Cellar Cinema

September 18, 2010 — My basement isn’t so much unfinished as it is, well, medieval. I described it briefly in an earlier post, but you’re going to need a bit of a refresher for this one.

The place where I hide from Jehovah’s Witnesses was built in 1890. Most parts of the house, you can’t see the 19th century, but were you to slip down into the basement (which is actually pretty easy to do considering it’s just a gaping hole in my kitchen floor), you would see a dirt floor, aged wooden beams, and walls made of absolutely massive slabs of granite that, like most of our ancient stone structures, must have taken alien technology to build. I just need Vincent Price and an iron maiden down there to complete the dungeon effect. All in all, it’s a pretty spooky place and, I realized recently, the perfect venue for watching a horror movie.

Televisions are getting pretty light these days, but fortunately I was able to avoid lugging an investment larger than my 401K down into a place full of jutting objects and sharp corners. I happened to recently have purchased a digital projector that I hooked up to an old DVD player that was already in the basement because our Blu-ray player had replaced it in our hearts and lives. That little arrangement, plus a pair of pool chairs and an old sheet draped over a convenient bit of PVC pipe, made the perfect little theater.

So late one night this past week, my wife and I made some popcorn, grabbed the baby monitor and a pumpkin spice candle, and trudged down into the depths. It’s the kind of scene where one’s supposed to say, “I’ll be right back.”

I had been agonizing (actually not too strong a word, believe it or not) over which horror movie we should watch at the grand opening of our basement theater. Certainly a classic would have been fun, but, honestly, the whole purpose of watching a movie down there was to creep me out and terrify my wife. To accomplish the latter is pretty easy and takes little more than me coming up with ideas like watching a movie in our basement. The former takes a bit, and my only chance at it was to see something new. After all, as great as the horror classics are, at this point in my fandom they’re like the old friends I went to college with more than the menaces to my psyche they should be.

I also thought about matching up the movie theme to our surroundings, finding one with a strong basement or dungeon component, but I couldn’t find anything that I hadn’t already seen other than tons of unimaginative “serial killer keeps victim in basement” flicks.

A place to bury the bodies is an important
consideration when buying a house.
That night, though, it seemed we had a sign from above. Literally. It started raining like crazy earlier in the evening, and you and I both know that rainy nights were made for horror movies (see Genesis 1:4). Since our basement has those small windows that are level with the ground outside (a disconcerting little arrangement that has me constantly looking for a pair of feet walking past that, for some reason, always wear wingtips in my imagination), we were able to open those up and add some "dark and stormy night" atmosphere to an event that was already clogged with it.

Anyway, to take advantage of the rain, we chose the only Netflix movie we had on hand, which was a horror movie. I would say “fortunately happened to be,” but we’ve already rearranged our queue for Halloween, so the chances were pretty good. It turned out to be Dark Mirror, an IFC film from 2007 about a woman who is haunted by a dark presence in the new house her family just bought. I was hoping the house had a basement.

We turned the lights out, settled into our reclining pool chairs, and watched the softly humming projector make that mesmerizing little cone of flecked light…a cone that revealed all the dust motes and fine particles that we were going to be breathing into our lungs for the next two hours, in addition to all the radon, of course. The projector worked amazingly well, considering we were watching it on a bedsheet after having been acclimatized for the past few years by the consumer market to only appreciate the clarity and sharpness of HD LCD screens. We might be being had, people.

After watching a few movie trailers (all horror-themed), I actually did feel the creepiness and oppression start to build, and judging from the stone-faced expression of my wife (she escapes to some place she’s never taken me in moments of duress), for her as well. And no amount of shadow puppetry was able to disperse it. Right when I was actually starting to wonder if this basement theater idea was a good one, the movie, unfortunately, saved us.

First, it was filmed in Los Angeles...and not in the way that John Carpenter's Halloween or Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in L.A. and then dressed up to appear to be somewhere actually capable of supernatural creepiness. It was unabashedly filmed in L.A. Palm trees, bright sunlight, brand new and extremely bland houses, a character who is an actress. In fact, most of this movie takes place in the brightest light, even a lot of the parts meant to be the most tense. I mean, L.A. has its place in movies (like 80s comedies), but, with rare exception, it’s not that great a city to set a horror film.

Second, the movie was badly made, so that didn’t help much either. It makes me wish my religion had multiple deities to divide up the divine workload, so that I could focus my anger on the one in charge of rain.

Still, there were certainly times when the perverse imp of my imagination ignored the movie and went to find its own entertainment. The half the basement not illuminated by the projector was in absolute primordial blackness, and it was easy to imagine some fiend emerging from it (not Vince Price, though, for some reason…someone more slobbery, bloody, and gibbering). However, the practical part of my head knew from experience that anybody who tried to navigate that area of the basement in the dark would bust their head on a duct, slam their gut on the weight bench, or run afoul of any number of pipe protrusions. Heck, I do that regularly with the lights on. Of course, none of that would stop a ghost, but for some reason, I’ve always felt I could kick a ghost’s ass.

Anyway, we finished the movie, looked awkwardly at each other, went upstairs, and then went to bed. Not a single nightmare on either of our parts except for the one I always have where I get both my hands stuck in Pringles cans and can’t find anybody to fasten my button fly jeans.

It’s been a few days, and all that stuff is still down there. Part of me wants to leave it set up and try again with a better movie, but I’m not sure I can convince my wife to give it another try. I don’t blame her. Wait. Yes, I do. This post would have been 7,000 times better had it ended with one or both of us screaming up the stairs, rushing for the remote, and turning on the Disney Channel to banish all scary thoughts. Yeah, though I walk through the basement of the shadow of death, your Phineas and Ferb, they comfort me. I’m in the Band, too.

From the trailers, the movie we should have watched, I guess.