A duck named Howard, coming of age classics and the return of two of horror’s biggest icons, VHS Revival brings you all the retro movie news from August ’86
After the creative disaster that was 1985‘s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, many feared it was the final curtain for the indomitable Jason Voorhees. Boy were they wrong! A year prior, Paramount had released Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, a movie that promised to put an end to the series amid the horror censorship frenzy of the early 1980s. Respected critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert called bullshit, claiming that Paramount’s declaration was merely a cynical marketing gimmick, and despite the fact that cast and crew members genuinely believed that to be the case, you just knew there was more to come from the slasher genre’s taboo poster boy. There was simply too much money to be made from such a proven low-risk venture.
The ruse that prolonged Jason’s journey was the introduction of an impostor killer who irked a large portion of Jason’s loyal fan base. The initial idea was to have franchise mainstay Tommy Jarvis take the mantle but that was ultimately scrapped in favour of Jason’s long-awaited return. Those who preferred Jason’s earlier, dead-eyed incarnation took offence to the character’s sillier resurgence, which for the most part is understandable, but Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives proved a cut above in those stakes, it’s knowing meta approach revitalising a moribund series. At least temporarily.
Transforming Jason into a a modern-day Universal monster of invincible proportions, Jason Lives boasts easily the best screenplay in the entire series with its self-aware approach and a cast that was well and truly in on the joke. Starring Return of the Living Dead‘s Thom Matthews as the returning Jarvis, the movie sees Jason return to the newly christened Forest Green in search of his usual annual slaughter, the logic behind the name change being that the scrapping of the fabled Camp Crystal Lake would lay to rest a long-buried Jason’s memory. National hypnosis would have been a more feasible and effective method.
Emmy Award winning comedy writer McLoughlin was insistent that the sixth instalment would work better with a returning Jason rather than having Tommy as Friday the 13th‘s new marquee killer, and long-time producer Frank Mancuso Jr. was happy to let the former professional mime have his way as long as he cast an attractive blonde as the film’s time-honoured final girl (this really was the 80s!). That blonde came in the form of Jennifer Cooke’s Megan Garris, who would prove one of the most independent and resourceful final girls of the entire series.
Jason was originally portrayed by stuntman Dan Bradley, who McLoughlin canned having decided that he wasn’t right for Jason’s evolution, though the film’s paintball scene, shot using Bradley, would remain in the final cut due to budget and time restrictions. Bradley was replaced by former nightclub owner C.J. Graham, who ironically was axed in favour of fan favourite and series stalwart Kane Hodder for Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood two years later, much to the actor’s dismay, though he was given the honour of starring in Alice Cooper’s music video for “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, a pop music tie-in that was chosen as the movie’s theme as producers looked to tap into the booming MTV market.
As Graham would explain in an interview with The Daily Dead, “…I was fortunate to do a photo session with Alice Cooper. I got some great photos with Alice Cooper, choking him and going through everything. That was the nice thing about Part VI: Tom McLaughlin did a great job, we had future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Alice Cooper doing music. We’ve got Jason wearing a utility belt like Batman. Jason comes back to life like Frankenstein’s monster, and we have the famous opening scene like James Bond. How cool is that? I’m very fortunate to have been in Part VI and done my contribution to the overall series.”
Though many fans regard Jason Lives as one of the superior instalments in the series, the movie would post what was then its lowest numbers to date with a worldwide box office return of $19,472,057, a fact that Mancuso attributed to A New Beginning‘s underhanded twist.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Actually, it’s the former, and not just any bird, but a hyper-intelligent, anthropomorphic duck from the planet Duckworld, the plucky star of what many, at least back in 1986, considered one of the worst movies to ever see the light of day. Howard the Duck must also be considered one of the strangest comic book adaptations ever realised, even in today’s oversaturated Marvel and DC cinematic universe, which has given us everything from Man-Thing to Ant-Man in its quest to squeeze every last buck out of the superhero-loving public.
Based on the DC comic book series of the same name and promoted as “Howard: A New Breed of Hero”, Howard the Duck was originally set to be an animated movie, which probably would have made a tad more sense, though contractual obligations pushed the George Lucas produced oddity into the realms of live action, recruiting an all-star cast that included Back to the Future‘s Lea Thompson (Boy, was she pretty), ‘Ferris Bueller”s Jeffrey Jones and future ‘Shawshank’ alumni Tim Robbins. The Howard character, who was adapted in a way that made him more friendly and less obnoxious than his illustrated counterpart, would famously make an appearance during the post-credits scene of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy almost 28 years to the day of Howard the Duck‘s original theatrical release.
