After the success of Dracula and even bigger success of Frankenstein, Universal Pictures settled in to making monster features, and the Universal Classic Monsters as we know it took off. Producer Carl Laemle Jr. followed the hits up with Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Old Dark House, The Mummy, and Secret of the Blue Room. It was the theatrical release of The Invisible Man on November 13, 1933, however, that would unleash one of the best and most influential Universal Monsters of them all. Based on H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel of the same name, The Invisible Man has a standout villain and an endearing blend of humor and horror that’s withstood the test of time, even 85 years later.
The breakout star of the film was Claude Rains as Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist eventually driven mad by his own experiments with injections of a drug that renders him invisible. It’s an astonishing accomplishment, considering Rains’ face is only on screen for a brief half minute at the end of the film; his performance is almost entirely relegated to his voice. It was his first American film role, but Rains wasn’t the studio’s first choice. Laemle Jr. wanted Boris Karloff in the lead, but Karloff walked after Laemle Jr. tried to undercut the actor’s contractual pay. Director James Whale (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein) was then tasked with hiring the studio’s next choice; Cyril Gardner. Whale really wanted Rains for the role, though, and used Gardner’s planned trip back to Britain as a means of getting his way.
Despite no real experience and rumors of a bad screen test, Rains proved Whale’s hunch correct on his choice of lead. Rains spends most of the film heard and not seen, not in the traditional sense, but the actor still had to contend with tough physical demands. At least for him. The amazing special effects that rendered the character “invisible” was clever camera work. Any part of the character’s exposed skin that was to be invisible was covered in thick black velvet. This was shot against a black backdrop, which would essentially make the black velvet disappear into it, and this shot was overlaid with the normal set to give the illusion of invisibility.
For trickier scenes, like the one in which the Invisible Man looks at his reflection in a mirror, this meant 4 different shots would be combined. Velvet is a heavy, thick material that would be hot for any actor to be covered in, and Rains also happened to be claustrophobic. It added a level of difficulty to an already difficult character to portray.
On the surface, the Invisible Man doesn’t quite seem as fantastical as his monster counterparts. Compared to the blood-sucking Dracula, poor Frankenstein’s monster, the cursed Wolf Man, or even the imposing mummy Imhotep, Dr. Jack Griffin is just a man who successfully pulled off the act of disappearing. Except, Dr. Jack Griffin is the most monstrous of them all. He’s corrupted by the power of being invisible, gleefully killing anyone at whim and taking whatever he wants. Whereas most Universal Classic Monsters find empathetic humanity within their monsters, the Invisible Man proves there’s no monster scarier than man. Or at least a corrupt, amoral man.
Griffin starts out entertaining enough; watching him toy with his victims while maniacally giggling is humorous. But the longer he remains invisible, the more he loses his grip on his sanity. Whale has a knack for balancing the horror with the humor, though, bringing levity when needed. Most of which comes in the form of Una O’Connor’s Jenny Hall, the innkeeper’s wife who has a talent for hysterics. Rains may have been the breakout star, but O’Connor is a scene-stealer as the comedic relief.
Wells famously took issue with the fact that his character was turned into a lunatic, but Whale countered that only a lunatic would want to make themselves invisible. From a cinematic perspective, Whale’s instincts were spot on. The descent into madness from the corruption of power made for a captivating story whose themes still resonate today. The Invisible Man is perhaps the most terrifying monster of all the Universal Classic Monsters. The special effects, performances, and blend of humor with horror still inspires pop culture today, 85 years after initial release.
With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
1981 brought the theatrical release of not just one, but three horror movies centered around werewolves. Two of which set a new standard for special effects and werewolf transformation sequences; John Landis’ An American Werewolfin London and Joe Dante’s The Howling. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, albeit with vast changes and a lot more humor added in, The Howling follows television newswoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) as she’s sent to a mountain resort after being targeted by a serial killer. The residents of the resort aren’t what they appear to be.
Originally, special makeup effects artist Rick Baker was to handle the makeup effects on The Howling, but he was pulled away by Landis, with whom he had previously worked with on Schlock. The job was then given to Baker’s protégé, Rob Bottin, only 21 at the time. Bottin was given creative freedom for the effects. Prior to this point, a lot major werewolf films employed lap dissolves to convey their transformation sequences. The actor would have to sit for hours on end, motionless, as scenes of the makeup transition was shot frame by frame, though this process did speed up a bit over the decades. Bottin wanted to create a transformation sequence from man to beast that was pure special effect wizardry without the reliance of camera tricks.
The film’s major transformation scene featured serial killing creeper Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) turn into a monstrous anthropomorphic wolf right before Karen’s eyes. It’s a lengthy scene involving complex mechanisms, bladder effects, and an extensive makeup application that would see Picardo stuck in the makeup chair for upwards of ten hours. That he was such a decent sport about the makeup process meant that Picardo would be a favorite of Bottin’s in future projects, like Legend.
The Howling was made on a pretty low budget, though, and not all of the effects could receive the same level of detail and attention as Eddie Quist’s impressive transformation. Other tactics were used to create werewolf effects, too. Visual effects artist David Allen (Dolls, Willow, Freaked) was tapped to create stop-motion animation sequences, namely for the climactic scene that sees the barn full of werewolves trapped inside as it’s burned. But Dante realized that the lighting was way different than the rest of the film, and it didn’t quite mesh. All of Allen’s stop-motion work was cut from the final film, save for one brief transitional moment as Karen flees the resort.
