A MOVIELAND CLASSICS, LLC MAGAZINE
FA AM MO OU US S F
#290 #291 OCTOBER 2019 2018 OCTOBER
A MOVIELAND CLASSICS, LLC MAGAZINE
FIRST EDITION â€¢ US $16.99/CAN $22.99
PHAN OF THE OPERA Letters From An O.G. or, How to Adapt An Opera Ghost
by James Peterson
n the twenty-first century, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name is more regularly associated with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA than Gaston Leroux’s. This is how literary history operates when adaptations of a text supersede the original. In this case, Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was published serially beginning in 1909 — 110 years ago — to very little fanfare, and even less critical acclaim. It is worth noting at the outset that although Leroux’s composition is regularly referred to as a novel, it was originally released as a serial, and only subsequently collected in novel form. Given the nuances of adaptation and genre, the episodic chapter form of this now-classic tale suggests that its original lukewarm reception could be one consequence of being published as a weekly serial rather than a complete work; however, its sustainability and subsequent popularity is due almost entirely to adaptations.
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Gaston Leroux was an accomplished journalist who traveled the world and reported on his first-person experiences. He started writing novels at the turn of the century. Of course, none of his work endured in the way that PHANTOM did. Adaptation theory with regard to PHANTOM calls for complex close readings and even closer consideration of how, where, when, and in what form a text appears in its original iteration — literary, dramatic, cinematic, or otherwise. Often these approaches take a compare-contrast perspective on the text in question, juxtaposed with all adapted corollaries. The approach I use here is similar to this common way of reading and thinking about adaptation, with some small deviations: 1) This is not an exhaustive review of all of the adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and 2) While there are many elements in the original that are manifest in each of the adaptations, the
TOM Leroux describes the face of the ghost as resembling that of a living corpse.
ABOVE: The 1925 silent PHANTOM OF THE OPERA starring Lon Chaney remains the most faithful, and many would argue, most frightening adaptation of Gaston Leroux’ original text.
use of and presence of the Opera Ghost’s handwritten letters remains relatively consistent throughout the various processes of adaptation, from serial to novel to silent film to dramatic stage play and back to film over the course of the twentieth century. The overall framing of the original story distinguishes it from every version that follows it. Leroux’s novel (or collected serial) opens with a prologue from the perspective of the author himself. It reads: “IN WHICH THE AUTHOR OF THIS SINGULAR WORK INFORMS THE READER HOW HE ACQUIRED THE CERTAINTY THAT THE OPERA GHOST REALLY EXISTED.” The allcaps are in the original novel version, and
the assertion that the work is “singular” offsets any lingering ideas about its previous serial release. This is an important assertion, given (by scholar John Ellis, 1982, argument) that “the successful adaptation is one that is able to replace the memory of the novel with the process of a filmic or televisual representation.” And so the novel became the original, even though it is in fact the first adaptation. Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was prime for adaptation even after its slight transition from serial to novel: it is a novel about an opera house. Thus, there are stories and genres built into the frame story itself. The novel boasts a dizzying array of characters — so many early on that it almost demands a stage
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play adaptation just to keep up with its cast! There is also always a play within the story, as the opera players are either rehearsing or performing one play or another. In the original (and in the 1925 version), the play within the story is initially FAUST. This is a deliberate and significant choice by Leroux, as it forecasts the unspoken but definitively Faustian arrangement between Christine and the Phantom. Other versions make use of this potential in various ways. When genres are built into each other as a part of storytelling process, the potential for adaptation into those interpolated genres presents itself over and over again. This might be why THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is one of the most successful
ABOVE: Three generations of Phantoms: Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, and Michael Crawford.
adaptations in the history of literature-tofilm works. The first film to contribute to the replacement of our cultural memory of the Leroux novel was the 1925 silent adaptation, directed by Rupert Julian and starring Lon Chaney as the opera ghost. The 1925 film remains the most faithful adaptation of the original novel. As such, it is probably the most satisfying version for those who read Leroux’s novel first, before experiencing or viewing any of the subsequent cinematic or live action dramatic versions. Mary Philbin plays the role of Christine Daae, the talented ingénue who falls under the spell of the opera ghost — who in the novel is also referred to as the Angel of Music, the Trapdoor Lover, and Erik, amongst other monikers.
