Tom McParland looks back at some classic scary – and not so scary – movies from his childhood.
A horror movie must confine itself to conventional subjects, situations and experiences that audiences are familiar with. The object of horror movie’s disorder must also pun on the conventional monster: an outsized ape, King Kong (1933) or a giant human: The Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman (1953) something half-dead: Dracula (1958) or mechanical: Frankenstein (1935).
A turkey entitled The Invisible Nudist would never fly. We can’t react to invisibility. The invisible man must wear something, a suit or carry a handbag. These establish behaviour and gender. Otherwise an abstraction like a colony of nudists having ten-minute fisticuffs would be about as compelling to watch as an accountant’s concentration. Even horror has dimensions.
That we prefer cinematic horrors to real life ones is evidenced by our description of them: scary, chilling, creepy, or maybe even great – but rarely horrible. Horrible we reserve for relatively trivial annoyances like objectionable mothers-in-law or bad comedians (same difference). But something truly horrible like a Holocaust (originally meaning devastation by fire) is justly regarded as a proper noun by its victims to mean Nazi mass murder.
For me and flea-infested bag lady aficionado – 80 year-old Biddy McQuagg – horrors at Belfast’s Luxuriant cinema started when the movie wasn’t even a horror. Often the projectionist – Sidney Sozzle – got so drunk that he couldn’t remember where he’d put the trailer, or recall which movie he’d tagged it to. Alcohol and chronology being strange bedfellows, the trailer Sidney might show was for something we’d seen three weeks ago.
And when as the accursed trinity (bags + Biddy + me – all-humming) were enjoying an empathetic scratch before the apparition scene in 1943’s Song Of Bernadette, Frances Langford instead appeared, seductively cooing A – You’re Adorable in 1941’s All-American Co-Ed.
Whilst during silent moments in others, Sidney and wife Sally Sozzle could be distinctly heard violently fighting. Who threw the wallops and who effed and blinded wasn’t identifiable. But once as Betty Grable and Dan Dailey clinched in Springtime In The Rockies, a thump causing screen-trembles accompanied the exclamation, “Bugger!” Such circumstances demanded the re-plumbing of our senses to concentrate on horrible movie The Thing From Another World (1951).
The Thing was found by research scientists frozen in deep-freeze arctic ice. It was then accidentally unfrozen by the research station’s electric blanket! Once alive, the Thing rampages until one arm is chewed off by a research station guard dog before disappearing into the frozen wilderness.