Scary Movies Continue to Haunt Hollywood
HOLLYWOOD (AP) _ A pale, wraith-like figure slithers from a mausoleum, blood dribbling from his rancid mouth. He swings a musty cape around his body, slowly turns to the camera and hisses.
Dracula’s fangs are unsheathed and audiences love it to the very depths of their screaming souls.
While other movies may bomb at the box office, the horror film has been grossing its way to success ever since Frankenstein’s monster was first jolted to life by Thomas A. Edison in 1903.
This season is no exception, with such Halloween treats as ″Deadly Friend,″ ″Chopping Mall″ and ″Dead of Winter″ ready to scare the popcorn out of audiences from Amityville to Elm Street.
Warner Bros. got a jump on the Halloween market with the Oct. 10 release of ″Deadly Friend,″ directed by Wes Craven (″Nightmare on Elm Street″). In its first weekend, the thriller sold an impressive $3.8 million worth of tickets.
What is the horror film’s deep, dark secret? They’re cheap to make and require no stars or lavish production, only clever direction and photography to create the illusion of menace.
But most of all, they have to be scary, said Steve White, president of production for New World Pictures, a major producer of terror. ″Sometimes you can add a little humor, but the important thing is the chill factor. The audience must see something on the screen they would never want to meet in real life.″
Among New World’s current offerings are: ″Hell Raiser,″ about a science fiction writer who encounters an evil presence in a London house; ″Creepshow II,″ more chilling tales from George Romero and Stephen King; ″Return to Horror High,″ some nasty happenings at a high school; and ″Flowers in the Attic,″ about three children locked in an attic by their widowed mother.
″There is a universal quality in the appeal of these movies,″ White said. ″They touch upon parts of our nightmares, which are elements of our collective unconscious. The main thing the films need is a terrific villain, whether it’s Jason in the ‘Friday the 13th’ series or Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘The Terminator.’ He must be relentless and unstoppable.″
Craven says the largest audience for fright fare is ″young, especially around colleges and with the dating crowd. When the movie gets scary, the girls grab the guys, and the guys like that.″
Charles Martin Smith, the nerd of ″American Grafitti,″ makes his directorial debut in ″Trick or Treat,″ this season’s screamer from the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. The film concerns a dead rock star who returns to terrorize a high school and town.
″I was never really a fan of the horror picture, but when I was a kid I liked watching the monster movies, the ones with an invincible Godzilla or Rodan that has to be stopped,″ he said.
Nearly every American has memories of being scared by a movie character as a child, whether it was the wicked witch in ″Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,″ Bela Lugosi in ″Dracula″ or Vincent Price in ″The House of Wax.″
From the earliest years of flickers, producers realized the movie’s unique capacity for scaring people. People screamed when a desperado fired a gun directly at the audience in the first important story film, ″The Great Train Robbery,″ in 1903.
That year, Thomas Edison created a monster with the making of ″Frankenstein. ″ It’s since been remade dozens of times, and Boris Karloff’s 1931 version became a film classic.
The Dracula legend was first explored in the German-made ″Nosferatu″ in 1921. ″Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde″ was first filmed in 1908, and there were five more before John Barrymore did a classic version in 1921.
The Germans made such classics in the ’20s as ″The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,″ ″The Cat and the Canary,″ ″M″ and ″Waxworks″ which had a profound influence on American filmmakers. Many of the German directors and stars made their way to Hollywood.
With the hits ″Dracula″ (1931) and ″Frankenstein″ (1931), Universal Studios became the home of horror. Endless sequels followed, as well as ″The Mummy″ (1932), ″The Invisible Man″ (1933), ″Werewolf of London″ (1935) and ″The Wolf Man″ (1941).
Other studios made occasional horror films: from RKO, ″King Kong,″ ″She,″ ″The Cat People,″ ″I Walked With a Zombie″; from Paramount, ″Island of Lost Souls,″ ″Dr. Cyclops,″ plus scary comedies with Bob Hope, and from Warner Bros., ″Dr. X″ and ″Mystery of the Wax Museum.″
The 3-D craze of the 1950s was ideal for frightening audiences, resulting in such movies as ″The House of Wax.″
Even Alfred Hitchcock deserted his suspense genre for an excursion into horror with ″Psycho,″ which left hearts in mouths with its surprise shocks. The film demonstrated that horror could mean big box office, as did William Friedkin’s ″The Exorcist,″ which became the biggest all-time grosser in 1973.
It is primarily the young who flock to fright films.
″They enjoy the reassurance of watching something horrible happen to someone else and not themselves,″ said child psychiatrist Laura Terr of the University of California, San Francisco.
Some young moviegoers suffer ill effects, though. ″I’ve had a number of patients who have had three, four or five nightmares after seeing scary movies,″ she said. ″Others have real fears and become paranoid, thinking that they are being followed. And these are not crazy, neurotic, mixed-up kids.″
Meanwhile, Hollywood plans to keep those nightmares coming: MGM/UA is releasing ″Dead of Winter,″ about an actress who takes a role with deadly consequences; Samuel Goldwyn plans ″Witchboard,″ which has the ominous ad line, ″Seduction. Entrapment. Possession. Don’t play it alone.″
Roger Corman’s New Horizons also has a scary slate: ″Munchies″; ″Goblins″; ″Monks of Blood,″ and ″The Demon of Paradise.″