October 31, 2004

Horror: Art imitates life (sort of)...

My tribute to Bela Lugosi, done when I was 17 (from 'Murders in the Rue Morgue')
I watched the Tim Burton film "Ed Wood" tonight. (Martin Landau's portrayal of Bela Lugosi is absolutely first-class.)

In the movie, it is Halloween, and Bela Lugosi answers the front door of his little suburban house in full Dracula costume, scaring all the little kids away, except for one little boy. "You're not Dracula", the little gaffer says cynically. "Those fangs aren't real." Bela is disappointed, but Ed Wood whips out his bridgework and says "These are!" and the little kid runs away shrieking.

Bela's signature character is too old school for the little boy, who is a product of television and the atomic age. The message here is that people in the late forties and early fifties are afraid of war, the bomb and nuclear mutations, not men with funny European accents and crazy eyes.

Bela calls Ed Wood in the middle of the night. "Eddie - help me..." Ed gets to Bela's house to find the furniture strewn around and Bela rambling drunkenly.

"Eddie. I'm broke. I can't pay my rent."

Bela is despondent and puts a small revolver to his temple, intent on ending it all. "Come with me Eddie. It will be beautiful!" Ed talks him out of it, and embraces him. Bela says he's sorry and begins to sob. In this scene, Martin Landau's Lugosi is a frail, despondent, drug addicted old man who has lost everything, including his dignity and fighting spirit. Lugosi's signature character and more importantly, Lugosi the man, have been largely forgotten and discarded. Ed Wood, practically destitute himself, still believes in his friend and is there to help him even when nobody else will. The helpless despondency of the old man, and the loving, compassionate hopefulness of the young man. Like the relationship of a son and his father.

* * * * * *

Eventually, Bela checks himself into a hospital to get help with his drug addiction. We watch Bela strapped in a hospital bed, shrieking and shaking - terrified and struggling with painful withdrawal symptoms.

A powerful scene for me; I watched my Mother go through it too. She was admitted for a hip operation and in recovery, she suffered severe withdrawal from the regime of medication given her as a long-term resident at Riverview mental hospital.

In "Ed Wood", Bela Lugosi's withdrawal screams are presented as part of the horror of the real world. We see a little old man screaming his head off, strapped to a hospital bed, as the camera watches him through a small window in the door. This resonated big time with me.

My mother, usually distant and uncommunicative from alcoholism-related brain damage (or medication or both) was strapped to a hospital bed, shaking it, her muscles and tendons rock solid, her face wide-eyed and screaming. After a few spasms like this, she would collapse back onto the mattress and rest.

"Are you scared Mum?" I didn't know what the hell else to say. I felt like an idiotic master of the obvious.

"Yes!" she yelled. She was so wound up, and god, she was terrified. That was a moment of real-world horror for me.

I love iconic horror figures like Dracula, but real life can be much more frightening.

No comments: