Whether you’re just unwinding after another meandering 9-5 day at the office, or washing all the gore off your naked form after battering your wife to death after tea, there’s nothing quite like a nice, long, hot bath. We humans relish the chance to wallow at length in our own filth, occasionally using the opportunity to also have a pleasant wank, or trim down those out of control toe-claws or even (if the price is right) share the tub with a fit young thing with a thin grasp on the English language that extends to an uncertainty about how to say the word “no”.
What we forget in these moments of pleasure and relaxation is that the bathtub finds us in our most vulnerable state. Naked, all wet and slippery, possibly horny and, in the event of some kind of violent confrontation, surrounded by useless defence-weapons like rubber ducks and sponges. There have been innumerable horror movie shower scenes riffing on the peerless one Hitchcock staged with a doomed Janet Leigh in Psycho, but it’s no surprise that there have also been many creepy/nasty/disturbing bathtub scenes too. In horror you’re not safe in any room in the house, but if you’re bathing or showering, you can forget it. You might as well have a Crazy Ralph battery powered bath-toy that trills “You’re doooomed” sat next to your Shampoo bottle.
Movies like William Girdler’s delightfully sleazy Three On A Meat hook (1972) offered a variation on the much-imitated Psycho set piece with its violent stabbing of a young woman as she bathes. Slasher movies like Slaughter High(1985) - with its acid bath - and The Toolbox Murders(1976) - in which a busty victim masturbates while soaping herself up before being literally nailed - also deftly combined titillation with brutality. In one of the grimmer moments of Jeff Burr’s sorely underrated anthology From A Whisper To A A Scream (1986), repressed loser Clu Gulager snaps and throttles his sister in a bathtub right before a hideous mutant kid shows up thanks to one of those “I should have worn a rubber the night I shagged that dead woman” faux-pas we have all been through. Continuing the murder theme, Blind Terrorhas perhaps one of the subtler bathtub scenes in the slasher cycle, as sight-less Mia Farrow unwittingly shares a tub with the corpse of a freshly murdered family member.
In addition to the ten memorable horrific bathing interludes we’re about to explore, connoisseurs of this trend should check out the achingly moving post-prom scene in which Brian DePalma voyeuristically observes Carrie (1976) washing off the cruelly dumped pigs’ blood that has just inspired her to wipe out most of her high school. There are genuinely alarming supernaturally-enhanced bath-related scares in Ghost Story (1981), The Entity(1982), and the recent likes of What Lies Beneath, The Ring Two and 13 Ghosts. Special kudos also at this point to the ultimate poor-white-trash sequence at the core of Far From Home(1989), as monstrous trailer park mom Susan Tyrell is electrocuted in her tub and dies the way she would have wanted…fag in one hand, beer can in the other.
For now though, whip off your under garments and prepare to dip into these ten examples of bath-time terror. Some involve bare boobies and severed willies for those who like that sort of thing, others involve a powerful sense of implied threat and one features the kind of household accident that could happen to us all. Coming soon, incidentally, is Top Ten Really Bad Things That Happen To You While Taking A Dump In A Horror Movie. Think of these countdowns mostly as a public service.
10 .Hostel Part II (2007) Roth’s intense, harrowing sequel divided audiences and horror fans alike. While perhaps the film’s chief pleasure is the marvellous, blackly comic interplay between American businessmen / erstwhile dungeon-keepers Roger Bart and Richard Burgi, the superior follow-up also contains visceral interludes that out-grue Hostel’s attention-grabbing splatter.
In contrast to Hostel, there is only one scene of sustained girlie nudity in Hostel Part II. That scene is perhaps the film’s most distressing and cannily features the one female character the horny handed male audience is NOT yearning to see nekkid. Dorky journal-keeping virgin Heather Matarazzo is suspended naked upside down over an elaborately candlelit bathtub so that a mature, also naked woman can indulge in her Elizabeth Bathory fantasies by slicing the girl’s back and throat with a scythe and bathing in her pure blood.
This outstanding sequence channels Hammer horror in its Gothic look (and, thematically, Countess Dracula) while spilling more blood than any scene in either Hostel films. Despite the heady combination of boobs n blood (if this film has come out 20 years ago, it would have been censored in the UK to the point of near-incoherence), the sequence is disturbing to watch and far from titillating.
9 .A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) In the wake of several misfired sequels turning Freddy Krueger into an over-exposed panto villain, it became easy to forget just how potent Wes Craven’s original movie really was. The key to its success is the way in which its nightmare-based killer enabled Craven free reign to imperil characters in ways that bog standard masked maniac movies couldn’t logically do. A key scene in this regard is the moment in which feisty heroine Heather Langenkamp falls asleep in one of those dramatically bubble-heavy tubs designed for actresses with no-nudity clauses in their contracts.
