Nostalgia, Films, and a Celebration of Fictional Occult Terror
By Jay Armstrong
Take some advice from a dude sitting in his boxers eating three day old cold pizza; find something you geek about and celebrate it. Ask those around you to celebrate it with you. Make it a THING. Maybe you are a huge Neil Diamond fan, throw a birthday party for him, The Virgin Sacrifice is your favorite short film, set up your apartment with a giant pentagram on the floor and spray fake blood on all of your naked bodies as you dance around some creepy dude in a chair, whatever, come up with an external which gives you a great strange sense of joy setting you apart from even your closest friends, look them square in the eye, and ask them to celebrate it with you. The sillier nonsensical the better. That’s what I did in second grade with Friday the 13th and it has remained, as it was the very first time, one of my most coveted and unadulterated suppliers of joy.
My brother and sisters weren’t allowed to stay at the house alone, go to bed any later than 10, or watch anything scarier than Are You Afraid of the Dark until they were in their teens. I though never had a bedtime, was allowed to walk around Kings Island (a rad…or formerly rad, haven’t been back in ten years, not sure….amusement park in Ohio) all day by myself as far back as eight years old– the same age my mother took me to see Bram Stokers Dracula in theaters–later she would tell me of her trying to cover my eyes during the orgy scene only to see I was already looking away,kissing was the most repulsive concept I’d ever seen at the time so male female sweat on sweat heavy breathing made me nauseous. Judge yourself. By fifth grade I had teachers putting copies of Bukowski’s Post Office and Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks in my hands, I wasn’t a typical snot nose punk. Though snot nose punk I was no doubt. In second grade I tricked my grandmother into letting me rent the Danzig home videos and from then on have been obsessed with the imagery of the occult and more importantly said imagery use on covers of horror films. I would pace the isles of our local video store,my mother working as a light buffer for what was appropriate or not out of some paternal sixth sense. I’m amazed to this day how she could tell instantly which ones I could handle and which I could not and how accurate her judgements wound up being. I was fifteen before I got my jonesing eyes anywhere beyond the cover of I Spit On Your Grave, that movie fucked me up for years. Should have listened to mom for once.
Anyway before I give you a goddamn unnecessary life story…. I had a tent set up in our backyard I slept in all summer in second grade, it was there I watched Texas Chainsaw Massacre and felt too-paralyzed-to-cry fear for the first time, it was there I watched Kevin Bacon chilling around Crystal Lake with his dock boner and giggled with my soul the way boys do at things they feel embarrassed by, rewinding it probably twenty times laughing with each play, and it was there on July 13th 1990 where I put into the VHS player my very first copy of the epoch of the 80’s Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives which to this day remains my all-time favorite horror film. I spent most of my time alone as a kid so the first couple celebrations were by myself under some chairs and sheets made into a tent fort in the living room or wherever eating snacks, sitting maybe ten inches away from the television, watching the Friday the 13th films in chronological order, one tape after the next–obviously skipping 5 because it’s fucking stupid, the same for 7, yet I love 8 where he takes Manhattan, which you would assume is the dumbest green lit concept imaginable but then again they found funding to piss me off and put Jason Voorhees into space (although the simulation where he smashes the body in the sleeping bag against a tree and breaks that women’s face off with dry ice are pretty tight). But by Jr. High at a time where there was nothing to do but spend all night trying to track down some dirt weed and cop a half pack of smokes from one of our unsuspecting parents that was when things started to gain traction. Friends with helicopter parents pre-screening Batman and Robin for them couldn’t sit still from the excitement of watching horror films from dusk til dawn with me.
