Saturday, April 28, 2012

The All Wet Blogathon: Gettin' freaky in the rain!









Welcome to Son of Celluloid’s contribution to the All Wet Blogathon. The idea here is to post screenshots and talk about your favorite movie moment involving rain. You’d think that would be easy considering I write about horror movies, right? After all, dark, stormy nights are one of the trademarks of the genre. That’s precisely what makes this a challenge. I mean, just how many great horror movie scenes take place in the rain? Dr. Loomis and Nurse Chambers approaching Smith’s Grove to find the inmates milling around in the rain in Halloween is one of my favorites. Janet Leigh driving along through the pouring rain, wrestling with her conscience, and eventually pulling into the Bates Motel in Psycho is a classic. Great scenes take place in the rain in damn near every Friday the 13th flick. The storm during the opening moments of Suspiria sets the mood perfectly. It might not exactly be horror, but the rain scene in the Rocky Horror Picture Show is always fun (“Buy an umbrella you cheap bitch!”). Second place would have to go to the reanimating rain that pours down as the zombies rise and 45 Grave asks “Do you wanna party?” in Return of the Living Dead. In my humble opinion though, one scene stands head and shoulders above the rest as far as great cinematic rain scenes go…the climax of Tod Browning’s Freaks.

Freaks tells the story of Hans, a wealthy midget that works as a “freak” in a circus sideshow. Cleopatra, the circus’s beautiful trapeze artist, hatches a plan to seduce Hans, marry him, poison him, take his money, and live happily ever after in the arms of Hercules, the strongman. The freaks, not knowing her plan, accept her as “one of us” until Cleopatra mocks and insults them at the wedding reception. When Hans becomes ill, the freaks become suspicious. When her plot is uncovered, the close-knit family of outcasts knows that revenge is a must, and Cleopatra will truly become one of them.

This is one of my all time favorite movies. Released in 1932, the flick was way ahead of its time. It also basically destroyed Tod Browning’s career. The freaks in the movie were actual sideshow freaks, and audiences of the day definitely weren’t ready for that. The relatively safe horrors of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Frankenstein were all the rage, but the real life bizarreness and deformities of these “actors” were just too much for the movie going public to handle. Ten years later, WW2 would make America face real life monsters and grotesqueness, and, in the limited way allowed by the Hayes code, they began to be a little more accepted on the silver screen. Had Freaks been released in this era, it may have been seen for the masterpiece it is. In its time, however, it was quite controversial, facing censorship and even being banned in some countries.

While the audience freaking out (pun intended) and the censors basically cutting the legs out from under the film (ok, that one was bad, I’ll admit it) had a lot to do with the 30’s being a much less “enlightened” time than today regarding physical deformities, birth defects, handicaps, etc, it also can’t be denied that Browning may have just done his job a little too well. That final scene is, in my mind, the most genuinely terrifying thing that had been committed to celluloid up to that moment. Sure, there had been brilliant horror moments like Nosferatu’s shadowy hand clutching the beautiful maiden’s heart, the unmasking of The Phantom of the Opera, the awakening of Frankenstein’s monster, or Caesar carrying his prey through an expressionist cityscape in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but none could rival the sheer “OH SHIT!” factor of this scene.

Let me set the stage for you...

The caravan of circus wagons is struggling its way through a terrible thunderstorm. In Hans’s cart, he and some of the others confront Cleopatra. Meanwhile, in another cart, Hercules tries to attack his ex, Venus, who is an ally of the freaks. Her current boyfriend, Phroso the clown, fights him off. The storm causes the carts to capsize, and everyone spills out into the driving rain and thick mud. The knife wielding freaks close in on Cleopatra and Hercules with malicious retribution on their minds. Dripping with rain and mud, they are shadowy nightmares, only made more terrifying when the lightning gives us a good look the murder in their eyes. Got the idea? Good. Now for the visuals. Imagine being in the audience in 1931, when Universal’s Dracula is your idea of scary, and seeing this…

That’s freakin’ scary now, much less then. Those drenched freaks mean business! It’s one of those images that, if you saw it, you would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the end was near, and that it wasn’t gonna be quick or pretty. I mean, look at these guys…

How much atmosphere does that rain add, huh? An entire pissed off sideshow coming after you with blades is a horrifying sight, but how much creepier do they look dripping wet and muddy. They just seem more crazed that way, don’t they? Then there’s one of the greatest images in horror film history; this guy…

No arms, no legs, knife in his teeth, crawling through the mud, and coming straight after you. That’s brilliant! He’s scary as hell! If he’s going through all of that trouble to get to you, he’s not leaving until he gets his pound of flesh. Plus, throughout the flick we’ve been shown some of the amazing things he can accomplish. He even rolled and lit a cigarette entirely with his mouth. Then we are left to ponder just what atrocities he could commit with a knife in his teeth. That thought alone is absolutely disturbing…or intriguing depending on your outlook. It was just too damn much for 1931 audiences, and I can almost see why.

Yeah Herc, that was probably pretty close to their reactions too. Tod Browning crafted this incredible sequence, and it still stands up as a triumph not just of horror cinema, but of the art of filmmaking itself. That, ladies and gentlemen, is my favorite movie moment involving rain. I’d like to thank Andrew at Encore’s World of Film for the chance to participate in this blogathon. Go check out his blog (just click on the banner at the beginning of the article), enjoy all of the other entries when they're all posted Sunday, and stay tuned to Son of Celluloid for more…huh? What’s that? How did it all end? The freaks caught up with Herc and vengeance was theirs. What about Cleopatra? She didn’t get off quite as easily as Herc did. No, death would have been too merciful. What did they do to her? Well, you’ll just have to watch Freaks and find out for yourself, now won’t you? Gooble gobble!

Oh, a little footnote here; while I was writing this piece this song was in my head. I think it's fitting for this particular blogathon.

2 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm so glad you took a horror spin on this, since I'm not a horror fan but the fun thing about the concept is seeing what comes the writer's mind and how rain use differs from film to film (and inadvertently genre to genre.)

The black and the rain makes for lovely shots there which in a way adds more to making it chilling.

ZombieBodhi said...

I've been racking my brain on trying to come up with great horror movie rain scenes and completely overlooked Freaks, great pick and definitely a great scene. Although, I will say that even had I included Freaks in my list, I would still put the ROTLD rain as my number 1.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...