Thursday, September 4, 2008

Night of Horror

I’m a sucker for horrific things that happen in old dark movie theatres. For example, I love the scene in the original The Blob ('58), where the unsuspecting audience is suddenly under attack while watching Daughter of Horror ('55). And the scene from Messiah of Evil ('73), with the lone girl realizing the eerie movie house she’s sitting in has suddenly become populated with the living dead all around her. Today’s post fits in this scheme, and weirds it all up a great big notch or two. I hope you enjoy this final tale from the January 1953 issue of Strange Mysteries #9

Lights… camera… action!

Know any other good movie theatre themed horror scenes? Let's hear 'em!


Dane said...

Hey, thanks for the heads up on the movies!

As for the story, I felt sorry for the poor little guy. Unlike the usual cast of moral reprobates these stories feature, he was sort of sweet.

His editor's an idiot. It was a perfectly entertaining story!

Anonymous said...

I think the Italian DEMONS franchise has a theatre scene but i could be mistaken.I felt sorry for Horace,okay sure he contemplated swiping an idea,but he didn't deserve that kind of fate!.i also like how on pg.3,panel 1 the empty projectionist's booth looks like a ghost's face.foreshadowing?....say i didn't make that hot zombie list i said i would,did i?.

Mr. Cavin said...

I'm impressed. This story managed to systematically duck all of my planned snarking. First, in panel seven page six, I'd been planning to mention how it makes me feel when a story tells me all about how great it is ("This experience will make a wonderful story!"). But then, in the end, the editors have totally rejected it. That's rather self-deprecating, I think. I like it.

Secondly, and another thing from the realm of personal experience, I'd planned to expound on how very difficult someone would find running a movie projector. Even today, an age of clutched platter systems you only have to thread-up and start once, I'm pretty certain no one on Earth could figure it out without instruction. Each system is different, with loops and bells and pulley systems that run the leader out for several yards before it even gets to the film gate. Certainly no one is going to get it right on the first try, and screwing up damages the sprocket holes to the point where a second try might not be possible.

Back in the fifties, of course, our hero would have had to thread the thing up three different times on two projectors, matching the zippers to the cigarette burns. Incorrect looping before and after the gate would cause the nitrate film to slow down passing before the zenon bulb, and the whole place would go up in flames. Things had to be watched constantly. It'd be hard to find time to be menaced by the evil screen creatures with all that going on.

But the story confounds these complaints as well, what with it all being a dream. Or a delusion. I mean, all the breakers are off, right? There's no power. And honestly, there's even some evidence the phantom film stops after one reel, owing to the menaced projectionist. So even the damn dream gets it right.

So, excellent. I can hardly pick on this one. I really like the first frame on page four, where Mr. Woltey is wringing his hands, inadvertently mimicking exactly the motions of the ape on the screen. Since that wasn't even foreshadowing, plot-wise, it becomes just a throwaway display of artistic license, a moody little easter egg placed there for our extra enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

Hey you mentioned one of my faves - Messiah of Evil - I love that movie! With this one I felt sorry for the little guy too, he didn't really seem to deserve his fate. As for creepy movie picture scenes I'll go with Twister when they are at the drive in watching The Shining and then the tornado comes through ripping it all to shreds.

Emby Quinn said...

Why should Horace feel guilty about "stealing" ideas? Everyone from Poe to King does exactly that. (Heck, Edgar would have been in court a dozen times for plagiarism if he was writing today.)

Speaking of King, this story is eerily reminiscent of his novel "Bag of Bones", which is about a writer who burns out and can't produce another book, so he goes looking for inspiration and finds himself entrapped in a real-life horror story. Very different ending, though.

I find it highly unlikely that any horror editor worth his salt would reject a genre story as being too "implausible". If that were valid criteria, Clive Barker never would have gotten published at all.

My most prominent memory of horror in a movie theater is an early, almost throwaway scene from 1980's He Knows You're Alone, where a young bride-to-be is killed by someone sitting right behind her, while her best friend, sitting right next to her, is completely oblivious, absorbed in the movie they're watching.

Ooh! And I just remembered "Cigarette Burns", one of the Masters of Horror short films, which concerns an old, long-lost silent movie meant to bring about "the absolute end of the world". Uneven though it is, the scene where the film is actually screened in an almost-empty movie theater is not to be missed.

Anonymous said...


Frederick said...

