VHS Revival brings you all the box office and rental happenings from February
February would get off to a bang for horror fans. Both released on the same day, supernatural horror The Entity and David Cronenberg’s tech-oriented body horror Videodrome would go head-to-head at the US Box Office. Directed by Palm D’or nominated director Sidney J. Furie (The Ipcress File), The Entity is based on the real-life Doris Bither case and tells the story of a malevolent poltergeist who purportedly raped and tormented her for years.
The movie was the subject of much controversy due to its unsettling sexual nature, and scenes in which the entity forced protagonist Carla Moran to have incestuous thoughts about her young son were cut from the final edit. Barbara Hershey gives a harrowing performance as the blighted Miss Bither, a single mother forced to defend her kids from an unseen evil in a film Martin Scorsese called ‘one of the scariest horror movies ever made’.
The Entity would prove something of a comeback for Hershey following her ‘eccentric’ ’70s period. The actress would spend the first half of the decade indulging in oddball projects with real-life spouse David Carradine, leading to a hippy stigma that would see her reduced to made-for-TV roles by the latter part of the decade. The Entity would prove a turning point, leading to roles in Philip Kaufman’s Tom Wolfe adaptation The Right Stuff and Barry Levinson’s American sports drama The Natural.
Not to be outdone in the freaky stakes, Videodrome was quite the oddity for moviegoers back in the early 1980s. Starring James Woods and Debbie Harry, the movie is a warped satire on television as a tool of indoctrination. Described as ‘techno-surrealist’, Videodrome tells the story of Max Renn, a sleazy television executive who peddles softcore porn and graphic violence to the station’s small yet loyal fanbase. Renn is looking for the next big thing when he stumbles across the titular Videodrome, a surreal banquet of violent S&M that threatens to bleed into reality, turning harmless compulsion into politically motivated assassination.
Made during the infamous ‘video nasty’ scandal, the movie is also a timely commentary on the precarious boundaries of entertainment and civil liberties. Proclaimed as the “A Clockwork Orange of the 1980s” by avante garde pop artist Andy Warhol, the movie would later become the subject of real-life political scandal after Asian actor David Tsubouchi, by that time a Minister in the Ontario provincial government, was discredited by opposition members for his brief role as a Japanese porn dealer and associate of Renn.
Due to its peculiar presentation, Videodrome did poor numbers at the box office, recouping less than half of its $5,952,000 budget, a mainstream curse that would finally be broken after the release of the director’s 1986 horror remake The Fly. By contrast, the much more marketable ‘Entity’ would rake in almost $14,000,000.
Mid-February saw another box office failure in Martin Scorsese’s black satire The King of Comedy. Starring Scorsese mainstay Robert De Niro, the movie tells the story of a desperate comedian forced into kidnapping his idol (Jerry Lewis) in order to land the big break which has so far eluded him.
An acerbic take on the dangers of celebrity, the movie derives its comedy from bleak misfortune, proving something of a turnoff for the movie-going public. Three years later the director would revisit the formula for New York odyssey After Hours, a movie that would prove a bigger box office draw.
Though Scorsese would describe the movie’s production as an “unsettling experience” that led he and got-to star De Niro to part ways for the best part of the decade, he would later claim that The King of Comedy was the actor’s best performance under his direction in a catalogue that included modern classics Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. The two would reunite in 1990 for gangster epic Goodfellas, a movie that would revolutionise the genre and cinema as a whole.
Another comedic failure to hit the theatres that week was Jeremy Kagan’s The Sting II. Sequel to the Robert Redford/Paul Newman classic The Sting, the movie stars Jackie Gleason as legendary con Fargo Gondorff, who is released from prison and sets about seeking vengeance for the murder of his old friend Kid Colors. Incredibly, Oliver Reed had turned down the role of Doyle Lonnegan in the original movie, a part that would eventually go to Jaws‘ Robert Shaw.
Although the movie received an Academy Award nomination for Best Musical Score (Lalo Schifrin), it was panned by audiences and critics alike, in spite of acquiring the services of the late Oliver Reed and spending a truck load of money. A virtual retread of the conmen unite formula, the movie has become something of a forgotten relic in the years since its release.
Jason Lives! director Tom McLoughlin would release his big-screen debut One Dark Night. The antithesis of his meta-infused Jason Voorhees splatterfest, the movie is a slow-burning supernatural horror set inside a mausoleum, where a group of teenagers attempt to survive the night as part of a high school initiation after an occultist returns from the dead to haunt them.
One Dark Night stars a young Meg Tilly, who puts in a fine performance as high school heroine Julie Wells, one that can largely be accredited to the actress’ reaction to filming in a real life mausoleum. Scenes in which she is visibly hysterical are often genuine, and would invariably be followed by cool down periods which allowed Tilly to collect herself and prepare for the next scene. Batman‘s Adam West also makes an appearance.