As far as plots go, Howard the Duck isn’t exactly the most cerebral. The story of a PlayDuck-reading, cigar-chomping, guitar-playing, totally bodacious duck who crash lands on Earth and attempts to return home while battling a fellow alien known as The Dark Overlord, the film also features one of the most cringe-inducing sex scenes in all of cinema, Lea Thompson’s 80s rock chic, Beverly Switzler, jumping into bed with her feathered friend and attempting to seduce him until Howie sees sense and prevents her from unleashing her bazoongas. As a kid, I’d never been so simultaneously confused and disappointed in all my life.
Reports at the time suggested that Lucas, who had just purchased the famous Skywalker Ranch complex, was depending on the movie to be a hit and was forced to sell off assets when the opposite inevitably occurred. Enter friend and Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs, who would purchase Lucasfilm’s newly-founded CGI animation division for a price well above market value. A fortunate and somewhat obscene gesture that maintained the filthy rich producer’s vast wealth. Jobs wouldn’t do too badly out of the deal either, as that particular division would one day become Pixar Animation Studios.
This being a Lucas production, the movie wasn’t scared to splash the cash either, despite its somewhat low-key feel. Hiring James Bond’s John Barry to compose the score (though some of the material was later replaced with compositions by Serbian-born, Hungarian recording artist Sylvester Levay), the film would utilise various costumes, puppets and animatronic suits for multiple ducks that would explode or lose feathers throughout, and several scenes were ultimately re-shot after director Willard Huyck, who struggled to coordinate the shoot owing to copious puppeteers, realised that the effects weren’t up to scratch, particularly during scenes in which the inside of the puppet’s neck was visible.
Howard was originally portrayed by a child actor until conditions saw Lucas and Huyck turn to dwarf actor Ed Gale, who was originally employed to perform the character’s stunts until landing the gig full-time. After auditioning the likes of John Cusack, Robin Williams and Martin Short to voice Howard, that particular honour eventually fell to Chip Zien, who is best known for playing the lead role of the Baker in Stephen Sondheim’s original Broadway production of Into the Woods. In line with the film’s difficult production, Zien was cast after the shoot, the dialogue synchronised as part of the editing process.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Howard the Duck barely managed to break even with a domestic gross of $16,295,774 and a cumulative worldwide gross of $37,962,774.
1986 would prove a seminal year for fans of anime, especially for admirers of Hayao Miyazaki and the world famous Studio Ghibli, which would release its first animated film on August 6 for Japanese publisher Tokuma Shoten. Miyazaki would soon become known as the “Japanese Walt Disney”. As well as producing he would also write, direct and even animate a vast catalogue of some of the most beautiful and extraordinary animation films the industry has ever known.
Castle in the Sky or Hepburn: Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta, known as Laputa: Castle in the Sky in Europe and Australia, is a fantasy-adventure film about a young orphan girl at the centre of a struggle for a mystical crystal pendant. The pendant, or amulet, holds the key to magical floating cities, which are threatened by an evil government agent and his pursuing army and their plans to conquer the world. Saved by the amulet’s magic powers during a battle between Agent Muska and Captain Dola and her air pirate offspring, protagonist Sheeta finds herself in a small mining town where she and fellow orphan Pazu encounter local eccentric Uncle Pomme, who informs them of the pendant’s mysterious powers. The flying island Laputa was also a setting for Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels, though Miyazaki has since admitted he would have chosen another name had he known that “la puta” actually translates to “the whore” in Spanish. One would certainly hope so.
Some of the movie’s architecture was actually inspired by Miyazaki’s trip to a Welsh mining town two years earlier and its residents’ real-life battles with Margaret Thatcher’s unscrupulous Conservative government, who would leave a generation of workers unemployed and homeless as she set about dismantling workers’ unions and strengthening private power. Miyazaki, who experienced the miner’s strikes first-hand, spoke of his admiration for those standing up to government oppression.
“I was in Wales just after the miners’ strike. I really admired the way the miners’ unions fought to the very end for their jobs and communities, and I wanted to reflect the strength of those communities in my film,” Miyazaki would explain in a 2008 interview with The Guardian. “I admired those men, I admired the way they battled to save their way of life, just as the coal miners in Japan did. Many people of my generation see the miners as a symbol; a dying breed of fighting men. Now they are gone.”