The format of the 1925 movie — silent but for the beautiful orchestral accompaniment and classic dialogue cards we often associate with the silent film genre — is what distinguishes it as an adaptation. Its faithfulness to the original text is in part due to its form. Since the film must rely almost exclusively on imagery and musical sound, it tends to tap into the language and imagery of the novel in order to tell its story. The reveal of the grotesque face of the opera ghost is a prime example of how the 1925 film holds fast to the literary text. Chaney devised the deformed visage of the Phantom himself, and the film was marketed and promoted without revealing the look until its premiere. Even now, watching the unmasking of Chaney’s
opera ghost is a horrific moment for both Philbin’s Daae and the viewing audience. Chaney was already making a name for himself in the horror film industry after successfully mortifying audiences with his HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923). His makeup work on the Phantom is one of the only accurate, horrific adaptations of the Phantom’s morose visage as described in the novel. Leroux describes the face of the ghost as resembling that of a living corpse. Chaney’s makeup is as about as close to this as makeup artistry could be in the 1920s, and the effect resonates to this day. If the silent film version of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra was limited to the original novel by its format, then the 1943 version embraced the technological advances in
In the novel, Erik is the “Angel of Music”, and it is through his mysterious advocacy that Christine is able to ascend in the opera world. She is transfixed by him before she is ultimately abducted by him. Rains’ Claudin is a much more tangible antagonist. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND • OCT 2019
ABOVE: Gaston Leroux’s Le Phantôme de l’Opéra was only 15 years old when Universal’s classic film was released, making it a very timely adaptation indeed.
film and deployed them in the service of creating a version of the story not beholden to the elements of the text. This film, in Technicolor with full sound, is only loosely based on Leroux’s novel. It is an adaptation that, in some ways, Americanizes the story, and in other ways conscripts itself to a more realistic horror story. Directed by author Arthur Lubin, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943) stars Claude Rains as the opera ghost and 6
Susanna Foster as Christine. The film’s writers changed Christine’s surname from Daae to DuBois. This may be a minor adjustment for the purposes of sound production and American audiences; or maybe for American audiences, “Dubois” resonates more as a French-sounding name than “Daae.” In another deviation, Raoul of the 1943 movie is not the Viscount De Chagny’s little brother. Instead, he is an officer of
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the law and a detective — thereby merging two (or three) roles from Leroux’s novel. Anatole Garron is an added character who is almost like Raoul’s double in the film. Garron and Raoul do provide some comic relief throughout as they both vie for Christine’s attention, with neither really winning her hand in the end. This makes for a marked departure from the novel’s depiction of Raoul and Christine as “star-crossed” lovers. It also makes a very different statement about the commitments that an artist must make to their craft in order to achieve the kind of success that Christine desires. One of the more striking changes in the 1943 adaptation is in the figure of the opera ghost himself — the Phantom, played by Claude Rains. This version dispenses with some of the mystery surrounding the ghost’s origins. First, they name him in full as Erique Claudin. He is a violinist in the opera house’s orchestra. He is aging, and his talent is in noticeable decline. Early on in the film, viewers learn that he has been diverting his salary for much of his career to musical lessons for Christine with a famous tutor in Paris. The novel and most of the other film and stage adaptations do not reveal Erik/ Erique’s full name. He is not a member of the orchestra in these other versions, nor is he paying to support Christine’s career. These elements exist in the original novel and other versions, but they are executed and/or manifest themselves in much more mysterious — and at times more satisfying — ways. In the novel, Erik is the “Angel of Music”, and it is through his mysterious advocacy that Christine is able to ascend in the opera world. She is transfixed by him before she is ultimately abducted by him. Rains’ Claudin is a much more tangible antagonist. He is disfigured in a horrible confrontation with publishers who attempt to steal his musical masterpiece — a concerto that he has worked on almost as long as he has been Christine’s secret patron. The 1943 PHANTOM works as a horror film, but it does not use the same tactics or strategies of its predecessors or followers. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage play THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, first performed in 1986, and its subsequent 2004 film adaptation directed by Joel Schumacher are, as of now, the most prominent versions of this story in our collective cultural memory. These versions have replaced the novel and even its earlier adaptations as the definitive
