Earlier this month, I put a challenge to our team: review a film that deals with your own personal phobia. Being the obedient sort,
I forced them they agreed to face their fears head-on and summon the strength to sit through feature length movies depicting the very thing that makes them squirm. No cushions or duvets to hide behind allowed! So without further ado, let’s take a look at what puts the willies up HorrorCultFilms as the team face their fears…
Bat reviews ARACHNOPHOBIA (1990)
I’m scared of spiders. Not the tiny money spiders but definitely the bigger house spiders that run across the wall quickly and could jump at you at any given moment. In order to face my fear, I had to review a childhood classic, Arachnophobia.
Dr Ross Jennings and his family move from San Francisco to the rural town of Canaima, California where he’s lined up to be the successor of the elderly town doctor, Sam Metcalf. However, upon his arrival, the town’s geriatric doctor rethinks his retirement leaving Jennings without any patients except for his kindly neighbour, Margaret. When bodies start piling up in the usually-quiet town, Jennings decides to investigate further and discovers that a new species of venomous spider may be to blame.
Starring a strong cast including Jeff Bridges as Ross Jennings, Julian Sands, as Dr James Atherton, and John Goodman as comedic character, Delbert McClintock, pest controller of company, Bugs-B-Gone, Arachnophobia isn’t a B-movie but has certain qualities to it that makes it feel like one. In fact, it’s actually a Disney flick and was the feature film debut of film director, Frank Marshall, who is more known for his producing roles than directing.
Rather than having a 50ft spider invade a country town, Arachnophobia prefers to deliver arachnids in quantity which is a nightmare for anyone with a spider phobia but, you know what, the film isn’t terrifying to sit through. It’s actually enjoyable and, at times, quite funny with the filmmakers blending comedy in with the creepy-crawlie horror element with main character Jennings himself suffering from the titular phobia. That’s not to say it doesn’t have fear-inducing moments though. I have long held memories of the spider crawling out of the popcorn bowl and the opening scene of the spiders falling out of the tree in Venezuela after the scientists gas it. It’s been nightmare fuel for years but I can manage to sit through the film, despite me jumping out of my seat multiple times throughout. I bet it’s been at least 20 years since I last watched it previously but it still holds up to this day.
What I love about the movie, that I can appreciate now as an adult, is how clever the film was shot. The filmmakers make great use of reflections, silhouettes and POV shots to make the spiders feel more threatening than they are. A hairy leg peeping through a hole in a coffin; the shadow of a spider on the lampshade; a quick glimpse of a spiders legs as the catflap closes behind it. All of these build the tension, leading up the spider’s strike. The music accompanying the spider’s movements only serves to exaggerate its threat and, believe me, for that 90 minutes my heart was racing at the thought of those arachnids not only being present in the house but deadly venomous with it! The closeups of the spiders’ eyes, coupled with their movement, strikes me that these spiders are organised and cunning, planning their execution of the human species. Even just thinking of it now gives me the chills.
It may hold a PG rating but do not be fooled. Arachnophobia can still make your skin crawl.
Dr Lenera reviews THE WALK (2015)
Phillipe Petit is trying to make a living in Paris with juggling acts and wire walking. During one performance, he eats a hard candy which injures his tooth. While in the waiting room of the dentist, he sees a picture in a magazine of the Twin Towers in New York City, and decides to make it his mission to walk a 140-foot tightrope between the two buildings, setting out to recruit a few accomplices to aid him in his decidedly illegal aim….
My choice probably sticks out out like a sore thumb because it isn’t horror or horror-related. But to someone who even finds the thought of going up a stepladder absolutely terrifying because he doesn’t like heights, it may as well be horror. I did go to see The Walk [2D of course] at the cinema, but spent the entire final third with my eyes shut so I felt I had to see it again. Based on a true story which was previously covered in the documentary Man On Wire, it adopts a fairly lighthearted attitude to its subject, which means that the potentially intrusive device of Petit telling his tale from the top of the Statue of Liberty works fine until it dissipates the suspense a little in a portion of the second half. Many early scenes are standard bio stuff, one chuckles at Petit learning English causing that to be the language that’s most spoken in Paris in this movie, while it’s hard to tell what accent Ben Kingsley is trying to talk in. But things kick into high gear in terrific heist [or reverse heist] movie fashion when Petit recruits some unlikely aides and they plot and plan how to sneak a load of stuff into a building without anyone trying to stop them. The laughs work, such as when an airport security man queries the strange equipment Petit has with him and he replies with the truth knowing he won’t be believed, characterisation is simple but effective, and composer Alan Silverstri writes his jazziest music in ages.
Perhaps writers Zemeckis and Christopher Browne then go overboard in piling up the obstacles, but damned if I wasn’t on the edge of my seat when, for example, a security guard shows up. The walk itself, where Petit traverses the wire walk several times and even looks down and lies down, is either awe-inspiring or cinematic terror at its strongest. Actually, it’s probably both. I managed to keep watching, just about. After all, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is very charismatic in this part, evoking Petit’s magnetism and skill [he did actually walk on a wire for real] but also his arrogance and perhaps madness, though the film only slightly touches on the darker side of things, preferring to remind us how necessary impossible dreams of impossible art are, and therefore being rather inspiring.
