October 30, 2011

But How Much Blood?


There are a number of advantages to writing a weekly column of this nature. First and foremost, I don’t have to worry about being timely or following the news wires the way I did when I was writing for a newspaper’s website. It’s an exhausting and pointless distraction. On the downside, however, when that rare news story does come along into which I might have some unique and profound insight, by the time the column runs, the news story has already long since been forgotten by the masses. So I’d like to begin this week with a few brief comments on some forgotten news stories from the past month.

            On October twentieth it was reported that Libyan dictator Mohammar Gadhafi had been shot and killed. Video of his bloody, bullet-riddled corpse was already (of course) making the rounds on YouTube. He had been considered one of the most hated men in the world for nearly four decades, and the news of his demise led to spontaneous celebrations in several countries including the U.S.

            But y’know, I always kind of liked the guy. I liked Saddam Hussein, too, mostly because it really pissed people off when I told them. In the case of Gadhafi, I liked him for three very specific reasons (four if you include “pissing people off”).

            First, I have never seen the spelling of one man’s name go through so many permutations over the course of a lifetime. Remember back in the eighties when it was spelled with a K? “Khadafy” I believe, was the accepted spelling, helping boost the sales of those snazzy “Khadaffy Duck” t-shirts. Then in the nineties they switched over to a Q, probably to make it look more Arabic and evil, spelling it “Qaddafi” or some such. And now at the time of his death, they moved on to “Gadhafi”—in hopes, I’m guessing, of spawning a bunch of “godawful” puns. There were a few other different spellings along the way, but those were the three basic versions.

            I dunno, you just really gotta admire the guy for that.

            Second, as far as world dictators go, you gotta admit Gadhafi had more style than most. Not only did he dress up in an array of wild outfits that could have come straight out of Liberace’s closet (so to speak), he also surrounded himself with an army of sexy lady ninja bodyguards. The guy was a fucking comic book super villain! What’s cooler than that?

            And finally, I always kind of liked him because my grandma kept a framed picture of him on top of her television. If he was good enough for Grandma Mary, he’s good enough for me.

            My grandma, mind you, was neither Libyan nor a radical Muslim. But in the early seventies my Uncle Gene worked for an oil company, so he and his family lived in Libya for many years. On one of their trips back to the States, Uncle Gene brought my Grandma a picture of Libya’s new leader (who had yet to do anything that awful), and she kept it on top of her television. I always thought that was pretty cool, too.

            (After she passed away I was curious to find out what happened to the picture, but no one could tell me.)

*  *  *

Last spring, a radio preacher predicted that the Rapture was going to take place on the afternoon of May twenty-first. All those who were saved would be lifted bodily up to heaven as the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief.

            Well, it didn’t happen, so the preacher did what every doomsday soothsayer worth a damn does when the predicted End of the World doesn’t happen—he revised his calculations. Now, he claimed, the Rapture was going to take place on October twenty-first instead. As once again the rest of us heathens kept our fingers crossed that all those self-righteous sonsabitches would go up to heaven already and leave us alone, something occurred to me.

            See, the Rapture, as it happened, coincided with a German satellite’s unplanned return to earth. No one could say exactly where or when it would crash—just that it would. Now, consider this: wouldn’t it be funny if one of those Raptured types was la-la-la’ing his way to heaven when all of a sudden he got smacked in the head by a falling German satellite?

            Well, I would’ve thought it was hilarious, too, had the Rapture happened. As it stands, all we have to worry about now are space Nazis crawling out of the wreckage of that satellite.

*  *  *

Okay, that does it for the news. I also had some jokes about the Franco-Prussian War, but I guess they’ve waited this long already—they can wait a few more years. On to the column that would’ve run normally this week.

            I don’t know anything about kids these days, how they think or how they perceive the world. Generally I just assume the dumbest and the worst and they never let me down. And what I’m thinking about here likely isn’t an issue anymore, given the round-the-clock instantaneous access to extreme images available to anyone at any time. When I was a kid, see, especially in grade school, gore was a very rare and hot commodity.

            The rules went like this: If you were the first kid on the playground to see a new horror movie, it was your responsibility to provide the rest of us with a full and detailed report the next day, so we could determine whether or not we had to see it. We didn’t care about the cinematography, or the character development, or the editing or the pacing. We just wanted to know how many disembowelings, how many beheadings, and how many gallons of blood were splashed across the screen. If it didn’t contain enough of the necessary elements, we’d keep that buck and a half in our pockets.

            (That’s what we said, anyway. In truth we all had to find a way to see every new horror film that came out, no matter what. If you didn’t you were a wuss.)

            This responsibility put a great deal of pressure on the kid making the report. He had to make whatever film he was talking about sound like the nastiest, goriest, bloodiest film ever made. That called for imagination. (I’m not going to speculate here as to why we were such bloodthirsty kids. Just accept that we were.)

            Fortunately for all of us on the playground, kids—at least back then— had very vivid imaginations. They didn’t simply say “oh yeah, it was real gory,” and leave it at that. That wouldn’t have been satisfying in the least. These were kids, after all, who had to prove something (mostly that they could sit through these films without crying). No, they (and I, when it was my job) would go into graphic detail about specific scenes—in part, I assume, to prove they’d seen the whole film. Let me give you a few actual examples of playground accounts that I still remember quite clearly to this day:

            In Food of the Gods, the 1976 giant animal picture starring Marjoe Gortner and Ida Lupino, there’s a scene in which a giant rat smashes through the windshield of a car to attack the driver. Not only, the playground report went, do we see the rat chew up the driver, but at the end of the scene the rat drags the mangled corpse away as the man’s intestines trail behind him.

            Near the end of Bill Rebane’s 1975 classic, The Giant Spider Invasion, the giant spider in question (really just a disguised VW Beetle with spindly legs) snatches up a Sheriff’s deputy and eats him. According to the report, the deputy’s blood sprays everywhere and you see his orange and yellow guts spilling out of the spider’s mouth. (I thought “orange and yellow” was an effective touch.) Then in the last scene the spiders are blown up with a nuclear bomb and turn into a pink, blobby goo as a woman vomits on a nearby hillside.

            In 1977, PBS produced Dracula as a miniseries starring Louis Jordan as the count. It was quite good in a PBS sort of way, and remained fairly faithful to the book. After Dracula returns to the castle with a newborn baby for his sexy vampire brides, not only do we see the sexy vampires eat the baby, we also see them with, yes, baby guts hanging out of their mouths. On PBS, no less!

            And let’s not even get started on what the first reports about Jaws claimed except for one small point. Along with the spewing blood and spilled entrails on the screen, the report, for the first time, also took the audience reaction into account. According to Eric (I remember it was a beefy kid named Eric, and he was quite proud of this), at least half the members of the audience were openly vomiting in the aisles. I suspect the idea was picked up from early news reports about The Exorcist, but it was an enticing detail.

            You may notice a pattern developing. It seems on-screen guts were a necessary element to any film that wanted to attract fourth and fifth graders. Well, I eventually saw all of these movies—some of them several times—and try as I might, I didn’t see any of this. Oh, the specific scenes were there—the rat through the windshield and the spider eating the deputy—but the details were sadly lacking. There were no intestines, and nobody in the audience puked. I always left the theater a little disappointed, wondering if those other kids had just seen a better print. But I always was a sucker for showmanship, and remain one to this day.

            When we got to junior high, the focus moved away from entrails and on to boobs, and I’ll tell you, you wouldn’t believe how many boobs there are in The Amityville Horror.


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