Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Great speeches in horror

Sometimes in horror films, we are given reasons - by way of speeches or explanations as to why the particular torment is occurring. I'm not talking about the "rules of surviving a horror movie" as was touched on in Scream (though technically, there were some lengthy speeches in that one). I'm talking about pivotal moments within a film that either explain everything straightaway or quite frankly, make you even more frightened. Sometimes they do both.
To follow are several examples...

*In my mind, no other commentary in horror shall ever surpass the preeminent "Indianapolis Speech" in Jaws.

I can't stress how important those several tense moments were to the movie. The fear that we feel pulsating through our veins as Quint gives us the rundown on the bombing of the WWII-era Indianapolis and the subsequent relentless shark attacks...well, to me there's just not a more anxiety-inducing stretch of time in that movie. His voice is haunting, melancholy with the remembrance of the gruesome deaths of his friends. Puts the entire film into the right perspective for the final act. Awe-inspiring.

*When Stuart Ullman tells Jack Torrance about the previous caretaker at the Overlook hacking up his wife and children with an ax, not even his polyester pantsuit or the bite-size American flag on his desk could hope to cut the tension and discomfort in that office.

Sure, Jack almost immediately jokes: "you can rest assured that's not gonna happen with me"... but I think we can all agree that little chat had lasting effects on its audience, and sets the tone for things to come. The Shining was full of little lectures and tirades, but I'm partial to the subtlety of those foreboding opening remarks.

*One of the most revered horror films in recent years has certainly been The Silence of the Lambs, and within it lies one of the best - if not the best - academic scholars to ever mutter quid pro quo.

His handy little speech when he first meets Clarice - the bit about her cheap shoes and her tedious sticky fumblings - lets you know straightaway that his insight is spot-on, and that he'll most assuredly be messing with her head on a regular basis. But my favorite bit of dialogue is the persistent badgering of Starling by Lecter until she admits defeat and explains her miserable past to him. While not exactly a speech, it still comes off as Lecter holding the cards and pushing all the buttons.

*In the whimsically clichéd Hell Night (1981), a fraternity king warns a group of pledges of the legend of Garth Manor.

At first, we imagine him to be making up an elaborate lie to scare the pants off the unfortunates who are to spend the night in the decrepit old mansion as part of hell week initiation. But when the killing starts - just like you knew it would - the bombastic tale ends up right on the money.
Silly plot tool, but effective nonetheless.

*Sometimes, it isn't a character that is telling the tale. However, it can be just as frightening to hear recordings - or other disembodied voices for that matter - that shed light on past tragedies or foretell evils yet to come. As in the following cases:

The Evil Dead is pure bliss to most horror fans. When the quintet of Ash & friends is sitting around listening to the tape recording of Kandarian demon incantations, you're quite sure nothing good can come of it.

But it's a great, relatively quiet moment in an otherwise rollicking knockdown of violence and bodily fluids run amok. Outside, the demons chant "join us" and inside, Cheryl starts her hysterical descent into madness, soon to be followed by the rest of the posse.

*In the Woman in Black, solicitor Arthur Kidd is stuck at the Eel Marsh house to tie up loose ends at the estate, when he comes across a series of recordings made by the deceased owner of said home.

Upon listening, he is puzzled and later terrified to hear the old woman in obvious distress over what she seems to think is a ghost still menacing her at the house. Indeed, Mr. Kidd was right to be wary of the recordings, as they are harbingers of his own doom. The old woman's shaky voice is laden with obvious fear, making her dire words seem all the more ominous.

*You of course never see the ghost of the murdered child in The Changeling, but you certainly do hear him.

During a nerve-wracking seance vignette, we are treated to the immaterial voice of a small child who pleads for someone to investigate and resolve his murder. While not exactly an intact speech per se, it still stands as the most chilling part of a classic ghost story.

*Speeches that start or finish a film can be unsettling as well. They seem to either open a can of worms or close the book on what you've just witnessed.

Take The Fog, for instance. When John Houseman relays the story of the history of Antonio Bay, you're all set. You already know the town is cursed, and that some bad mojo is afoot.

The account of the sinking of the Elizabeth Dane is somewhat predictable yet still manages to arouse the viewer's curiosity. For me, any kind of water related horror is scary enough, but when you have malevolent sea-logged sailors bent on revenge and skulking through an other-worldly impenetrable fog, I was glad to know the details beforehand. Hence, the spooky ghost story.

*Those crazy old men in Ghost Story! What the hell are they thinking, telling each other scary stories (while dressed in tuxes, no less) after the hell they'd been through?

As the movie opens, we are shown the four elderly gents, lights turned low and sipping the brandy while one tells a macabre tale of premature burial. How ironic! Tables get turned (flipped over, if we're being honest here) and that simple eerie narrative sticks in your head and opens the film in an ominous manner than never really lets up.

*Mrs. Voorhees was actually a fairly nice person, I think.

She didn't let Alice wonder why she'd just disposed of every damn camp counselor in a five mile radius, she outright told her: "Did you know a young boy drowned the year before those two others were killed? The counselors weren't paying any attention... They were making love while that young boy drowned! His name was Jason. I was working the day that it happened. Preparing meals... here. I was the cook. Jason should've been watched! Every minute! He was... he wasn't a very good swimmer..."
She laid it all out, then proceeded to attempt to finish her murderous vengeance.

