A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! What can’t be explained, must be explored: Watcher in the Woods (1980) & Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

WATCHER IN THE WOODS 1980

It was just an innocent game… until a young girl vanished for thirty years

Once upon a time in the 70s Disney took guardianship of some pretty dark films. The Watcher in the Woods is one such film. Directed by John Hough (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry 1974, Escape to Witch Mountain 1975, Return from Witch Mountain 1978, The Incubus 1982).

The film works as a teenage adventure/fantasy meets Modern Gothic story based on the novel by Florence Engell Randall with contributions to the screenplay by Brian Clemens.

An American couple Helen and Paul Curtis, played by two distinctly charismatic actors David McCallum and Carroll Baker, and their two daughters Lynn Holly Johnson and Kyle Richards as Jan and Ellie Curtis, travel to an isolated house in rural England. Bette Davis commands the screen with less blaze and more secretive self-control as Mrs. Aylwood, a strange widow who befriends the girls and whose daughter went missing 30 years ago. The two young women investigate the mysterious happenings at the manor house and stumble onto the truth behind Karen Aylwood’s disappearance. I will not spoil the reveal of this film, in fact the DVD has alternative endings due to extensive cuts as well as additions of scenes added under the un-credited supervision of Vincent McEveety. — I can say that prefer John Kenneth Muir’s interpretation of one considered outcome as Karen leaving and returning as a “kind of Orphean Underworld story.” For those of you who might not like just one explanation, I’ll leave it as an enticement to watch Watcher through to the end/ends!

While some critics found Watcher in the Woods abysmal there are enough fans who remain devoted to the film as a cult classic. Setting some whiny moments, a few meandering plot potholes, Watcher in the Woods maintains a certain atmospheric bubble that surrounds the the story, and adds nice touches of Gothic motifs, like the abandoned church, as John Kenneth Muir says in Horror Films of the 1980s the crumbling church “representing decay.” 

I see it also as how the old waits quietly for youth to return…

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES 1983

After he fulfills your deepest, lifelong dream…he’ll tell you the price you have to pay… Never whisper your dreams, for someone might be listening…

Both novel and screenplay for Something Wicked This Way Comes was penned by the prolific fantasist/dreamer Ray Bradbury.

Directed by one of the most interesting directors Jack Clayton, a man who summons uncomfortable images and mind frames around dysfunction in the so called conventional family structure, and even more diffuse in his work he personifies the children, those innocent little souls with a will that can not only be menacing but truly threatening and evil. Clayton has painted landscapes of chilling psychological horror and Something Wicked This Way Comes embraces his haunting perceptions in perfect sync with Bradbury’s malevolent story equal parts fantasy equal parts horror. Bradbury retained the nightmarish poeticism that his novel possessed in the screenplay then adapted to the screen.

Bradbury’s fantastic tale began as a short story entitles “Black Ferris” which was originally published in Weird Tales Magazine in 1948. Then he adapted it to his screenplay for use by Gene Kelly who unfortunately was not able to get the funding for the project. Then success found Bradbury’s story when he released it as a novel in 1962 which found it’s way yet back once again into a screenplay in the 1970s where an interesting collection of directors were approached– from Sam Peckinpah, Mark Rydell, and even Steven Spielberg. By the time 1982 came around it was Jack Clayton (The Queen of Spades 1949, The Story of Esther Costello 1957, Room at the Top 1959, The Innocents 1961, The Pumpkin Eater 1964, Our Mother’s House 1967), who was tapped to directed the film, perhaps Spielberg might have added a great commercial veneer to the picture, but the dark dreams that Jack Clayton is capable of envisioning, I think, is the right kind of poison (And I mean that in a good way). The atmosphere of the sleepy little Green Town, Illinois, circa 1920 needed to wash off that mainstream Rockwell Painting style veneer and lay bare the secretive and dreadful things that suppurate in a small old fashioned and quite often repressed Americana town.

For into this quaint and picturesque Midwestern town comes a dark & arcane carnival led by the mysterious Mr. Dark played exquisitely by Jonathan Pryce. And unlike the lyrical circus of The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao starring the wonderful Tony Randall, this carnival is pure evil.

