Archive for the ‘eighties’ Category

the-blob-film-1988There is one film in my vault of horrors that I watch every Halloween, regardless of what my yearly theme may be. It’s a film I associate with the holiday, (despite having nothing to do with it) starting way back to when I was fresh out of diapers, and stumbled across it for the first time on cable. Now I’m sure many purists out there will scream blaspheme when they discover it’s a remake, but it’s one of the best, and a prime example of how they should be done. Taking what worked from the original, and building upon it while omitting the kitschy bits that kept it from achieving greatness.

The film in question is a mortifying one, responsible for my outright abhorrence of a certain Cosby marketed gelatinous treat that makes me gag just thinking about it. The crusty film that spreads across its surface if left to fester in the fridge for too long. The way it jiggles upon a spoon as it creeps toward your mouth, and how it slurps, and slithers down your throat like an edible slug. I’m of course talking about Jell-O, and its amorphous acidic older brother, The Blob.blob-4

Released in 1988, The Blob is director Chuck Russell, (known for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors) and writer Frank Darabont’s, (of Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, and spawning the now beloved Walking Dead series) loving remake of the Steve McQueen led 1958 classic.

The film follows the citizens of Arborville, California as they’re attacked by an organism that devours, and dissolves anything unfortunate enough to cross its path, while growing to astronomical proportions in the process.

blobThe major divergence from the original was making the creature a biological weapon, rather than an extraterrestrial organism, which provides a terrifying political subtext that’s much more effective than the outer space craze so rampant in films from the fifties, and sixties.

The gruesome special effects, provided by the legendary Tony Gardner, (Army of Darkness, Michael Jackson’s Thriller) are extraordinary for the time the film was released, and hold up exceptionally when compared to what we see today.
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The Blob, is hands down one of the top three best remakes of all time, the other two being Carpenter’s Thing, and Cronenberg’s The Fly. It’s gory, it’s scary, and it’s a hell of a good way to kill an hour and change.

A fun fact to end on, Tony Gardner has been investigated two times by authorities. The first, by the FBI, then again by the Arizona State Police, and Missing Persons Bureau for his work on .

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In my last post dedicated to the Walt Disney adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, I touched briefly on the darker themes present in the company’s back catalogue, whether intentional or from poor judgement on the creator’s behalf, but there was a time when these themes were common place in children’s entertainment, a time I remember fondly that began in the early eighties, and trickled into the nineties, before dying off completely. Back then filmmakers understood a truth that has sadly been forgotten or is outright denied in today’s overprotective, and overly sensitive world. Children like being scared, it’s right there in their DNA from the early days of Peekaboo, and hide and go seek. Fear produces adrenaline, and as we all know, adrenaline does wonderful things to the brain. Think back to your childhood, to the slumber parties you attended, to the camping trips, and weekend travels to the video store. I bet you remember ghost stories being told, urban legends being spread, even begging mom and dad to rent that scary movie all your friends had been bragging about seeing.

There’s a reason why children love Halloween, and it isn’t just because they get to play dress up, and gobble sack-loads of candy.

Every so often though, filmmakers went a little too far, blurring the line between innocent scares and the outright horrifying, and today I’d like to look at a few of these moments.

                                                              Ernest Scared Stupid

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We’ll start off innocently enough, with an entry from the Jim Varney led series of films following the adventures of loveable idiot Ernest P. Worrell.

As the title credits roll we know right away that Ernest Scared Stupid is different from its light-hearted, but mildly racist predecessors.

In a plot that could only exist in the 90’s, adult garbage-man, Ernest and his group of pre-tween friends venture to a secluded fort in the woods, and unwittingly awaken an evil troll. Shit gets even more questionable from there, but nothing more outright terrifying than when a little girl is convinced there’s a monster under her bed. This misdirecting mind-fuck of a scene shows her leaning over the edge of the bed, carefully peeling back the covers, and gazing into the blackness below to find nothing more than her beloved teddy. Relieved, she lays back down for a much-needed snuggle session with her fuzzy friend, rolls over, and BAM comes face to face with a scrote-nosed midget monster.

