Friday, October 31, 2014

the first scary movie

Out of the 2800+ movies I’ve seen in my life time, I can tell you the last 200 movies I’ve seen—I started last year, keeping track of each movie seen, typing them into my little note app… I saw 109 in 2013 (starting with Les Miserables on 1/1/13, and ending with RIPD on 12/31), and I’m up to 95 now for 2014 (starting with American Hustle on 1/2/14) and I just saw Hotel Transylvania on 10/27.

But what are the first movies I’ve seen? The first movie ever?

There are three movies that are interchangeable in my memory as my first movie I remember seeing. If I close my eyes, I can visualize snippets of each of the films--all very different movies, about as different as you can possibly imagine.
I cannot say one of these films is the absolute first film I ever watched, because who knows what I saw when I was under the age of movie accountability…
It could have been “The Muppet Movie”. My mom/grandparent’s good friend Cathy took me to the movies to see this great movie, and I remember Kermit on the log singing “Rainbow Connection”, and that scene where Animal takes the growth pills and busts through the ceiling of the old country store.

Or maybe, it was “The Shining”. Yes, that Shining, the one with the evil hotel, and Jack Nicholson, I saw that at the drive-in theater with someone, though I don’t know who. I’m pretty positive it was a family member.

Finally, it might have been “Any Which Way You Can”… wait, was that the first one? Or the second one? The other is “Every Which Way But Loose”… they both have Clint Eastwood as the oddly named Philo Beddoe, with Geoffrey Lewis as his friend Orville, and Ruth Gordon as Ma and Sondra Locke as Lynn Halsey-Taylor.

Random thought, sometimes when I take a drink from a water fountain, I see the name “Halsey Taylor” on it, which must be a water fountain manufacturer of some sort... when I see that name, I think of Sondra Locke and these movies. I might be the only person in the entire world’s population of 6 and ½ billion people to think of Sondra Locke that often, but there it is.

Anyway, I remember a big fight—Philo fought for money--and remember Philo, Orville, Lynn and Clyde, the orangutan, in a pick up truck, when they get pulled over by an officer on their way out of town, the officer tells them that he lost a lot of money betting on the other guy… Philo says, “Right turn, Clyde”, and you see this monkey arm out of the truck window throw a punch, nailing the officer in the face and knocking him out. The credits roll as the truck drives away on the desert highway. There’s this cool song that plays over the credits called “The Good Guys & the Bad Guys”, which, according to Wikipedia, was done by John Durrill… and thanks to the magic of iTunes, I just downloaded it like, right NOW, and am listening to this song for the first time in about… 20 years, at least. Maybe 25. My life rules.

I just checked on the timeline—it’s the second one. Oh, one more thing about “Any Which Way You Can”… well, a few more things, because this is my blog and I wanted to talk about this… first, the guy that Philo fights, Jack Wilson, is played a guy named William Smith, a bigtime character actor of the 60s, 70s and 80s. That cat has been in over 300 productions from TV and movies… “Any Which Way But Loose” is the first one, in 1978, and had the late, great Eddie Rabbitt singing the title track… Glen Campbell sings “Any Which Way You Can”, the main song from the 1980 sequel.

I had a completely different point for this post, before I got sidetracked by bad Eastwood films from the late 70s and early 80s…

My question is… what’s the first movie that scared you? I have an answer for myself, and it’s one word: “Poltergeist”. This wasn’t the first film I’d ever seen, as mentioned above, but it was probably in that top 20 or 50 movies I’d ever seen, ever. As a kid, I also remember snippets of “Time Bandits” and “ET” and watching “The Empire Strikes Back” (and later, “Return of the Jedi”) in the theater… but “Poltergeist”, I remember vividly.

I was 7, and the year was 1983. I lived with my Granny and Grandpa (who I called Mom and Dad growing up, as they raised me) in an apartment in Austin, Texas—they ran the joint, the Villa Rio Apartments… 4551 Airport Boulevard, Apartment 301, Austin Texas 78751… but for summers, my grandmother and I would usually go visit one of my aunts either in Florida, or like this summer, Hampton, Virginia, to see my Aunt Betty, my cousins Shannon, Frankie Jr and my cousin Marty, who I kind of idolized, cause she was older, really pretty, really smart and could do no wrong in my book. She’s still pretty awesome, 32 years later.

Anyway, don’t ask me how it came up, but somehow the film was on television. Perhaps it was a beta tape, perhaps it was one of those new fangled “VEE CEE ARE” things, but either way, the family was watching “Poltergeist” on tv… and it scared the living crap outta me.

The movie centers around the Freeling family, with dad Steven (Coach) and mom Diane (an 80s crush worthy JoBeth Williams), and their three kids, oldest daughter Dana (the late Dominique Dunne), middle child Robbie (Oliver Robins, who went on to do Airplane II: The Sequel) and the most famous of all, Heather O’Rourke as Carol Anne.

One night during a storm, the kids crawl into bed with Steven and Diane. This is back when there was little to no cable TV, and most stations when off at midnight, signing out with the national anthem, then going to a snow filled screen until early the next morning when they resumed broadcasting. Carol Anne is awakened, she crawls out of bed, seemingly being called to the TV… she gets up close to the screen, placing her hands on the front. She then watches some sort of white entity, a spirit come out of the television and then shoot into the wall of the bedroom. Carol Anne says, “They’re here…”

And this is where it starts. Crazy things start happening, as little as chairs sliding across the floor and glasses breaking on their own to a tree reaching into the window and trying to eat Robbie while he sleeps.

