Reviewing the Scary Movies that Traumatised My Childhood (Part 3)
We all have one…that one image that stayed with you from childhood. The one that the shadows in your room formed themselves into at night. Maybe you grew up and forgot it, maybe you never quite let it go. That’s what this series is all about. We return to the movies that lurked in our subconscious and see how they measure up.
The Movie: Jaws (1975)
The Trauma: There’s so many scenes from this movie that haunted me. The opening sequence, not knowing what’s happening under the surface, was scary as hell. I always remember the scene with the kid on the inflatable raft followed by his mother looking for him as particularly effective. Living in Australia gave that an extra edge of realism and we’d spend most days at the beach with that kind of device. Seeing the size of the shark under the kayak spooked me in a big way.
The Review: There’s something of a backlash against this film. Not from cinema fans but the younger generation who are used to a more visceral, over-the-top approach to horror. Jaws spends the bulk of the film building suspense, dragging out scenes so when the attacks occur the audience is perched on the edge of their seats, nerves at breaking point. The film doesn’t rely on jump scares to get a response from the audience, and when one does happen it stands out as one of the most memorable scares in cinema. You know what I’m talking about.
Spielberg’s blockbuster monster movie has a simple premise. A police officer moves his family and his job to a holiday resort island only to find the beaches terrorised by a giant, man eating great white shark. With the local mayor not wanting to disrupt the holiday business it’s up to the cop, a shark expert and an experienced, half-deranged fisherman to hunt the beast. There’s not a lot of story but it is brimming with personality. The characters don’t fit into any traditional hero mould, lending them a sense of realism that ups the stakes.
Jaws is considered a classic for a reason. It’s not just because it reshaped the studio approach to marketing blockbusters and structuring their releases around a ‘tentpole’ film. It’s a tightly crafted exercise in suspense that stands the test in time. The famously malfunctioning robot shark does occasionally dent the suspension of disbelief but the overall impression is still terrifying.
Score: NINE out of TEN
The Secret of NIMH (1982)
The Trauma: We got shown this movie in school when I was about 6 years old, and it was a fine choice. I was immediately a life long fan of this feature and retroactively the book it was based on. But when the timid Mrs. Brisby has to visit the Great Owl…every child in that class was as tense as a stretched rubber band, ready to snap and start screaming. First Mrs. Brisby stumbles over a pile of bones, sending them skittering into a pit of remains. The remains of other mice. She pushes on, unaware that the SCARIEST DAMN SPIDER ever seen on film is creeping up behind her. Just when she looks cornered she gets saved…by something even worse!
The Review: Unlike much of the Disney and Dreamworks catalogues, The Secret of NIMH and other films created by Don Bluth aren’t as well remembered by the wider population. Those who did see them in their youth usually think fondly of them, so it’s strange that they haven’t made the same cultural impact of other films from the same era. It’s in the same zone as The Iron Giant – considered brilliant and loved by those who’ve seen it, but not in the mainstream.
The story of a desperate mother drives this story and creates the emotional link for the viewer, but it’s the world created around it that fascinates the audience. The rats of NIMH are revealed to be the product of laboratory testing, lending them an enhanced intelligence. Their burrows are equipped with libraries and human technology as they strive to become self-sufficient. Risking what they’ve built to help a family in need creates a realistic moral dilemma for the rats, creating natural conflict. The animation is Bluth at the top of his game – fluid, larger than life and packed with detail. It does pull out some of his odder tropes, like glowing yellow eyes, but it’s a treat to look at in a CGI saturated market.
If you missed this one upon release, or you are one of those strange young people, you should check this one out. It holds up extremely well. It’s got much more substance than the average kids flick. It even has an early performance from geek legend Will Wheaton. Seek it out, but avoid the weird and overall atrocious sequel.
Score: NINE out of TEN