I was going to mention "Demons," as practically the whole thing takes place in a theater as a horror movie is playing.

Don't forget "American Werewolf In London." Good scene there with talking to a dead person in a porno theater.

I'll be thinking of any more...

Patrick said...

Fred beat me to the punch with American Werewolf, and someone else mentioned Dee Wallace, so with those two in mind, how about the beginning of The Howling, where Karen goes into the porn shop to watch a flick in the booth with the smiley face sticker? Not exactly a theater, but close enough for government work.

I liked today's story- it was good to see that even horror writers in comic book horror stories go to horror movies for inspiration!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Oh man, I like this one a lot! Very cool subversion of a lot of the expected stuff, as was mentioned previously. And being a failed horror writer myself, I can totally relate with Horace.

Running commentary--

*P.1--Cheetarah! NOOOOOOO!

* You know, this is in fact what all horror authors of the 50s looked like. Buncha bucktoothed, Elisha Cook Jr.-cloned dwarfs. But MAN, could they put out product!

* No ideas? Judging from the titles, how hard could it be? How about "The Flaming Freak"? "The Gaseous Gargantua"? "The Big-Ass Blobulon"? C'mon, Horace, THEY WRITE THEMSELVES!

*P.3--As mentioned, the ghost-face projection booth is excellent.

* Man, what kind of janitorial staff do they have? "Think we should wake up the little guy before we lock up for the night?" "No way man, that's not in my job description."

*P.4 - Horace leaping seats to flee the gorilla FTW. This must be where Roberto Benigni got the idea.

* Man, I want to see the movie they're showing--ghosts, disfigured trolls, leopard-men--this thing has it ALL!

* Henceforth, I want to be known as "The Little Author of Horror."

Great stuff! And as a bonus, Elisha Cook Jr. (the Longsuffering Saint of Character Actors) was IN Messiah of Evil--a flick I also love and want to review at some point, once I get rid of the gorillas on my own back.

As for movie theater horror, a lot has already been named--all I can think of right now is the home-movie projector in Friday the 13th Part IV (I think), which is used to nice effect.

Propagatrix said...

Who could forget THE TINGLER? "Scream! Scream for your lives!"

Mr. Karswell said...

I think I'll start asking more questions like this on future posts, makes for some fun comments. And wow, lots of Messiah of Evil fans too apparently... it's such a fabulous little film. It's fallen into the public domain so it's very easy to find on dvd practically everywhere, you can also watch it free online and streaming by clicking the link I provided in today's intro.

So how about Midnight Movie Massacre, or Blood Theatre? Or Gremlins, or Matinee? Hell, I'd say the theatre scenes in Taxi Driver are just as scary and uncomfortably disturbing as anything else that's been mentioned here. I guess all of this also brings up a good point about the old movie house spookshows too, and why I find it all so fascinating.

And no one's mentioned drive-in theatres! How about Dead End Drive In, or Peter Bogdanovich’s brilliant film TARGETS starring Boris Karloff! There's gotta be tons more...

The Vicar of VHS said...

Sounds to me like you knew the answers before you asked, Karswell!

Future questions:

Movies where food turns into monsters

Great characters whose eyes suddenly go all creepy, cat-like, or cataracted

Movies in which naked bodies are exposed in a morgue for no good reason

Just to name a few personal faves. :D

prof. grewbeard said...

how about the "film" Monsters Crash The Pajama Party, where the mad scientists' monster stooges apparently leap out of the screen and grab planted "victims" out of the audience only to reappear with said victim in the movie? Coincidently Ray Dennis Steckler used this gimmick with a couple of his titles, Incredibly Strange Creatures included.

this info coming so late in the day, i hope it is useful...

i have been wanting to comment on your site for some time, as it is such a bright(fright?)spot in my day every day. i never thought i'd get to peruse such a plethora of pre-code product. truly this was the stuff of children's nightmares! well, mine anyway!

see you tomorrow...

Anonymous said...

the blob remake has a cool scene in a movie theater too

Anonymous said...

The Tingler and Targets have already been mentioned, so I'll bring up Madhouse. I like when Peter Cushing is watching the film of Dr. Death dying in a fire, and Vincent Price walks right out from the screen.

Captainadam said...

Did no one mention the movie Popcorn? Nearly the entire movie takes place in a theater. It even 3 movies shown on the screen within the movie. Plus a reggae band jamming on stage when the power goes out