Full disclosure: The Amityville Horror films do not make up my favorite franchise. And it has nothing to do with the central “haunted house” premise, but rather the execution of the series thus far, from the serviceable ground zero template, The Amityville Horror (1979) through the (as yet unseen) upcoming Amityville: The Awakening, with some stops in between at DTVville (not to mention the Ryan Reynolds remake; but I said not to mention, so not mention I shall). The name is so shopworn now that “Amityville” has become synonymous with “poopy”.
But, but, BUT…let’s rewind to a time when a follow up to the kind-of goofy James Brolin (and his glorious perm) starrer was actually anticipated. That film was a smash success at the box office, and the powers that be wanted to revisit the village of Amityville to see what other demons they could find in the basement. The result? 1982’s Amityville II: The Possession, a film that sets itself above (and apart) from the series by leaving a burning bag of Eurosleaze on the front doorstep, ringing the bell, and running away. And I mean that as a compliment.
Melding together genres seldom works. It’s a delicate balancing act; tone is key, and when either (or both) are off the whole thing can come crashing down. By 1991, HBO was already offering up original programming and decided to create a whole new sub genre – horror noir. The result was Cast a Deadly Spell, a very entertaining and perfectly concocted mixture of 1940s detective story and supernatural terror. And when the balance is right, like it is here, the results are sublime.
For many people, Alien (1979) is the yardstick by which all “creature on a spaceship” films are measured. However, the first few inches on that stick are occupied by It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), an effective low budget shocker that helped write the template still used in sci-fi and horror today. Climb aboard for a 69 minute rocket ride to Mars and back with an unwanted passenger. And no, I don’t mean (insert name or political affiliate you hate here).
It starts with the music, which rises as the screen fades from black to reveal the sinister orange glow of the credits and a leering jack o’ lantern. The rapid, staccato piano notes indicating an oppressive force at work; relentless and unforgiving. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is about all of these sensations and more; concrete vibrations that have echoed through the halls of horror, resounding from time to time to remind audiences of its lasting influence and potency.
Thirty years is a lifetime, but in film it’s just one more marker along the celluloid highway. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors debuted on this date in 1987, and certainly the horror world was ready: Friday the 13th was six films deep, and the Halloween franchise was one year away from Michael Myers’ long-awaited return).
Sometimes it’s hard to put a fresh coat of paint on an old house. The colors can bleed through no matter how many new layers are added, giving the house a look of desperation from a block away. But sometimes the right paint is used, the restoration is done with love and affection, and the new owners actually care about their surroundings. Such is the case with The Night Stalker (1972), the ABC TV movie that took the vampire out of his crumbling castle and transported him to the seedier side of the modern day Las Vegas strip; and in doing so created one of the most endearingly reluctant monster hunters of all time, Carl Kolchak.
Give it up for Juan Piquer Simon. Not only did the Spanish director bestow upon the horror world one of the craziest and memorable slashers of all time, Pieces (1983), he also found it within himself to give us Slugs (1988). Not quite as crazy as Pieces (but almost as good), Slugs trades heavily in the J.P. Simon business: a whole lot of weird, a nuclear ton of energy, and gore galore. If you only see one badly dubbed mollusk monster movie, filled with heavy pettin’ and (literally) explosive action, you would be wise to choose Slugs.
I cherish a good giallo film. For those unfamiliar with this sub-genre, it’s like a slasher, but with an emphasis on police procedure and a dash of Italian Vogue. (Not to mention the ubiquitous gloved killer.) Starting in the mid ‘60s, they revved up the violence, leading to the watershed of Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), where Mario Bava singlehandedly invented the “body count” that transferred across the water and led us to Haddonfield and Camp Crystal Lake.
But some gialli still let their freak flags fly, bringing us to The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971), a film that blends bodies, bodices, castles, the supernatural, possible gas lighting, nudity, and triple crosses into an overflowing bath of ideas that is a lot of fun to splash around in. Not all the water stays in the tub, but there’s still plenty enough for a good soak.
Warning: if you’re not a Kate Jackson fan, today’s column may not work in your favor. Plus, we probably shouldn’t hang out.
[Hello, readers! To celebrate Valentine's Day, the Daily Dead team thought it would be fun to do things a little differently this year. We're putting the spotlight on our favorite horror-loving characters from genre cinema—people who have represented our own fandom on screen and, in many cases, helped bring our passion for horror into the mainstream. Be sure to check here for more of our tributes to some of the greatest horror fans to ever grace the big screen.]
Eric Binford, the protagonist (antagonist?) of Fade to Black (1980), loves movies so much, he is wholly subsumed by them.
Do you have a recurring nightmare? Mine is the oh-so passé “being chased”. It’s always the same; hunted relentlessly by an unknown assailant, helplessly fleeing from a certain doom. Of course, I wake up in a puddle of sweat, crying out for mommy, as one will do. The fear of cutthroat pursuit is at the center of Nightmare City (1980), Umberto Lenzi’s take on the then resurgent zombie sub-genre. And while you won’t wake up screaming after seeing it, you might end up covered in a sticky sweet glaze of WTF. The Italians don’t make their horror in half measures; I’m pretty sure Nightmare City throws in the whole cup.
It’s Hammer Time again! Every once in a while I like to dip back to that golden age, where the revered monsters of yore were dusted off with loving care for a newly appreciative crowd of teenagers at the Drive-In. Building upon the worldwide success of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (’58), and The Mummy (’59), it was time for another Drac attack. The Brides of Dracula (1960) keeps up the high level horror, as long as you’re okay with a Dracula movie having no Dracula. Looking back on the whole series, Brides stands out (and up) due to this very omission.
The Twilight Zone series stands as the benchmark for weird, wonderful, and creepy TV viewing. Many shows and movies have tried to duplicate its moralistic mysteries with varying results. Night Slaves is a charmingly odd TV movie not only cut from the same cloth, but with ties to it as well.
Harmony is an ideal. If everyone just got along, the world could be one big campfire sing-along, a Coke commercial writ large, right? But unfortunately that’s not human nature; certainly not as it pertains to our fellow earthly citizens, or to the globe itself. The ‘70s saw the rise of the eco horror film; “Mother Nature’s back, and she’s pissed” practically emblazoned across posters from the likes of Frogs (1972), Phase IV (1974), and Day of the Animals (1977). Australia threw their hat in the ring at the tail end of the cycle with Long Weekend (1979), a fascinating look at environmental and personal disharmony.
Michael Caine had an interesting run of genre flicks starting in the late ‘70s. The Swarm (1978) was laughed off the screen, Dressed to Kill (1980) was enjoyed by audiences and critics alike, and The Hand (1981) dropped his batting average once again. Nestled in between all those was The Island (1980), a killer pirate movie from the author of Jaws and directed by the man behind The Bad News Bears. What could go wrong? Well, everything, according to most folk. It’s an odd one to be sure, but the wild tonal shifts that prevent the ship from staying on a clear course make it a fascinating treasure that gets better with each viewing.