ME? NAH, I'M NOT SCARED
Sure we all know it's "just a movie." But consider this: you're all alone in the country summer house at night; you hear strange noises, you see unfamiliar shadows playing on the wall ....Or, you've inadvertently wandered into a darkened and empty section of your school building and all of a sudden you can't find your way out ....Face it, even though you're supposed to be a mature, grown-up, adult-like person, you're scared witless! It's not a question of whether or not you get scared, it's a matter of just how much terror overcomes you.
Tough as any of us might think we are, that shiver of terror spares no one. And nothing is more capable of capitalizing on this innate weakness we all have to be frightened right to the bone than a good, scary movie. After all, a terror movie isn't a happenstance event like realizing all of a sudden that we are the only ones left in the office. These movies are specifically designed to terrorize you on purpose.
Now, we've all listened to the professional talkers on the TV talk shows. We've heard all the theories. And there's no limit to the amount of speculation by child psychologists about whether or not having kids scared out of their wits by terrifying movies is harmful. Well, I'm here to remind you not to forget the projectionist!
I call your attention to the furthest, most remote part of a huge, dark theatre building - a room, isolated and closed off from the rest of humanity. By its very nature it is inaccessible. It is in such a place that a lone projectionist is forced to stay, hour after hour with nary another human being for companionship. Hour after hour with no one to say, "hey, what are you getting so nervous about?...it's only a movie." Once confined to this isolation booth, this person is forced to run movies like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. And while you get to watch it and go home, he is forced to hear Hannibal Lecter's bone-chilling voice reciting horrific dialogue and every so often see that gruesome leather face mask showing after showing after showing. And the irony is that the management thinks money is compensation enough for this torture.
One of the most interesting things that I have found about films that are able to turn the legs of otherwise stout-hearted adults to Jell-O is that that are rarely overtly fantastic. Yes, as kids we were awed by the giant ants in THEM and the over-grown dinosaur in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. But this was all in the realm of the unbelievable. All too soon we realized that there was no way any of these "terrifying" creatures could really do us in because it was always a fore-gone conclusion that while they got bigger in size, they remained as stupid as the smaller species from whence they came (almost always by way of atomic contamination). The very limits of the special effects process that brought them to life created creature that moved clumsily, even aimlessly without much indication of any sizeable brain pans behind the clodding dumbbell. Even a kid could outsmart them (and in many of the Japanese monster films, it was a the kid Kemoto who saved Tokyo from Godzilla's clumsy weighty-of-foot). It is only when the terror is in the form of very clever madmen (PSYCHO, FATAL ATTRACTION) or super intelligent demons (THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN) who are hell-bent on our destruction, that the mind clicks into overtime and for hours, even days, we'll find the kid in us conjuring up all manner of frightful imaginings.
Well, equal time, I say. Let's do some studies on how such dastardly concocted terror films effect the mental tranquility of the projectionists across the county. Let someone take notes on how, once when I was running TALES FROM THE CRYPT, by the last show, I was wondering if I could muster up the courage to leave the projection booth at the end of the night! You see, in that film a man was dismembered by his wife and her lover. Needless to say the victim was so angry, that even in death his body parts, presumably still in quite a tee-ed off state, became animated. And animated with the revenge on the brain (or hand or foot). There was a scene where this angered parts - head, hands, torso, etc., began climbing their way out of the cellar and up the stairs to find wifey-poo and her lover ...stairs not unlike the very ones that lead to the projection booth!
At first I just began to feel uneasy - a kind of discomfort that I was sure would soon pass. This uneasiness gave way to a sense of imminent danger; everything in the booth began to take on an eerie quality. While I conjured up as much grown-up chutzpa as I could, I felt the kind of terror only a kid knows in such situations. (And every kid knows you can't reason your way out of these green-making, I'm-never-going-to-get-out-of-here-alive feelings.) As much as I didn't want to give in to such childish foolishness, by the time that scene came 'round at the last show, I left the booth, ran down the long, dark shadow-filled corridor to the end of the hall and bolted the door the control room hallway. Of course I knew severed hands and a really angry head were not coming up the stairs ...but like my boyhood friend Charlie always used to say, you never can be too safe.
So, I suggest that some enterprising patron do a study on such data about how looking at Hannibal Lecter's hideous masked face show after show effects projectionists world-wide and I guarantee that you'll get a guest spot on Oprah at the very least, Inside Edition.
P.S. I am also instructing the House Manager to send someone, anyone, up to the booth after each show to tell me, "hey, it's only a movie." Provided, of course, that I haven't already locked every corridor door on every floor up to the booth.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Clarice Starling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . JODIE
Review: With the ultra-violence (to use A Clockwork Orange phrase) of such films as Friday the 13th, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, et al as contrast, one wonders how anything as low-key and understated as Jonathan Demme's The Silence o/' the Lambs could conjure up a shiver let alone real terror. But it is in its economy of style, in its slow, relentless unfolding of vulnerability in the presence of sinister, deliberate evil, that this film is able to build a chilling, hair-raising chronicle of terror without the need inundate us with buzz-saw dismemberments, ax murders or any other such obvious and broad devices. Demme, like Hitchcock before him is able to terrorize the viewer by what is not shown rather than what is. Like the brilliantly choreographed shower scene in Psycho (in which no knife was ever shown actually stabbing the victim), Demme choreographs a mental cat-and-mouse dance - a dance in the minds of Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and FBI Trainee Starling (Jodie Foster). Her vulnerability is methodically revealed as is the depth of Lecter's highly intelligent but dark, evil mind.
Intertwined with the psychological terrorism is a very real race with the clock, as Starling tries to solve the puzzle (reluctantly invoking Lecter's help) of a serial killer called Buffalo Bill. Lecter's price for his help? The young agent must reveal one of her deepest, inner-most torments for every tid-bit of insight Hannibal the Cannibal gives to her. It is a kind of mind rape that adds an added layer of sinister symbolism to an already tense, brooding atmosphere.
These elements alone would make The Silence of the Lambs a thriller that is as involving as it is terrifying - a film that will raise goose-bumps on the even the toughest viewer. But Demme goes far beyond a decent into the ferocity of the human mind; he takes us into a real world of male-dominated institutions and women's heroic efforts to rise above the subtle but incessant sexual harassment. This element has caused women's groups to rally around the film, but although Demme is able to include it in a very natural, understated manner (there is no grand-standing or moralizing here), it is one of the areas that might have been explored more thoroughly and in the end, resolved more forcefully. We are all rooting for this young plebe; after the first half hour Foster's masterful characterization has captured us. The character is a determined to "save the lambs" yet to do so she must descend along a dangerous and fearsome pathway.
We feel the _ danger; we feel the vulnerability but Demme robs us of any sense of victory for Starling or Crawford. There could have been a more decisive ending. But in order to integrate the social perspective of women's struggle within the chauvinistic institutions to Starling's struggle with Lecter, Demme denies us a true winner; the audience is left with a feeling of anger that a male imbecile could snatch the rightful credit from a character we all so closely identified with.
Despite this minor short-coming, Silence will take its place among the truly fine terror-evoking films.
- Frank Angel
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