In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we discuss the witless camp of “Beware! The Blob” – the 1972 follow-up to the original monster movie classic with a surprisingly catchy theme song and galaxy of stars improvising their way through a sitcom version of the original story. Plus, Dean Cundey puts blob goop on a kitten’s cute little paws.
Then, it’s back the the future of Blob technology with the 1988 version, featuring AMAZING special effects but nothing else to recommend it – unless you’re a Del Close completist, in which case you’ll actually need to see both blobs. Be an upright citizen and enjoy!
It’s time, it’s time. Put on your masks and watch…watch. Two days after Halloween, Halloween, the last thing you’d want to do is watch Halloween. An ubiquitous classic, but your reserves have run out for critical analyses of John Carpenter’s horror classic because Rob Zombie so thoroughly sullied the original idea with modern vulgarity and took all the magic away by making Myers a troubled, bullied youth.
You may think those scare us, you’re probably right. Remakes and Zombie on Halloween night? Nah, An Alan Smithee Podcast has waited until the day after Halloween to watch Halloween and an unrelated film (unrelated except by sheer force of a duped viewer’s internal justifications): The Day After Halloween, which was not filmed under that title and has gone by several others. The video distributors knew this Australian turkey (both the Aussie and Golden Turkey sense) called Snapshot wouldn’t sell rentals unless the invisible hand of the market picked you up off a shelf of virtually indistinguishable Halloween ripoffs. Being Australian, they gambled that they’d get away with sticking Halloween in the title and 30 years later, it’s the only reason anyone’s talking about it. So who’s really laughing last?
IMDB being IMDB, they’ve listed the film by its least well known alternate title, One More Minute, just as they’ve reduced the incredibly good Deliverance imitation Rituals to its most exploitative namesake, The Creeper.
To mix things up, the version of Halloween that we’re viewing has a few extra scenes added for television, gently playing with the rhythm of the acts without adding any blatant connections to Halloween II, thankfully. The only element in the mix of Snapshot of interest is the presence of Vincent Gil, the ill-fated Nightrider from Mad Max – the screechy rocker, roller and out-of-controller who gets blow’d up real good in the opening chase scene. Here, he plays a gay fashion photographer who doesn’t raise his voice even once. What a disappointment. There’s another connection the film has to Mad Max (small country, huh?) but you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out.
The larger problem with The Day After Halloween is that Snapshot is only remotely a suspense or a “thriller” film, let alone a slasher flick.
Enjoy this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast as we squeeze out the last few precious drops of Halloween cheer from an already rotting pumpkin.
NEXT EPISODE: FLETCH (1985, MICHAEL RITCHIE) & FLETCH LIVES (1989, MICHAEL RITCHIE)
For a long time, Carrie was a title that evoked a reaction from perhaps more non-fans than fans of the genre, and this is the highest compliment you can pay the authors. The name conjures a very broad idea of high school, with many variations depending on one’s personal memories of that time in their lives, all retaining the common thread of inherent hellishness within the walls of that mythologized American institution. Who among us (who are reading this) has not at one time imagined themselves the social scapegoat of their entire school, and subsequently imagined themselves the avenging angel of the prom that Sissy Spacek became?
Carrie was not merely the first horror film to deal with the unpleasantness of high school, but one of the first American films, period. Incredibly, the film includes John Travolta a mere two years before he helped heap on more of the same bullshit about the best years of our lives in Grease, nearly undoing all the pig-killing work he accomplished for Brian De Palma. As a film, Carrie is so damned good that even though every single detail has been parodied and referenced relentlessly in the past 35 years, it detracts not one whit from the viewing experience. This is the highest and rarest compliment you can pay to anything enmeshed in mass pop culture unconsciousness.
A shame then that Carrie does not enjoy the same reverence it once did for so long, even amongst horror fans. Whatever cache it once held has depleted and wouldn’t you know, there’s a remake on the way to rewrite history for the young unknowing. Tragically the film has suffered a fate cousin to the pain of the bullied – the pain of anonymity.
