July 12, 2012
In the late nineties, Wes Craven’s Scream franchise had become so popular that it inspired its own comic horror send-up, the aptly title Scary Movie, that has spawned just as many sequels as its muse (so far, three). While no one will ever be able to accuse Scary Movie of being overly original, even the idea of a horror movie spoof was done twenty years earlier when Julie Corman (Roger Corman’s wife and B-movie producer extraordinaire) brought Saturday the 14th to the table.
Saturday the 14th is the story of John (Richard Benjamin from Catch-22 and Westworld) and Mary (Benjamin’s real-life wife Paula Prentiss from The Stepford Wives), a couple who inherit a run-down old house from John’s dead uncle. Upon moving into the house with their kids, Debbie (Kari Michaelsen from “Gimme a Break!”) and Billy (Kevin Brando, better known as the voice of Schroeder in the later “Charlie Brown” cartoons), they encounter Waldemar (Jeffrey Tambor from “Arrested Development”) and Yolanda (Scarface’s Nancy Lee Andrews), a vampire-looking pair who are eager to acquire the house for themselves. The family moves in, and Billy finds a book while exploring the basement. The book is titled “The Book of Evil,” and contains pictures of all kinds of scary monsters. As Billy thumbs through the book, the monsters disappear from the pages and materialize in different places around the house and surrounding property. The monsters wreak havoc on the family until they finally break down and call an exterminator, who sends none other than Van Helsing (Severn Darden, Kolp from the Planet of the Apes movies) to help with the problem. However, with the cursed day of Saturday the 14th rapidly approaching and Waldemar becoming more and more relentless in his wanting the house, the family has more to think about than just their monster problem.
With a name like Saturday the 14th, one would think that the film is a parody of Friday the 13th. In reality, the film has absolutely nothing to do with Jason Voorhees, and it seems to mock every horror genre except slasher films. The monsters that come out of The Book of Evil are everything from an alien and a mummy to a mutant werewolf and a Black Lagoon-type creature. Add in the Van Helsing vs. Waldemar aspect and a splash of witchcraft, and there’s something in Saturday the 14th for everyone.
Saturday the 14th was written and directed by Howard R. Cohen (another one of Roger Corman’s regular collaborators and the man behind Space Raiders and Death Stalker) from a story by Jeff Begun (Pretty Smart). While on the one hand it is a simple mish-mash of old B-movie monsters, on the other it is a coherent and well-paced story that stands on its own. The characters play into the comedy aspect of the film by being a little dumber than the average bears, but the plot moves nicely, makes sense and never gets boring. It’s not incredibly scary, but it’s hard to be afraid of any of the monsters in Saturday the 14th.
In perfect Corman-esque tradition, the monsters in Saturday the 14th are all practical, men-in-a-rubber-suit beasts that, if one looks hard enough, they’ll swear that they can see the zipper down the back. Also typical of the Corman style, the creatures are not just stereotypical rehashes of the monsters that they’re parodying; on the contrary, they’re fairly successful reboots. The alien is a furry little critter with long eye stalks that looks like he belongs in the cantina scene in Star Wars. The aquatic creature comes complete with a shark-type fin on the top of his head which is used to hilarious effect in a bathtub. The werewolf and mummy are not run-of-the-mill Universal monster clones, either. Saturday the 14th is the epitome of a Corman Creature Feature.
Saturday the 14th may not be a pure horror film, but it looks a lot like one. Cohen and cinematographer Daniel Lacambre (yet another member of the Corman School, having also shot Battle Beyond the Stars and Humanoids from the Deep) use low-key lighting to keep the film looking spooky, even when the monsters are engaging in slapstick style humor. The visual effects are pure Corman, too; the disappearance of the monsters off the pages of the book and reappearance in real life looks so dated that it’s cool again. And the house, well, the house was just begging to have a haunted house movie made in it. With a look and feel somewhere between House and Once Bitten, all of the elements come together to make Saturday the 14th a perfect B-movie spoof.
Although Saturday the 14th didn’t spawn as many sequels as Scary Movie (it got just one, 1988’s Saturday the 14th Strikes Back), it still paved the way for the horror movie mash-up parody years before Scary Movie was even a thought. The zany mixed-up movie is one of the more underrated movies of the eighties, and an amazing entry into B-movie history.