, were resourceful and powerful.

Tobe Hooper’s ” The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974) was loosely based on the exploits of a serial killer; and became director Tobe Hooper’s signature horror moment.

From this gore fest spawned slasher flick superstars Michael Myers (Halloween –1978), Freddy Kruger (A Nightmare on Elm Street–1984), Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th—1980) and Jigsaw from the Saw series – 2004).

For Freddy and Jason, victims were always in fresh supply; but regardless of whoever started the feud (no doubt talkin’ shit about someone else’s mama) it forced two of our favorite fiends to get it on in ” Freddy vs. Jason“(2003).

Think of it as horror’s answer to the “Bud Bowl” without the cans.

Jaime Lee Curtis as the Babysitter You Love to Hear Scream survived 20 years of Michael Myers’ attacks in the Halloween series. Linda Hamilton went from soft and curvy to hard-core butt-kicker in her role as Sarah Conner in ” The Terminator” (1984).

Milla Jovovich would become a valkryie of the highest order in the Resident Evil series (2002) as well as the ultra – violent, gravity – defying Ultraviolet (2006); as well as Natasha Henstridge, who went from alien villain ( Species – 1995 )to hard – core heroine in John Carpenters’ Ghosts of Mars(2001).

Carrie – Anne Moss as the ass – kicking, computer hacking Trinity in The Matrix (1999) was as bad as she was beautiful; while Sean Young’s portrayal of a replicant (android) in ” Blade Runner” (1982) was touching and firmly defined throughout the screenplay.

Sissy Spacek’s transformation from mousy teenager to the telekinetically powerful ” Carrie“(1976) was awesome casting on the part of director (and Philadelphia native) Brian De Palma.

But the strongest female role to ever come down the pike in this genre was Sigourney Weaver as the indefatigable Ellen Ripley. ” Alien” (1979) introduced us to Ellen Ripley as the last survivor of a “workers’ compensation malfunction”; and even survived death (in Alien 3 – 1992) to star in one last film Alien Resurrection (1997).

Next time: BASN presents “the BOOS.