In keeping with the tone/style of Semi-Dead I've decided to do a blog series profiling some of my favorite films/clips that had just probably the opposite effect they should have. Either it's horrible and frightening and I find it hilarious, or vice versa. You'll get the idea…and in the process I'll probably reveal more than I should about my traumatic childhood.
Pt. 1 – The Dark Overlord of the Universe
What was the first movie to ever scare me you ask? Was it The Exorcist? Night of the Living Dead? Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo? Any of these would make sense, but I was not so lucky.
No the first movie that ever scared me was George Lucas' classic "Howard the Duck." But not Howard himself (though I do find the idea of a 4-foot-tall talking duck a bit unsettling). No it had to do with this man:
Dr. Walter Jenning (played by Ferris Bueller's high school principal).
The basic setup is this: Dr. Jenning is doing some kind of crazy scientisty space-time experiment thingy when he accidentally teleports an alien monster (called a Dark Overlord of the Universe) inside of his own body.
Now most people would be concerned about this, maybe ask to be taken to the hospital, or to a priest, or immediately assume the worse and take a shotgun to their head...Instead Dr. Jenning hops into a van with Howard and sexy, big-haired 80's Lea Thompson (apparently Marty McFly's mom dabbles in bestiality as well as temporal incest) and decides to go grab a bite to eat.
What follows is one of the most incredibly unsettling moments ever put on screen (I mean the dude had a Japanese hentai tentacle in this throat!) I'm not lying when I say that seeing this movie gave me daily, recurring nightmares that lasted for months. I blame that angry, vagina faced, giant scorpion monster for many a sleepless night.
Yes, in retrospect it's ridiculous. But imagine being 6 years old and seeing this. And (prepare for me to get academic for a second), despite the campiness of it all, the whole Dr. Jenning scenario actually plays well into what horror aficionados call the "body horror" subgenre. Whether it's an arrogant scientist turning himself into a giant fly (The Fly), a Japanese businessman mutating into a metal monster (Tetsuo), or a TV exec growing a mouth on his stomach (Videodrome), there's something deeply unsettling about the notion of losing control of your own body – the idea of the monster being inside you, something that becomes all the more potent in a time when disease is as dangerous a threat as war.
Cheesy or not, I find there's something distinctly Cronenberg-esque about Dr. Jenning's story. In another world perhaps Dr. Jenning would have had his own film and gone on to be one of the great cult movie monsters of all time. He probably even went to college with Seth Brundle – where he majored in Mad Science with a concentration in Poor Judgment Theory - two plucky undergrads bragging about how they would both someday defy the laws of nature and science – even if it meant putting their own bodies at risk… but oh how the mighty do fall.
Incidentally, I may have been right to fear Dr. Jenning as a kid as in 2003 the actor, Jeffery Jones, became a convicted sex offender when he was arrested for asking a 14-year-old boy to hang out for a photo session (and not the kind that ends up in the high school yearbook).
Without further ado: The madness of Dr. Walter Jenning: