It’s graduation time, the point of the year where students switch the tassels over to the other side before tossing the whole cap into the air. Cinema Fearité’s quest to remain timely is just as fervent as any recent grad's thirst for knowledge, so this week, we’ve got a movie that is both seminal and topical: the 1981 slasher Graduation Day.
On April 12, 1961, the Soviets put a man into space. Twenty-three days later, the Americans repeated the feat. Both events played a huge part in the so-called Space Race, but Hollywood beat them both to the punch, putting a human into space two years earlier in 1959 with the aptly-titled First Man Into Space.
In the world of slasher movies, there are two never-fail scenarios. The first is the killer-in-the-woods, which Cinema Fearité has explored several times over the years with features about Madman, The Burning, The Final Terror, Sleepaway Camp, and Just Before Dawn. The other is the university-kids-being-stalked motif, which we’ve covered with Terror Train and The Prowler. Well, this week, we’re going back to college again with a buried gem from 1981 – Final Exam.
On September 19, 1961, Betty and Barney Hill were driving along a road in rural New Hampshire when they were reportedly abducted by extraterrestrials. Four years later, on September 3, 1965, Norman Muscarello saw a UFO while hitchhiking near Exeter, NH, and reported it to police, which resulted in New Hampshire Police Officers Eugene Bertrand and David Hunt also observing the phenomenon. These are two of the most compelling and controversial cases in the annals of UFO encounters, and they are examined in the new documentary Strange Septembers: The Hill Abduction & The Exeter Encounter.
This past weekend saw the untimely death of Wayne Crawford at the comparatively young age of 69. Crawford is probably best known for producing such cult classics as Valley Girl and Night of the Comet, but he was also a talented writer, director, and actor. And sometimes, he did it all in the same movie. The 1978 low-budget horror classic Barracuda was one of those times.
Between the success of “The Walking Dead” on television and the campiness of any number of the “X vs. Zombies” movies in theaters (or, more likely, on VOD), zombies are literally everywhere, having invaded every last fiber of popular culture. George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead is usually credited with inventing the modern zombie, but the horror trope goes back farther than that. Low-budget movie moguls the Halperin brothers (Ex-Flame) made what most people consider to be the first feature length zombie movie thirty-five years earlier in 1932 when they came up with White Zombie.
When most people think about witches, they automatically envision women. Movies are no different; from the old classic The Witches to the modern masterpiece The Witch, the title characters are usually female. But there are male witches – or warlocks, as they are known – in movies, and 1971’s Simon, King of the Witches is as good of an example of a witch-man movie as one is bound to find.
In 1962, burgeoning young filmmaker François Truffaut approached his idol, the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock, about sitting down for an extended interview about his attitudes and methodologies towards cinema. Truffaut, a critic as well as a filmmaker, asked all the right questions and Hitchcock affably gave all the right answers, and in 1966, the results were published in veritable bible of auteur film theory, a simply titled book called Hitchcock/Truffaut. Now, “The Daily Show” writer Kent Jones has turned those conversations into a movie, the also simply titled Hitchcock/Truffaut.
Actors usually don’t just step into million-dollar roles, they most likely have had to work their way up. Sometimes, they even have to start in horror movies. Everyone knows how Johnny Depp began his career in A Nightmare on Elm Street and how Jennifer Aniston’s first movie was Leprechaun, but even the too-cute and equally talented Brooke Shields made her big screen debut in a horror movie way back in 1976 when she appeared in the cut-rate supernatural slasher Alice, Sweet Alice.
Although it has a fairly rich cinematic history, most American filmgoers only know Austria as the birthplace of Arnold Schwarzenegger. With its close proximity to (and shared language with) Germany, what few Austrian films that find their way to America are often mistaken for German productions. The country is not usually thought of as a hotbed of horror, but last year’s dark horse thriller Goodnight Mommy was Austrian, as was Michael Haneke’s 1997 home invasion nightmare Funny Games (which was remade in English ten years later by Haneke himself for American audiences). In 1983, another legendary Austrian horror film was made, the proto-psycho-slasher with the name that means “Fear” in English, Angst.
In the mid-sixties, writer/director Dan Curtis successfully injected vampires into a soap opera with “Dark Shadows,” a show that not only ran for over twelve hundred episodes, but also spawned a number of tie-in movies, a nineties television reboot, and even a 2012 Tim Burton/Johnny Depp big-budget reboot-of-the-reboot. Curtis was more than just “Dark Shadows,” however; he owned horror on the small screen, with TV movie titles like Scream of the Wolf and Dracula on his resume. He also made a couple of the greatest television horror anthology movies ever – one was the 1975 classic Trilogy of Terror, and the other, the focus of this week’s Cinema Fearité, is the criminally underrated 1977 effort Dead of Night.
After over a decade of waiting, even longer if you’ve wiped the three prequel’s from your mind, Star Wars is back in a big way. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Episode 7 in the franchise, has arrived, and brought with it a new direction. Like the original films, The Force Awakens is all about myth building and discovery, creating a mystique that slowly unravels as the 2-hour plus space tale unfolds. We see and hear the familiar sights and sounds of the galaxy far, far away, but it isn’t long before it becomes clear that this is Star Wars for the modern age, thanks in part to the gender and race blind casting.
The horror and science fiction genres have always loved their end of the world movies. From the original comet-crashing 1916 movie The End of the World to more modern dystopic films like The Hunger Games and Divergent, the end of mankind is a solid premise. In 1964, the extinction of humanity by alien invasion was explored in the dramatically titled The Earth Dies Screaming.
On March 10th, 2016, influential keyboardist/composer Keith Emerson died of an apparent suicide. Emerson was best known as a founding member of the prog-rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer (or ELP for short), but the maestro also dabbled in film scoring. Arguably, his most famous score was the soundtrack to legendary Italian filmmaker Dario Argento’s 1980 classic Inferno.