If you're not angry, then you're not caring hard enough.
ME: “I dunno. Five?”
ME: “Uh, four?”
ME: “Maybe you should tell me what time we’re leaving.”
WIFE: “God, I was just asking!”
From my perspective, horror movies are like really spicy food: I don’t know why people enjoy the pain and suffering. I want to eat a taco and watch a movie without flinching or hollering.
My wife loves horror movies, and when we first started dating, I told her that I loved horror movies too. (That’s something we call “pillow talk” baby.) But I hate them. Can’t stand them. Mrs. Angry took me to see The Grudge, and I spent the film’s entire run time with my eyes closed.
That’s not to say that some horror movies are some of my favorite movies.
How can this be? That’s like saying you hate Shakespeare but like Hamlet. But I speak the truth. I’m drawn to horror movie trailers. The idea of the horror movie is something I find intriguing. How did that guy become a werewolf? What if zombies could run fast? What compels a man to dismember good-looking strangers? These are questions I want answered, but I would rather not see how that answer is derived.
But like I said, some horror movies are simply too good to dismiss. I made a list of what I consider to be great horror movies. You won’t find highbrow cop-outs like Schindler’s List or Passion of the Christ. I’m talking movies with ghouls and guts in them. Them’s the rules. I also excluded the classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man because these movies transcend the genre.
The Angry Czeck’s 13 best horror movies are presented here in no particular order.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Vastly entertaining and beautifully art directed, I always considered Francis Ford Coppola’s rendering of Dracula to be more a comic book movie than a horror film. Still, the film is a lot of fun, and I even like Keanu Reeves as Johnathan Harker.
Lifeforce (1985). I’ve never seen all of Lifeforce. I’ve just screened the first hour. In fact, no one in the world has seen the entire running of Lifeforce. Not even the film’s director, Tobe Hooper. However, if you’re interested in seeing a space girl shaped like Mathilda May walking around naked for an hour, then Lifeforce is the movie for you. It may be the only movie for you.
Hostel (2005). I enjoyed Hostel as much as any movie listed above. The reason why it’s only a Horrible Mention is because I enjoyed Hostel as much as the movies listed above. There’s something unsettling about watching people get tortured to death for entertainment.
One of my very first books was a paperback collection of Ziggy cartoons. The humor was elementary enough for even a child of my limited intelligence to grasp (TV Repair Man: “The tube appears fine, but your cabinet has Dutch Elm disease.”). Ziggy helped me learn to read. He helped me appreciate word play. He introduced me to puns.
Ziggy was created in 1969 by Tom Wilson (who passed away September 19) and became an ubiquitous fixture on coffee mugs and greeting cards a decade later. Wilson’s minimalist illustration style was basic enough for me to plagiarize, which I often did. The huge nose, the blob feet, the sans pants legs and the enormous circular head were easy to duplicate. Every man was his own Ziggy cartoonist.
There was a good-natured fatalistic quality to Ziggy that made him endearing. He seemed friendless, was incapable of securing dates, was out-of-shape, short in stature and had extraordinary bad luck with household appliances. His only companions were a smart-ass parrot and his dog, Fuzz, who bore a striking resemblance to his master.
Through it all, Ziggy pressed on. He didn’t necessarily succeed or persevere, but he did endure. In fact, Ziggy survived even his creator’s retirement in 1987, when Tom Wilson II took over his father’s drafting table and inherited the lucrative Ziggy merchandising empire.
At the height of his powers, Ziggy competed with Garfield and the Smurfs for cartoon supremacy. Because cat people are numerous and clearly insane, Garfield eventually bested Ziggy in this battle. But while Garfield the comic strip has dipped into insipid storytelling and cornball punchlines, Ziggy‘s silver-lined gloomy outlook has remained consistent and funny.
It’s difficult to place Ziggy in the same category as The Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes or The Farside. But Ziggy clearly trumps Hagar the Horrible, B.C. and Luann. We still have Ziggy to kick around, thanks to Tom Wilson’s son. Happily he found Ziggy to be just as easy to draw as I did.
My pregnant wife was answering several questions posed by a middle-aged nurse, all health and baby related until the nurse discovered that we had arrived to Little Rock having recently lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Oh, you must love it in Little Rock,” she said, squeezing the bulb on the blood pressure cuff attached to my wife’s arm.
I shrugged. “Sure. I guess.”
“It’s so much nicer here.” The nurse ripped off the cuff, creating an explosion of Velcro. “Isn’t it about 60% there?”
I paused. I knew what she meant, but I wanted to hear it out loud.
“Sixty percent what?” I asked.
“You know? Black?”
The first time I heard the term “Memphrica” was during my year-long stint in Knoxville, a city that’s definitely not 60% black. I was getting my haircut by a young woman who was more attired for the trucking industry than hair care.
