The third installation in the ComicReaders Downtown Movie Poster Exhibition is the first in a series of horror movies. Horror is an obvious choice because October is the month of Halloween, but I also have a personal connection to the genre. Some of my earliest memories as a movie viewer are of horror films.
I clearly remember not being allowed to watch Jaws during a visit to grandma’s house in Humboldt, but that was around the same time I had watched The Fog with my dad, and probably a year or so later The Thing and Poltergeist. (Looking back, it seems to me the adults just wanted some adult time, or perhaps my mom didn’t want her mom to know her five-year old grandson was already gaining an appreciation of horror.) I saw The Exorcist when I was still in elementary school– my sister and I perched on my dad’s knees during the truly horrific stuff– and one day after school I showed some friends the scene in Evil Dead when Shelly is hacked to pieces with an axe.
So it was with much excitement and nostalgia that I hung the first six posters in the horror movie collection. This first set includes three posters from an enduring franchise, two landmark films from 1999, one of which changed the way horror movies are made, and one that has ties to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
Child’s Play 2, Child’s Play 3 and Bride of Chucky
The most recognizable and most enduring horror film icons are, in my opinion, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers, Leatherface, and Chucky. The collection from which we get the posters for the exhibition does contain an original Child’s Play poster. That one is not hanging on the wall because it’s in rough shape compared to other posters in the series and because it does not contain the iconic image of Chucky. The possessed doll did not rise in prominence until after the first movie was a modest hit in 1988. (With only a 14A rating, I saw the original movie in the theatres when I was 12 years old.) In later films, Chucky was a talkative chap, getting heavy with the dark comedy in the later sequels Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, but in the first film Chucky doesn’t say a word until the movie is almost half over. It was also interesting for me to remember that the original Child’s Play was released during the Kid Sister and My Buddy phenomenon, and that the movie was disowned by its studio because of controversy surrounding its subject matter.
The poster for Child’s Play 2 is the one that demands the highest price in the collector’s market. It features Chucky in all his sinister playfulness, threatening to snip the head off a jack-in-the-box.
The Sixth Sense
Not since The Crying Game were moviegoers excited by but unable to talk about the ending of a movie. The Sixth Sense breathed new life in to the ghost story and announced the arrival of M. Night Shyamalan. Much was made about the twist at the film’s end and it is the “twist ending” that became the Shyamalan trademark, an expectation that arguably hindered his career. None of his later films could exceed or even match The Sixth Sense, not only its twist but also its overall masterful craftsmanship. Shyamalan has all but faded from Hollywood limelight, which makes this the perfect time to revisit The Sixth Sense. Even when you know the twist, the movie is a pleasure of fine acting, slowly revealing storytelling, and a showcase of how to build tension in a scene.
The Blair Witch Project
In the same year that The Sixth Sense showed how intelligent and finely crafted a horror film could be, moviegoers were also introduced to a film with a budget of $60,000, no gore, no monsters, no set design, only three actors, and the barest of plots and it not only scared up $140,000,000 in ticket sales but also changed how horror movies were made.
The technique would come to be known as “found footage” and if it were not for The Blair Witch Project there would be no Paranormal Activity franchise, no Cloverfield, and no other movie with shaky camera techniques designed to create unease, tension and even sickness in a viewer.
And if it were not for The Blair Witch Project perhaps horror movies made post-1999 would have been more focused on craft, performance and storytelling like The Sixth Sense rather than low budgets, short production schedules and quick turns of a profit.
What do Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy have in common? A lot. Both were written and directed by James Gunn. Both feature Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry. And both have an intelligent sense of humor that defy the trappings of their genres (horror for Slither; superhero for Guardians of the Galaxy). When it was released in 2006, Slither was a box office failure. It only gathered seven million at the box office compared to fifteen million required to make it. It has since found more fans and is worth checking out if you’ve not discovered it.