Visual effects artist Peter Kuran (Robocop, Nightbreed) handled the animated sequences, both the main title animation and the werewolf transformation of Bill and Marsha mid-coital, further rounding out the wide array of effects used to stretch out the low budget and create one of horror’s most memorable werewolf features. Brilliant state of the art transformation sequences, puppetry, actors in werewolf suits, and various animation styles all came together to amplify Dante’s blend of humor and horror. It was a lengthy process, and included trial and error, but the final cut resulted in a film that still elicits debate on which 1981 werewolf feature is top dog. Both forever altered the werewolf sub-genre for the better.
The first, and last, time actress Toni Collette was nominated for an Academy Award, it was for her portrayal of single mother Lynn Sear in M. Night Shyamalan’s horror film The Sixth Sense. She’s earned and won numerous awards accolades, deservedly so, but it was horror that garnered her an Oscar-nomination. With awards season in full swing, now it’s another horror film that’s bringing Oscar buzz for the actress; Hereditary.
As mother Annie Graham, Collette delivers a powerhouse performance that earned massive acclaim upon release. Collette chooses her genre roles carefully, but when she does, it’s always a profound expression of the terrifying facets of motherhood. The Academy would be crazy not to nominate Collette for her uncanny ability to tear apart the scenery the way Ari Aster needed for his feature debut, but at the very least it solidifies her as a fixture of modern horror.
Her first foray into genre fare, The Sixth Sense, found her exploring the exhaustive trials of raising a child alone. A working-class mother in Philadelphia, Lynn Sear struggles to be there for her son emotionally while she’s off ensuring she can support him financially. But boy does she try. Collette imbues Lynn with a layered performance as the mother desperately trying to protect her son, but at a loss as to how. She deftly conveys the ferocity of a mother’s love while bearing the weight of the pressures of filling the role of both father and mother, all the while her socially isolated son is battling demons she can’t see or understand. It all builds into the film’s most emotionally charged scene, in which mother and son tearfully find common ground and understanding as Cole finally opens up about his ghosts. The moment Collette, hands to her heart, breathlessly asks, “Do I make her proud?” is the moment that clinched her Oscar-nomination.
In 2006, Collette would switch gears for the psychological thriller The Night Listener. Based on the novel inspired by the Anthony Godby Johnson suspected hoax, Collette plays the adoptive mother, Donna, of an ailing boy that strikes up a relationship with a radio show host. The further that relationship is explored, the more it seems as though the boy and Donna may be one and the same. This exploration of motherhood is very, very different, and Collette again approaches it with the nuance that she does so well. Donna is both relatable and vulnerable, but with an underling layer of crazy that Collette would harness again later.
Five years after would bring the remake of beloved ‘80s horror comedy Fright Night, one that was received well by critics largely due to the performances. The horror comedy allowed Collette to take a much more lighthearted approach to single-motherhood as Jane Brewster, mom to teen son Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin). A supporting role meant solely to raise the emotional stakes for the hero, Collette can’t help but make her character feel fully realized even when she only appears in a handful of scenes. Her flirtation with new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a wry wink that teens aren’t the only one with raging hormones. It’s matched by her fighting maternal instinct when Jerry reveals his true nature, too.
Collette was given much more to work with in 2015’s Krampus, in a central role that let her have fun with campy humor. As Sarah Engel, Collette delved into what it would mean to be an A-type control freak during a hectic holiday season with family disfunction reaching a boiling point. Of course, there’s also Krampus, evil elves, and dark holiday minions to contend with, and the humor of it all appealed to Collette. It was in Krampus that she really got to stretch out her comedic chops, further demonstrating what a chameleon she can be.
Even being familiar with Collette’s work, especially in horror, none of it really prepares for what she brings to Hereditary. Even if its horror ultimately doesn’t work for you, it’s hard not to feel Annie’s grief on a visceral level. It’s not just grief, either, but pure terror, dread, love, desperation, and every emotion in between. Collette plays a mother so very against the concept of what motherhood should or is expected to be. In a cast of tremendous performances, that Collette’s is a standout is no small feat. She reels you in, makes you invest in her character’s story, and then chills you to the bone. An irony, considering horror terrifies the actress.
Lynn Sear, Donna, Jane Brewster, Sarah Engel, and Annie Graham may be all connected by motherhood, but they’re each such widely different characters that could have only been brought to life by a skilled actress like Collette. She explores the complexities of being a mother and the catharsis that horror can bring in a nuanced way that few actors possess. Horror is often ignored by the Academy, but she’s made it difficult to overlook Hereditary. It’s fitting, considering how it will bring her full circle to her role in The Sixth Sense. More than just a scream queen, she’s become the matriarch of modern horror.
Sad news this morning as THR is reporting that Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics whose fantabulous but flawed creations made him a real-life superhero to comic-book lovers everywhere, has died. He was 95.
Lee, who began in the business in 1939 and created or co-created Black Panther, Spider-Man, X-Men, The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Ant-Man, as well as Abomination, Doctor Doom, Elektro, Man-Thing, Kraven, Groot, Doctor Octopus, Galactus, Nick Fury, and even Captain Marvel, died early Monday morning in Los Angeles, a source told the magazine. His list of creations is unapparelled.
On his own and through his work with frequent artist-writer collaborators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, Lee catapulted Marvel from a tiny venture into the world’s No. 1 publisher of comic books and later a multimedia giant.
In 2009, the Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and most of the top-grossing superhero films of all time — led by The Avengers‘ $1.52 billion worldwide take in 2012 — featured Marvel characters.
Whether you’re a fan of Marvel or not, Stan Lee has, in one way or another, touched all of us through entertainment. He has become the face of comic book and geek fandom. Lee is the king on the throne and an untouchable icon that forever be remembered. No amount of words can do this man’s career justice as we send our thoughts and prayers to his surviving friends and family. This is a huge loss for all of us.
