The Review/ Short Read/

Morgan Spurlock on the horror films that warped his mind

Watching David Cronenberg at age nine isn't always a bad thing

by Morgan Spurlock
Aug 1, 2017

__In a piece originally written for the Halloween 2016 edition of TIFF's newsletter The Review, Morgan Spurlock shared his love of horror movies, including the film that made him want to make movies for a living: David Cronenberg's Scanners. Spurlock returns for his second TIFF in a row with his new documentary Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! For up-to-the-minute TIFF '17 news, head to our Festival homepage. __

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved horror films. Well, I wouldn’t exactly say loved, more like “begrudgingly accepted horror films after they were forced on me by my terrible parents in a way where I didn’t really have a choice, but to either love them or be scarred forever.”

You see, when I was growing up in West Virginia in the ‘70s, parents didn’t give a shit. We didn’t wear seat belts — you’d pile your whole baseball team into the backseat of your dad’s Cutlass and go for victory pizza. No one ever wore helmets when you rode a bike. You got a concussion… like a MAN! And there was all kinds of dangerous equipment at playgrounds — good luck finding some serious monkey bars or merry-go-rounds today.

And parents (at least mine) took their kids to see whatever movie they wanted to see at the theatre. So, from a very young age, I watched Jaws, The Exorcist, Omen, Carrie, Scanners, you name it. Because hey, at the end of the day, they’re ONLY movies.

Believe it or not, David Cronenberg’s Scanners was the movie that actually made me want to make movies. When, aged 9, I saw Michael Ironside make Louis Del Grande’s head explode in this 1981 classic, it changed my life forever.

“I HAVE TO DO THIS!” I said to myself. (Whatever THIS was.) And when I actually got to meet Cronenberg at TIFF 2016, I was that giddy nine-year-old all over again, gushing how he changed my life.

“For the better, I hope,” he quipped. The guy is a national treasure.

But, in the end, it wasn’t just Scanners. I LOVED all horror movies. The way they made my skin crawl, the way they made me jump, the way they forced me to look under my bed, in my closet, and turn on all the lights in my house, was fantastic. The days and nights that I spent in darkened theatres with my parents are some of my fondest memories from my childhood.

But why? Why did these films resonate so deeply with me? My friends thought I was a freak. When I’d go to the movies with them, they’d all opt for whatever goofball early ‘80s comedy was in the theatre next door (cue Burt Reynolds) while I stared longingly into the eyes of Malachai in Children of the Corn, Carol Anne Freeling in Poltergeist, and Halloween’s Michael Myers.

Rick Baker Photo

An American Werewolf in London was another major turning point for me. After seeing this epic fright fest, all I wanted to be when I grew up was Rick Baker. (The makeup and special effects guru for the film.) He and Tom Savini became my heroes. I started gobbling up all their movies in weekly theatrical and VHS binging gulps! From Squirm to Dawn of the Dead, The Howling to Friday the 13th, Videodrome (more Cronenberg!) to Creepshow… I wanted to do what these geniuses did.

Next thing you know, I’m in my bedroom mixing up my own blood with food coloring and Karo syrup, putting scars all over my face and arms with liquid latex and scaring the bejesus out of my mom. This went on for years, with me redesigning and re-painting Halloween masks and doing my own weird makeup up until high school.

That was when I went to have that “What are you going to to do with your life?” meeting with my guidance counsellor. She knew how much I loved movies and suggested I go to college to learn how to make films. “You can do that?!” I said. She took that giant book of colleges off the shelf (keep in mind this was 1988 and there was no internet) and turned to the section that listed “Film Education” schools.

Now, here I am as a grown-up, “trying-to-be-adult” director having just made my first horror film, or, to be more accurate, my first horror documentary, Rats.

"I'm gonna suck your brain dry" — Scanners

We premiered the movie at the mother of all genre fests, Midnight Madness at TIFF. It was a dream come true for this freaky, horror-obsessed kid. From there, we hit every genre freak fest we could, from Fantastic Fest in Austin to Beyond Fest in LA, to the Telluride Horror Show. Nine-year-old me was giving 45-year-old me serious high-fives.

And I have to say, watching the film is not nearly as awesome or rewarding as watching the audience watch the movie. The squeals, squirms, and eye-covering discomfort are the jumps that put me where I am today. I can’t wait for my parents to see the film. Maybe it’s a little sweet revenge that I’ll finally get them back for all those years of staring at the screen through clasped hands. Or maybe they’ll be smiling the whole time, knowing that they were the ones truly responsible for their oddball kid’s rat-tastic undertaking.