Before the anonymity, there was an intervening period of post-Scream quasi-recognition for young movie fans: those weird years of normalization when the New Horror of the 70s became accepted and dulled by the mainstream. This was a time of opportunistic revivalist sequels: if a Scream fan was likely to at least have heard of Carrie, some executive somewhere reasoned, then why not make a sequel? Whatever shallow inspirations led to the production of The Rage: Carrie 2, you can at least say on it’s behalf that unlike filmmakers in the modern era of soulless remakes, the authors of this poor sequel at least had some kind of reverence for the original. That doesn’t translate to a good film because unfortunately, the authors were also idiots. They bring back Amy Irving as Sue Snell from part one and, her for exposition and carelessly discard her.
Worse than being stupid, The Rage is also sorely bland. The influence of TV on film can be seen plainly going from Carrie 1 to 2 – for all of De Palma’s visual glossiness, the high school of Carrie felt like it could be a real place. The school of Carrie 2 is a WB (CW now) teen drama, down to each melodramatic story point and especially Carrie 2 herself, who is conventionally attractive and nothing at all like Spacek’s wonderfully awkward misfit.
Incidentally, The Rage: Carrie 2 came out the same year as the Freddie Prinze Jr classic, She’s All That. Both films are alike in their basic teen-soap logic that all an attractive girl needs to do to be made over into someone even more attractive is take off her glasses. They really should’ve been the same movie, with Rachel Leigh Cook torching the big dance at the end. They could’ve just made a film of the infamous Carrie: The Musical.
NEXT WEEK: WITCH MARRIAGE SPECIAL! I MARRIED A WITCH (1942, RENE CLAIR) & BEWITCHED (2005, NORA EPHRON)
What is Steven Spielberg’s fascination with screaming children? Are they the best avatars of innocence to exploit for audience sympathy? Does he consider children his audience? Is the audience for a Spielberg movie the adult who’s a child at heart? The arrested development case? Are they one in the same? Did the special effects of Spielberg’s productions give baby boomers a sense of childlike wonder and amazement? Did that make them want to stay there, in that safe place? Did they feel secure? Did they ever feel like adults in the first place? Did Spielberg movies give cultural legitimacy to the boomer aesthetic of the eternal adolescent? Did E.T. blow John Carpenter’s The Thing out of the water because audiences didn’t want a science fiction movie for adults? Did Poltergeist really need to come out eight days after E.T.? Did Spielberg really need to fuck two leading American horror directors at once?
Was Poltergeist a horror film for adults? For children? Was the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, chosen to direct Poltergeist and make it a film for adults? Was Steven Spielberg nervous about entrusting a PG-rated horror film to the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Did Spielberg ask Hooper to make changes? Did he tell him? Did Spielberg direct two films at once? Has there ever been a single accurate report as to the controversy of who “really directed” Poltergeist? Would the average citizen of Hollywood have more to gain by boosting Spielberg, or the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre after the film was a hit? Would you trust Tobe Hooper around your children? Would you trust Steven Spielberg? What if there was a helicopter involved?
Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in curses? Do you think a movie can be cursed? Did you know that many people who worked on Poltergeist died? Did you know that three people who worked on Twilight Zone: The Movie died before the movie was even finished? Did Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen see Poltergeist? Did they see themselves as the next screaming Spielberg children, swept up in flashing lights and wind machines? Is Spielberg a religious man? Does he have a sense of his Judaism beyond the social isolation and Holocaust nightmares of imagination? Did any Jew of the Baby Boom generation? Do practicing Jews believe in the secular new age afterlife presented without reference to The Creator in Poltergeist?
If Spielberg is not a practicing Jew, is he superstitious? Is that why he wasn’t involved in Poltergeist II: The Other Side? Did Poltergeist II really need to be made? Did the story lend itself to a sequel? Did Michael Grais and Mark Victor watch The Exorcist II: The Heretic for inspiration before writing the screenplay? Should they have been allowed to continue in the film business after Poltergeist II? Might we have been spared the script for Cool World or would Frank Mancuso Jr. have found even worse writers to take the story away from Ralph Bakshi?
