Daily Horror History: ‘The Monster Squad’ Released; ‘The Exorcist’ Begins Filming

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.

Given the apparent, recent blitz to capitalize on the popularity of these types of properties (see also the upcoming, reportedly lackluster Summer of ’84) I wouldn’t be surprised if the previously cancelled remake of The Monster Squad was resurrected, though it’s a classic case of a property that ought to be left alone. The movie gets just about all there is out of its premise, and has its own nostalgic layer at the time of its release, with its villains being Universal Studios versions of monsters that hadn’t been popular in decades. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, however, and neither is “nerd culture” or “geek culture” or “fandom” or whatever the hell you want to call it. A group of otherwise ordinary kids in Louisiana gathering in a clubhouse to discuss horror stories and movie monsters were understandably portrayed as quasi-outcasts in 1987; in 2018 and beyond there are numerous professional websites full of grown folks devoted to such things. Comic book heroes are all the rage, a series about dragons and mystical winter zombies is the biggest hit show on the premium cable channel that basically invented “prestige television”, and a show about a psychic girl saving her newfound friends from monsters in “the upside down” can be the talk of the internet and the office. The Monster Squad would be an entirely different animal if it were brought into the current pop culture climate.

The Monster Squad came to theaters on August 14th, 1987, where it went wildly unappreciated before eventually becoming something of a legend on cable and home video.

This date also marks the first day of production for The Exorcist, back in 1972. Typing the words “Exorcist filming” into Google bring up references to the production being “cursed” in the top two hits.

Off camera: Real demons! Everywhere, surely!

Given the way people discuss the thing, you’d think there were tragedies associated with filming on par with those of The Conqueror, only less explicable, because it’s a story about demonic possession, of course. A deeper dive, though, reveals an onset fire that delayed production, a painful but decidedly non-injurious onset injury that occurred during filming, actor Jack McGowaran died of the flu after filming was completed, and amateur 89-year-old actress Vasiliki Maliaros also died before the film’s release, presumably of being 89-years-old. Other deaths “associated” with the filming of The Exorcist actually involve relatives of cast and crew, and one cited in a 13th Floor article happened 15-freaking-years later.

Was the filming troubled and laborious? Sure. The same could be said for Jaws, but it isn’t a movie about one of Satan’s goons so it’s just labeled an infamously difficult production, not a “cursed” one.

Moving on, other notable releases that share this date include Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968), Motel Hell (1980), Fulci’s final “Gates of Hell” film The House by the Cemetery (1981) and, on the much lighter / horror-adjacent side of things, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which debuted in London on this date in 1975.

To close things out, today is the birthday of actor Tony Moran, who’s had parts in several small, short, and/or bare-budget horror films in recent years, but is most notable among horror fans for playing the unmasked Michael Myers in the original Halloween.

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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. Some are full of little oddities, and others have a couple of standout, major events rising like dark stone spires above the rest of the field.

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.

While we’re on the subject of monumental, possibly even underrated influential factors in horror history, August 12th, 1960 saw the initial release of Mario Bava’s Black SundayThe grand matriarch of Italian horror films, the mouth from which the bloody river and many red tributaries of Italian horror would flow for decades, to say nothing of the films and directors who’ve directly paid homage to its style and storytelling, its influence has been rightly described as “almost incalculable” by Tim Lucas in his book on Bava. At the time of its release, it was, as its trailer professes, not quite like anything that had come before, and it can proudly walk along with Psycho (well, just maybe a half-step behind) as one of the game-changing horror films birthed by the summer of 1960.

And August 12th still isn’t quite finished with us. On this day in 1983, Cujo came home to theaters in the states, a few days after its release in France.

The story of a demonically rabid St. Bernard that really wasn’t a bad dog if you discount that time it went on a rampage and murdered a bunch of people, it was the first of three Stephen King adaptations released in the back half of 1983, followed by The Dead Zone and Christine. This would mark the beginning of a 5-year run in which at least two King adaptations would come to the big screen annually, lest any younger readers out there think that the current apparent rush to adapt as much of King’s work as possible in a short space of time is a newer phenomenon. A solid film, it can sometimes feel half-forgotten in King’s oeuvre, despite introducing the world to a name that’s up there with “Damien” in the “instantly associated with as evil” moniker pantheon.