Hardcore fans of George A. Romero may be aware that between Season of the Witch and The Crazies, Romero shot a 60-minute film titled The Amusement Park, made in 1973 but largely unseen to this day. Billed as a “PSA on age discrimination,” the film was apparently shot for TV but never actually released, and it’s making waves on Twitter this weekend.
NY Times best-selling author Daniel Kraus (Trollhunters, The Shape of Water, The Living Dead) announced on Twitter tonight that he was watching the “virtually unseen” Romero movie, which he’s been seeking out for the past 20 years. In a multi-tweet thread, Kraus subsequently called the film “a revelation,” as well as “Romero’s most overtly horrifying film.”
“The people who funded it wouldn’t allow it. And no wonder. It’s hellish. In Romero’s long career of criticizing American institutions, never was he so merciless,” Kraus continued. “Where can you see this savage masterwork? You can’t. But I’m dedicating myself to changing that. Can you help? Yes, probably. Give me some time to figure out what’s what.”
He added, “This is truly one of those magical (cursed?) objects that I cannot believe has fallen through the cinematic cracks. We’ll drag it back.”
As you may recall, the late George Romero’s wife Suzanne Desrocher-Romero had teased earlier this year that a film Romero shot in 1973 was going to be restored and released for all to see, which we now know to be The Amusement Park. She had mentioned last month, “We’re gonna restore it, and we’re gonna show it to Romero cinephiles. It’s a scary movie, but it’s not a horror movie, and it’s about ageism. Anyway, he has a cameo in it, and it’ll be fun. And we’ll show the movie, or get it distributed. It’ll be a project that the foundation’s gonna do.”
In The Amusement Park…
“An elderly gentlemen sets out for what he thinks will be a normal day at an amusement park and is soon embroiled in a waking nightmare the likes of which you’ve never seen.”
It was never shown publicly. The people who funded it wouldn’t allow it. And no wonder. It’s hellish. In Romero’s long career of criticizing American institutions, never was he so merciless. pic.twitter.com/987qbeb1J0
Can you help? Yes, probably. Give me some time to figure out what’s what. This is truly one of those magical (cursed?) objects that I cannot believe has fallen through the cinematic cracks. We’ll drag it back.
Butcher Blockis a weekly series celebrating horror’s most extreme films and the minds behind them.Dedicated to graphic gore and splatter, each week will explore the dark, the disturbed, and the depraved in horror, and the blood and guts involved. For the films that use special effects of gore as an art form, and the fans that revel in the carnage, this series is for you.
Growing up in the age of VHS and video stores it was a rite of passage for the hardcore to not only get ahold ofFaces of Death, but be brave enough to watch it. By the mid-80s, the mondo shockumentary was the stuff of urban legend. A collection of deaths both human and animal hosted by Dr. Francis B. Gross, Faces of Death felt like something truly taboo. That it boasted to have been banned in more than 40 countries only further propelled this collection of violence and gruesome death into forbidden fruit territory. Initially released on November 10, 1978, it didn’t take long for Faces of Death to earn notoriety. Forty years later, this shockumentary doesn’t hold up to the reputation it once had, but its merits as an influential gamechanger is undeniable.
Faces of Death wasn’t the first mondo film, a name for exploitation documentary films that emphasized taboo subjects and often featured brutal animal deaths, and the first, Mondo Cane, served as inspiration. Writer/director John Alan Schwartz (he uses the pseudonym Conan LeCilaire) wanted to push the envelope further, though, and wanted to feature humans getting killed. He set about collecting as much actual footage of human death as he could find, most of which he purchased from news organizations. But what he cobbled together wasn’t enough to fill a feature length film. So, he decided to supplement the grotesque footage with staged death scenes.
The beheading, the electrocution, the alligator attack, and even the monkey brain scene that may or may not have inspired the dinner scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom all were shot in a month. The makeup effects were handled by special makeup effects artist Allan A. Apone, uncredited at the time. It’s these staged deaths that show their age the most; the effects don’t hold up as well and relegates the film as of its time. The monkey brain scene? Apone used cauliflower with food coloring and gelatin. Though the makeup effects may show its age, Apone has had an extensive, illustrious career with films like Suicide Squad and Captain America: Civil War under his belt since his early days working on the first two Faces of Death films.
After a hugely successful theatrical run in Japan, Faces of Death found its biggest success on VHS in America. The cover box may have stated it was banned in 46 countries, but the truth was that it was banned in only a handful. Not least of which was the UK, as it earned a spot on the prosecuted Video Nasties list. Shot and compiled on a budget of around $450,000, Faces of Death wound up earning $35 million in its home video frenzy. That profit meant that Faces of Death would continue on with seven additional sequels, though some were just “best of” reels of earlier films.
At least 40% of Faces of Death is staged, and the filmmaking techniques have become much more obvious in an internet-based age where death and violence is far more commonplace. We’re now much more desensitized to violence. But in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, there was nothing like it. Faces of Death paved the way for shocking horror to come, and traumatized youth from the comfort of their own homes.
Of all the horror icons born of the ‘80s, it’s pint-sized killer doll Chucky that’s still thriving. Between a new TV series in the works by the original creators and an unaffiliated reboot looming, Chucky’s lust for blood remains as strong as it was 30 years ago, when Child’s Playstabbed its way into theaters on November 9, 1988. The low budget horror feature not only won the box office upon release, but launched an enduring franchise with an impressive talent for maintaining continuity, a rarity among horror franchises. It wasn’t just the iconic Chucky that made Child’s Play such a long-lasting hit, though, but the cast of talented actors, an innovative special effects and makeup team, and an incredible roster of creative talent.