Was Julian “Henry Kane” Beck fatally ill as a result of the Poltergeist curse? Is that what made his performance so scary? Was it in good taste to pretend Dominique Dunne’s character from the first film didn’t exist because she was murdered in the interim? Were the godless Michael Grais and Mark Victor tempting further animus from the spirit world when they disrespected the dead? Did Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams skip out on Part III so as not to push their luck? Did Heather O’Rourke die after starring in Poltergeist III because she pushed hers too far? Will Poltergeist ever be remade by the superstitious pagans in Hollywood for fear of breaking the seal on Spielberg’s vengeful victims? Is this kind of a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare-in-reverse situation? What is it?
TOMORROW: DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS COMMENTARY TRACK! SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987, LEE HARRY)
Which is the more forgotten, John Landis or An American Werewolf In London? Which was the more important? The latter, his masterwork sole feature foray into horror. If everyone has one good story in them, perhaps every comedian has one jarring scary story. Before the Twilight Zone: The Movie debacle killed the legitimacy of a career, Landis introduced comedic horror into from the fringes of exploitation into 1980s big budget Hollywoodland and set the precedent for films like Ghostbusters (scored by American Werewolf composer Elmer Bernstein.) Besides genre blending innovations, Rick Baker’s makeup special effects caused such a stir that the Oscars felt compelled to create a new award just to recognize them, right at the cusp of the decade’s special effects renaissance.
However ahead of their time all technical or comedic aims achieved were, they’d be moot if the rest of the film weren’t so meticulously empathic as the horror mounts. The story is deceptively simple in taking the audience along on the experience of being in denial about becoming a werewolf, transforming for the first time and coming to grips with the aftermath. The momentum builds up to and winds down from David Naughton’s first night of lycanthropy as the fulcrum of the movie and this is a brilliant idea.
Praised at the time for giving a passe genre a “contemporary” take – costar Griffin Dunne was cast from a national Dr Pepper campaign – An American Werewolf In London retains a dry laconic wit and sympathetic story that hasn’t aged a day. After a diminished legend in tandem with the industry’s near-abandonment of practical special effects in favor of CGI, this film deserves renewed esteem as a modern classic of the newly humorous and splattery direction mainstream horror films took off into afterward.
The splatter boom of Freddy and Jason was long over and recently deconstructed by Scream when the ill-advised sequel An American Werewolf In Paris was finally released in 1997. Unlike the similarly belated but goofy and genial Escape From LA, Paris involved none of the original cast or crew. The film is barely even be recognizable as a sequel except for the clumsy mis-reuse of Landis’ subplot about werewolf victims haunting people as undead corpses. In deference to diminished attention spans in the intervening 16 years, there are a lot of werewolves this time around. The only titular American werewolf, Tom Everett Scott, is an obnoxious bore compared to David Naughton. They transform constantly thanks to a special serum, and their transformations are CGI video game sequences of the totally cheap and gratuitous kind made possible by recent technology.
An American Werewolf In London has been slated for remake in 2011 through Dimension Films and penned by coincidentally British hack Fernley Phillips (an upperclass twit of the year name) whose only previous credit has been the Jim Carrey laughingstock The Number 23.
We assure you, we don’t find this in the least bit amusing.
NEXT EPISODE: KING FEATURES SYNDICATE SPECIAL! FLASH GORDON (1980, MIKE HODGES) & POPEYE (1980, ROBERT ALTMAN)
Some tales are told, then soon forgotten. But a legend…is forever.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been synonymous with the horror genre for almost 40 years now and there’s probably nothing new left to say about it, but that won’t stop An Alan Smithee Podcast from trying! Fortunately one of us brings a fresh pair of eyes to the spectacle, while the other has seen it more times than is healthy. If you’re a regular listener you can probably guess who’s who. This imbalance brings up many elementary points of discussion around the film which have been taken for granted so long that they’ve fallen into neglect: Hooper’s exquisite compositions, the subtle omission of any explicit gore, and the insidiously disturbing reappearance of a friendly character we didn’t yet know was part of Leatherface’s crazy family. Even the annoyances of Franklin, apparently everyone’s least favorite wheelchair–bound lamb to the slaughter, get debated as the podcast’s longstanding TCM fan defends the character’s relative whininess (given his circumstances) against the average moviegoer’s initial take on him. Finally, we’re just like Siskel and Ebert! Even if you’ve seen this film before – and you should – now you can vicariously experience the film’s famous shocks all over again through a TCM virgin’s first bloodletting.