Closing on a bit of a sad note (about as melancholy as I’ll get for the foreseeable future, as I’m deliberately avoiding death-dates), today marks the release date four years ago of P.T.

A stealth teaser for a new Silent Hill project, P.T. was a pretty good, eerie little first-person horror game in its own right, but became far more notable for its ending revelation that it was bringing possibly the best horror gaming series of all time to the latest generation of consoles. Horror mastermind Guillermo Del Toro was working on it, . Alas, the project wouldn’t even survive into the following summer, being officially canceled by Konami in April of 2015, and P.T. was taken off the Playstation Network, never to be made officially available again. Konami indicated it would continue the series nonetheless, but as of 2018, there still isn’t a new installment even in the formative stages of development. The longest drought in Silent Hill series history sits at six years and counting,

 

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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.

On the film release side of things, Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead–the first film in his “Gates of Hell” unofficial trilogy–was released in Italy on this date in 1980.

Less surreal than its follow-up, The Beyond, it’s nonetheless impactful and features Fulci fully embracing his capacity for gore once more, delivering the disgusting vomit scene to end all disgusting vomit scenes, and an impossibly brutal head-drilling to boot (and those are just the two most infamous moments from the movie; certainly not the only two graphic indulgences).

On August 11th, 1989, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child had its wide-release in the U.S.

Somehow grimmer and crueler than even its predecessors while simultaneously perhaps having Freddy going overboard with the corny jokes, this installment proved to be the least profitable Elm Street movie upon its release. Just to show once again that money isn’t everything, however, the lone movie from the franchise to make less than The Dream Child is Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, possibly the second-best film in the series.

And on the lesser-known front, Night of the Seagulls came to theaters in its native Spain on this day in 1975.

The fourth and final film in the Blind Dead series, it’s inferior to the first two stories in this surprisingly slow-burning saga of Satan-worshiping, sword-swing, stallion-riding, undead Templar nights, but is at least a few steps up from the nadir of the third film.

Last but certainly not least of all, today is the 19th anniversary of the initial release of System Shock 2There’s quite a bit to say about this spiritual predecessor to the more famous Bioshock franchise, but this was first released in 1999, so–you guessed it–I’m going to save my more detailed write-up for next year’s 20th anniversary.

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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).

Despite not caring for the film, I have to admit that the original Flatliners, released on August 10th, 1990, made an impression on people.  Despite this, it had enough name cache that a cash-in remake 27-years later actually made financial sense on paper. I’d wager if you were holding a movie trivia contest in a room full of Gen-Xers (and maybe even a bit younger) and asked what movie the line “Today is a good day to die” comes from, most of the contestants would know right away, and could even name the actor who spoke it. Nonetheless, upon its release it was only a modest success at the box office, despite starring Julia Roberts fresh off the heels of mega-hit Pretty Woman and co-starring Kevin Bacon, who’d scored a larger genre hit earlier in the year with Tremors.

On the lesser-known side of things, August 10th marks the limited release date of the 1977 Italian film Sette note in nero (translation: Seven Notes in Black), later-known-as The Psychic.

First, that original Italian title is so much better than the English title it was given for its world-wide release. Second, how wonderful is that poster? “As wonderful as wonderful can be,” is the correct answer. (“Ah, but wait, what of this poster?” some pest asks. “Fine enough, sure, but I stand by my earlier assessment.”)  Finally, this might be Lucio Fulci’s most underrated movie, and should be readily discussed as one of his best, overshadowed by Don’t Torture a Duckling (which preceded it), Zombi 2, his “Gates of Hell Trilogy”, and even the notorious New York Ripper, Sette note in nero is at least the equal to all of these, and possibly superior to most (The Beyond will always top the list, for me). Being a much more restrained Fulci horror film probably explains why it’s overlooked, along with the similarly underrated Una lucertola con la pelle di donna (translation: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin – my God, those Italian titles).