versions of Leroux’s original. It makes some sense that a dramatic stage play version of Leroux’s novel, with popular operatic music and powerful performances by various actors and actresses in the main roles, would be its ultimate adaptation. In this way, the novel is almost a formal literary call for a dramatic adaptation. The names of the characters change, the mysterious origin of the ghost changes, even the themes can change — from the perils of making a Faustian bargain (1910, 1925, 1986), to a woman’s right to be committed to her craft as an artisan (1943). But certain elements of the PHANTOM remain through all of the adaptations. Two of these — the letters from the Phantom and the falling of the chandelier — reflect elements of the original that establish it as a classic story. Even in adaptation, the letters and the sabotaged chandelier are pieces of the story without which the general sense of it cannot be conveyed, even in loosely based film versions. The falling chandelier is in the original
novel and in each of its adaptations. It happens at differing points in the story, depending on which version you are reading or watching, but it does always happen. In the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage play, the audience is often shocked by the falling chandelier in their reallife, real-time play house. For those who experience the play live, it is one of the most memorable aspects of the experience. It is unforgettable. Leroux achieves this feat in the literature just as the opera ghost becomes a full-blown terrorist in this act of sabotage, and if readers were searching for some way to identify and sympathize with him, the sense of connection to him can be lost in the passage where the chandelier falls — killing and injuring and otherwise destroying the very thing within which the world of Le Fantôme de l’Opéra is built. As for the letters — the missives written in blood-like ink, sealed with an authentic red death stamp and always signed O.G. — these are the substance of the readers’ horrific interface with the
opera ghost. Before readers know him as the Angel of Music or (later) as Erik, he is simply “O.G.”. Although it is some time in the novel before the ghost’s humanity is revealed, the letters from O.G. set the stage for the action in both Leroux’s novel and in its many adaptations. The letters manipulate and manage the most important actions of the novel/film/play. They are our first glimpse into the psyche of the Phantom, and they are the ways in which the characters/actors/players in the narrative understand his demands, even before they understand them as commands with deleterious consequences when not followed to the letter. The letters also resonate throughout all versions of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, because for all of the originalists; for the stodgy literati who lament the displacement of Leroux by Lloyd Webber; for those fans who dig through the adaptations to find the primary text — the letters in every adaptation are what remind us that the novelized version of this classic tale was written first.
THE DEMON DETAILS in the
Is CURSE OF THE DEMON’s eponymous monster a blessing or blight on Jacques Tourneur’s classic horror flick?
by Holly Interlandi
onversations about cultural tropes often circle back again and again, rising in ferocity every decade or so, two perspectives curled in embattlement with one another to seemingly no resolution: style vs. substance, creativity vs commercialism, practical vs. digital. You can make a binary out of just about anything in the entertainment business, but one conversation echoes at the heart of the horror genre in particular: how much should be shown, and how much withheld? When should we get to see the monster, if at all? Is monster design the most important aspect of a horror film, or are these things best left to the imagination? You will hardly find a better example of the debate than with CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957), or NIGHT OF THE DEMON in its longer British cut, a classic black and white horror film that endures either despite or because of the awkwardly puppeted “fire demon” that makes appearances at both the beginning and the end of the picture. It was, naturally, the presence of this demon that landed the film on the cover of Famous Monsters #38 back in 1966 — and he appears again now in 2019, covering Issue 291 in all his crinkle-nostriled glory. Yet, despite these striking cover paintings by Vic Prezio and Sanjulian, the original 1966 feature on CURSE OF THE DEMON ran for only five pages and contained a few effusive moments of praise and a brief plot summary — no “filmbook” length writeup in sight. Well, by god, I say that the movie deserves more. Luckily, the curators at UK-based Powerhouse films seem to agree, as they released a 2-disc special edition Blu-ray in late 2018 which contains both the American and British versions of the film,
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[The demon is] at the forefront of a subtle, carefully crafted mystery whose original text doesnâ€™t actually mention a demon at all.
