Saturday, October 29, 2005

Dentists, pea soup, showers, proms, and a too-good-to-be-true apartment in New York

A couple of days ago I posted on a survey of phobias, and snakes came out on top. But the snake-thing is so obvious. The whole mythology surrounding these slithery creatures is evil. But what happens when some nice, normal, everyday thing becomes fraught with terror? Ah, yes. That's what film-makers banked on for these jump-outta-your-seat, creepy performances that turned the run-of-the-mill into the forever-scary.

1. Laurence Olivier as the sadistic Nazi dentist baddie in The Marathon Man. Folks are already terrified of a trip to their own lovable dentist, but who hasn't thought while lying back in the dentist's chair - completely at his/her mercy - that you saw just a glint of Sir Larry in the pick-and-drill wielder's eye? Hmm? However, I do have some advice for you - don't even mention The Marathon Man to your dentist, even in jest. I made that mistake once. No sense of humor, these guys.

2. Janet Leigh as the shredded shower-taker in Psycho. Now I know you're wondering why I chose Janet instead of Tony's Norman as the most terrifying performance in the movie. Well, Tony's obviously crazy-evil, but Janet is everywoman. Just taking a shower (OK after taking Mr. Arbogast's bucks), minding her own business, completely clueless to the danger lurking outside her opaque shower curtin (she wasn't privy to hearing the creepy music and stuff, remember) - then, wee-wee-wee-wee!, knife-blade comes ripping away at her. Why, that could be you! Or more importantly, me! And dear Hitchcock knew that - the terror of the everyday stuff.

3. Ruth Gordon in Rosemary's Baby. I loved funny, quirky Ruth Gordon - didn't you? She had that goofy way of talking and an outrageous sense of humor. She was a part of that smart, creative Algonquin-Garden of Allah crowd that traveled back and forth between NY and LA just being brilliant and under-appreciated. So to see this lovable nut draw poor unsuspecting Mia Farrow and hubby into this big, gorgeous, cheap Manhattan apartment and worm her way into the couple's life just to ensure a breeder for satan-baby - well! As Ruth herself woulda said, "What a character!" Ruthie won both Oscar and Golden Globe for her supporting - and terrifying - role. Funny people playing scary people is the creepiest thing ever. That fine line, you see.

4. Linda Blair in The Exocist. Again with the unexpected. A beautiful young girl who loves her mama, then - yowser! Head-spinning, pea-soup-spewing, bed-rising, priest-quaking - and a face only the devil himself can love. C'mon admit it - it still crawls all over you after all these years. And, like Psycho's wee-wee-wee! theme, the minute you hear the tinkly music from The Exorcist you want to grab your blankie and suck your thumb. Was simple pea soup ever the same after it came spewing from the mouth of Satan? (No, but I still like it on a cold winter's day, regardless of the spinning head.)

5. Sissy Spacek in Carrie. OK, proms are always scary, whether or not you have pig's blood dumped on you and blow everyone to smithereens with your incredible mind-power. Still, sweet little Sissy with her wierd, religious Piper Laurie mother, having to face the traumas of high school. Aww. Thing is, we could all relate (except for the head cheerleaders) to the horrors of clawing and clutching our way through the teen years. Sissy covered in blood? Iconic!

See? Snakes don't hold a bell, book, or candle to proms, dentists, pea soup, showers and a low-rent New York apartment. Now go watch Frankenstein and calm down.

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