Who Turned Out the Lights, Continued...
And yet--in the morbid gloom of those midnight scenes--that ridiculous little breathing sarcophagus actually looks... kinda scary.
The darkness makes it work.
Unfortunately, this cinematic fiasco has plenty of broad-daylight scenes. The only even marginally convincing performer on this sorry Caribbean crap-cruise is Lee Meriwether as the sexually repressed wife of a loudmouthed minister. She spends most of the movie aimlessly wandering around, eyes glazed and mouth slightly agape, sizing up each guy like he's God's gift to her.
Does darkness make everything in movies scarier? Maybe so. There's a scene in Frankie and Annette's Beach Blanket Bingo, around the middle, where an overweight, flabby, rheumy-eyed Buster Keaton is dancing at night with a teenage girl in a fur-trimmed gold bikini. That's downright horrifying.
The fiction of fear also benefits from plenty of darkness. The vast majority of such stories are set in the dark. That's where you'll find Dracula, Frankenstein, most of Stephen King's evil cars, werewolves and whatnot, and the vast majority of H.P. Lovecraft's eldritch critters. Dagon, Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, the Fungi from Yuggoth and the rest all hang out in sunken temples, barren moonlit landscapes, the planet Pluto and other bleak and lightless environments. Lovecraft did score a major triumph with "Cool Air," in which the horror unravels in a well-lit apartment in a busy city. The story is really just an updated revision of Poe's M. Valdemar plotline--dead guy kept alive by artificial means eventually turns to ick--but Lovecraft's story is actually the better of the two, in that HPL's version is more innovative and less cliched than EAP's. Though to be fair, Poe's was probably pretty hot stuff back when he wrote it.
One of the best modern stories in the Lovecraftian vein to employ darkness as a plot element is Ramsey Campbell's "Blacked Out," which can be found in his story collection, Cold Print . In this story, a traveler in an unnamed German town finds a church in the night surrounded by thousands of candles... Something lurks on the porch of the building that looks like a tree-trunk with a long, thin face. And then the candles start going out in rows, as though they are being engulfed. And they are.
Religious types often equate God with love and light, and the Devil with pain and darkness. They will tell you that light will always dispel the darkness and demons... But why can't darkness be nurturing? Living things may need light to thrive, but darkness can be therapeutic, too. Like I said earlier--we all sleep in the dark, and we all need sleep to live. And most people make love in the dark--well, except maybe porn stars, who even add spotlights to the action.
Clive Barker's Cenobites, from the Hellraiser movies, eagerly throw sex into the mix with pain and darkness. Once you start messing with one of those nasty Rubik's Cubes of death--the lights go low, the gates of Hell open up and out come the horny sadists from beyond, ready to pleasure their victims to bits with hooks and knives and a variety of other stainless steel slaughter-house utensils. I've never been one to subscribe to that whole pleasure-is-pain concept. The delicious pleasure of a toothache! The erotic thrill of hitting your thumb with a hammer! Oooh, it's just dreeeamy!
But putting aside that whole pain-is-yummy concept, I did enjoy most of the Hellraiser movies quite a lot--especially Bloodline, the one set in space. That one expanded the Hellraiser mythos fairly well into more Lovecraftian/cosmic themes, and using the boundless blackness of space as a backdrop was an inspired touch. At least they didn't just remake the first one with new characters, which is usually par for the course with horror sequels.
Sometimes darkness is used as a metaphor. The darkness of madness, or the unknown. Fear. Confusion. Always bad things. Has there ever been a horror movie or story where the darkness was good, and light was bad? Where God was represented by darkness, and Satan was the one in the light? Hmmm. If there ever was one, I can't think of it.
But then, humans are light-lovin' creatures, for the most part. What if cockroaches were the master race on Earth, and they were the ones writing the stories and making the movies? Well then, all the horror movies would be set in the hideous light, and all the romantic comedies would take place in the sexy, filth-strewn dark.
In cockroach horror movies, the monsters and killers would all carry around flashlights to terrify their victims. Cockroach vampires would live in clean, well-lit castles--the horror! Count Roachula would wear a clean white linen cape. The stench of decay and the tomb would be replaced by the hideous reek of squeaky-clean pine and lemony freshness.
More and more, the world is becoming a place where terror doesn't rely on darkness. Horror can be found on an antiseptically clean operating room filled with state-of-the-art equipment. Oops! The doctor slipped just a tiny bit with the knife and now your grandmother is dead. The guy working in the cubicle next to you seems like a normal guy. He even likes watching Everybody Loves Raymond. Who'd have guessed he's a crazed killer with a couple frozen heads in his Frost-Free Frigidaire? Speaking of stuff you put in the fridge... That ground meat you bought yesterday in that big, bright, cheery supermarket--does it contain the tasteless, deadly taint of mad cow disease? Now there's an especially horrendous disease! Even cooking the meat won't prevent you from catching it. Your new car may have a defect that will make it fly off the road. A gasoline explosion sure can dispel a lot of darkness! Or maybe your beloved spouse will get sick of you and meet somebody new on the Internet. Hmmm, but what to do about you...? Ho ho, spousey-kins and that new Internet sweetie will figure out something! Hopefully it won't be too painful...
