When It Comes To Halloween, Should You Trust The IMDb?


Dr. Sam Loomis

Like a lot of people, I enjoy browsing the trivia sections of the IMDb.  While it’s true that a lot of the items are stuff like, “This movie features two people who appeared on a television series set in the Star Trek Universe!,” you still occasionally came across an interesting fact or two.

Of course, sometimes, you just come across something that makes so little sense that you can only assume that it was posted as a joke.  For instance, I was reading the IMDb’s trivia for the original 1978 Halloween and I came across this:

Peter O’Toole, Mel Brooks, Steven Hill, Walter Matthau, Jerry Van Dyke, Lawrence Tierney, Kirk Douglas, John Belushi, Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda, Kris Kristofferson, Sterling Hayden, David Carradine, Dennis Hopper, Charles Napier, Yul Brynner and Edward Bunker were considered for the role of Dr. Sam Loomis.

Now, some of these names make sense.  Despite the fact that Sam Loomis became Donald Pleasence’s signature role, it is still possible to imagine other actors taking the role and perhaps bringing a less neurotic interpretation to the character.

Peter O’Toole as Dr. Loomis?  Okay, I can see that.

Kirk Douglas, Sterling Hayden, Charles Napier, Steve Hill, or Lloyd Bridges as Dr. Loomis?  Actually, I can imagine all of them grimacing through the role.

Walter Matthau?  Well, I guess if you wanted Dr. Loomis to be kind of schlubby….

Abe Vigoda?  Uhmmm, okay.

Dennis Hopper?  That would be interesting.

Mel Brooks?  What?  Wait….

John Belushi?  Okay, stop it!

Dr. Sam Loomis

My point is that I doubt any of these people were considered for the role of Dr. Loomis.  Both director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill have said that they wanted to cast an English horror actor in the role, as a bit of an homage to the Hammer films of the 60s.  Christopher Lee was offered the role but turned it down, saying that he didn’t care for the script or the low salary.  (Lee later said this was one of the biggest mistakes of his career.)  Peter Cushing’s agent turned down the role, again because of the money.  It’s not clear whether Cushing himself ever saw the script.

To be honest, I could easily Peter Cushing in the role and I could see him making a brilliant Dr. Loomis.  But, ultimately, Donald Pleasence was the perfect (if not the first) choice for the role.  Of course, Pleasence nearly turned down the role as well.  Apparently, it was his daughter, Angela, who changed his mind.  She was an admirer of John Carpenter’s previous film, Assault on Precint 13.  Carpenter has said that he was originally intimidated by Donald Pleasence (the man had played Blofeld, after all) but that Pleasence turned out to be a professional and a gentleman.

Laurie Strode

Of course, Halloween is best known for being the first starring role of Jamie Lee Curtis.  Curtis was actually not Carpenter’s first choice for the role of Laurie Strode.  His first choice was an actress named Annie Lockhart, who was the daughter of June Lockhart.  Carpenter changed his mind when he learned that Jamie was the daughter of Janet Leigh.  Like any great showman, Carpenter understood the importance of publicity and he knew nothing would bring his horror movie more publicity then casting the daughter of the woman whose onscreen death in Psycho left moviegoers nervous about taking a shower.

There was also another future big name who came close to appearing in Halloween.  At the time that she was cast as Lynda, P.J. Soles was dating an up-and-coming actor from Texas named Dennis Quaid.  Quaid was offered the role of Lynda’s doomed boyfriend, Bob but he was already committed to another film.

Not considered for a role was Robert Englund, though the future Freddy Krueger still spent some time on set.  He was hired by Carpenter to help spread around the leaves that would make it appear as if his film was taking place in the October, even though it was filmed in May.

Robert Englund, making May look like October

Interestingly enough, Englund nearly wasn’t need for that job because Halloween was not originally envisioned as taking place on Halloween or any other specific holiday.  When producer Irwin Yablans and financier Moustapha Akkad originally approached Carpenter and Hill to make a movie for them about a psycho stalking three babysitters, they didn’t care when the film was set.  It was only after Carpenter and Hill wrote a script called The Babysitter Muders that it occurred to Yablans that setting the film during Halloween would be good from a marketing standpoint.  Plus Halloween made for a better title than The Babysitter Murders.

