They Lost Their Heads

Saul: Body despoiled
Four headless bodies, with bound hands, hang from gallows. Crown on ground below them. Scene in landscape setting.
Saul: Body despoiled
Four soldiers, wearing armor, hold sticks, upon which are heads of Saul and his three sons, all wearing crowns. Scene in landscape setting.

Details from Book of Hours, France, ca. 1500, The Morgan Library & Museum.

Horror Junior: Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946)

I recognize that Beauty and the Beast is not a horror story and that the film adaptations were not billed as horror movies. However, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 surreal take on the story lasts, to me, as such a creepy and scary version of the fairy tale. When the Disney version came out in 1991, I was a pre-teen and a die-hard fan of the animated film. I saw it in the theatre several times and when it came out on VHS, my Mom spent a lot of money to buy it for me (this was early in the video rental days and it was expensive to buy a copy to own — I love my Mom! lol). As part of that obsession, I sought out Cocteau’s version, and I remember being thoroughly freaked out by it. During that same era of my life, I was discovering horror movies, and this one was more like a scary movie than a kid’s tale.

Did you know that Walt Disney was interested in adapting Beauty and the Beast but felt discouraged after seeing Cocteau’s version, not believing his would be as good?

The freakiest part of the movie for me was the long hallway with the hands holding the torches. It still stands out to me today as unnerving.

I was interested to learn that Jean Cocteau intentionally made the Beast a sympathetic character and his alter ego the Prince an over-sentimental and saccharine character: “My aim was to make the Beast so human, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and future; it would expose the naivete of the old fairy tale that conventional good looks are ideal.”

The contrasting approach worked. So popular was Jean Marais as the Beast, that when he was transformed at the end back to human form, Greta Garbo famously said, “Give me back my Beast!” Marlene Dietrich cried, “Where is my beautiful Beast?” And letters poured in from matrons, teenage girls and children complaining to Cocteau and Marais about the transformation.

Read more facts about Cocteau’s surreal film at IMDb Trivia: Beauty and the Beast (1946).

Horror Cinema Trivia: The Birds (1963)

Alfred Hitchcock would constantly make puns and double-entendres on the set of The Birds. The last straw came when Suzanne Pleshette asked if she could add a line, and he replied, “You mean, Sweet Adeline?” She then reacted by tackling the director, dictating, “If you continue this, you are gonna pay the price.” According to Suzanne in a 2006 interview with Stephen J. Abramson, “People were SHITTING” when they saw her run him down.

Find more facts about the 1963 classic at IMDb Trivia: The Birds (1963).

Horror Cinema: Wrong Turn (2021)

I am a massive fan of the Wrong Turn franchise. The first film had a kick-ass heroine, and the following movies continually out-did themselves in gore and senseless killings, to my cheering it on. One of my all-time favorite horror scenes is the decapitation in the school gym in Wrong Turn 4, let alone the decapitation at the end of that movie on the snowmobile. So good.

When I saw that there was a new addition to the franchise, I watched it as soon as I could. Before turning it on, I looked up reviews to see if I could get a feel of what to expect, and I was warned that this movie was not going to be what a Wrong Turn franchise movie would usually offer. Reading that, I went into it disliking it. If I don’t have cannibals and a total kill count by the end of the movie, will I have truly seen a Wrong Turn movie?

I can’t say I hated it. I would consider it a light version of the franchise. The effort to pull the expected senseless gore into a storyline was difficult because what makes a Wrong Turn movie great is that the plot is just that some buggers take a wrong turn and get hunted and eaten by cannibals. Although I wasn’t loving the plot, I did like that it never lagged, and the conclusion was satisfying, even if it was simply the satisfaction of ending on an intense scene.

I also can’t say I’d watch this movie again, even if I wanted to introduce someone to the franchise. Not a big deal because the other versions will certainly continue to be in regular rotation for horror movie nights.

Nelson, Mike P. Wrong Turn (2021), Saban Films, 2021.