Music Box Mania!

Okay, so I’ll admit up front that I’m a fraidy-cat. And I’m not talking about being afraid of mundane things, like flying and rappelling. This kind of stuff is not a problem. I’m talking about genuine, irrational, boogeyman-gonna-get- ya kind of fear. I have a healthy imagination, and it doesn’t take much to get it spinning out of control. Especially late at night.

A few months ago, Nick told me he heard some weird, tinny music coming from one of the trash bins in our complex. I told him it was probably a broken music box, but he disagreed. It couldn’t be that, he said, because the sound “just wasn’t right.” Later that day, when I was coming home from the gym, I heard the music, too. I went over to the trash bin, and right on top, sitting atop a discarded pizza carton, was a broken music box shaped like a piano. I was quite pleased with myself. Ha, I thought. I’ll show him. So I picked up the music box–carefully, so as to avoid touching any other garbage–and I brought it inside. Now, you’ll remember that I said the music box was broken. Its lid was missing, which is why it was playing its little song in the first place, so I depressed the knob in the middle and placed a few pieces of tape over it. The music stopped. When Nick got home, I pointed it out to him right away, so as to demonstrate my superiority. He shrugged, and said “Well, how about that.” This was not at all the reaction I wanted, so I went into another room to pout and forgot completely about the music box.

We went to bed.

We fell asleep.

DEE-DUR DEE-DUR DEE-DUR DUM! You may remember this from every third grader’s piano recital. It’s Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” and at 3 in the morning it sounds like the devil is skinning a water buffalo in your living room. It was the most sinister thing I’d ever heard, and I went flying into the living room to turn it off. Keep in mind that I had just woken up out of a nightmare into this craziness (maybe the noise CAUSED the nightmare, I’ll never be sure), so I was in the kind of disoriented post-nightmare state where your fear sensors are all cranked up and everything around you looks inordinately suspicious. What used to be a regular old mirror becomes an EVIL mirror. That ordinary ventriloquist’s dummy in the chair becomes an EVIL ventriloquist’s dummy. You get the idea. In addition to that, horror movies have virtually ruined the music box for me (those cute chime-y melodies always seem to presage the appearance of a psycho-killer or a psycho-killer’s ghost). So I used up an entire roll of tape securing that stupid knob and set the box down again. But when I got in bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the EVIL music box, just sitting out there like an EVIL cobra waiting to strike. EVIL Beethoven was still running through my head, taunting me. So I got up again and, still in my PJs, carried the music box out to the dumpster. I set it carefully back onto the pizza carton, at which point I heard voices from down the road and began to panic. In my paranoia, I felt sure these people were coming after me. I sprinted back inside and quickly locked and bolted the door, half-crazed from the adrenaline surge.

So yes. I’m kind of a fraidy-cat. But only in the middle of the night. And only if I perceive a clear and present danger to my health and well-being. Like, say, a broken music box or something.

Incidentally, Für Elise was also featured in that irritating McDonald’s commercial a number of years back. You know, the one with that bratty little girl (“I … will eat French fries … and not save any … for my dumb brother…”). This Pavlovian conditioning has worked so well that even now, every time I hear Beethoven, I think of short, slender stalks of atomized potatoes marinating in animal fat.

The 10 Greatest Terrible Films of All Time, in All Possible Universes

  1. Death Race 2000, starring Sly Stallone, some other people, and yes, Grasshopper, David Carradine! I think we’ve all fantasized about this (driving over pedestrians for points, not David Carradine, although there’s something mighty fetching about that bizarro rubber suit he’s wearing…). And in case you thought the eponymous death race was just for men, there are some great women racers, too. Vive le difference!

  2. Nudist Colony of the Dead, starring … wait for it … no one you’ve ever heard of. Except for some young lady who later went on to be a gaffer or something for Edward Scissorhands. This film is extremely bad, and it knows it. The premise is that a group of nudists engage in a suicide pact, pledging to come back as zombies and kill the zealots who got them booted off their land. Shameless and sick, but oh-so funny. Plus, with the surging popularity of films like Chicago and Moulin Rouge, the fact that this irreverent freakfest is also a musical can only work in its favor. Right?

  3. They Live, starring “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. This cinematic beauty is famous for its 20-minute fight over an exceptional pair of sunglasses, a scene which has been parodied in everything from South Park to, I think, The Simpsons. Nothing says drama better than Skeletor-faced aliens throwing gang signs. Remember those banners reading, “OBEY”? This is actually a good riff on the subtext of advertising, although it’s hammed up so much you could get trichinosis. That’s what bad sci-fi is all about, folks–highlighting the inadequacies of society by causing us to shoot Mello Yello out of our collective indoctrinated nose.

  4. Clash of the Titans, starring Harry Hamlin, Burgess Meredith (all those books, but his glasses are broken!), Maggie Smith, the oddly bosomy Ursula Andress, Sir Laurence Olivier, and a bevy of low-tech beasts, some of whom are very nasty indeed. We see a bit too much of Mr. Hamlin’s chest hair and not enough of Burgess Meredith’s. Medusa really steals the show here as the ultimate moped girl.

