I stumbled across this quote recently from Eli Roth about Last House on the Left and songs in horror movies:
“Even as a kid one of the things that stayed with me was the music, done by lead actor David Alexander Hess. I couldn’t understand how the same guy who was raping and carving up the girls on screen was singing these peaceful, almost hippy-like folk ballads that underscored the horror. I remember reading the credits, thinking I’d misread it, that David Hess wrote and performed all the music. Sitting in that theater, where I had gone by myself, and knew no one, I felt this overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I just missed those songs, and I missed when songs like that were commonplace in horror. (Romero’s “The Crazies” and later “My Bloody Valentine” are other examples.) Often the lyrics of the songs reflected what the characters were going through, and the tone was somewhere between Harry Nilsson and Simon & Garfunkel. I will be forever grateful for what David did, and for all the memorable performances and everlasting music he gave us. Thanks in big part to David Hess, my road led to somewhere.”
Now, I could write forever about songs in horror films, and I just might in a later post, but as I was recently discussing the forest disco scene in Just Before Dawn, I thought I would write about song’s second cousin, dance.
If you need reminding of the scene, you can see it below:
Dance has always been important in film as a euphemism for sex and sexuality, much as it was in the lyrics of Pop songs, as in “Let’s do the Twist!”. In Just Before Dawn, it’s used in exactly that way, and there are more examples to follow later in this post.
Evil Dead II has a very odd dance sequence, where the decapitated Linda performs a Ray Harryhausen-esque ballet to a fantastic score by Joseph LoDuca. Unusual for a lot of ’80s horror film dance sequences, this doesn’t function as euphemism for sex or even an attempt to make the character seem sexy or ‘with it’. Instead, we see the stop-motion version of Linda presented as a horrifying parody of human form and movement designed to give Ash a further nudge towards the precipice of insanity.
In contrast, dance sequences in The Wicker Man, like its song sequences, function as if song and dance naturally spring up in the real world at regular intervals. On the one hand, we have a number of dance scenes which relate directly to sex and pagan fertility rites, such as the Maypole dance and the dance of the maidens – hopeful of parthenogenesis – leaping over the fire. On the other, we have dances, such as Willow’s overtly seductive and sexual dance in Willow’s Song, which throw out any pretence of euphemism and are intended purely to tempt the Sgt. Howie into getting jiggy*.
In some ways, in The Wicker Man, song and dance function more like they would in a musical than they would in any other type of film, let alone a horror film. This quirky relationship with music, song and dance is a huge part of the film’s charm and makes it unlike any other horror movie I’m aware of.
All this thinking about dancing leads me back to my favourite scene in a more recent movie, House of the Devil. Now, House of the Devil is not a prefect movie by any means, but what it does really well is evoke the cinema of the late ’70s and early ’80s, even down to casting a star (Jocelin Donahue) with the uncanny ability to evoke the spirit of Margot Kidder. It’s a true homage, rather than a parody or modernisation, which seems to be what many film makers who think they are making an homage are actually doing.
It may, then, come as no surprise that my favourite scene in this movie is the dance scene.
Brilliant! It’s got it all. (I’ve warned you, a blog on the dangers of Walkmans and ghetto blasters is on the way.)
What I like about this scene, and what makes it different to most dance scenes in horror movies of the ’70s and ’80s, is that she is dancing by herself and for herself. We could, if we wanted to, speculate about adolescent masturbatory fantasies and what not, but there is an innocence about this scene that I really like and that makes what’s to come all the more horrific.
Of course, most of the dance sequences in horror films of the ’70s and ’80s were actually nowhere near this tasteful.
*See what I did there?