Just a mere mention of the film Scarface (1983) and everyone in the conversation immediately recalls the iconic “say hello to my little friend” line, complete with Cuban accent for added effect. But looking beyond the legendary (and highly overlooked) performance from actor Al Pacino (The Devil’s Advocate, 1997), the tense and epic crime drama directed by Brian De Palma (Carrie, 1976), and the gorgeous cinematography from the keen eye of the late John A. Alonzo (Terror in the Aisles, 1984), you’ll find the makings of a horror film that holds its own against some of the genre’s best in the business. Allow me to explain.
FROM THE PAGE TO THE SCREEN
The original Scarface had a very different inspiration than it’s 1983 remake. The 1932 film of the same name, directed by Howard Hawkes (Thing From Another World, 1951) was an adaptation of a 1929 novel, again of the same name, written by author Armitage Trail. Trail had based his book on the life of infamous American gangster Al Capone, nicknamed Scarface after a scuffle in a tavern left him with a razor slash across his left cheek resulting in a prominent scar.
The film version of the novel took shape just three years after the book’s release and two years after author Trail’s death in 1930 while staying true to the source material. The film is tame by today’s standards but it contains some pretty dark subject matter and some considerable violence, including a depiction of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
The 1983 version strays from the Capone reference but still remains true to the heart of the source material. Scarface ’83 tells the tale of an immigrant Cuban who rises from nothing only to gain everything only to fall from their own trappings of greed.
DEATH OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who comes to Miami to find a better life and live the American dream, finds what he is looking for but ultimately learns that living in the land of opportunity comes with a hefty price. He also learns just how quickly it can go up in a cloud of yeyo.
Montana builds an empire for himself out of literally nothing using only sheer will and a large pair of cojones. But that empire is built on the backs of pushers, junkies, friends, and lovers. While his intentions may be honorable, in the beginning, that honor soon takes a backseat to the almighty dollar. Montana quickly learns that to have it all, he needs to walk the dark path of greed and excess to embrace the real American dream, even if it means leaving a trail of souls in his wake.
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THE MIAMI CHAINSAW MASSACRE
It starts with a chainsaw and ends in a shootout. The horror ingrained in this infamous scene is as visceral as any slasher movie out there with perhaps, even more, terrifying subtext. The chainsaw bit is terrifying enough on its own but add a helpless Tony tethered to the shower curtain rod made to watch his friend’s grisly murder and the terror intensifies. The close-quarters gun battle that ensues is director De Palma upping the ante and driving home the reality of the horrible of the life Tony and his amigos have chosen for themselves and perhaps even foreshadows the horrors to come.
This scene alone automatically gave the film an X rating from the MPAA and De Palma had to trim the film three times before he persuaded the ratings board to give it an R rating. In fact, De Palma had real-life drug enforcement professionals vouch for the realism of the film’s violence and its necessary inclusion to tell Tony’s story correctly. This tactic worked so well in De Palma’s favor that he released the original cut of the film without any trimming and still received the R rating he wanted.
MAKING THE “CARA CICATRIZ” MONSTER
Tony Montana, named after football legend Joe Montana by scribe Oliver Stone (The Hand, 1981), is a product of his environment. He becomes such a monster throughout the story that he willingly destroys his own future for a bump and a phat stack and it isn’t pretty. People suffer, people die, and while deep down in some primal way Tony may care about his actions, he is so blinded by his obsession with power and avarice that any semblance of his real self has been devoured by the monster that took over.
Montana is so grotesque in the end that he is completely unrecognizable, a husky of the man he was. He has pillaged and plundered himself a trustless life that murders more than just his foes and rivals. He butchers more lives in more ways than a blade of a bullet can. He destroys people from the inside out with distrust and disdain, pushing away even his closest confidants until there is nothing left, laying waste to anything beautiful in his life.
THE BODY COUNT CONTINUES
Jason Voorhees has knocked off 146 camp counselors in 12 films averaging around 13 victims per film. Freddy Krueger took out just 42 Elm Street brats over 9 films with an average of only 4 victims per film. Michael Myers butchered 121 babysitters in 11 films averaging 11 victims per film. Those are three of the biggest cinematic serial killers of all time and while their numbers may be high, it took them multiple films to reach those heights.
Scarface has 42 kills in its 170-minute runtime. Not only does Montana match the notorious big three in Voorhees, Myers, and Krueger, he also out averages Chucky, Pinhead, Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Jigsaw. This would make Scarface one of the most prolific slasher never to be a slasher that horror audiences never knew they knew.
Director Brian De Palma is no stranger to the horror genre. The director has curated several horror films spanning over forty years starting with Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), Dressed to Kill (1980), Body Double (1984), Raising Cain (1992), The Black Dahlia (2006), and the recently announced Catch and Kill.
It’s clear that De Palma’s horror pedigree is high and his genre sensibilities are splattered all over Scarface’s bullet-riddled canvas. From Tony Montana’s monstrous anti-hero to the ghastly horrors that men do to each other, De Palma has wallpapered this gritty crime drama with a healthy dose of horror paste to make sure his love of all things creepy sticks to the very last reel.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF TAMMY LYNN LEPPERT
For those that have seen the film, you may recall the blonde distraction girl in the blue bikini during the chainsaw sequence, this was Tammy Lynn Leppert (Spring Break, 1983). She disappeared under suspicious circumstances never to be heard from again.
While working on the film, Leppert suffered from a breakdown on the set while watching the violent chainsaw scene. The actress was taken to her trailer where she confided fears of alleged money laundering and suspicion of someone wanting her dead to a family friend. She quit the production shortly afterward. She vanished in July of 1983, just over five months prior to the movie’s release date in the United States. She hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
POST RAID BREAKDOWN
Scarface, despite its brilliant direction and performances, is not an easy watch. While the almost three-hour runtime seems daunting at first glance, the film is so terrifyingly intriguing that before you know it, the end credits are rolling. But that intrigue has heart-pounding tension, incredibly graphic violence, and heartbreaking character stories that play Scarface more like a modern slasher than a heavy drama.
But what do you think? Does Scarface belong on our Almost Horror list or have we been dipping into the yeyo a little too much? Let us know on our Nightmare on Film Street Twitter, Subreddit and of course, our Horror Movie Fiend page on Facebook. Until next time, fellow fiends… fly pelican, fly.