Homogenized Horror Part V
Now right about now many of you are thinking that I don't like franchise terror. Well, actually some of it is quite good. Britain's Hammer Films did rather well with their Frankenstein and Dracula movies. Okay, Evil of Frankenstein (1964) caused a bit of confusion by happening outside the chronology of the other films and Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) is open to debate by even the staunchest terror enthusiasts. After transplanting brains with such vigor why would the durable Baron (Peter Cushing) attempt to transplant a human soul? We could expect Colin Clive to try such a thing because despite his experiments he kept his religious convictions. I have to wonder out loud of Peter Cushing's character even believed that the soul existed. Remember that in one film he boasted "I am the creator of Man!" Wouldn't it have made more sense in FCW to have transplanted the brain of the wrongly executed man into the body of the girl he loved (Susan Denberg) and thus not only united the lovers in a way they never dreamed of but also creating the bisexual creature that took revenge? Oh well, psychologists will continue to debate the merits of this film. The series ended on a slightly depressing note. In Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, the final scene implied that The Baron had slipped into total insanity and Hammer Films bit the celluloid dust before it could resurrect him again.
Dracula, as enacted by Christopher Lee, is legendary. As long as his was in his 19th century Middle-European environment, his films were engrossing and convincing. When he materialised in the modern world of Mods and Teddy Boys in Dracula AD 1972, he slipped quickly into the fish-out-of-water mode. He seemed to adapt a little too well to modern methods of murder though. By the time The Satanic Rites of Dracula came around he was masquerading as the Howard Hughes-style reclusive millionaire D.D. Denham and was planning to unleash a deadly strain of germ warfare that would destroy all human life. Wouldn't that have meant his own finish because if all the humans died, whose blood would Dracula drink? Along these lines Taste the Blood of Dracula is open to discussion because in that film Dracula is reborn after his disciple (Ralph Bates) is murdered. Dracula goes after not only the three men who killed his follower but also their families in revenge for the killing. But if Bates' character had not died Dracula could not have been reborn. Was the vampire king actually saying that he did NOT want to be revived? think that one over the next time you watch the film.
Back on this side of the Atlantic these days, filmmakers are trying to take their characters to new heights...literally. Newest installments of Critters, Leprechaun and Hellraiser all put their protagonists into outer space. Okay, the Crites belonged there, but the Leprechaun and Pinhead did not. The director of Hellraiser IV was so dissatisfied with the finished film he took the traditional Hollywood alias of "Allan Smithee". Now word has emerged that not only will Jason Vorhees return in yet another Friday the 13th installment but the plot will involve him being thawed from a cryogenetic chamber and let loose on a space station. I can only hope he meets up with Alien who put an end to him permanently.
Speaking of that, the Alien series has never faltered from being way above average, a claim no other franchise terror character can claim (well, maybe Godzilla). This is largely because the writers and producers left the Alien where he (she? it?) belonged. Here is something I'll bet you did not know, the original script for Alien Resurrection had Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) waking up still in the escape capsule she was in at the end of the first movie and having Aliens and Alien3 have been all a dream! Thank goodness someone had the good sense to drop that idea.
So where does that leave the terror genre? As long as there are Indie producers willing to take a chance and not succumb to the paint-by-numbers plots the genre is on solid ground. The runaway success of The Blair Witch Project proves this. Sure the plot is a steal from Cannibal Holocaust (which the writers of BWP claim never to have seen, but heck, what did you expect them to say?) but it was made for only $35,000; an amount which would not pay the catering bill for any Hollywood production. Alas, Corporate Hollywood saw all the bucks the little film brought in (some $360 million domestically)and as of this writing (9-21-00) Blair Witch 2 is in post prodcution with lots of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), and a bigger budget. Only time will tell how this will be received. Also in planning stages is a high tech remake of William Castle's The Tingler. (The high tech remake of his 1956 film House on Haunted Hill fizzled at the boxoffice as did the CGI laden remake of Robert Wise's The Haunting). Prior to its DVD release, a re-mastered, re-edited version of The Exorcist is about to be released at cinemas in major cities. It offers more effects and a different ending.
Apropos of that, Oliver Stone has re-released his film Nixon with more footage and different editing. Remember back when Steven Speilberg released the "special edition" of Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Back then many critics wondered "Does this mean all directors will keep re-editing and re-releasing their old movies until they feel they've gotten it right?" Alas, the answer appears to be "YES!" Even George Romero has gotten in on this. No less than THREE versions of Dawn of the Dead were released by Anchor Bay 2 years ago. Seeing this, I wondered "I'll bet he's trying to raise seed money for a new project." Well guess what, soon after Dawn started selling he announced that his new film Bruiser was about to go before the cameras.
Ah, Hollywood. It's nice to have a dream but you have to have money too. Meanwhile the Indies keep plugging away, working with impossibly thin budgets and sometimes filming whole movies with one camera and hoping they will have the next big hit. Film festivals are bulging with the work of untested hopefuls. Can anyone predict what the future holds? We may have to sit through a lot of cinematic coal but eventually we will find that one diamond.