Archive for the ‘Halloween’ Category

 

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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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!