And, of course, the rest is history.  Carpenter’s film came to define Halloween and it still remains the standard by which every subsequent slasher movie has been judged.  Would that have happened if the film had been known as The Babysitter Murders and had starred John Belushi?

Sadly, we may never know.

Horror Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello


57 years after it was first released, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains one of the most influential films ever made.

Certainly, every horror film ever released since 1960 owes a debt to Psycho.  The infamous shower scene has been duplicated so many times that I’ve lost count.  Whenever a big-name actor is unexpectedly killed during the first half of a movie, it’s because of what happened to Janet Leigh in that shower.  If not for Psycho, Drew Barrymore would have survived Scream and that shark would never have eaten Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea.  Every giallo film that has ended with someone explaining the overly complex psychological reasons that led to the killer putting on black gloves and picking up a scalpel owes a debt to Simon Oakland’s monologue at the end of Psycho.  Psycho is so influential and popular that, decades later, A&E could broadcast a show called Bates Motel and have an instant hit.

What goes into making a classic?  That is question that is both asked and answered by Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho.  Starting with the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, Rebello’s book goes on to examine the writing of Robert Bloch’s famous novel and then the struggle to adapt that novel for the screen.

This book is a dream for trivia lovers.  Ever wanted to know who else was considered for the role of Marion Crane or Sam Loomis or even Norman Bates?  This is the book to look to.  Read this book and then imagine an alternate world where Psycho starred Dean Stockwell, Eva Marie Saint, and Leslie Neilsen?

(That’s right.  Leslie Neilsen was considered for the role of Sam Loomis.)

The book also confronts the controversy over who deserves credit for the shower scene, Alfred Hitchcock or Saul Bass.  And, of course, it also provides all the glorious details of how Hitchcock handled the film’s pre-release publicity.  Ignore the fact that this book was cited as being the inspiration for the rather forgettable Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren film, Hitchcock.  This is a fascinating read about a fascinating movie and a fascinating director.

First published in 1990 and still very much in print, Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho is a must-read for fans of film, horror, true crime, history, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Psycho.

Rocky Mountain High: THE NAKED SPUR (MGM 1953)


cracked rear viewer

(By sheer coincidence, this post coincides with the birthday of character actor Millard Mitchell (1903-1953), who plays Tate in the film. Happy birthday, Millard! This one’s for you!)  

James Stewart and Anthony Mann  moved from Universal-International to MGM, and from black & white to Technicolor, for THE NAKED SPUR, the third of their quintet of Westerns together. The ensemble cast of five superb actors all get a chance to shine, collectively and individually, creating fully fleshed out characters against the natural beauty of the Colorado backdrop.

Bitter Howard Kemp, whose wife sold their ranch and ran off while he was serving in the war, is hunting down killer Ben Vandergroat for the $5,000 bounty in hopes of rebuilding his life. Along the trail he meets old prospector Jesse Tate and recently discharged (dishonorably) Lt. Roy Anderson. The trio manages to capture Vandergroat, but he’s not alone… he’s accompanied by pretty wildcat Lina…

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Horror Scenes I Love: Psycho


Psycho

It would be difficult to get through October and not point out one of the best scenes in horror ever.

There’s Janet Leigh’s performance which conveyed the utter terror the scene wanted to convey. We have Bernard Hermann’s discordant film score highlighting the attack. Despite being a very bloodless sequence the way Hitchcock filmed the scene made audience imagine that they were actually witnessing something more violent and gory.

We all have Alfred Hitchcock to thank for this most iconic of all horror scenes.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #40: One Is A Lonely Number (dir by Mel Stuart)


one_is_a_lonely_number_ver2

You’ve probably never heard of the 1972 film One Is A Lonely Number.  I certainly hadn’t until, a few weeks ago, I happened to come across it on TCM.  Like a lot of films that have apparently been forgotten by history, One Is A Lonely Number is one that deserves to be remembered.

One Is A Lonely Number opens with the end of a marriage.  James Brower (Paul Jenkins), an arrogant college professor, coldly packs his collection of vinyl records into a box and tells his wife, Amy (Trish Van Devere), that he’s filing for divorce and that he’s leaving her.  She asks him why.  He coolly mentions something about her throwing out a prized copy of Paradise Lost and then leaves the apartment.