If there must be evil forces in the world, perhaps people prefer for those evils to be associated with darkness. That makes them easier to identify. Easier to fight, too. There is a considerable comfort in being able to know right from wrong with that much ease. Why, if the evil is related to darkness, just shed a little light on the subject--that ought to do the trick!
Wouldn't it be great if every negative person in your life was as easy to dispel as a vampire? Got a crappy boss or coworker? Just wear a nice big cross and they'll stay away. Or, just don't go anywhere that they might go at night--they can't go out in the daylight, so you'll be safe then. If you want to do them in, just wait until they're asleep in their coffin. Then, put a stake through their heart and they'll collapse into a tidy pile of dust. There, problem solved! The police won't even arrest you for murder. They may even give you a medal for disposing of that annoying vampire.
But alas, life isn't that easy. If you have a boss or coworker who is a constant pain in the ass, the law would still frown upon killing them with a stake. Yep, that's the law, kiddo, like it or not.
Plus, maybe that boss or coworker has a different point-of-view on the matter. You think they're the evil one? Well, maybe they're thinking the same about you. Maybe they think you're the pain in the ass. At least when it comes to vampires, the roles are pretty clear. They're the bloodsucking supernatural parasite and you're just a simple human. But when both parties are simple humans... Hey, not so simple.
Even an evil sarcophagus on a cruise ship would be easier to fight than a crappy coworker. Just push the sarcophagus overboard! For the record, the folks in Cruise Into Terror do discuss tossing the evil sarcophagus back into the water every now and then, but somebody usually says something like, "Oh no, it's a really important archeological find! Besides, all these evil happenings are just in our imaginations! True, some people are dead, but those were just accidents! Weren't they...?"
Now if you pushed a nasty coworker into the Caribbean, you'd definitely get into trouble. It would not be seen as protecting the world from the forces of darkness. It would be seen as murder...
"But officer! You can't arrest me! I had to push Gladys from Accounting into the ocean! Why? Because she was evil! In fact, I think she was the Anti-Christ ... or would that be Anti-Christy, since she was a woman? Oh, but you should have seen the evil way she would stare at me over the top of her horn-rimmed glasses. It was the Devil's stare! Plus, she used to eat all the cream-filled doughnuts and not save any for me when anybody brought doughnuts into the break room. I love cream-filled doughnuts, but I never got to have any... Not while evil Gladys from Accounting was around! Her lust for those doughnuts was insatiable! And she always used to take up two parking spots out in the lot. She'd park right in the middle of two spots so that no one would park next to her, since she knew the rest of us would go by the rules and park between the lines. Rules meant nothing to that woman! Nothing! I tell you, officer--she deserved to drown!"
Maybe Gladys joined the Cenobites after she died...
"Ah, Gladys... So glad to have you among us. You are one of us, you know... A creature of great evil--and even greater desire. So please, make yourself at room here in the steaming bowels of Hell. You are going to be with us forever, you know. You used to enjoy eating liver and onions at the Dew Drop Inn and shopping for blouses at Younkers ... but from now on, all you will ever know will be the sting of the lash and the caress of the blade! Surrender to unspeakable torment and perversion, Gladys from Accounting!"
Poor Gladys. She just can't win, can she?
Darkness, darkness everywhere, and not a star to blink.
One might argue that darkness makes us appreciate the light more. And maybe the reverse is true. After a full day of light and activity, of rushing from project to project, a night of restful darkness can be merciful. Comforting. Therapeutic, like I said earlier. So sleep tight! Bed bugs? They wouldn't dare bite. The boogeymen will stay in the closet and sort through all the old junk you keep in there. That should keep them busy. The machete-wielding killers will skip your neighborhood and go chop up somebody else down the road a few blocks.
Perhaps you'll have an especially erotic dream. Wouldn't that be nice? Oh sure, you may be a little chubby and have a spare tire... More of a monster-truck tire, actually. But tonight, that won't matter, because in your dreams, you'll be sexier than Elvis and Marilyn Monroe rolled together into one big pansexual Hollywood hunka-hunka burnin' love. Tonight you will make love like a Bengal tiger, even though you may have the body of a tree-sloth. Dreams can be pretty kind that way. Sometimes they'll let you do things that would not be permitted in your day-to-day life.
See? The darkness ain't so bad, once ya get to know it. It can be generous. And why not? It has nothing to lose.
So, good night.
Good night, Cenobites.
Good night, Gladys from Accounting.
Good night, Count Roachula.
Good night, breathing sarcophagus of evil, you ridiculous yet oddly endearing little goofball. I won't totally spoil the big climactic finish of Cruise Into Terror, but I will tell you this: by the end of the movie, that ancient artifact and its unseen inhabitant were back on the ocean floor.
Back in the boundless, timeless, peaceful darkness.