A visually lush production of boundless imagination tied to very real social issues, Castle in the Sky would claim the 1986 Animage Anime Grand Prix and is now regarded as one of the most perfect animation films ever produced, heavily influencing modern Japanese culture, as well as proving the inspiration for various movies internationally. Castle in the Sky would go on to make an incredible $157,000,000 in box office, home video and soundtrack sales.
August 8 would see the release of Savage Steve Holland and John Cusacks’ second and last collaboration after an infamously tumultuous relationship. The story of a failed basketball hopeful and aspiring cartoonist who comes to the aid of a female rock singer’s family under threat from property developers, One Crazy Summer, co-starring a young Demi Moore as love interest Cassandra Eldridge, was universally panned for its uneven execution and reliance on puerile absurdity, as well as some poorly received animation flourishes.
A year prior, the same criticisms had been levelled at the pair’s previous collaboration, Better Off Dead, a movie that Cusack was so disappointed with he had walked out of a screening, angrily confronting Holland and telling him that the film, “was the worst thing I have ever seen.” Adding, “I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don’t speak to me.” Both movies have since been established as cult favourites, something that Holland takes immense pride in.
Holland’s movies were not helped by respected critics Siskel and Ebert, who were so critical of Better Off Dead that the two animated bunnies which explode at the end of the movie bear a striking resemblance to the late At the Movies co-hosts, and not by coincidence. Ebert, who neglected to review One Crazy Summer, would say of it’s predecessor, “There’s an old legend in show business that you’ll never have a hit if you put the words Death or Dead in a title. Well, that’s not always the case, for example, look at Night of the Living Dead or Death of a Salesman, but it’s certainly true about a new comedy named Better Off Dead, which is one of the most appropriate titles I’ve heard in a long time.” Ouch!
Other reviews for One Crazy Summer were a little less harsh, Pat Graham of the Chicago Reader describing it as, “Not a bad film, and certainly more polished than Holland’s Better Off Dead debut.” One Crazy Summer would also fare marginally better at the box office, managing a worldwide gross of $13,431,806 to Better Off Dead‘s $10,300,000.
Sociopolitical powerhouse Spike Lee would make his feature debut on August 8 with the stylish, low-budget romantic comedy She’s Gotta Have It, a movie shot in 12 days without the luxury of retakes. Lee would cut his directing, writing and producing teeth with his hour-long student film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads in 1983, a movie assisted by future Oscar winner Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) and Ernest R. Dickerson (Juice), who took on the roles of assistant director and cinematographer, respectively.
Having been taught by the legendary Martin Scorsese at NYU, Lee would take a leaf out of Raging Bull‘s book for his first theatrical endeavour, shooting She’s Gotta Have It almost entirely in black and white, and would undergo various edits in order to attain an R-rating having initially been shackled with the dreaded X-rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) due to the original cut’s explicit sexual content.
The story of Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), a young Brooklynite playing the field with three potential suitors who all want her for themselves, the movie starred Lee and would explore notions of female sexual liberation, defying the woman’s role as male possession. In 2019, the movie that launched the filmmaker’s incredible decades long career was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being, ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.
Due to Brooklyn’s vastly altered landscape in the decades since its release, Lee would reboot She’s Gotta Have It as a TV show in 2018, which would run for two seasons on Netflix before ultimately being cancelled. Lee would say of the project in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2017, “I have a love-hate relationship with New York City, and the love will always exceed the hate. There are pros and cons to gentrification in Fort Greene now, where I grew up. Garbage is picked up regularly, there’s a police presence, and the public schools are a lot better than when I went. The question is always: why did the neighborhood have to change for that to happen? And, then, the thing that is not really probed is: what happened when people got displaced?”
Made on a budget of $175,000 acquired through the New York State Council of the Arts, various grants and further assistance from Lee’s family and a cast working for deferred payments, the film would prove fairly successful for such a low-risk financial venture, managing a not-too-shabby $7,137,502 domestically.
For any kid of the 1980s and beyond, August 1986 was a very special month for movies based on the release of one film. Adapted from Stephen King’s 1982 novella ‘The Body’, Rob Reiner’s growing pains cultural phenomenon Stand By Me proved one of the most nostalgic movies of any era, communicating with kids on the verge of adolescence like nothing before, and arguably since.