There’s no bloodshed in this sequence, but it captures much of what is great about the original film, its highlight being the powerful suggestion of horrid violence via the single shot of Freddy’s bladed glove emerging improbably from the water between Langenkamp’s legs. Seldom has a bathing character felt so vulnerable on screen in a horror movie. Langenkamp, of course, survives this Krueger invasion of her most personal space, though not before nearly drowning when Krueger pulls her under and Craven offers a glimpse of the nightmare-tub becoming a murky, cavernous underwater lair patrolled by the ultimate slasher boogeyman.
8 .Bodysnatchers (1993) A notable scene in Ferrara’s terrifying, underrated interpretation of Jack Finney’s oft-filmed tale echoes the aforementioned Elm Street scene with its depiction of an attractive young girl under threat while alone in a tub. The difference here is that the threat - much like the parasitic menace we will later experience in Shivers - is not planning to inflict violence upon her nubile body…it wants to get INSIDE her body. (Scores of heterosexual blokes watching this movie on video in the 90’s probably had the same thing on their minds, albeit without the use of tendrils).
As the delectable Gabrielle Anwar nods off in the tub listening to generic 90’s soft-rock, there’s a palpable sense of dread and relatable fear. The audience squirmily becomes aware of the alien Anwar clone developing in the crawlspace above while spaghetti-like wriggly tendrils penetrate her nostrils and ears. The girl is saved in the nick of time and the clone destroyed…but this is one of many well handled scenes of personal horror in a stand-out remake. An equally good variation on this sequence appears in James Gunn’s very amusing retro horror comedy Slither.
7 .Diabolique (1954) One of the most imitated genre movies of the 50’s, this ice-cold, mean-spirited French movie was a prominent influence on Psycho with its bleak monochrome look and bathroom-based unpleasantries. Its twisting story became a template for many Hammer-made thrillers written by Jimmy Sangster in the 60’s, notably Scream Of Fear. Even in Sangster’s The Nanny - which plays more like a macabre kitchen sink drama - there’s a nasty bit of business involving a kid in a bathtub clearly indebted to Diabolique.
The oft-copied plot of Diabolique involves a cold-blooded headmaster’s plot to off his weak-hearted, wealthy wife and elope with his frosty mistress. A key part of this plot - which the audience isn’t in on at this point - involves the headmaster’s “corpse” in a bathtub suddenly springing to life and slouching toward our vulnerable heroine. Even after countless imitations and a predictably blah Hollywood remake starring Sharon “nice beaver” Stone, this sequence still has the power to send a shiver up your freshly bathed spine.
6 .Final Destination (2000) Most of the deaths in the Final Destination movies are deliberately over the top, heavily contrived and involve heads or body parts spectacularly squished or severed after an improbable chain of events representing “Death’s plan”. The original movie is a tad more restrained and serious than the (deliciously) excessive sequels, and the very first creative death is actually one of the most unnerving in the franchise, probably because it doesn’t stray too far into the realms of silliness.
The first teen schmuck to pay for surviving a plane crash is offed via an unpleasant, if elaborate, horror movie version of an everyday household accident. Typical of what would become the series’ protracted build-up to gory fatality, he escapes death from electrocution only to slip in a strategically placed puddle of water and wind up throttling himself in the unfilled tub, writhing helplessly as his ocular blood vessels burst. Its an undignified yet oddly upsetting way to die and, unlike the later deaths involving unfortunately placed knife-racks and flying shrapnel, provokes discomfort rather than sick laughs.
5 .I Spit On Your Grave (1977) One of the most memorable castration scenes in cinema takes place in a bathtub, where your penis is perhaps at its most vulnerable (unless, of course, you store it in a jar on the mantelpiece like I prefer to do). Meir Zarchi’s misanthropic rape-revenge movie, set against an ironically idyllic, sunny lakeside backdrop, follows the protracted abuse and violation of statuesque New York blonde Camille Keaton for most of its first half and then devotes its second to her rip-roaring rampage of revenge.
Arguably less exploitative and more authentic in its dehumanising, ugly portrayal of rape than several higher-profile movies that shall remain nameless, this intentionally repellent movie offers no conventional thrills even when Keaton is hitting the vengeance-trail. The defiant Keaton’s brutal murders of the misogynist thugs are as unpleasant to watch as the catalytic gang rape that started it all. She offs them via hanging, axe and boat propeller…though it’s the bath-tub knife castration of a married chauvinist gas station attendant that will have you wincing. Typical of the film’s overall approach, Zarchi avoids extended gaudy close-ups of blood-spraying genital stumps, conveying just a glimpse of gore amidst the bubbles as the victim realises with wince-inducing horror that the pleasure of a promised hand-job has abruptly turned into dong-severing agony. A humiliating lifetime of strap-ons awaits.
