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Tom Savini, Mischa Barton, and the Allure of the Secret Hide-Out

Sixthsense_4201 Life: It’s confusing, chaotic, and often just plain scary. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place where one could really get away from it all? A place where one could be safe and secure from the horrors of the world, but still able to see what was going on in it if one wanted to?

I, for one, have always thought it would. And so, it would seem, have the makers of a lot of my favorite horror movies. Bunkers of one sort or another – places where one is blockaded off from the chaos of the world beyond but able to keep tabs on it all the same – show up in a lot of these movies, and when they do they always stir an elemental sense of envy on my part.

First and foremost on my list of these enviable bunkers is the one the four lead characters hole up inside in the original Dawn of the Dead. Out beyond the Monroeville Mall things may all be chaos, but inside that weird, windowless apartment that Stephen, Peter, Roger and Francine take refuge in, a sense of safety and control reigns supreme — or at least it does until Tom Savini and his marauding biker buddies show up. (It’s significant, I think, that Roger (Scott H. Reiniger) only really loses his grip on things once he and Peter (Ken Foree) leave the mall altogether on their journey to the parking area to secure trucks to seal off the mall’s exits. Once you leave your Secret Hide-Out or Mission Control behind, your clarity of vision fades and you start acting erratically. This is because Mission Control is characterized by sanity along with safety. Things are crazy out beyond it, but make sense within its borders.)

Other films that call up this Secret Hide-Out nostalgia for me? Jonathan Mostow’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, though perhaps not the best of the Terminator movies, boasts some highly effective Mission Control imagery in its apocalyptic second half. Michael Crichton’s slightly dated but still eerie and effective Westworld (1973) also has a good Mission Control: one where (unlike the one in Dawn) TV monitors allow those lucky enough to be tucked away there to see exactly what’s going on out in the crazy upper world. And, needless to say, Romero’s third zombie installment, Day of the Dead, is rich from start to finish with Mission Control imagery (though none of it is ever quite as effective and appealing as the stuff in Dawn).

Of course, for the average overgrown-child horror fan, the original Secret Hide-Out/Mission Control that all these cinematic versions hearken back to was usually a much simpler affair: a tree-house, perhaps, or a tent made from a table or a couple of chairs placed together with a blanket over them. The makeshift structure that ghost-plagued Haley Joel Osment holes up inside in The Sixth Sense very effectively brought back memories of such structures from my own childhood. And when Mischa Barton stuck her vomit-dribbling face into that structure, I got one of the biggest jolts I’ve received from a horror movie – at least as an adult. Why? Because this scene drove home the big fear that all kids have about their own privately constructed Mission Controls: that – much as we wanted them to be – they were never really impregnable after all. 

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