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WATCH THIS: Steven Spielberg’s Forgotten Film, SOMETHING EVIL!

This piece originally appeared on Blumhouse.com

Long before Steven Spielberg found his groove directing award-winning biopics and big-budget family films, it seemed like – if only for a moment – the young auteur might settle comfortably into a life of delivering audiences straight-up genre pictures. It may be hard to believe now, young readers, but the sprawling blockbusters we associate with the Spielberg of today are a far cry from the type of stuff he originally helmed when starting out in Hollywood. Like a lot of first-time directors, Spielberg cut his teeth in the business by focusing on the horror, sci-fi, and exploitation genres.

While still a fresh-faced college student who was only midway through his studies at Cal State, Spielberg was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: a 7-year directing deal with Universal Studios. Too good a chance to pass up, he soon dropped out of school to focus on directing full time. The 21-year-old wunderkind’s first directorial effort was an episode of NIGHT GALLERY, and following a string of well-received television credits over the next few years, Universal signed Spielberg to direct four TV films. Continue reading WATCH THIS: Steven Spielberg’s Forgotten Film, SOMETHING EVIL!

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WATCH THIS: John Carpenter’s “Lost Film”, SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME!

This piece originally appeared on iHorror.com.

A pretty, sandy-haired young woman is stalked by a mysterious figure; first via car, then by creepy phone calls, and then directly outside her window. He’s even seen in the background spying on her while she converses on the phone. She eventually takes the shadowy figure head-on, stumbling around a living room and fighting for her life, ending with a climax that reveals nothing about the madman’s motivations. Oh, and the whole thing was directed by John Carpenter in the late ’70s. Gotta be Halloween, right? Wrong.

Though it wrapped shooting two weeks before Halloween even went into production, John Carpenter’s television directorial debut, the NBC-produced Someone’s Watching Me! was actually released one month after Halloween. Due to this loopy timeline it’s easy to think Halloween informed many stylistic choices of Someone’s Watching Me!, when in reality it’s the other way around.

Leigh (Lauren Hutton) is an ambitious television producer who moves from New York to Los Angeles. She settles in a large high rise apartment, the kind where the living room is basically one giant window overlooking the thoroughfare. Unbeknownst to Leigh, a creeper who lives in a building across the street spots her and takes a real liking to her. He starts following her, calling her, and leaving her gifts. She continually rebuffs the mystery man, causing him to pursue her more aggressively. With the support of her co-worker Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau) and her boyfriend Paul (David Birney), Leigh goes to the police. Tired of the cat and mouse game, the creep finally attacks.

While not an exact Halloween clone, Carpenter admits SWM! did lay the groundwork for what would become his slasher masterpiece. “A lot of the shots, the framing – and a lot of the flow”, would be reused for Halloween. Carpenter also says, “I got to make mistakes”, referring to the TV movie, which allowed him to hone and sharpen the basic idea and deliver a much leaner and ultimately more frightening movie with Halloween. There are a few familiar Carpenter players in the small cast, namely Adrienne Barbeau and Charles Cyphers. And if you pay attention, you’ll probably spot some names in SWM! that Carpenter would later reuse, including Leigh, Paul, and Officer Tramer.

Noticeably absent from SWM! are a few trademarks Carpenter’s films would come to be known for. He had no input on the score, so here his usual piercing synths are substituted with dramatic, swelling strings – common in ’70s television productions. And his stunning wide-angle lens shots – usually courtesy of Dean Cundey but here provided by Robert Hauser – have been cropped and tightened to fit the 4:3 aspect ratio of a TV screen. Still, the movie displays all the great themes the director would come to be known for, including voyeurism and paranoia.

Watching SWM!, it’s clear that Carpenter who, in 1977, was still new to the horror genre (at that point he only had two feature films under his belt: the sci-fi satire Dark Star, and Assault on Precinct 13, a dystopian Western exploitation flick), was heavily inspired by the works of Alfred Hitchcock – mainly, South By Southwest, Rear Window, and Psycho. At times it feels like it could be entitled Alfred Hitchcock’s Halloween, and I mean that in the best way possible. For a TV movie made in the ’70s, SWM! is incredibly suspenseful and flat-out spooky. The tension builds, keeping you guessing until the very end.

Someone’s Watching Me! is often called “the lost Carpenter film” due to its relative scarcity on home media, but don’t let the hoity-toity label exclude you – I assure you it’s not just for the John Carpenter completest. In fact, I would consider it required Carpenter, especially if you’re a fan of Halloween. It’s one of those special movies that shows its director in transition; especially powerful here since Carpenter’s next film would prove to be his greatest success.

THE MISSING “CREEPSHOW” MUSIC CUES!

Based on sheer unanimous appreciation alone, Creepshow may be one of the greatest horror films ever made. Truly: I’ve never heard one disparaging comment made about it. Inquire, and those who’ve seen it will excitedly describe their favorite segment, their eyes alight and hands animated. For those raised on it, it’s like a plateful of comfort food. And, due to its fall-tinged intro, it has become a Halloween staple. Needless to say, it’s a horror classic.

One of the things that helped cement Creepshow among horror royalty is its incredible score. Composed by frequent Romero collaborator John Harrison (using only a Prophet V synthesizer), the score successfully manages to craft a hauntingly Gothic aura punctuated by goofy camp – no easy task, but one that compliments the vibe of the comic book-inspired film perfectly. Romero himself has said that Harrison’s score delivers on the promise the tagline of the film avows: “the most fun you’ll have being scared”.

