Friday, April 25, 2003

So I went to see House of 1000 Corpses because, well, there wasn't much else I was interested in seeing, and I hadn't seen a real state of the art horror/gore film in a long time. I am about the furthest thing in the world from a fan of Rob Zombie's music. He epitomizes the least favorite thing about contemporary music, even worse than rap: That particular rock vocal styling where the singer sounds like he's really constipated. I call it the pro-wrestling-interview-set-to-music school of rock. Anyway, as I said, I am not a fan. But the fact that he'd named his band (White Zombie) after a classic 1930s horror film gave me some hope.

But I'm really not the audience for this movie. It's just two hours of unrelieved carnage and mayhem and sadism, and the only interesting thing about it for me was how unaffected I was by it. If I had been involved, I might have been offended by the shallow evil at the core of this film. But I wasn't for one minor and one major reason.

It's very easy to say that--for example--the Friday the 13th movies are hypocritical. Like many horror films, they glory in Jason's lurid and inventive murder technique, but at the end the film punishes him for doing nothing more than what the audience paid to see him do. But the alternative--as here--is the consistent celebration of monstrous evil. Imagine a movie about the adventures of Zed, Maynard, and the Gimp from Pulp Fiction, only where Bruce Willis doesn't untie himself--and who the hell wants to see that? That's basically what Ho1KC is. But that's not really the most serious problem I had with it.

The recent problem for me with gory horror is, as with so many other things, my September 11th problem. It's not that I'm offended by horror; it's that horror is never horrifying enough for me anymore. Two stories often cross my mind from that day. I will warn you that they are very difficult to read.

The first may be an urban legend, but it certainly could have happened.

A family had an apartment that looked out on the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and they all went out to watch the fire. Everyone was speechless except for the youngest, the five-year-old: She chattered as she looked on, pointing out the birds that were on fire. "The birds, Mommy, look at the birds on fire." The parents had no idea what to say to her, so they just humored her and kept the TV off and acted as much as possible like it was a normal day. Finally, that night, the mother was putting the girl to bed.

"Mommy?" said the little girl.


"I know they weren't birds."

The second story is definitely true. It's from the book September 11th: An oral history, and it's the testimony of an EMT named Ernest Armstead, entitled, "Tormented by conversions with death." I reproduce it here verbatim:

r".....I ran towards them, my triage tags in hand. There was a man having a seizure and his eyes were rolling into the back of his head. He had struck the pavement so hard that there was virturally nothing else left of him. There were a couple others that I never got to, but I could see from a short distance that they were dead. And then there was the lady with the nice hairdo and earrings.
When I got to her, I ripped out a black tag. What impressed me - and scared me - was that she was alert and was watching what I was doing. I put the tag around her neck and she looked at me and said, "I am not dead. Call my daughter. I am not dead." I was so startled that for a split second I was speechless. "Ma'am," I said. "don't worry about it, We will be right back for you." That was a lie. She couldn't see what I could see. Somehow, I guess it was an air draft or something, her fall had been cushioned enough so that she didn't splatter like the others. Still her body was so twisted and torn apart that I could only ask myself, Why is this lady still alive and talking to me? How can this be? Her right lung, shoulder and head were intacted, but from the diaphragm down she was unrecognizable. Yet she was lucid enough that she continued to argue with me."I am not dead," she insisted again.

....but another wave of casualties arrived in the lobby from upstairs, so I needed to return. As I headed back, I stepped over the lady one more time. And as eerie and unsettling as our first encounter had been, the second was even worse. She yelled at me.

"I am not dead! I am not dead!"

"They're coming, they're coming." I replied without stopping.

"I am not dead! I am not dead!"

I think of those two stories, the birds on fire and the argument with the talking head, pretty much every day. And that's why, when I see a movie that is supposed to horrify me, the only phrase that comes to my mind is, "What else ya got?"

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