Thursday, October 15, 2009

HAMSTERIAN HALLOWEEN COUNTDOWN: TAKING NANCY DAY TO THE MOVIES AND MY FAILED ATTEMPTS TO BE SMOOTH



with all the buzz on Hockey Mask, Inc.'s comment section (and we generate just enough buzz to barely rouse a single housefly) about wes craven's 1997 film SCREAM, i thought the title deserved a place in the annals of the hamsterian halloween countdown.

first of all, i find it hysterical that the twisted mind who gave us nauseatingly legendary classics such as LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, turned around and gave us SCREAM. wtf??!!! there's just something grossly ironic in the line up of craven's filmography.

of course, the thread that ties all four of these very different films together is craven's ability to reset the course of the genre. all four of these films created a new era of horror films. each in their own day.

this can especially be said of SCREAM.

craven released SCREAM almost as a tribute album to the great films of the genre. through the telling of the horror film rules, craven tipped his hat to films such as CANDYMAN, THE HOWLING, PROM NIGHT. and throughout the film, references are made - through dialogue, symbolic allusion, or background imagery - to a list of other films that crafted the genre: THE EVIL DEAD, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, HELLRAISER, THE FOG, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. if for no other reason than it's tribute flavor, SCREAM should own real estate in every horror fans collection.

********

i saw SCREAM in the theater with my good friend nancy day (now nancy day harrell). it was the end of my sophomore year. we coursed the curvy path to hot springs from arkadelphia for a night on the town. in an effort to exercise spontaneity (and in an effort to impress nancy with my spontaneity), we decided to take in a late showing of SCREAM. we played cards in the hallway outside the theater waiting for the film to open. a crowd of hot springs high schoolers gathered around us, chiding and insulting us for playing cards in the lobby. but it wasn't long before nancy and i both had to tell the kids to stop helping the opponent. with the guys bunched up over my shoulder and the girls over nancy's, we nearly turned a hand of gin rummy into a full contact battle of the sexes.

there was a hope in the back of my mind that the film would freak nancy out, so much so that i could be her comfort and her protector. but i squealed and squawed and grabbed the dude next to me a dozen times at least while nancy - to my knowlege because i forgot about her five minutes in - never made a peep.

at that time, i was not very well versed in film whatsoever. by the spring of 1997 i had only watched a handful of disney films and maybe a few chucky movies in highschool. film was not important to me. never had been. and the little bit of horror that i had seen, way back in junior high and even younger, had always been cheesy and far fetched and totally staged in a realm in impossibility.

for this reason, i completely freak the shit out during that opening scene with drew barrymore. this was the most real, most visceral thing i had ever seen on the big screen. this thing i was watching here was not the freddy kruger of dreamland or the chucky doll of voodoo; rather, this thing in SCREAM was totally plausible and totally too close for comfort.

i think i cried a little bit. nancy never knew that.

later in college, while student teaching at a rural K-12 school, i overheard the students talking about dressing up in capes and SCREAM masks and rollicking about their neighborhoods scaring people. this didn't bother me until i began to find traces of my students, after i had been away from the house, at our trailer in the woods. they might leave toilet paper on the trees or a dead bird on my doorstep or my lawn chairs out on the highway. and this was all fine and dandy, but the thought them showing up at my window in a SCREAM mask was nearly enough to send me fetal curled in the corner of the room sucking my thumb and praying to whomever could come save my ass first. i spent nearly a month in total terror every night, watching the windows each evening for little faces in the shadows outside our trailer.

i recently watched SCREAM again and found it rather laughable. even the drew barrymore scene felt campy, in spite of drew's very believeable terrified screams. at this last viewing, i walked away thinking that SCREAM had every mark of a classic, and it's obivous why craven's teenagers gone bad deathfest inspired enough knock-offs (I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, URBAN LEGEND, IDLE HANDS) to reignite a new late-90s horror era.

i will also say this about SCREAM: although i now find it laughable and even kinda fun to view as a piece of cultural antiquity, i still think of it nearly everytime i see a secluded house set just off the road. especially if that house is a nice house with large trees and a long driveway. when i see those houses, when i pass them on the road and look up to see them set just a stone's throw apart from society, i always think, "that's the kinda place where drew barrymore could scream and scream and scream, and never be found until she was hanging from a tree."

No comments: