Horror fans just love to write about holiday horror films. As we head into the tail end of the year, we horrorhound bloggists and writerers and whatever-yacall’ems jump at the opportunity to write up list upon list of our favorite Halloween and Christmas horror flicks. Occasionally we get clever, but mostly we end up just writing listicle stuff. The balance between clever and accessible is actually a pretty hard to thing pull off! You start typing an article with good intentions, but before you know it, you’re 500 words deep in a piece about too-specific niche type stuff, like, “A list of Halloween horror movies with only two female leads and a killer who doesn’t wear a mask and only kills with handheld garden tools.” It’s gruesome stuff. Continue reading Killer Calendar!
Awooooo! Careful, mutants! I think you’re being followed…
You’re walking home alone one damp and dreary night. You see shadows dancing on the walls, hear advancing footsteps on the pavement, and feel heavy breathing on your neck. But by then, it’s too late!
This is the soundtrack for all the late night maniacs out there. Beware! (Click the pic to hear the tunes!)
I met Barry when I was in high school. He lived in a town about 45 minutes away from mine. Though we weren’t close, we did share a group of friends so we would occasionally hang out together in a group setting, and sometimes we’d bump into each other at the mall. Eventually, we fell out of touch. Hell, everyone fell out of touch. Flash forward a decade, and somehow through the magic of the Internet we found each other on Facebook and started talking again. I discovered he was a huge gorehound, and his knowledge of the esoteric horrorstuffs put mine to shame. And whenever he’d post pics from his house, it always looked full of great art and good kitschy collectibles. I couldn’t believe it – someone from high school who I didn’t mind reuniting with! We’ve stayed in contact ever since. When I put this thing together I knew Barry had to contribute a piece, and I’m happy to say he did not disappoint. So without further ado, Barry’s Drive-In Double Feature!
There’s a fine line between homage and down right thievery. The horror genre is notorious for squeezing every last penny out of a good idea and running respectable film franchises into the ground. Some filmmakers find inspiration in mediocre ideas and expand them into a complex narrative, while other, less creative filmmakers see a good idea and change just enough to avoid a lawsuit. No film in the horror genre has “inspired” filmmakers more than John Carpenter’s classic, Halloween. In turn, we can argue that Halloween borrowed many elements from earlier films like Black Christmas and Peeping Tom, but it was Halloween that thrust the slasher genre into the mainstream. The mold was cast and like an in demand bootleg, the copies of the copies of the copies kept coming. With each new copy, the films got progressively worse. This ultimately killed the slasher genre as audiences grew tired of the regurgitated plots and uninspired characters. By the late 80’s/early 90’s, the slasher film was dying a slow painful death. Many of the films released at this time were of the straight-to-video variety and offered little hope that the genre would survive. While some of the films from this era have become rediscovered classics, many remain in obscurity. The films I have chosen will NEVER be considered classics but somehow they managed to make a lasting impression on me.
The Last Slumber Party is an underdog of a movie. For all its faults and shortcomings (trust me, there are many), it’s the type of film that is almost too good to be true, and by that I mean absolutely dreadful. This 1988 straight-to-video release from director Stephen Tyler (no, not that Steven Tyler) tells the story of a group of girls who throw a slumber party on the first night of summer vacation. Wouldn’t you know it, a killer dressed as a scalpel-wielding surgeon has escaped from a nearby mental institution and is hacking his way to the party. From the very beginning, it’s apparent that we are in low budget hell. The whole film is a glorious catastrophe that would make Ed Wood proud. The camera angles are awkward, the acting is ridiculous, the heavy metal soundtrack credited to Firstryke is laughable, and the special effects are non-existent, but for some reason all of these elements make me love The Last Slumber Party.
Yes, it’s a shameless rip-off of Halloween and Slumber Party Massacre but you can’t ignore the earnest “let’s make a movie” attitude that Stephen Tyler and his crew must have felt. They put themselves out there and tried to deliver a kick ass horror film, unfortunately they were 10 years late and $100,000 dollars short.