Not cool John Cherry. Not cool.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

rogerrabbit2Whether or not Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a kids film can be debated for days, but one thing that’s undebatable is the sheer terror that is Christopher Lloyd’s, Judge Doom. Practically every scene with this bug-eyed cartoon bastard walking around in a skin suit is pure nightmare fuel, but none so horrible as the steamroller scene. Something about the shrill, blood-curdling shriek he releases while being flattened into a human pancake really sticks with you.

Brave little toaster

bravelittletoasterOn the surface Disney’s Brave little Toaster is an upbeat tale about a handful of cutesy sentient appliances on a journey to find their original master, but in true Disney fashion the group encounters a few horrors along the way. There’s the appliance store full of partially dismantled, and out-dated appliances awaiting the electronics version of an organ transplant, Ernie’s Disposal, the junkyard from hell, and of course the mortifying dream sequence featuring a sadistic clown. I’m pretty sure whoever let this one slip through the editing process without being chopped hated children.

The NeverEnding Story

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Don’t let the eighties new-wave synth-pop theme song deceive you. From the moment the dreamy title credits roll, The NeverEnding Story is out to get you, and pulverize your heart with a meat tenderizer. No one scene in this collection of nightmare fuel aimed at children is more terrifying than the death of Atreyu’s faithful steed, Artax in the Swamps of Sadness.

                                                         Everything by Don Bluth

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During the eighties, and early nineties, Disney had some serious competition from Don Bluth, an ex-animator for the company who went on to release a string of successful animated films after his partnership with Steven Spielberg.

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Now despite being mostly warm tales about anthropomorphic animals, talking dinosaurs, and Russian fairy-tales Bluth was never afraid to shy away from showing children the darker aspects of life. Poverty, and immigration in An American Tale, genetic experimentation, and animal testing in The Secret of NIMH, Hell, and excess in, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and how can anyone forget, what was probably their first encounter with racism, and death in, The Land Before Time.

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What made Bluth’s films all the more terrifying was his religious use of old-school techniques like rotoscoping, and backlight animation to bring his creations to life.

I’m pretty sure Bluth’s life-force has been sustained all these years from devouring the tears of children.

                                         Watership Down. The whole fucking movie.

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Based on the Richard Adams novel of the same name, Watership Down is an exercise in pushing the boundaries of kid-friendly entertainment. The film follows a civilization of rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren in search of a new environment to settle. Along the way the group faces death, betrayal, and more lupine carnage, and blood-shed than any child should ever have to witness.

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Seriously. Fuck this movie.

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When people hear Disney they think about anthropomorphic mice, fairy tales, plot exposition via song and dance, and a sprinkle of mild racism and archaic gender stereotyping. What they do not think about is horror, which is strange, because beneath the cute and cuddliness of their animated catalog is the stuff of nightmares, patricide, animal cruelty, child and domestic abuse, and many more for those willing enough to scratch beneath the skin of their childhood heroes.

During the early eighties Disney found themselves in dire straights financially. Many of the children who grew up loving their usual family friendly animated, and live-action films were now teenagers, and young adults hungry more mature fare. Seeking to capitalize on this new audience rather than lose them they ventured into the darkness, and created a string of horror films. The trend began with 1980’s, The Watcher in the Woods, followed by Dragonslayer, Return to Oz, and the subject of this post, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

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Based on the novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury, and adapted for the screen by Bradbury himself, Something Wicked This Way Comes revolves around Will Halloway, and Jim Nightshade, young boys confronted by a malevolent evil eager to steal the souls of the inhabitants of their Rockwellian community of Greentown, Illinois after a carnival arrives.

It’s rather fitting that Something Wicked This Way Comes marked the end of Disney’s foray into horror as the film suffered a tumultuous production to say the least. Not satisfied with Bradbury’s original screenplay, the studio insisted director Jack Clayton hire John Mortimer to do an uncredited rewrite to make it more family friendly, you know, the exact type of film they were trying to distance themselves from.

After a lacklustre response following a test screening many scenes were cut or altered. One, an animated sequence of the carnival arriving in Greentown, which would have employed the then groundbreaking technology of computer generated imagery was shortened drastically. Another involving a giant mechanical hand was scrapped in favour of the infamous spider scene, which caused actors Shawn Carson and Vidal Peterson a great deal of discomfort after being exposed to the urticating hairs of live tarantulas.

After spending an additional five-million on re-filming, re-editing, and re-scoring the film it bombed, costing disney a nearly twelve million dollar loss.

