Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rating Game Redux 44: We All Scream

Our local paper edges us closer to the October Country by calling--loudly, piercingly--for "Best Horror Movie Screams." As usual, too many remain unheard when three is all I'm allowed to mention--but we can still hearken to Mary Philbin, opening her mouth--and covering it, lady to the last--her eyes wide enough to take in every putty-and-wire rotted crease of Lon Chaney's Phantom--her scream silent, as if in a dog's-only upper register. And Janet Leigh, vying with Bernard Herrmann's violins as Anthony Perkins smiles, shy guy that he is, and helps Mother. And even John Goodman and Willliam Forsythe, the Snoats brothers, letting loose with lusty roars as they suddenly realize the shocking burdens of raising (as far as anyone can tell) little Nathan Arizona.

But these three--OK, four--will do for now, their din the first herald of Good Ol' Halloween, just around the dark corner.

In the original King Kong (1933), Fay Wray’s scream becomes more important than any actual words in the script (excluding the famous last line). Sometimes recorded as a tiny thing—to match her size relative to Kong’s—sometimes filling the soundtrack, her screams are as memorable as the animated ape himself.

A tie, same movie: When Helen Delambre (Patricia Owens) finally sees what her husband (David Hedison) has become in The Fly (1958), she screams—and the camera cuts to her fly-husband’s perspective, her face reproduced in every facet of his fly-eyes, her scream suddenly a distorted warble. And then the human-headed fly at the end, caught in the spider’s web, screaming, “Help me! Help me!” in a high-pitched falsetto at once ridiculous and pitiful—until Vincent Price smashes it with a rock.

In Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Marilyn Burns as Sally Hardesty spends an interminable final sequence screaming, moaning, begging for mercy. It is unnerving and almost impossible to watch /listen to, the cruelest ten minutes in movie history.

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