Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Part 7: The Transitional Seventies - The Exorcist, King Kong, and the F-bomb

By the time 1974 rolled around, I was part of a small group of friends that shared a love of Science Fiction.  True, the Horror and Fantasy genres would enter into our discussions but at its center it was solidly Science Fiction.  We all attended a modest Catholic School in Gretna, Louisiana and were frequently struck by frustrated, angry nuns when we stepped out of line.  It was safe to say that fear of swift, painful, and humiliating punishment was what drove the student's behavior at that school.  However, it didn't seem to stop some of the older 8th graders who had been "kept back" a few years from retreating as far back on the school property as possible and smoking dope during recess.  And there was that time that my brother's 8th grade classed had been busted for drinking during a school field trip to see THE SOUND OF MUSIC.  Hey, when you're 13, I'm sure that movie is better when you are inebriated.  It started a scandal of Nazi-Germany proportions.

So it is safe to say that when THE EXORCIST opened in New Orleans, it was initially "banned" by the Catholic Church in our local Catholic paper, The Clarion Herald.  Keep in mind that the Clarion Herald also had banned JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR years before and would REALLY ban George Kuchar's THUNDERCRACK, a bizarre pornographic "art" film that no one would have paid attention to had the Catholics not made such a big deal about it.

My guess is that THE EXORCIST then revealed that the Catholic Church still recognized and practiced the archaic rite of demonic exorcism in the 20th century and they were unsure of the public's reaction to this knowledge. Over 30 years later, with THE EXORCIST being one of the best-loved, ground-breaking, and enduring films, the Catholic Church now proudly boasts their devotion to the rite of exorcism, certainly enough for the Vatican to appoint two new exorcists to battle Satan and his minions here on Earth.

In Terrytown, Louisiana the opening of THE EXORCIST meant this: 1.) NO WAY were my parents going to let me, at 12 years-old to see that movie and 2.) the more we heard about what was in the movie the more intrigued my friends and I were with that film.  The radio would play "Tubular Bells" and our eyes would grow wide with curiosity and a little fear.  What if the priests were right?  What if I got possessed by Satan walking home from school?  That is how intense the affect of that movie was.  The previous year, we had all heard about Tobe Hooper's TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and were not allowed to see it, but, like the body in the woods, there was a gross-out intrigue to that film, rather than a deep rooted dread that came when we heard about spinning heads and projectile vomiting.

When the knock-off films like RUBY and BEYOND THE DOOR started advertising on television, the trailers scared the living shit out of me.  I bought a Horror Sound Effects record, Sounds of Terror that had an exorcist track on it that made me shiver to my bones.

Unlike the Disney Halloween album, this one was a bit more intense.
Years later, after I knew about Dick Smith and his incredible work, I went to see THE EXORCIST at a Drive-In Theater in Algiers, Louisiana with a group of my drunk, High School Senior scared me sober.  Seriously.

Another movie trailer that got under my skin was for Larry Cohen's film IT'S ALIVE.

Whenever that trailer come on, I would sit transfixed.  However, when I finally saw IT'S ALIVE in college, I was disappointed.  My imagination had surpassed what was presented in that low budget film, but I still think that the effort was admirable and I still love the teaser trailer.

It would be irresponsible not to mention JAWS and the huge impact it had on the world.  The first time I had heard about JAWS, I was in my dentist's office and I was reading excerpts from the novel by Peter Benchley.  When I read the novel, prior to seeing the movie, I was less impressed unfortunately, but it was through the eyes of a 13 year-old.  So why don't I consider JAWS to be a monster?  Well, while JAWS is a terrifying, thrilling movie and is extremely well-made, I see it more as an adventure film.  I would put it with INDIANA JONES or JAMES BOND pictures before I would put it in a category with FRANKENSTEIN or THE EXORCIST.  There is a realness to JAWS that we are reminded about on the news all of the time when we read about surfers being attacked by sharks.  So what about PSYCHO?  Or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS?

Again, those films have to do with human intent whether misguided or not.  And JAWS is still a bit too classy than the films that followed it like GRIZZLY that were just exploitation films (fun, though they were) featuring killer animals on the loose. 

Scary and fun, sure...Classy? No.
I received my third and final issue of CLOSEUP magazine and the cover was a dream come true:

I had waited for this all of my life, or so I thought.
Although it was dense with information about the original Kong and its production, it was light on photos and pre-production paintings.  That would come later with the books THE MAKING OF KING KONG and THE GIRL IN THE HAIR PAW.  What was in the magazine were articles about the two remakes of Kong that were in the works: THE LEGEND OF KING KONG, and Dino De Laurentiis' KING KONG.  The former was to be a period film remake with Stop Motion effects by Jim Danforth (who had thrilled me with his dinosaurs in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, three years earlier), the latter was incorporate a huge Kong robot and a guy in a gorilla suit.  That guy was, Rick Baker.

I had heard the name, Rick Baker, in FAMOUS MONSTERS and in THE MONSTER TIMES.  I knew about the film SCHLOCK he had done with John Landis and had seen photos (and the trailer).  There was no doubt that this young, ambitious Make Up Effects artist had the right stuff to make a very cool gorilla suit for Kong.  What I was unprepared for was the venom.

When I read the interview with Rick, he didn't have a lot of nice things to say about the producer and he dropped a lot of "F-bombs".  Holy cow!  It was the first time, ever, that I was reading an interview with someone who actually was telling it like it was.  My father had interviewed actors and filmmakers for a decade or more and never had Julie Andrews said anything like, "That Robert Wise was talented, but boy, what a mother-f*cker!" 

At that moment, I felt I was reading the truth about Motion Picture production.  The actual truth.  And I had to know more about this guy, Rick Baker.

1 comment:

  1. "At that moment, I felt I was reading the truth about Motion Picture production. The actual truth. And I had to know more about this guy, Rick Baker."

    But first, you got to meet Raymond Baker...