Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Scary Horror Movie Scene in Which Nothing Explicitly Scary Happens

If pressed to name the scariest movie scene I’ve ever seen, I’d probably go with one in Lost Highway that introduces Robert Blake’s menacingly grinning character. Lost Highway isn’t technically a horror film, but David Lynch delves into the mystical, otherworldly, soul-shattering stuff often enough that it doesn’t need to be. It’s scary just as a neo-noir art film.

Dario Argento’s 1980 film Inferno features a completely G-rated scene that has always unnerved me and that I would like to offer for your consideration.

Give it a spin. It’s fairly brief.

Some context: Inferno is Argento’s sequel to Suspiria, which pits an American ballerina against a coven of German witches hiding in a dance academy. Much of Inferno concerns American music student Mark Elliot leaving Rome for New York to help his sister, who believes her apartment building may home to a second cluster of witches. The above scene takes place early in the film, before he arrives in New York.

Inferno is not as visually spectacular as Suspiria — and if you don’t know how beautiful the latter movie is, please have a look at this post, which offers a few dozen stills of the movie in all its color-saturated glory — but it has some good scary moments. The classroom scene, however, is the one that has stuck with me most, and for just one reason: It is the movie scene that best re-creates what it’s like to have a dream, at least for the kinds of dreams I have.

I have nightmares every now and then, but more often than not, I have these less outwardly scary dreams in which I’m trapped in a familiar setting where events are unfolding in an unrealistic manner that causes me gradual, increasing concern. The Inferno scene has Mark in an innocuous enough environment, a college lecture hall, but as he listens to the music, it becomes increasingly apparent that something is wrong.

Around the one-minute mark, he starts acting like he may be ill. A few seconds later, it gets explicitly weird: He sees that beautiful woman stroking her cat. His reaction? “Oh, Now’s a good time to read that letter my sister sent me about witches or some junk.” Within a few moments, the beautiful woman has noticed Mark, and she’s mouthing something to him. Importantly, he doesn’t offer any big reaction to this. It’s more of an “Okay, that’s weird. Let’s just roll with this.”

This is how I dream. Most dreams I have involve me being somewhere, tasked by my subconscious to follow a script that initially seems like it’s on the up-and-up. I don’t realize I’m dreaming. Then, something weird happens. Something appears in a place where it shouldn’t be. Someone acts in a way that even my subconscious knows it’s right. But I’m always too scared to react — to break character, I guess — and I continue with the scene, trying to follow its logic no matter how weird it may seem.

Then there’s the silent mouthing of words. This happens a lot in my dreams, and usually by someone I don’t know in real life. That’s a strange thing to wrap your head around, isn’t it? That the mental headshot gallery of everyone you’ve ever met doesn’t have anyone quite right for the part, so your brain just invents a whole fictional character — without your permission — to play a role in your dream. And then these strangers, whom I kinda-sorta invented and maybe-possibly have to take some responsibility, attempt to tell me something, but I can’t hear them. There’s background noise or they simply are moving their mouth but not producing words, and while it seems like the most important thing in the world to figure out what they’re trying to say, I can’t hear them.

And then I wake up.

Fittingly, for this discussion, the mysterious, beautiful woman in the lecture hall does not appear in the film again.

I don’t know if these moments happen to everyone else quite so often. Actually, I also don’t know if most people are likely to decide that the show must go on and follow along with dumb dream nonsense, either. Do you?

Inferno, for what it’s worth, has many more surreal scenes and many more explicitly scary ones. Just because tomorrow is Halloween, I’ll leave you with a more traditional horror movie scene. In this one, Mark’s sister Rose finds a hole in the floor of her apartment building’s basement. It’s full of water and, inside, there’s a whole room that’s eloquently decorated but also submerged in water. Again, following screwy dream logic, she’s just all “Okay, this is weird,” and jumps right in to explore.” You know, like anyone would.

Maybe dreams and horror movies both require the removal of logical reactions to strange situations?

Ana Pieroni, who played the mysterious woman, later appeared in Argento’s Tenebre, as a sexy shoplifter, because that’s a character type in Argento movies. I had to gif her magnificence in Inferno.

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