Set in King’s ubiquitous fictional town of Castle Rock and principally filmed on location in Brownsville, Oregon, Stand By Me tells the story of four conflicted kids caught in their own domestic traps who set off to find the body of a young boy their age. Motivated by the promise of freedom and adventure, Gordy, Chris, Teddy and Verne discover much more than they bargained for, returning to stark self-realisation and a small town that will never be the same again.
Buoyed by the re-release of Ben E. King’s deeply sentimental smash hit of the same name, Stand by Me benefited from one of the most talented young casts of the era, with particularly exceptional performances from Kiefer Sutherland as Castle Rock scourge Ace Merrill and the late River Phoenix as social scapegoat Chris Chambers, whose emotional breakdown while spilling his guts to best friend Gordie Lachance (Will Wheaton) is simply mesmerising. Key to the cast’s prodigious turns was director Rob Reiner, who was renown for getting the best out of young talent, or as Sutherland put it, possessing the ability to, “allow you to discover a moment when in fact he’s telling it to you.” King himself would cite Stand By Me as the finest adaptation of his work he had ever seen.
The film’s young cast, who grew close during production, got up to their fair share of mischief off set, smoking reefer and throwing poolside furniture into the pool of a hotel. Wheaton would also tamper with arcade machines in the lobby so the rest of the gang could play for free, while Phoenix unwittingly covered Sutherland’s car in mud. In order to stay in character, Sutherland would bully the kids for real off camera, so maybe he deserved that one just a little.
Reviews for Stand By Me were surprisingly negative in some quarters. Walter Goodman of The New York Times would criticise the film’s “trite narrative”, writing, “Rob Reiner’s direction hammers in every obvious element in an obvious script. The shots of the small boys in the big outdoors are like advertisements for summer camp, and you’ve never seen so much handshaking, so there`s nothing natural in the way Reiner has overloaded his film with manufactured drama, hands placed meaningfully on shoulders, so many exchanges of understanding looks. What we are really seeing is the director looking constantly at his audience.”
Leading with the headline, ‘Trite Drama Trips Up’, The Chicago Tribune’s Dave Kehr was particularly damning, opining, “Stand by Me is a film of honorable ambitions severely compromised by a creeping show-biz phoniness… Inflating the action with inappropriate humor and excessive melodrama, Reiner seems much too anxious to sell his story. The show-biz embellishments end by turning a simple tale into something strained and synthetic.”
Leading with the much more positive headline, ‘Stand By Me is a Summer Standout’, Shelia Benson of The New York Times was instead full of praise, writing, “As directed by Rob Reiner, “Stand By Me” (selected theaters) is the summer’s great gift, a compassionate, perfectly performed look at the real heart of youth. It stands, sweet and strong, ribald, outrageous and funny, like its heroes themselves–a bit gamy around the edges, perhaps, but pure and fine clear through. It’s one of those treasures absolutely not to be missed.”
Made on a budget of approximately $8,000,000, Stand By Me would manage an impressive worldwide gross of $52,300,000
The 1980s saw the rise of cartoon/action figure tie-ins, a venture which, despite its cynical and calculated nature, was music to kids’ ears. For girls it was Pound Puppies, rock star Barbie variation Jem and The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, but young boys proved the main demographic, with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, GI Joe, M.A.S.K, and Nintendo’s own Captain N: The Game Masters filling Christmas lists across the Western world thanks to an unhealthy diet of Saturday morning cartoons, but topping that list for many was Hasbro’s polymorphic robot warriors, Transformers… robots in disguise!
In recent years, Transformers has been… ahem!… transformed into a CGI-heavy, live-action franchise thanks to director Michael Bay, whose films have raked in a combined $4.84 billion worldwide. 2007’s original got the series off to a semi-noble bang, though the sequels were… well, they weren’t great. In fact, they were pretty dire, but when you’re raking in that kind of scratch on such a consistent basis, producers couldn’t give a hoot, regardless of what audiences are expected to swallow.
Back in 1985, the Transformers animated series was at its commercial peak, so news of a feature length animated film came as little surprise, despite it being in many ways something of an innovative venture. Unsurprisingly, Hasbro, who saw the movie as yet another goldmine for toy sales, had more than a little input creatively, deciding which characters would be used and killed off. As producer and director Nelson Shin, who also produced the animated series, would explain in an interview with SFX magazine, “They created the story using characters that could best be merchandised for the film. Only with that consideration could I have freedom to change the storyline.”
