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What’s the first kiss? I think of it as a moment when whatever it is you’re watching or reading or listening to gives you a feeling so intense that it feels like it all was written or made just for you, for that moment in your life. It’s not about the first time you got scared by something you watched, it’s about what hooked you into horror
My Dad was my first Horror Teacher, and so I inherited his films. He loved the Atomic Age Horror movies of the 1950’s. I saw a lot of THEM! Giant ANTS! And TARANTULA! And Howard Hawk’s “THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD”. I still love all of those films, but they aren’t mine.
If you’re a Baby Boomer, your Film School was either television by way of the Shock Theater package or comic books by way of EC Comics (a great book on EC Comics is here), and these were two major influences that gave a lot of people their “First Kiss”.
Very briefly: television was new and innocuous in the late 50’s. Then Universal Studios syndicated a package of 52 of their classic horror films to sell to local TV stations across the USA. So, in 1957, hundreds of TV stations all came up with the same idea and created a weekly horror show devoted to the Classic Universal Monsters. Scary Monsters snuck onto TV, and Kids were sneaking downstairs at night to watch these shows. Rules were broken.
In the same way, comic books were considered kiddie fare and weren’t taken seriously. Then William Gaines created notoriously violent horror comics with names like “Tales from the Crypt” and “Vault of Horror”. When parents finally saw what Johnny was reading, a National Hysteria took over around what was known as the “Seduction of the Innocent”.
The Film School of the early 1970’s, my film school and my great corruptor and where I got my “First Kiss”, was cable television. More specifically, the original. Home Box Office. Home Box Office started in Manhattan and to increase subscriptions, they had families in Northeastern Pennsylvania (where I grew up) basically beta-test this service where movies will be shown uncut and uninterrupted by commercials. Since TV was free at the time, the idea was met with skepticism.
1974 on Home Box Office. No rules. They put anything on there. The service was only on 9 hours a day, but in that 9 hours I got to see movies like The Poseidon Adventure, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, White Lightning, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, The Seven-Ups, The Getaway, The Stone Killer.
And this is when I got my FIRST KISS. I wasn’t looking for it. I was definitely unprepared. My First Kiss was a coming attraction for Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 movie, “Don’t Look Now.”
Nicolas Roeg isn’t a name that springs to mind for horror fans. It’s humorous to me that his movie, out of all the legendary horror movies I can name now, this was the one to send me on a lifelong obsession. In fact, I’m sure critics wouldn’t call “Don’t Look Now” a horror film, even though it certainly has all the elements necessary. (“Don’t Look Now” is based on a short story by Daphne DuMaurier).
Nicholas Roeg was at his most popular in the 70’s, and he’s considered kind of a cult figure with art-film aspirations. He started as a cameraman and his movies are celebrated for the foreboding sense of atmosphere he created with how he shot scenes. He was also known for using powerful images and a non-linear plot to tell a story. His movies were like anxiety-filled puzzles that usually came into focus in the final shots.
The opening sequence in the film filled me with anxiety, tension, and nervousness. What I was seeing in the sequence was horrifying to me, as if something evil or horrible was being born. I think it was the visual style that really went deep to the center of me. As a child, I was more in tune with visual images than narrative storytelling, and I had an overactive imagination. The shot with Donald Sutherland rising out of the water, the water splashing, his hair matted to his head, his mouth gaping with a horrible moan as he holds his dead daughter in his arms was the Kiss. It has all the qualities of my real nightmares. The sheer grief in slow motion terrifies me.
Click here to see Donald Sutherland talking about his reaction to filming that sequence.
Click here to see an interview with Nicolas Roeg discussing “Don’t Look Now.”
Tell me about your first kiss!
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