Daily Horror History: An Unfortunate Remake, and a “Psycho Biddy” Flick

We’re one year short of the 20th anniversary of one of the most misguided movie remakes in history. 1999’s The Haunting had a decent cast in front of the camera, and behind it, the director of Speed (doesn’t suit the material, but hey, great movie!), Twister, (okay, lesser effort, but still… Speed was great, right?) and Speed 2: Cruise Control (farewell, good will, we hardly knew ye). It also had an $80 million budget, which is 27% more than fellow ’99 release The Matrix needed to make people dodge bullets and high-jump across highways and kung-fu fight computer simulations and shit. And you know what, kudos to Hollywood having the faith to give a horror flick–often treated as the unwanted stepchild of genre fiction–a blockbuster budget for once. But–and this is a doozy of a “but”–maybe you shouldn’t reserve the “massive special effects” budget for an adaptation of the quintessential psychological ghost story. There aren’t many tales of supernatural horror that demand expensive CGI less than Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting. Jan de Bont had money to blow on this one, however, so he fed audiences computer generated bronze cherubs, blood-vomiting statues, and a climactic showdown with a video-game villain that looks better suited to the ending of The Mummy Returns.

In a year where two horror movies cracked the top-ten highest grossing movies list, and a third horror-adventure-fantasy-action flick also landed in the top six, the big-budgeted would-be-blockbuster Haunting remake landed down at 23rd for the year-end list, right behind Inspector Gadget. Unsurprisingly, given his career trajectory, it would prove to be Jan de Bont’s penultimate film.

On a more positive note, July 23rd is the anniversary of the release of the splendidly  “psycho biddy” thriller What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? 

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “psycho biddy” (aka “horror hag” or “Grand Dame Guignol”), you might be able to guess from the movie’s title that this is a sub-genre born in the aftermath of the successful What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The simple formula for these films is that they feature at least one older actress playing an older woman (often of affluence) who is either the source of some deranged, murderous horror plot, the victim of said plot, or (particularly if there’s another, adversarial older woman in the work) perhaps both. If you’ve never seen Baby Jane, imagine Sunset Boulevard if Norma was even more delusional and quicker to resort to homicide, and maybe had a sister she could literally stab in the back at some point for good measure.

In Aunt Alice, the lead character is actually Claire Marrable, played with sociopathic gusto by the late, great Geraldine Page. Claire has recently been made a widow, you see, but her ostensibly wealthy husband was actually up to his everything in debt before he died. Upon receiving this news, Claire promptly goes insane and gets to murderin’ before the opening credits come up. Claire keeps right on killing and letting go of what little go of what little sanity might be left as the movie runs on. The “Alice” of the title is the pesky, inquisitive third housekeeper, who’s brought on after Claire killed the other two as part of an investment scam that could have only seemed like a good idea to the kind of woman who’d beat a housekeeper to death and then bury her about sixteen inches deep on her own land.

Related:  Daily Horror History, August 2nd: Wes Craven's Birthday, Fright Night Hits Theaters

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? doesn’t have much in the way of surprises, unlike Baby Jane or a couple of other entries in the sub-genre, but it generates tension out of making us wonder just how much casual homicide this lady is willing to commit, and whether she’ll actually get away with it all.

Lastly, under the category of “Things I’m Just Young Enough to be Aware of, but Too Old to Know Much About,” today is the third anniversary of the initial release of Five Nights at Freddy’s 4For those who may be unaware, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a popular series of survival horror games featuring a ferociously frightful version of a Chuck E. Cheese’s / ShowBiz Pizza style restaurant. And listen, I can’t be the first person who’s thought of a “‘scary’ versions of Chuck E. Cheese robots; that’s a redundancy!” joke. Hell, I’m sure I’m not even the 101st person to think of that one. So I’ll refrain, and just wish the makers of the game series all the best for their considerable success.

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