I remember watching the original The Haunting when I was seven years old. Man, that movie scared the hell out of me. Nervous sweat broke out on my face during the opening scene. The cold grip of fear had my soul. Four hours later, I was weeping desperately for the sweet relief of death as I cried out for my mother. She found me in the bathroom clutching the toilet in the fetal position. The golden puddle of urine on the floor was proof that the movie was so scary it made my penis cry.
I was hooked on ghost stories for life.
Growing up, I knew ghosts were at their scariest when they were old women dressed in Victorian clothing.
Scratch that. Dead children are worse. Yeah, those little kid ghosts were just perfect storms of horror. They were the scariest. Just imagine an immortal 9 year old that wants to always be with you and murder you and slam doors in your house and whisper mean things to you.
The first rule in dealing with ghosts is prevention. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. Stay away from areas that ghosts like to haunt. Like stairs. For some unknown reason, ghosts tend to be captured on film going up and down stairs a lot. Don’t get stuck in any cemeteries or Indian burial grounds either, especially at night. And for God’s sakes, leave Ouija boards alone. Those damn things are a good way to ask ghosts to mess you up.
When I lived overseas, I found myself in a remote eastern European village that had a charming bedtime story. According to the locals, about a hundred years earlier a prostitute had slept with a priest and God decided that this deserved some particularly terrifying divine intervention. I always thought God punished people with barren fields or plagues of frogs. But no, this time he decided to get surreal and shake things up a little. He turned the prostitute into a giant purple mule with no head and fire spewing from the ragged neck stump.
This monster was straight from a Dr. Seuss nightmare and supposedly haunted the local woods and still had the voice of a woman. She also changed back into a normal hussy by day. I could have argued with God about how stupid this was, but then he’d probably turn me into an octopus mummy or vampire watermelon or something.
I was assured by one particularly intoxicated man, that simply stabbing the spirit would transform it back into a naked whore who would have no choice but to marry the guy who broke her curse. He smacked his lips and wanted to be that guy. I bought him another drink and started to pick out the dead leaves in his beard, thinking, well, it’s kind of like the legend of pulling a sword out of a stone to become king, only you’re stabbing a headless mule to nail a hooker, so actually, no, nothing at all like that.
And some of these villagers actually believed it all. I could have told them that the story emerged just to counter whatever pagan sins people were committing back then and to really push the importance of celibacy onto Catholic priests. But I remained silent. Hell, I didn’t want a village-terrorizing, galloping, flame-throwing ghost-hooker on my conscience.
This experience went back home to Germany with me. It made me want to make my own spooky little movie. I jettisoned the whole headless mule thing and went with a battle of the sexes about a gang of go-go dancers who seduce/murder some guys, all except one, then take off with him into the woods to party only to get massacred by the ghosts of evil Nazis.
Thank you, thank you very much. The envelope please. And the Oscar goes to . . .
No, that’s not my movie. That’s Return of the Living Dead which was about a million times better than my movie. But it gives you an idea of what we had in mind. Just for the record folks, here’s how to make a shitty low-budget horror movie in 1983:
1. Find a beat-up old 16mm camera at a second-hand store.
2. Spend most of your money on fake blood and cases of beer.
3. Hold auditions for the roles as an excuse to get all your friends together for a party.
4. Then go out into the woods and start filming immediately. As soon as the beer is gone, you will lose most of your cast and crew.
5. Try not to frame any of your shots. Foreheads are a bonus.
6. Convince all females to take their clothes off. Tell them it is a sacrifice for art, or something.
7. Cast your best friend in the lead role. After all, he’s already wearing that awesome orange turtleneck.
8. If anything important needs to be said, have the actors mumble it.
9. When editing, remember to not waste a single frame of footage. Why go to the next scene when there are five perfectly good minutes of nothing but trees and buildings for your audience to look at?
10. Use a TEAC Portastudio 144 from your kick-ass stereo rack to mix your soundtrack. This is the same piece of equipment Springsteen used to make NEBRASKA. I used it to mix muffled voices, second-rate Halloween sound effects, and the most dramatic piece of music ever created. I used that music repeatedly. It was German composer Carl Orff’s O Fortuna with all its terrifying trumpets and nonsensical Latin screaming. We’ve all heard that music before. If there was ever a I AM VERY SERIOUS song, it would be O Fortuna.