Inspired by his father’s work in advertising during the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze, Don Mancini wrote the script for Child’s Play while in college at UCLA. Only it was titled Batteries Not Included and was much more psychological in its horror as it satirized how marketing affecting children. Enter executive producer David Kirschner, who had just completed work on An American Tail for Steven Spielberg and was looking to break free from animation. After reading the book The Dollhouse Murders, he was seeking something with dolls specifically. Eventually, once Mancini’s script started to get passed around, word got out that Spielberg was already working on a film with that very title, so it was changed to Blood Buddy, and it finally found its way into Kirschner’s hands.
Blood Buddy drew a lot of inspiration from Magic, in which the doll wasn’t the actual killer but more representative of the twisted psychology of its owner. Even the large head of the doll was a nod to Fats. But there needed to be a way to become more emotionally invested in Karen and Andy Barclay’s story. This is where director Tom Holland (Fright Night) came in, making key changes that would alter the trajectory of Chucky’s story for the better. Between new screenwriter John Lafia and Holland, the killer doll transitioned from Buddy to Chucky, and became a literal killer doll thanks to voodoo. Holland also pushed up the reveal of Chucky, not keeping the action relegated to the third act.
Between the story changes and Kirschner’s drawing of the doll, based on Mancini’s detailed description in his original screenplay, the next step was to bring this doll to life. Kirschner enlisted special makeup effects artist Kevin Yagher (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) to create Chucky. Though the movie’s monster is only 2-feet tall, the creation of Chucky was an arduous task for the team. This was low budget, practical effect driven feature when animatronics was still at its infancy, causing Yagher and his team to really invent a lot of the effects as they went. If the complexities of the mechanisms involved wasn’t enough, Chucky’s appearance began to morph as the narrative progressed; he became more humanlike the longer he remained in the doll’s body.
Chucky wasn’t all animatronics and puppeteering, though the brilliant work from the makeup and effects team can’t be applauded enough, he was also brought to life by actors. Actor Ed Gale, who made his debut as Howard in Howard the Duck, delivered amazing work as Chucky’s stunt double that hasn’t gotten enough credit in the decades since the film’s release. Gale actually studied the movements of the animatronic and puppet iterations of Chucky, and emulated that in his performance for consistency. It also meant that an identical set scaled 30% larger had to be constructed to keep it proportionate.
Of course, the final component to Chucky is that of actor Brad Dourif. Holland pulled Dourif in after having worked with him on Fatal Beauty. Well, at least the opening scene that featured Chucky in his human form. After that, the doll was voiced by a female. But an abysmal test screening made clear that changes had to be made prior to release. Kirschner brought Mancini back into the fold for the editing process. 30 minutes of footage was cut to make for a much more streamlined story, but more importantly, Dourif was brought back to voice Chucky the entire way through. His voice makes Chucky.
Playing against the intense mania of Dourif’s performance was a fantastic, small cast of Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, and Chris Sarandon, who all contributed to making Chucky believable while bringing the heart to the story. Chucky may have captured the fandom, but the pure innocence of young Andy Barclay makes for a perfect counterbalance.
Child’s Play wasn’t an easy film to make, but it was one where every facet of the filmmaking process was at their best. It’s difficult to make an inanimate object like a doll scary, but Child’s Play succeeded. Very few moments are as unnerving as the one in which Karen Barclay discovers Chucky’s batteries never left the packaging, therefore her son’s toy has been operating on its own. The strength of Chucky’s origin meant that the killer doll returned for 6 sequels, plus more on the way. It doesn’t even begin to cover what a pop culture phenomenon the horror icon has become in the decades since release. Here’s to 30 more years and new adventures with Chucky. We’re friends ‘til the end, remember?
In just under three weeks, David Gordon Green’s Halloweenhas exhilarated audiences to the tune of over $200 million in box office receipts, a milestone for this franchise and the slasher film subgenre. But even people happy with the film still find hang-ups to criticize, from Dr. Sartain’s motivations, to The Shape’s ambivalence in harming an infant in the home of a Haddonfield resident he bashed to death with a hammer, to Allyson’s jerk boyfriend Cameron (but he’s Lonnie Elam’s kid, of course he’s a jerk) getting away scot-free.
Written by Bram Stoker Award winner John Passarella, co-author of Wither, author of Wither’s Rain, Wither’s Legacy, Kindred Spirit, Shimmer, and a chain of Supernatural, Grimm, Buffy and Angel media tie-ins, the Halloween novelization is a satisfying companion piece to David Gordon Green’s feature.
I can already hear the rebuttals: But Mike, I shouldn’t have to read a book to get answers to questions or fix problems I have with a movie. No, you’re right, you shouldn’t have to. And you don’t have to. But it does help. Something I love about a movie novelization is its function to expand and enrich the narrative of a film. A movie is always subject to its post-production phase. Scenes are either dropped or reshot for a variety of reasons, be it time constraints, pacing problems… any number of issues. A novelization, however, is based on the screenplay (a particular draft or a number of drafts) and isn’t subject to any of those issues. Yes, an author has the freedom to embellish and expound upon characters, but you’ll also find scenes in there that were taken out of the finished film. We may not know what belonged to the screenwriters or what was simply an author’s take on the material unless the subsequent Blu-ray release contains deleted scenes; that being said, a novelization still gives us a broader take on the material and (possibly) the original intent of the filmmaker.
