you could have dinner with us: the texas chainsaw massacre (1974)

Dear Miss Sally Hardesty,

You ruined a perfectly quiet afternoon.  Before you and your friends burst into my home, I had been enjoying a peaceful day alone.  We have lived there for generations, and that has never happened to us before.  What you did was rude, presumptuous, and simply inexcusable.

When the first man walked in, I was furious.  He had no right invading our private space like that.  Frankly, I was shocked.  In retrospect, I admit that I may have overreacted.  Again, I stress, this had never happened before, so I was in alien territory.  Usually, the way it works is that we go out to hunt down prey or my (late) brother lures y’all in.

You are not supposed to make yourselves available like that.  That is not how it works.

When the woman barged in looking for her friend, I was blind with rage.  How else was I to react?  I had no alternative at that point.  I had to make an example out of her.  And for that, I offer no apologies.  She got what was coming to her.  She had to be taught a lesson.  A severe one, sure.  But if anything, she got off easy.  Normally, I would have tortured her before killing her off.  I should have tortured her!  I was so angry that I could not get her on the meat hook fast enough.  Some would argue that was torture, as she did not die quickly and was very much alive when I shoved her into the freezer.  So perhaps I should be grateful for that.  Due to the amateurish way all of that happened, though, I cannot in all honesty say that it was enjoyable.  Afterward, because things were so rashly handled, I sat in front of the window fretting about the whole thing.  In all honesty, I was scared and upset.  What next?  How many more idiotic teenagers were going to impose on my otherwise tranquil afternoon?

Well, as things clearly played out, there was more trouble to come.  That second man, the one who screamed like a little girl before I delivered the killing blow, was a damn fool.  At least, I know he suffered a bit.  I can only imagine the terror he must have felt when he found the woman in the freezer.  It must have felt like a lifetime.  Good.  After that one, the blood was definitely up and I was ready to murder the whole world.

When night came, I prowled our property ready to plug the hole.  Considering how many of you had already stupidly home invaded us, I was expecting some sort of church group gathering near us.  Maybe your bus had broken down or something.  Greedy wish fulfillment, I know.  A man can want!  Instead, I found only you and your half-wit crippled brother.  How you suffered through his moaning and groaning and complaining all those years, I will never know.  You certainly were not hard to find in the field, even in the dark.  Your brother—Franklin?—sure did jibber-jabber.  I sincerely do believe I did you and your family a favor killing him off.  Again, however, perhaps I should have prolonged his suffering a bit more.  Maybe you secretly think the same?

It had to be you.  I know that many people love the Billie Holiday version, as well as the Frank Sinatra one (of course!), but I have always secretly loved John Travolta’s cover.  Greatly underrated!  I guess my secret is out.  He really could have had a career as a singer, I think, if he had pursued it.  What?  You do not know of the Travolta version?  Check it out sometime… it is really something.

I digress, though.

Sally, I guess you have a way of getting a man sidetracked.  No doubt, I am telling you nothing you already do not know.  When we first met, I have to admit not really finding you that attractive.  How wrong I was.  Now, I realize that we do not usually go into the mushy stuff when taking care of our victims.  We are prideful yet utilitarian about the work we do—outside of the torture thing—and we like to have as much free time making furniture, cookin’ up delicious BBQ, and then I like to make my art.  During the tourist season, people flock to our little patch of heaven and buy up the “folk art” like crazy.  It never fails to amuse me, but I would also be a liar if I said I did not enjoy making it.

But there was something special about you that I saw in the short time that we were together.  You just had that spark.  Hard to notice, I know, with all of the hysteria going on.  May I at this point add how embarrassed I still am over grandfather’s gauche behavior that night?  The entire family idolizes that man, but he really was rude not treating you with the proper respect.  Then again, he is old and the indignities of aging will visit us all in the end… if we are lucky to live that long.  And let us not even get into how that old fool from the gas station treated you.  He thinks he is the boss because he handles all of our financial matters and takes care of the BBQ.  But he is just a cook!  Nothing more.  And my brother, the hitchhiker y’all picked up, is was a really good person deep down.  He just had one too many bad acid trips and his all meat diet did not help matters either.  I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive him.  Bless his heart.  He is in a better place, however, and no longer has to endure the hardships of living in poverty like the rest of us.

I digress again.

I really do miss you, Sally, and would very much like to see you again.  I was just so mad at your friends and it really put me in a bad mood.

Our parting was so sudden.  One minute we were all having such a great time and the next thing I know, you were out the window.  Quite a shock!  Then there was the whole thing out on the highway.  The truck driver—the black man–who stopped for you must have been surprised.  I sometimes think back on it and can see the humor of it.  Now.  At the time, though, it was a little jarring and unpleasant, especially since I injured myself with the chainsaw.  First time for everything!  I wonder what happened to him?  For a fat guy he sure did move fast.  But who am I to talk?  I am pretty agile on my feet too, no?  I did lose weight after that day—25 pounds!—but I have now gained it back.  Sad but true.

Oh, my… how loquacious I can get.

We still talk about you.  And in the dark, when I am alone, I think of you… remembering what it felt like to be so close to you.  I sometimes think I can still taste your tears.  Do you think of me that way?  At night, do you imagine what it would have been like if you had never left?  Do you regret fleeing?

I hope so.

Yours… forever,

Leatherface

P.S.  I think you left your shoes here.

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witch house: suspiria (1977)

She never scales the clouds, nor walks abroad upon the winds.  She wears no diadem.  And her eyes, if they were ever seen, would be neither sweet nor subtle; no man could read their story; they would be found filled with perishing dreams, and with wrecks of forgotten delirium.

