I have a lot of thoughts about Jordan Peele’s Us, about 95% of which are positive (with the remaining 5% being “less positive,” though not outright negative), which should make it difficult to pin down the one thing related to it that I most urgently want to blog about. Fortunately, all the lines on my multi-track mind occasionally get switched over to a single track with no bottlenecking, so here I am, ready to devote several hundred words or more to the movie’s twist ending, as it relates to twist endings in general.
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.”
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.
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.
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 Gordon. Re-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.
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).
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“).
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.
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 Man. Fortunately, 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.
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).