David S. Smith reviews THE BIRDS (1963)
So, as you probably gathered from this pick, I have a phobia of birds. Particularly big ones. I think it goes back to an old experience of watching one boy mash up a sandwich then chuck it another – who had the absolute heck pecked out of him by a bunch of seagulls. They were all over his head, his jacket and even clawing at his face. He’s lucky they didn’t get his eye out! Since then, I find myself uneasy around anything with wings – just imagining how horrible they’d feel to touch or have in my face. And, among other things, I told myself I’d never watch Hitchcock’s film about them. Then our webmistress, Bat, suggested we do an article about phobia-relevant films. And, well, it was this or seeing Cujo again.
Loosely based on a short story, by the brilliant Daphne du Maurier, The Birds is a classic thriller of humanity vs nature. Among the humans are Melanie – a wealthy socialite, who loves practical jokes. When pretending to work in a pet shop, she is smitten with Mitch – a similarly wealthy lawyer who plays along. Theirs is an immediately enjoyable rapport, and it’s endearing to see them play off each other. So after he tries, and fails, to find a pair of Love Birds for his little sisters’ birthday, she follows him his family home in the picturesque seaside village Bodega Bay. It’s worth mentioning Mitch’s sister Cathy is 22 years his junior – which is weird! Albeit not as weird as what happens next. Amidst little Cathy’s special day, a flock of feathery fiends come stab as many guests as they can with knife-like beaks.
To someone who doesn’t like birds, the aerial attacks are genuinely distressing to watch. Sure, the effects have definitely dated – and at times the use of yellow-screen look almost comical. But as with Psycho, Hitchcock is adept with a fast cut, and the success of these scenes comes down to how frantic they are. As birds swoop at the kids, when they run down the hill or, worse, fly in through the fireplace, their sheer numbers make for an oppressive viewing experience. The sound is similarly overwhelming from the start, with layer and layers of calls and wing flaps. And when they’re not doing anything, but sitting staring at the heroes as they try to escape, they’re every bit as scary – there’s the anticipation that any second now hell could break loose in a flurry of feathers. The escalation, from a single bird getting Melanie on the boat to the elaborate third act, in which things blow up, is expertly-judged. Demonstrating, as if it were needed, Hitchcock’s mastery of storytelling.
Does it mean anything? I have no idea. Potentially you could look at it as being all about sexual repression, with the arrival of a liberated woman disrupting Mitch’s socially conservative community – the local drunk certainly blames Melanie. Perhaps it’s about what happens when we take the animal kingdom for granted. I don’t know and don’t really care. The important part is it’s a fantastic thriller with a romance between two likeable leads at its core. It’s one I’d strongly recommend you watch, even if like me you hate birds. However, its effectiveness also makes it a movie I endeavour to never watch again.
C. Keegan reviews TICKS (1993)
I do not like ticks. Bugs are fine, I don’t love them, but can deal with them when needed. I can get rid of a spider, shoo away a wasp – that’s all grand. But ticks are a special breed. Looking back, this personal fear probably spawned from a primary school wildlife trip, where we were berated over the risks of catching a tick on our bodies. The people running the trip maybe slightly over hyping it, but I was left fully with the impression that a tick left unspotted would be the end of you. I feel uncomfortable now, just at the mere idea of this little creature latching on, literally sucking away at your blood. I think it all boils down to the fact that on a small scale; they’re like face huggers. Face huggers that can also give you Lyme disease.
When looking for a film based on one of my own phobias, Ticks is an obvious slam dunk. And on discovery of this movie, it made me wonder if there truly is possible to find a horror film about anything. Directed by Tony Randel of Hellraiser 2 fame, Ticks follows Tyler Burns, played by 90’s icon Seth Green who has somehow developed a fear of the woods – and yes you read that right. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his father who has become sick of his son’s anxiety sends him to a woodland camp for dysfunctional teens to face his phobia.
While Tyler worries about the forest, he misses the tress – as local drug dealers have been using illegal steroids to grow their own enhanced cash crops of weed. The leakage from the harvest have gotten to the local tick population, creating tarantula-sized super ticks!
After meeting the other kids and setting out to their cabin in the woods. Everyone splits off, with each of them having their own run in with the enhanced ticks. And anyone who manages to survive are going to have to work together to defeat them. While my expectations were low, the movie provides pretty decent effects and some surprising body horror. Seeing the ticks scuttle round, latch on, or burrow into one of the kids never failed to make my skin crawl.
Ticks wears a lot of its influence on its sleeve, basically Friday the 13th with splashes of Alien, and The Thing for good measure. It’s a pretty fun b-movie romp. I can’t say its one of the best horror films I’ve seen recently. But easily the one that’s grossed me out the most. And still managed to leave me mentally checking myself – if somehow, somewhere there’d been the possibility for one to get me. Sitting on me right now, unnoticed. Of course, this is despite having been locked up, rarely venturing outside of my house for the last 6 months.
Somehow, we’ve managed to overcome and survive our fears. Now it’s your turn. This Halloween, we challenge you to face your phobia in film format. Let us know in the comments below what film tackles your irrational fear.