Posted by Richard Harland Smith on June 26, 2007
There are few sights more innately creepy to me than the view of a rural highway or country road at night as framed by a car’s windshield. I grew up in the country, in the pine-ringed hills above a small New England mill town that had, even thirty years ago, seen better days. They call that stretch of Windham County “The Quiet Corner.” Quiet it was, and is, and dark at night; in all my born natural, I’ve never again known such blackness as I faced through my long, lonely nights there. Cutting through the woods between “downtown” and our hilltop house was a span of rural highway. I-52 was an offshoot of Interstate 95, less-traveled, narrower, darker, and surrounded on both sides by forest that seemed to want, especially late at night, to rush out at the road and swallow it whole.
I have vivid memories of a childhood as seen from the backseat of my parents’ car (always a Ford) and of nights coming home from a function or a family evening out (invariably at a favorite steakhouse over the state line called Dante’s Inferno) and of my rising fear as our 8-cylinder Whatever negotiated the connectors, turnpikes and back roads from Out There to home. Wedged in between older sisters Cheri (perpetually asleep, my shoulder her pillow) and Lisa (whose mental library of eerie urban myths and horrific highway mishaps was inexhaustible), I would stare out through the windshield visible to me between my parents’ shoulders, wide-eyed with mounting terror.
There’s something hypnotic about the road at night. The darkness limits the range of our perception, focuses our attention on the immediate, on what we can see by dint of the pool of our headlights. Although fearful travelers have been making night journeys since Homo Sapien could walk upright, there’s something cinematic about the night road… the black asphalt like a never-ending strip of celluloid. The flicker of car headlights through the trees takes me back to the days of the Magic Lantern, makes me think of the slits in a turning Zoetrope that give animation to static images. (For what it’s worth, the word “zoetrope” comes from the Greek and could be taken to mean “wheel of life,” which fits my automotive theme very nicely.) Although movies are little more than a century old and a signifier of modernity, they can put us in immediate touch with the primal like no other media can.
As spooked as I was by the view of the dark road and those seemingly endless woods, I couldn’t not look. It was mesmerizing, it was magical. At any moment, anyone… or anything… might jump out from behind those trees or pop up at the end of the road: the shuffling ghouls of Night of the Living Dead, the titanic hellspawn of Curse of the Demon, the masked, alabaster beauty of Eyes without a Face or the pod people of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And while my worst childhood fears went unrealized, a part of me was always a little disappointed that nothing ever happened. Maybe that’s why I’ve made a life and a livelihood out of the experience of watching movies. Movies put me in the backseat again, wedged in between the familiar but focused on the Great Unknown down the road. Cinema puts me back in the dark where, bathed in that infernal blue flicker, with my eyes wide and my senses sharp, I await the inevitable.
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Art in Movies Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Blu-Ray Books on Film British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Film Composers Film Criticism film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes movie flops Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller TCM Classic Film Festival Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies