With the remake of Fright Night being the latest 1980s horror being re-imagined for a new generation of frightgoers, I thought I’d check out three other genre favourites that have been dusted off the old VHS shelf and given a nice clean up. Could these period pieces be the next in line for a modern makeover? You can have your say, by joining our discussion.
Following the success of 1974’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tobe Hooper became the poster boy for axe-ploitation, a label he has find difficult to shake ever since. After 1977’s disappointing studio bound entry Eaten Alive, about a hermit and a man-eating alligator, he scored praise for his TV version of Salem’s Lot, and so big things were expected of him.
Then came The Funhouse about four teenagers, high on drugs, who decide to spend the night at local carnival after it closes for the evening. But when they witness a man in a Frankenstein monster’s mask killing the carnival’s tarot card reader (Sylvia Miles in a stand-out cameo), they are soon targeted by the killer – who is, in fact, the carnival’s owner hideously deformed son.
Shot at the old Ivan Tors studios in Florida (where the original Flipper was shot), on a low budget (most of which was spent hiring in a carnival from Akron, Ohio), and in just 37 days (Hooper was due to film Venom in the UK), The Funhouse was a bit of a rush job and certainly lacks a good script. But cinematographer Andrew Lazlo, who worked on Walter Hill’s The Warriors, makes the film come alive with a kaleidoscopic eye, while makeup artist Craig Reardon and mime artist Wayne Doba succeed in bringing Rick Baker’s birth-defect monster (the film’s highlight) to life. Famously, this creature, dubbed ‘cow man’ by Hooper, appeared on the cover of Issue 11 of Fangoria, the bible for horror fans in the 1980s, but without the permission of Universal. It might have been premature, but I think it helped give Hooper’s film the cult following it now attracts.
Which brings us to Arrow’s definitive Blu-ray release. With The Funhouse due for a 3D makeover next year, here’s a chance to see the original at its best. It’s also packed with special features. Besides a host of video interviews, there’s a recorded Q&A session with Hooper; three commentaries (Craig Reardon’s being the best); exclusive photos from Reardon’s on-set collection; and a collector’s booklet written by Kim Newman.
REMAKE OR REMAKE NOT?
If ever there was a horror begging for a remake it must be Vamp, in which Grace Jones in kabuki makeup played a fang-tastic, though silent, vampire who rules the roost of a seedy gentlemen’s club. In this toxic green/neon purple-tinted world, two college guys Keith (Chris Makepeace) and AJ (Robert Rusler) are on the lookout for a stripper for an initiation party. After falling foul of albino gangsters, they come across Grace and her brood – unaware they’re all bloodsuckers. After AJ gets the full treatment from Grace, Keith hooks up with Dedee Pfeiffer’s waitress, and heads off into the city sewers with his buddy (who is on the turn) in a bid to escape the vampires – and the albino gang.
Trying to emulate 1984’s Night of the Comet, with its fusion of offbeat comedy, stylised sets and eccentric characters – to the tune of Martin Scorsese’s 1985 black comedy classic After Hours – Vamp doesn’t age well – unlike those other two cult classics.
It’s devoid of gore, girls and garish humour, but here it is re-mastered and re-released for nostalgia fans. The Arrow Films DVD release comes with an impressive selection of extras, including a commentary by Robert Rusler; and interviews with Dedee Pfeiffer and director Richard Wenk. Plus, there’s a scrapbook of on-set photos; behind-the-scenes footage featuring Grace Jones; blooper reel; and my personal favourite – Dracula Bites The Big Apple, the student short which helped the director get his big break. If you’re a fan of the old Studio 54 days, then this extra is a must-see.
REMAKE OR REMAKE NOT?
Who doesn’t like a sexy vampire? Just look at the success of True Blood. It’s even got its own seedy club in Fangtasia. But will we see a remake? Well if its strippers and supernatural creatures you want, there’s always the Brit horror indie Strippers vs Werewolves
SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)
When it comes to nerds getting their revenge on their classmates, my favourite must be 1974’s Horror High (aka Twisted Brain). In that film, geeky student Vernon Potts (Pat Cardi) turns himself into a rampaging monster to pick off his tormentors one by one. It might have been made on the cheap, but it’s the inventive death scenes that have made it a cult classic.
Another cheaply made revenge slasher that’s loved by genre fans is 1986’s Slaughter High. The geek in question this time round is Marty Rantzen (Simon Scuddamore), who is left terribly disfigured after a school prank goes wrong. But he gets his revenge years later when he invites the bullies to a reunion at their old high school, which now lies derelict, and begins to pick them off one by one until legendary Scream Queen Caroline Munro is left alone to face her fate.
The elaborately staged deaths and Munro’s presence are the only reasons to catch this British-made, US-set slice of 1980s nonsense. The script is ropey, the production design is cheap, the dialogue coach should have been shot (worst American accents ever) and the whole thing treads familiar territory despite boasting three writer/directors (one of whom was Munro’s hubby). But horror fans swear by it (and so do my Munro-addicted friends), and who am I to complain, considering Horror High is just as cheesy.
The Arrow Films DVD release is a huge improvement on the old VHS copy I’ve only ever seen it on, but you can’t really improve on areas (like the sound) that were shaky in the first place. The special features, however, are really interesting. These include interviews with Mark Ezra and Caroline Munro (the story of her career is fascinating stuff); two commentaries (one with Ezra, the other with Munro); Arrow’s always welcomed custom artwork covers; and a collector’s booklet, featuring an essay on the film and an interview with composer Harry Manfredini (catch him talking about music in the horror film at the Sound of Fear festival on 3 September in London).
REMAKE OR REMAKE NOT?
Probably not. The bullied geek revenge genre needs to be really inspired to win over a modern audience. Recentl examples which have tried to put a new spin on the tired formula are last year’s twisted US indie The Final and the Skins-meets-Scream Brit-flick The Tormented