Take The Shape’s reluctance to harm that baby. While some saw this as a parallel to Michael ignoring the infants in the Haddonfield Memorial Clinic newborn ward in Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II (1981) or young Michael sparing his little sister Boo in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007), or proof the Shape does in fact have a conscience, others were confused. (And to those people who were confused, or surprised, he didn’t kill the baby, my only response is… Really?). David Gordon Green has gone on record that the infant was a late edition to the movie; the actor who was hired to play the husband of The Shape’s victim never came to set when those scenes were being shot, and Green was forced to improvise. While the finished film never gives us much information as to Michael’s current mental state or how random his behavior is, the book suggests quite a bit.
In the novelization’s opening pages, Dr. Sartain explains to true crime podcasters Aaron Joseph-Korey and Dana Haines that he disagreed with Dr Loomis’ description of Michael as pure evil. “Pure evil is not a diagnosis,” he tells them. Aaron asks Sartain if there’s any similarity between the homicidal maniac that made headlines in 1978 and the amenable patient of this institution. Sartain calls Michael “an aging, evolving animal, as we all are. And although we have worked very closely, these halls display the limitation of my analysis.” Under his care, Smith’s Grove has implemented a holistic form of therapy for Michael, and in that time, Sartain concludes that Michael’s tendency towards violence has been irrevocably erased. “We left two kitty cats in his cell overnight and they were retrieved virtually unharmed,” he says. Sartain may be convinced, but his research lacks one vital element, and it may lead him to facilitate Michael’s escape so he might study him in the wild. Michael’s decision to leave two kittens alone illustrates the randomness of his actions during his house to house murder spree later. Whether this is writer John Passarella’s addition or excised material from David Gordon Green’s first assembly, it does manage to expand on Michael’s psychology.
Scenes deleted from the theatrical cut of the film that were merely teased in marketing materials also appear in the book. One such scene has Aaron putting on Michael’s mask and scaring Dana in the shower, in a blatant parody of Hitchcock’s Psycho. (Now, if the lead up to the shower scene is done in the style of the opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween, with a POV through the mask’s eyeholes, it would also make it an homage of the opening of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse. Dammit, I wanna see those deleted scenes!) Aaron tells her: “When I wear this, there is a certain tendency or inclination that the legacy of the mask seems to inspire.” Sartain, later donning the mask — in the scene that has left just about everyone who has seen the film conflicted — would be a fitting callback to this, and would’ve made a lot more sense, if only this deleted moment had remained in the film.
Which leads us to Cameron Elam, Allyson’s disloyal boyfriend. In the film, Allyson catches Cameron fraternizing with another girl at the Exquisite Corpse Halloween high school dance. Cameron, drunk and irate, argues with Allyson, and dumps Allyson’s cell phone in a bowl of nacho cheese when he doesn’t get his way. Allyson storms off, and this is the last we see of Cameron. In the book, things play out a little differently.
In the book, Cameron chases after Allyson, still trying to make amends with her and failing miserably. By this point, the police have arrived and the dance is being cancelled and evacuated with confirmation Michael Myers is on the loose again in Haddonfield. When an officer finds Cameron and Allyson under the bleachers in the midst of their argument and this cop interrupts the lovers’ spat to usher them off school grounds, Cameron isn’t having it. Cameron and the cop scuffle, and Cameron gets arrested. That explains why Cameron never gets his moral comeuppance from The Shape: he was sleeping off his drunk in the county jail. But something tells me it’s just as well. If David Gordon Green comes back to direct the inevitable sequel, I’m fairly certain we’ll see Cameron again and he’ll get what’s coming to him. I’d expect it to be pretty brutal too, since it’s been prolonged. In the slasher film law of averages, survivors of one entry aren’t always so lucky in the next. The audience wants Cameron dead, and by God he better get it in the sequel, or heads will roll.
David Gordon Green’s Halloween is a story about the effects of PTSD on three generations of women, and their strength and ultimate perseverance against The Shape who has haunted their family, figuratively and literally, over a forty year span. The novelization allows this story to breathe. It offers so much more added depth, so much more background (on Laurie Strode, especially; it even drives home the point of that final shot in a very succinct, poignant way), it’d be a shame to spoil all of it. Just pick up a copy and enjoy.
The phrase “they don’t make them like they used to” is thrown around a lot in the context of nostalgia, but in the case of the first teaser for Magic, it’s accurate. Imagine sitting around the TV with your family and having this TV spot popping up on screen. The simple but terrifying ad didn’t give away much about the actual plot, but it did instill a lot of traumatic nightmares for any young viewers that happened to catch it. The TV spot was so effective that it’s scarier than the actual film; it wasn’t the straightforward horror story the teaser indicated but much more a psychological thriller. Released 40 years ago on November 8, 1978, Magic is an underappreciated classic and one of horror’s most unnerving love stories.
Written by William Goldman (The Stepford Wives, The Princess Bride), adapted from the novel he also wrote, Magic revolves around a ventriloquist seeking to renew a relationship with his former high school sweetheart. The only problem is that his dummy is the jealous type. That ventriloquist, Corky, is played by Anthony Hopkins. Corky opens the film as an aspiring magician, but lacks the charisma of his mentor Merlin. Socially awkward, Corky chokes on stage and his subsequent outburst toward a less than enthusiastic audience has his ailing mentor warning him to develop a better stage presence and gimmick. Cut to a year later, where Corky has completely turned his show around thanks to the addition of ventriloquism in his act, with his dummy Fats. The act is so compelling that his agent Ben Greene (Burgess Meredith) has lined up a great TV deal for him. But the network requires a medical exam to close the deal, and Corky runs back home to the Catskills out of fear. Corky’s fears are amplified when he renews a relationship with married woman Peggy (Ann-Margret), and Fats isn’t thrilled about it.