After thoroughly chronicling the tumultuous history of Cannon Films and New Line Cinema’s attempts to turn Leatherface into the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, we turn our attention to the most ill-begotten Chainsaw sequel of all.
The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was held on the shelf for three years before finally being shortened and released as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The delay was due to stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hitting in big in the interim and their agents throwing a fit over what this movie could do to their careers. Easy as it is to hate those who would blacklist the horror genre itself, this movie really is wretched. The story is a sparse rehash of the original with nothing to add but lame attempts at over-the-top humor, mostly supplied by an unrestrained McConaughey whose face-biting antics would’ve been much more useful in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Fool’s Gold.
The only compelling idea Henkel introduces is an infamous last-act twist involving a left-field appearance by the Illuminati, favorite brand name conspiracy of international global domination conspiracy enthusiasts. The revelation of their secret involvement with the chainsaw clan at least explains the absence of continuity between sequels (each movie was some kind of separate Illuminati attempt at a hilarious prank.) We do our best to square Henkel’s intentions against the results, which may or may not have sucked on purpose. Can this documentary reveal the answer? Does it matter? Who will survive and what will be left of them?
NEXT EPISODE: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF SPECIAL! AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981, JOHN LANDIS) & AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (1997, ANTHONY WALLER)
Tobe Hooper. Wes Craven. John Carpenter. David Cronenberg. George Romero. There’s never quite been an all-encompassing label for these brilliant horror film directors whose bodies of work defined the genre’s standards in the 1970s and 80s. “Masters of Horror” was coined a few years ago to promote the eponymous TV series but falls short of the required gravitas. The divergent paths of these directors are as diverse as their styles: commercial failure and belittlement for Hooper, mainstream success for Craven, auteurist deification and constant reappraisal for Carpenter, art house gentility for Cronenberg – and of Romero?
George “A.” Romero, as he prefers to be credited, created the zombie film as we know it: post-voodoo, pro-cannibalism and Tom Savini splatter. That subgenre has had a lot more mainstream success than he himself. If there were a nickel licensing fee paid to Romero for every zombie film since his, he could easily afford not to cling to the public’s waning recognition with his recent Canadian cheapies that are little else but political polemics using the waking dead as decomposing strawmen. Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and now Survival of the Dead (2009) have been regarded as depressing disappointments by fans, making Romero’s long anticipated return after a long absence to his much-imitated roots somewhat the horror equivalent of George Lucas’s disastrous return to Star Wars.
The film which signaled Romero’s departure from filmmaking for almost a decade was another collaboration with Stephen King, the biggest name in 1980s horror pop culture and previous co-author with Romero of the films Creepshow and Creepshow 2. While this may have seemed like a good idea, King’s intellectual property still being a guarantor of some return on film investment and the two men being friends with mutual artistic respect for each other, Romero probably should have taken an example from Dino De Laurentiis and chosen to make a Stephen King movie™ with more raw materials for visceral entertainment, like werewolves or killer trucks.
The Dark Half is King’s story of a respected writer with an alter ego who writes horror novels, and who is then framed for murders by a mystical manifestation of his alter ego when he attempts to retire the name. This is pure solipsism compelling only to hardcore Stephen King fans who appreciate the in-joke surrounding King’s prior creation of his “Richard Bachman” pseudonym. Romero’s direction is competent. Fans of the evil twin genre – there must be some out there – can also delight in star Timothy Hutton’s dual performances as good Thad Beaumont and evil George Stark as he fails to make an impression as either. Instead of Hutton, Stephen King should’ve done another acting turn for Romero as he did in Creepshow.