Over the last decade, Japanese ghosts have become the scary thing. Think of The Ring and The Grudge. I like to blame those kinds of movies as being the seed that planted the trend of scary Asian girls with long hair into the minds of everyone.
Take a dream I had after seeing The Grudge. I’m at home, sitting by the fire with a cup of coffee and my favorite book. I’m by myself, totally relaxed, when suddenly there’s a knock on the front door. I’m not really expecting company and it‘s actually pretty late.
When I open the door, I see an Asian girl with long hair looking down at the ground. Wait. Let’s set the atmosphere and say there’s a damned monsoon coming in. This chick is standing out in the pouring rain, completely unaffected. Inexplicably, I start feeling a sense of dread.
The girl says, without looking up, “I’m lost. May I please come in to use your phone?” She speaks with a cold detached cadence and it makes me shudder. I apologize, but my phone isn’t working and then I suggest a nearby gas station.
The girl speaks again, “May I come in to use the restroom? It’s raining and I want to come in.” Now I’m battling between logic and instinct. This poor thing is caught out in the rain, what kind of person would make her stand out there. But I still can’t bring myself to let her in. I apologize again and suggest the gas station.
“I want to come in,” the girl says. And suddenly she looks up at me. That’s when I see the eyes. It’s as though somebody took out both eyeballs and injected the sockets with black ink.
And that’s when a man in his early forties woke up, and then spent the rest of the night eating pancakes in the kitchen with all the lights on. Actually, it would have been funnier if my wife found me like this.
Here’s a confession for you. I like to watch all those ghost hunter shows. But despite how scary some of the locations appear to be, and no matter how shaky the hand held camera is, these shows all share a common flaw. They never, ever, ever discover any ghosts.
The actual discovery of paranormal activity, or life after death, or anything like that would be considered the most incredible discovery in the history of mankind. We would finally know a little of what happens after death. Religious beliefs would be proven right or wrong. Scriptures might all have to be re-written. It would be such a monumental shift in what people believe, and the way we live, that the life of every single person on Earth would change forever.
And because this would be such an important event, we now have twenty different shows that feature a bunch of assholes walking around an old prison scaring themselves for an hour, then at the end declaring their tests to be inconclusive.
Writing these scripts has to be the easiest job on the planet. Seriously. Here, I’ll show you. This will fit all ghost hunting shows:
INTERIOR: OLD PRISON, HOUSE, MENTAL HOSPITAL, FACTORY, OR REALLY ANYWHERE THAT IS OLD AND CREEPY LOOKING. LIGHTS ARE OUT.
CAST MEMBER 1: Shhh!!! Shhh!! Did you hear that?
CAST MEMBER 2: EMF readings are off the charts!
CAST MEMBER 1: Did you *bleep* hear that!!!
CHANGE LOCATION AND REPEAT.
Come on, like if they had really discovered proof of ghosts and the actual discovery of an afterlife, they’d save this earth changing event as just a normal show airing after a Stargate rerun?
But I watch them. I watch them for the same reason I made my drunk friends run around naked in some German woods in the middle of the night..
It’s fun to be scared.
Which is why my wife and I are watching The Woman in Black tonight, with its atmosphere of Gothic romantic gloom. Not since young Hutter arrived at Orlok’s castle in Nosferatu has a journey to a dreaded house been more fearsome and fun. In this case, it’s the guy who played Harry Potter as a Victorian-era attorney who is visiting a haunted house in the north of England, which can be reached only by a single-track road on a long, narrow causeway that lies so low in a brackish sea that the waters lap its edges. The house is crumbling, forlorn, filled with the faded and jumbled possessions of doomed lifetimes.
I look over at my wife. She’s bouncing her leg nervously, shaking her head. She doesn’t want him going into that spooky old place. Her butt is clenching tighter, knowing at any moment, the soundtrack will make her jump with a blast of frightening noise.
It’s a good thing she never watched the original filming of The Woman in Black. This scene alone is enough to make a penis cry.