"By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes."
I've never been a fan of Shakespeare, but I do admit the Bard came up with some memorable quotes. The one above is from Macbeth, and as I recall from my high school English daze, it was one of the witches telling her sisters that by the tingling in her fingers she knew King Macbeth was coming to see them. Who knew stirring cauldrons caused carpal tunnel syndrome? Anyways, Macbeth was the "something wicked"; a man who committed regicide to become king, and then continued killing to hold on to his power before descending into madness and ultimately losing his own life.
But this blog is not about Shakespeare. It's about scary movies. For the whole month of October it's hard to find a movie on television that isn't schlock-gore, especially on AMC that proudly trumpets Gory Matters Here. The celluloid monsters of my parents' generation were primarily misunderstood creatures. Dr. Frankenstein's experiment in reanimation was actually a gentle soul who yearned for human contact, but was shunned because of his appearance. My generation brought forth the slasher genre with Michael Myers, Jason, and Freddy Krueger; men who were either born psychopaths or bent on revenge. And now we are overrun with the current monsters du jour: flesh-eating zombies and sparkly vampires.
I enjoy horror films, but I am not a connoisseur, by any means. To be a true horror film buff, you have to be willing to take repulsion to the next level, and I have my limits. If reviews for a movie on Netflix contain too many warnings, I won't watch it. I Googled "top horror films" and found lists from real connoisseurs that contain movies I've never even heard of. On one such compilation (Time Out London), I've seen only 23 of the 100 films listed, plus a couple I think I remember watching. I guess that doesn't say much for those two movies, does it?
Here are the films that stand out for me, with a little commentary. They are in no particular order and may have spoilers:
The Shining: (Quote: "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.") The Overlook Hotel high in the Colorado Rockies is full of deviant ghosts, rotting corpses, and dead children. But it's not the blood and gore, of which there's not much, or the supernatural moments that makes this movie so scary. It's watching Jack Nicholson's portrayal of a man, a struggling alcoholic, slowly succumbing to madness from the months spent isolated with his family in the spooky old place. No one, but no one, plays deranged with the same manic glee as Mr. Nicholson. In the book, Jack Torrance's character constantly swung between his bad self and his good self. Even at the very end, as he is bent on finding and killing his own son, the good self, the loving father, surfaces briefly to implore Danny to get away. In the movie, however, there was nothing likeable about the character.
The Exorcist: (Quote: "You @^#&+!? !*#?&@#&!") I'm not sure which is more horrifying: seeing Linda Blair violate a crucifix, or listening to the vulgar language spewing, no pun intended, from her child's mouth. And when you depend on closed-captioning like I do, having to hear AND read it at the same time kind of rips your soul. The first time I saw this movie, I was in high school. I was with my best friend and it was a squirmy business watching it with her. My husband had no such luck. He saw it with...get this...HIS PARENTS. Me, I would have packed my bags, left home, changed my name, and never seen the 'rents again, because how can you possibly face each other after sitting through something like that? I still cannot get over how incredibly stupid he was, but he blames his sister. She, apparently, raved on and on about the film, and actually encouraged her parents and brother to go see it. I don't think she meant "go see it together", but she quite obviously left out a few pertinent facts.
It: (Quote: "Want a balloon?") Richard and I made the mistake of watching this movie when our older son was just a toddler. Needless to say, he has hated clowns ever since.
Xtro: (The following quote is attributed to yours truly: "Oh, geez...turn it off...TURN IT OFF!") We happened to catch this little gem on television late one night, probably around 1984. A woman has an encounter with an alien and gives birth about five minutes later to a full grown man. Trust me, the scene in Alien where the infant monster hurtles out of the guy's abdomen is nothing...NOTHING compared to this. I've never been able to erase that memory.
Psycho: (Quote: "A boy's best friend is his mother.") The first time I ever saw Psycho was on television. I was with a friend who was babysitting some neighborhood kids. We'd managed to corral the kiddos in their beds, and settled in to watch the movie in the downstairs den. At the end of the film, when Norman's mummy swivels around in her chair, I screamed. That woke the kids up and it was the last time Shannon ever asked me to keep her company while she babysat. I guess she figured she didn't need another child to look after.
