Horror Then and Now

My longtime readers know that I indulge myself in the run-up to Halloween with book and movie reviews that concur with my preferences for that holiday.  A couple of years ago I wrote reviews for all the Universal Classic Monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s.  I usually take the season as an excuse to reread Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and watch the movie for good measure.

But last year I reviewed Psycho and this year I intend to review the Thomas Harris novels that include the character Hannibal Lecter.  Many years ago, a friend gave me his copy of Red Dragon and I found it to be one of the most unsettling things I had ever read.  And although the violence and insanity were pretty extreme by the standards of that happier time, the thing about the book that truly frightened me was the plausibility of the killer’s method for stalking his victims and the impossibility of protecting your family from someone who was determined to kill in that fashion.  I guess it was the fact that I had a young family at that time and the idea that I might be powerless to save them that horrified me.  And that is when I first became aware that true horror always has a human face.  It won’t be a normal human but it will look out of a face that is attached to a driver’s license and a cellphone and a bank account.

So, there is a difference between the good old days and the bad new days.  We stopped trying to gently scare children and now we horrify adults by showing them what’s really out there.  I’ll be the first to admit that watching Frankenstein or Dracula doesn’t actually involve any fear for anyone over the age of ten.  It was natural that movie makers and writers would escalate the violence and cart out the gore to tempt adult thrill-seekers, mostly in their teenage years, to spend their entertainment dollars on the latest fright fest.  Back in the 1970s Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the poster child for exploitation movies aimed at frightening audiences out of their seats.  Since then every year has upped the ante until lately the content has gotten so bad that the real name for what this represents has been designated.  These movies are portraying torture through grisly dismemberment.

I consider that a distinction can be made between these gore fests that are almost bereft of meaningful characters and plot and crime drama like “Silence of the Lambs” which while it does include the description of horrible violence and depravity is not focused on flinging gore across the screen to delight the demented.  It tells the story of people.  This includes the victims, the police and even the murderer.  We supposedly learn a little about what drives some of these characters to become monsters.

I’m not a devotee of crime drama or fiction.  As I said I was given the Red Dragon book long ago and because of it I went to see the Silence of the Lambs when it came out.  Out of a sense of curiosity I read the rest of the Lecter books and saw the movies and tv series.  I don’t think the later books were as good as the first two but I will review them all for general interest purposes.

But I have all the Universal Monster movies on DVD and I intend to watch them all with my younger grandsons as soon as the lockdown ends.  They’re the correct age and they’ll get a kick out of them.  And truth be told, so will I.

The Twilight Zone – Complete Series Review – Season 3 Episode 35 – I Sing the Body Electric

Mr. Rogers is a recently widowed man with three lonely young children, Tom, Anne and Karen.  The children’s aunt tells Rogers that they need a mother not a babysitter but he doesn’t have an answer for that.  Tom shows his father an advertisement in a science magazine that announces robot grandmothers.  The family goes to the factory and learn that they can design a grandmother to look and sound exactly as they want her.  All are excited by the idea except for Anne who is angry at her mother for abandoning her (by dying).  Their electronic grandma proves to be lovable, wise and fun.  Everybody in the house is charmed by her except Anne who runs angrily out the door to escape.

When Grandma catches up to Anne, she tells her that she doesn’t want to have anyone else leave her.  Grandma tells Anne that she’ll never leave but the girl doesn’t believe her and runs into the street.  A speeding truck is on a collision course for Anne when Grandma shoves her out of the way and is struck instead.  Mr. Rogers is there to carry his daughter out of the street where she cries hysterically.  The truck driver is panicked when he sees Grandma sprawled in front of his truck but suddenly her programming resets and she gets up none the worse for her collision.

When Anne sees that her Grandma is indestructible a great fear leaves her and she embraces the robot.  Then we see the life of the children and their robot grandma and all the happiness she shares with them.  When finally, all three children have reached college age Grandma tells them she is returning to the factory to receive a new assignment or maybe e disassembled for parts.  She tells them that at some point she would be in a room with the other grandmas sharing wisdom.  And finally, she said that maybe in a few hundred years of service she would be granted the dream of becoming really alive.  Then the children tell her that she already is really alive now.  Then she tells them to go upstairs so she can leave without any sad goodbyes.

Serling got Ray Bradbury to adapt his short story for television.  But both versions are very strange.  It is a very original concept but it’s odd.  For originality I’ll give it a B+ but it won’t click for all tastes.

My Annual Halloween Celebration

Lichen on Monument
The Raven is a Wicked Bird

 

Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays as a kid and in my heart of hearts I haven’t really progressed far from that.  I guess I’m not a progressive.  So here is the advantage to being in business for more than a year.  The calendar allows you to recycle stuff you did last year.  I did movie reviews of the Universal Classic Monster Movies and a few other related films last year and I’ll recycle them around for the Halloween season.  And I’ll add some additional films to avoid the label of laziness.  I’ll also try to find some other Halloween content.  I guess Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is sort of the quintessential American story for this time of year.  But there are all kinds of other stuff out there from Poe to (yikes) Lovecraft to even that lefty doofus Stephen King.  So stay tuned and I’ll start cycling those in.