— from Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey

For pure sensation, there’s no finer modern horror movie for me than Dario Argento’s delirious bad acid trip Suspiria (1977).  Its opening scenes are hypnotic, disorienting, and nightmarish.  This is what a horror movie is supposed to be like!  Watching it for the first time back in the late 1980s–it had just been released on VHS uncut and letterboxed–I was startled by its ferocious style.  I’d read about Argento and had only seen Creepers a.k.a. Phenomena by this time.  I desperately wanted to see more of his movies, but at this point–at least in the U.S.–they were hard to come by, especially if you didn’t have friends who knew some guy who knew some guy who could get you a prized Peruvian third-generation bootleg of his work.  I’d been lucky enough to see Demons (a movie he produced) in the theater, but nothing could have prepared me for the dark spell that Suspiria weaves.

There are only a handful of movies that evoke the supernatural with such horrifying menace–The Seventh Victim, Curse of the Demon, Kill, Baby… Kill!, Toby Dammit, Don’t Look Now, The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (not overtly supernatural, I know, but it evokes a sense of occult unease throughout), and The TenantSuspiria and its follow-up, Inferno, are right at the top.

A young American ballet student, Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), arrives in Germany to study at a dance academy and quickly realizes that the school is actually run by witches.  Suzy arrives at the airport looking slightly bewildered (as  you do when arriving in a foreign country for the first time) and a narrator gives us some expository details as to who she is and why she’s there.  But Argento smartly dismisses the voice-over after a few seconds.  It’s as if the director immediately wants to shut down any preconceived notions we may have about this movie.  Up to this point, Argento was known as a director of gialli, such as Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’Nine Tails, and Deep Red–aggressively stylish thrillers loaded with convoluted plot detours and Grand Guignol-styled death scenes.  Suspiria, however, immediately signals that it is something different… weirder… less interested in plot, character, and ideas of realism.  This is an adult fairy tale unbound.  And beyond the looking-glass, the world moves to much stranger rhythms than the one we know.

During a powerful thunderstorm (It was a dark and stormy night…), Suzy manages to flag down a taxi.  She instructs the gruff driver (the coachman who will whisk her to the castle of her nightmares) that she wants to be taken to the dance academy.  They drive through the fabled Black Forest and Suzy plunges deeper into a netherworld of sadism, murder, and diabolism.  But just as Suzy arrives at the academy, Argento shoves her aside and focuses instead on another student (Eva Axén) who flees into the night and to a friend’s apartment… toward her ghastly demise.  Her prolonged death is mesmerizing in its savagery.  It’s also oddly beautiful, perfectly keeping with the tradition of Decadence that Argento is clearly an adherent of.

Below is my small tribute to this glorious masterpiece of death.  It focuses only on the opening scenes and in the future I’ll do another one focusing on other parts.  I’d like to do one for the equally terrifying Inferno as well.

Enter… play loud!

 

the devil made me do it: night of the living dead & the exorcist

Horror movies–particularly of the supernatural variety–are perpetual favorites around my household, but during the Halloween season we tend to watch even more of them.  As a child and teenager, I cut my teeth on the genre.  I loved fantasy, science fiction, and Westerns too, but it was horror that I connected with the strongest.  What that says about me psychologically, well… don’t tell me what you think.  It’ll just make me morbidly self-conscious.

The horror genre–more so than any other kind of movie, I think–tends to get judged by its worst examples.  You mention that you love horror and immediately most people think slasher killers, serial killers, and so-called torture porn.  You mention that you love supernatural fiction or movies, those same people are likely to nod their heads in solidarity when Repulsion, The Shining, and Black Sunday are named.  That’s not to say that I’m not up for a great knife-wielding maniac picture like Psycho, Blood and Black Lace, or Tenebrae, but my taste runs more toward the weird, surreal, and unnerving than say, The Human Colostomy Bag or whatever gag-inducing picture is driving the kids wild these days.

This season we’ve been revisiting horror classics, movies we saw too many times earlier in our lives but haven’t viewed in ten years or so.  Stuff like George A. Romero’s highly influential Night of the Living Dead and the equally trendsetting William Friedkin picture The Exorcist.

There’s no need to say much more about them.  They’re true classics that have weathered the years and passing trends well.  They’re scary, beautifully crafted in their own distinctive ways, and they linger in the imagination long after they end.  They may not be my personal favorites, but there’s no arguing their mythic stature as the luxury models of the field and I do love them.

Below are two videos I put together.  The Night of the Living Dead score is famously swiped from various music library sources.  The music suite from The Exorcist is Lalo Schifrin’s rejected score.  It’s great, but you can also hear why Friedkin went with using work from modern composers George Crumb and Krzystof Penderecki instead.  Make sure to watch them with the lights out and in HD for the best picture quality.

flagpole and me

Just a quick update… I will be posting some substantial stuff very soon though.

I’m now reviewing movies for the fine Athens, Georgia publication Flagpole, a free newsweekly that’s just about damn everywhere in town.  I’m very happy to be a contributor to the paper and I hope to be writing for them for a long time.  For you out-of-towners, you can read the paper and my reviews online tooMy first review was for the documentary Senna, chronicling the life of famed Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who died in a crash in 1994.  I have no interest in automobiles and thought the movie was fantastic, so that should tell you something.  And this week I reviewed actress Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut Higher Ground.  Next week I’ll be looking at either Drive, The Future (Miranda July’s return to the screen), and/or Beats, Rhymes and Life, a documentary about the influential hip hop group A Tribe Called Quest.  I haven’t decided which one yet.

I’d love to see some of you over at the Flagpole web site leaving comments…  wink, wink, nudge, nudge.