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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“).

The narrator, Porky, seems to simply be telling the story in the 2nd person to the audience as though the listener is actually present before him, a common device in old-time radio horror programs. As the story progresses, however, we find out that his audience is someone who is part of the story, in a way that might not surprise savvier, modern listeners accustomed to this kind of tale, but that can still prove disturbing even to the jaded, and that certainly must have come as a gut-punch to many of the episode’s initial listeners back in 1948. Likewise, the strange-if-inspired wailing performed by Cecil H. Roy, (the voice actress most famous as the voice of Little Lulu and Caspar the Friendly Ghost in their respective cartoons), might make the titular “Thing” seem less intimidating and more childish and silly at first. By the time everything is discovered, however, we realize that this is a bit of a diversion, and the story is all the more chilling for it. Of course, I could be wrong; you might find her cries chilling from the moment you first lay ears on them.

At the risk of spoiling the classic radio drama above for any who just refused to listen to it, it has something in common with the other entry in today’s horror history post, Anthropophagus. That commonality is, of course, “monsters that eat people.” Instead of being some inexplicable creature from miles beneath the earth, however, the beast in Anthropophagus is merely a man. A mad one, driven so by loss and isolation, but a man just the same. This Joe D’Amato film is not notable for any storytelling flourishes or for even being good, but for its status as one of the more notorious “Video Nasties” banned by the Brits in the 80’s. Given that the film ends with the scene depicted on its infamous poster–that of the insane, cannibalistic villain gnawing on his own guts as he dies –it’s not all that surprising that the people behind the “Video Recordings Act” added it to their list. It also features a fetus being turned into raw veal, so, you know, for the curious, just know what you’re getting into.

Anthropophagus was released on this date in 1980 its home-country of Italy (a country that was really into cinematic cannibalism around that time; I think it even worked its way into their rom-coms).

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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.

This is a movie about a cursed Aztec cloak that is then turned into a dress that turns its wearer into a killer. That’s… that’s an idea. It’s directed by Tobe Hooper. It has overqualified genre veterans Anthony Perkins and Dee Wallace in the cast, along with R. Lee Ermey. One of the pull quotes on the cover calls it “A nice scary movie,” which sounds like a review Hooper’s quirky, English aunt gave to a stranger in line behind her at the store. And, just because I feel this bears repeating, this was directed by Tobe Hooper. The mind behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre also gave us The Aztec Cursed Cloak Dressmaker.

But Hooper wasn’t done with early 90’s TV movies. He also directed a segment in the 1993 anthology film Body Bagsalong with John Carpenter.

Originally an attempt by Showtime to have its very own Tales From the Crypt style series, Body Bags was assembled out of three half-hour episodes introduced and interrupted by fourth-wall breaking segments featuring John Carpenter’s “Coroner” character. As you might expect from an attempt to follow in Crypt‘s footsteps, there’s plenty of gruesome, winking humor on display here, although the final story, directed by Hooper and starring Mark Hamill, is noticeably grimmer than the previous two. Overall, Body Bags is a solid watch, and easily the best flick of the three I’m writing about here, although that’s a bit like beating two dead men in a footrace. It doesn’t really speak to how fast you are or aren’t.

Finally, on this date in 1995, Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter being her ex-beau; we have threads!) co-starred in an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Burial of the Rats that was mostly an excuse to film a softcore S&M flick. Whips, chains, ropes, busts and bondage abound in this corny Roger Corman production.

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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 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 that 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, it turns out. 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.

