Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Movies Inspire

It goes without saying that books have profoundly influenced my writing career. From Nancy Drew to Nancy Pickard, mystery novels have given me tips about plot, characters, and settings. I've studied openers with hooks and endings with twists, traveled to Agatha Christie's Egypt, Sue Grafton's California, and Stephen King's Maine -- all thanks to the written word.

Books are compelling, but movies? Now that's powerful stuff. Give me a good suspenseful flick and I'm educated, inspired, and... scared silly.

I can vividly remember one of the earliest suspense movies I saw as a child. It was The Spiral Staircase, a 1945 drama in which a young mute woman must evade a serial killer. I was ten or eleven, it was a school night, and my mother left the house for some sort of meeting. My father promptly suggested that we watch a movie, and minutes later (or so it seemed) the black-and-white thriller flickered on our set.

I found the film terrifying, even though I'd been a Dark Shadows groupie since kindergarten. The murderer targeted handicapped, or as they said in the film, "afflicted," young women. He was a predator in the most evil sense of the word. Rather than showing his face, the camera revealed his eyes, menacing and dark, stalking his hapless victim. To top it all off, his profession was one that encouraged trust.

When it was over and the villan was dead, I remember wondering whether The Spiral Staircase would give me nightmares. I can't recall that it ever did. The film did impart a sense of true terror, mingled with something like awe. I'd been scared, yes, but in the relief following the movie's white-knuckle conclusion, I was more alive than ever. Energized.

Which movies have scared you silly? Have they also influenced your writing? Which is the one that made the biggest impression?

11 comments:

Sebastian Stuart said...

Great post. The Spiral Staircase sounds chilling. My fav film is The Night of the Hunter. It's the only movie the amazing actor Charles Laughton (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) ever directed and it is simply spellbinding, terrifying and beautiful. It's about two young children stalked by a murderer, played with true menace by Robert Mitchum. It also features Shelly Winters and the iconic silent film star Lillian Gish. It will definitely inspire you -- to lock your doors at night!

Beth Groundwater said...

You know what scared me silly as a youngster? A record album recording of Alice in Wonderland, with sound effects, different voices, etc. I had nightmares about being too big or too small for my surroundings and being trapped for MONTHS!

Darrell James said...

Vicki- I'm not sure films ever really did scare me exactly. If they did, it was in a fun way. We went to see all the horror films and stayed up late watching Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney. I do remember closing my eyes at the big reveal in Psycho, when the chair turns and we see Norman's dead mother for the first time. I think it was the sound effects that generated the bulk of the terror.

Jennifer Harlow said...

Horror movies and books are my favorite. They so inspire me in my writing to this day, though I've become so desensitized they fail to scare me anymore.
Sebastian-Night of the Hunter is one of my fav all time movies too. Gorgeous cinematography and wonderful acting.

Vicki Doudera said...

Seb, I'm going to check out Night of the Hunter. BTW I did read a Georges Simeon... The Murderer. Pretty Creepy with a capital C!

Beth, that could be a terrifying scenario for a kid... I never liked Alice in Wonderland myself.

Darrell, I watched all those Frankenstein, Mummy, etc, movies too. I remember one about a black panther being very frightening... was it called The Black Cat?

Jennifer-- have you seen Hide and SEek with Robert DeNiro??? We watched it the other night... pretty scary.

Keith Raffel said...

Vicki, it's a little embarrassing but when I'm asked the biggest influence on my writing, I'd like to say Herman Melville or Jane Austen or even Dashiell Hammett. Nope, afraid it is Alfred Hitchcock. Nice post.

Robin Allen said...

I've only ever seen the beginning of the scariest movie I can think of--IT. An evil clown in a storm drain? I had to turn it off.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I'm a real movie weenie. I'm still traumatized by the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

Vicki Doudera said...

Yes, Keith... Hitch was the best, without doubt. I can watch his movies again and again.

Robin, I have never seen IT. But clowns are creepy no matter what,right?

Vicki Doudera said...

Kathleen -- me, too! And that witch! Remind me to do my "I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!" imitation the next time I see you...

Shannon said...

Hill House (based on the book The Haunting of Hill House --or the other way around) terrified me as a child. The remake was laughable. And when I read the book as an adult, it still scared me.