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). read more

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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“). read more

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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. read more

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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 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 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. 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. read more

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Daily Horror History, August 6th: ‘The Sixth Sense’ Released; Umberto Lenzi’s Birthday

It’s a common habit among more stringent horror fans and detractors alike to be overly restrictive regarding what constitutes a horror story. Detractors, be they overt or subtle tend to disqualify a movie from being in the Horror genre if it turns out to be too good or too successful, or both (for a recent example, see It). “Hardcore” fans, meanwhile, tend to exclude movies they deem not “horror enough”; usually anything that has too many dramatic elements (The Babadook is a recent example). read more

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Daily Horror History, August 5th: ‘Halloween H20’, ‘The Blob’ of ’88 and ‘Silent Hill 3’

The original take on the Halloween film franchise seems to have had more comebacks than Tom Brady. Michael Myers was first discarded as a villain with the love-it-or-hate-it (or never seen it, or several other options, probably), Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Part of me wishes that that movie had been successful enough for the idea behind it–turning the franchise into an “anthology” film series with a different Halloween-based story for every entry–to have taken off. We could’ve had something somewhat similar to the Filipino film series Shake, Rattle & Roll, a horror film franchise featuring three new stories every movie, with every film in the franchise released on the same date (Christmas Day in the case of Shake, Rattle & Roll, for the Halloween flicks…I dunno, St. Patrick’s Day?). read more

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Daily Horror History, August 4th: ‘Psycho’ Comes to London

Before its official release to the unsuspecting masses in September of 1960, Psycho made the rounds through various big cities in the English-speaking world, primarily in the northeastern part of the U.S. After passing through New York, Boston, Chicago and Philly, it finally hopped the pond for a showing in the biggest city of its director’s birth country.   On August 4th, 1960, Psycho made its London debut and was critically received abroad as coldly as it had been stateside.

“A new film by Alfred Hitchcock is usually a keen enjoyment,” begins C.A. Lejeune’s review in the August 7th edition of The Observer, and if the “usually” in that opening clause isn’t a giveaway, here is the next sentence: “Psycho turns out to be an exception.” The displeasure expressed here with the film is a bit of an understatement: Lejeune’s disapproval of Psycho, as well as 1960’s somewhat similar Peeping Tom, prompted her to retire from professional film criticism. read more

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

On August 2nd, 1939, a baby named Wesley Earl Craven was born in a Cleveland hospital. With a name like that, his predetermined career and life-options were:

  1. Assassinate a president.
  2. Become a notoriously corrupt prison warden in the South.
  3. Write horror paperbacks using his full name for his penname.
  4. Shorten the first name to Wes, scratch the middle name and create horror movies.

Obviously going with the last option, Craven’s creations range from seminal to regrettable, classic to clumsy, Elm Street to Vampire in Brooklyn. It’s a testament to how great his best output is, then, that his missteps don’t jump to mind when thinking of him. His worst works are less than defensible than, say, the worst of John Carpenter, but people generally and rightly forget about Deadly Blessing, and don’t hold Vampire in Brooklyn, My Soul to Take or The Hills Have Eyes II against him, because this is the guy that gave us Freddy Krueger, Scream, the first Hills Have Eyes, Last House, and even the semi-underrated Red Eye. Craven was the power-hitter whose towering walk-off home run could erase memories of the four strikeouts he suffered earlier. His best was more than worth the dregs.

August 2nd also marks an anniversary of the release of 1985’s Fright Night. While The Lost Boys gets credited with modernizing and re-popularizing cinematic vampires, along with Near Dark to a lesser extent, Fright Night came to screens two years earlier. Its solid (if not remarkable) box office success, coupled with a strong run on cable and burgeoning home video after it left theaters, provided the first proof that big-screen vampires could be effectively marketed in the 80’s.

Through most of the 70’s, vampire films were still dominated by depictions and updates of Dracula. On television, The Night Stalker and Salem’s Lot had made an impact by bringing a vampire threat to the big city and to small town America, respectively. Fright Night was the first feature film to find success by taking the next step with such modernization, making its villain the handsome new neighbor who’s moved in right next door to you in your pleasant suburban community. Its vampires also appear truly ghastly and grotesque when revealing their true selves, as opposed to their comparatively normal-looking (and thus “cooler”) counterparts from The Lost Boys and Near Dark. Just one more example of how there’s plenty of room under the sun for a wide variety of vampires, including those who can exist “under the sun,” you know, like that original Vlad Dracula guy that Bram Stoker wrote about.

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Daily Horror History, July 31st: Happy Birthday Mario Bava and Junji Ito

Here’s the thing about running a “daily horror history” blog series: every single day on the calendar is pretty stacked with historical horror happenings of note. I leave a couple of items unacknowledged every single day, just because there’s so much to cover, and I’m only one guy who’s supposed to be working on a damn novel over here. I try to handle the stuff that I think is most important and most fun to write about, while also saving a few things for the future, presuming I’ll still be doing this years down the line.

All of that to say, July 31st is a particularly loaded day, and it’s hard to narrow down what to talk about, so forgive me if I shortchange, for instance, the release of 1995’s infamous Phantasmagoria, an early FMV video game designed by Roberta Williams. There would be a hell of a lot to unpack getting into that one, but I’ll have to save it for another day. Likewise, I’m only giving passing mention to the first issue of Fangoria magazine going to print on this day in 1979 ( in my defense, the early issues of the magazine weren’t horror-themed yet anyway).