Such executive meddling would usually leave alarm bells ringing, but Transformers: The Movie is so much more than your typical product-oriented cash-in, and the death of one of its lead characters, Optimus Prime, beautifully scored by Rocky IV composer Vince DiCola, was central to the film’s enduring power, at least in the eyes of watching tykes, many of whom experienced the tragedy of death for the very first time witnessing one of their favourite toys succumb to life’s cruellest inevitability.
Okay, so the movie is a bit of a mess, the plot absurdly convoluted, even for adults, but with a cast that includes Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Crothers and, in his final, posthumous role before his death during the film’s production, the late, great cinematic innovator Orson Welles, you’d have to have a heart of stone to not get sucked in by some of the movie’s dialogue. There is also the film’s rip-roaring 80s score to consider, with memorable contributions from DiCola, Stan Bush, NRG, Lion and Spectre General.
Despite the inevitable glut of negative reviews, Transformers: The Movie remains very special to a generation, though Hasbro would take a rather large hit at the box office, the company losing a combined $10,000,000 on the film and previous theatrical venture My Little Pony: The Movie.
My Little Pony: The Movie?! Must be a girl thing…
Future Wonder Years star and Nintendo shill Fred Savage would make his feature film debut on August 15 with The Last Starfighter director Nick Castle’s fantasy drama The Boy Who Could Fly. Castle is perhaps best known for playing the indomitable Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s 1978 indie smash Halloween, co-writing 1981‘s Escape From New York before finally pursuing a career in the director’s chair, though 1993‘s John Hughes-penned Dennis the Menace, while raking in an eye-watering $117,200,000 worldwide, would prove the death knell for his mainstream directing career going forward thanks to a slew of bad reviews.
The Boy Who Could Fly stars Jay Underwood as Eric Gibb, an autistic boy who dreams of flying after losing his parents in a plane crash and who touches everybody’s life, particularly 14-year-old Milly Michaelson (Lucy Deakins), who is able to relate to Eric after her terminally ill father takes his own life. Interestingly, Milly’s younger brother Louis (Savage) is seen playing the “Last Starfighter” video game in one scene in a nod to Castle’s debut. Castle, Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace also appear in brief cameos as a fictional band credited as The Coupe de Villes.
Inspired by Disney’s 1941 animated classic Dumbo, the movie focuses on love’s ability to break down the boundaries of a seemingly impenetrable condition, and would earn plaudits from such esteemed critics as Roger Ebert, who praised the film’s balance of happiness and heartbreak and its dead-on reflection of modern sensibilities, even comparing director Castle to the great Frank Capra.
Of the film, Ebert would write, “Here is a sweet and innocent parable about a boy who could fly – and about a girl who could fly, too, when the boy held her hand. The lesson the girl learns in this film is that anything is possible, if only you have faith. The movie could have been directed 50 years ago by Frank Capra, except that in the Capra version, the boy wouldn’t have been autistic and the girl wouldn’t have been grieving because of the recent suicide of her father, who was dying of cancer. Parables have harder edges these days.”
Playing in 39 theatres to a humble opening weekend of $204,461, The Boy Who Could Fly would manage a box office gross of $7,177,431.
On the subject of flying, though the movie would mercifully stop short of the act itself, the third week of August also marked the release of celebrated indie director David Cronenberg’s first mainstream smash The Fly, which managed to retain the filmmaker’s body horror origins while actually proving financially successful on a scale previously unattainable.
A practical effects-heavy remake of the 1958 kitsch sci-fi horror of the same name, the film would tap into the gore-heavy fancies of the day, but in typical Cronenberg fashion the movie’s true power was in its exploration of physical and emotional breakdown and the dangers of further experience beyond the confines of the human vessel. Three years earlier, the more cerebral Videodrome floundered on US shores, while his more conventional Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone, though proving marginally more successful financially, jeopardised the director’s vision to a large degree. With The Fly, Cronenberg and 20th Century Fox got the balance just right, thanks in no small part to a superior marketing campaign.
Starring Jeff Goldblum as a brilliant scientist transformed into a man/fly hybrid after a potentially world-altering experiment goes horribly wrong, the film would bag an Academy Award for Best Makeup (Chris Walas & Stephan Dupuis), though Goldblum, who many believe gave a career-high performance as the startlingly twitchy ‘Brundlefly’, was robbed of even a nomination — yet another example of the industry’s time-honoured snobbery towards the horror genre.