While we’re on the subject of endings and remakes, The Wicker Man gives me a chance to examine (or harp on) what actually constitutes a “remake.” Here’s the thing, when a movie is based on source material, such as a novel or short story, can a newer adaptation really be said to be a remake? In the BMD article linked above, The Blob is ranked alongside The Thing and The Fly as yet another example of a great horror remake, yet both of the other movies are newer adaptations of literary works. Even if they have references / homages to the earlier film adaptations, does that make either of them a remake, particularly when The Thing sets out to hew closer to the source material than does the original adaptation, while The Fly deliberately goes in the opposite direction, being far less faithful than its 1958 predecessor? Or, for a different example, is the Hammer Horror Dracula thought of as a remake of Universal’s Dracula? Is the Coppala film considered a remake of either? Nah, right? And yet…

Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is explicitly and deliberately a remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, as opposed to an adaptation of Robert Bloch’s original novel. It tries its best to duplicate virtually every shot of the earlier film, copies the set and even costume design. The fact that it’s based on a novel is incidental. Van Sant was experimenting (pointlessly, in my opinion) with replication. It’s as about as literal as a film remake can possibly be.

Both versions of The Wicker Man are based on a lesser-known novel titled Ritual, written by David Pinner. So is Neil LaBute’s terrible-by-any-measure version of the film more remake than adaptation? We need look no farther than the aforementioned title and ending; Ritual does not wrap up with the story’s “hero” facing a giant burning sacrificial effigy / vessel. Indeed, it has a very different fate for its lead detective, separating it from either film. So while Pinner’ goes uncredited in Robin Hardy’s 1973 film, but gets an acknowledgement in the 2006 film, the proof is in the print regarding the latter film’s remake status. It leans harder on the onscreen adaptation than the literary inspiration. It is a remake, and possibly the worst of all time. Yes, including ’98’s Psycho.

Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man jumped the Atlantic to come to U.S. theaters on August 7th, 1974.

Today is also the birthday of director Alexandre Aja. Speaking of remakes, he has two under his belt: Piranha 3D and The Hills Have Eyes. Maybe two-and-a-half considering Mirrors started as remake of the Korean horror film Into the Mirror, but Aja took the general concept in a different direction, enough so that they are effectively two very distinct creations. The Departed to Infernal Affairs it is not.

Aja’s most notable and argued work, probably, is still his directorial horror debut Haute Tension aka High Tension. One of the films that stuck out during the “New French Extreme” movement that saw violence and sex and other subjects taken to, well, extremes, the film is remembered for its over-the-top slasher violence, and also its twist ending, which is either considered clever, absurd, forgivable, ruinous, irrelevant, or some other thing that I’m forgetting. Put me in the “absurd-but-near-irrelevant” camp: it’s not smart and makes no sense, and partially invalidates a lot of what we’ve seen as it can’t be reconciled with most of what preceded it. But given the suspense and tension built up by the film through its first two acts (which, to be sure, “leverages” a lot of material from Dean Koontz’s Intensity) it’s almost irrelevant nonetheless. I say almost because, as is almost inevitable with twist endings, the movie seems to think it has outsmarted us and momentarily revels in what it believes to be a moment of brilliance, when all it’s done is pull out the latest version of a now-trite twist that Thomas Tryon first brought to fame in the world of horror way back in 1971. And I’m sure someone with more scholarly knowledge than I could point to a version of the twist in a horror story that predates Tryon as well.

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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).

Which brings us to The Sixth Sensethe runaway hit of 1999 that would have been the biggest movie of the year if not for the long awaited return of Star Wars, and made substantially more money at the box office than intended blockbusters like Armageddon (the previous year’s top money earner) and Mission: Impossible 2 (2000’s top money earner). In fact, it’s safe to say The Sixth Sense was a bonafide phenomenon; a rare late-summer super-smash that rode a wave of positive buzz over its now (in?)famous twist ending, which prompted many people to see it a second time just to look for the clues they missed the first time.