The second film is not much better but must be seen to be believed. If The Last Slumber Party “borrowed” bits and pieces from other films, then 1989’s Offerings is guilty of highway robbery. The movie is shameless in its attempt to steal everything it can from Halloween right down to John Carpenter’s iconic theme. In fact, I was so shocked by how similar it was, that I really wondered why John Carpenter never filed a lawsuit. Offerings tells the story of mute killer named John Radley who escapes from a mental hospital (he literally walks out the front door and scales a fence) and returns to his hometown to murder a bunch of teenagers. John Radley has all the characteristics of Michael Meyers; he’s mute, he’s omnipresent, he slowly chases his victims, he turns his head when he is confused, he possesses super human strength, and he lurks in the shadows. In fact the only thing that sets them apart are their faces. While Michael sports his Captain Kirk mask, John walks around showing off his disfigured face. One by one, John kills his childhood tormentors and stalks his old friend Gretchen Peters (who sports an awesome pair of acid washed mom jeans and a wicked Oklahoma accent). Many death scenes resemble the deaths of the characters in Halloween.
John Radley even has his own Dr. Loomis and Sheriff Bracket that are one step behind his carnage. Just like Michael Meyers, John Radley steals a headstone, eats a wild animal (a duck instead of a dog), and sleeps in his vacant childhood home. The only original element to the film is the explanation of the title. To show is love for Gretchen, John Radley leaves random body parts on her doorstep as offerings. This is the ONLY original thing in the movie and honestly, it doesn’t make much sense. The last ten minutes of the film are so similar to Halloween that I really expected Gretchen to ask if he was the boogeyman. The last line of the movie was so stupid and ridiculous I laughed out loud for 5 minutes. Trust me, Offerings is the type of movie that should reward you with a badge of honor if you make it to the final credits.
Barry is a horror fanatic and collector of autographs.
With “Guilty Pleasures”, I revisit some horror flicks that fans have almost unanimously derided and labeled “unlikeable”, but are ones that I actually get a kick out of. This time around, it’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.
The Halloween series – like all of the memorable horror franchises – has carried on long past its expiration date. It’s had 7 sequels, 2 remakes, and even tried completely omitting Michael Myers at one point early on. Since its inception, the series has never gone more than 6 years without a sequel or remake of some sort so, as we approach the 6 year anniversary of Rob Zombie’s embarrassing and confusing take on the series, it should come as no surprise that there has been talk of yet another film to add to the anthology – apparently currently in the works. And it’s this laughable-yet-strangely-admirable refusal to stay dead that has time and time again forced dunderheaded writers and money-hungry producers to make awful, knee-jerk decisions which tarnished the legacy and caused puritanical fans to overturn tables. Sure, they tried the whole ‘telepathic niece‘ angle. And, believe it or not, they even had a CGI mask at one point (I’m never forgivin’ ’em for that one.) But for all the series’s trip-ups and missteps, no entry was harder to get on the screen in one piece than Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (aka Halloween 6, aka Halloween 666: The Origin of Michael Myers.) They had a hell of a time finding a director: at one point or another, Peter Jackson, Scott Spiegel, Jeff Burr, and Fred Walton were all attached to direct the film – and Quentin Tarantino was even attached to produce. Take a minute to wrap your head around that. And there was also last minute script switcheroos and onset bickering between the crew, leading most involved to disown the movie and swear to never be involved in another Halloween flick again. It was that bad. I mean, hell – even ol’ Jamie Lee starred in four of ’em (including the worst in the series) so you know making Halloween 6 had to be rough. It’s unfortunate that arguments, re-writes, and re-shoots caused what could have been (according to original screenwriter Daniel Farrands) a potentially dark and revitalizing entry into a hacked-up head-scratcher (The Man in Black? The Mark of Thorn? Cults, sacrifice, druids? I mean, we’re still talking about that guy from the Illinois suburbs who killed his sis when he was a kid, right?) But dang it all. I like it! I can’t help myself! I saw this in theaters the day it came out. I was 12 years old and I went with my buddy Arnold – I had my parents buy our tickets. I had just read issue #147 of Fangoria and I was pumped, baby! And for whatever reason – despite its numerous and obvious flaws – I still enjoy it. It pays homage to the original quite a bit, which is why I think I like it so much. I’ll try to help illustrate why Halloween 6 is, sadly, the last good entry in the series. (Don’t get me started on the infuriating Halloween H20, aka Halloween Water. That’s a separate article all-together.) Starring and introducing Paul (Stephen) Rudd. Not only is it Rudd’s debut, but it was the first time in the series that a male had become the protagonist hunted by Myers. And he plays Tommy Doyle, a character in the original 1978 film, now a full grown man obsessivly watching over the Strode house from across the street – totally great idea! A retired Dr. Sam Loomis, hidden safely away in a cabin deep in the woods, writing his memoirs. After years of battling Myers, this is how you wanna see old Loomis living out his remaining days. (Sadly, actor Donald Pleasance would pass away before the movie’s release.) Michael’s mask. Sure, he kinda has this Rawhead Rex thing goin’ on with his hair. But the mask is the closest thing to the original since, well, the original. Atmosphere. Haddonfield looks dreary, empty and damp, like a town forever scarred by the memories associated with this autumnal holiday. It’s a look Halloween 4 helped to established and one I’m glad this entry reignited. Just ignore those pesky Illinois mountains in the background. Michael is actually spooky in this! Shot mostly in shadow and under the cover of night, he definitely gives off some eerie vibes in this one. Dr. Loomis gives one final “pure evil” speech, and though it is brief, it’s still poetry:
This force, this thing that lived inside of him came from a source too violent, too deadly for you to imagine. It grew inside him, contaminating his soul. It was pure evil. This house is sacred to him. He has all of his memories here, his rage! Mrs. Strode…I beg of you, don’t let your family suffer the same fate that Laurie and her daughter suffered.