Released in the midst of an AIDS epidemic, many critics and film scholars were quick to cite Cronenberg’s exploration of physical decay as a commentary on the subject, something the filmmaker would later refute. “If you, or your lover, has AIDS, you watch that film and of course you’ll see AIDS in it, but you don’t have to have that experience to respond emotionally to the movie and I think that’s really its power,” Cronenberg would explain. “This is not to say that AIDS didn’t have an incredible impact on everyone and, of course, after a certain point, people were seeing AIDS stories everywhere, so I don’t take any offense that people see that in my movie. For me though, there was something about The Fly story that was much more universal: aging and death—something all of us have to deal with.”
As was the trend during the industry’s practical effects boom, many critics would write off the movie’s gross-out visuals. Caryn James of The New York Times would write, “The plot diminishes to: How can he possibly look worse? And should I watch? This is intense, all right, but not scary or sad, or even intentionally funny.” She was, however, full of praise for Goldblum’s performance, adding, “The one consistently strong element in the midst of Mr. Cronenberg’s haywire, tone-deaf direction is Jeff Goldblum’s performance, a just-controlled mania that fills the screen without threatening to jump off it.”
Managing $40,456,565 at the domestic box office and a further $20,172,594 internationally, The Fly would rake in $60,629,159 on a budget of approximately $15,000,000 and is still the highest-grossing film of Cronenberg’s mostly major studio-repellent career.
It’s rare that I see a sequel before an original movie, and even rarer that I prefer it, but that was certainly the case with Michael Mann’s exquisitely oppressive Manhunter, which I’m just dying to cover in long form. Okay, so the wildly successful Silence of the Lambs isn’t as formal a sequel as it is to Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the novel upon which Manhunter is based, but it does involve Hannibal Lecter, and once again he isn’t the main killer, and unlike Silence of the Lambs even the main star.
Sir Anthony Hopkins would immortalise the Lecter character with his devilishly whimsical turn, the sight of him bound and masked becoming one of the most iconic images in the horror genre. Silence of the Lambs would sweep the 64th Academy Awards with an impressive 7 nominations and 5 wins, including Best Actor for Hopkins and Best Actress for Jodie Foster, the movie quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon and leaving Mann’s movie and original Lecter Brian Cox firmly in the shadows. But that shouldn’t take away from Cox’s briefer, more muted turn, which is much less fanciful but just as terrifying, and as a result much more grounded and believable.
Mann’s neo-noir heavy, physiological thriller focuses on William Petersen’s retired FBI criminal profiler Will Graham, coaxed back into the fray to assist with the capture of a serial killer dubbed the “Tooth Fairy” (Tom Noonan in devastating form), and the long-term effects that such a profession can have. Central to Graham’s emotional troubles is Lecter (spelled Lecktor) himself, whom Mann was responsible for capturing after almost becoming a victim himself. Like Foster’s Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, Graham is forced to turn to Lecktor for assistance and in doing so must confront the demons of his past, an oppressive venture Mann captures quite sumptuously.
Key to the movie’s power is it’s astonishing soundtrack, a mostly diegetic myriad of muggy, era-specific rock that dominates throughout, featuring tracks from The Prime Movers, Shriekback, Red 7 and The Reds, but the film’s outstanding tracks, which didn’t appear on the OST’s original release and are used during the film’s credits, are Klaus Schulze’s stifling electronic mindfuck “Freeze” and Kitaro’s “Seiun + Hikari No Sono”, the kind of composition that rearranges stars and moves mountains. Released on vinyl and tape only, fans would have to wait until March 2010 for a CD release, making it one of the most sought after scores on the market for almost a quarter of a century.
Unlike Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter failed to make any critical or commercial waves, Mann’s trademark use of pastel colours and art-deco architecture deemed overly stylish, though time has proven kind to one of the filmmaker’s finest works. Manhunter would perform dismally at the box office, recouping just over half of its estimated $15,000,000 budget with a total gross of $8,620,929.
Nostalgia is cyclical. In recent years, it has also grown into a billion dollar industry, the Stranger Things inspired 80s revival leading to a resurgence of era-specific productions that tap into the childhoods of thirty-somethings across America, Europe, and perhaps even beyond. Back in the 1980s, it was the 1950s that stirred the sentimental juices, movies such as Back to the Future and Stand By Me capturing the imaginations of a whole other generation.
