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 EyesLast 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. read more

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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. read more

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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. read more

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Daily Horror History, July 29th: Killer Monkeys! Italian Zombies vs Commandos!

A movie about a murderous, experimental service monkey that becomes telepathically linked to its quadriplegic owner ought not be half as good as Monkey ShinesGeorge A. Romero is, of course, going to be forever renowned for bringing us the modern version of the zombie (as opposed to the older school Vodun drugged or brainwashed version), but for sheer degree of difficulty alone, Monkey Shines should get more love than it does. Making a terrifying classic about a bunch of cannibalistic undead people is a bit like having a dynastic championship sports team that’s loaded with Hall of Famers; it’s obviously still a remarkable, legendary achievement, but the odds are still highly in your favor. Making a solid horror movie about a psychic, homicidal, lovable-looking service animal more often seen in comedies and family films is like eking out a winning record with a bunch of underachievers. In short, Night of the Living Dead Romero is like Vince Lombardi with Green Bay; Monkey Shines Romero is like Lombardi in Washington. read more

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Daily Horror History, July 28th: Jason Takes His Sweet Time Getting to Manhattan

The 8th Friday the 13th movie, in which Jason Voorhees will allegedly take on the BIg Apple, is often cited as being either the worst, second-worst or third-worst film in a series that doesn’t exactly have the highest standards to begin with. The other two contenders for worst Friday the 13th movie, by the way, are Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, aka Jason Goes to Space. The lesson here then, I believe, is that fans of the series don’t care much for Jason’s road trips away from Crystal Lake. It doesn’t help, perhaps, that in two of these movies he spends as little time as possible at the destinations boasted of in the title. read more

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Daily Horror History, July 27th: The Amityville Horror and The Lost Boys

The last big cash-in on the “Satan’s Gonna Possess and/or Kill You” novel and film craze of the 70’s barely has any direct Christian Devilry in it, especially when compared to its forebears: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. The evil forces at 112 Ocean Avenue that the film implies can compel a man to commit familicide are a bit of a potpourri of paranormal perniciousness. The house was allegedly built on an “Indian burial ground”; the mass-murderer who used to live there is almost implied to be a quasi-doppelganger of the father and husband (and burgeoning possessed murderer) who currently lives there; and, yes, the home was once occupied by a Satanist, but that last part almost feels like a last-minute add-on. read more

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Daily Horror History, July 26th: Happy Birthday, John Farris; Happy Night of the Hunter Day

John Farris began his career in 1956, with the suitably gruesome sounding, brisk mystery novel The Corpse Next Door. His most famous work, however, came in the midst of the 70’s horror boom, with the novel The Fury, a story of telepathic / telekinetic teenager terror that, fittingly, had a feature film adaptation directed by Brian DePalma, who also brought Stephen King’s Carrie to the big screen (although The Fury is a bit more proto-Firestarter than Carrie knock-off, if we’re sticking with the King comparisons). read more

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Daily Horror History, July 25th: Happy Maximum Overdrive Day (And Birthday to Mike from The Blair Witch Project)

Stephen King’s directorial debut turned out to be his directorial swan song. Maximum Overdrive, released twenty-two years ago today, is based on King’s short story “Trucks,” in which the motorized vehicles of the world spontaneously become self-aware and hostile toward humans. The short-story is more dour and ends with an impractical apocalypse in which the vehicles have enslaved humankind, forcing the survivors to pump gas, a power dynamic that the narrator believes could last until the vehicles rust over and fail to run, but could last beyond that if the cars and trucks and motorcycles and even planes somehow coerce humankind to build replacements. read more

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Daily Horror History, July 24th: Wolves! Devil Snakes!

Before he became one of the nation’s most preeminent purveyors of super-wild “alternative concepts”, aka nutty theories, Whitley Strieber wrote a couple of standout horror novels in the midst of the horror paperback and movie boom of the 70’s and 80’s. The first of those novels was adapted into the film Wolfenwhich was released on July 24th, 1981. Starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora and Edward James Olmos, Wolfen is a strong adaptation, a stylishly brutal supernatural monster movie that featured something akin to “Predator-vision” five years before The Predator came to be. Between Wolfen, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, 1981 is almost indisputably cinema’s greatest year  for werewolves (or, if you prefer, wolf-god-spirits in the case of Wolfen). read more

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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. read more

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