ABOVE: Director Jacques Tourneur signed on to make what he thought would be a subtle, artsy film relying on atmosphere. BELOW: Niall McGuinness as a horrified Julian Karswell towards the end of the film.
as well as a hearty selection of special features, commentary, and insightful perspective from many of the people involved in making the movie. This Blu-ray comes with my highest recommendation, as it makes light the complex history of a film that saw many revisions and criticisms before its release, and continues to foster discussion to this very day. The major topic of discourse? The demon itself, and whether it belongs in its own movie. CURSE OF THE DEMON is actually based on a short story by M.R. James called “Casting the Runes”, written in 1911 and collected in his More Ghost Stories. This means that the demon’s first “unwanted” appearance is actually in the title, thus changed from the name of the original story. Doubtless the decision of the production company, such a change puts the demon at the forefront of a subtle, carefully crafted mystery whose original text doesn’t actually mention a demon at all. A large portion of “Casting the Runes” is relayed by hearsay, as is tradition in many classic ghost stories that were often told aloud around a metaphorical campfire. But it’s clear that it needed a particular antagonist to center its narrative on, seeing as long soliloquies and contentious letters sent back and forth between scholars don’t tend to adapt well to film. Nevertheless, screenwriter Charles Bennett tried his damndest, producing a screenplay that had producers scoffing at it for being “too British” — that is, long and convoluted and resulting in a 180-minute film, which was off the table in
ABOVE: The fire demon, despite being a rather spectacular effect for the 1950s, is much maligned for turning a classic ghost story into a verifiable monster movie. Luckily, we love monster movies.
those days. Eventually, the screenplay was rewritten by and cocredited to the film’s producer Hal E. Chester, who would prove to be an unpopular figure with just about everyone involved in the making of the movie. Chester is blamed for everything from forcing the fire demon into the final cut against the wishes of director Jacques Tourneur, to hiring an American (and reportedly drunk) Dana Andrews to play a new main character, John Holden, who does not exist in the short story; to allowing Columbia Pictures to cut the film’s running time by a fairly significant 14 minutes. According to film critic Tony Earnshaw, “Tourneur wanted to make that subtle, understated type of film, relying on his talent and creating atmosphere,” while Chester’s point of view was, “The kids expect a monster, and we’re making a monster movie.” Of course, when you’re dealing with a film that’s over 60 years old, everything gets a bit muddy. In the Blu-ray’s myriad of special features, there is an awful lot of “I don’t think” and “I don’t remember”. The struggle of a retroactive making-of is that all the details become unclear. Was the demon in the original script all along, described as a “huge, ghostly dinosaur, not clearly seen”? Or was Hal E. Chester a “schmuck”, according to star Dana Andrews, for including “that goddamned demon”? Sir Ken Adam, production designer on the film and designer of the fire demon, also blames Chester for the awkward monster. Adam believed they should stick to footprints (caused by something huge and invisible, naturally) and a white smoking cloud. For the monster, Adam says, “I must have been inspired
by some medieval prince or devil or something like that. I really don’t remember, now… I felt it cheapened an otherwise interesting and stylized film of that period.” But what exactly about a monster undermines the quality of a movie? If the complaint about the demon lies in a desire to be faithful to the original narrative, it’s important to recognize that despite the demon, most of the eerie sequences from the short story remain intact, only under different circumstances. The magic lantern scene in the story, shown by occultist Julian Karswell to a group of frightened children, becomes the sequence of Holden running through the woods: “At last he produced a series which represented a little boy passing through his own park in the evening… and this poor boy was followed, and at last pursued and overtaken, and either torn to pieces or somehow made