Unlike the ambiguity in Goldman’s source novel, the film doesn’t make any attempts to conceal the truth about Fats. Hopkins plays Corky always on the edge, always manic and nervous save for the fleeting moments of calm happiness with Peggy. Fats even looks just like Corky, and is voiced by Hopkins too. Fats is a manifestation of Corky’s id, and Corky is aware of his mental instability from the get-go.
There’s a sadness in Corky’s desire for normalcy despite knowing Fats won’t ever let him have it, but the true tragedy is the way Peggy is caught in the middle. Stuck in an unhappy marriage, it’s easy for her to be manipulated by Corky. Corky is always a means of escaping not just her marriage but her small town, making it easier to turn a blind eye to his erratic behavior. Ann-Margret has the tough job of playing the straight-man against Hopkin’s manic man losing his grip, and she pulls it off well. According to Goldman, he wrote Peggy with her in mind.
Though many names were tied to this film prior to production, from Roman Polanski to Steven Spielberg, the directorial duties ultimately fell to Richard Attenborough, the director behind Gandhi and A Bridge Too Far, but who fans will ultimately recognize as Professor John Hammond from Jurassic Park. Throw in the talents of cinematographer Victor J. Kemper (Audrey Rose, Xanadu, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) and a score by legendary composer Jerry Smith (Alien, Gremlins, Poltergeist), and Magic became an impressive film inside and out.
Magic wasn’t the first time that a ventriloquist was terrorized by his own dummy, but it’s emphasis on the psychological, Hopkins’ intense performance, and Attenborough opting for straightforward tension without a hint of camp elevated the film into something that holds up well, even if nowhere close to being as scary as the initial TV spot suggests. Moreover, Magic served as direct inspiration for Don Mancini’s original screenplay for Child’s Play, fittingly released almost a decade apart to the day. The story of Corky and Fats may not be as well known, but the influence of Magic is still strong in horror even 40 years later.
Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
As two gay men, we have opted to use the moniker “Horror Queers” for this series of articles. It is a word that has a complicated history due to its derogatory use by bullies and hateful people, but has increasingly been adopted as a term of empowerment and a unifying term that recognizes the many complex identities that make up the LGBTIQQ community. Queer has become commonplace in academia, politics and pop culture over the past three decades. We understand and recognize that the term is still very hurtful for some people, but we believe that the more people that proudly reclaim it, the more the wounds and stigma surrounding the term are reduced. Using the word “queer” is intensely personal, but it is a decision that we are committed to. Please don’t be an asshole when using it and we’ll get along fine.
***SPOILERS for NOES 2 to follow.***
Synopsis for NOES 2: A teenage boy named Jesse (Mark Patton) is haunted in his dreams by deceased child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who is out to possess him in order to continue his reign of terror in the real world.
Queer Aspect: I mean…literally everything?
Well Trace, here we are: we are tackling what may just be the most queer horror movie ever created. We’ve been doing this series for eleven months and this has been by far the most requested movie that readers ask us to cover, so we’re doing it. I’m so excited, I can literally feel Freddy inside of me!
In all seriousness, there’s very little question that this film has a queer subtext. Some would even claim that there is no subtext; it’s actually just text. According to the film’s production, Freddy’s Revenge was never intended to be explicitly gay – at the time of the film’s release (one year after Wes Craven’s original) everyone claimed they were simply making a sequel that took the franchise in a different direction. Later, star Mark Patton claimed that he was essentially thrown under the bus when homophobic fans complained about his effeminate “scream queen” performance. Meanwhile, screenwriter David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder denied any awareness of the underlying queer themes (Chaskin has since admitted that he actually beefed up the subtext in rewrites throughout shooting). A quick Google search about the film indicates that there remains a great deal of tension between Patton and Chaskin/Sholder about how they and New Line handled the fallout after the film was released. The blame wound up significantly affecting Patton’s career and his self-identification as a gay man, though his appearances at conventions and his long-in-development documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street suggest that he’s in a better place now.
Let’s return to the film itself to consider whether its reputation is earned. Here’s a bullet list of the quote/unquote gay stuff contained within the film that fans/detractors have identified:
Patton’s overall performance
Dialogue like “He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!”, “Something is trying to get inside my body”, etc
Jesse’s high pitched screaming
Grady (Robert Rusler) pulls Jesse’s pants down and they wrestle provocatively
Mentions of an S&M club and how Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) likes pretty boys
Freddy caresses Jesse’s body in their first encounter
Jesse’s impromptu dance session, including a close up him using his butt to close a drawer
Jesse’s door sign, which reads “No Chicks”
The Probe game in Jesse’s closet
The shower death of Coach Schneider, including some light bondage with skipping ropes and a towel whipping
Jesse leaves a makeout session with Lisa (Kim Myers) to jump on a shirtless Grady in bed
Freddy literally emerging from within Jesse’s body
Grady’s short shorts
All of the literal “flaming” imagery
There’s probably some other stuff, but I got tired of mining the depths of the internet for big ol’ homo signifiers. In all honesty, it feels like the pendulum has swung so far the other way that people delight in finding something gay in every little thing about the film; Freddy’s Revenge is no longer considered a slasher film or an oddball entry in an emerging powerhouse horror franchise – it’s now simply a gay horror film. While I appreciate that there’s a canonical queer horror text, this categorization diminishes the other (often more interesting) things going on in the film.
So Trace, now that I’ve stolen all of the identifiers, what else did you pull out of Freddy’s Revenge? Are you able to watch the film without playing “spot the homo” or is that where the film’s power lies? And what do you make of the film’s historical trajectory from maligned Nightmare entry to queer icon?