Smashed pumpkin reference. Tommy Doyle (Rudd) causes a boy to drop his pumpkin, much like how Doyle fell on and smashed his own pumpkin in the original. Another nice homage, using Michael’s presence in the backyard, alongside billowing white sheets on a clothesline. This creepy old woman gives a speech about Halloween that rivals Loomis’s ‘pure evil’ speech. It ends up being a bit exposition-y and injects a little too much unnecessary backstory, but damn if it don’t start strong! But extra points for her referring to him as ‘little Mikey Myers’. (Plus, Mike in the background!) This world class a-hole who you just know is gonna get it good. The original Halloween had a cast of bubbly teens you didn’t wanna see get killed, but every sequel from there on threw that idea out the window and made sure to have some jerk you just wanted to see get theirs (Bud in Part 2; Kelly Meeker in Part 4; pretty much everyone in Part 5, especially that little kid with the stutter.) There’s a brief scene set at a live radio show on campus. There are people partying in costumes, barrel fires, twinkling bokehs – all being ominously narrated while we follow Rudd in slow-motion. It’s a fleeting set piece but one I really liked and wanted to see used more! Radio host Barry Simms gets killed in his car – an homage to Annie’s demise in Halloween? I think so! Also, I’d like to point out that earlier in the film Barry makes a joke about “Michael Myers being sent to space”. Just six years later, Jason Voorhees would make that joke an awful reality. “It’s raining, mommy. It’s raining red. It’s warm.” In yet another homage, the damsel in distress runs to the neighbor’s house, banging on the door pleading for help – all while we see Michael slowly making his way across the street to her. Now that I mention it, maybe this article shoulda just been how Halloween 6 is one long homage to the original! So it’s around this time that the movie kinda flies off the rails. The climax is set in a hospital (Halloween II, anyone?), and basically it’s just one long scene where Michael murders a boatload of doctors while strobe lights are going off – no, really. However, it’s a notable scene for one specific reason: it’s the first time since the original that you see Michael run! It’s brief – and I do mean brief – but if you look closely, Michael picks up the pace a little when chasing a doctor down some underground corridor. Michael hasn’t moved that fast since he scaled Loomis’s station wagon and escaped from Smith’s Grove! The movie does its best to end with a ‘bang’, but goes out with more of a muted ‘poof’. The final scene sees Rudd thinking he’s beaten Michael to death with a pipe. He really wails on ol’ Mike for awhile with that thing. But after he and the other survivors leave the hospital, Dr. Loomis stays behind – only to be murdered (you can tell by his screams offscreen) by the still living Myers. It’s an entry not without its flaws, and major ones at that. But I truly feel it does a better job of honoring the original in many subtle ways than the glossy and pandering H2O does. In a way, this film was ahead of its time – maybe too ahead of its time. After all, it was written by a fan – and who better to do a horror franchise justice than its obsessive fanbase. Perhaps if the producers had just left the original script alone – and not beaten it to death with a lead pipe – we’d be singing its praises instead of cursing it.
I remember hearing that story when I was younger, the one about the mom who was filled with such maternal adrenaline after witnessing her kid get trapped under a car, that she was able to lift the car off her kid all on her own. Apparently, a mother’s love for her child is a powerful and scary thing – so best of luck to you if you happen to put their child in harm’s way…or worse.
