ITHACA, NY — To cap off a month of Halloween cinema, I reached out to three groovy ghoulies and asked them to recommend a favored fright flick. Can your heart stand the shocking facts listed below? Read on, if you dare, kiddies…
Charley Githler — “Don’t Look Now”
Charley Githler writes the Ithaca Times column “Surrounded by Reality.” “Don’t Look Now” (1973) was adapted from a 1971 short story by Daphne duMaurier and directed by Nicolas Roeg. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a married couple who travel to Venice following the recent accidental death of their daughter after Sutherland accepts a commission to restore a church.
CG: I’m a movie fan, and a lot of that stuff creeps into my column pretty regularly.
IT: I have noticed that you like scenes and screenplays.
CG: Yeah, and a lot of references to old movies and old movie plots and stuff.
IT: You’re pitching a movie or a movie scene. So, why did you pick “Don’t Look Now?”
CG: Well, I didn’t see it in a theater when it came out, but maybe a year or so later in college. It just blew me away. Have you seen it?
CG: The early part of the story is, there’s this couple — Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie — and they have a daughter who drowns in the pond. And she’s wearing a red cape with a hood. To get over the grief of this loss, he takes on a job restoring a church in Venice. The rest of the story takes place in this very Gothic city. As I recall, there was a pair of psychic sisters that predicted very bad things for Donald Sutherland, and he starts seeing flashes of red in the streets of Venice.
CG: It’s so well done, it’s so artistic. It stayed with me to this day, to the point where my oldest daughter — she just turned 27 — when she was little, I wouldn’t let her wear red.
CG: My mother-in-law was kind of a seamstress and made this cape with a hood that was red and gave it to her as a Christmas present. And of course, I couldn’t reveal myself as being terrified of this garment, but for the next two or three years, whenever she would wear this thing, I would watch her like a hawk.
Mary Fessenden — “The Vanishing”
Mary Fessenden is the director of Cornell Cinema. In “The Vanishing” a man’s wife disappears at a highway stop and he becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her. Be careful what you wish for…
IT: We’re here to talk about “The Vanishing.”
MF: Yes. I was reminded of this film just recently because Bob Proehl actually posted on Facebook asking for recommendations for horror films. And my friend Cathy Crane, who is a filmmaker and teaches films, actually commented on “The Vanishing,” and I was like, “Oh, yeah, ‘The Vanishing.’” That is certainly one of the creepiest films I have ever seen. Have you seen it?
IT: I did, and I also saw the 1993 “Love Conquers All” American remake, which was also directed by George Sluzier.
MF: Oh, that American remake, I never saw [it]. Who was even in it?
IT: Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis and Sandra Bullock.
MF: Oh, wow! That cast sounds surprising to me. Sandra Bullock. Wow.
IT: Jeff Bridges played the bad guy.
MF: And Kiefer Sutherland was the husband.
IT: You must have shown it at Cornell. That might have been how I saw it.
MF: Yeah, yeah. It came out in 1988, and we probably would have shown it shortly after that. Late ‘80s. I’ve just seen it once because it was just too creepy to see ever again. I don’t necessarily like the experience of being completely freaked out [laughs] by a movie, so I don’t necessarily seek out a lot of films like that, but this one I did see, and was truly horrified at the end of it, when you find out what had happened.
IT: And the villain is so anonymous. He’s just this schlub. He’s not Kevin Spacey in “Se7en,” it’s a different thing.
From “The Vanishing.”
MF: Yeah, that’s surprising, the cat and mouse between him and the partner who has been left behind. He just becomes so obsessed, it just takes over everything. It doesn’t even necessarily matter that he would find his partner. It became so much more about his obsession about just what happened. That was very interesting to me. Just talking to you, it’s bringing it all back, and it’s just like, oh, boy. Movies like that can tap into something that on a personal level that you are personally frightened by or freaked out by. Any movie that involves rats would just make my skin absolutely crawl. For somebody else, it would be snakes. This one really got to me, and I’m sure I had a hard time sleeping that night.
Peter Bakija — “Night of the Living Dead”
Peter Bakija teaches high school and hosts “Burning Airlines” on WRFI. In “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), co-written, photographed, edited and directed by George A. Romero, Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea lead a cast of seven people trapped in a farmhouse surrounded by a growing crowd of cannibalistic ghouls. Warning: SPOILERS.
IT: You picked “Night of the Living Dead.” Why?
PB: “Night of the Living Dead” is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s a perfectly structured film. It is a perfectly envisioned film. It invents a whole genre, and everything that they established in the 1968 “NOTLD” still holds today for all zombie cinema. The basic premise of all zombie cinema is that the zombies are never the enemy. They’re like a natural disaster, a force of nature. It’s always us that is the real enemy. The zombies don’t care about us, they just wanna eat brains and walk forward and stumble over things. Inevitably it goes terribly because the human survivors all inevitably turn on each other. It’s also a perfect example of a “Spam in a Can” movie, where everyone’s trapped in one location, one place, and they’re all trying to survive. What counts as that kind of “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976) movie? A buddy of mine once suggested that the first one of those might have been “Stagecoach” (1939).
IT: There’s also “Lifeboat” (1944).
PB: It’s a common theme in films: people stuck in one place, and things outside coming to get them.
IT: I just wrote about “Chopping Mall” (1986).
PB: Oh, yeah! [laughs] There you go! [laughs] “NOTLD” invents a genre, and is a really good example of an entire other genre. And then it’s got this sort of 1968 race relation situation where our lead hero is an African-American man, and spoiler, he survives the zombie assault, and at the end, he’s killed by cops.
IT: White cops.
PB: White cops, exactly. He’s killed by white cops, having survived the night battling zombies and the people inside the house, and he’s the only one who makes it out alive, and then he’s killed by the white cops who are willy-nilly shooting at anything that’s moving at that point. At the time it was very pointy, and now it’s very pointy. It’s a very pointy film.