The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao starring Tony Randall

As enigmatic as Pryce is in this role, equally mesmerizing is Pam Grier who inhabits the sensuous yet deadly Dust Witch! The otherworldly train that is veiled in fog and spirit lights brings “the Autumn People”  who march through the town slowly like a funeral dirge preparing their secret ceremonies that will summon the darkness to coax and bedevil the unsuspecting yet desperate people of Green Town who are hungry for magic to change their lives.

The carnival seems to tap into the desires of many of the townspeople providing them with wish-fulfillment, to make their every dream come true. Many of the town folk like Mr. Crosetti played by Richard Davalos out of their loneliness seek companionship or Ed the Bartender played by James Stacy who lost a leg and an arm in the war would love to be that football hero again.

What ultimately happens after these unsuspecting but naive town folk should have realized that they have sold their souls and are damned for an eternity to suffer the irony of their wishes. And in the end it is a lesson in what we desire weighed against what we regret.

As one of the vehicles for Mr. Dark’s malevolent magical conduits, he employs a menacing merry-go-round which can make the rider can grow either younger or older depending on which direction it turns.

Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade are boyhood buddies–Will sees his father struggle with feeling like an old man, while Jim waits hopelessly in vain for his father to return.

Jim buys a lighting rod from Tom Fury (Royal Dano) who warns of the storm that is coming. That night the boys sneak out into the woods and watch as the train pull in with no one aboard. They do however learn that it is bringing Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival to their boring little town.

At the centerpiece of the story comes Jason Robards an aging father and local librarian Charles Halloway who feels he’s failed his son Vidal Peterson as Will Halloway. In the end it is up to the two to fight off Mr. Dark who would like nothing better than take most of the town along board the malefic train to the next destination, collecting souls along the way.

With music by James Horner, and co-starring Royal Dano who sells much needed lightning rods, Diane Ladd plays Jim Nightshades mother, Mary Grace Canfield plays Miss Foley who has lost her youth and beauty, and narrated by Arthur Hill as an older Will. The special effects of the 80s creates a moody, fantastical little carnival nightmare that moves like a beautiful & maudlin ballet.

YOUR EVER LOVIN’ MONSTERGIRL SAYIN’ ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE IF YOU BELIEVE IT SO!

A Trailer a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away! 11 terrifying tidbits from 1980-1983

THE ATTIC 1980

“Louise’s life downstairs is a living hell… and upstairs lurks a haunting nightmare!- She’s Daddy’s Little Girl … FOREVER!” 

Carrie Snodgress has always been an actress possessed of great dimension, just watch her as Tina Balsar the persecuted down-trodden housewife in director Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife 1970. In The Attic Snodgress is yet again a repressed character Louise Elmore, this time a Librarian who is caring for her cruel and ruthlessly controlling wheelchair-bound father Wendell portrayed by a particularly nasty Ray Milland.

Milland toward the end of his career had started appearing in some of these low budget horror/exploitation films like X, The Man with the X-Ray Eyes 1963, Daughter of the Mind 1969, Frogs 1972. The 80s started to really slide into a kaleidoscope of cheap themes and shock value moments. It doesn’t detract from Milland’s contribution to film history, nor does it malign either his or Snogress’ depth of acting. Director George Edwards  ( produced Frogs 1972 with Milland, Queen of Blood 1966, Games 1967, How Awful About Allan 1970, What’s the Matter with Helen? 1971, The Killing Kind 1973, Ruby 1977 – all these films with the exception of Frogs, Edwards worked with Curtis Harrington as the director.

