The Phantom of the Cineplex: Pure Refreshing Horror!

One of the most frightening experiences that a soul can endure is a “daylight fright”. A sort of surrealistic waking nightmare that is all the more terrifying because it violates your sense of safety with a sudden unexpectedness. Typically, these frights leave one with a lingering sense of unease because of the seeming inappropriateness of the scare.  Perhaps the most famous of these types of situations to appear in film is depicted in a scene from the David Lynch movie “Mulholland Drive” in which a character is scared to death in broad daylight by an apparition emerging from behind a dumpster outside a streetside diner.

I have, for years now, had frequent occasion to regret my regular attendance at a certain venue because of a recurrent scene which I am forced to witness and which leaves me shaken to my core.  I know most readers have, at some time, had to endure this same experience but nobody has yet to raise the alarm to warn others of the potential emotional harm.  The scenario begins innocently enough; a gathering of like-minded people freely associating in the great marketplace of ideas to enjoy some casual mass media consumption.  After finding their seating, the crowd will endure a string of utterly ignorable commercial advertisement, awaiting entertainment but still expecting more promotional “trailers”.  But…BUT, somewhere between the commercials for cars and the commercials for other movies the audience is subjected to a viewing of an animated short feature — and it freaks me out!

I see the struggle of a small, faceless man, fighting to survive in world filled with peril.  I see him navigate the hazards of deathtraps and ambushes set by an unseen menace, a hidden presence who means to kill him.  Denied communication, he is alone, cut off from the world.  He outruns an unstoppable juggernaut boulder, he somehow escapes an aerial strafing, and, bending like a blade of grass before the storm, he survives a hail of bullets.  He survives these trials only to fall victim to that most ancient Sicilian instrument of intrigue…POISON.

Seeking rest, in a moment of unguarded respite, the protagonist of this little fiction finds himself tempted by the prospect of refreshment.  Just as Gilgamesh and Sampson were ensnared by temptation, so too is this small man who had heretofore endured so many tribulations.  He drinks deeply from that dreadful well, that fount of despair, that cup of wrath (feeling pretty poetic right now).  But only after he has sealed his own fate and taken thoroughly into himself that which will surely kill him does he look up from his replenishment to see the literal writing on the wall…HIS DOOM (I’m firing on all cylinders now, getting Biblical and everything)!

The poison affects the poor soul at the very moment of his terrible realization.  The viewing audience is forced to watch in horror as he is bizarrely transformed by the shocking changes brought upon him by that careless drinking selection.  The victim issues a surprised yelp as his head is suddenly retracted, turtle-like, down INTO his torso, reducing him to a hunched, headless heap.  He is thus spared having to see his own legs fuse together into a single central limb while further deformation of his body transfers the burden of his weight to his now monstrous, floor-length arms.  With a fading cry from his vanishing spirit this once-person, now merely a thing, is placed like a stuffed trophy on the wall and there commemorates the glory of his victor, proclaiming his master’s name.

Malco…this does not make me want to buy a large drink at the concession.

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