One of the great things about horror movies is that anything can happen in them. Traditional comedies and dramas have to play by the rules of the real world; action movies get a little more leeway, but, for the most part, you’re not going to see Liam Neeson transform into some kind of transdimensional monster and start hacking apart terrorists with foot-long claws. Horror (along with sci-fi and fantasy) is unique in that it’s a genre that lends itself to setting up its own rules, and even breaking them if it sees fit. Dream demons, killer Leprechauns, single-celled murder monsters, extradimensional sadomasochists… they’re all perfectly at home in horror, and you wouldn’t bat an eye if things got even weirder than that. Sometimes, though, something happens in a horror movie that does stand out—something so out of place that, even among all the undead flesh and eldritch abominations, it makes the audience stop a moment and ask themselves exactly what the hell they’re seeing. Here, then, are my own personal favorite “WTF?” horror scenes—sequences that, from the mundane to the ridiculous, are delightfully out of place in the films in which they appear. In no particular order…
DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE—PATSY PARISI’S SHOPPING SPREE
Don’t Go in the House is a movie that’s never gotten the respect it deserves. On the one hand, it’s somewhat confused—you’ve got the uncomfortable visage of nude women being burned alive in a nightmarish death chamber, juxtaposed against their killer decked out in what looks like a beekeeper’s suit. On the other, you’ve got a tour de force performance from Dan Grimaldi in an intelligent story about the cycle of abuse that does more with the trope than most movies, looking at the real psychological implications of the scenario rather than just using it as a convenient explanation for the murderer’s actions. Whether you think it’s a sophisticated horror film dressed up as a slasher or a misogynistic pile of trash, though, there’s one scene that feels like it was written (and performed) while the entire cast and crew were high. After he’s invited out for drinks and dancing, Grimaldi’s awkward killer Donny decides to make a go of normalcy and realizes he’ll need a nice outfit if he’s going to pick up a nice woman. This segues into a weirdly long sequence of Donny getting clothing advice from a flamboyantly gay salesman who tries to school him in the finer points of mens’ fashion. Yeaaaaah. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a guy shop in real time, this is it. In another movie, we’d have seen Donny walk into the store, or just show up at the disco wearing nice clothes. Instead, it goes on. And on. To make it even better, it’s followed up by a long-ish dance sequence that, while serving a purpose in the overall plot, also could’ve been trimmed a bit.
RACE WITH THE DEVIL—SATANISTS PREFER REAL WOOD PANELLING
Race with the Devil is a movie that’s never clicked with me. It has a dedicated cult following, and I’ve seen it pop up several times at revival theaters and as one of the “classic” selections at genre festivals over the years, but it’s just never been my cup of tea. That said, I can at least appreciate what other people see in it, without enjoying it myself. There are some nice motocross action sequences, it has a great ensemble cast, and it takes excellent advantage of the natural beauty and terror of West Texas—hey, I love my home state, but there are parts that are just damn creepy. Amidst all that racin’ and devilin’, though, there’s a weird sequence where our heroes briefly stop and chit-chat with another group of people who turn out to belong to the Satanic cult from whom they’re fleeing. In theory, it’s a cool idea for the heroes to unknowingly meet and befriend the film’s villains, and it also lets us get a more intimate look at the bad guys, who for the most part spend the movie as anonymous spooks. In practice, though, we get a weird glimpse into the aesthetic tastes of Satanists, who apparently prefer real wood paneling as opposed to our sleazy motocross racers’ faux laminate. If you’re going to go trashy, stay classy.