You can see Harrington’s influence on The Attic as it represents a small enclosed family environment creates psychological demons, mental disturbances or what I call director Harrington’s The Horror of Personality. With most of Harrington’s work the narrative is less centered around supernatural forces building it’s framework around the product of mental illness and the dysfunctional family trope acted out within closed in spaces, where relationships over time begin disintegrating, with acts of cruelty, despair, loneliness, fear and repression- the family then, becomes the monster…

The Attic is an angry, aggressive and psychologically sadistic film, where Snodgress is yet again persecuted and trapped in a dreadful life. The hapless Louise is jilted by her fiancé and left at the altar leaving psychic scars, where she begins to go in and out of reality. Calling the Missing Persons Bureau on a regular basis looking for her lost love. She begins to fantasize about rejecting her abusive father whom she must do everything for. After 19 years of being left alone, Louise doesn’t find much joy in life, accept for drinking and dreaming about trips she’ll never take, committing arson at the Library and spending time with her pet monkey Dicky the Chimp. She is befriended by a co-worker who tries to help bring Louise back into the real world again, but the shocking truth that lurks in that creepy attic won’t stay locked away forever!

The Attic also stars Rosemary Murphy who is usually scary in her own right, at least she scares me since You’ll Like My Mother 1972!

PROM NIGHT 1980

“…Some will be crowned, others will lose their heads”

This is one of the earliest masked killer slasher movies where sexually active teenagers are being stalked on the night of their prom because they were responsible for the death of their classmate years ago. Prom Night features Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis who set the trend for good girls or The Final Girl trope… you know- the one who survives because of their integrity, purity and smarts! Also starring one of my favorites Leslie Nielsen and Antoinette Bower.

SILENT SCREAM (1980) us release

“Quick! Scream! Too late! You’re dead”

During her first semester at college co-ed Scotty Parker (Rebecca Balding) is one of several college students who rents a room from Mrs. Engels, the Junoesque Yvonne De Carlo. But there is something very strange going on at this seaside mansion/boarding house–even murder! Mrs.Engels lives at the mansion with her weird neurotic son Mason (Brad Rearden) Scotty is joined by Steve Doubet (Jack Towne), Peter Ransom (John Widelock) and Doris Prichart (Juli Andelman). When Widelock is stabbed to death out on the beach, Police Lt. Sandy McGiver (Cameron Mitchell) investigates and uncovers the family secret. Silent Scream is more eerie and less typical 80s slasher flick, perhaps its due to the weight of the strong cast that inhabit their roles, in what might be a predictable script still possesses that ability to convey the dread in a quietly stylish manner. Co-Produced by Joan Harris

Silent Scream has a claustrophobic melancholic atmosphere instead of utilizing gore it relies more on it’s Gothic gloomy sensibility, a sense of creepy voyeuristic camera work that makes you feel uncomfortable.

Two names -All you need to know to see this eerie obscure 80s gem Yvonne De Carlo as Mrs. Engels and Barbara Steele as Victoria Engels.

DEADLY BLESSINGS 1981

“Pray you’re not blessed”

Director Wes Craven delves into American rural Gothic horror

After her husband Jim an ex-Hittite (Doug Barr) who has been shunned by his people for having moved away, and marrying an outside. One night after they’ve moved back near the neighboring sect, Jim goes outside to find the word Incubus painted on their barn, and then is mysteriously crushed to death by his tractor. A series of grisly murders ensues mostly in broad daylight, as Jim’s widow Martha Schmidt (Maren Jensen) feels increasingly threatened by the sinister neighboring religious community led by the enigmatic Isaiah Schmidt (Ernest Borgnine) who seems to be fanatically obsessed with the idea that Martha is an ‘incubus’ and must be dealt with fire and brimstone!

Deadly Blessing also plants a figure of a dated trope–the ambiguous gender & sexuality of one of the characters. That trope, stems from a time when gay or transgendered characters were represented as obsessive, neurotic & at times, dangerous. I don’t endorse this weak and disparaging area of the plot, yet I allow myself to experience Wes Craven’s provocative film as a slice of horror history from a decade that hadn’t gotten it quite right yet. Where the film could have taken a bold step in expanding on this subplot instead it is fueled by subversive incitement.

Craven’s film ultimately relies on the supernatural subtext that is fueling the horror and leaves the other theme to hang out there on it’s own to be (justifiably to some)- offensive. Too many films with gender fluid characters in past films, were represented by psychos, deviants and killers.

