‘Greta’, ‘Ma’, and the Return of the ‘Psycho-biddy’

Bette Davis was only 54 when she starred as the titular character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Joan Crawford was 58. Two middle-aged women helped kick off a sub-genre of horror ostensibly about “old” women who are either themselves imperiled, or are the source of the peril, or both. The genre’s most commonly known as “psycho-biddy,” but is alternatively known as “hagsploitation” or “Grand Dame Guignol.” I prefer the latter, being a fan of the word ‘grand,’ the Grand Guignol, and pronouncing the word “dame” as “dahm.”

The genre is decades removed from its heyday in the mid-60’s through the early 70’s, which saw multiple movies aping the Baby Jane formula pretty blatantly. Even the titles of many movies GDG movies are patterned after Baby Jane, either asking a question concerning a central character or, at least, name-dropping a character at the end of complete statement.

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?

What’s the Matter with Helen?

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?

Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte

Dear Dead Delilah 

(That last one, which I wrote about back in this blog’s brief “Daily Horror History” phase, features the following amazing poster…)

There were, of course, other movies in the genre that didn’t go for the copycat titles. Dead Ringer and Hammer Film’s The Nanny (both starring Bette Davis), Strait-Jacket (starring Crawford, written by Robert Bloch and directed by William Castle), Fanatic (1965) Games (1967) and Night Watch (1973), are all more than worthy of a watch for any interested viewers, and in some cases represent the last hurrah of relevance for a sub-genre that couldn’t survive the post-Exorcist horror landscape.

Other movies within the genre I’ve neglected to mention tend to have an “old woman” protagonist who is solely a victim. Admittedly, I might be doing a disservice to such films as Lady in a Cage or Berserk! by being so dismissive of them, but I’m a fan of the flicks where at least one of the graying women ends up being just a bit homicidal.

While such films have shown up from time throughout the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, most were TV-movies or straight-to-video flicks that weren’t as well-made and/or didn’t have the same level of star power or behind them that the earlier movies in the genre did. I suppose Misery could count as an exception, perhaps, but Kathy Bates was only 42 when that movie came out, younger James Caan. She’s not really the “older woman” by any standard in that film.

Anyway, at long last, let’s get to the two movies inspiring this blog post. Two wide-release movies gracing our screens in 2019 starring Award-Winning actresses as dangerously psychotic older women in the title roles: Greta and Ma.

While I wish each movie was titled There’s Something You Need to Know About Greta and There’s Something Off About Ma (direct quotes from each movie’s trailer!) to really capture that throwback vibe, the trailers for both movies make it clear that these movies aren’t playing it subtle with the crazy, murderous Grande Dames. That’s just the way I like it. I’m not saying subtlety is bad, but I do believe it’s overrated. People speak of it as though it’s always the preferable option, and I don’t agree with that. If you’re going to make a movie in this sub-genre–and these movies are both firmly within the ‘psycho-biddy’ arena–a reserved, understated approach is probably not the way to go.

Isabelle Huppert–fresh off a slew of accolades for 2016’s Ellestars as the maniacally obsessive, manipulative and domineering Greta, which his hitting theaters a few days from the time of this writing. Octavia Spencer, also fresh off of multiple award nominations for her most recent roles in Hidden FiguresThe Shape of Water and Gifted, will play the role of the hard-drinkin’, hard-livin’, hard-murderin’ Ma. 

I’m going to be seeing both of these movies in theaters and couldn’t be pulling harder for both to succeed. The potential of resurrecting a fertile sub-genre that died off for no real reason makes me borderline giddy. The movies I listed above had certain obvious similarities, but also some very clear distinctions. Some are slasher film prototypes, some are psychological horror stories, some have more of a supernatural bent (at least at first appearance), and some are horror dramas. Some are more irreverent, some are somewhat surreal, some are brutal, and some find the horror descending into heartbreak (“You mean all this time we could’ve been friends?”). They are all different, wonderful flavors of macabre, and they give great, veteran actresses a chance to really cut the fuck loose.

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Confessions of a Fear Junkie: The Alien

I never knew the creature as the “xenomorph”, despite having seen Aliens–the movie where the term xenomorph was first used–before seeing Alien. My friends and I were far more informed by the titles of the film franchise than by the scientific designation tossed out by everyone’s least favorite space marine, Lieutenant Gorman. We knew that the scariest creature to ever crawl across a movie screen needed no fancy descriptor. It simply was the Alien. The Alien.