Perhaps Romero should have retired with Day of the Dead. Considered a disappointment for many years for simply not being another swashbuckling action-adventure zombie film in the vein of his previous Dawn of the Dead, Day has undergone reevaluation over the years by horror fans and has come to be appreciated for what it does so remarkably well. The zombie makeup and special effects violence by Tom Savini are quite possibly his most accomplished and the peak of his 1980s golden era. The music score by John Harrison, also the composer of Creepshow, is richly layered with themes and variations that accompany nearly the entire film. The screenplay full of brilliantly terse science-fiction speculation as to the true nature of the living dead. The weakest link are the actors and some of their infamous overacting, yet the cast’s secret weapon is a gloriously over-the-top villain with wickedly bulging eyes and profanity to spare.
Day of the Dead was the perfect close to Romero’s brainchild trilogy; the crushingly fatalist conclusion to a world overpopulated by zombies while the living are unable to agree what to do about it. Then Dan O’Bannon made zombies a joke and people have been unable to be afraid of them ever since. That’s a hell of a spot to put Romero in, but he never should’ve gone back to the well the way he did. In any case, we hope this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast gives him his due.
NEXT EPISODE: THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976, JOHN CASSAVETES) & LESS THAN ZERO (1987, MAREK KANIEVSKA)
With the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street upon us, we take a look back this week on An Alan Smithee Podcast to praise Freddy and bury him. The remake is taking care of the latter while spitting on his grave, unfortunately. We can’t believe that there’s a nightmare on our street and this time staying awake won’t save us. So are you ready for Freddy?
New Line Cinema was known as “The House That Freddy Built” after the monumental success of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street(1984, Wes Craven) and the hastily produced, homoerotic sequel catapulted the company into the black. After the second and third sequels, the series’ increasingly budgeted elaborate special effects showcases had turned a sadistic and disfigured child murderer from an object of fear into simply the villain of a fantasy-adventure film franchise and an international pop culture phenomenon. The spectacle took the edge off Freddy Krueger’s scariness, and by the time of the 6th film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare he’s reached a crescendo of corniness even in spite of his final outing, the wisecracking Master of Ceremonies on the last night of his own Las Vegas variety show. Special guest stars! 3D! A highlights reel from the previous films! More Robert Englund out of his Freddy makeup!
Freddy’s Dead is the slightest trifle that anyone ever funneled a lot of money into out of ceremonial obligation while leaving the details to take care of themselves. The film’s story is so convoluted and idiotic as to be rivaled only by Marvel and DC comic book specials in terms of requiring previous familiarity with a series to attempt comprehension. The special effects are perfunctory and the scares are not even attempted, in some weird acknowledgment that no one was seriously expecting them from the series by this point. Directed by Rachel Talalay, who started as a Production Assistant on the first film and worked her way up through each successive Elm Street film until Robert Shaye could one day finally say “She’s earned it, and what the hell, it’s the last one anyway. I’ll write the script to make sure it works.”
Three short years after writing the supposed final chapter of his cash cow, Robert Shaye would be playing himself and explaining to Heather Lagenkamp (the star of the original film, also playing herself) that the public’s insatiable appetite for Freddy is what actually keeps him coming back to life. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the least successful Nightmare On Elm Street film ever, and also the most intelligent, which is a shame.
Craven actually wanted to tell the postmodern tale of a real life Freddy coming after the people who made him seven years earlier. Had the film been made then it would have at least made a lot of money and been critically ignored. Instead the opposite happened, not that Roger Ebert’s 3 star thumbs-up review got anyone to see it who wouldn’t have otherwise. Had the film been made a few years later, after the snark milestone Scream made ironic self-reflexiveness in horror trendy, New Nightmare might have been too sincere in its considerations of what Freddy means to our cultural consciousness to catch on with anyone, but it would have gotten a lot more attention initially.
The real discovery of New Nightmare is actually a rediscovery of Lagenkamp, who proves herself a more than capable actress in selling concern for her child, Miko Hughes – better known as the creepy little kid in Pet Semetary and running on all cylinders for creepiness here as well. Craven actually wrote the events of Lagenkamp’s life into her self-portrayal so much – stalkers, special effects artist husband, et all – that it’s almost a method performance. However she and Craven arrived at her postmodern persona, this film remains all the better even after Freddymania has faded for telling the story of a scream queen whose work literally comes back to haunt her. New Nightmare is more than just a Freddy film, it’s one of the best horror films ever made about horror films.