“Where you from?”
She slid her scissors across my hair. “Memphrica. Because there’s so many blacks.”
“Ah…” I answered, not sure how to proceed. “Clever.”
And it was kind of clever, although one would never think to call Knoxville “Engville.” Later, I would learn that “Memphrica” was a commonly used term for Tennessee’s western-most city. I soon gathered that the nickname was less a nod to Memphis’ multi-cultural diversity and more a sneer on its perceived reputation for corruption and crime.
When these topics are broached (both in Knoxville and in Little Rock), I find myself becoming Memphis’ lone champion. I remind people, thanks to a very misleading HBO documentary, that Little Rock has a reputation for gang violence. I point to the variety of activities that Memphis has to offer, including professional basketball, several fine theaters, a world-class symphony, and a number of excellent art museums. I also mention Memphis’ unique nightlife and its unmatched musical heritage.
“Memphis is a hole,” I often hear.
“I leave Memphis before the sun comes down!” several people have told me in all sincerity.
On several occasions, I have wandered the streets in downtown Memphis deep into the night and survived the experience unmolested. But my personal anecdotes fail to punch the slightest dent into hardened mis-beliefs.
“I keep a gun in my car when I drive through Memphis!”
I became a man in Memphis.
Not in the biblical way, but in all ways nearly as important. For example, my first job in advertising was secured in Memphis. I met and married my wife in Memphis. We had our first child in Memphis. It was in Memphis where we purchased our first house and our first new car. I met Peter Frampton in Memphis. I fostered an appreciation for classical and jazz music in Memphis. I lowered my golf score in Memphis and learned to use chopsticks in Memphis. I experienced my first car wreck in Memphis (my fault).
Because of this, I fully admit that I view Memphis through rose-colored glass. Your first city is like your first car or your first girlfriend: you remember it being much better than it actually was.
Still, even stripped of my prejudices, I can defend Memphis with an unblemished conscious. Because there are qualities to Memphis that most surrounding cities sorely lack: character, moxie, grit, verve and sadly, suffering and strife.
What defines Little Rock? Is it its capitol building, which is an unimaginative 1/4 scale replica our nation’s capitol building? Is it the food? And if so, what is the food, exactly? Is it a sports team? Perhaps you refer to the one shared (unevenly) with Fayetteville.
Little Rock is known for a Civil Right’s battle for which too many people were on the wrong side and for churning out a surprising number of Presidential candidates. It was also mentioned in that Billy Joel song.
I’m not trying to diminish Little Rock. I’m merely establishing some perspective. Memphis, despite its failures, has accomplished more as a city. You may debate this among yourselves, not with me.
Much in the way I defend Memphis to the people of Little Rock, I have often found myself defending Little Rock to the people of Memphis.
“Little Rock is a hick town,” I’ve heard it said.
“What’s there to do in Little Rock?” is a question often posed.
The city of Little Rock is slowly cultivating a number of cultural center points. The Little Rock Arts Center, for example, is a surprisingly enriching art museum. You can do far worse than an evening at the River Market or the Little Rock Symphony. The local university, UALR, routinely puts a competitive basketball team on the floor. As far as I know, Little Rock is the only city within a 300-mile radius boasting a Presidential museum. The local library system is a secret gem, and the local brewery (Diamond Bear Beer) is a city treasure.
“I hear that Little Rock is full of gangs.”
Garbage. A misconception invented by HBO. Like every urban landscape, there exists in Little Rock the chance for gang activity. However, I have yet to see a single gang sign during my five years here.
However, I have had my lawnmower stolen from my garage. But when I reported the theft to police, I was reunited with my lawnmower within an hour. This type of crime fighting efficiency is non-existent in Memphis.
Crime does occur in Memphis.
I myself have fallen victim to it, whether it was the theft of a rake from my backyard, or the theft of my wallet from my office desk. The fact of the matter is, you cannot leave a car door unlocked or lower your guard in Memphis.
But then, you should not leave doors unlocked or lower your guard in New York City, either. Yet the perception of Memphis is that it’s a city without law; that gangs of violent hobos rape and pillage once the sun goes down.
Garbage. Truthfully, there are too many panhandlers prowling the busiest Memphis streets. But a little fortitude and heartlessness will get you to Beale Street unscathed.
Apart from that, murders and robberies are not uncommon in Memphis, but like most metropolitan areas, it rarely touches the places people actually want to visit. And yet, the fear remains, often as a result of ignorance or “racial unfamiliarity.”*
* “Racism” is a word that’s bandied about with reckless abandon. You can’t say “You hate Memphis because you’re racist!” because that’s unfair, extreme and probably not true. Except in the case where one non-Memphian friend of mine openly assumed I was moving to Knoxville to, “Get away from all these niggers.” That, I believe, can be safely categorized as “racist.”