To date I’ve had more nightmares about the Alien than anything else, with tornadoes taking the silver and Bloody Mary a distant third. I’ve had nightmares about the first two well into my adulthood, and in fact had my most recent dream of an Alien swarm just a few months ago. I don’t remember much of the dream, just that the Alien infestation was so massive and devastating that the entire west coast was being evacuated, and it was roughly 100x’s more intense and frightening than any zombie apocalypse could be.

The purity that Ash admired is, of course, what has always terrified me so much about the Alien. Well, that and the fact that it’s a lousy cheat. On top of being relentlessly hostile, living only to attack, attack, and then maybe rest up a short while so it can get back to attacking some more, its biology makes killing it potentially hazardous if you’re spatter range. Acidic blood potent enough to eat through several levels of a spaceship is some bullshit, if you ask me. Sure, the Predator is a sore loser, but it isn’t genetically designed to self-destruct upon defeat. That which fuels the Alien’s very life is also there to take you down with it if you’re close enough and careless.

I saw Aliens as a child, years before I saw Alien, so naturally my first nightmare saw me as part of an overwhelmed commando team trying and failing to stem an endless tide of Aliens attacking us from every angle. The images of them attacking through the ceiling and floors, unstoppable and unending, fed that dream, which took place in some large, unidentified red room. It was, obviously, a long time ago, and a dream to boot, so most details escape me, but I do remember losing my machine gun and having to resort to my six-shooter embarrassingly early in the fight.  Suffice to say I spent most of the fight dodging, running, trying to hide and watching my colleagues get slaughtered or abducted, one by one. You’ll have to forgive my dream-cowardice; I was a kid with a wild imagination but didn’t quite imagine myself as tougher than a futuristic space-marine at the time. Maybe if we were fighting a horde of Critters or Gremlins I could have imagined myself as the hero. But we were fighting the Aliens.

The Aliens.

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I knew I was dead.

In each Alien nightmare since, that’s been the worst of it. I don’t remember any point of inevitable death that occurs just before waking up in any of those dreams. I might have survived all of those dreams for all I can recall, but that would just be me surviving one chapter of a doomed saga, then closing the book before getting to my violent end. Because the violent end is coming. The Alien assures it.

The “surprise” return of the Queen aboard the escape ship in Aliens probably first planted this idea in my head. One moment, you’re Bishop, receiving kindness and thanks in return for making a last-minute rescue. A second later, a long, sharp, black tail has gored you, and then an eyeless giant has lifted you up and ripped you in half. This was only reinforced in Alien, whose chest-buster scene had reached mythical status in my mind by the time I saw it. I actually expected an even gorier, more over-the-top mess, which might have been part of why it so disturbed me. This was not the cartoonish spectacle I had built up in my head. This was about as close as we might ever get to seeing what it would genuinely be like to have a determined, overgrown parasite bloodily headbutt its way out of your sternum. Or not. Either way

As a kid, Alien 3 seemed like the most anticipated movie of my young life. Godfather 3? I had no clue what the big deal was. Terminator 2, awesome, but also kind of a weird change-up, like if they made a Cujo 2 where the big, powerful St. Bernard was now the heroic protector of the mother and son, fighting against an evil, lean doberman. The returning Alien in Alien 3 would be just as bloodthirsty, sneaky and violent as his kindred from the previous two movies. And me being a fear junkie, I was as excited to see it in action on the big screen for the first time (as opposed to cable and home video, where I’d seen the first two films) as I was fearful. And yes, in hindsight, the movie might be one of the biggest missed opportunities in cinematic horror history. For starters, they never came close to trying to live up to the promise of this first teaser…

But at the time, to my pre-teen self, Alien 3 did everything I could have expected of it, including sparking a fresh round of nightmares. The cruel killing of Hicks and Newt–a slap in the face to most fans–did accomplish one thing for me; it reinforced the idea that living through an alien attack did not mean you were safe. One would get to you eventually, even if it had to work from the inside out.

It would have you.

It was inevitable.

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Daily Horror History: ‘The Monster Squad’ Released; ‘The Exorcist’ Begins Filming

It’s a bit unusual to call a horror film “beloved,” but The Monster Squad is certainly one of the most beloved horror films of the 80’s, particularly among a certain age bracket that first saw the film where they could see themselves as the kids in the film.

