Thursday, July 27, 2006

the films of your life

Posted By on Thu, Jul 27, 2006 at 10:29 AM

At his site, Lee Walker has a cool thread going about 12 movies that affected his life at an impressionable age. The first one he cites is the hilarious Red Dawn, the Reagan-era classic in which Patrick Swayze acts as our last line of defense against a Commie invasion of Colorado. He also mentions the Phoebe Cates scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (I trust no one need ask which one) and the Ray Harryhausen fantasy Clash of the Titans. The point isn't that these are great movies, but that they had some element—a glimpse of sex, the beyond, or primal terror—that lodged inside his developing psyche, changing him. I cracked up when he mentioned Red Dawn, a movie I associate mostly with my high school friends Ken Weber and Lee Parrish almost laughing their way into an asthma attack. But then he mentions another film from my deeper youth, A Thief in the Night. It was a no-budget Christian horror movie shown at churches in the 1970s as a "soul winner," intended to scare backsliders to the altar. It's about the Rapture, and as hooty and cheap as it might look today, I still have the images of suddenly emptied houses and missing loved ones burned into my brain. I too used to get creeped out as a kid when I expected to find my parents in one room and they'd have gone to another.

You can laugh the current Christian apocalypse movies off the screen because they're such slavish replicas of cheesy straight-to-video fare. But stuff like Thief and the Ormond Family's If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is the flipside of the '70s grindhouse movies being made at the same time. They traffic in fundamentalism instead of nihilism, but the tone, mood and visuals have the same foot-thick coating of grime. The same is true for the drug-scare propaganda films that hammered me as a grade-schooler: all have the gritted-teeth relentlessness of total conviction.

Anyway, Lee's thread has made me think about movies that affected me at an early age. Just the original trailer for Suspiria terrified me as a kid: it shows a woman brushing her hair from the back as a nursery rhyme plays, and then—jeezus. Spielberg's awesome Duel started a lifelong fear of/fascination with trucks. A TV movie called Trilogy of Terror, in which a foot-tall voodoo doll terrorizes Karen Black with its sharp teeth and spear, turned the hallway leading to the bathroom at night into a gauntlet.

Phoebe Cates in Fast Times I could take or leave. (Pressed to choose, I would take, just to spare her feelings.) But Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers? I thank her for opening my eyes at a tender age to one of life's abiding riches: tall women.

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