Another movie that tapped into the Rock N Roll era was Fred Dekker’s ode to B-movie schlock Night of the Creeps. Part 50s drive-in classic, part John Hughes teen comedy with a horror twist, Dekker’s self-aware romp features so many genre nods it becomes a joy simply identifying them, from characters named after famous horror directors such as Carpenter, Hooper and Raimi, to cute film references to, well, you get the idea…
An unholy matrimony of zombie flick, slasher and alien invasion movie, Night of the Creeps stars genre legend Tom Atkins as a hard-boiled detective who winds up on the trail of a fleet of alien brain parasites which set about turning a bunch of prom night teens into the walking dead. Alternate endings were also shot. The ending used for the film’s theatrical release sees high school beauty Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow) bending down to pet a dog, only for the presumed-dead parasites to leap from its mouth. The second, Dekker’s intended ending, instead sees a zombified Det. Ray Cameron (Atkins) lurching along a road smoking a cigarette, his head bursting open for the same shock twist. And yes, the intended version is much better.
Interestingly, Night of the Creeps wasn’t the first zombie movie Dekker penned, though his prior attempt, titled Shadow Company, failed to make it to production. The script in question was a joint venture between Dekker and future Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black and was set to be an action horror movie about a group of Vietnam vets brought back from the dead thanks to some seriously misguided government experiments. Black would later use the name Shadow Company as the moniker for Lethal Weapon‘s villainous pack of mercenaries. Although they didn’t count on one action cinema’s biggest hard asses in Mel Gibson’s merciless sniper and martial arts expert Martin Riggs.
Due partly to a limited release, Night of the Creeps would fare miserably at the box office with a domestic return of $591,366, which is surprising given horror’s stock at the time. Like much of Dekker’s work, it has since become a firm cult favourite among genre fans. And rightly so.
By 1986, renegade production company The Cannon Group’s stock had risen to such unforeseen heights that they even managed to snag Hollywood superstar Sylvester Stallone for the hugely successful Death Wish knock-off Cobra, as well as the not-so-successful, WWF-styled, trucker arm wrestling flick Over the Top. In typical Golan-Globus fashion, the company would bite off more than it could swallow. By the end of 1987, the company was facing bankruptcy due to a series of mainstream flops such as kitsch Star Wars derivative Masters of the Universe and the franchise-killing Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
As well as bagging a slew of well-known actors, producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus also managed to snag a couple of respected directors, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Tobe Hooper, who would pen a lucrative three-movie deal that included absurd genre mash Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), and the hugely divisive cult sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, resulting in one of the most peculiar periods in the career of such a high-profile filmmaker in recent memory.
To say that Hooper’s sequel deviated in tone from his oppressive, bare bones original is a huge understatement, the director turning to a typically deranged Dennis Hopper and off-the-wall black comedy to set the film apart — a necessity in avoiding the inevitable comparisons, even if Hooper maintained that the same humour was prevalent in the original. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 would even nab the composition of the iconic poster for John Hughes’ ‘Brat Pack’ teen drama The Breakfast Club, replacing the film’s MTV-styled youth with a rather familiar but wholly self-aware pack of bloodthirsty cannibals (see below), a dead-on symbol of the filmmaker’s intentions.
Hooper was originally only set to produce but the film’s budget determined otherwise. Cannon’s thrifty intentions also meant that original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen, who felt that his fee was too low, especially given that Golan-Globus retracted his agent fee after discovering that the actor didn’t have one, was replaced by Bill Johnson, though Bill Moseley’s exquisitely deranged “Chop Top” Sawyer would instead become the star of the show.
Cannon, who were looking for something much more conventional and marketable, were displeased with Hooper’s final product, a conflict that would see them part ways. Though the movie would almost double its $4,500,000 budget (a common return for Cannon’s relentless production machine), it was peanuts compared with other high-profile horror franchises of the time, a fact not helped by a particularly hard line in terms of censorship. Proving almost as controversial as Hooper’s original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was the subject of various appeals with censorship bodies from across the globe, as much as 25 minutes of material cut from some releases. The film was even banned outright in Australia for an incredible 20 years for its excessive use of violence, a concerted effort from Hooper, who saw the film as a commentary on 80s horror excess.
Is there really any other way to see it?