*sigh* I haven’t necessarily been looking forward to covering this movie, Joe. Not because I don’t like it (I rank it above The Dream Master, Freddy Vs. Jason, The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead…in that order), but because I don’t really know what we can possibly add to the discourse on this very, very gay horror film.
Writing about Freddy’s Revenge seems so….unoriginal. Countless discussions have been made about this film. Tonsofarticles have been written about its queer (sub)text. As you mention, Patton has a full-blown documentary about the very topic that we are discussing (though it hasn’t been released yet, something that is a bit disconcerting since I donated to the Kickstarter over three years ago).
Does anyone really want to know what we have to say about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge? I don’t know. Let’s see!
Before I jump into the film’s undeniable queerness, I do want to point out one thing that has always bothered me about this film: the rules about how Freddy operates are very ill-defined. Most of the film takes place in the real world, with Chaskin & Sholder opting not to utilize a creative premise to their advantage like Craven’s original did. This makes sense, as Sholder has admitted that he doesn’t like the original very much, but it makes Freddy’s sudden ability to possess someone and use his powers in the real world a bit unrealistic. It’s no big deal, as the film never ceases to entertain, but it’s always bugged me.
Now on to the queerness!
While Jesse’s sexuality is never really in question, I’m more concerned with how the film links Krueger’s obsession with being inside/becoming him and the first film’s implication that he is a child rapist. Before readers come after me in the comments with pitchforks: yes, I’m fully aware that Freddy’s pedophilia is never explicitly stated (at least, not until the atrocity that is the 2010 remake). Wes Craven admitted that his original script described Freddy as a child molester, but the explicit reference was removed to avoid exploiting a wave of highly publicized child molestations occurring in California in 1984. So while it isn’t explicitly stated, it is heavily implied.
If we assume that Freddy is a child molester, then what does it look like when you have him possess a queer man? Linking Freddy’s urge to molest and murder children with Jesse’s queerness (or really, Freddy’s queerness – if you view him as representative of homosexuality) is a dangerous path to take, especially in 1985. This film isn’t really sympathetic to queerness, and the less said about predatory Coach Schneider the better (Sidebar: What even is that character?)
Freddy’s Revenge is a product of its time, so the fact that any queerness was injected into the proceedings is a minor miracle, but it is troubling watching it through a 2018 lens.
My reading of the film is that Freddy is representative of Jesse’s homosexuality. When Jesse is confronted with it (running into the Coach at the BDSM bar, freaking out after kissing Lisa and running into Grady’s arms), he/Freddy kills. Is the film trying to imply that homosexuality is evil, then? The ending would certainly have you think that, since it is Meryl Streep Lisa’s love for him (and/or his love for Lisa?) that exorcises Freddy from Jesse’s body. Again, the rules are ill-defined, but that seems to be the case. Does heterosexuality save the day? Or are we to believe that their friendship is what saves Jesse?
I realize I’ve taken a negative approach to the film’s stance on homosexuality, but it’s more me playing devil’s advocate. I don’t think the intention was to condemn Jesse’s queerness or queerness in general. I’m merely suggesting that it could easily be viewed that way, especially at the height of the AIDS crisis when this film was released.
What can be appreciated about Freddy’s Revenge is that it does what a sequel should do: try something different. Freddy’s modus operandi is completely different and the overall tone is much darker from the first film, while simultaneously leaning into its camp elements (i.e., the aforementioned dance scene).
The world in the film also feels rather contained. The first film did a good job of fleshing out the world around Nancy, but Freddy’s Revenge focuses so closely on Jesse and his own private world that you don’t really get a sense of the town around him. If this was intentional, it’s a brilliant way of mimicking how lonely growing up queer can be. You feel contained in your world. You feel alone. You feel like a freak. Freddy’s Revenge stands out among the pack of NOES sequels because it is a freak. It is the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. It is different. Thank god for girlfriends like Lisa; they make the loneliness bearable.
I didn’t really get to answer your questions, Joe, so I may just tackle them in my next response, but what do you think the film’s stance on homosexuality is? Is there a positive message that can come out of this film? Or does the final product make that impossible? Also: do you think the film can be excessive at times? I mean, the title card has three different fonts, for Christ’s sake.
Ugh, let us never speak of the 2010 remake again! I just rewatched it for another piece on lessons learned from Halloween 2018 and that attempt to reboot Freddy is completely insufferable.
Despite your uncertainty about bringing something new to the conversation, I think you’ve distilled a nuanced interpretation of the film. I looked at it a little differently, though I confess that I don’t have all of the finer points worked out.
I wound up seeing Freddy as a threat to Jesse’s burgeoning queerness. He is a manifestation of Jesse’s own internalized homophobia, so when sexual situations arise that might naturally encourage Jesse to consider his “unorthodox for the 80s” sexuality, Freddy pops out. Consider that in a film with very few murders, the two explicit ones both involve men that Jesse has a sexualized relationship with: predatory Coach Schneider and potential love interest Grady. I appreciate, however, that we’re essentially using the same scenes to argue for different readings; a big problem (or opportunity) with this film is that it is so open that you can argue for either side.
I do want to seize on your observation about Jesse’s isolation, though. What really stood out to me on the rewatch is the way that Jesse’s family, and in particular his father, treats him. The entire Nightmare franchise is founded on the idea that the parents of Elm Street are terrible. This began when the Elm Street parents chose to burn Freddy in an act of vigilante justice rather than care for their own kids. The original Elm Street is filled with latchkey kids: teens whose parents aren’t around to watch over them. Arguably this isn’t because they’re neglectful parents, however, it is because they’re too wrapped up in their own shit (Nancy’s father is overwhelmed with the murders and her mother can only process her role in Freddy’s murder with booze).
