11 April 2009

"It took Linda. Then it came after me."

The A.V. Club, as usual, posted a pretty intriguing article as part of its AVQ&A series, this one asking the writers to digress about the pop cultural touchstones that scared the living hell out of them when they were kids. Naturally, this brought back a flood of memories for me, ones that I wish to indulgently share with all of you reading this. Just because I can.

Three memories immediately come to mind, and only two of them I consider as part of my formative film experiences. The first one...well, I just a big wuss as a kid. See, one Halloween, my brother went out as Freddy Krueger. He bought a rubber Krueger mask as part of the costume, one that went completely over the head and left only small holes for the eyes and nose. We had company over our home one night, and everyone was interested in my brother's costume. My mother put on the mask and the Freddy glove, and looked at me and slashed the razors through the air.

I freaked the fuck out.

I have no idea how old I was. Old enough to know who Freddy Krueger was, but not old enough to have seen any of the movies. Between six and nine, I suppose, young enough to think, "Oh fuck, my mother has somehow turned into Freddy Krueger." I screamed and tried to run away, but only ended up in the place we call The Bar, an alcove in the living room where we stored old tax files and aging liquor bottles. I peeked my head out and my mother was still Freddy fucking Krueger come to ungodly life, and I shrieked and tried to hide from the raging face of death. But she took off the mask, and everyone had a good laugh, and I discovered that my mother would not, in fact, haunt my dreams. At least, not in the same way as Freddy Krueger does.


I'm eleven or twelve, in sixth grade. My parents still won't let me watch R-rated movies, but I've begun hanging out with "bad kids." And they keep talking about this film called Reservoir Dogs. And they happen to have it on video.

Just their descriptions of the film blow my mind: "They're all criminals? And they torture a cop? Does he get away?...What? Oh, Jesus...But...but he's a cop..." It was probably the first time I was exposed to artistic moral ambiguity, and I'm not sure what warped me more - that ambiguity, or the stark violence, which seemed pretty goddamn brutal to me. Hanging out with those friends, I managed to watch about half of the film, at least until the cop's ear is cut off and Mr. Blonde gets it, but we were interrupted by, I assume, someone's parents coming home and demanding we be wholesome and whitebread, and I never got to find out how it ended. At least, not until high school, when I was finally able to rent it with another group of friends (these ones weren't "bad kids"...dickholes, maybe, but so was/am I).

But before then, when I was just watching it as a young, impressionable kid, the film somehow entranced me. It introduced me to concepts I couldn't even name, let alone describe, and while the violence made me sick to my stomach, I couldn't look away from its gruesome implications and results. I could not stop watching.

When Pulp Fiction came out on video a couple of years later, I remember wanting to watch it, because by then I was more in tune with the general goings-on in the film world, and because it was by the same director as Reservoir Dogs. And yet I was still not able to rent it. By that time, my parents had started letting me watch more adult movies (I remember Speed and Die Hard with a Vengeance as being two of the earliest), but this one was still up in the air. My mother rented it one night and watched it with my brother, and I was hotly anticipating their response because I wanted to watch it so, so badly, and it was up to my mother to tell me whether I could or not. The next day, I queried them. My mother said, more or less, "It was...weird." And then the coversation was somehow dropped. I felt like I was prevented from watching the movie not because of the content, but because its very format and subject matter were too outre for normal suburban tastes. Once again, I was stymied until high school.


Later in middle school. Probably eight grade. Maybe even ninth (which was early high school). One of my daily habits is to read the movie listings in the local newspaper's television guide, the one given out in the Sunday edition. My eye comes across a film whose description inflames my imagination. During a particular weekend, this film is on late at night on a channel we don't get, but that comes in blurred and with sound (you know, like the porno at the beginning of American Pie). Clicking around, I happen upon this film, and hear what sounds like some horrific maulings and deaths.

As you might have guessed from my previous anecdotes, I was then, and continue to be, a pussy. But this film demanded I watch it, and the television guide (which was not TV Guide) clued me into an upcoming showing that would occur when I would be home alone. I made a resolution: I would watch this film all by myself, with the lights turned off, and I would somehow prove that I was a man, and a courageous person, and someone who could face down his fears.

When the time came, I made a bowl of popcorn, turned off the lights, plopped down in front of the television, and watched the film.

It was Army of Darkness.

If you've seen the film, as you should have by now, you know how ridiculous I was being, and around the point where Ash professes that he has not, in fact, even seen any of these assholes before, I first got the inkling that I was not in store for the horror marathon I had anticipated. This was further confirmed when he was pushed down into the hole (scary) and fought the monster down there (also scary) but in a very slapsticky, chainsaw-magically-landing-on-stump way (not so scary). It finally dawned on me: This is a comedy, isn't it?

It was, and it is. I enjoyed the motherfuck out of that film, and it remains one of my favorites of all time, and one of my greatest viewing experiences. Yeah, Spider-man 2 was good and all, but for me, nothing will ever match Sam Rami's fifth feature-length film.

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