Not long ago I discovered Harrison wasn’t solely responsible for creating the amazingly spot-on EC comics-era sensation the score elicited. Many of the recognizable cues, it turned out, were from Capitol Records’ stock catalog. It was a trick Romero had used since the beginning of his career: pacing and editing his films using old stock music, which he often left in once the film was finished. (Just look at Night of the Living Dead‘s score – all stock music, some of which would later find its way into Romero’s Tales from the Darkside television show, as well as, you guessed it, Creepshow.)

Most recently, Waxwork Records released the original Creepshow soundtrack, but it was missing all of those additional stock music cues. In 2014, La-La Records released an “expanded” version of the soundtrack, which included a few of the music pieces, though not many – 14 in all, including only one from “Father’s Day”.

But, thanks to the help of the Internet (and my own dogged searching), I’ve collected almost 30 pieces of missing music cues, including 6 from “Father’s Day”. These pieces were incredibly difficult to track down. There are a few message boards which (thankfully, gratefully) have the music cues listed by name (and Creepshow‘s IMDB page is a wealth of info), but locating the actual audio files proved to be almost impossible. Even though some of these tracks were released on the Creepshow Expanded OST, they don’t even exist on Youtube.

(Complicating the search was the fact that a.) several of the songs have near identical names, and b.) many of the composers worked under different aliases. Whew, exhausting.)

It’s important to hear these cues in full because they’re just incredible. Bill Loose’s work, especially, which is all at once gorgeous, lush, and dramatic. It’s amazing these composers created these beautiful pieces with the knowledge they were to be cataloged anonymously along with hundreds of other pieces for the sole purpose of filling out a record company’s stock music library. It seems almost unjust, in a way – relegating these tunes to a lifetime of obscurity, only to be showcased for literal seconds at a time in the background of some nondescript cartoon or low-budget film.

(And check out Loose’s “Sonar Waves”, specifically about 45 seconds in – any horror fan worth their salt ought to recognize those notes instantly.)

As far as I know, this page is the only place online you can listen to the (almost) entire collection of missing cues from Creepshow in one spot. Unfortunately, it is not complete. I am still missing about 20 tracks, which is mind-boggling. Like I said, these have been hard hard hard to find. But I will continue to update this page as I discover the final, missing cues. Below, the tracks are listed in the order that they appear in the film.

None of this would be possible if it weren’t for the fine, informative folks at YowpYowp and Film Score Monthly (specifically, a member named PrimeEvil whose own keyboard handiwork I’ve included below).

I won’t bore you with my blathering any longer. If you’ve read this far, you deserve to be rewarded with the music. Enjoy, and if you happen to have a hot tip on any of the missing tracks, please email me!





 

The Cardigan-sploitation of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4!

I recently attended Screamfest’s 30th Anniversary screening of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 at Hollywood’s famed Chinese Theatre, and to say it was amazing would be an understatement. The whole cast was there, director Renny Harlin and legendary producer Bob Shaye were both there, and a fun Q&A with everyone followed the film. Sitting in the moderately-sized – but PACKED – theatre, watching the film with the stars of the film – well, that’s just a dream come true for any horror fan.

It’s always fun watching a horror film you’ve only ever seen on VHS or DVD up on the big screen. You seem to notice things you never really took note of before. For example, in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, during the classroom scene where Freddy sucks all the air out of Toy Newkirk’s asthmatic little body, I always thought Robert Englund actually peeled the apple (which had been sitting on the desk) using a real bladed-glove. However, seeing it play out 50 feet wide, I was able to see that the apple was actually pre-peeled and simply stuck back together. It was a small thing, but my insides still went “whoa, cool.” Continue reading The Cardigan-sploitation of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4!

(EVEN MORE) VILE VALENTINES!

This is it, you lovesick freakos! February is already upon us and the day of reddening is just around the corner. Personally, I’ve already got my V-Day plans booked (drinking a $4 bottle of wine while staring in the mirror – hey, it’s a tradition!), but for those of you poor saps who are still empty-handed and in need of a little something to tell your significant other just how you feel about them – I’ve got you covered!

As I’ve done for the past few years now, I’ve whipped up a handful of vile valentines for only the most demented of you. I’m talkin’ real sick stuff, folks. You can see the past creations HERE, HERE, and HERE. The best part: they’re free!

So print out as many of ’em on the office printer as you can and share ’em with like-minded maniacs!

 

HORROR PET OF THE MONTH: Ella!

When the athletic Allan Mann (Jason Beghe) is tragically paralyzed in a freak jogging accident in George A. Romero’s masterful Monkey Shines, things – at first- seem hopeless for the injured Allan.

After the accident, Allan withdraws. He becomes a shell of his former lively self. He grows distant from his girlfriend. And most tricky of all, Allan hates his live-in the nurse, Maryanne – the only one who can actually physically assist Allan.

All is reversed, however, when Allan’s speed-freak med student buddy, Geoffrey (John Pankow, looking like Elvis Costello’s twin here), delivers him a surprise package in the form a cute little capuchin monkey, lovingly nicknamed “Ella”, after the famed jazz singer. Continue reading HORROR PET OF THE MONTH: Ella!