Editor’s Note: Marcus Dunstan got his start with writing partner Patrick Melton when they won Project Greenlight for their original screenplay Feast. He continued on the dream career path co-writing Saw IV, Saw V, and the upcoming Saw VI. His directorial debut, The Collector, hit theaters on Friday, so we thought it would be fun to have Dunstan share his Top 5 Films with us. The parameters aren’t exactly defined, like most things here at FSR, so it’s unclear whether these are his Desert Island Movies, the five that most inspired him, or the five that simply hit him the hardest. Luckily, in his own words, Dunstan offers up what he calls…
The Five Films That Keep Comin’ Back
There are days made bad when a tire goes flat.
There are days made devastating with tragedy or when a loved one passes.
Then there is a particular kind of bad day that can only be categorized as a bizarre-bad day. A day so strangely bad that it is as if a little cosmic challenge tests one’s desire to stay on one path or pick another.
That sort of day happened for me six years ago when I sneezed and filled my pants working the late shift at Blockbuster Home Video only to find myself in light colored Khaki’s side-stepping the new release wall as I began to compromise the integrity of the room. A customer was locked in the sole bathroom for a mile…and I was seconds from giving up a layer of dignity that would never grow back.
I crouched in an aisle, my mind didn’t know whether to repeat curse words or say a prayer. My eyes pulled focus and I was face to face with my “Employee Picks” section. The titles I had selected now simultaneously mocked and described my current plight: Midnight Run, Frequency, Southern Comfort, HELP, and Open The Fucking Door Please, You Slow Bastard Patron…
I took off my Navy ‘Buster blouse and tried to wave away the cloud of sour air that was forming around me. The faces of customers began to shrivel. Oh lord…any mili-second they would know it was me…then CLICK! The restroom door opened, and I dove in, football-style.
I hid the destroyed boxers in a Subway sandwich sack and buried said sack at the bottom of a trash hamper. I finished the remaining five hours of the shift in a paper-towel diaper. On the drive home, the flu blessed me with the first streams of a thick, neon mucus that ran free from my nose like a rapids.
I took a look at was what left of myself in the rearview mirror and thought, “…Okay, if I can keep my double-chin up on a day like this…why not keep pushing and give this pursuit of the horror movie business one more year…?”
Fortunately, a visit from “luck” occurred in the subsequent year and today, I submit for any and all that care to see, my current Employee Picks…
I was 12. This was the first film I watched through my fingers. I had to sit very close to the old wood-encased Zenith TV for I watched it late a night as my family was sleeping twenty odd feet away. Sitting that close to Mr. Argento’s tale of witches in a ballet academy was a magnificent, all encompassing experience. The Goblin score shook-trembled the old wood floors beneath my pj’s and the bold colors washed over the blanket around my head like a Willy Wonka snuff film. I don’t know why I have such love for an experience so damn traumatizing…but that is how the cookie crumbled. Suspiria allowed horror to be beautiful. It allowed savage violence to be mesmerizing. For every tale a child could hear to keep them on the straight and narrow…Suspiria seemed to be that tale for the adult that wanted to be scared like a kid once more…What a gift!
2. Escape From New York
I have a friend with one eye, and the fact he has a sci-fi hero to look up to that is cooler than any Marvel concoction is a tribute to how dry-ice cool this film still is. It is built on a foundation of attitude and frustration and yet made with a discipline that is telling of every drop of sweat that went into it. The horror lover in me was thrilled when the crazies attacked Snake Plissken and he displayed…fear. An action hero meeting up with a force that the audience could find terrifying and the hero found terrifying as well was an ultimate thrill. Action films by and large have built heroes so indestructible and calm under pressure that the urgency of any plight is undercut. Kurt Russell’s version of a badass showed up with an organ missing, a chip on his shoulder and an adroit sense of when to cut and run. The smooth, gliding camera work of Dean Cundey is the silent stalker amongst the cast. The camera prowls and exposes vulnerabilities that Snake’s good eye may not even pick up. Escape From New York is caffeine for the eyes. It makes one grateful for two middle fingers.