Aimed at a younger audience, One Dark Night would draw comparisons to Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist — strange, since it was actually filmed before that movie, only to have its release delayed due to problems during post-production. One Dark Night was later Nominated for the Best Low-Budget Film of 1983 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, an award given to Sam Raimi’s soon-to-be-banned ‘video nasty’ The Evil Dead. Ironically, Poltergeist would land the gong for Best Horror Film.
Also released that week was underrated drama Betrayal. An adaptation of Harold Pinter’s 1978 play, the film is the semi-autobiographical story of a slow-building attraction between a man and his best friend’s wife. Starring future Academy Award winners Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley, the movie is told from the husband’s point of view and is presented in reverse chronological order.
The movie was based on screenwriters Harold Pinter’s years long extramarital affair with British TV presenter Joan Bakewell, a woman comedy writer Frank Muir described as “the thinking man’s crumpet”, a label that in many ways would come to define her. The affair would lead to the breakdown of both of their marriages. Praised by critics across the board, the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
Top Video Rentals
Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist would dominate the rental charts in February, spending the entire month glued to the number 1 spot. Produced by Steven Spielberg, the supernatural thriller surrounded by real-world tragedy would prove one of the most successful movies of the year, spawning a whole batch of horror-through-appliances imitators such as Pulse and Demons 2.
Blessed with spectacular special effects, the movie tells the story of the Freeling family, whose home is invaded by a supernatural spirit intent on kidnapping their young daughter via a portal to another dimension. Carol Anne Freeling was played by the late Heather O’Rourke, who in 1988 would mysteriously pass away from cardiac arrest at the age of 12, but this was not the only Poltergeist-related tragedy. In November of 1982, just months after the movie’s release, actress Dominique Dunne, who played eldest Freeling daughter Dana, was brutally strangled by her abusive boyfriend and died after 5 days on life support.
Rocky III would spend the whole of February trailing at number 2 in the charts. Sylvester Stallone’s third outing as the ‘Italian Stallion’, the movie would reflect Sly’s real-life woes as Rocky loses sight of his roots due to fame and fortune, giving up the professional ranks to take part in a charity match with wrestling champion ‘Thunderlips’ (Hulk Hogan). Inevitably, Rocky rediscovers his passion for boxing just in time to vanquish young and hungry competitor Clubber Lang, who was played by motormouth A-Team star Mr. T. T’s mother would famously storm out of the premiere after witnessing Lang’s foul-mouthed tirade against Rocky’s fictional wife Adrian. Sometimes, you really do have to pity the fool.
Stallone’s colossal ego would later be dented when the nine foot tall bronze Rocky statue, placed atop the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, was rejected by the museum as a “movie prop” when donated by the actor, sparking a dispute between the institution and the City’s Art Commission about what constituted ‘art’, leading Sly to throw in the proverbial towel.
Despite this minor blemish on the character’s legend, the third Rocky instalment would prove a monumental success, grossing an incredible $125,049,125 at the box office. The movie is also famous for smash hit title song ‘Eye of the Tiger’, which would top the billboard charts for six consecutive weeks, earning songwriters Survivor an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Walt Disney’s cult science-fiction Adventure Tron would also remain in the top 5 for the entire month of February. More than half a decade in the making, the movie was initially inspired by video game Pong before taking the form of a short feature. Director Steven Lisberger would use live-action elements with both backlit and computer animation to achieve the movie’s iconic look.
Notable high-charting new releases for February would include Moonraker and Friday the 13th Part III. First released in 1979, Roger Moore’s fourth outing as James Bond would be rushed into production in order to capitalise on the unprecedented popularity of Star Wars, a move that would result in a curiously paced, largely uneven production with a final act that feels at odds with both the rest of the movie and the series at large.
For some, Moore’s record-equalling tenure as the irrepressible super spy is a low point due to a shift in tone that went away from author Ian Fleming’s no-nonsense portrayal, relying instead crude innuendo and eyebrow-raising quips, and though I don’t agree with those people, Moonraker is arguably the biggest case in point, particularity with its decision to bring Richard Keil’s metal-mouthed henchman Jaws back into the fray as a bumbling Bond ally smitten with an unlikely love.
Luckily for Moore, director John Glen would take over the franchise two years later, casting Moore in the decidedly more hard-edged For Your Eyes Only, a straight-up espionage thriller which proved the sobering antithesis to Moonraker’s derivative space-bound antics.
Following Steve Miner’s first Jason-led Friday the 13th instalment Friday the 13th Part II, the series would turn to the Reagan-era 3-D fad in order to freshen the faltering slasher sub-genre and invigorate their budding franchise, and it worked. Though the series would see dwindling returns, it would go on to boast an unprecedented nine sequels, with a Freddy vs Jason crossover and a post-millennial reboot thrown in for good measure.
Though crammed with laughable instances of three-dimensional non-terror, the movie would prove one of the most graphic in the series, beating the subsequent censorship backlash by a matter of months, and would also prove a landmark entry for the evolution of the Jason character, bringing him out of the POV shadows and marking his transition from villain to antihero. Part 3 would also see Jason procure his iconic hockey mask from prankster Shelly, without which the series would have long-since perished.