Alien: (Quote: "Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.") I have always loved Alien's PR tagline: In space, no one can hear you scream. Alien, for me, was not about searching for and eliminating a drooling, reptilian life form with a double set of jaws and a nasty disposition, but about how space can be unimaginably vast and claustrophobic at the same time.
Halloween: (Quote: "Was it the boogeyman?") This was the very first movie Richard and I saw together, back when we were dating in college. Every time we see it he has to remind me of this little fact. His best friends, Tom and Lennerd, went with us, so I can't qualify this as a real date. Anyhoots, there are two things I like about this film. First, the violence is not graphic. The director, John Carpenter, relied on a lot of false startles to ramp up the nerves, and also on the audience's mental eye to supply the blood and gore. Secondly, the music score, a simple piano melody, was practically a character in its own right. I sometimes watch the movie just to hear the music.
The Omen: (Quote: "Look at me, Damien! It's all for you!") Before Jason and Michael there was Damien, an angelic-looking young boy who had an ungodly penchant for attracting all kinds of mayhem. The latter half of the film was a thriller, as Damien's father tried to unravel the mystery behind his son's birth. The movie's tie-in with the verse from Revelation makes it especially chilling: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred, three score and six." (Rev. 13:18)
Macbeth laments at the end, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Kind of like this blog.
"You set standards that no family activity can live up to."
"When have I ever done that?"
"Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays..."
"Good night, Ellen."
My favorite holiday movie is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Clark Griswold wants nothing more than to treat his nearest and dearest to an Old-fashioned Family Christmas. Unfortunately for Clark, reality never measures up to the Christmas of his dreams. With few exceptions, there is so much in this movie that hits close to home, it's scary.
"Clark, Audrey's frozen from the waist down."
"That's all part of the experience, honey."
This year, our Old-fashioned Family Christmas got its official start on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Texas Tech played Baylor at the Cowboys Stadium, and because our daughter is a Red Raider, we bought tickets in the nosebleed section to show her that, maroon-blooded Aggies though we may be, we can root for Tech, too. Of course, it helped that the Aggies beat Tech (and Baylor) earlier in the season, so we could afford to be magnanimous. In addition to the five of us, my husband's sister, niece, brother and father tagged along. The four of them had never been to JerryWorld, and this was the perfect opportunity for a family outing to see what is now the second largest HD video screen in the world. Too bad Jerry Jones didn't have the smarts to purchase a Best Buy Buy Back program for the day his video screen got outclassed.
Anyhoots, based on the weatherman's predictions, my husband planned a nice tailgate. Unfortunately, the weather was anything but cool, calm and sunny. Instead, something like a first cousin to a Maine nor'easter blew into town. The wind was vicious and it was drizzly. I tried to be the Voice of Reason and suggested that maybe we should have our tailgate indoors. I could light a fire in the fireplace, turn on the tree lights, and we could all pretend we could see the stadium from the living room windows. My husband acted as if the weatherman had deliberately lied to him and refused to consider it. Needless to say, it was the most miserable tailgate I have ever attended. The wind was so bad, one of the blue Porta-Potties scattered around the parking lot actually blew over and was last seen headed toward the stadium. God forbid someone was in it.
"Do you sleep with your brother? Do you know how sick and twisted that is?"
This takes me back a few years to when our kids were small and my parents were still able to make the drive up from Houston to Dallas. Since I insisted the grandparents stay with us, that meant the kids were driven out of their rooms to sleep in ours. The sleeping bags were dragged out of the attic and our rugrats were arranged on the floor all around our bed, one on either side and a third at the foot. We were snugged down like a pack of wolves, and almost as surly.
This situation created an immense problem for the cat we had at that time, a very shy creature that lived under our bed during the day, and only came out at night, vampire-like, after everyone was asleep to eat and use the facilities. Once Maddie had safely traversed the bedroom floor, she would invariably meet up with my dad, who was a night owl himself, and both parties would freeze in their tracks...Maddie because there was no going forward or back, and my Dad because he had forgotten we had a cat. The arrangement created traffic problems for us, too, because as carefully as we tried to tiptoe around the bodies of our children, sloshed as we were on eggnog spiked with bourbon, inevitably we would step on an arm or leg or head. Eventually, the kids got too big to be spending their Christmases sleeping on the floor and my parents were put up in a nearby hotel.
