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January 31, 2010

A Few Unsung Moments of Dialogue Awesomeness in Horror Films

One of my favorite things about horror, and movies in general, are the lines of dialogue that change the game for their film. Part of this comes from the fact I'm a word nerd, and another part comes from my interest in the psychology of characters in these flicks. Of course, not all horror lines can be as memorable or impactful as the likes of "We all go a little mad sometimes", "We belong dead" and "I see dead people", but I often find there are many horror lines that deserve attention for taking their films to the next level. And now, I'm gonna talk about three examples I love from three horrors I love - Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, and The Frighteners.

Some gigantic spoilers for the first two movies follow! (But you've probably already seen these movies anyway.)

Example# 1
The Film: Night of the Living Dead
The Players: George Kosana (Chief McClelland), Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille (Field reporter)
The Setup: We're about an hour and fifteen minutes into the film. An escape attempt has just gone horribly wrong, and two are dead. The remaining characters sit in different stages of shock, waiting for a TV broadcast that might have answers to help them. When the broadcast comes, they find a reporter interviewing the Police Chief in charge of a "search and destroy" effort. And when asked about the creatures' prowess (specifically "Are they slow moving?"), Chief McClelland answers with.....

The Line: "Yeah, they're dead...they're all messed up."
Why I Love It: For starters, this is 1968. The zombie craze we live in today was unimaginable. There were no ground rules for a film like this, despite a few predecessors in style (The Last Man on Earth comes to mind). Not only do our characters know nothing about these creatures, the audience themselves know nothing about these creatures. And while the film has made strong efforts to get across the details of the ghouls on the loose, I find that this exchange sends the most efficient message about the dilemma. There's something about the potentially uneducated man of power stopping mid sentence to consider the situation before muttering about how messed up the situation is in his Gary Sinise voice that brings closure to the idea of these creatures on the loose...without actually bringing any closure to the situation for the characters.

Example #2
The Film: The Exorcist
The Players: Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras), Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNiel)
The Setup: The Exorcism is underway, and Father Karras has had a bit of a breakdown. Father Merrin has asked him to leave the room, and he now sits alone on a bench at the bottom of the stairs. His elbows are on his knees, his hands are wrapped in prayer, and his head is sunken in fear and disappointment. Enter Chris, the concerned mother. She asks "Is it over?" and he shakes his head slowly from side to side. She pauses, and asks her next question. "Is she going to die. The priest responds.....

The Line: "No."Yeah, I know. It's two letters. It's barely a line. You can't walk around and claim you're quoting The Exorcist every time you say no. But stay with me here.

The fact of the matter is, this is the moment that turns the film around. If Father Karras were Super Mario from the video game, this moment would be the equal of getting a one up, star power, a mushroom, and maybe even that leaf that brings raccoon ears and tail all at the same time. Miller delivers the look above, the small word, and his ensuing slow rise from the bench and walk upstairs with such confidence and resolve that, in one word, he's restored our faith in surviving the ordeal on screen as viewers, not to mention made us feel strongly about the future endeavors of little miss Regan MacNeil. It's like Rambo tying his bandanna, but with a white collar in its place.

Example #3
The Film: The Frighteners
The Players: Jeffrey Combs (Milton Dammers), Michael J. Fox (Frank Bannister)
The Setup: Frank Bannister's attempts to get clear of the soul collecting demon that's been after his town are falling apart. He's now stuck alone with Special Agent Milton Dammers, a strongly psychotic fellow who's quite convinced that Frank himself killing people with his mind. He's got all the motives figured out, except one....

The Line: "But what about the guy in the toilet? What did *he* do? Piss on your hushpuppies?"
Why I Love It: OK, this line doesn't really matter to the film, except to further our understanding that Dammers is cuckoobananas. And, believe me, we get that. Anyway, what the hell does it mean? I mean, you've probably noticed the hushpuppies at the top of the post already, why on Earth would anyone piss on them? I'm confused by this line, but I love to say it. Anyway, I'm hungry now so I'm going to Long John Silvers to get my own piss-free hishpuppies.

In the meantime, feel free to come up with your own Unsung Moments of Dialogue Awesomeness in the comments below, and I'll be back with more one of these days.


The Mike said...

Please note the sarcasm in the last example. I just really love hushpuppies. :)

DM said...

The Frighteners is totally underrated, and doesn't get enough play as far as I'm concerned. As for the hushpuppies, Hush Puppy is brand of shoe (very comfortable if not too stylish). So Jeffery Coombs thinks the dude in the can peed on Michael J. Fox's shoes.

The Mike said...

Yeah, I realized that years after I first saw it. I just felt like running with my youthful thought because it still makes me laugh. :)