away with, by a horrible hopping creature in white, which you saw first dodging about among the trees.” This is the “sentient fireball” that pursues Holden in the second half of CURSE OF THE DEMON, and an important element in his acceptance of the curse as being real. Likewise, the ordeal of Harrington witnessing a spell scratched into glass on his train ride home is transferred, in the film, to the more palpable example of magical writing on Karswell’s business card, which seems to hold a mysterious watermark visible only by Holden himself. Other changes to the story involve bringing it from the turn of the century into the “modern” decade of the 1950s, including extended scenes that make use of technology not available in 1911 — comfortable passenger planes, modern cars, and FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND • OCT 2019
cutting-edge psychology that we now know was not cutting edge at all. Details that work in a ghost story but not necessarily in film, such as the timeline of the curse being changed from three months to three days, are logistical elements that see alteration in nearly every adaptation of page to screen. And if it’s the presence of a supernatural creature that Tourneur et. al. were so concerned about, there is an even more unsettling moment in James’ short story that the film entirely overlooks: “So [Mr. Dunning] put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow: only, it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being.” In the film, it is the demon’s first appearance — come to dispatch Professor Harrington on his way back to his house, at Karswell’s command — that alters the audience’s relationship to the ensuing scenes. What might otherwise be a mystery of the ‘is he or isn’t he’ type is grounded immediately into a more complex experience. As observed by Earnshaw in the film’s audio commentary, “Karswell’s fear here makes no sense if the demon isn’t big enough to engulf almost everything in his path… We all know that Karswell is the real deal, and the thrill of the movie is watching Holden’s awareness grow.” Dana Andrews’ Holden is a hard-nosed skeptic who lives to debunk things. This is why seeing the demon early on changes the atmosphere and adds to the conflict — clearly Karswell is not a fake, and Holden spends the entire film attempting to prove him a fraud before succumbing to the notion that the curse, and the demon, are very real.
As for the 14 minutes cut from NIGHT OF THE DEMON, the Powerhouse Blu-ray contains a bonus feature called “Cloven in Two” which gives an extremely close look at the two versions of the film. The US theatrical release removes some of Holden arriving at the airport, a few scenes of dialogue at Karswell’s estate, a conversation on the phone, driving sequences, and other moments, making it so that the CURSE OF THE DEMON does accomplish what Columbia intended. The cut moves at a much brisker pace, perfect for inclusion on a double bill. CURSE, you see, was set to run alongside 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, which of course boasts the original Ray Harryhausen creation of the Ymir as its singular monster. It’s quite possible that without the fire demon explicitly appearing at the beginning and the end, CURSE OF THE DEMON would not have seemed suited for such a bill, never made a splash in America, and consequently, never been featured on the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland #38 (which, let’s face it, is the most important thing that’s ever happened to the movie — right?). Rather than lamenting the loss of mystery, audiences should really be focusing on what the film does well — often in complete independence of the original short story. The decision, whether Hal Chester’s or not, to cast an American actor in the lead role actually brings a new level of conflict to the plot. John Holden’s journey to England for a psychiatry conference where he eventually encounters strange characters and unexplainable phenomena becomes all the more potent, as England is presented as a kind of dark water with a longer, weirder, and more gothic history than that of America. The film opens with a foreboding
BELOW: Ah, the age-old battle between science and mysticism — and how to relay information to an audience without relying on exposition. OPPOSITE: Maurice Denham as the terrified Professor Harrington seconds before the demon strikes.