"Welcome to our home...what's left of it."
Right this minute, my house is in pretty good shape. That's because there are no kids to mess up things. It's nice to walk by their rooms and see them neat and tidy. Even the cats seem to be respecting the new regime and are staying off the beds and not shedding white fur all over the boys' navy blue comforters. But I know this will come to an end next week when the two youngest come home for their holiday break.
"If that cat had nine lives it sure used them all."
My daughter used to have mice for pets. At the time we were between cats, or I would never have consented to purchasing a mouse, much less two. The two quickly became a lot because one of the little buggers was pregnant when we bought it. Anyway, we had mice out the wazoo for two or three years before they finally, mercifully died off, and as much as I hate to admit it, I had a hand in the death of one of them.
One Christmas, during this mousy phase, I found some real working Christmas lights made for a doll house. I bought a couple of sets for my daughter's doll house, and on a whim, I bought an extra set for the mouse cage. The mice, when they weren't engaged in mouse-like activities like running laps on their wheelie, would sleep huddled under a structure designed to look like a hollow log. I strung the lights around the log and taped the battery pack to the glass, so no one would pee on it and short it out. I had that much sense, but unfortunately, there, my thought processes ended. It never occurred to me that one of the mice would actually chew through the wire, but it did and it electrocuted itself. I imagine this flash of light and a BZZZZZTTT sound, much like a bug zapper. I guess even two AA batteries are enough to bring a tiny rodent heart to a screaming stop. I felt terrible about it, but my daughter didn't seem too upset. I think by then, the novelty of being a mouse den mother had pretty much worn off.
"You got a kiss for me?"
"Better take a rain check on that, Art. He's got a lip fungus they ain't identified yet."
I can’t explain why the Santa in this photo looks like a derelict, but there is a reason why Paige is wearing a hat, and not because it’s cold outside. She was being treated for a fungal infection. Our doctor never did give it a proper name, saying it was “some kind of fungus”, which is a lot like telling the victim of a crime “you are the victim of a crime”. So much for medical science.
Anyway, the mystery fungus caused two big patches of hair to fall out: the biggest on the upper right side of her head, and a smaller patch just behind her left ear. Her hair had to be washed in a special shampoo that stung horribly, and then slathered with another medicine that left it greasy, and its owner smelling vaguely of kerosene. It probably would not have been a good idea to place her near an open flame. After shampooing, I would ever-so-gently comb out her hair, starting at the bottom and working my way to the top to avoid tangling, but no matter how carefully I combed, her hair would come out in handfuls. By the time I was finished, we would both be in tears; Paige, because it hurt, and me, because I had an 8-year-old with a bad comb over.
When this photo was taken, the worst of it was past us and her blonde locks had started growing again. Interestingly, the hair behind the ear came in curly.
This one particular Christmas, we had a real live tree, a Noble Fir that, was...well, quite noble. Of all the Christmas tree varieties you can buy, I have always preferred the Noble Fir because its branches do not make me think of toilet bowl brushes. Anyway, we got this tree home, set up, watered, lit and decorated. A few days go by and I begin to notice flies in the house. This is December and there shouldn't be any flies, but here they are clustered on my dining room window. I Raided them, pitched the little bodies in the trash and forgot about it until the next morning, when there were more flies. Hmmmmm...
To paraphrase the song, things were beginning to look a lot like the Amityville Horror. We knew the insects had to be coming from the tree and as much as we peered into the piney depths, we could not detect any buggy activity. I kept the can of Raid handy and eventually, the flies, much like the mice, died off and that's all I care to say about that.
"You surprised to see us, Clark?"
"Oh, Eddie...if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn't be more surprised than I am now."
I have no personal experience with this, just love that bit of dialogue between Clark and cousin Eddie.
All quotes and the screen shot are from Warner Bros. Pictures' National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.
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