🎬 #41 To Fear and Wonder.
It’s approaching the classic scary film time of the year. It’s really interesting to watch and think why they scare us. What is it about them that reaches deep inside and unsettles? And I don’t mean just a jump scare, I’m thinking about the types of films or moments within them that leave a lasting impression.
They might not even be immediately disturbing or violent, or classically scary. It’s not a moment from a film, but I often revisit a snippet of a scene from an early season of The Walking Dead. You wouldn’t classify it as a scary moment at all but from everything in that show that’s ‘horrific’ this is what stayed with me.
It’s a wide tracking shot of one of the zombies walking through a pastoral field, the sun is low and it’s seen from the window of a moving car by one of the main characters, played by Jon Bernthal.
Here’s the clip.
No one’s under threat. No one is screaming for their lives. The zombie hasn’t just appeared from behind a corner to shock someone. It’s always been there, walking, and it will always be there. And I think that’s why it makes an impact. It’s a moment of realisation that this horror will always be around, it’s always going to be a threat and yet it’s as normal now as the crop growing in the field, or as prevalent as the wind in the trees.
The real horror here that gets under our skin is that our way of life is forever changed by something we have no control over, free to roam wherever it wants, ready to cross paths with us when we least expect it.
This week’s two films are really thoughts on two moments from each of them - one classic fear based scene and one that’s more wondrous.
Happy choosing, happy viewing.
FILM ONE: MULHOLLAND DRIVE
2001 Dir David Lynch
Mulholland Drive is difficult to put into a genre, Lynch is almost a genre onto himself. Mulholland mixes horror with noir, with erotic thriller, all whipped into a delicious surreal soup with B movie soap opera elements.
The scene that it’s most famous for and what some people regard as Lynch’s scariest, involves, what the internet is calling, a ‘dumpster witch.’
What’s really interesting about this scene is that it is a jump scare and yet preempts it at the same time. Not through an ever rising score to build anticipation but purely through a character’s description. We should be prepared for what’s about to happen but, still, that makes no difference to how impactful it is, if anything it heightens it. You know it’s coming by way of Patrick Fischler’s character ‘Dan.’ He’s describing a recurring dream he’s had about the place they are currently sitting, a non- descript diner in bright LA sunlight. At no point does he describe it as a nightmare - he only refers to him feeling scared because the character he’s talking to, who’s also in the dream, looks so scared.
He talks about a man that he can see through the wall out the back of the restaurant and that man is the reason everyone is so scared in the dream that he is recounting.
Usually you don’t want to give away what you’re about to reveal to an audience. But by talking about the strangeness of the dream, the reactions of the people in it, and the oddness of being able to see through walls - it all amplifies the apprehension of what’s about to come next.
It’s totally counter-intuitive, but when the reveal finally happens it knocks the audience back as much as it does Dan. Lynch has us in his grasp from the very mention of then ‘man’ he immediately has us wondering what lurks behind that diner.
TL;DR Why should I spend 2 hours 27 mins of my life watching this? Feel the curves of Muholland Drive as it twists and turns its way through mystery, Lynch’s unique atmosphere and the scariest scene in his filmography.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, YouTube, Apple, and SkyStore.
Fact: The film was originally shot and conceived as a pilot for a TV show. Studio Canal convinced Lynch to rework it as a film and gave him more money to finish it as such.
FILM TWO: VAMPYR
1932 Dir Carl Theodore Dreyer
Have no fear, this ‘horror’ film is rated PG. Dreyer’s film about the titular character is more a wondrous exploration of the magic of exploring the unknown. And no scene does it better than the ‘shadow’ scene.
Shot in the 1930’s, Dreyer and his team’s imagination and creative engineering on display in this scene is nothing short of astounding. The central character makes his way into a ramshackle building on the hunt and that’s when he’s first confronted with a shadow without a person casting it. It makes its way up the ladder, all the while being followed by the intrigued investigator. That’s where the shadow finds its owner and sits back down in its natural position again.
The magic of this scene is knowing they did it all practically, using the tricks of the day to create a moment that is amazing to watch. It pulls you into a world where anything is possible, and where we can wonder at simplicity again.
TL;DR Why should I spend 1 hr 15 minutes of my life watching this? Get to grips with Dreyer’s take on the vampire and the possibility of the supernatural.
*Available for a small rental fee and for free on BFI Player.
Fact: This was the first ‘talkie’ directed by Dreyer and is the first film to be given an ‘H’ rating in the UK which stood for ‘horrific and frightening to children under the age of 16.’ How times have changed - as I mentioned it now has the second lowest rating available - PG [parental guidance].
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