Kids in horror movies–or in any movie, really–can prove aggravating, and as annoying as they can be to adults, they’re even more so to other kids. All too often the grown ups in charge of such characters have no clue how to make them even tolerable, much less realistic or even likable. This is, I think, part of the charm of Stranger Things and the most recent adaptation of It; history tells us that there’s an even greater degree of difficulty when writing a non-kids story centered on a bunch of kids. But before either of the aforementioned stories pulled it off–even before the original adaptation of It and just one year after the first screen version of a child-centric story penned by Stephen King–there was The Monster Squad.

Given the apparent, recent blitz to capitalize on the popularity of these types of properties (see also the upcoming, reportedly lackluster Summer of ’84) I wouldn’t be surprised if the previously cancelled remake of The Monster Squad was resurrected, though it’s a classic case of a property that ought to be left alone. The movie gets just about all there is out of its premise, and has its own nostalgic layer at the time of its release, with its villains being Universal Studios versions of monsters that hadn’t been popular in decades. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, however, and neither is “nerd culture” or “geek culture” or “fandom” or whatever the hell you want to call it. A group of otherwise ordinary kids in Louisiana gathering in a clubhouse to discuss horror stories and movie monsters were understandably portrayed as quasi-outcasts in 1987; in 2018 and beyond there are numerous professional websites full of grown folks devoted to such things. Comic book heroes are all the rage, a series about dragons and mystical winter zombies is the biggest hit show on the premium cable channel that basically invented “prestige television”, and a show about a psychic girl saving her newfound friends from monsters in “the upside down” can be the talk of the internet and the office. The Monster Squad would be an entirely different animal if it were brought into the current pop culture climate.

The Monster Squad came to theaters on August 14th, 1987, where it went wildly unappreciated before eventually becoming something of a legend on cable and home video.

This date also marks the first day of production for The Exorcist, back in 1972. Typing the words “Exorcist filming” into Google bring up references to the production being “cursed” in the top two hits.

Off camera: Real demons! Everywhere, surely!

Given the way people discuss the thing, you’d think there were tragedies associated with filming on par with those of The Conqueror, only less explicable, because it’s a story about demonic possession, of course. A deeper dive, though, reveals an onset fire that delayed production, a painful but decidedly non-injurious onset injury that occurred during filming, actor Jack McGowaran died of the flu after filming was completed, and amateur 89-year-old actress Vasiliki Maliaros also died before the film’s release, presumably of being 89-years-old. Other deaths “associated” with the filming of The Exorcist actually involve relatives of cast and crew, and one cited in a 13th Floor article happened 15-freaking-years later.

Was the filming troubled and laborious? Sure. The same could be said for Jaws, but it isn’t a movie about one of Satan’s goons so it’s just labeled an infamously difficult production, not a “cursed” one.

Moving on, other notable releases that share this date include Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968), Motel Hell (1980), Fulci’s final “Gates of Hell” film The House by the Cemetery (1981) and, on the much lighter / horror-adjacent side of things, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which debuted in London on this date in 1975.

To close things out, today is the birthday of actor Tony Moran, who’s had parts in several small, short, and/or bare-budget horror films in recent years, but is most notable among horror fans for playing the unmasked Michael Myers in the original Halloween.

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Daily Horror History: ‘Braindead’ Comes Home; ‘Friday the 13th’ Opens on its Namesake

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A guy walks into a room full of zombies carrying a push mower with the blade facing out. This guy–you’re gonna love this–he walks into the throng of zombies with that mower on and the blade spinning and man, he just chews them up into a slippery shower of blood that has to be seen to be believed. He makes it all the way across the room, and I know, you think this is where the joke ends, but actually…heh heh… actually he turns around to see he’s not even half-finished!

Braindead, aka Dead Alive, is the ultimate “splatstick” movie (apologies to Evil Dead 2; I still love you baby, I swear). This is a movie where a martial artist / man of the cloth “sweeps the leg” in the most comedically brutal (and well-choreographed!) way possible before punting a zombie’s head into the night sky. It’s a movie with the aforementioned lawnmower scene, which is partly interrupted so we can see the upper half of a zombie’s head get kitchen blendered into soup. It’s insane. I’m not really even a “gorehound” but I still find it an unbelievably impressive display. It’s a thoroughly disgusting, very well-made, sometimes creepy, more often humorous full tilt indulgence.

Peter Jackson’s brilliant slice of hyper-violence opened in its native New Zealand on August 13th, 1992.