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In perhaps the greatest review of the final cut, Ray Bradbury referred to it as, “not a great film, no, but a decently nice one.”

Man, I love Bradbury.

Despite its flaws, Something Wicked This Way Comes is an enjoyable film, and a good horror starter horror for families looking for some quality fright time to spend with their killdren in front of the idiot box during the Halloween season.

 

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In keeping with the spirit of horror trash started in my previous post concerning Full Moon Entertainment’s cult classic, Demonic Toys, I thought we’d take a look at a film released by another low-budget horror purveyor, the Empire Pictures garbage-fest, Terrorvision.

Before we dissect the film, let us first go back, and study the history of the now defunct Empire International Pictures.

Founded in 1983, by Charles Band as a response to his dissatisfaction with how his films were being distributed while working for major motion picture studios, Empire Pictures gave him the freedom to release a slew of low budget horror, and science fiction titles, most notably the Stuart Gordon cult classics Re-Animator, and From Beyond, Dolls, the infamous Trolls, and of course Terrorvision.

The company would eventually collapse in the fall of 1988, but the following year the garbage Goliath, Full Moon Entertainment would rise from its mostly sawdust, and cheap latex ashes.

Terrorvision tells the story of a ravenous alien creature accidentally beamed to earth via satellite by an extraterrestrial garbage disposal that ends up in a household occupied by three children who must stop it before it escapes, and goes on a rampage.

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The film is surprisingly dark considering its generally light-natured, and goofy aesthetic, and it has a delightfully bleak ending.

The film was a critical, and commercial bomb, being sited as one of the reasons for Empire Picture’s bankruptcy, but has since gone on to achieve cult status after it’s release by Scream Factory on bluray.

Fun fact, the legendary voice actor Frank Welker, (one of my idols) responsible for such pop culture icons as Megatron, Doctor Claw, Nibbler, Slimer, and pretty much every popular cartoon character from the eighties, and nineties not voiced by Jim Cummings, provides the voice of the hungry alien beast.

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Look at all them pretty 80’s colours!

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Full Moon Entertainment, a distribution company headed by B-movie maniac, Charles band are responsible for the majority of sleazy, low budget direct-to-video horror titles that over-saturated video-store shelves in the late eighties, and early nineties, the most well known being the Puppet Master, Subspecies, and Trancers series, as well as the subject of today’s post, Demonic Toys.

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Demonic Toys follows two police officers, who after being involved in a shoot out outside a warehouse take refuge inside, and are stalked by a handful of evil toys… and that’s pretty much it. There’s a subplot involving a demon buried beneath the warehouse, who needs to devour an unborn baby’s soul in order to be reborn, but it’s about as entertaining as you’d suspect. The selling point of a film like this needs to be the creatures in the title, and the demonic toys do not disappoint. There’s a ravenous teddy bear, a robot/ tank hybrid that shoots laser beams from its arms, the most phallic Jack-in-the-box ever, and the star of the whole shebang the foul-mouthed, Baby Oopsy Daisy, who walks, and talks, and can even shit her pants.

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Demonic Toys is beautiful garbage. Unlike many of Full Moon’s other features, which are predominantly barely watchable, low-brow turds, Demonic Toys is thoroughly entertaining, despite its ridiculous premise, no doubt thanks in part to then unknown screenwriter/ director David S. Goyer, the man who’d go on to write The Dark Knight trilogy, Dark City,  and Man of Steel.

If you’re hungry for a little cheese, then check out Demonic Toys, if only so baby Oopsy Daisy can have another special friend.

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The eighties in a single picture.

I’ve touched briefly upon director’s in my previous posts, greats like Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Hitchcock, Jackson, as well as a few lesser known names like Henenlotter, Solet, and Craig.

Today I’d like to introduce you to another relatively unknown name, a man responsible for two of my all time favourite horror films, and a handful of episodes from the groundbreaking HBO anthology series, Tales From the Crypt. The one, and only, Fred Dekker.

Fred Dekker was born in 1959, in San Francisco, California. A comic book fanatic, cinephile, and horror nerd from an early age, Dekker applied at USC, and UCLA for film studies, and was subsequently rejected by both. He attended UCLA,  majoring in English instead, and it was there where he met frequent collaborators Shane Black, Ed Solomon, and Chris Matheson.

