We are just about a week into the saddest fifty-one weeks of the calendar year. It’s been six days since kids and adults alike wiped on their finest grease paint and made their way through neighborhoods lit by Jack-o’-lanterns in search of the finest sugary treats imaginable.
Fear not, my fiendish friends! We here at Mangled Matters are here for you, all year long. We will continue to chat about the greatest holiday on the calendar until the next Halloween season begins.
Tonight, I’m honored to feature Part 2 of our 3-part round table discussion with a wonderful collection of Halloween enthusiasts.
Read on. If you dare…
WHAT IS THE SCARIEST SCENE IN HORROR FILM HISTORY?
Gwendolyn Kiste, author: The freezer scene midway through The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one that really got under my skin when I was saw it as a teenager. In fact, so many moments in that film unnerved me. The gritty documentary feel certainly enhances the dread of every frame spent with Leatherface. I also love the finale with the mirror in Prince of Darkness. I was much older when I first saw that film, but it seems like that image was planted in my mind years before then. That’s how indelible and devastating that ending is.
Kevin Spencer, artist: For me it has to be the first time you see Pennywise in the sewer in It. I’m not even afraid of clowns. There’s just something so terrifying about him in there and the way that whole scene plays out. It’s so terrifying and uncomfortable.
Chris Larsen, author: I remember watching Night of the Living Dead on the USA Network when I was in junior high or thereabouts. Ben is outside killing the zombies in the yard while Barbara is slumped in a chair in the living room. She is withdrawn into herself after seeing a ghoul kill her brother, finding a cannibalized body, and watching the dead converge on the house. Right at that moment, one of the zombies (played by co-writer John Russo) comes quietly lurching into the room behind her. She can’t see it, and it never even makes it close to her before Ben shows up and takes it out. But for a really long second or two, you’re feeling what Barbara should be feeling: relentless, paralyzing fear.
Jason Thorson, Editor-in-Chief for Ravenous Monster: Okay…you know that’s an impossible question to answer! I guess, the thing for me—and probably lots of others, I assume—is that I don’t actually get scared by scary movies. It’s like I judge a movie’s scariness or a scene’s scariness by how objectively clever or surprising the conceit is, but never by how it subjectively scares me. Does that make sense?
Anyway, I have a couple off the top of my head that have stuck with me more so than the thousands of other horror movie scenes I’ve seen, for whatever the reason. There are a few in the movie The Changeling. One involves a ball. One involves a super creepy wheelchair, and another depicts the protagonist (played by George C. Scott) listening back to an audio recording of a séance. The dead old lady in the bathtub in The Shining had an impact, for sure. And then in Jaws when Hooper’s diving beneath Ben Gardner’s wrecked boat and his head emerges from the hole in the hull…that never fails to be effective, even after hundreds of viewings. There are others, for sure, but these are a good start.
Steve Mezo, monster maker/blogger: For me it was pretty much the whole movie of Grave of The Vampire (1972)
I watched on TV with my parents and my Aunt and Uncle I think back in 1976. A lot of the vampire assault in the grave went over my head (and nobody explained it to me) but the fact that the vampire (executed murderer/rapist) Caleb Croft looked like everyone else in the 70’s was unnerving.
He didn’t have the elegance and seductive powers of Bela or Christopher. He was brutal and powered by vampiric possession like the old folklore described. The scene that freaked me out the most was when he was on the opposite side of the old sliding glass shower doors my tub had back then. Most people are terrified of Mother/Norman swiping the shower curtain open while I was worried about opening my eyes after rinsing my hair out and seeing Caleb all smiles and fangs through the glass.
Karen Lam, filmmaker: The elevator scene in the Pang Brother’s The Eye. I don’t ever want to be trapped on a slow elevator with a ghost thing right behind me…
Maude Michaud, filmmaker: The one scene that really creeped me out was at the end of the original Shutter (the original Thaï version, not the remake). ***SPOILER ALERT*** During the whole film, the main character is haunted by a ghost and complains a few times of back pain. Two seemingly unrelated things until the very end when he’s in a mental hospital (I believe) and the door closes to reveal in the reflection that the ghost has been sitting on his shoulders the whole time and is the cause of his pain (and will likely continue to haunt him). ***END OF SPOILER*** I remember when I first saw that scene, I jumped and yelped a bit. This was the first time I was that creeped out by a scene in a film!
Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, The Sisters of Slaughter: The scariest scene in horror history is hard to pinpoint but we’d go with the vampire boy at the window in Salem’s Lot. Absolutely horrifying!
WHAT IS THE SCARIEST BOOK YOU’VE EVER READ?
Julie Anne Philputt, actress: I’m a short story/anthology fan, and still find the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books get under my skin.
Chris Kosarich, author: Hmmm. I’d say the first one that comes to mind is the first Stephen King novel I’d ever read, Pet Sematary. Close second would probably be Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. Both while vastly different, deal with human beings making incredibly devastating choices, among other things. That’s truly more horrifying than the consequences, isn’t it?
Karen Lam: The Omen. I think it was the scene when they dig up the jackal’s body. That still freaks me out to think about.
