Film Independent Fri 10.31.2014

Halloween Horrorfest, Part 3: Dallas Hallam on the Movies that Scared the Pants Off Him

BOO! Our Halloween blog spooktacular (click for parts one and two) continues with filmmaker Dallas Hallam, whose next project, Ribbons, will be what he describes as “a super-crazy, hard-R, (eye)balls-to-the-wall slice of Hitchcockian horror.” Yikes—sign us up! Here’s what Hallam had to say about his favorite horror flicks:

What was the first horror film that scared the pants off you?
I can’t name just one because I have such vivid memories of the first four times horror films shook me to my core. The first was Troll. And yes, I know it’s basically a kid’s movie. All I can say is that I saw it when I was very, very young and it scared the holy hell out of me. That little Troll with the syringe in his ring and stealing the kid’s ball to lure him into the shadows… Makes me shiver just thinking about it! A couple years ago, I got up the nerve to take a look at the box and was embarrassed to find that not only was the movie rated PG-13, but the quote on the back of the box called it “a fun family romp.”

The next was Creepshow. Again, I know it’s funny, but I was a kid and even though I loved its zany tone, I was also chilled by its actual frights. I was staying at a relative’s house and I could hear my great-grandmother snoring in the other room. To me, her snores sounded like the zombie from Father’s Day dragging a chair across the floor, and I just knew that he was getting closer and closer and closer and I waited all night for the monster to finally get to me…

The next time a horror movie scared the bejesus out of me was Pet Semetary. Another sleepless night, unable to move, just knowing that Gage was hiding under the bed, ready to slice open my Achilles tendon. I guess Gage is so terrifying specifically because he’s such a lovely little cherub committing such atrocious acts of savage violence.

And finally we come to Faces of Death. In today’s Internet world, this modest little pseudo-doc probably seems like child’s play. But for me, watching a VHS copy of it with my cousin in Louisiana, it felt like a rite of passage. We were probably nine or ten at the time. And afterward I felt scared, but not in a way I’d ever felt before. I went out to the pool in the backyard and jumped into the dark water. For the first time I understood that I too would die. I floated there looking up into the void and wondered if we were alone…

Scariest cinema moment of all time?
The final shot in Sleepaway Camp. I suppose by now everyone knows what it is, but if you don’t then do yourself a favor: avoid spoilers and rent that movie immediately (there’s a new Blu-ray that just came out, which is radical!). It’s a masterpiece of childhood alienation and malaise; it’s the L’Avventura of slasher films; it’s a view of a cold, cruel world and the ways in which people lash out at each other, just trying to feel something, trying to make sense of their confusion. It’s incredible.

Who’s more terrifying: Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers—and why?
Freddy Krueger. I feel this may be the unpopular choice because in our minds Freddy is such a joke and the other two are grim, silent, unyielding killing machines. But that’s exactly why Jason and Michael aren’t really scary: they have the feeling of inevitability in their stature and in their actions. For me, the reason that Freddy is the most terrifying is because he is so full of glee. Freddie is the Bacchus of slasher films. Freddie is not inevitable; he invites us to let go of our inhibitions and embrace Crowley’s maxim: “Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law.” Jason and Michael are no different than earthquakes and hurricanes; they are interesting as personified forces of nature. Freddy is not a force of nature, but rather an extreme vision of humanity. Freddy invites you to look within, because if you look hard enough, you’ll see him in the depths of your possibility, smiling back from the shadows.

Favorite zombie flick?
George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. No contest. Runners-up would be the original Night of the Living Dead, followed by Bob Clark’s Dead of Night, a.k.a. Deathdream, and then Peter Jackson’s Braindead, a.k.a. Dead Alive.

Favorite moment in a Stephen King film?
The “show me” moment in Christine, when Arnie admits to himself (and to us) that he believes in Christine, and we realize that she no longer belongs to him, but that he now belongs to her. I’m fascinated with the moment of crossing the line, when a (seemingly normal) character gives in to their own latent darkness. That’s always more satisfying than a main character who’s bad from go. You want to have someone you can identify with, and then, when they make the turn, it’s all the more interesting because we can see ourselves in them too.

What’s the secret to directing actors in a horror film?
Connect them to emotional truths other than fear of death. Fear of death is the context of pretty much all horror, and fear of death comes free with the meal; therefore, you want to connect your actors to a powerful subtext. You want to guide them to an emotional anchor point that is more grounded in the everyday reality of their character.

Mary Sollosi / Film Independent Blogger and Pamela Miller / Website & Grants Manager