Deadly Blessings co-stars a young Sharon Stone, popular 70s actress (and one of my favorites) Lois Nettleton, Susan Buckner, Lisa Hartman and familiar Craven regular Michael Berryman. Directed by Wes Craven

Some IMDb Trivia

Sharon Stone’s first big speaking role in a theatrical feature.

The name of the isolated rural farm where the farmers and Hittites lived and worked was “Our Blessing”.

Wes Craven compared his work with actor Ernest Borgnine to John Carpenter’s work with Donald Pleasance in the original “Halloween”. He states that Borgnine was the first “big name actor” he had worked with and was at first intimidated by the actor.

Ernest Borgnine had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for a head injury following a mishap involving a horse and buggy. Moreover, Borgnine returned to the set to continue acting in the film three days later.

Actor Ernest Borgnine, who had won a Best Actor Academy Award for Marty (1955), which also was Borgnine’s only ever Oscar nomination, was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor for Deadly Blessing (1981), but lost out on the Razzie to Steve Forrest for Mommie Dearest (1981).

THE INCUBUS 1981

“The dreams. The nightmares. The desires. The fears. The mystery. The revelation. The warning: He is the destroyer”

WARNING: Though not overtly graphic Incubus is suggestive of rape. For anyone who might be triggered by sexual violence in film, I would advise for you to skip this portion of the post and/or the film entirely!

Back in the day when I read a lot of horror fiction, I have a vague recollection of Ray Russell’s (Mr. Sardonicus 1961, Premature Burial 1962, X-The Man with The X-Ray Eyes 1963), novel knocking me out with it’s supernatural mythology and it’s brutality. Of course when it was adapted to the screen in 1982 directed by John Hough (The Legend of Hell House 1973, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry 1974, The Watcher in the Woods 1980, American Gothic 1987) you know I was there with my milk duds, raisinets, popcorn and large icy cup of Pepsi expecting something powerful and Incubus collided with the accepted one-gendered fiend that I had grown up seeing within the constraints of a fairly “cultural conservative” as Carol Clover puts it, driven classical horror industry, stories like werewolves, vampires, mummies, phantoms and mad doctors turned into vile fiends.

As Carol Clover states in her Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film-“stories that stem from the one-sex era, and for all their updating, they still carry with them, to a greater or lesser degree, a premodern sense of sexual difference…}…{and some people are impossible to tell apart (the figure in God Told Me To who is genitally ambiguous -the doctor did not know what sex to assign, the pubescent girl in Sleepaway Camp who turns out to be a boy, the rapist in The Incubus whose ejaculate consists of equal parts of semen and menstrual blood.”

Incubus is a supernatural film that sneaks into the 80s but carries with it the demonology sensibility of the early-mid 1970s, The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976). Adapted from Ray Russell’s disquieting novel about a demon with an dangerously sized phallus who can incarnate in human form, committing several savage sexual assaults and murders in the small California town of Galen. John Cassavetes plays Dr. Sam Cordell who examines the survivor of one of the assaults and is disturbed by the violence of the attack, learning that her uterus has been ruptured. When the local librarian is killed, John Ireland is his usual brackish self this time playing Sheriff Hank Walden and team up believing that these brutal attacks are the work of only one perpetrator and not a gang. Kerrie Keane plays a reporter Laura Kincaid who insinuates herself into the investigation and begins an affair with Sam. Erin Flannery plays Sam’s young teenage daughter Jenny who is dating Tim Galen (Duncan McIntosh) who has nightmarish visions of the attacks while he is in a sleeping state. His Grandmother Agatha (Helen Hughes -Storm of the Century 1999 tele-series) tries to convince her Grandson that he is not responsible for these horrible events, but she knows more than she is telling, about the arcane secret the town is hiding and the true history of the venerable family name of Galen.

NIGHT SCHOOL 1981

A is for Apple B is for Bed C is for Co-ed D is for Dead F is for Failing to keep your Head!

