In a darkened theater in 1954 in Springville, AL, a six-year-old girl sat frozen with fear as she watched this scaly underwater creature slither over the sides of a boat where there were people totally oblivious of their new passenger. I was that little girl. And the above picture from The Creature from the Black Lagoon is the second scariest part of the movie. The first heart-stopping scene, however, was when that scaly, alien hand reached out of the murky water and clutched the shore.
I haven’t seen that movie since then (that I recall), so I hope I’m remembering correctly, because that hand was the most terrifying part of my nightmares for weeks after. Who knows, I may have dreamed it up. But to me, and apparently many others, The Creature from the Black Lagoon was the Jaws of our childhood movie memories.
Another movie that made a lasting impression came in 1973 when I was in my twenties. It was The Exorcist. The tension and intensity in that movie is relentless. It is unforgettable in its brutal portrayal of Evil, which is palpable. In its time, even people who didn’t believe in an Evil Incarnate became believers. The scene on the mountaintop with the old priest (Max Von Sydow) facing down the demonic image, is evocative of High Noon in the heavenly realms. The beautiful but eerie music of Tubular Bells somehow made us feel that Something was coming, in the air, coming now, and we hoped against hope that Someone would stop it.
The mother (Ellen Burstyn), has run the gamut of doctors. She knows the horrible truth, but can get no one to believe. And now in desperation she screams out her frustration as she comes to the last resort, the young priest, Father Damien (Jason Miller). And, of course, Linda Blair will ever be the poster child for demon possession. The viewer is hit with shock after shock, by the gruesome scenes of a child subjected to such depravity, assaulted by language coming from the most unlikely sources, drawn into the battle on-screen to such an extent that mind and spirit is left feeling pummeled. But it is a movie that, once seen, you never forget.
The public had barely gotten over The Exorcist when the next gripping horror film came along in 1975. This time, the Devil is a shark. The theme music is the sound of Fear. And the story drives us from scene to scene and from scream to scream in a watery world where you can’t run and you can’t hide. It is an ultimate trip into the halls of horror. It is another unforgettable and each character is indelibly impressed upon the minds of their viewers.
Those three movies stand as the all-time top in horror, in heart-racing fear. Only one “slasher” movie moves up the ranks of true horror. That movie is Halloween. The white, emotionless mask of the psychopath Michael Myers, the movie theme which makes you think of a dark, scary, windy night with something bad creeping up on you (oh, yeah, it actually was), seeing the town and people through the masked-edged eyes of the killer — all came together to take it far beyond the “dead teenager movie” and into the realm of real horror.
These are the movies that made an impact and sticks in my memory. And Halloween is just the time to dredge them up. But, I have to admit — I just don’t have the nerve anymore. Oh, by the way — the title at the top can be sung to the tune of “Sad Movies Always Make Me Cry”.