And yes, it’s a horror movie. Not just because of its premise, the story of a kid who sees ghosts. But because of the presentation. The movie is built around fear and is intended to scare audiences as it drags them through the frights experienced by young Cole Sear (okay, that last name is a little on the nose). The fact that the story’s ultimate objective is for him to overcome (or at least learn to manage) his fear and improve his relationship with his beleaguered, desperate mother doesn’t change that. The fact that the subplot involves a spirit coming to terms with his fate and finding the peace to move on–after initially experiencing horror at the realization of his circumstances–doesn’t change that either. I understand that a movie prominently featuring ghosts isn’t necessarily a horror movie (for a classic example, see Ghost); but I also understand that a movie prominently featuring horror is still a horror movie, even if it also has a lot of heart. Horror is an emotion, after all. I’ve said it before, I’ll harp on it for as long as I feel it’s necessary: it’s perfectly fine for Horror stories to be emotional.

The Sixth Sense opened in theaters on August 6th, 199.

Today also marks the birthday of prolific Italian director and writer of shock and shlock flicks, Umberto Lenzi.

He is perhaps most known for the infamous Cannibal Ferox, one of the more unforgettable features produced during the cannibal-sploitation boom, which features the requisite scenes of graphic violence and torture, and also some genuine animal cruelty (which I want to judge more harshly, but it’s hard to reconcile that disgust while also still being in love with Oldboy despite an octopus being eaten alive in it, so I’ll try not to be too self-righteous and critical for the moment; catch me on another day and I might have more to say, though).

Lenzi is one of those filmmakers who seemed to constantly be working on two or three projects at a time during his peak years. He also directed several action movies, crime / gangster thrillers and giallo thrillers to go along with other horror films such as Nightmare City (part of the Italian zombie-craze of the late 70’s and 80’s), Ghosthouse (one of several Italian “unofficial sequels” of American movies, this one of Evil Dead), Demoni 3The Man From Deep River (aka Sacrifice! — the movie credited with igniting the cannibal sub-genre) and Eaten Alive! (yep, more cannibals).

Umberto Lenzi was born on this day in 1931.

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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?).

Alas, it was not to be, so Halloween 4 marked “The Return of Michael Myers,” who somehow survived being fully engulfed in flames in part 2. It was at this point that series continuity was officially established as being super-loose. Once parts 5 and 6 took the series over a cliff by introducing largely unpopular occult angles to explain what was originally designed to be inexplicable, yet another return to the series’ roots was in order.

In came Halloween: H20arriving with much fanfare on August 5th, 1998. This was near the peak of the teen slasher resurgence kicked off by Scream just two years earlier. The series continuity was reset back to the conclusion of the second movie, so that Michael could return unencumbered by any “Curse / Cult of Thorn” craziness and just get back to regular ol’ murderin’. It felt at the time like the great-grandfather of the most recent horror “trend” had come back one last time to show all these new-school kids how it was supposed to be done. And it was, in many ways, a clear success. While unable to live up to the original–an almost impossible feat–it did cap the series with a fitting coda, and made more at the box office than fellow 1998 slasher / teen-horror pictures I Still Know What You Did Last SummerUrban Legend and The Faculty. Audiences didn’t fall head-over-heels for it, but seemed content to see Laurie Strode’s story gain some closure, with a relatively “happy” ending, to boot.

So of course, of course, it had to be undone with the abysmal Halloween: Resurrection a few years later. Which was bad enough to warrant a new palate cleanser, opening the door for Rob Zombie’s… let’s say “misguided” take on the franchise. Which opened the door for yet another comeback and retcon, the forthcoming Halloween of 2018, which will go even further than H20 in erasing previous entries by being a direct sequel to the first film. Now instead of having to explain how Michael survived immolation, they just have to sell us on this 61-year-old dude still being a threat. Based on the trailers released so far, they may just succeed, against all odds.

For a classic horror story franchise with a considerably simpler history, look no farther than The Blob.

The original film, from 1958, is an indy horror hit that doesn’t hold up well. If Psycho didn’t render it obsolete just two years later, Night of the Living Dead did so in ’68. Far and away the best thing it has going for it is Steve McQueen, but most of the rest of the acting is tough to endure, and the titular monster just looks like a gross dessert run clumsily amok.