Aka known as Terror Eyes

Night School has an unnerving tone, an almost oppressive atmosphere that looms over the film. The 80s was fertile for the slasher films that were popping up in variations of the same narrative, using different methods of death as the centerpiece to highlight the story. In this film, a mysterious killer is decapitating students at a night school for women. I won’t reveal the killer, but I will say that there is misogyny afoot. Originally picked to direct was Alfred Sole, best known for his phenomenal psychological horror masterpiece Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) which would have most definitely improved on the depressing aura the film give off. Directed by Ken Hughes who wrote the screenplays for The Trials of Oscar Wilde 1960 and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968. He direction was superior in the dark and dogged Wicked As They Come 1956 starring Arlene Dahl and Phillip Carey.

Night School stars Rachel Ward, Leonard Mann and Drew Snyder.

ALONE IN THE DARK 1982

“They’re out… for blood! Don’t let them find you!”

Along in the Dark is a highly charged psycho thriller that wants to be a black comedy. The inmates on let loose upon an unsuspecting town and mayhem ensues when they target the home of Pleasance’s (Dr. Leo Bain) therapist Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) psychiatrist. During a statewide black out, a group of 3 particularly nasty homicidal maniacs get free from their maximum security ward at the mental Institution and set out on an adventure. Alone in the Dark opens with Donald Pleasance as a short order cook who has gone berserk and wielding a meat cleaver. Martin Landau is splendid as crazed Byron ‘Preacher’ Sutcliff who likes to set things on fire. Then there’s Erland Van Lidth (from The Wanderers 1979) as a sex maniac Ronald “fatty” Elster with a penchant for younger kids. The best psycho next to Landau, is Jack Palance. The Special Effects are by Tom Savini.

Alone in the Dark is a frenetic ride and you must watch out for the scene when Preacher insists he wants the mailman’s on the bicycle’s hat!

CREEPSHOW 1982

“The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have… BEING SCARED!”

An anthology which tells five terrifying tales based on the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s. Directed by George A. Romero, with the original screenplay by Stephen King. Stars include Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Stephen King,

HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH 1983

After the failure of Halloween II (1978) to excite people at the box office, John Carpenter decided to put a different twist on the creepy goings on for Halloween III (1983) and adapt a script from Nigel Kneale who wrote the Quartermass series, who removed his name from the credits, leaving Tommy Lee Wallace as the writer. I do not hate this film in the way that other fans do. I rather like the odd and malevolent tone of the film, like a dark Halloween fairy tale journey. The idea, children all over America can not wait to get their hands on 3 frightfully popular offerings of rubber masks for Halloween. The jingle for the TV ad alone is enough to send suspicious shivers up a more discerning eye. There is a plot run by an old Druid toy-maker (Dan O’Herlihy) who is perfectly menacing and wants to actually harm the children once they wear the deadly masks, in order to bring back the olden days of black witchcraft and magic. There’s also a sense of a vengeful bitter spirit in Conal Cochran (O’Herlihy) toward consumerism and the misguided exploitation of Halloween.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch also stars Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin.

THE SENDER 1982

“Your dreams will never be the same.”

This is British director Roger Christian’s first feature film he had worked as assistant art director on the tense thriller And Soon the Darkness (1970)

The Sender works on so many levels, first of all it stars an impressive cast of accomplished actors, Shirley Knight, Kathryn Harrold and Zelijko Ivanek. 

From Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies talks about the trend that began with Brian DePalma’s Carrie (1976) “created a briefly popular horror movie sub-genre, the ‘Psichopath’ film. Damien Thorn and Carrie White, like Jim Hutton in Psychic Killer (1975), Alan Bates in The Shout (1978), Lisa Pelikan in Jennifer (1978) Robert Thompson in Patrick (1979) and Robert Powell in Harlequin (1979) are ‘Psichopaths’, seemingly ordinary individuals with hidden, awesome paranormal powers. The wish fulfillment fantasy element of the Psichopath film is obvious.The usual formula finds the Psichopath humiliated, abused and pushed beyond endurance, whereupon immense mental powers are unleashed in an orgy of mass destruction.”

I would also include Brian DePalma’sThe Fury (1978) featuring Amy Irving who possesses the psycho-kinetic powers.

