Paralysing Paragraphs, Scary Speeches

Today is October 23rd, meaning that we’re 8 days away from Halloween. Yay! I can tell you’re getting excited now because you’re flapping your arms around and twisting your eyes in strange directions. Oh, wait…that’s just my reflection in a mirror.

Alright, maybe so far I’ve failed to put you into a “ghouls and goblins” mood. Hmm, what else can I do? Let’s see, what are the basics or Halloween? Scary costumes, scary monsters, scary mansions, scary lighting, scary weather, scary music, and of course my specialty; scary movies…but what about scary stories? Yes, I’ll try that.

So, this blog is strictly about films (don’t know if you noticed) and not literature per se. Ultimately I have barred myself from discussing anything that is not in some way film-related…so how am I going to pull this one off? Well, what about stories told within films? I don’t mean the actual plot or events of a movie, I mean stories that are literally told by the characters themselves, simply in the form of lengthy dialogue. In fact, there’s a name for those; they’re called monologues.

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s do that! I’ll grab a handful of stories and speeches, you sit yourself down in a rocking chair with a glass of wine (or brandi, or beer, or…mouthwash…whatever…) and we’ll go through them. I’ll pick 5…no…6…no no…7 horror themed monologues! Yes, that’s it! It’ll be…

It’s a celebration of the marriage between the written and spoken word. Perfectly crafted dialogue is useless unless it’s articulated in the right way. So, let’s jump in with number 7…

Apparently people hate this movie. It’s one of those films that I, personally, found very creepy when I first saw it – but afterwards I found out that it was highly disliked.

It’s a remake of Robert Wise’s The Haunting from 1963, and in many respects follows it pretty closely. In the original film the ghosts were represented merely by noise and interesting uses of camera, as well as ridiculously expositive dialogue from the characters – like “I just felt someone holding my hand”.  Much of that remains in this update, and even certain key scenes remain largely unchanged, but the leaps made in technology since the 60’s impressed the filmmakers so much that they couldn’t help but overindulge in them. They use CGI far too much in this movie, and as a result most people didn’t find it very scary. Not surprising, as it’s directed by Jan De Bont, the man behind Speed and Twister. Don’t get me wrong, those are both great films, but they’re action films. This movie marketed itself as “scary”, and the ridiculously lavish use of theatrics and visual effects proved that to be largely a misnomer.

I do still think it’s creepy…ish…creepyish. Watching it again now at 23 I did start to wonder what exactly left me so sleepless at 11. Was I just so young that everything scared me back then? No, it’s more than that. There’s definitely something here, and I think it’s the story.

“When Eleanor, Theo, and Luke decide to take part in a sleep study at a huge mansion they get more than they bargained for when Dr. Marrow tells them of the house’s ghostly past.”

– IMDB

Let’s keep it real – a group of strangers taking part in a sleep study at a haunted mansion, it’s a great set up. As if that’s not enough, the details are very masterfully tuned. The name of the mansion, Hill House, instantly gives you chills. There’s an indication of solitude, solemnity, and sinisterness all embodies by the forging of those two words. It implies not only a fortress that stands alone, isolated from every other living thing, but also that it does so for a reason. Personally, I wouldn’t want to spend the night in a place called Hill House, would you?

So now we get to the meat of this dish, which is a monologue. I actually think this is one of the, is not the single, eeriest moments in the movie. What’s interesting is that, while the entire rest of the movie relies on dramatic music and operatic effects, this section has practically no score whatsoever. It’s just a simple story, chillingly told, with enough time given for the emotional weight to really sink in to the characters – and into us.

Yeah, thanks Liam, but I’ll spend the night at a local motel if that’s alright with you. Oh look, there’s one now – it’s called the Bates Motel! Much better, see ya’!

Now this next one is very short, but god damn is it good!

Everyone should know the story of Dawn of the Dead by now. It’s just about the simplest concept you can imagine:

“Survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall.”

– IMDB

There really isn’t much more too it than that. What works so well about this little speech, though, is the social commentary that it provides. None of what the televangelist is saying has any real world significance or thematic impact on the story. However, he represents both the best and the worst of mankind; the search for answers and the vicious opportunism of providing false ones. The monologue ends with a montage of the characters falling asleep to the sounds of zombies scratching at the walls.

How any of them could get any significant ‘shut-eye’ with that going on, is beyond me, but that’s also kind of the point of the scene; they’re all struggling to deal with the situation internally instead of openly talking about it.

From short and punchy to long and dramatic. Poltergeist is a movie that crams as much candy into its piñata as possible. That’s why it’s one of my favourite horror films.

We now live in an age where found-footage flicks like Paranormal Activity are all the rage. People have decided that the best way to represent a ghost is by knocking over a lamp. Ooh scary. Yeah, fuck that! I’m a Poltergeist devotee. I think in order to show the supernatural you have to go big or go home. If you’re unfamiliar with Poltergeist

“A family’s home is haunted by a host of ghosts.”

– IMDB

…then I’m afraid IMDB won’t help you with that. Yes, it’s a haunted house movie, but there’s more to it as well. See, in the middle of the picture one of the children in the house literally disappears; sucked through a closet and into another realm. The family cannot make heads or tails of it, so they seek the advice of an expert of “spiritual matters”. She’s short, strange, and sounds like she’s worked in a helium factory for most of her life…she is Tangina Barrons, and she gives one hell of an explanation!

I’m not exactly sure why what she says makes me shudder so…but it really does! I think every filmmaking technique is utilised very precisely here; the writing, the line delivery, the camera moves, and editing, and the music all work very effectively.