It’s not that these things aren’t notable, it’s just in the pantheon of horror, Mario Bava and Juni Ito are simply going to outrank a lot of other releases, milestones and individuals as far as I’m concerned.

Born in 1914, Bava was one of the mastermind behind well-known Italian horror works Black Sunday and Black Sabbath, as well as less famous but equally impressive works like Operazione paura, aka Operation Fear, aka Kill, Baby, Kill, which I wrote about a few Octobers ago, His 1964 proto-slasher giallo film Blood and Black Lace laid out the blueprint for the countless “masked killer stalks victims and racks up a body count” flicks that would follow for decades after, though very few even dared aspire to its levels of style and suspense. 

Out of all the important and influential works he gave to the genre, my favorite may be the short segment “The Drop of Water” from the aforementioned Black Sabbath. I’ve written before about how one of my earliest experiences with horror fiction came when my kindergarten teacher introduced me to “The Golden Arm.” Because of that story, I think I’ll always have a soft spot for tales about the dead returning to terrorize a thief. “The Drop of Water” is the perfect film adaptation of such a story; a distilled slice of scary cinema that can make a summer day feel like a chilly Halloween evening as you’re watching it.

While Bava left us in 1980, we still have Junji Ito in our midst. Born on this day in 1963, he is the dark genius behind Tomie, Uzumaki, Gyo, “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” and Hellstar Reima. He’s mined core-deep horror out of overtly frightening ideas (a malicious succubus who can’t be killed; a hungry planet-sized cyclops that can snatch moons out of orbit with its grotesque prehensile tongue), as well as premises that may not seem scary at all until you read the stories and see the illustrations (walking fish; human-shaped holes in cliffs; SPIRALS! EVERYWHERE!). I remember staying up late to read “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” one night, confident that the actual product had to fall well short of the hype. Surely the story would take a too-clever turn toward unintentional timidity. Nope. By the time a certain character woke from a prescient nightmare I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep that night.

When I got to the last page, I was able to scratch out the “much” from the previous sentence.

Ito’s work has been adapted for the screen multiple times, but, in my opinion, no adaptation has been able to effectively capture what he’s put to the page yet. Alas, he was to be the art director for the Silent Hills video game, but its cancellation deprived us of that glory. Just thinking about the combination of Ito’s mind along with Guillermo Del Toro’s, working on a Silent Hill entry of all things, makes me think that such a horror wasn’t supposed to exist. At least that’s what I tell myself to keep from weeping for the loss.

So once more, here’s to the birthdays of Mario Bava and Juni Ito. If you have a chance, celebrate the occasion by watching or reading some of either man’s work today. Feel free to wait until after the sun has set to do so, unless you’re of a susceptible disposition and need to be rested for the following day.

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Daily Horror History, July 30th: The Blair Witch Arrives, Sharks Eat Sam Jackson

Forgive me for having a lazy day today, but in my defense I’ve already written about The Blair Witch Project in a “Confessions of a Fear Junkie” entry. The movie that popularized the still surviving and evolving found-footage horror boom had its theatrical wide-release nineteen years ago today, in the oh so wild year of 1999. I’ll have a lot more to say about Blair Witch as well as several other movies released that year when we get into the 20-year anniversaries in 2019, I assure you.

Other horror films released on July 30th include Deep Blue Sea, and if you’ve somehow avoided knowledge of Sam Jackson’s surprise demise in this film up to now, then my bad about the title of this post. Odds are, though, you’ve either seen the movie, seen a GIF of that scene, seen a YouTube clip of that scene (or at least read a title that says “Samuel L. Jackson Dies” beside a thumbnail of Sam in a wetsuit), or watched Dave Chappelle yelling about Sam’s fate in Bill Burr’s ear.

Deep Blue Sea is yet another 1999 release, one entry in a long list of incredibly varied horror films released in a year when the teen slasher revival was still supposed to be dominating the genre. Seriously, I can’t wait for January to get here so I can have a proper, arbitrary round-number anniversary as an excuse to dive headlong into the horror flicks that hit theaters at the close of the millennium.

On the international front, two seminal, pre-Ringu Japanese films share a July 30th release date: 1960’s Jigoku (aka The Sinners of Hell) and 1977’s Hausu (aka House). Tonally, it’d be hard for the films to be much more disparate without residing in different genres. Jigoku, perhaps the earliest horror feature film to indulge in modern levels of gore, eventually takes its characters to a bleak, dark void of Hell where you might get dismembered for eternity. Or get caught in an endless, insanity-inducing mob of the mad damned screaming for loved ones you can’t find. Or might have to try to save the most innocent soul imaginable from an eternal suffering they don’t deserve but are enduring due to your sins. It gets pretty damn grim.

Hausu, meanwhile, mines all the irreverent glee there is to mine from a haunted house scenario. Floating, disembodied heads might cartoonishly bite you on the ass, or psychedelically-flashy pianos might eat a schoolgirl who can’t decide whether to laugh or cry about the situation.

Yeesh. Given the option, I might sign up for the “bleak, dark void of Hell” instead of “loud neon nightmare house.” At least in the former it’s dark enough for me to be able to sneak in an hour or two of sleep in between torments.

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