During the mid and late-70s, there was sort of a boom when it came to psychotic-and-overprotetctive-moms in film. It started overseas with the Italian giallo film Deep Red (1975) (this is interesting because the giallo movement would be a direct influence on the American slasher craze, especially the early Friday the 13th films. Deep Red and Friday the 13th share another random bit of trivia: at the end of Friday, after Mrs. Voorhees gets a little taken off the top, we see her hands ball up into fists; these are actually special effects assistant Taso Stavrakis’s hands. Conversely, the closeup shots of the female killer’s hands in Deep Red, clad in black leather gloves, were performed by director Dario Argento.)
All of these films saw the mother either:
- being driven to kill because someone had wronged their child
- being driven to kill because their child had wronged them
- birthing hideous, tumor-like growths that develop into little murderous albino kids (that’s The Brood)
Then in 1980, Friday the 13th was released – a little low-budget film that was intended to cash in on the success of the ultimate low-budget slasher, Halloween. For those of you visiting from another planet, the film is about a mother who avenges her child’s death by killing off the counselors at the camp he drowned many years before.
But as for a sequel? There weren’t plans. The film was meant as a stand-alone. Here’s what Friday writer Victor Miller had to say about the film:
“I took motherhood and turned it on its head and I think that was great fun. Mrs. Voorhees was the mother I’d always wanted—a mother who would have killed for her kids.” Miller was unhappy about the filmmakers’ decision to make Jason Voorhees the killer in the sequels. “Jason was dead from the very beginning. He was a victim, not a villain.”
In addition to Deep Red and Halloween, Friday the 13th ripped an idea from another infamous horror flick, Carrie. No, not the pig’s blood. I’m talking about the final dream sequence. In fact, the idea of Jason appearing at the end of the film was initially not used in the original script, and was actually suggested by makeup designer Tom Savini:
“The whole reason for the cliffhanger at the end was I had just seen Carrie, so I thought that we need a ‘chair jumper’ like that, and I said, ‘let’s bring in Jason.'”
The final scene from Carrie was actually inspired by the final scene in Deliverance, but alas that’s how the world of horror goes: reduce, reuse, recycle.
According to Victor Miller, Jason was only meant as a plot device and not intended to continue on his mother’s grisly work. But then sequelitis struck, and well, we all know how that goes.
The initial ideas for a sequel involved the Friday the 13th title being used for a series of films, released once a year, that would not have direct continuity with each other, but be a separate “scary movie” of their own right. If that sounds familiar to you horrorhounds, it’s because Halloween (the film Friday was originally trying to emulate) was toying with the same concept. This is what Tommy Lee Wallace, director of Halloween III, said about the Halloween sequel and future of the series:
“It is our intention to create an anthology out of the series, sort of along the lines of Night Gallery, or The Twilight Zone, only on a much larger scale.”
Friday producers insisted that the sequel have Jason Voorhees, even though his appearance in the original film was only meant to be a joke. And so, in 1981, Friday the 13th Part 2 was released. Halloween II was released just five months later.
Like the dead teens from the first film, the proposed sequel was already busy creating another heap of casualties: the entire team that had created the original. No one came back – not director Sean Cunningham, not writer Victor Miller, nor special effects maestro Tom Savini. Director Steve Miner came on board to take over, with Ron Kurz writing (Kurz had done uncredited writing on Friday the 13th.)
For Jason’s big screen debut, the production team decided to model his character after the killer from The Town That Dreaded Sundown by throwing a burlap sack over his head.
This ‘baghead’ look actually became popularized back in 1957, in the first episode of Perry Mason, “The Case of the Restless Redhead”. Coincidentally, 1957 is the same year of young Jason Voorhee’s supposed drowning.
Since the release of Friday the 13th Part 2, the look would become synonymous with scary villain and would pop up in horror films like The Strangers, Triangle, and even westerns like The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
The look was even the basis for the semi-parody mumblecore film, Baghead, starring indie darling Great Gerwig.
Friday the 13th Part 2 would ‘borrow’ from the giallo movement once again. Two of the more memorable scenes – one including a machete to the face, the other seeing two lovers speared simultaneously – were lifted directly from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood.
This was the first and last time Jason Voorhees had any sort of motivation for his killings, and therefore the last time he’d be portrayed as an empathetic character. The series began tragically – a boy drowning, his mother avenging his death, and then that same boy later avenging her death. But as with most franchises (especially A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween), the future sequels lose sight of what the characters original motivations were. But when your villain is 8 or 10 sequels deep, you’re bound to muddy the waters a bit.
Join me for my next installment where I visit the next two Friday the 13th sequels, with “Hockey Masks, the 3D Boom, & Final Chapters”!