Steve Mezo: Definitely Stephen King’s It my original hometown Union Beach, New Jersey had such an in-common layout as the town of Derry it really drew me in. We even had a cement drainage pipe that went out to the bay from the bulkhead. At high tide you could walk on the top of it down the length and jump in the water off of it, and at low tide you could walk to the end on the side and look in the end and see nothing but dark. Even if you used a flashlight you could only see so far down it. We used to talk about walking in and seeing where it went it since it was a good five feet in diameter but never did. And if the book had come out when we were still swimming in the bay back then I don’t think any of us would be tempted to see if Pennywise was waiting inside for a meet and greet.
Chris Larsen: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It didn’t exactly get me checking under the bed, but it’s one of the most plausible vampire stories I’ve ever read, seen, or otherwise had related to me. Just don’t watch the movie adaptations. They’re all middling to good in their own way, but they don’t approach the vampire apocalypse in the same rational and psychological way. When you’re done reading I Am Legend, you’re thinking it’s just a matter of time before everyone you know starts getting sick and turning into a vampire.
Kevin Spencer: Pet Sematary was the first King and first real horror book I read. I was probably about 12 and it got me pretty good.
Gwendolyn Kiste: I’m going to go with a short story here and say Richard Matheson’s Graveyard Shift. The individual scenes, which are unsettling but not outright terrifying, add up to a climax that completely changed my view of literature and of human beings. The story’s main theme that a person could so methodically plan out and execute such a deeply horrific punishment—and against someone who was an innocent, no less—is both disturbing and unforgettable. Plus, it’s an epistolary story, which somehow only makes the horror of it all feel even more authentic..
IF YOU COULD SIT AND TALK SHOP WITH TWO HORROR ICONS, ONE ALIVE AND ONE FROM THE PAST, WHO WOULD YOU PICK AND WHY?
Jason Thorson: King and Lovecraft. As long as we were eating dinner and Rob Bottin was our waiter.
Steve Mezo: Paul Blaisdell to thank him for being a huge influence and letting him know that I do builds with my own wife Jackie. I can’t think of anyone alive that I haven’t talked to already or would have a lot in common with to carry on a conversation with outside of their work.
Karen Lam: I would love to talk to Stephen King, mainly because I have so many questions for him as a writer, period. He’s made this incredible career of his writing and there’s a lot of darkness, but also evolution as a writer. I would love to talk to Mary Shelley about her experiences writing Frankenstein, but I’m sure I’ll have to try to conjure her at the next séance.
Maude Michaud: Without hesitation, Vincent Price. I’ve been such a huge fan of his work since I’m a kid and he’s one of the reasons I discovered horror and love the genre so much. I’d also love to sit down and talk with David Cronenberg. I feel my work is deeply influenced by his work and I feel an affinity with his films. I’d love to discuss his process, but mostly talk about the harsh reality of working as a horror director within the Canadian film system.
Gwendolyn Kiste: Shirley Jackson and John Carpenter. Jackson because her work deals with the horrors of human beings in such a way that’s real and terrifying and yet for the most part isn’t completely bleak. I like horror stories that show us the darkness and then flash a sliver of light to illuminate a potential way out. It’s what helps to keep us fighting back.
John Carpenter, on the other hand, influenced me so much when I was young that I think it would just be so delightful to talk with him in person about Halloween, The Thing, and of course, Prince of Darkness. I also love that he’s done so much behind-the-scenes work. Director, producer, writer, musician. He definitely could offer insight into all aspects of horror cinema.
Julie Anne Philputt: Dr. Paul Bearer because he was the one to inspire me as a child, and Bruce Campbell because he’s so darn cool.
Cina Pelayo, author: Passed: Edgar Allan Poe – because he’s the father of our genre. We’re all here because of him. Alive: Stephen King – because he’s prolific. He gets it right, and not just horror, mystery, suspense. Stephen King knows what works.
Chris Larsen: I know this is an obvious choice, but for my living horror icon, I’d like to chew the fat with Stephen King. He seems like a genuinely nice guy with what appears to be normal, human interests, so even if he wasn’t a world-famous author, I think he’d be a fun guy to hang out with. Plus, I taught myself out to write by reading his stuff. I mean, I was always ‘good’ at writing, but it was always stiff, academic, and derivative. Sure, some of my critics might say that’s all still true, but I don’t think it’s true, or at least it’s less true. Reading Stephen King helped me toss the crutches, so to speak. If nothing else, sitting down to talk with him would give me the chance to say ‘thank you’. And that’s no small thing.
For my icon from beyond the grave, I’d have to go with Ambrose Bierce. He disappeared in Mexico in 1914, and no one really knows what happened to him. Maybe he was killed by Pancho Villa’s firing squad. Maybe he killed himself. Maybe he settled down with a bottle of tequila in Cabo San Lucas and became a sort of proto Sammy Hagar. Who knows? Bierce does, and talking with him would shed at least a little light on one of the biggest mysteries in literary history. Also, as a writer, he could just punch you in the gut. My grandpa was always a big fan, and one of the first books I got for my personal library was my grandpa’s water-stained Bierce collection. I remember reading ‘Chickamauga’ and recoiling at the horror of the ending. I had a nice talk with my grandpa about that one right before he went into the hospital and died. It was the last conversation I had with him before all that happened, and I’ll never forget it.
Kevin Spencer: Clive Barker because as a visual artist as well as horror icon I’d love to pick his brain and just talk about art and horror. The worlds he creates are so complex and deep… I’d love to just hear him talk about how he comes up with it all and his creative process.