4 .The Changeling (1979) Thanks to a despicable act of infanticide in the early 20th century, grieving composer George C Scott’s Seattle home is haunted by a restless juvenile spirit in this often frightening old-fashioned ghost story, one of the more subtle movies in the late-70’s cycle of Bad House horrors. Director Medak gets those little neck-hairs standing to attention with low-key spooky business involving piano keys dropping by themselves, doors opening on their own and a child’s ball bouncing itself down a staircase. There’s also more overt mayhem for the finale, with the memorable spectacle of Trish Van Devere being menaced by a wild n crazy supernaturally controlled wheelchair.
The film’s horror highlight, however, represents one of the grimmest non-gory scenes in 70’s American horror. The flashback bathtub drowning of young “Joseph” by his father is bone-chilling to behold : Medak conveys the brutality of the act as much by abrasive audio as visuals, with the scene dominated by the literally haunting sounds of the boy’s panic-sticken banging on the tin tub’s sides. It’s the child’s loud death throes that menace Scott throughout the movie, and it’s this flashback that stays with the viewer longest.
3 .The Shining (1980) Kubrick’s contemporary haunted hotel tale provides many distinctive and much-imitated images : mad Jack’s crazed grinning visage in the axed door, the creepy ghostly twins in the hallway, disturbed young Danny’s fleeting, bloody psychic flashbacks to the Overlook’s past carnage. A good portion of this classic movie is built around the mystery of what lurks in the dreaded Room 237, and the sequence in which Kubrick finally unveils the Room’s secret is unforgettable in its own right.
It’s the increasingly manic Jack Torrance that finally ventures up to the forbidden room, to be confronted by the welcoming sight of a naked, perky young woman rising from a bathtub with the promise of erotic pleasures. As Jack starts to get it on with her, however, a glance in the mirror reveals the ghost-movie equivalent of removed beer-goggles as he’s really embracing a decaying, cackling old hag. Nicholson sells his character’s repulsion brilliantly, and the movie’s shock-cuts to the once-beautiful woman’s now-cadaverous self floating in the tub provide yet more scarring imagery.
2 .The Tingler (1959) Probably gimmick-meister Castle’s most fondly remembered movie, The Tingler is a notable chapter in horror history for all sorts of reasons. It has an awesomely wacky and unique central premise (human fear actually creates an over-sized centipede-like creature that grows on your spine - literally a “spine-tingler”- and can be released/killed by screaming), it features Vincent Price dabbling with LSD (!) and it showcased the very-50’s theatrical gimmick of giving audience members minor electrical shocks during key scare moments in the story!
The black and white film, which borders on the surrealistic throughout, also has a genuinely bizarre, hallucinatory colour interlude featuring the protracted terrorisation of a deaf-mute germophobe woman in her own bathroom. Utilised as a guinea pig for the ambitious doc Price’s experiments to cure her of her deep-rooted fear of blood, the hapless Martha is dosed up on acid and endures the Trip from Hell. Castle pulls out all the stops for this sequence and uses imagery that would later become modern horror cliches, as a ghoulish figure pursues Martha with an axe, windows open and close by themselves and bright red blood pours out of taps to create a literal bloodbath. Prior to Martha dropping dead of fright, there’s the memorable, nightmarish sight of a random arm emerging from the blood-filled tub, one of several great moments in a uniquely mad 50’s gem.
1 .Shivers (1975) “Sex is the invention of a clever venereal disease”, so reads a notice in the background during a typically droll moment in Cronenberg’s first horror movie, which cannily prefigures the 80’s panic over STD’s and offers a sexually charged variant on Romero’s escalating zombie plague. With its phallic, body-invading parasites turning ordinary folk into maniacal, single-minded horny maniacs, Shivers prefigures many parasitic horror films of the 80s while anticipating Alien with its scenes of said parasites bulging from infected bellies, bursting out of bodies and attaching themselves to faces.
Claustrophobically and satirically set entirely in a swanky Montrael apartment building, it’s a marvellous mix of throwaway gory jokes, twisted slapstick, disturbing savagery and outright surrealism (who can forget the image of two girls on leads panting like dogs). In a movie that gets funnier and wilder as it goes along, there are genuinely alarming moments , none more so than the sequence in which horror legend Barbara Steele is infected while taking a bath. Cronenberg captures an uneasy sense of personal invasion as a turd-esque phallic parasite in the tub gradually disappears into Steele’s holiest of holies, her reaction appropriately one of intense pain and intense pleasure. This memorable moment of bathtub ickiness results in the horror icon participating in a discreet, subtly creepy Sapphic love scene (“Let’s kiss kiss kiss and make up…”) as she joins the ranks of the out-of-control horny hordes.
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