*At the end of The Howling, we really aren't shocked to see Dee Wallace morph into a werewolf.

But the little speech she gives about fighting battles within ourselves and how our natures are indeed cruel and violent...and then battles on (while changing into a lycanthrope on national televison) with the revelation regarding the secret society of "monstrous mutations" and how she was set to prove it existed right there... well, you have to admit - it was a great speech.
But better yet was the so-called bitch in heat (alpha she-wolf, in my opinion) ordering up her hamburger. Rare.

*Always to be found in a horror movie are the speeches that flat-out tell you what you're in for. No beating around the bush for these guys.
This can actually be said of a lot of the aforementioned films, but other worthy examples would have to include:

Donald Pleasence tells us everything we need to know about Michael Myers.

The scene in the original Halloween where he describes a young Michael being an evil six-year old without even a "rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong" - this is what I'm talking about. He tells you flat out that Michael is a heartless, emotionless SOB with no conscience to speak of and a taste for revenge that was unheard of. See? He told Haddonfield but they just...didn't...listen.
"Death has come to your little town..."

*Judd Crandall's explanatory speech regarding the misfortunes that arise from burying someone in the infamous "Pet Sematary" is one of the creepiest moments in that movie - no easy feat for a film about bringing pets (and people) back from the dead.

I've always had a soft spot for this movie, and King's book is one of my favorites - the subject matter is just so very taboo. So when Judd tells the story about Timmy Baterman, it gets me every time. Louis's initial question "Has anyone ever buried a person there?" -which comes earlier in the movie and is answered in a huff by Judd ("Christ on his throne, NO!" that comeback!)- only tends to rile up your feelings of dread - so that when the account of the nefarious Timmy comes along, you're ready for it.
Scared shitless, but ready.

*"We killed him, honey. Freddy Kreuger is dead and mommy killed him."

Ah, yeah. Sure. A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn't much for beating around the bush. They didn't wait too long to show you Freddy, and they weren't much for in-depth explanations. But after Nancy pulls Freddy's hat out of her dream and demands answers, Mom retrieves his finger knived glove and gives her daughter the 'everything's going to be alright' spiel. A whole diatribe of Freddy's past crimes against the children on Elm Street and how they took it into their own hands as parents, to put an end to his wrath. Hmm...

*Sometimes, a straightforward answer to "what the hell is going on" is best. Little tidbits of commentary just so you can get the jist of the situation. Like so:

In Urban Legend, the death of Michelle Mancini is simply made clear.

Just like the old folk tale, someone was waiting in the back seat of her car. But the detailed account of her death, though short, still seems like a keynote discussion to me.

*And though Candyman was based on an urban legend himself, a thorough explanation of the hook-for-a-hand murderer's history was imminent after the deaths by hook in the lovely Cabrini Green projects.

Also qualifying for a speech in that film is the fateful description by the young boy at Cabrini of the deaths supposedly at Candyman's hand (or hook, as the case may be). Really an underrated film, as far as I'm concerned.

*Louis from Interview with the Vampire took his sweet time giving mini-speeches for the entire duration of the movie.

How he was turned, how they found Claudia, how they ditched Lestat... hell, his whole life was a dissertation. I realize the film was told in the first person, but it was a bit wordy for my taste. Show me something - it's a movie for heaven's sake. It's why the damn thing takes three hours to get through on regular television - don't go there, seriously.

*And finally...
Psycho is one movie that has more than its fair share of so-called speeches.

From Norman explaining to Marion about private traps, to the psychiatrist analyzing Norman's psychosis after the climactic fruit cellar experience and subsequent arrest, to Norman/Mother rambling about swatting the fly in the closing moments of the film. I don't think there's a better collection of truly awesome speeches within a horror movie.
Probably why it's one of the best.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


BJ-C said...

Awesome post. My mom read it with me so she could reminisce. :)

Will Errickson said...

What a great idea for a top-10 list. I've often felt the tale-within-a-tale trope works wonders in horror stories, particularly Pet Sematary and Interview with a Vampire. And though it's not quite a classic horror movie, I was thinking of Phoebe Cates's speech about why she hates Santa Claus in Gremlins as well!

iZombie said...

well thought out list, ohh the memories... ghost story is such a tragic tale, and such awful total recall...

forestofthedead said...

Amazing post. You really know your movies. Halloween and Friday the 13th speeches would be my favorites because of of my love of those films, but there's so many others.

Carl (ILHM) said...

Excellent collection, though I have always found Loomis' monologues to be entirely out of place no matter how much I love HALLOWEEN =D

Gory said...

Great picks!! You know my feeling on the Jaws speech. :-D

Great pick on the Psycho one too. I forgot how perfect that is. So creepy and unsettling.

James said...

Great post (and idea) Chris - even thinking about some of the speeches included here gave me the shudders... The Fog, Jaws, Halloween and Evil Dead. So evocative and sinister.
And speaking of information/speeches relayed to us via recordings in horror movies - the ones from Evil Dead, Session 9 and House with Laughing Windows can't be beaten for pure creepiness.

C.L. Hadden said...

Oh wow, I totally forgot about the recordings from Session 9! Great call, James.
Those were utterly insomnia-inducing!

Enbrethiliel said...


What a great post! You have changed the way I watch Horror movies--indeed, all movies--forever! =)