Thursday, May 26, 2011
Recalling Mass as the Theatre of Blood
Theatre of Blood is the first horror flick I recall ever seeing.
I saw this film in the early 70’s when a network station broadcast it edited for television. I was 7 or 8 and my older cousins were all hanging out in the dark with the eerie glow of the old color television set casting sinister glows on their eager faces. The older teens, naturally, had no common sense and didn’t think to scoot the young boy out of the room.
The adults were all drinking and laughing raucously or viciously debating Nixon in my aunt’s living room. This was the year prior to Watergate – I think. Gin martinis, bourbon, beer and political pique reduced the adult’s common sense to the same level as the teenagers in the television room. No one thought to check on the kids and see what they were up to. We weren’t bothering them and that was fine for the moment.
Because of my age I didn’t understand the camp sensibilities of the film or it’s cheeky, dark humor. It scared the fucking bejeezus out of me. Every so often when a climax of horror appeared on the tiny screen, slashed for general viewers groans of disappointment from the older kids and phrases such as, “Man, if this was in the theater they would have shown everything overlaid the noises of teen snacking. In particular I remember great disappointment during the scene where a board of critics received a box with a freshly cut out heart in it. I didn’t need to see the actual heart to feel the full impact of horror in my 8 year old psyche.
I find it interesting that I can recall Nixon and the breaking of the Watergate scandal at such a young age, but the nuances of a low budget horror film were beyond my cognitive abilities. Well, at least that is how I recall it looking back at childhood through the filter of adult eyes and memories.
The next morning was Sunday and during Mass when the priest starting preparing the Eucharist and saying the ritual prayers about the body and BLOOD of Christ and whatnot I started flashing back to images of this film. I had my first panic attack and let out a scream, much to my mother’s button down embarrassment, and fainted dead away hitting my head on the back of the wooden pew in front of us.
When I came to I was in the back of the family station wagon - a white Ford Galaxy 500 - with my dad hovering over me nervously. It goes without saying that I was a squeamish kid with a vivid imagination. This may be one of the many reasons why I have always found the Roman Catholic Ritual of Communion creepy.
Ironically, as an adult, Theatre of Blood is one of my all time favorite horror films. I get a thrill when I watch it. Rather than turning me away from such vicarious pleasures of horror and fright it seemed to create an intimate love of such experiences.
I guess I am just fucked in the head. What more can be said? The horrors of a Vincent Price film are much more soothing than the horrors of the Catholic Mass. For the young child that I once was, the Catholic Mass was the real Theatre of Blood.