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. Today is one of those days.

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. read more

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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. read more

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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). 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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