…from the movie Candyman, if you hadn’t already guessed that. Before I praise Candyman, though, I have to give a shout out to Clive Barker. The man is a god…that is all!

Alright, google Clive on your own time, now let’s talk about the hook man himself.

“The Candyman, a murderous soul with a hook for a hand, is said to appear when you stare into a mirror and chant his name five times. He is accidentally summoned to reality by a skeptic grad student researching the monster’s myth.”

– IMDB

This movie is, beyond the obvious horror, about class. The myth of the Candyman is invoked by poor residents living in the slums of Caprini-Green, a public housing project. He is used almost as a voodo-like entity in order to either blame their troubles on or beg to for vengeance. Because the legend of how he died is so wrapped up in the history of racism and economic inequality, the rich laugh him off as a mere story but the poor acknowledge him as a reality. This film is about what happens when someone from the top end of society, used to swivelling wine and pinching cigarettes, descends into a harsher luxury-less world.

The beautiful thing about that scene is its clarity. If you were at all tone deaf to the significance of class in this story – this scene shoves it in your face. The almost caricaturing way it portrays the self-induging world of upperclass academia clashes so blatantly with the graffitied back alleys that Virginia Madsen’s character is documenting, and that’s the heart and soul of the film. If you like the way this little scene plays out, then you should really check out C…ooh, I almost did it there!

Maybe a lot of these were obscure to you. You’re saying to yourself “Ey? The Haunting? Dawn of the Dead? Poltergeist? Candyman? Where on God’s green earth are the classics?”. Alright then, here’s a classic; it’s Quint’s Indianapolis story from Jaws. Everyone knows Jaws, so it’s a useless exercise, but for the sake of consistency…

“When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.”

– IMDB

…and that grizzled fisherman is Quint.

Don’t worry, I’m not crowbaring this monologue in just appease the snobs, I really think it deserves to be number 3. Why? Probably because it’s the one and only real insight we have to Quint’s past. This mysterious character is bombastic and sharp-toothed to say the least, but up until this point he never truly lets us in on any of his real history. We know what he does for a living, he kills sharks, but not why he does it. Well, that all changes in one scene:

Suddenly all of Quint’s personal quirks and ‘certifiable’ actions can be tied to one event. It doesn’t need to be said, but it obviously affected him in ways that Brody and Hooper will never understand. The look of awe on Hoopers face says it all. Suddenly the man sitting in front of them is a bit more than just the old crotchety mariner they thought he was.

If you’re any kind of champion of british films, then forget Harry Potter. Harry Potter is british talent funded by american money. No no, what you need to do is go out and get yourself a copy of Dog Soldiers; it’s as english as it gets. This low-as-hell budget werewolf fright-fest pits the combined forces of foul-mouthed witty British-army recruits against a predatory pack of razor clawed lycanthropes. Unpretentiously put…

“A squad of British soldiers on training in the lonesome Scottish wilderness find themselves locked in an epic battle against a family of werewolves.”

– IMDB

The cast consists largely of ‘unknowns’, but you should take note of one name in particular; Sean Pertwee. Pertwee has the voice, accent, and mannerisms to turn this monologue from cheesy exposition into a god-forged stone tablet. It’s almost my favourite monologue of all time and every time I hear it, it makes me squeeze the edge of my seat.

Did you take my advice from before about having a glass of wine? If you did, then this is the point where you raise your glass and say “…to Eddie!”.

That was a hell of a story if you ask me. It brings the two themes of the film together masterfully; the friendships build between soldiers and the haunting dangers surrounding them. Neil Marshall, the director of this film and The Descent, described Dog Soldiers as a soldier movie with werewolves – rather than a werewolf movie with soldiers. I concur, and this speech is a shining monument to that fact. It’s harsh, twisted, frightening, and shrouded in perplexity – and yet still manages to show the warm cordial side of brother-in-war, as well as the sadness that lingers over a settled battlefield.

It’s almost perfect, and would be ‘numero uno’ if it weren’t for…

Hold on to your childhood, kids – this one’s rough.

How should I describe Gremlins? Well, let’s just say that it’s about as far as you can push a kids movie while still calling it a kids movie. In fact the ratings board disagreed with that, and literally created the PG-13 rating because of this film. That’s how much it straddles the line!

“A boy inadvertantly breaks 3 important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.”

– IMDB

Just like with Labyrinth, watching this movie made for a pivotal moment of my childhood. I was super charmed and super creeped out by it. The nasty little gremlins are nasty, but also hilarious. They have no respect for order and this movie has no respect for sticking to the conventions of family entertainment.

So the movie is the movie, with funny parts, scary parts, ridiculous parts – but suddenly in the middle of all of it the film just stops. It stops so that the lead female character can tell a story about an experience she had at Christmas years ago. The weirdest thing is that it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie…at all.

However, thematically…it’s completely appropriate. Gremlins is about the mash up of festive yuletide joy and the undeniable malevolent persistence of destruction. Kate’s story completely embodies that, and it burrows frostily into the warm tissues of your heart like a murderous pointy icicle.

This may quite possibly be the most deliciously evil piece of writing in all of screen history. It beats anything that ever came out of Hannibal Lecter’s mouth or has been announced by any James Bond villain. I mean, what kind of sick filmmakers would purposefully set out to create a creepy Christmas-themed urban legend backstory for such a sweet young female character? Chris Columbus and Joe Dante, that’s who!

Now all that is diabolical in itself, but to make matter even worse – listen very carefully to the background music; it’s a “horrorfied” version of ‘Silent Night’. Wow, that’s cruel.

Alright, that’s another list listed. 8 days to go till Hallowthreen!

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