Over the closing credits montage of Freddy’s Dead, Iggy Pop rhetorically asks us: Do you really think…Freddy’s….dead..?” One unfairly forgotten pseudo-sequel, one delightfully shlocky franchise crossover and one soulless Michael Bay remake later, we all know the answer to Iggy’s world weary query.
NEXT WEEK: GEORGE ROMERO SPECIAL! THE DARK HALF (1993, GEORGE A. ROMERO) & DAY OF THE DEAD (1985, GEORGE A. ROMERO)
Leatherface. Michael Myers. Hannibal Lecter. These great men stand in the shadow of one forebear, and he wears a dress. His name was Norman, and this is his special.
Our movies this week are a bold venture for and cold, cruel experiment forced upon this legendary horror icon, and their results tell as much about the nature of film as the longevity of the genre’s most unforgettable mama’s boy. The Psycho series has a lineage unlike any horror movie franchise, born in the wane of mythical vampires and werewolves and shortly after the booming atomic age of giant spiders, giant grasshoppers – who could believe such nonsense? Inspired by the 1957 arrest of real life mama’s boy grave robber transvestite Ed Gein, Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel Psycho was quickly acquired and filmed on the cheap by Alfred Hitchcock. For better or worse, movies made on the cheap about pretty naked girls being stabbed by the mentally disturbed and/or sexually frustrated were forever in style.
That Halloween, John Carpenter’s epochal renewal of this irrefutable truth starred the daughter of Psycho‘s most famous naked dead girl of all time is contrived providence but providence nonetheless.
What Psycho had that none of its spawn ever did was Anthony Perkins. With respect to all of horror’s masked and unmasked psycho killer performances, Perkins coined the eponymous moniker for one singular reason. Qu’est-ce que c’est? Unlike Anthony Hopkins or even Robert Englund, actors who have owned the faces of their villains, Perkins made Norman Bates probably the most sympathetic villain in horror movie history – every bit as disarmingly human as alarmingly off-kilter.
Thus after 22 years, one chainsaw massacre, two Halloweens and three Friday the 13ths did Norman Bates finally come home. He had to, Mrs. Voorhees and her son Jason were practically stealing his bit.
Quentin Tarantino has said that Psycho II is superior to the original, and in his defense this facetious provocation might have had a point assuming he didn’t actually mean it. Great sequels like Aliens or The Road Warrior tend to be praised so much that their predecessors are neglected, while Psycho II is neglected for merely being a worthy sequel to a film regarded as an immaculate all-time classic regardless of genre. To recapture even a little of that magic 22 years later with none of the same creative forces behind the camera is so extraordinary that the film’s true accomplishment is really being one of the greatest sequels of all time – as in a Part II, a roman numeraled continuation which cannot stand alone the way The Road Warrior or Aliens entertain without requiring prior viewing.
After ruining the twists to not only part II but parts III and IV as well, we turn to an official ruination of not only beloved Norman Bates but the original masterpiece as well. Gus Van Sant’s Psycho is probably the most reviled remake of all time, in a rare consensus where everyone is right. Despite being publicized as a “shot-for-shot” remake, Van Sant actually reworks 5 to 10 percent of them to arbitrarily insert pointless art house imagery and literal masturbation to accompany the metaphorical. Psycho II (great) III (great) and IV (not bad) proved that Norman Bates had a life beyond Alfred Hitchcock as long as Perkins was around to guard his character’s integrity. Psycho the remake only proves that not only is Gus Van Sant an egomaniac who believes he can replicate someone else’s classic movie in a science lab, but a trendy whore who will cast Vince freaking Vaughn as Norman Bates to be hip.
Go get lost in a desert and make a movie about it, Gus. The only good thing about this movie was the poster. You’re the man now, dog!
NEXT WEEK: GOSFORD PARK (2001, ROBERT ALTMAN) & PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981, JAMES CAMERON)