Wes Craven – A Projectionist’s Tribute

I’m writing this piece having just got back from FrightFest 2015 

It seemed apt that following the news of the death of Wes Craven that the final film of the night – the entertaining Tales of Halloween should be a horror anthology featuring 10 individual stories directed by current protégés of Wes Craven and was dedicated to his memory.

For those of us that grew up during the 80’s we were to be intrigued by a new bogeyman – his name was Freddy Kruger and he came into being in 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”   Now it wasn’t just the creatures under the bed or in the closet that would frighten you but you now couldn’t even escape when you fell asleep.

I watched that particular film as a child of about 13 while recovering from my first dental filling – it still scared me watching it in the daylight and filled me with dread come night-time.

As I grew up I became fascinated by Video Nasties and the bods behind FrightFest have done two quite excellent documentaries about this censorious Spanish Inquisition-like moral panic that came about in the early 80’s in the UK.

One of the films on the list was Last House on the Left – a film that was only fully released uncut in the UK in 2008.  I was fortunate enough to meet the now sadly late lead villain of the piece (David Hess; along with Gunnar Hansen, the original Leatherface from another banned movie “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) at a horror all-day event in Welwyn Garden City some time around 1999.  That film itself set a standard of the “home invasion” genre that is popular these days while also being a fore-runner of the “torture porn” subdivision.

But before that I had become a film projectionist at my student cinema.  I saw Scream there for the first time as a punter (on a day off) and it was a very effective horror thriller.  The open set-piece with Drew Barrymore having quite a most profound effect on me.  It proved so popular that we regularly screened the film and I projected it twice.

On my first projecting mission of Scream I not only the spliced the film together (this is way before DVD’s) but also had to set-up the screen, the sound and do various technical checks.  The cinema was a big hall with a stage and it was built in a wind trap.

Stupidly I hooked up the sound and the speakers first and while testing projecting the first 30 minutes scared myself shitless as the torment of Barrymore’s character played out this was accompanied by the emergency exits opening and banging closed, the various ropes and pulleys clanging in the rafters and then, once the screen was down, being blinded by the light from the projector and having to run like a mad man out of the wide open hall hoping I wasn’t set upon by some unseen fiend lurking being a seat or the various curtains.

I never made that mistake again.

The second projecting mission of Scream requires a bit of Projecting 101:

The films which I projected came in reels.  These could either come “head” or “foot” first.  Head is the start of a reel, foot is the end of it.  You may have seen old countdowns like this:

We take out these but there is a test frame to let you know you the reel is the correct way around so they can be spliced together in the correct order.

See also Fight Club

 

I state now I have never edited any genitalia into any film I projected.

This time I had left some trainees in charge of the splicing and they’d informed me that there were no test cells, so it was blind luck if it was edited together correctly.  A quick test projection showed the first 3 reels were OK so it should be assumed everything else was going to run smoothly….

Everything was going fine during the screening, audiences were jumping out of their seats, screaming and laughing in the right places then, just as the anxiousness of every cigarette burn signifying a new reel has subsided, of course the last reel had to be the problem.

No sound and Courtney Cox’s feet were where on top of her head.

A loud “FUCK” echoed around the hall as I ran into the projection booth, shut down the projector, ran the film back and re-spliced it together.  The hopefully now corrected film was re-looped onto the projector and the film was restarted after about a 10 minute break, but then something even more strange happened and a very important lesson was learned…

This little break and return “to reality” had not impacted on the audience one iota, the still jumped and screamed and laughed as the last act of the film played out and the end credits rolled.

That is the magic of film.

That is the beauty of horror movies.

That was the genius of Wes Craven.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s