narration and images of Stonehenge — perhaps the greatest indication of ancient rites and their remnants persisting despite urban development and civilization. Holden’s discovery of the exact runes on a piece of paper that Karswell passed him being carved at Stonehenge makes for a further demarcation between his American skeptic and the foggy moors of a strange country where witchcraft is no longer superstition. Although Harrington’s brother Henry from the story is replaced in the film by Peggy Cummins’ Joanna Harrington — most likely to satisfy an audience’s predictable need for a love story — the romantic subplot is relatively benign and does little to diminish the suspense. What’s more, the film’s most compelling sequence has been manufactured entirely for the movie, nowhere to be found in the original story: the hypnosis of Rand Hobart, a member of a local cult and the only known person to have survived “the curse”. Since Holden is a man of science, the film introduces what must have been at the time cutting-edge hypnosis techniques to pull Hobart from his waking coma and have him identify the runes scribbled on Holden’s cursed piece of paper. The ensuing scene is as shocking now as it was in 1957: Hobart, broken from protective paralysis by scientists who don’t know what they’re dealing with, descends into a fit of hysterics, escapes, and takes off for the nearest open window, where he jumps dramatically to his death. This not only produces powerful commentary on what happens when science tackles something it is not prepared for (FRANKENSTEIN, anyone?), but it also resonates across the decades as a palpable criticism of primitive psychological methods. This is not a worldly curse, and worldly methods will do nothing to stop it — least of all the then-underdeveloped medical procedures thought to “cure” the mentally ill. Let’s face it: it’s never been “cool” to enjoy big goofy monsters and shocking deaths over understated drama, which is why horror and Sci-Fi movies are always overlooked at awards shows — they’re not “serious” enough. Forrest Ackerman understood this, and always stood up for us. FM’s illustrious editor ended his original 1966 article with a statement negating all the upturned noses and pretentious demon-slams in the world: “CURSE OF THE DEMON is [a] triumph, well worth seeing… As fate would have it, I found myself talking on the phone with [Jacques] Tourneur a few days before writing this review. He told me he did not care for the introduction of the fire-demon into the plot of CURSE OF THE DEMON, that he felt it weakened the effect of the picture; but I emphatically disagree!” Thanks, Forry. You’ve always got the monster’s back. Demon or no demon, CURSE OF THE DEMON, whichever cut you choose to watch, is an incredibly effective spook show of skepticism, suspense, and eventual shock. Opening immediately with the death-by-demon is a springboard from which the rest of the film is able to glide gracefully from moment to moment, psychology dialogue to discussions of monsters, casual flirtation to deadly serious confrontation. Having seen the monster already, the audience is well aware of Karswell’s abilities, and we watch giddily as Holden falls slowly, albeit inevitably, into acknowledgment of the supernatural, and then even more giddily as Karswell finally gets his violent comeuppance on the train tracks. It’s a fantastic ride, and one that deserves acknowledgment into the canon of great classic horror movies. FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND • OCT 2019
by Martin Aguilera
“Life was such a wheel that no man could stand upon it for long. And it always, at the end, came round to the same place again.”
he closing lines of Stephen King’s epic masterpiece THE STAND have proven to be incredibly relevant to the King of Horror’s career itself, seeing as the last few years have seen a whirlwind of renewed interest in his back catalog. Of course, Stephen King has never gone away. Not really. Beginning with Brian De Palma’s screen treatment of CARRIE in 1976 and Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of SALEM’S LOT as a miniseries in 1979, King has frequently terrorized us beyond the pages of his novels on movie and TV screens the world over. The work of few writers has been mined as deeply as King’s. CARRIE and MISERY were even adapted for the theater stage — the former as a musical, the latter as a play. Why this King renaissance? It could be attributed to a handful of things, but it likely owes no small part to the fact that the new wave of up and coming filmmakers who grew up on a steady diet of King novels have been deeply influenced by his work. There are direct links to King and the hit Netflix TV series STRANGER THINGS by the Duffer brothers, for example, as well as the films of Mike Flanagan (ABSENTIA, OCULUS) — who has now had the opportunity to direct not one but two movies based on Stephen King’s books: GERALD’S GAME and the highly anticipated sequel to THE SHINING — DOCTOR SLEEP, starring Ewan McGregor as the adult Danny Torrance. With the global blockbuster success of IT: CHAPTER ONE (2017), Stephen King stories are more ubiquitous than ever, and as we prepare for the conclusion of that behemoth with the September 2019 release of IT: CHAPTER TWO, we’re looking back at some lesserknown monster movies that sprung from one of the most brilliant imaginations of our time.
