He’d reckoned he’d seen it all, the film critic on Trevor Chappell’s Overnights show for local ABC radio stations all around Oz. He’d seen it all, had Tom Cushing, until he’d came up against the two movies he’d viewed recently. And I’d just happened to be awake to hear his recounting the impact they had on him. They were both from the horror genre and he had surmised he was inured from all that ilk of film could throw at him. But, for very different reasons, ‘It’ and ‘Mother’ got to him. ‘Solid’ was his description of the first offering, a Stephen King adaptation. Australia’s own Hugo Weaving and Ben Mendelsohn were both, at stages, mooted for the lead role, but Tom reckoned Bill Skarsgård, son of Stellan, did a solid (that word again) job as the evil clown. Mr Cushing opined that there was nothing up there on the actual screen that fazed him – he’d seen it all before, as we have mentioned. But what he wasn’t prepared for was the reaction of the guy sitting next to him who was really into it and possibly hadn’t had the same exposure to the shocks that abound in the more frightening scenes of horror fare. When the nasty jokester suddenly appeared out of nowhere, to the children involved, it was too much for the poor fellow seated aside Tom and he grabbed our unsuspecting reviewer for all he was worth to be protected from the excruciating scariness unfolding. That was a first for Tom. The horror jaded critic had another shock in store when he took in the second movie, ‘Mother’. The Jennifer Lawrence vehicle truly, truly unsettled him. It was like no other horror number he’d seen in his long years. He told his listeners that he thought about leaving the cinema several times during its length and warned that, if you are in any way the slightest bit faint of heart, then this may not be the film for you. He continued on by saying he didn’t have the words to describe the terror he witnessed on the screen, nor the feelings for what he saw induced in the pit of his stomach. I myself loved director Darren Aronofsky’s marvellous ‘The Wrestler’ and to a lesser extent, ‘Black Swan’. But listen to these on-line headlines for ‘Mother’. Rolling Stone cautioned ‘It will make your head explode.’ and ‘The Verve’ added its tuppence worth by calling it the year’s most hated film. Patently, it’s not for me.
No, unlike my partner’s daughter (dare you to see ‘Mother’, Ilsa?), who thrives on being frightened out of her wits, I was put off horror long ago. Way back in the misty past, at the Somerset Drive-in to be precise, with avians flying all around in the evening air, I had the misfortune, as with James Norman, of seeing Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. From that point on it took something special (‘The Shining’, a few of M. Night Shyamalan’s oeuvre) to entice me to be scared at the cinema again.
And in reality, there are some birds that bring out a little touch of fear in all of us. For James Norman and my Leigh’s brother Phil, the former Gold Coast postie, it is the magpie during spring’s swooping season. For me and I suspect, dozens of other Tasmanians, it is our own protected spur-winged plover. As a kid, I never felt any joy teasing these, what I thought of then as vicious feathered fiends, till they rose skywards en masse, only to plummet down towards their quarry. My pals would be screaming out in mock terror, running around hell for leather and having the time of their young lives, despite the fact their uncovered noggins were seemingly in acute danger. Yes, some of my mates thrived on the fun of stirring up a congregation of plovers.
I remember once, during my time at Yolla School in country Tasmania, we had, as a guest to address an assembly, a mainland environmentalist who enthused, to the glazed multitude before him, about the amazing number of plovers there were around the school precinct. He related that they were fairly rare in his neck of the woods. But here, especially in rural areas, plovers are a part of the fabric of everyday life, not thought of until the instant realisation strikes that two spurred wings are descending from the heavens with cruel intent. Barely is their time to worry about one’s skull or, heaven forbid, eyes before we are instinctively ducking for cover. Of course the bird is too acting on instinct, namely to protect their nestlings – but it often makes being around our urban fringes and open countryside most uncomfortable on occasions.
Over the years rumours have abounded of deaths caused by a spur penetrating into the brain or a cornea, but methinks that unlikely. But I often wonder what happens when a plover gets its timing slightly wrong?
There was an incident of Hitchcokian potential that happened to me a dozen or so years ago; one that has continued to give me nightmares, along with the original movie. I was far from civilisation that particular day, alone with my camera, on some open wetlands, when I came under stuka-like attack from a bevy of plovers. They dived-bombed me repeatedly as I dashed for the cover of a faraway tree. I felt the disturbance of air caused by the flapping of wings as my assailants flashed in very close in to my ears. Once, under the protection of its branches, they desisted and landed. There ensued a waiting game. Now and again there would be a squawk, a plover no doubt warning me that, if I exposed myself, my demise would be imminent. ‘You poke your ugly visage out mate and we’ll have you.’ They would not go away, I was not game to move. As the afternoon grew greyer and more foreboding I decided to make my escape. Inexplicably, as I crept away as low to the ground as possible, they didn’t bat an eyelid. For some reason they had collectively deduced I was no longer a threat as I made my way cautiously to my automobile. I drove off quite speedily. On my journey home all I could think of was that shocker of a movie where Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy and Tippi Hendren are terrorised by feathered marauderers. It all came throttling back to me.
Despite coming eye to eye with a deadly flotilla of armoured-faced avians that day, I am now in admiration of these feisty creatures of the skies. Mother nature does bite back and they are its champions. They ensure we, the alpha-males of the natural world, do not have it all our own way. They are not deadly, but they warrant our respect. Its great that there is still so much in the animal world that can replicate the terror that happens in Hollywood horror Here we get the right royal heebie-jeebies from creatures a fraction of our size. It just takes a Hitchcock to start the ball rolling and put the doubt in our minds.