Let me say that again… during a storm, a tree uses its branches like arms, reaches into the bedroom window like you would reach onto the dashboard of a car from the outside, and grabs Robbie, trying to swallow and eat him. And while this is happening, Carol Anne is then sucked into the walls of the house.


Later, as they call in experts to find Carol Anne from whatever ghostly dimension she’s in, a Beast like creature shows its face, we hear the phrase “Go towards the light Carol Anne!” uttered for the first time, and after a guy sees a rotting steak move across the counter on its own power, he then rips his face off. Like what what.

This movie terrified me to no end… I’m watching it, mesmerized, and yet, now realizing that my house too is probably built onto an Indian Burial ground, just like the Freeling house. Like, I too will be be sucked into the wall…

Or worse yet…

...The house has been determined spirit free by the scientists who came… and of course, instead of hightailing it out of there with the family, they decided to spend one more night in the home. Big mistake.

Robbie is in his bed, trying to sleep. There is this clown puppet that he has in his room, again, I’m not sure why, and it’s resting in a rocking chair. Robbie looks at it, stares at it, then tries to throw his jacket over it to cover the clown face. The jacket slips off. Robbie hides under the blanket, then dares to look once more and…

…and the clown isn’t there. Okay, for me, at this point, I wouldn’t even be in that house, I’d be sleeping on a park bench if needed, but were I stuck in that room somehow, I would not do what Robbie does… no, I’m taking a leap off of that bed to the door, and hightailing it downstairs as fast as I could go.
But no, Robbie takes a different approach. He slowly looks over the side of the bed… sees only floor. And then he does what we would all do (and by “all do”, I mean “no one would do”)… he slowly peers down until he sees under the bed.  Nothing.  But as he gets up, the clown is right behind him, wrapping those skinny arms around Robbie's neck and then dragging him under the bed. 


Warning:  this clip contains scary clown things, and JoBeth Williams in her underthings being thrown around the room.  You may see "underthings", but trust me, ain't nothing sexy about this scene.  It's terrifying. 

Then, we see Robbie fighting off the clown... Diane outside yelling for help, falling into the swimming pool that they are installing, skeletons popping out of the water, then graves and coffins coming through the ground as the house collapses in on itself.  I mean, what's not to love when you are 7 and already afraid of the dark?

When I saw this film, it scared me for years, and I mean "years".  I wouldn't hang an arm, a hand, a leg or a foot off the side of  the bed at night, and wouldn't dare to ever look under the bed.  Ever.  Ever.  You die like that.  I was about 14 or 15 before this started being a little easier.  And my closet door also stays open, to this day.  I want to see the monster in the closet as it comes out to eat me.  I still think about this film from time to time.  I've seen it in recent years, and can see how it's a bit dated--some of the effects are a little off, and you can even see the way the clown arm wraps around Robbie's shoulder looks very fake... terrifying, but fake.  It's a great film.

Interesting story... at the time, it was cheaper to buy real skeletons and use them then have plastic skeletons manufactured, so that's what you see--real bones.  Also, JoBeth Williams wasn't bothered by the human skeletons, she was more concerned about the wiring around the movie set, and her being electrocuted due to the muddy water she was required to be in.  Producer Steven Spielberg got in the water with her, just off camera, telling her that it was safe, but if she died, then he would too.  Whatta guy.

Also, it's widely been rumored that director Tobe Hooper, who's credits included the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, didn't actually direct this film, but that it was Steven Spielberg who called the shots.  Both Spielberg and Hooper have vehemently denied this claim, with Tobe Hooper getting defensive many time about it... however, Zelda Rubenstein, the short little old lady named Tangina who plays a pivotal role in getting Carol Anne back from the spirits, has been very vocal when asked, saying that Spielberg was the only director she saw for the six days she filmed, and that "Tobe was only partly there"... this echoes the sentiment held by several other cast members.

And, finally, the movie is known for the "Curse of Poltergeist", due to the fact two of the cast members died at a very young age... Dominique Dunne, who played eldest daughter Dana, died six months after the film was released in June of '82 at the hands of her abusive boyfriend.  Dunne was 22.  And Heather O'Rourke, the Carol Anne character, died at the age of 12 in 1988 from complications due to surgery.   Also, two other actors featured in the sequels to the movie died unexpectedly.  The Curse is attributed to the fact they did use the real skeletons in the film.  And you can choose to believe it or not...

As for the sequels, stay away.  Both "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" and "Poltergeist III" are terrible films.  Just run. 

So there ya go.  What started out as a wandering journey through two of Clint Eastwood's arguably worst best worst craptastic films has ended up in the scariest movie I've ever seen.

Poltergeist is the essential scary movie, perhaps a perfect ghost story.  It's not gory, it's not violent, it just preys upon everyones fear of the dark, of what's under the bed, and the unseen.  It takes a simple snowy screen that we all have seen before and makes it sinister and turns a two word phrase spoken by a six year old little blonde girl--They're here--and makes it one of the most frightening things you can imagine.  If you haven't seen this film, you owe it to yourself to do so.

And the music on the ending credits... so creepy.  And the clown.  Yeesh, that clown.  I hate clowns. 


  1. I've decided to start an Excel spreadsheet for the books I read. I have a Pinterest board for recording them for each year, but it gets really annoying having to log in. I'm rarely on Pinterest. Yes... chased an unnecessary rabbit just now.

    1. I also think of Sondra Locke when I drink out of drinking fountains. I actually Google this to see if there was a connection or if I was crazy! Thank you!

    2. I also think of Sondra Locke when I'm getting a drink out of a drinking fountain! Thank you for helping me know I'm not the only one!


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