  5. Ishtar, starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. Oh yes, I know you’ve heard about this one, but it’s actually hilarious. The first half, anyway. Beatty and Hoffman are a couple of talentless songwriters who write about things like lawnmowers. These scenes are reminiscent of the Christopher Guest mockumentary-style films (i.e., Waiting for Guffman, This Is Spinal Tap), in which the characters fail to realize the absurdity of what they’re doing, while the audience is in on the joke. Give it a try. Best quote: from Beatty’s character, who has just discovered a Moroccan colleague of theirs is actually a woman, “Look at what you have!”

  6. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!, starring, um, David Miller and Sharon Taylor (aliases, if ever I heard any–question is, why wouldn’t they want to be identified with this fantastic movie?). This little gem features an eastern bloc Olympic swimmer eating steroid cereal, a character named Mason Dixon, a black man disguising himself (effectively) as Adolph Hitler, a song so bad it can kill (this conceit was later employed in Mars Attacks, in which aliens are destroyed by the vocal stylings of Slim Whitman), and, of course, scads of tomatoes with nought but malice on their minds. Low-budget and worth every freakin’ penny, I say.

  7. Cherry 2000, starring Melanie Griffith. This is a favorite of my husband, for reasons passing understanding. Ok, so maybe it’s got something to do with the idea of robot love slaves. But regardless, it’s a great saga of a regular old Joe going on a heroic search for robot love, only to discover that Melanie Griffith, as his butched-up tracker guide, is way cooler. As a bonus, she can speak in complete sentences, easily out-philosophizing the robot with its paltry ten-word vocabulary (which included an appalling overuse of the word “pretty”). Also, there is a brief bit by Larry Fishburne, that friendly precursor to the stately Laurence, who you can find in such cultural standards as Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. You’ve got to admire an actor who marks the beginning of his serious acting career with a change in name.* And you can see why, too: Larry is that guy you go bowling with, while Laurence is clearly destined to be Othello. Sayonara Cowboy Curtis. We hardly knew ye.

*Alright, so he did Apocalypse Now under the name Larry. But how serious was that film, really?

  1. Escape from New York, starring Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, and Donald “Halloween” Pleasence. Snake Plissken is everyone’s favorite criminal in this tale of love, redemption, and post-apocalyptic mullets. The premise? New York City is a maximum security prison where prisoners have to fend for themselves. When the President’s aircraft crashes there, Snake has to try to steal him back from the baddies. Problem is, Isaac Hayes is so cool, you almost want him to win instead.

  2. Freaked, starring Alex Winters, Brooke Shields, and Randy Quaid. This film was made at the height of the nation’s love affair with mutation. A young rock star is exposed to toxic chemicals (a stretch, I realize) and transforms into a hideous mutant. There are giant, Rastafarian eyeballs and erudite earthworms. The highlight is Randy Quaid swaggering around like an uprooted Southern general, sounding delightfully like a cross between a napalm-sniffing Robert Duvall and Yosemite Sam (a mutation joke–get it?).

  3. A tie!

a. Andy Warhol’s Dracula, starring Udo Kier (you might recognize him as the square, tradition-minded vampire patriarch in Blade). Really more of an adult film at times, although it aspires to social commentary about the inevitable dissolution of the bourgeoisie. A generic beefcake with a hammer and sickle flag in his room busily deflowers the daughters of a wealthy landowner, while Udo Kier stumbles around looking (in vain) for “wirgin blood.” I’ll admit it. I felt sorry for the bloodsucker.

b. Plan 9 from Outer Space, starring Bela Lugosi, who, we all know, died during the filming of it, and the preternaturally skinny Finn, Vampira. It’s directed by ambitious, angora-loving Ed Wood. What’s the plot? Who cares? Something about nefarious aliens who re-animate corpses and try to blow up the sun. Too bad they couldn’t re-animate Lugosi, who is mysteriously and inexplicably absent from the last half of the film.

NOTES ABOUT MY PICKS: I kind of wanted to feature Krull in this list. This was one of my favorite films when I was a child, right up there with that animated version of The Hobbit. However, after purchasing Krull on the cheap and watching it again fairly recently, I was pretty disappointed. It isn’t quite the masterpiece I remember it to be, but it does feature a barely pubescent Liam Neeson, which has got to count for something. Also, Frankenhooker kept tugging at my heartstrings and begging to be included, but it is not entertaining and really has nothing to recommend it but its clever name. And just for the record, Army of Darkness, although brilliant, was WAY too obvious.

Six Months of Solitude

Howdy, and welcome to Six Months of Solitude. This site is dedicated to my thoughts, delusions, opinions, and nightmares. I provide completely subjective insights into everything from politics to favorite B-films. In addition, of course, all manner of minutiae is discussed in excruciating detail, and for no other reason than that I feel like it (just the kind of self-indulgence you’ve come to expect from your quality blogs). There will be apocalyptic predictions and bizarre anecdotes you won’t find anywhere else. So please stick around, gentle reader, and you will be rewarded with more content than you can shake your St. Louis Blues hockey stick at!

Thanks ever so,