3. John Carpenter’s The Thing
Yup. I watch this one about every six months to remind myself how horror and sci-fi should hang out more often and to never ever think there isn’t enough room for a powerful social metaphor in any film. I first saw this epic when I learned the hard way I was allergic to the pesticides sprayed on a local golf course. I was as swollen and immobile as the frozen victims of the Arctic Outpost and it was on this night…I learned it could be cool to grow a beard. However, I was 11 and that would have to wait another decade or so. Mr. Carpenter’s The Thing is the perfect answer to the “why do all these remakes?” question. For every twenty or so crappy re-do’s, a genuine triumph emerges. There is affection for the horror and a wondrous awe presented in the sci-fi elements of the tale. The performances are top-notch and the crisp whites and steel blues of the anamorphic cinematography add up to a magnificent experience. John Carpenter’s The Thing is the old friend that never let’s ya down.
4. Being There
Peter Sellers. Nuff said. This film is an inarguable classic, and so I won’t dare repeat what film historians have already written more eloquently. However, I will explain the lasting impact that this film had on my life. I was about to be rejected from the fifth film school I had applied to. All of my work was about horror, creatures, and backed up by KISS tunes. I had acne to boot and so dates were out of the question and yet horror movies were always there. My weekends were spent in the basement watching them again and again with my parents and sister. We bonded over the jumps and the cheesy mysteries. I didn’t read a lot beyond Stephen King and Fangoria. That was what I loved…and yet…apparently…it was holding me back from moving on in the eyes of academic world. On the last application I filled out for a college with a film program, I had to submit a review for a movie. It couldn’t be a horror movie, however. So, I watched Being There. The entire time my head was turning over itself thinking how great this movie was but my brain just didn’t think like that. My first nineteen years just didn’t shape that. And then the last line of the film comes up…”life is a state of mind.” I picked the pursuit of horror movies right then and there, damned what anyone else found proper, and never sent in the last application. With all the punches that can be hurled one’s way…it was a simple relief to see Peter Sellers walk on water and just roll with them.
5. TIE: The Crow and Slapshot
The Crow: In 1994 I remember painting my face up and driving out to the Coralville, Iowa 3 Plex to buy tickets for myself and buds to see this film opening night. I then found myself watching it another twenty-four times over the next couple of years. Over and over again this stark revenge tale sucked me in with a pulsating score & soundtrack that honored the graphic novel’s inspirations as much as the cinematography honored the novel’s panels. I knew I wasn’t the only one this film affected for on subsequent Halloween’s, no matter which University Of Iowa kegger one may attend, there were always a handful of ‘Crow’s’ quietly hanging out in a circle with filled red cups and bobbing their heads in unison. Every now and then a film anchors itself to a terrific feeling or a sense-memory which is far beyond the running time of a movie. It meant a lot to share a love for The Crow with buds, and it raised the bar for graphic novel adaptations to come.
Slapshot: George Roy Hill. Thank goodness I was too young when I saw most of Mr. Hill’s films. Slapshot was about as angry and violent a comedy ever was or has been. So many passionate people are genuinely “throw-the-chair” pissed at each other in this story and yet the film’s humility allows us to love their fight for an evening of dignity. I once heard of a psychiatrist that began to prescribe films for patients instead of drugs. I guess if I ran into the right kind of rough day, I know I could pop in Slapshot and watch a terrific assemblage of actors unleash a foul tirade, a lewd act, or a lovely high-sticking and just let that bad day wash away. Among the many magic acts a great film can accomplish is turning a blue a day bright. Slapshot is one of the very best feats of violent, humorous magic.
And that is all that is fit to report today, folks.
I think a person’s top five keeps changing as life keeps on changing. I noticed that I recently watched Crank 2: High Voltage three times in two days, and I’m eager to see it again.
It is definitely a film with an affinity for those lovely bizarre-bad days…