Once upon a time, Sunday was Television’s dumping ground. If you were an indoor kid this made Sunday even more of a vile day between the countdown to school and an hour of Church. To this day the smell of incense takes me right back to the early 90’s and a palpable sensation of drowning in air. Drowning in air is a prolonged sensation of incomprehensible boredom, as opposed to drowning in water which is mercifully short.
But there was, of course, an upside. If there weren’t I wouldn’t be writing this article. The dumping ground of movies, old television shows and cheap cartoons exposed me to another reality, one dominated by horror films from the 80’s and Kung-Fu movies from the 70’s. Most of the films titles’ I never knew, and I still don’t know. TV on Sundays was such a dumping ground that often the TV Guide wouldn’t have the correct listings. Whatever got thrown on was what a generation ended up watching.
I can still recall the images: a film about a Mens group that would do a retreat in the woods, shadows cast from a giant bonfire, the group turning bloodthirsty and one man escaping the carnage makes it to a lonesome stretch of road and sits down and waits. A Backlot New York that was probably Canada, the Urban landscape forever after would be hiding monsters, definitely hiding C.H.U.D. Blood. Lots and lots of Blood. All accompanied by the afternoon light sneaking through the window slats in our Rec room. Forever after I would associate this quality of light with films I shouldn’t have been watching. This is probably the reason Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my favorite films of all time. The quality of light in that film. That’s what I’m talking about.
Mixed in with these bundles of cult classics that were missing their cults would be great gems, like Bob Balaban’s criminally underseen film Parents. In lieu of writing a paragraph about it I’ll just share the video essay I did:
What these films left me with was an idea of what genre cinema should be. It should be a film first, a genre film second. By that I mean that I don’t much like a good deal of modern horror films as they write the horror on the walls. Modern horror feels like a throwback to Marilyn Manson music videos with too many cuts, too much grossness, too much…too much. A horror film should look like a drama at first and then the horror is introduced, built up to. The film must be a perfectly white sheet held at an angle. A drop of blood is introduced staining the sheet. By the end the sheet should be blood red. Of course if a movie is good then it is good and by whatever means it got to good I will approve, even if it goes against my proclivities.
I mentioned before that I don’t know the names of the kung-fu, monster, slasher, sci-fi jumble of films I was exposed to, only retaining images that would feed into my filmmaking today. But that’s not quite accurate.
A few months ago, me and some friends sat down to watch the film Basket Case. If you haven’t seen it, Basket Case tells the story of conjoined twins who were separated. One of the twins was an inhuman flesh pile named Belial who is kept in a wicker basket. The pair is on a mission to exact revenge on the doctors who separated them and in one scene a nurse is killed by means of many scalpels being driven into her face. It’s a gruesome crayola-red bloody image but while watching I was hit with an intense feeling of deja vu. I had seen this movie before and a twenty year-old riddle I had forgotten about had been answered.
When I was too young to have been watching the movie I was watching the movie. Let’s say it was on a Sunday for the sake of verisimilitude. When I saw the scene originally I thought that Belial was Slimer from the Ghostbusters. I parsed most of reality by way of the Ghostbusters. I think I still do. And while I watched this poor nurse get butchered, I wondered to myself, “Why is Slimer killing that woman?” The answer I came up with was that there was an adult version of Ghostbusters I didn’t know about, one much darker than the one I was used to and one I would hopefully see when I was old enough. Turns out I got what I wanted. It also turns out that Basket Case is not Ghostbusters but it’s entertaining in its own way.
I miss those Sundays now, but more so I miss that aesthetic.