Killer Darlings: Childhood Fears
Rest in Peace Screams From The Crypt! Talk Film Society's long-dormant horror column has been reborn as Killer Darlings. Welcome to our new bi-weekly column where the TFS Staff will uncover hidden gems, overlooked genre entries, and stone-cold classics.
For our first installment, Staff Writer Sean Beattie and Editor-At-Large Matt Curione have teamed up to share memories of two movies that left scars throughout most of their childhoods.
The Dentist (1996 d. Brian Yuzna)
Look, all of my life I've had a sweet tooth. I'm always searching for that next great kind of candy, so of course that led to numerous trips to the dentist in my formative years. Dentistry has always given me a creepy vibe; grown ups who one day decided that their passion was to stick their hands and various sharp objects into people's mouths? Yeah that's just a little weird.
Another thing I always loved when I was a kid was the weekly trip to the local video store. Fridays after school my mother would take my brother and I to either Easy Video or Blockbuster and would let us rent a few tapes for the weekend. When I was about 12 years old I came upon an exceptionally bizarre cover for a horror movie called The Dentist. I almost didn't rent it but when my mom saw that it starred Corbin Bernsen, she insisted that we rent it (she was a big L.A. Law fan). Well thanks mom, you helped enforce my irrational fear of tooth doctors.
What starts out as a typical "lover scorned" story soon devolves into complete madness with some of the most vile and disturbing gore effects of the 90s. This movie really left a mark on both myself and anyone I've met who has seen it. Bernsen plays a mild-mannered dentist with a successful practice who one day discovers his wife has been cheating on him. This unlocks a deep rooted rage and sadistic side to the once kindly doctor as he proceeds to disfigure and maim his patients in gruesome fashion.
The practical effects on display are top-notch and convincing as hell, even 22 years after its initial release. This is nightmare inducing stuff and if you can stomach the experience, it'll stick with you long after the credits roll thanks to a screenplay by Re-Animator scribe Stuart Gordon . The Dentist, as well as its 1998 sequel The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself are available on DVD and various VOD services and are worth your time if you're in the mood for a different brand of body horror.
- Matt Curione
The Nest (1988 d. Terence H. Winkless)
At five years old in 1989, I spent a week or so with my uncle and grandmother in Jersey City, NJ, ostensibly to give my parents a break or whatever (who sends their kids from the suburbs, to the city during the summer? My parents, that’s who).
USA Network, like many other basic cable networks in the late 1980s, would show barely-edited versions of cheaply-acquired horror movies to fill out their schedules. They would usually air those movies multiple times a week, with a black-screened title card that read, “Due to violent and graphic content, parental discretion is advised.”
The same week I visited my relatives, USA aired a double feature of creepy crawly bug attack movies, and it’s the second one from that double bill that destroyed me something fierce. The first one was The Swarm, a classic which never bothered me, but entertained me just fine—people would get covered in bees, fall down, and I’d laugh and laugh, not really “getting” that they were supposed to be dead.
The second film in that double feature, and the less-remembered (even by me, it turns out) was The Nest, a Roger Corman-produced killer cockroach movie based on the same-titled novel from Eli Cantor. The recent retrospective book Paperbacks from Hell, by Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson makes a mention of the novel, and its specifics—sleepy New England town, shady corporate experiments, cockroaches that can’t or won’t die, etc. The use of real roaches fucked me up for what has turned out to be…. life, so far. Can’t stand the damn things, to this day.
One other aspect of the film also screwed me up: at one point, the roaches start making hybrid drones of their victims. The first, a roach/house cat, is appropriately Brundleroach-ish and vicious for a fun attack scene in a basement. The puppet they use is on the cheaper side, but it’s the attention to texture and viscera that really spooked me. That cat has problems, y’all.
LOOK AT IT. Now, imagine you’re five, watching a not-even-edited version of this movie. I can still recall the musty old carpet in my city relatives’ apartment, the wood paneling behind the TV set, and being absolutely horrified, watching this cat meow-hiss at the main characters.
The hybridization doesn’t stop with house pets, though. Later in the film, in an “of course that happens” kind of way, the man ultimately responsible for infestation of killer Kafka fodder himself gets got by the roaches. He sacrifices himself to save his daughter, overwhelmed in a closed powder room. Then good ol’ Dad gets the drone treatment himself, shambling behind his daughter to first hug her, then explode in hybrid gore effects as a 6-foot tall man-roach.
Again: I was five years old.
- Sean Beattie
Have any movies that righteously messed you up as a kid? Let us know in the comments or via Twitter. Until next time, Stay Tuned and Stay Scared!