Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Thing about barf bag movies

When I was young I placed a great deal of stock in what film critics had to say. My family's copy of the Roger Ebert film guide was a massive doorstopper, but I read it cover-to-cover - more than once! I would quote from it to my family! One review of Ebert's which made an impression upon me was his review of the 1982 film the Thing by director John Carpenter. Ebert summed up the film as a "great barf-bag movie."
"'The Thing' is basically, then, just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare one another to watch the screen."

I trusted in Ebert's opinion and that persuaded me to avoid this picture. I mean, I felt I had a pretty weak constitution where horror films were concerned to begin with. I liked horror films a lot, but ever since seeing The Wolf Man as a child and being freaked out by the transformation scenes, I had realized how easily my imagination could be set off by horror films. Further, I grew up in the age of the gross-out slasher flicks, a genre which Ebert had great disdain for. In fact, although Ebert tried to from time to time to present himself as a film buff who enjoyed a good crass & exploitative film, nearly every horror film in his guide received a withering review. I bought a copy of the Howard Hawks version of The Thing (which Ebert deemed "better") and decided that was about the level of horror that I wanted - don't give me any of that blood & gore!

I was that kid who read the newspaper every morning and flipped straight to the entertainment section to read film reviews. I was that kid who watched Siskel and Ebert every week. But over time I began to realize I didn't always agree with the authorities and there were certainly times where Ebert would display a level of ignorance in his reviews which stunned me - I thought he was infallible within his career! But eventually I had to admit, he wasn't always well-informed and his tastes weren't necessarily my own.

When I received a subscription to the horror channel Scream I found myself flipping there quite often. Many of their films were pure trash. However, from time to time movies I had always been curious about would appear. So too would pictures I had assumed I would never watch because they were surely too disturbing for my imagination. And yet, one day I caught the last half of Day of the Dead, watched the cast get eaten alive in the climax and went, "Huh. That was disgusting, but not scary." Then Scream aired The Thing and I went, "Wow. That was disgusting and scary."

I've since realized my constitution is actually pretty strong. My imagination tells me I can't handle certain visuals, but then I encounter them and manage just fine. Reality is always so much easier to digest. Just this last summer I spent a few weeks helping in an operating room and was startled to realize that nothing actually startled me - I could sick my hands inside people bodies and take it just fine. I could be bathed in blood from mask to shoes and not be fazed. What I'm saying then, is that I'm not a good person to advise others as to what is or isn't disgusting - 'cause it turns out I have very high tolerance. But what's scary? That's a little harder to define.

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