“You wouldn’t believe what walked into the kitchen a few days ago.”
My friends Susan, Ruth, and Caryn lean forward expectantly over their mocha almond fudge sundaes waiting for my answer, their eyes wide, mouths slightly agape which explains in Susan’s case the dark trickle of hot fudge, like a night crawler emerging from its hole, dribbling down her chin.
We’re sitting around my kitchen table ignoring the drone of CNN from the nearby television.
“A wind scorpion.” I announce, “crawling right across the floor here.” They gasp.
“Well, you’ll never guess what showed up in our yard,” Caryn counters. “A disgusting snake. Orange and red and brown. I’m sure it was a coral snake.”
We murmur our horror, aware there are no coral snakes in California, and privately convinced that because it’s Caryn, who refuses to wear her glasses and possesses an unlimited supply of costume jewelry, the “snake” was probably a coral bracelet dropped in her yard.
“That’s nothing,” Ruth says. “When I was outside watering the plants, I almost brushed up against a black widow spider.”
I’m conjuring up an even more disgusting insect or snake story when the television suddenly blares an ad about erectile dysfunction. I fume.
I don’t want to know if Bud can get it on with Sally, if the mood is right or if, after four hours, Bud has to call his doctor because even soaking his erection in liquid fabric softener isn’t working. The clamor from the television has drummed out of my head a great bug story of how poor Patrick Swayze, staying at Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley while we vacationed there years ago, was bitten on the behind by a scorpion concealed in his bath towel.
In disgust I switch channels and there’s bearded Billy Mays, apparently on leave from his grave, thunderously hawking “Jupiter Jack!” a device that turns your car radio into a handsfree phone.
I pick up the remote, pretending to heave it at the television.
“Go ahead,” somebody says.
Instead, I mutely mute the set.
Every few years or so, commercials reach the point of maximum volume as advertisers figure out how to get around existing regulations of volume. California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo has, in fact, introduced a bill to once again regulate the volume of commercial interruptions.
The aggravation caused by blaring commercials is exceeded only by deafening movie trailers. It’s bad enough movie trailers are effectively Cliff Notes of each film, showing in a succession of scenes the entire movie plot and denouement.* But the dunnn dunnnn dunnn dunnn of orchestra drums, earsplitting whooshes, slams and explosions punctuating the rapid edits of flickering scenes lead me to question whether I want to see the film at all, or if it’s simpler and cheaper to sit alone in my darkened car at night lighting a series of cherry bombs.
*denouement– French for “to untie,” meaning that part of a film where all the tied up and gagged characters get untied, which occurs always after the hideous-looking villain has returned with a chainsaw that, when the chain is pulled, doesn’t work, and has motivated him to go looking for WD-40 which allows the heroes to finally realize that if they rub against each others’ ropes, a small fire will start, singeing their bonds as well as stocks, and permitting them, despite being tied up and immobile for three days, to scramble and sauté their way out of the villain’s basement.
Why do humans get such a kick out of shattering noises disguised as “entertainment,” whether movies, television, ads or music? Compare, if you will, the typical modern-day explosion-packed trailer with the original trailer of, say, Universal’s 1955 science fiction classic film, Tarantula, about a spider given radioactive flu shots and although growing to 100 feet, doesn’t succumb to influenza. Instead of an annoying narrated film clip, Tarantula’s black and white trailer displays startling white headlines: “Bullets Can’t Stop It!” “Dynamite Can’t Kill It!” “Crawling Terror 100 Feet High!” “Exclamation Marks!”
Granted, the film has multiple explosions, two instances of gun violence, a jet dropping napalm, and a tarantula hissing or growling loudly as it attacks and eats several people, cows and horses. But minus a Dolby Sound System, the blasts of the weapons are tolerable, and Tarantula gnawing bones is concealed by shadows and camera angles. An effective way, in fact, to enhance scenes of the 100 foot spider chewing up a human is to watch and simultaneously crunch on M and M Peanuts.
I have to admit a special fondness for Tarantula. After viewing it as a child, I had screaming nightmares for several months that awakened the entire household. This was well-deserved retribution for my parents’ allowing me, at my insistence, to see the film.
The movie is effective, not due to explosions and jarring sounds, but because Universal used a real tarantula to simulate the sky-high arachnid. Even the film’s town sheriff remarks after his first glimpse, “Jumpin’ Jupiter!” Unfortunately this line dates the film, since no one talks that way any more. Except Billy Mays when he’s alive, hawking the Jupiter Jack.
One of the most spectacular parts (literally) of Tarantula occurs when the gigantic arachnid is napalmed by a jet pilot. The movie, incidentally, is also notable because it is the first film with Clint Eastwood, who is listed in the credits as Tarantula’s stand-in.
At the end of Tarantula, the audience is moved by the horror on the faces of the townspeople silently watching the incinerated spider, all eight 100 foot legs upright and sizzling. We know the stunned townsfolk are thinking one thing: what now?
In a modern version of Tarantula, this scene would be deleted, and reluctantly I admit, its elimination is for the better. Townspeople who’ve barely missed being appetizers shouldn’t be standing around silently pondering the spider’s charred skeleton. This is not the time for 1950s film quietude and inaction. In the re-made Tarantula, townspeople would leap up to detonate additional explosives and blow the spider’s remains to hell. Then they’d recycle that mother.