Shocked, Amy goes to the college and asks her husband’s students if they’ve seen him.  They tell her that James canceled his final exam and has since disappeared.  At first, Amy insists that James is going to come back and denies that they’re getting a divorce.  When she finally does accept that her marriage is over, Amy is forced to be independent for the first time.

What she quickly discovers is that the world is full of people who are looking to take advantage of both her vulnerability and her naiveté.  When she goes to an employment agency, she explains that she has a degree in Art History and that she minored in Philosophy.  Frighteningly (especially in the eyes of this particular holder of a degree in Art History), all this gets Amy is a job as a lifeguard at the local pool.  When she finally find herself attracted to another man, she doesn’t discover that he’s married until the morning after.  And when she finally discovers why her husband actually left her, she discovers that he was even more of a stranger to her than she realized.

Fortunately, there are a few good spots in Amy’s life.  Her best friends Madge (Jane Elliott) and Gert (Janet Leigh) provide support.  (“Men are shit,” Gert explains at one point.)  And she strikes up a poignant friendship with a widowed grocer (Melvyn Douglas).

There are so many scenes in One Is A Lonely Number that ring true, even when viewed today.  Amy finally realizes that her marriage is over while trying on clothes and ends up sobbing by herself.  Amy, Gert, and Madge get drunk and talk about their exes, laughing away their shared pain.  Amy discovers that the man from the employment agency (played, as a disturbingly plausible creep, by Jonathan Goldsmith who is best known for being the Most Interesting Man In The World for Dos Equis) expects her to “repay” him for his help in getting her a demeaning job as a lifeguard.  Amy panics when she can’t find what’s happened to that kindly grocer.

One Is A Lonely Number moves at its own deliberate pace but it’s still one that you should watch and stick with until the end.  It’s an intelligent and well-acted movie and the film’s poignant final scene will fill you with hope.  Watch it the next time that it shows up on TCM.

44 Days of Paranoia #40: The Manchurian Candidate (dir by John Frankenheimer)


With only five entries left in the 44 Days of Paranoia, now seems like the perfect time to look at one of the best conspiracy films ever made.  First released in 1962, this film is not only one of the most influential thrillers ever made but it’s also a fiercely sardonic political satire that remains just as relevant today as when it was first released.  It was also remade in 2004 and, while we’ll get to the remake, today we’re focusing on the original.

I’m speaking, of course, of the John Frankenheimer-directed classic, The Manchurian Candidate.

The Manchurian Candidate tells the story of Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey).  The son of the wealthy and ambitious Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) and the stepson of the moronic Senator Johnny Iselin (James Gregory), Raymond is also a decorated war hero who has been credited with saving an entire platoon during the Korean War.  When asked about Shaw, all of the members of the platoon respond with: “”Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

Of course, that’s not true.  It only takes a few minutes of screen time for the audience to realize that Raymond Shaw is none of those things.  Instead, he’s a rather depressed loner who is full of resentment towards his mother and his stepfather.  Shaw is so socially awkward that even he is shocked when he manages to successfully tell a joke.  (“I just told a joke, didn’t I?” Shaw says in amazement.)

While Shaw pursues a career as a journalist, the fellow members of his platoon — including Maj. Marco (Frank Sinatra) — start to have disturbing nightmares, in which they find themselves observing a genteel garden show, during which Raymond is ordered to strangle one soldier and shoot another one in the head.  Marco comes to suspect that the platoon may have been captured and brainwashed with communists.  With the backing of Army Intelligence, Marco starts to investigate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Iselin has come to national prominence by claiming to have information about a communist conspiracy deep within the U.S. government.  As becomes obvious in some of the film’s best scenes, Iselin is less concerned with fighting communists and more focused on keeping Raymond’s mother happy.  Eleanor has decided that her husband is going to be the next President and her brainwashed son is going to help make it happen.

I think sometimes we tend to assume that, up until 1967, all movies were safe and predictable.  The Manchurian Candidate, however, proves that is simply not true.  In fact, with its cynical view of politics and its cast of fragile and damaged characters, The Manchurian Candidate is one of the most subversive films ever made.  Rejecting the boring partisanship that typifies most politically themed films, The Manchurian Candidate presents us with a world where both the left and the right are equally corrupt and ultimately equally meaningless.  It’s a political satire that transcends ideology and that’s certainly something of which America could use more.

