Sunday, December 30, 2012

For 2013: I Want To Be Scared

I hear this a lot: "That didn't scare me, and besides, I don't believe in ghosts (or fill in the blank), so this couldn't happen anyway."

I find that a little perplexing.

We react vicariously to fictional situations all the time. We laugh and weep at romances that are imaginary. We grip our chair arms as heroes scale great heights or battle impossible odds. We turn pages to find out if fictional defendants will be acquitted. That's entertainment.

Yet it's horror that really seems to get the jaw set.

Maybe it's that scary books and films represent a challenge to a lot of people. It's as if they're an affront to individual bravery, so many don't want to admit jumping at a film, let alone being subtly chilled by a fiction's crafted atmosphere.

As I contemplate that, I find myself agreeing with Matt Zoller Seitz's semi-controversial contention on Indie Wire that audiences were not watching From Russia With Love in the right frame of mind. OK, he said the film's not unsophisticated, you are.

I suppose I went through a phase where I felt similarly to many about horror. I've been at points where I felt too jaded as a viewer or reader to feel scared. I don't know that I was scared by The Exorcist when I saw it the first time. I probably wasn't watching it right.

But happily I've mellowed and learned to relax. I got nothin' to prove.

I was scared by The Exorcist several years ago when Netflix was new, Christine was taking grad school classes at night, and I had a couple of hours to view it alone in an empty house with the lights turned off.

When Ellen Burstyn checked out the attic, I reacted with her, the way the filmmakers intended.

When the first demonic face appeared on the wall in Insidious as I watched that several years later, I jumped again and even tweeted that a film had given me a legitimate scare.

Ditto watching Paranormal Activity, which I know many of my friends got an MST3K-style laughfest out of viewing. I can remember a laugh riot with one of my buddies watching Revenge of the Creature twenty years after its release. That's one way to watch a horror movie.

Or you can sit back and jump out of your skin when pots fall or symbols from The Lesser Key of Solomon are revealed in an old lady's living room.

I started thinking about all this anew when reading a blogger's 10 best list. Can't find it again, but it was a good list, and the author urged readers not to laugh that she'd included The Pact, having watched alone late and night and felt a chill. It's a modestly budgeted but quite decent haunted house tale with some cool chills, so no apologies should really be needed.

I resolve not be jaded as I experience films, books, comics and games in 2013. I want to be scared when I watch a scary movie.

If you don't, what are you watching for?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fantasy Christmas List - A Blue Dahlia What if?

Even Santa can't answer every Christmas wish, but I started thinking about what I might ask for if that were possible. Sure, if you could have anything, world peace would be at the top of the list. Every pageant contestant knows that. After the obvious ones, though, what might it be interesting to have Santa summon up?

Well, I've been talking to students about film noir of late, and something hit me. What literary or film fantasy Christmas gift might I ask of Santa? Besides how Edwin Drood was really supposed to turn out?

Well, wouldn't it be cool if we could get a definitive cut of The Blue Dahlia as Raymond Chandler originally intended it?

As you probably know,  Dahlia is an original screenplay by Chandler, creator of Philip Marlowe and the template for tough-guy voiceovers to infinity.

Chandler worked as a screenwriter as well, contributing to adaptations of Double Indemnity and many others, and The Big Sleep was adapted as a Bogie and Bacall vehicle.

John Houseman, Professor Kingsfield but also producer of Blue Dahlia, and others have spelled out the bumpy production path of Dahlia.

It was filmed in 1945, and star Alan Ladd was about to be inducted into the U.S. Army, so things were moving fast.

Chandler's story was to focus on Ladd as a soldier returning from World War II. His wife is murdered at roughly the time he discovers she's having an affair, so he has to solve the crime to clear himself.

Ladd's war buddies, played by future sitcom stars  Hugh Beaumont and William Bendix, were to join in the action of the story. In Chandler's original plan, Bendix's character, injured in battle and prone to rage and forgetfulness, was to be the killer.

The plan was to have him discover the affair as well, kill in a fit of anger then forget his actions.

With the bus for the induction office waiting for Ladd, filming began. Then military officials stepped in and asked for rewrites.

A serviceman responsible for a murder at the height of WWII didn't seem like a good idea. A new ending had to be devised. The story of how Chandler completed the script and invented a new suspect is legendary. Read some of it on Wikipedia.

The original ending didn't end up on the cutting room floor. It was never shot. Chandler arrived at a new ending with some help from, well, help out of a bottle.

So if I could ask Santa for a fantasy Christmas present, it would be for a "writer's cut" of the film. It would be interesting to see  the original ending, where Bendix is confronted and the sad truth revealed to his uncomprehending mind.

It would have made for a tighter story and a better final product overall, perhaps not a perfect film, but one closer to the original vision.

Too bad decisions to revise were made before the cameras rolled.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Stupid Things I Could Do Holiday Edition

It's been a while since I've had one of those flashes of how things might go horribly wrong, but today...

The Christmas tree is placed in its corner. The ornaments are hung with care, and the lights are aglow, those multi-colored old fashioned style bulbs of red, blue, green and white.

The only problem is the branches on this beautiful fir look just a little dry.

With a watering can, I push back branches and crawl commando style to the tree holder to pour a fresh libation for O Tannenbaum.

My miscalculation is in how much water the tree stand will hold. The label cautions about not selecting a tree taller than six feet, but liquid capacity is not in the documentation.

Lifting branches to allow the proper angle for the tipping of a watering can, I estimate and listen to the trickle.

After a day in place, the tree seems to have drunk the stand dry, so I pour, and pour, and one of those prickly branches slips free to slap me for being too familiar.

Suddenly the water overflows, runs down the side of the stand, and I remember that those bulbs are powered with ELECTRICITY.

(Happily that didn't happen.) 

Sunday, December 02, 2012


The Chicago Sun Times offers an interesting look at a new book speculating that H.H. Holmes, the serial killer of Scarlet Mansion fame, might also be responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders. Read more here.

It's an interesting what-if? if nothing more, right up there with Orson Wells as a suspect in the Black Dahlia case. More on that here.

Perhaps it would make an interesting fictional story. We've seen more than one novel based on historic figures who happen to co-exist.

Now it might be interesting if Sherlock Holmes had to investigate the British murders of his American cousin, H.H.

Has that already been done?

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