Let’s try something completely different than I would usually do, let’s start this article with a definition! Scotch Shower: this is another way of saying alternate shower. The shower alternates between hot and cold water, you start with hot water for one to three minutes then follow by cold water about a quarter of that time, then back to hot. The Scotch Shower is usually given to persons for whom an increase in mental alertness is desired. * Now, you’re probably wondering to yourself, has Brian lost his mind? What the hell does some kind of therapeutic shower have to do with movies? Well, dear reader, bear with me a moment and I’ll explain all!
As the Bad Movie Guy, you might think that I spend most of my time watching b and cult movies, which is mostly true, but I also like to read, and when I say read, I don’t mean the odd Star Trek novel or the monthly issue of Fangoria…but those do figure prominently in my personal library! Recently, I was reading a book, The Monster Show: A Cultural History Of Horror by David J. Skal, now, I won’t go into a big review of the book, which is very good, but there was one particular passage that jumped out at me about a movie term that I never knew, even though the technique was something that I had admired for a while now. In a chapter about the French theatre of horror, The Grand Guignol, Skal talks about the technique of douche ecossaise, or ‘Scotch’ shower a technique that “intensified the emotional impact of it’s programs through…rapid shifts between humor and horror.” This one line sent my mind reeling, first a movie term that I’d never heard before, but it was a technique that I had seen over and over and had pointed out on more than one occasion. It’s always strange to find out that something that you’ve seen and thought was very novel is actually something that’s been going on for years, even centuries in film. So, since I was completely taken aback by this, I thought why not share it with all of you and maybe point out a couple of movies where this ‘scotch’ shower technique had been used effectively…or not.
Honestly, the first movie that leapt to mind was An American Werewolf In London. This is the movie I always have pointed to that used this technique very well, even before I knew what it was called. An American Werewolf In London starts off as a comedic buddy pic, two guys hiking across England, seeing the sights, joking with each other, it’s quite possibly the best set up for a buddy pic I’ve seen, you like the guys, they like each other and you’re on a fun trip with them. Then, just when you think that this is just a comedy, the werewolf attacks and it’s one of the most violent attacks I’ve seen, or maybe it just seems that way because of the ‘scotch’ shower effect! The humor and fun that we’re all having is a complete set up for the attack. John Landis uses the ‘scotch’ shower to get us relaxed and we actually begin enjoying this comedic travel movie, when suddenly the horror hits so unexpectedly that it probably seems worse than it actually is. I’ve always thought that the first half hour of An American Werewolf In London was the best set up for a horror movie that I’ve ever seen, and I can even remember the attack vividly, because I was so lulled by the comedy that preceded it. A classic movie, using, what I thought at the time was a novel approach to getting the audience off guard, so you can imagine my surprise when I read that this was actually a very old film technique…I still love this movie though!
How about Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn? If this isn’t the perfect marriage of humor and horror, then it just doesn’t exist. Just the scene where Ash’s own hand becomes possessed and he’s attacked by his own hand, this is a perhaps the perfect mix of The Exorcist and The Three Stooges! And the possessed hand scene is really the tip of the iceberg in this movie. And, if I may take a side-track briefly, the Evil Dead Trilogy (Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn and Army Of Darkness) is perhaps the best recent cinematic tribute to the joining of comedy and horror, the first being a great straight ahead horror movie, the second is a blend of humor and horror and Army Of Darkness has some scares, but is mostly played for laughs. Now, back on track, while Evil Dead 2 doesn’t set you up like An American Werewolf In London, it presents itself as a straight ahead horror movie, but there’s so much comedy here that it might’ve been called The Three Stooges Haunt Ash! While not a true use of the ‘scotch’ shower technique, Evil Dead 2 blend comedy and horror so effortlessly that we don’t whether to laugh or scream most of the time!
If you water down the definition a little, from the use of humor to disarm the audience in order to intensify the horror when it happens, what about distracting the audience with something else? Like romance? I’m, of course, referring the one of my favorite Japanese movies, Audition. There’s no humor in Audition, but the first three quarters of the movie plays like a dramatic romance. This story of a lonely widower who’s looking for a new wife to fill the void in his life is a near-tear-jerker, that when, in the last ten minutes of the movie, the object of his affection is revealed to be a full on serial killer, it makes the violence seem to be that much more ‘in your face’. Audition may not be a true ‘scotch shower’ but it’s a very close cousin.
And, speaking of shower, what about the classic, Psycho? Now, this isn’t so much a traditional ‘scotch’ shower set up, this is more of the watered down variety. What begins as a classic ‘take the money and run’ type of movie takes a quick and violent turn in a simple motel shower. In one shocking scene, Hitchcock turned a dramatic con man type drama and turned it into a full on horror movie like nothing that had been seen before. Not a true ‘scotch’ shower, but a bait and switch none-the-less, which, after all, is really the spirit of this film technique.
So, there you have it, I’m sure there a literally dozens of movies that use this same technique, but I’m always fascinated to find that something that I found innovative and fun was, in fact, a technique that’s been in use longer than I’ve been alive, so for you, gentle reader, I give you the ‘Scotch’ Shower. Watch for it when you view your next horror movie, or take one if you feel a bit fatigued, and the next time you’re in the bar after the weekend movie, you can sit with your buddies and talk about this film technique and sound a whole lot smarter than you actually are, after all, that’s what I just did!