It’s also an amazingly entertaining film.  George Axelrod’s screenplay is full of wonderfully snarky moments while John Frankenheimer’s directs with an appreciation for both absurdity and melodrama.  Angela Lansbury is both hilarious and chilling as one of the worst maternal figures to ever appear in the movies and she more than deserved the Oscar nomination that she received for this film.  However, the entire film is brilliantly acted.  Laurence Harvey is both sympathetic and off-putting as Raymond while Frank Sinatra (who previously appeared in another entry of the 44 Days of Paranoia, Suddenly) brings a wonderful blue-collar humanity to the role of Marco.  Janet Leigh has a small role as Marco’s lover and the scene where they first meet on a train and have a charmingly nonsensical conversation is wonderfully odd and romantic.  Finally, James Gregory gives a hilarious performance as the type of stupid but bombastic politician who will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched C-Span.

If you’ve never seen the original Manchurian Candidate, drop everything you’re doing and go watch it now.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z
  39. The Fury

Quick Horror Review: John Carpenter’s The Fog


I have something of a tradition with John Carpenter’s The Fog. Every year, I try to watch the film on the date and time where the story starts – April 20th, at around 11:55pm. It’s not the scariest of stories, but it does have a spooky atmosphere that lends itself well to Halloween – or any late quiet night. I love this movie.

The Fog marked the first film that John Carpenter worked on after Halloween, collaborating with the late Debra Hill, who also produced the movie. She’d go on to also produce both Escape From New York and Escape from L.A for Carpenter. While it didn’t really have the impact of Halloween, it held up until Escape from New York came out the following year.

Here’s the story:

In the town of Antonio Bay, an old captain (John Houseman) explains to some children about the ill-fated Elizabeth Dane (what a beautiful name, I might add), a ship that belonged a rich of crew of lepers led by someone named Blake. The heads of the town conspired to steal the gold by setting up the ship to crash against the docks. It works out for the Conspirators, as they are “aided by a unearthy fog” that blinds the Leper ship’s navigators. and the gold they collect helps to form the great town the kids play in to this day.

What they don’t realize is that vengeance is coming in the form of that very same fog, as the ghost of the Lepers have come to claim the lives of the six conspirators…or their direct descendants.

As a kid, I had a problem with that. You mean because my great great grandparents messed up somewhere ages ago, I have to get killed for it? I remember thinking that it really wasn’t fair, but I’m kind of diverging from the topic here. The story gives you four points of view. You have Nick (Tom Atkins, sans his signature mustache) and a hitchhiker he picks up played by then scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. You have Curtis mother, Janet Leigh, who’s character is working on the anniversary party for the town and her assistant, Sandy, played by Nancy Loomis (who appeared in the first three Halloween films). The third comes from Adrienne Barbeau’s character, Stevie Wayne, who works for the local radio station. Her character acts as the warning voice for the town and she starts to notice that something’s going on when her son gives her a piece of Driftwood that later echoes Blake’s warning. The final viewpoint comes from Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), who discovers Blake’s diary and learns the truth about what happened 100 years ago. His character helps to piece the mystery together, somewhat.

Carpenter and Hill gathered many of their friends, who went on to work on other films for this. Tommy Lee Wallace went on to direct Halloween III: Season of the Witch (and coincidentally did the voice of the Silver Shamrock ad-man in the commercial) and Vampires: Los Muertos. Wallace’s name was given to Carpenter fan favorite Buck Flower. Nick Castle’s name was given to Tom Atkins character. Makeup Wizard Rob Bottin (who also played Blake in the film) went on to do some of the effects in The Thing.

The makeup effects in this film were okay. The lighting and fog did more to obscure than to actually help one see what was doing the attacking, but it really worked for some of the shadowing in the film. If the movie has any drawbacks, it’s that there’s a really low body count to the film. In essence, there are only 6 people the ghosts are after, so these are only the ones they actually get. It would have been interesting if there were a few random deaths, or more individuals in danger, but I supposed it worked out well for the time period.

The Fog is a nice film to catch late at night. You won’t find it at the upper rankings of top horror films, but it’s one to try, at least. Don’t even bother with the Remake for this one. It’s not even work talking about.