Posted by Richard Harland Smith on June 21, 2013
Sometimes a friend will post a movie photo on his or her Facebook page or blog and my kneejerk response is, invariably, “I am so there!” Kneejerk or knot, I mean literally that. The magic of art in general — and cinema in particular — is that it takes us out of body, recuses us from mundane concerns, from our industry, our labor, our obligations, and woes and transports us to another plane, where we exist in two vicariously exciting dimensions. Well, the movies bring to the party height and width and our imagination provides the depth for a personal 3D conversion that technology could never duplicate, allows us to breach the fourth wall and step into the frame. I’ve been studying the above frame for years — a classic image from GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942) — and the corresponding scene from the film. Since I was a little boy, I wanted to be in that cemetery (with or without Bela), stepping through the ground-fog, reading the names on the stones and feeling that Gothic chill. Call me crazy, but when I was an anxiety-prone 12 year-old, the thought was comforting. A Frankenstein cemetery was my safe place, was sanctuary. And in my heart it still is.
Would I want to live in a real irradiated city? I’m not saying that… and yet whenever I see this matte shot from BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973) I just want to be there. Why is that? Is there a psychological term for this? BATTLE and BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971) both had scenes set in The Forbidden Zone, the remains of a long-ago-blasted human city (New York in BENEATH, specifically Queensboro Plaza, the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in midtown, all of which have gotten smooshed up against one another) and if I had to hazard a guess I’d say it’s the thrill of poking around in the ruins and finding relics of a long-ago time. Sadly, I’ve lived long enough to see portions of New York City reduced to a Forbidden Zone-like ruin and that was no fun… but the image still thrills me. And I still want to go there.
You know when hero Paul Christian and bit player Lee Van Cleef ride the rollercoaster to destroy THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)? And I’m not talking about just being in the place, per se — I’ve been to Coney Island — I’m talking about the adventure, the risk. All of it. The radioactive mini-warhead, the suits, and then the slow ascent up the coaster. You could choose — and people have chosen — to laugh at the preposterousness of this setpiece or you could do as I do every time I watch the movie… just go there.
Pretty much any horror movie scene set within a provincial inn or tavern and I’m Johnny on the Spot. These places always seem so cozy and inviting. (When the regulars aren’t acting like jerks… which they always are. They always eye newcomers suspiciously and act rudely. Can’t a horror movie protagonist ever walk into a tavern and have the locals go “Hey, look who’s here? A stranger! Let’s buy him a shandy!” But no, nobody ever goes that.) Gothic horror movies are invariably set in autumn, nearer winter than summer, and you always get a feeling of a chill in the air, so when characters come into a tavern and have a glass of wine or a bowl of goulash I always feel that warmth in my bones. Because, you know, I’m there.
Karswell’s comeuppance and the restoration of order in NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957) occurs in an ordinarily drab trainhead, at the junction of superstition and science. I want to pitch my tent there, by Karswell’s smoldering remains… or whatever the Demon leaves of him.
Every minute spent in Don Rickels’ company in X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963) is like time spent sitting in my Dad’s Lazy Boy after he’s turned in for the night.
To see Gale Sondergaard’s baleful face in the window in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939) not only means I’m home but that dinner’s on the table.
Know how James Whitmore’s character in THEM! (1954) is always coming to the aid of children and how he comforts the little orphan girl while the rest of the adults talk science? I want to end my days there.
It’s not just horror movies and it’s not always about feeling good. Sometimes it’s the way a movie makes you feel bad that causes you to set up housekeeping. The lost look on Howard Duff’s face when John Hoyt dies during the prison break in BRUTE FORCE (1947)? I live there.
John Wayne’s Terrapin Tanks speech from 3 GODFATHERS (1948)? I live there.
Dub Taylor gassing on about music just before Ted de Corsia coldcocks him in CRIME WAVE (1954)? I live there.
The TARGETS (1968) tanks? I live there. Almost literally.
THE LOST CONTINENT‘s (1968) strangling Sargasso of miniature ships? I live there.
Toshiro’s moment of perfect clarity at the end of THRONE OF BLOOD (1957)? I live there.
Aline MacMahon’s broken heart in HEROES FOR SALE (1933)? I live there.
The vampire boy who comes home to cry for his mother in BLACK SABBATH (1963)? Brrr… I live there. Annnd we’re back with horror movies. Well, you know me. You know how I am. And now you know where I live.
Where do you live?
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