Ten years prior, Friday the 13th Part III became the first movie in the series to actually open on a Friday the 13th, along with being the first movie in the series in which Jason Voorhees dons his signature hockey mask.

It’s also probably the best of the early 80’s 3D horror flicks, a low bar to clear to be sure, but another notch in its belt to go along with being the highest grossing sequel in the original series (no, I’m not counting Freddy vs. Jason as canonical).

The final sequel in the original series–and one of the lowest grossing movie to bear any relation to the series whatsoever–was also released on August 13th; 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell. 

More remembered these days for Jason-hunter Creighton Duke, possibly the film’s lone bright spot save for the infamous cameo at the very, very end, Jason Goes to Hell is one of the least regarded Friday movies. I mean for one thing, Craig is nowhere to be found and with each new movie it becomes apparent how much Smokey is missed and… wait (checks notes)… wrong Friday series. Although now I wouldn’t mind seeing the franchises mashed together; Jason vs. Deebo & Big Worm couldn’t be any worse than Jason Takes Manhattan.

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Daily Horror History, August 12th: Dan Curtis, ‘Black Sunday’, and More

In my still ongoing research (seemingly endless, in fact; this idea may be my self-made purgatory), there are dates that are stacked with horror history. Some are full of little oddities, and others have a couple of standout, major events rising like dark stone spires above the rest of the field.

Starting with a birthday, as I am wont to do whenever possible, today marks the birth of Dan Curtis, the prolific producer and director who gave us the television series Dark Shadows, the TV-film Trilogy of Terror (one of the more memorable made for TV horror flicks from an era that was full of them), the TV-film The Night Strangler (which eventually begot the beloved series The Night Stalker), the cinematic adaptation of Burnt Offerings, and several others.

While we’re on the subject of monumental, possibly even underrated influential factors in horror history, August 12th, 1960 saw the initial release of Mario Bava’s Black SundayThe grand matriarch of Italian horror films, the mouth from which the bloody river and many red tributaries of Italian horror would flow for decades, to say nothing of the films and directors who’ve directly paid homage to its style and storytelling, its influence has been rightly described as “almost incalculable” by Tim Lucas in his book on Bava. At the time of its release, it was, as its trailer professes, not quite like anything that had come before, and it can proudly walk along with Psycho (well, just maybe a half-step behind) as one of the game-changing horror films birthed by the summer of 1960.

And August 12th still isn’t quite finished with us. On this day in 1983, Cujo came home to theaters in the states, a few days after its release in France.

The story of a demonically rabid St. Bernard that really wasn’t a bad dog if you discount that time it went on a rampage and murdered a bunch of people, it was the first of three Stephen King adaptations released in the back half of 1983, followed by The Dead Zone and Christine. This would mark the beginning of a 5-year run in which at least two King adaptations would come to the big screen annually, lest any younger readers out there think that the current apparent rush to adapt as much of King’s work as possible in a short space of time is a newer phenomenon. A solid film, it can sometimes feel half-forgotten in King’s oeuvre, despite introducing the world to a name that’s up there with “Damien” in the “instantly associated with as evil” moniker pantheon.

Closing on a bit of a sad note (about as melancholy as I’ll get for the foreseeable future, as I’m deliberately avoiding death-dates), today marks the release date four years ago of P.T.

A stealth teaser for a new Silent Hill project, P.T. was a pretty good, eerie little first-person horror game in its own right, but became far more notable for its ending revelation that it was bringing possibly the best horror gaming series of all time to the latest generation of consoles. Horror mastermind Guillermo Del Toro was working on it, . Alas, the project wouldn’t even survive into the following summer, being officially canceled by Konami in April of 2015, and P.T. was taken off the Playstation Network, never to be made officially available again. Konami indicated it would continue the series nonetheless, but as of 2018, there still isn’t a new installment even in the formative stages of development. The longest drought in Silent Hill series history sits at six years and counting,


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Daily Horror History, August 11th: Stuart Gordon’s Birthday and More

August 11th is a particularly loaded date in the history of horror fiction. FIrst, we have the birthday of the director of Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dolls and several other horror features, Stuart GordonRe-Animator and its spiritual successor From Beyond would alone qualify Gordon as a master of grotesquery that which is difficult to look at impossible to turn away from. But Gordon’s also proven he can scale things back from the Lovecraftian horrors, exploring a much more grounded and human horror in the excellent Struck. While he’s never had a breakout horror “hit” (which, had it the promotional and release backing, really could and should have been Stuck), Gordon’s had a career that stacks up favorably against many if not most other “masters” of the genre.