CALVAIRE- DANCIN’ WEIRDOS
Calvaire could appropriately be retitled “WTF?: The Movie.” It’s got old people giving away homemade erotica, farmers having sex with pigs, a special needs man who insists that another man is his missing dog, and an entire village full of obese psychos intent on sleeping with a stranded lounge singer whom they believe is the reincarnation of the town hussy. It’s no small feat, then, that in the middle of all that madness there’s a scene that stands out as so bizarre it actually feels out of place. In the lead-up to the farmhouse siege that serves as the film’s climax, insane innkeeper Bartel travels to the village pub, where he declares that his long-lost wife has finally come home to him (the audience knows by this point that Bartel’s “wife” is a long-suffering man named Mark, whom Bartel has dressed in drag and crucified in his kitchen). Once Bartel departs the pub, a guy sits down at the piano and begins literally pounding out some weird dancehall song. And then all the other guys get up and start dancing. With each other. For a very long time.
THE DEVIL’S REJECTS—ELVIS VS. GROUCHO
Love him or hate him, most will agree that The Devil’s Rejects is Rob Zombie’s best film. It’s a dark, gritty, often ugly homage to the violent road movies of the 70s, while still retaining some of the gleeful excess and trippy aesthetics that won him a following in House of 1000 Corpses. There’s a scene, though, that would’ve felt more at home in the previous film, and which sticks out here like a sore, confused thumb. Amidst the gut-punching murder, rape, and heinous violence, we’re suddenly treated to an argument between Sheriff Wydell and some random movie critic over who is the better entertainer: Groucho Marx or Elvis. The scene comes out of nowhere, and, textually, serves no other purpose than to point out that Zombie has given the Firefly family names taken from Marx Brothers films. Once that unnecessary nod is in there, though, the scene devolves into Wydell threatening to brutally beat the critic for trash-talking Elvis, whose death overshadowed Groucho’s. It’s a funny moment, and good for an awkward, confused laugh, but it feels wholly out of place. There are a few moments of levity to break up the tension throughout the film, but even those are keeping with the overall ugly tone. This is just weird.
FRIDAY THE 13th: THE FINAL CHAPTER—DANCIN’ CRISPIN
This one is legendary in horror circles, but no list of WTF moments would be complete without a look at Crispin Glover’s spastic dance scene in The Final Chapter. I mean, what the hell is he doing? This Friday is one of the more serious entries in the series, and the closest the series ever got to capturing the uncanniness that made the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre so disturbing. The sequences in the kids’ cabin, in particular, have an uncomfortably nihilistic quality to them—it’s like you’re watching a banal 80s coming-of-age movie that suddenly got super violent. And then… Crispin Glover starts dancing. And boy… It was well established in 80s film circles that Glover was a weird guy—one of the crewmembers on this film in particular remembers that his house was entirely lit with black lights—and his dance style seems to either be a natural outgrowth of that weirdness or physical shorthand for “look at me. I’m strange.” Either way, it’s… well, I mean, look at it.
PROM NIGHT- JAMIE LEE GETS FUNKY
What is it with horror movies and incongruous dance sequences?
Prom Night has a special place in a lot of people’s hearts. It’s got Jamie Lee Curtis at the top of her game, rivalling her performance in Halloween (and looking damn good doing it); Leslie Nielsen in one of his last non-comedic performances (and looking damn good doing it); and a fairly clever twist on the slasher story that gives the villain an organic and sympathetic motivation for all that murderin’. Love it or hate it, though, it’s hard to deny that it often wears its low budget on its sleeve. Except for the titular prom sequence. If you were watching this movie and wondering where all the money went, you get your answer the second the action cuts to the biggest disco sequence outside of 54. Seriously—look at this:
That was not cheap. To top it off, we don’t just get a glimpse at the titular prom. The movie full-on stops for three minutes so we can see Jamie Lee strut her stuff. How long did it take to choreograph this? How many takes before they got it perfect? This is something worthy of Saturday Night Fever—who thought it would be a good idea to pause the action on a gritty slasher movie for an elaborate musical number? I like to think that this wasn’t actually in the script—everyone looks like they’re having a genuinely good time and there’s an unrehearsed, frenetic quality about it that makes it seem like the director just dropped a needle on the record player and told everyone to boogie. Even still, though—if this really is just footage of the cast having a good time, why leave it in there? And for three minutes? WTF?