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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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.

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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