On the film release side of things, Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead–the first film in his “Gates of Hell” unofficial trilogy–was released in Italy on this date in 1980.

Less surreal than its follow-up, The Beyond, it’s nonetheless impactful and features Fulci fully embracing his capacity for gore once more, delivering the disgusting vomit scene to end all disgusting vomit scenes, and an impossibly brutal head-drilling to boot (and those are just the two most infamous moments from the movie; certainly not the only two graphic indulgences).

On August 11th, 1989, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child had its wide-release in the U.S.

Somehow grimmer and crueler than even its predecessors while simultaneously perhaps having Freddy going overboard with the corny jokes, this installment proved to be the least profitable Elm Street movie upon its release. Just to show once again that money isn’t everything, however, the lone movie from the franchise to make less than The Dream Child is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, possibly the second-best film in the series.

And on the lesser-known front, Night of the Seagulls came to theaters in its native Spain on this day in 1975.

The fourth and final film in the Blind Dead series, it’s inferior to the first two stories in this surprisingly slow-burning saga of Satan-worshiping, sword-swing, stallion-riding, undead Templar nights, but is at least a few steps up from the nadir of the third film.

Last but certainly not least of all, today is the 19th anniversary of the initial release of System Shock 2There’s quite a bit to say about this spiritual predecessor to the more famous Bioshock franchise, but this was first released in 1999, so–you guessed it–I’m going to save my more detailed write-up for next year’s 20th anniversary.

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Daily Horror History, August 10th: ‘Flatliners’, ‘Sette note in nero’

In fairness, I never saw the Flatliners remake from last year, so it might be better than I could have ever imagined. An unfairly maligned hidden gem. But the trailer sure as hell didn’t sell me, its critical and audience ratings range from poor to pitiful, and I never liked the original film all that much in the first place. Still, it’s a notable entry in the horror genre, and introduced an interesting premise to a lot of fans.

(I note in my CFJ entry on Simon’s Soul that that obscure novel did it before Flatliners, but also abandons the premise for even stranger things before the midpoint of the book. Meanwhile, the first literary work to tackle the idea of killing and medically resuscitating people deliberately is apparently Jack London’s “A Thousand Deaths”, released way back in 1899, although the person being killed and brought back in that short story is not a volunteer for the experiment).

Despite not caring for the film, I have to admit that the original Flatliners, released on August 10th, 1990, made an impression on people.  It had enough name cache that a cash-in remake 27-years later actually made financial sense on paper. I’d wager if you were holding a movie trivia contest in a room full of Gen-Xers (and maybe even a bit younger) and asked what movie the line “Today is a good day to die” comes from, most of the contestants would know right away, and could even name the actor who spoke it. Nonetheless, upon its release it was only a modest success at the box office, despite starring Julia Roberts fresh off the heels of mega-hit Pretty Woman and co-starring Kevin Bacon, who’d scored a larger genre hit earlier in the year with Tremors.

On the lesser-known side of things, August 10th marks the limited release date of the 1977 Italian film Sette note in nero (translation: Seven Notes in Black), later-known-as The Psychic.

First, that original Italian title is so much better than the English title it was given for its world-wide release. Second, how wonderful is that poster? “As wonderful as wonderful can be,” is the correct answer. (“Ah, but wait, what of this poster?” some pest asks. “Fine enough, sure, but I stand by my earlier assessment.”)  Finally, this might be Lucio Fulci’s most underrated movie, and should be readily discussed as one of his best, overshadowed by Don’t Torture a Duckling (which preceded it), Zombi 2, his “Gates of Hell Trilogy”, and even the notorious New York Ripper. Sette note in nero is at least the equal to all of these, and possibly superior to most (The Beyond will always top the list, for me). Being a much more restrained Fulci horror film probably explains why it’s overlooked, along with the similarly underrated Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (translation: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin – my God, those Italian titles).

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Daily Horror History, August 9th: ‘The Thing on the Fourble Board’


August 9th, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the initial air date of “The Thing on the Fourble Board,” generally considered one of the greatest works of classic radio drama ever produced.

This being a relatively rare occasion where I can share a story without worrying about any apparent copyright violations, so I’ve made it available below for anyone who hasn’t heard it (or heard of it) before.