THE NIGHT FLIER (1997) THE NIGHT FLIER is the story of Richard Dees (the late Miguel Ferrer), who is a tabloid reporter on the hunt for a serial killer who believes he is a vampire. When a brutal murder is committed at a rural airstrip, Dees begins to dig a little deeper and follow the fiend’s trail until he comes face to face with the monster — and much to his horror, realizes that not only does this killer believe he’s a vampire, he actually is a vampire! What unfolds is one of the freakiest movies to be adapted from a King story, and while it did not get much love upon its initial release, it has found a cult following over the years on VHS, DVD, and countless reruns on HBO. One of the things that makes this movie stand out is a very rich and atmospheric style that becomes downright sinister in the harrowing final minutes; another is the incredible makeup effects that render one of the most distinct movie monsters ever designed in the late ’90s.
GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990) You would think a rat-infested textile mill is terrifying enough, but add to that a giant rodent-bat hungry for human flesh and you’ve got a recipe for a ghoulish and delightful creature feature. GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a workplace horror movie if ever there was one. Tasked by an unscrupulous boss with clearing out and killing the rats rather than shutting down the mill, a group of harried mill employees descend into the basement depths and come face to face with something far more gruesome than those pesky vermin. At the time of its release, this movie did modestly well at the box office, although subsequent years saw it recede from memory. It’s certainly worth watching, not only for the fun jump scares and gross-out kills, but for some solid performances, among them a postCHILD’S PLAY Brad Dourif in a gleefully weird turn as a pest control guy.
SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (1991) Stephen King has always made great use of ghosts, and this made-for-TV movie certainly took that premise to new heights. SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK presented us with one of the most frightening ghost stories to ever come to the small screen. A high school teacher, beautifully played by Tim Matheson, finds himself reliving the past when a group of punks in his classroom (who look a lot like the ones who killed his brother thirty years before) begin haunting him and his family. Popular upon its initial premiere on CBS and eventually released on home video, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK faded a bit from viewer consciousness, but this tale of demonic teens is ripe for rediscovery, because it shares much of the emotional nuance that Stephen King always brings to horror — particularly with his 1986 book IT.
THE BIG BADDIE OF ALL MONSTERS Published in 1986, IT came to be known as Stephen King’s magnum opus, his final word on the horror genre, his heart laid bare. IT was, and is, the big baddie of all monsters. A popular 1990 mini-series brought the story to the screen, but 2017’s big budget studio production, courtesy of Warner Bros. and director Andy Muschietti, truly did justice to this large and sprawling narrative about a group of kids known as The Losers Club who band together to fight a sinister creature who takes on many shapes — primarily that of Pennywise the Clown. When asked by Entertainment Weekly in December 2017 why the film had resonated with audiences in such a big way, King had this to say: “I think one of the things that really happened was that 1990 miniseries. A whole generation of kids between the ages of 8 and 14 were scared sh-tless by Tim Curry, and when the new one came out, it was a chance to revisit that particular experience in their childhood. Then there was this weird viral bulge in stories about creepy clowns. That was in the press all over the place. So it was a number of different things. It was the right movie at the right time.” Twenty-seven years after the conclusion of the first film, “It” comes back, and so does The Losers Club — to finish what they started that longago summer. Fans the world over have that to look forward to in September 2019, when IT: CHAPTER TWO concludes the narrative. Returning to close out what is likely to be the big baddie of all horror monsters — one that takes the form of our darkest and deepest fears — director Andy Muschietti brings some top tier talent to fill in the adult roles: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Bill Hader headline the cast. What can we expect? “Bring your adult diapers,” Muschietti quipped at this year’s CinemaCon. Now you’ve got some old haunts to visit in the Kingdom of Horror before you return to Derry!
At an all-new low price of $16.99, Famous Monsters #291 arrives on the heels of two Ack-Ives publications and is dedicated exclusively to ne...
Published on Aug 21, 2019
At an all-new low price of $16.99, Famous Monsters #291 arrives on the heels of two Ack-Ives publications and is dedicated exclusively to ne...