The Walsh parents in Freddy’s Revenge introduces a new narrative: sequel after sequel confirms that the Elm Street kids have been abandoned, dismissed or medicated into oblivion by their guardians.
Jesse’s parents establish the tropes that dictate how parents in the series are portrayed moving forward. His mother (Hope Lange) is a doormat and his father (Clu Gulager) is a belligerent, demanding dick. (In reality, the mother is barely even a character. The closest thing she and Jesse have to a legitimate moment in the film is her wry smile when she and Lisa catch Jesse dancing in his room).
Jesse’s father, however? Well we could delve deeper into some antiquated psychology about how masculinity is associated with a (queer) boy’s relationship to his father figure, but let’s just accept that Jesse’s father routinely disregards his opinions, bosses him around and relegates him to his room at the expense of making social connections with his peers (Seriously, why is Jesse’s dad so desperate for him to unpack his damned room? Who cares that much about a room that they don’t spend any time in?!)
The reason that I think that Jesse’s father is important is because he typifies the unsupportive parent of a gay child. He doesn’t know anything about his son and seemingly has no interest in rectifying that. His domineering bossiness, his antiquated “father knows best” approach to addressing the mysterious circumstances befalling the household and his dismissal of Jesse’s claims do nothing to encourage Jesse to open up or involve his parents. How can Jesse possibly come out to them in such a restrictive, repressive environment?
In the queer community silence = death, but in the Walsh household, that’s just business as usual. Watching the film through modern eyes and considering the studies that correlate mental health and well-being among queer youth with parental acceptance, it’s not hard to imagine a variant (or modern) draft of this film where Freddy’s Revenge ends with Jesse self-harming, possibly even committing suicide.
I think there’s one other integral queer component of Freddy’s Revenge that we need to discuss and that’s how the film alters Freddy into much more of a wisecracking smartass and, in so doing, (unintentionally?) turns Freddy into a queer icon. Why do you think so many queer audiences prefer Freddy over his mute ‘80s franchise companions, Trace? And what is the legacy of Nightmare on Elm Street 2?
It’s curious that the openness in the film bothers you, as that is what I find to be its most interesting aspect. The fact of the matter is that we will never truly know what the real intention behind the film was. Such is the case with all forms of art, right?
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is open to interpretation. I view Freddy as a physical representation of Jesse’s queerness and you view him as a physical representation of Jesse’s internalized homophobia. Neither one of us is wrong, but it’s fascinating that we are having this discussion over what is arguably a cheap cash-in sequel to a very good, original slasher film. Have any of the Nightmare sequels been discussed as much as Freddy’s Revenge for their (sub)text? Maybe New Nightmare, but only Freddy’s Revenge has the distinction of boldly going where no Nightmare film has gone before (or ever would again, thanks to the poor reception of the film at the time).
To go back to your original questions, Joe: will this film only ever be known for its blatant homosexual themes? Sadly, yes, that’s always going to be the case. Even when queerness becomes more normalized in the future, the film will be viewed (or even commended) for being the ‘80s slasher that was brave enough to tackle themes that, at the time, were not common in mainstream cinema. Intentional or not, Freddy’s Revenge is just as topical today as it was in 1985. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in movie theaters when this film was playing! Will this be its legacy? I think so…but I also don’t think that that’s a bad thing.
You have to feel bad for Patton. As much as this film (and the people behind it) supposedly hurt his career, it is an important landmark in queer cinema. This film is and will always be his legacy. It’s a rather sizable contribution to the genre. He seems to have taken it all in stride, though. His Jesse is one of the more interesting Final “Girls” to come out of the ‘80s slasher boom.
Is Freddy a queer icon, though? That’s up for debate. The debate being how you view Freddy in this film (and the films after it). The five sequels that followed eschew any and all queer themes that Freddy’s Revenge introduces. That being said, Freddy is a sassy little fucker. That sassiness would become the hallmark of the franchise by the time Freddy’s Dead came around (that image of him getting jiggy with the chalkboard will forever cement for me the moment that the franchise died). In my experience, Freddy hasn’t gelled as much with queer audiences as much as, say, Scream’s Ghostface has, but that’s a conversation for a future Horror Queers article. Freddy’s Revenge is the outlier of this franchise, not the norm.
People like Freddy for the same reason that they like Chucky and Ghostface: because they talk. There are two types of horror fans: those who prefer talkers and those who prefer the silent type. Jason and Michael are scary because they are mindless killing machines. Freddy and Chucky (and to some degree, Pinhead) are scary because they do have minds and taunt their victims. Sure, much of that taunting involves humor, but facing a killer who knows what he’s doing is scary. The Nightmare sequels gradually increase that humor, making Freddy increasingly campy, which is quite possibly what many queer audiences latched on to (I’m more into Freddy’s darkness than his harsh digs, but to each their own).
What else can be said about Freddy’s Revenge? As I mentioned above, I was loathed to discuss the film because doing so just felt so….basic. A queer series of horror articles tackling what has been frequently referred to as “the gayest horror film ever made?” Please. But I am glad that we were finally able to talk about it. It only took us 11 months! Hopefully, we’ve added something to the discourse that our readers can appreciate and, if not, well, there’s always next month!
Next time on Horror Queers: Now that A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is off our bucket list, it’s time to turn our attention to a kooky off-cycle entry about…killer dolls? That’s right, we’re diving into Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s terrible/awesome 2007 film, Dead Silence!