For those without the time or inclination, the story can be summarized as a derrick-hand recounting an encounter he and his fellow “roughnecks” had with something mysterious, bizarre and ultimately dangerous on an oil derrick (a fourble board is apparently “a platform at a height of 80 feet or more above the floor of an oil derrick“).

The narrator, Porky, seems to simply be telling the story in the 2nd person to the audience as though the listener is actually present before him, a common device in old-time radio horror programs. As the story progresses, however, we find out that his audience is someone who is part of the story, in a way that might not surprise savvier, modern listeners accustomed to this kind of tale, but that can still prove disturbing even to the jaded, and that certainly must have come as a gut-punch to many of the episode’s initial listeners back in 1948. Likewise, the strange-if-inspired wailing performed by Cecil H. Roy, (the voice actress most famous as the voice of Little Lulu and Caspar the Friendly Ghost in their respective cartoons), might make the titular “Thing” seem less intimidating and more childish and silly at first. By the time everything is discovered, however, we realize that this is a bit of a diversion, and the story is all the more chilling for it. Of course, I could be wrong; you might find her cries chilling from the moment you first lay ears on them.

At the risk of spoiling the classic radio drama above for any who just refused to listen to it, it has something in common with the other entry in today’s horror history post, Anthropophagus. That commonality is, of course, “monsters that eat people.” Instead of being some inexplicable creature from miles beneath the earth, however, the beast in Anthropophagus is merely a man. A mad one, driven so by loss and isolation, but a man just the same. This Joe D’Amato film is not notable for any storytelling flourishes or for even being good, but for its status as one of the more notorious “Video Nasties” banned by the Brits in the 80’s. Given that the film ends with the scene depicted on its infamous poster–that of the insane, cannibalistic villain gnawing on his own guts as he dies –it’s not all that surprising that the people behind the “Video Recordings Act” added it to their list. It also features a fetus being turned into raw veal, so, you know, for the curious, just know what you’re getting into.

Anthropophagus was released on this date in 1980 its home-country of Italy (a country that was really into cinematic cannibalism around that time; I think it even worked its way into their rom-coms).

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Daily Horror History, August 8th: It’s a “Made for TV” Horror Day

Like any other medium that dips a soon-to-be-severed foot into the horror pool, television has its highs and lows when it comes to the genre. August 8th gives us three very varied examples of “Made for TV” horror films, in terms of tone and quality, all from the first half of the 90’s.

First, on this date in 1990, I’m Dangerous Tonight aired on the USA Network. Given the title, the video cover art, and with this being approximate to the Silk Stalkings era of USA, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this isn’t a horror story, but instead a basic cable capital SOFT softcore thriller. You’d be half-right.

This is a movie about a cursed Aztec cloak that is then turned into a dress that turns its wearer into a killer. That’s… that’s an idea. It’s directed by Tobe Hooper. It has overqualified genre veterans Anthony Perkins and Dee Wallace in the cast, along with R. Lee Ermey. One of the pull quotes on the cover calls it “A nice scary movie,” which sounds like a review Hooper’s quirky, English aunt gave to a stranger in line behind her at the store. And, just because I feel this bears repeating, this was directed by Tobe Hooper. The mind behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre also gave us The Aztec Cursed Cloak Dressmaker.

But Hooper wasn’t done with early 90’s TV movies. He also directed a segment in the 1993 anthology film Body Bagsalong with John Carpenter.

Originally an attempt by Showtime to have its very own Tales From the Crypt style series, Body Bags was assembled out of three half-hour episodes introduced and interrupted by fourth-wall breaking segments featuring John Carpenter’s “Coroner” character. As you might expect from an attempt to follow in Crypt‘s footsteps, there’s plenty of gruesome, winking humor on display here, although the final story, directed by Hooper and starring Mark Hamill, is noticeably grimmer than the previous two. Overall, Body Bags is a solid watch, and easily the best flick of the three I’m writing about here, although that’s a bit like beating two dead men in a footrace. It doesn’t really speak to how fast you are or aren’t.

Finally, on this date in 1995, Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter being her ex-beau; we have threads!) co-starred in an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Burial of the Rats that was mostly an excuse to film a softcore S&M flick. Whips, chains, ropes, busts and bondage abound in this corny Roger Corman production.

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Daily Horror History, August 7th: Alexandre Aja’s Birthday; ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) Comes to the U.S.

