I believe today is something called “Halloween” which I couldn’t care less about but it does give me an excuse to post this.
Speaking of scary things, this Public Information Film looks like it was made by Alfred Hitchcock.
Childhood can be a bloody scary time of life and it doesn’t take much to frighten the shit out of a kid. I’m sure I’m not the only one who woke up in the middle of the night and for one terrifying moment thought that a coat hanging on their bedroom door was a man standing in the room, not to mention all the creaks and squeaks a house can make at night that made you lie awake in bed convinced that noise was some blood-thirsty killer on his way up the stairs to chop you in two with an axe, but in reality was just the cat. You weren’t free of the terrors during the day either, I think every neighbourhood had the “scary old person” who lived all alone in a dark, run-down house with filthy net curtains and if you kicked your football into their garden you’d be too scared to go and get it back as if they were an evil witch from a fairy tale who sticks small children in a big pot and cooks them for dinner.
I still vividly remember the films that scared the short trousers off me too. It sounds like one of those cliches about childhood that no one actually did but I remember literally hiding behind the couch in terror during the the skeleton fight scene in Jason and The Argonauts when I saw it ’round my Gran’s house one Christmas, and was so spooked by the original War of The Worlds that I was too scared to go into the kitchen on my own when my mum asked me to put the kettle on afterwards. Then there was the night my sister and I saw The Birds and were so terrified that we insisted on sleeping in my mother’s bed that night — though admitedly that is still a frightening film and what my mother was thinking letting us watch it at such a young age I don’t know, someone should have called Social Services.
The film that really freaked out my impressionable young mind and literally haunted my dreams was Invaders From Mars, a 1953 cult b-movie about a Martian spaceship that lands on Earth and buries itself under a hill from where it sucks people underground and turns them into evil agents of murder and destruction. It’s a very disturbing film for a kid to watch because the protagonist is a young boy whose father is the first to get captured and transformed, then his mother, some policemen, and a school friend all turn bad — everyone he loves and trusts to keep him safe basically which turns his cozy little world into a very dark and scary place. It’s a nightmare scenario for a child as you can imagine and I found this scene very upsetting at the time. I still do actually.
But it was the visuals that really sunk their teeth into my subconscious, it’s a striking-looking film with the eerie, vivid quality of a dream created by the use of stark, minimal sets (mostly because it had a budget smaller than the catering bill for Avatar) like this one of the hill that looks like something out of a dreamlike surrealist painting.
That image of the creepy, desolate hill absolutely petrified me and popped up again and again in nightmares I had when I was a kid, after a while I forgot all about the film itself (Invaders From Mars is a little obscure) and actually thought it was something my over-active imagination had conjured up all on it’s own. Then by chance I saw it again on television recently and when I saw that hill it was like some long-suppressed childhood trauma had suddenly been recalled from the dark corners of my memory and was right there on the television screen which was a rather discombobulating and unnerving experience. Luckily there was the soothing sight of the helpful and protective young lady doctor played by the gorgeous Helena Carter to make me feel all better. Unfortunately I never had any dreams about her.
These films can seem like such quaint, rickety old things compared to the jaw-dropping, eyeball-popping (not to mention headache-inducing) special effects and hyperactive editing of modern movies, but while they might be a bit creaky, with effects made of plasticine and string and monsters that are obviously just some bloke in a rubber costume I don’t think kids are so jaded that they wouldn’t still be diving behind couches in terror whether it’s in Hi-Def 3D or just balsa wood and glue. The other night my daughter got scared by Bedknobs and Broomsticks of all things and I can’t imagine there’s a kid alive who wouldn’t be petrified by Invaders From Mars no matter how many video games he’s played, so it will be a while before I let her see that — I don’t want her having nightmares about that bloody hill too.
Download: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) – David Bowie (Live on WXRT) (mp3)
Buy: “Invaders From Mars” (DVD)
Happy Halloween to those of you into that sort of thing. Personally I’m not, but when in Rome… Besides, this trailer is fan-bloody-tastic.