When The Sender (Ivanek) is sent to an Institution after a public suicide attempt, psychiatrist Kathryn Harrold as Gail Farmer realizes that he possesses the ability to channel his frightening and often volatile visions to receptive people on the psyche ward. There are truly enigmatic hallucinatory segments of the film which creates real apprehension and shivers. One particular scene where they are juicing Ivanek with electro shock therapy, his mental waves send a storm of havoc through his personal pain. In the midst of this theme there lies an even dark more disturbing element to the story. There are ghostly visitations from his creepy mother played by the amazing Shirley Knight as Jerolyn.

I have followed Shirley Knight’s underrated and outstanding career from her divine performance as Polly in Sidney Lumet’s The Group (1966), tv series Naked City 1962, The Eleventh Hour 1963, as the gently Noelle Anderson in The Outer Limits 1963 episode The Man Who Was Never Born co-starring Martin Landau. The Defenders 1964, The Fugitive 1964-66, Petulia 1968, The Rain People 1969, The Bold Ones, Circle of Fear, Streets of San Fransisco 1973, Medical Center, Marcus Welby, M.D, Murder, She Wrote, Law & Order 1991 and more… The gravity with each of Knight’s performances has a quality that draws you into her orbit –experiencing her as genuine and engaging. Even as the wraith like mother figure who comes calling on her son- The Sender, Knight makes you believe in the low-key, spine-chilling moments on screen. She is the catalyst to The Sender’s secret dilemma.

At times The Sender sends it’s universe into mayhem, at other times it’s a very creepy, restrained atmospheric horror story that is perhaps one of the best films of the 1980s.

CURTAINS 1983

The one impression I took away from Curtains is the iconic sinister hag mask that the killer wears and the scythe or sickle they wield as they creepily skated across the small pond. It’s the kind of moment from a moment that stays in the brain forever!

This stylish Canadian horror film is directed by cinematographer Richard Ciupka (Atlantic City 1980) Curtains stars John Vernon as the typically caustic alpha male Jonathan Stryker director and British Scream Queen Samantha Eggar  (The Collector 1965, Doctor Doolittle 1967, The Dead Are Alive 1972, A Name For Evil 1973, All The Kind Strangers 1974, The Seven Per-Cent Solution 1976, The Brood 1979) who plays Samantha Sherwood an actress who has always gotten top billing in Stryker’s works and in his bed. Samantha believes she is getting the role of a lifetime, the chance to play ‘Audra’ in his next film. Stryker insists that Samantha inhabit the role, to bring out the realism of Audra’s character by having herself committed to an asylum as background research. (It seems Audra was a psychiatric patient.) Stryker is a sadist and leaves Samantha in the hospital for an indeterminate amount of time, while he auditions other young actresses- each who have their own motivations for desperately wanting the part.

Samantha escapes her confinement and goes back to the menacing old mountain cabin during a snow storm, where Stryker is putting the various women through their acting trials.

Interesting that the character of Samantha in studying the mindset of a mentally ill woman, becomes too well aware of insanity during her own ordeal. The film does a particularly effective job of projecting the intensity that actors experience when trying to lose themselves in a role, keeping their footing in reality.

At the center of this interesting chamber piece is the psychopath in a nightmarish old hag mask who begins killing off the women!

Curtains also stars Linda Thorson (Tara King in The Avengers 1968-69), Anne Ditchburn, Lynne Griffin (Black Christmas 1974) Sandee Currie, Lesleh Donaldson, and Deborah Burgess. 

According to Mark Allan Gunnells in his essay in Hidden Horror edited by Aaron Christensen-Curtains took 3 years to make it to it’s release due to reshoots and rewrites. “It is suggested that a lot of the problems stemmed from producer Peter Simpson who, having produced the Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Prom Night, wanted another straight forward horror flick. Director Richard Ciupka, on the other hand, chose to go against the established slasher grain, bringing more European sensibility to the production. The original screenplay even had a supernatural element, with a creature designed (but never used) by makeup legend Greg Cannom (…) As Gunnells points out about the films many chilling scenes, a few that stand out are the dream sequence with a creepy life size doll and the chase scene that involves a hiding place that winds up becoming a “deathtrap.”

 

This is Your EverLovin’ MonsterGirl sayin’ See ya round the snack bar! Save me a big box of Raisinets!