A couple of days ago, we saw the anniversary of 1988’s The Blob, (which is the subject of a fine write-up over at BMD), a genuinely good and justifiable remake if there ever was one. On the other end of the remake scale is, of course, the disaster that disaster that is the 2006 version of The Wicker ManFortunately, today is the anniversary of the outstanding original from 1973.

If any film can make a case for being spoiler-proof, it’s The Wicker Man. The title and virtually all of the associated cover / poster art gives away a pretty major, shocking moment that occurs late in the film. But The Wicker Man is as much about the journey as it is the climax, and having a sense of where things are headed, in this case, just adds to the dread. It being a horror story, you already enter the film aware of the 50/50 chance that we’ll arrive at a conclusion so dire and certain it seems predestined. Horror is soaked, perhaps to its detriment, with stories that where the ostensible right and sensible thing to do turns out to be a fatal mistake, or a useless act in a situation that was hopeless to begin with, it turns out. Earning such a conclusion, as opposed to just arriving at one, makes a significant difference, and The Wicker Man ’73 more than earns its ending.

While we’re on the subject of endings and remakes, The Wicker Man gives me a chance to examine (or harp on) what actually constitutes a “remake.” Here’s the thing, when a movie is based on source material, such as a novel or short story, can a newer adaptation really be said to be a remake? In the BMD article linked above, The Blob is ranked alongside The Thing and The Fly as yet another example of a great horror remake, yet both of the other movies are newer adaptations of literary works. Even if they have references / homages to the earlier film adaptations, does that make either of them a remake, particularly when The Thing sets out to hew closer to the source material than does the original adaptation, while The Fly deliberately goes in the opposite direction, being far less faithful than its 1958 predecessor? Or, for a different example, is the Hammer Horror Dracula thought of as a remake of Universal’s Dracula? Is the Coppala film considered a remake of either? Nah, right? And yet…

Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is explicitly and deliberately a remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, as opposed to an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s original novel. It tries its best to duplicate virtually every shot of the earlier film, copies the set and even costume design. The fact that it’s based on a novel is incidental. Van Sant was experimenting (pointlessly, in my opinion) with replication. It’s as about as literal as a film remake can possibly be.

Both versions of The Wicker Man are based on a lesser-known novel titled Ritual, written by David Pinner. So is Neil LaBute’s terrible-by-any-measure version of the film more remake than adaptation? We need look no farther than the aforementioned title and ending; Ritual does not wrap up with the story’s “hero” facing a giant burning sacrificial effigy / vessel. Indeed, it has a very different fate for its lead detective, separating it from either film. So while Pinner’ goes uncredited in Robin Hardy’s 1973 film, but gets an acknowledgement in the 2006 film, the proof is in the print regarding the latter film’s remake status. It leans harder on the onscreen adaptation than the literary inspiration. It is a remake, and possibly the worst of all time. Yes, including ’98’s Psycho.

Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man jumped the Atlantic to come to U.S. theaters on August 7th, 1974.

Today is also the birthday of director Alexandre Aja. Speaking of remakes, he has two under his belt: Piranha 3D and The Hills Have Eyes. Maybe two-and-a-half considering Mirrors started as remake of the Korean horror film Into the Mirror, but Aja took the general concept in a different direction, enough so that they are effectively two very distinct creations. The Departed to Infernal Affairs it is not.

Aja’s most notable and argued work, probably, is still his directorial horror debut Haute Tension aka High Tension. One of the films that stuck out during the “New French Extreme” movement that saw violence and sex and other subjects taken to, well, extremes, the film is remembered for its over-the-top slasher violence, and also its twist ending, which is either considered clever, absurd, forgivable, ruinous, irrelevant, or some other thing that I’m forgetting. Put me in the “absurd-but-near-irrelevant” camp: it’s not smart and makes no sense, and partially invalidates a lot of what we’ve seen as it can’t be reconciled with most of what preceded it. But given the suspense and tension built up by the film through its first two acts (which, to be sure, “leverages” a lot of material from Dean Koontz’s Intensity) it’s almost irrelevant nonetheless. I say almost because, as is almost inevitable with twist endings, the movie seems to think it has outsmarted us and momentarily revels in what it believes to be a moment of brilliance, when all it’s done is pull out the latest version of a now-trite twist that Thomas Tryon first brought to fame in the world of horror way back in 1971. And I’m sure someone with more scholarly knowledge than I could point to a version of the twist in a horror story that predates Tryon as well.

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