Once I got a car and license we made huge events out of Friday the 13th’s, one year breaking into a haunted dilapidated former mental institution and hanging out in graveyards where ghosts had a long history of having been spotted there. I’ve put on house shows with my favorite bands, d0ne acid with a supposed psychic and had a group seance, and as the years go on it amazes me how friends I haven’t talked to in fifteen years will call or message me about how rad one of those experiences had been. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a house party or a road trip from Bargersville, IN to Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco Boyscout camp in New Jersey (where we were welcomed with surprising warmth and given free reign to walk the grounds as long as we didn’t leave any trash behind), for something as trite as picking a random schlocky horror film to champion my friends have found a way of treating it often with more of a Midas touch than even I. What I’ve learned over the years is that if you truly care about something, and not in that disgusting way people find a shiny new thing and pretend like they’ve ALWAYS been into it, I’ve found the people who you care about it will care about it too. If they don’t then it’s long overdue for you to find new friends. Call me up. I’ll celebrate Tom Selleck’s first on screen mustache appearance with you– that is as long as you are cool with me showing up wearing a karate gi, talking in an autrocious British accent, and preferring you call me Higgins.
This year we have the honor of having Friday the 13th land in October the greatest month of the year by far. For those of us who obsess over horror films there are two camps which become more and more apparent the closer Halloween approaches; the mom’s basement living douche bags who act as though your not sharing the same worthless continuous passion as them is reprehensible (the moment you spell reprehensible correct the first time…hell yeah!!!! felt good I’m just gonna do it again. Reprehensible. Damn I’m smart) and the other camp of “I’ve been waiting all year to show you this gory thing type.” I subscribe to the latter. Who gives a shit about your love for football, I don’t, but I’ll sit through a big game with you and cheer on the dudes in tights like it matters just the same, enjoying myself through osmosis your passion for a brief moment because a life without an all-in-it-togetherness is not worth living. We must enjoy this worthless existence as one from time to time, we just have to. And since we are friends, and I might not get to celebrate with you in person tonight, here is what I would most definitely be excitedly rambling on about with you all night:
13 Scary Movies To See before Halloween
“Horror films are meant to be cathartic…we put ourselves through the terror as a means of symbolically overcoming something we’re afraid of”
Kier-La Janisse – “House of Psychotic Women”
- Friday the 13th Part VI (1986) – None of the previous films in the series need be seen to enjoy this. The soundtrack made up mostly of Alice Cooper songs from his Constrictor album includes one of the raddest 80’s embodying songs you could ever imagine “He’s Back The Man Behind the Mask”(featured on the attached Spotify playlist at the top) which Kenny Loggins couldn’t have come close to doing half as well. The set and acting is perfect, the special affects rule, I’m heavily critical of the art I love and this one stands up to every line of criticism, coming out on the other side of it gold. I promise you this is one of the most overlooked horror films. It delivers, doesn’t drag, and feels genuinely cool.
- Trick Or Treat (1986) – Not to be confused with the bullshit 2007 Trick ‘R’ Treat was directed by Charles Martin Smith of Air Bud fame and stars Marc Price (Skippy from Family Ties), Tony Fields, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne as a TV evangelist whose mission is to expose the satanic nature of rock music. Just watch this. It rules! Faux metal god Sammi Curr commits suicide with the instructions of playing his final album on Halloween night in its entirety on the radio station in the small town he loathed having grown up in. Backward masking is involved obviously, things escalate quickly. There’s a headphone seduction scene which makes pretty much no sense, a huge speech is given by Gene Simmons about this being the only copy of the album in existence but says he has a copy of it, I don’t know, it’s the 80’s you didn’t think too deeply about things back then, it was a weird time.
- The Devils (1971) – If you are into “based on true events” sort of films, prepare to have your mind blown. I don’t use the term masterpiece lightly, this is one of the greatest films ever made and on visual merits alone very few films even on most notable critics list come remotely close to what we see from open to close on The Devils. This one deals with religion as a mask often used with ulterior motives. This one makes The Exorcist feel childish in comparison.