His big break in the movie industry came after writing the Steve Miner directed, Sean S. Cunningham produced horror-comedy House, and from there he went on the write, and direct the two cult classics I’d like to talk about today, Night of the Creeps, and Monster Squad.

     Night of the Creeps.

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Released in 1986, Fred Dekker’s directorial debut is a loving homage of B-movies that mixes the best bits of zombie, slasher, alien invasion, and creature feature films into a unique, and thoroughly enjoyable picture.

The film follows a couple of loveable university dorks, who unwittingly release a horde of alien slugs after stealing a cadaver in an attempt to join a fraternity. Aided by a haunted detective, the three must fend off an army of zombie-like creatures infected by the slugs before their quaint little own is overrun.

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Night of the Creeps is one of those rare films that makes you smile from start to finish no matter how many times you’ve watched it. The chemistry amongst the cast is wonderful, with a standout performance from the legendary Tom Atkins as Detective Ray Cameron, who chews up every scene he’s given, and the creature effects hold up surprisingly well, thanks in part to Dekker’s reliance on prosthetics, and practical effects.

Although I’ve never seen him admit it out loud, or in an interview, Slither, by James Gunn can be seen as a spiritual successor of sorts to Night of the Creeps, and if you haven’t seen it either, I recommend you watch it immediately, and note the similarities between the two.

Monster Squad

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To put it plainly, Monster Squad is essentially the Goonies meet the Universal Monsters.

The story is every child whom grew up loving horror’s fantasy come true, and follows the Monster Squad, group of preteen friends who idolize monsters, and get more than they bargain for when Dracula aided by the Wolfman, Mummy, and Gill-man show up in their picturesque town searching for an amulet capable of helping him take over the world.

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Monster Squad is an important film to me. Back when I was fresh out of diapers my grandmother taped it off cable, and I’d watch it for hours while visiting the old farm house where I was born, eventually playing the damned thing into oblivion. It wasn’t until 2007 that I’d get a chance to watch it again after the release of the 20th anniversary DVD, and little has changed since those early days of my youth. Like all of Fred Dekker’s work there’s an inherent playfulness at work, almost as though conceived through the imagination of a child.

Unfortunately Dekker hasn’t written or directed anything like his first two films in quite some time, thanks in part to their lukewarm critical reception, and box office returns, but if the 2010’s have taught me anything it’s that nostalgia is a goldmine, and there’s always the possibility that the long talked about sequel to Monster Squad might be just around the corner, provided his work with Shane Black on the new Predator film is successful.

So I ask of you this Mr. Dekker,

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The Halloween series is full of more highs, and lows than Annie Wilkes on a cocaine bender, but one entry I feel gets more hate than it deserves is Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Season of the Witch was conceived after Carpenter, who was approached to make a sequel to Halloween II, stated he’d only do it provided the film wasn’t a direct sequel, and didn’t contain Michael Myers, seeing the potential for the series to become an anthology taking place on Halloween. After the lacklustre response to the film however, the idea was scrapped.

The producers hired author Nigel Kneale to write at Carpenter’s behest, mainly due to his admiration for the Quatermass series. Kneale stated when writing the script that he didn’t want there to be horror for the sake of horror, and wanted to focus on psychological shocks rather than physical ones, but Dino De Laurentiis, the film’s distributor wasn’t fond of it, and requested he ramped up the graphic violence. Displeased with the changes, Kneale requested his name be removed from the film, and Tommy Lee Wallace, (now known mostly for his adaptation of Stephen King’s, It) was hired to revise the script.

The film follows Ellie Grimbridge, (Barry Bostwick from the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s better half) and Dr. Dan Challis, (Carpenter mainstay, and horror legend Tom Atkins) as they investigate the murder of Ellie’s father. The two soon discover that Silver Shamrock Novelties, ran by Conal Cochran, are responsible for his death, and uncover their heinous plot to sacrifice children in an attempt to resurrect the age of witchcraft.

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The problem many have with Season of the Witch, isn’t its insane, and borderline nonsensical plot involving microchips containing fragments of Stonehenge inside Halloween masks that summon swarms of snakes and bugs to kill their wearer, but rather the lack of relation to its namesake. Had the film been released on its own, without an attachment to the Halloween series, I feel a lot of the hatred it’s garnered over the years would be nonexistent.