A couple years ago, a Playtime Pizza place opened in Little Rock. It’s one of those obnoxious rackets that drains your wallet with video games and thin slices of pizza. But I have children, and children lead to inquiries into those types of establishments.
“We went a few times,” said a friend, “but we don’t go anymore. Too many Canadians.”
I laughed. “Too many Canadians? What do you mean?”
My friend flashed a crooked grin. “Canadians. You know? Blacks.”
If you’re afraid of Canadians, then Memphis is not the city for you. The nurse I mentioned earlier was correct in assuming that Memphis is home to a large percentage of African Americans. This can be intimidating to my white brethren, especially if you’re not accustomed to interacting with people outside your own race or culture. I get that. I sometimes feel nervous around Hog fans and Republicans.
But then, all cities can’t be Nashville. The rich color of Memphis’ culture is the result of the color of its people. Yes it’s not always tidy and G-rated, but the bricks that comprise Beale Street are as authentic as the music the pours from its windows and doors. There’s nothing organic or farm-fresh about the grease the burgers are dipped into, nor will you be treated to a cover band playing Bush’s greatest hits. Nothing pre-manufactured happens in Memphis, unless you count lunch at Hard Rock Café.
You might acquire a layer of grit beneath your fingernails when living in Memphis. It’s quite possible that you’ll receive an exclusive peek beneath the poverty line, too. There’s nothing especially pretty about Memphis, but it draws your attention nonetheless. Isn’t it better to be interesting than pretty?
Little Rock is pretty, so pretty has a good argument.
The horizon line is broken by a range of small mountains that resemble a dragon’s spine. The Arkansas River winds through it, and for fairly modest coin, you can live on scenic riverfront property. The Capitol Hotel is a superb place to stay while visiting, and it features an excellent restaurant. Legend has it that General Grant once sipped whiskey at the bar.
People keep their yards up in Little Rock. Nearly every automobile features at least one Hog’s related piece of flair. Traffic isn’t too bad. Everyone drives with an insurance card in the glove box. The public schools are good and the private schools are affordable. The airport is never crowded and it’s easy to park and find your gate.
Little Rock residents love Little Rock. I once asked a long-time resident and frequent world traveler to name his favorite city.
Exasperated, I prodded, “Other than Little Rock?”
He shrugged. It was Little Rock or nothing for him. And why not? It had been good to him as it is to most people who live here. Bill Clinton still visits. The Traveler’s now play baseball in a new stadium across the river, but that’s okay. North Little Rock is Little Rock too, in our book. We still have our small zoo and a Civil Rights museum, just like Memphis.
Me, I’m not sure that I love Little Rock. At least not yet. The relationship is evolving. My children love their school. I’m happily employed. My wife and I have made some good friends. We visit the countryside often, and I walk the urban streets with my guard only partially up. The pulse of the city is relaxed; a resting heartbeat.
Yes, I think I love Little Rock. Sixty-percent of me does, at least.
I was blowharding the morning of September 11, 2001. The first airliner had made its infamous collision, and as we watched on television the black smoke bellowing like storm clouds, I confidently explained to my wife that while it was a rare occurrence, airplanes did, occasionally, crash into high-rise towers.
“Oh yeah? When?”
“Around World War 2,” I replied confidently. “An army bomber got lost in the fog and plowed into the Empire State building.”
My wife examined the images unfolding on the news broadcast. An exasperated reporter was at the scene, communicating to Matt Lauer. Like me, Matt Lauer wouldn’t shut up. He knew everything. Just like me.
“I don’t see any fog,” said Mrs. Angry.
That’s when we saw the second plane hit. Pow. Ka-Boom! WHOH! Matt Lauer continued to talk. “A SMALL PLANE HAS JUST HIT THE SECOND TOWER!”*
The reporter at the scene tried to correct him. “It wasn’t a small plane, Matt! It was a huge passenger jet!”
“We saw it!” corrected Lauer, “It was a small plane!”
It wasn’t a small plane, of course. But like Matt’s analysis, everything about the morning of 9/11 was conjecture at the time. I still believed it was an accident. As improbable as two passenger jets inadvertantly hitting the World Trade Center was, the idea that it could be deliberate was far more irrational.
“Maybe the pilot was confused by the smoke,” I suggested, unwilling to surrender my counterfeit credentials as an aviation expert. By the time a third plan dove into the Pentagon and a fourth dropped onto the Pennsylvanian countryside, my fraudulence was exposed. But like everyone else in the Nation, I was about to be truly educated on some of this world’s more terrible truths.
*Transcribed from memory, which is frequently at fault.