- 976-Evil (1988) – Robert Englund directed only two films, twenty years apart, this was the first. Viewing can go one of two ways because if you happen to be in a critical mood 976-Evil can be torn apart fairly easy. The premise is weak, the acting is cheesy, the resolve is not much BUT when you look at what embodies the nostalgia for 80’s culture, and what those of us dipping our toes in life at the time found ourselves so excited by, it is a homerun. This is one of my favorite lighting uses within a film, there’s neon and fog everywhere, mysticism and terror of an unknown, the makeup effects are tight, basically you can see how Krueger sitting through three films worth of makeup and rad imaginative sets on Nightmare on Elm Street motivated him to make a film, he learned a lot on those films and it shows. This one would show up on the USA Network around this time of year throughout the early 90’s, I would drop all plans to catch it when it was on, no video store I’ve ever been to was able to keep it in stock, if you’re the type of person who rents 976-Evil apparently you’re also the type of person who would not return it, I don’t know what that tells you about the film but the number of times I would grab the front case only to find no tape sitting behind it I could not count. Are there Blockbusters still open anywhere? Go see for yourself.
- The Monster Squad (1987) – When people were comparing the latest It remake to Stand By Me and The Goonies but scary my only thought was they already fucking did that with Monster Squad. Definitely the most fun to be had on this list.
- Cabin In The Woods (2012) – Incredible writing. Typical kicked to death character archetypes are turned on their head by giving explanations for why instead of just having the jock, stoner, nerd, ditzy blonde, overused character dynamic. Hilarious when it needs to be, A+ casting, and delivers on the scares while playing homage to Carpenter, Barker, and Raimi.
- Evil Dead (1981) – Speaking of Sam Raimi– this practically no budget film stars Bruce Campbell in his first and best leading role and was the jump off point for what would be the driving force of 80’s horror films– who cares about the budget, who cares about the cast, just work with you got and pour your soul into making it look incredible within the parameters you’ve got. This one manages to be super cheesy but super scary at the same time, something later ripoffs such as Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare manage to complete fail at recreating.
- The Gate (1987) – A young Stephen Dorff uncovers the gate of hell in his backyard and must fight Satan himself using only a model rocket and the knowledge of his nerdy metal loving badass best friend Terry played by a Louis Tripp.
- The Witch (2015) – Arguably the best film of 2015, I’ll only say this; if you watched The Witch once and didn’t like it…watch it again. It appears minimal, understated even, but every.single.shot is perfect. If you’ve got a friend who can’t shut the hell up while a movie is on tell them to stay home (also, once more, you deserve better friends).
- Altered States (1980)– Maybe putting two Ken Russell films on this list is in poor taste but I’ll deal with that criticism later. I really want to include a Cronenburg film on this list but all I keep coming back to his how much Altered States knocks his entire field of work down a couple notches. This one takes camp films such as the The Acid Eaters or the psychological trauma angle such as in Repulsion and The Entity and does what nearly all films which combine the idea of scientific experimentation coupled with the unknown of neurosis and malleable mental states are unable to do, it succeeds incredibly at it.
- Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let The Right One In) (2008) – The remake is certainly solid but gets jumbled trying to make itself a period piece. One of the most unique vampire films ever made, deals directly with love and attachment through the eyes of the young and lonely.
- Funny Games (2007) – A shot for shot American remake in which both films are directed by Michael Heneke. This one should be cast driven with Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Brad Corbet, and the unforgetable delivery by Michael Pitt but it is Heneke’s mastering of emotional manipulation that keeps me constantly thinking about this film.
- The Green Inferno (2013) – As a lover of terribly acted b-movies and of Eli Roth’s passion for films this surprising lands as one of my favorite films of the last ten years. Roth films often miss the mark but find themselves endearing through his somehow tangible passion. This one takes all criticism ever put forward to him and makes it work for itself. The first third of the film is spent just hammering you on the head with garbage acting only to turn into a brutal brilliant gore homage to Cannibal Holocaust and the ten thousand knockoffs which followed. I had to go way out of my way to see this in theaters only to sit opening night in front of the screen feeling as though for the first time in my life a movie had been made specifically, intimately, for me. I don’t know what Eli Roth is like in real life but I’m gonna find out for sure if I ever see him when I walk up and give him the worlds biggest hug without saying a word.
The concludes tonights meeting of the midnight society… see ya burnouts again in April!