The film is genuinely unsettling, relying on the taboo nature of its plot, and use of psychological warfare in place of gore to invoke fear in the viewer. The atmospheric score composed by John Carpenter, and Debra Hill works to further elevate said discomfort.

I love Season of the Witch, and have lauded it for years. Granted, there are some jarring issues with the plot, (more than likely caused from the script’s various revisions) that much I’m willing to admit, but on its own the film stands as a disturbing piece of horror cinema, and I’d place it above the Rob Zombie remakes without regret.

Thanks for reading my dearest darklings, and I apologize for the tardiness of my posts as of late. My two, and a half year streak of being sickness free was recently obliterated, and I’ve been resting up, conjuring more horror to share with you throughout the remaining days of the month.

Until next time skiddies, stay scared.

And remember…

Eleven more days til’ Halloween!

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Over the last few weeks I’ve focused on horror mainly in film, television, and literature, but today I thought I’d shake things up a bit, and take a look at a medium I’ve always found to be a fertile ground for the genre, video games. There’s something effective about placing people in control of characters surrounded by danger, and terror, and developers have been trying to capture that magic for nearly forty years.

I could talk to death about mainstream titles like Resident Evil, Doom, and Silent Hill, and their impact on horror gaming, but everyone knows them. Instead I’d like to take a gander at a few obscure titles.

Monster party.

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Monster Party is one of the most  brilliantly nutty 8-bit gems on the NES. The game follows Billy, who after being confronted by a sentient gargoyle requesting his help sets off on a quest with his trusty baseball bat to save its world. Along the way Billy battles punk-rock zombies, singing plants, cow hurdling minotaurs, and…floating breaded tempura shrimp, and onion rings? I get the feeling drugs were consumed during development, (Billy transforms into a gargoyle after picking up a pill for Christ sakes!) because the whole game is a gleefully dark, and bat-shit experience. Monster Party is about as scary as you’d expect an 8-bit title to be, (not very) but credit however must be given to the atmospheric soundtrack, and imaginative first stage of the game, which effectively sets an eerie tone right from the get go. Also, the cover art was the stuff of nightmares, guaranteed to mortify any child unlucky enough to stumble upon it while shuffling through the game rack of his local video store during the eighties.

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Just look at this shit. LOOK AT IT!

                                                           Zombies Ate My Neighbours

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Lucasarts made a name for themselves in the late eighties, and early nineties developing point and click adventure games like Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and Day of the Tentacle for the PC, but during the 16-bit era they ventured into the action-adventure realm with a little horror gem called Zombies Ate My Neighbours.

ZAMN as it will be called for the duration of this post, because the title has too many damn letters for me to keep typing, is a top-down, co-op, run-and-gun game that tasks players with rescuing their neighbours in a variety of horror inspired settings while trying to survive an onslaught of horror-movie monsters like werewolves, mutants, giant babies, squid men, blobs, aliens, and of course the titular zombies. To progress through each level players are required to rescue at least one neighbour, and if all of them die, it’s game over. To do so, players have a number of inventive weapons at their disposal, such as dishes, UZI water guns, weed-whackers, Soda-pop grenades, and many more.

ZAMN is a noteworthy title, because of the heavy censorship it received upon release. Nintendo, having a strict policy against excessive violence in their games ordered all depictions of blood, and gore to be replaced with purple ooze, a similar fate that befell the original Mortal Kombat when ported to the SNES. Many European nations censored even more of ZAMN, changing its name to simply, Zombies, and replacing the chainsaw wielding enemies with lumberjacks sporting axes.

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                                                                 The Souls series

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I know I said I was going to avoid mainstream titles for this post, but I couldn’t help myself for the last entry on the list. No series captures what makes a horror game effective so much so as FromSoftware’s Souls titles, Demon’s, Dark, and the most recent, Bloodborne. Each entry contains a dark, and atmospheric world with little reason given as to why you’re there, adaptable monstrosities lurking around every corner, limited resources at your disposal with which to slay them or survive their relentless attacks, and death actually matters, serving as a method of increasing the game’s difficulty.

You are never so close to sheer terror as you are while playing a Souls game, and that’s why it rounds out this list.

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That’s all for today skiddlets. Please feel free to comment, and share some of your favourite horror titles.

I’m always up for a new scare!