Friday, 19 December 2014

TERRIFIED











d. Lew Landers (1963)


Pretty teenager Marge hasn't had much luck of late: her father was murdered by an unknown assailant; her mother was killed in a mysterious car crash, and her older brother was turned into a 'dribbling oyster' by a man in a black silk mask who threw him screaming into a grave at the local ghost town and then filled it with wet concrete until the boy's mind snapped at the prospect of being simultaneously drowned and buried alive. 

What Marge doesn't know is that the kinky killer is a man who is horribly fixated on her, and is systematically eliminating the people she loves in order to facilitate possessing her. This is also bad news for the two callow youths* who are wooing her, one of whom ends up being tormented and tortured and, yes, terrified to death.

It's pretty sick, especially at the climax when the unmasked killer says he first noticed Marge when she was ten years old, then whispers excitedly about her 'bare little feet' and 'torn dress' and promises to look after her always as she lies rigid with fear in his arms. At this point, my skin crawled off and hid behind the sofa.  

Terrified examines the notion of the cheerful small town where everything is gingham and gee willikers on the surface but, underneath, is sick and corrupt and rotten and dirty. It's a particularly American obsession: King's Row, Peyton Place and Twin Peaks all attest to that. America has a tragic, terrible history: a vast, wild, deadly landscape colonised by force, seeded by sacrifice, watered by blood, built on death. 

If the English are always bemoaning the fact that life used to be better, that the best of our country has come and gone, then perhaps the American psyche works in reverse, and the people are haunted by a folk memory of when things were infinitely worse. Is it any wonder that they are scared of what's out there in the dark?**

*  Technically only one callow youth: the other one is thirty three and looks every month of it, especially as he is painted, coloured and styled like a cheap whore in order to try and look 18.

**  According to the FBI, between 35 and 50 active serial killers at any one time, for a start.

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