Three decades later, The Blob would come to theaters again, this time reinvented as the courier of some of the most imaginative cinematic grotesquery to grace the screen at the time, in great company with The Thing and Cronenberg’s The Fly. The ’88 Blob remake has effects that hold up very well, even as the squeamish (and even not-so-squeamish) among us may wish they didn’t. Directed by the stunningly reliable Chuck Russell, who also gave us the third Elm Street film, The Mask, and helmed one of the many great episodes of the best season of FringeThe Blob pulls no punches in depending how horrific it must be to be slowly devoured by an ever-growing space amoeba. It is a gooey, gruesome feat of a movie that single-handedly makes a case for the potential of remakes. Today marks the 40th anniversary of its theatrical wide release.

Finally, August 5th marks the North American release date of Silent Hill 3currently (and possibly forever) the last universally beloved game in the series (don’t look at me, I love Silent Hill 4: The Room, but it’s always had detractors who think it veered too far off course from the series origins). I have a CoaFJ entry that covers my love for the Silent Hill franchise as a whole, but Silent Hill 3 is perhaps where the franchise should have ended. While it’s “good” ending is too brief and almost whimsical to be truly satisfactory, everything up to it feels like a perfect combination of what preceded it. The story is more personal than the first entry (though not quite as personal as the second), but also keeps a greater focus on the overall mythology stakes than does Silent Hill 2. It also has some of the most harrowing, frightening moments in the series, and that’s really, really, really saying something.

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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.

The August 6th Guardian review is likewise negative, scattering faint praise while latching on to the film’s flaws, “unintentional humor” and taking supreme exception to the film’s marketing.

Also matching the stateside reception, the public’s fervor for the film appeared to generate a critical reassessment. While many genre classics that were lambasted in their time wouldn’t be reappraised for years, if not decades, Psycho‘s critical fortunes changed within the year. A new writer at The Observer, Kenneth Tynan (who, in fairness, may have loved the film from the first time he saw it), lauded the film as a “grisly masterpiece” in December of 1960, after it had broken attendance records at the Plaza theater. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, British-sounding New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, whose original assessment of Psycho was lukewarm at best, placed the film in his year-end top-10 (albeit in an article prefaced by lamenting how slim he felt the pickings were that year).

Of course, the early critical reception of Psycho shouldn’t be too surprising. The movie marked the beginning of a decade-long sea-change in how horror and violence would be presented in mainstream, popular cinema. Before the end of the 60’s, Crowther would join Lejeune in retirement after being pushed out at the Times due to his persistent, even distracting bashing of Bonnie and Clyde due to its violent ending. Romero would disgust reviewers with Night of the Living Dead in 1968 and Peckipah would stun them with the climax of The Wild Bunch in ’69. Decades typically don’t start and end as neatly as the years would indicate; there’s usually plenty of bleed over. It’s relatively rare to have a bookend so timely as Psycho to be the progenitor of what is on the horizon.

Elsewhere in the world of horror cinema, August 4th marks the release date for the live-action version of Anazâ, aka Another. 

Based on a successful novel that was previously adapted into a popular manga and then anime series, Another is a teen-horror ghost story with some Final Destination flavor sprinkled onto some of the “accidental” deaths, only in this story, the overwhelming majority of people know from the jump that the deaths are the result of supernatural forces at work. A curious curse born of an act of mourning, in fact.

While not nearly as popular or well-received as the anime series released the same year (2012), it does a passable job relaying the story, and might be a suitable option for those that are curious, but don’t have the 4+ hours to invest in watching the anime, or the time to read the lengthy novel, or the time to read the manga, While not nearly as popular or well-received as the anime series released the same year (2012), it does a passable job relaying the story, and might be a suitable option for those that are curious, but don’t have the 4+ hours to invest in watching the anime, or the time to read the lengthy novel, or the time to read the manga, particularly if they’re not used to the format. All of that said, you’re still better off diving into any of the superior alternatives than making the live action film your first choice.

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