Sure, irradiated zombies and bloodthirsty apocalypse bikers can be pretty scary. Draculas and Frankensteins? Scary. Cthulhus… Mothmen… Graboids? The absolute worst. But for indie content creators, no boogeyman or cryptid is quite as hair-raising as the many great and monstrous leviathans ritualistically summoned by the occult and alchemical ritual known as filmmaking. Look: there’s Shaky Financing dragging itself out of the swamp, eyes burning blood red! And there: Collapsing Theatrical Market, unfurling its batwings in the rafters of the old abbey! And so on and so on.
But! As the Cryptkeeper, Vaultkeeper and Old Witch have have reminded us many times before, misery loves company. So rather than hanging on the edge of your seat anxiously peering through ragged knuckles at the current (but only temporary!) dumpster-fire state of your latest film project, instead console yourself with the fact that many of your Halloweentime horror favorites have had their own very bumpy rides.
With Halloween weekend looming, we decided to dig into the streaming era’s bevy of behind-the-scenes horror-movie making-of’s—plus a couple critical surveys looking at how some marginalized communities have been served (or not!) by the genre over time. So carve those pumpkins, affix your plastic fangs and enjoy.
SCREAM, QUEEN! (2019)
Directors: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen
Producers: Roman Chimienti, Mark Patton
Where to Watch: Tubi, Pluto TV, Screambox
Why it’s scary: After the surprise success of Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, its follow-up—1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge—landed with a bit of a dull plop. There were many reasons for this that generally boil down to “it wasn’t very good,” but perhaps the most unfairly maligned was the perceived effeteness of the film’s teen protagonist, played by actor Mark Patton. As a young, closeted performer trying to launch himself in Hollywood at the dawning of the AIDS era, Patton’s implication in Revenge’s failure was disastrous, both personally and professionally. Patton’s continued reckoning with his experience on the film and its aftermath is the subject of Chimienti and Jensen’s crowdfunded documentary, appropriately subtitled My Nightmare on Elm Street. A deeply personal examination of the intersection between commerce, expression and identity, Scream, Queen! follows Patton as he tries to understand just what the hell went wrong—and just who to blame, confronting Freddy’s Revenge screenwriter in one centerpiece sequence.
PENNYWISE: THE STORY OF IT (2021)
Directors: John Campopiano, Christopher Griffiths
Producers: Eastwood Allen, John Campopiano, Christopher Griffiths, Michael Perez, Gary Smart, Hank Starrs
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, Hoopla, Vudu, Tubi, Redbox
Why it’s scary: As the shape-shifting corporeal embodiment of fear and evil, the ancient and mysterious entity known as “Pennywise” has been terrorizing the children Derry, ME ever since the 1986 publication of Stephen King’s 1,138-page opus It. But John Campopiano and Christopher Griffiths’ Indiegogo-funded doc isn’t about the King novel or its successful 2010 feature film adaptation—nor is it about the SoCal punk band Pennywise, of 1990s gang vocal staple “Bro Hymn Tribute” fame. No. The film’s subject is the two-part It TV miniseries, which aired in 1990 on ABC. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and co-adapted by Wallace and Lawrence D. Cohen, It was a cultural phenomenon, imprinting Tim Curry’s uncanny portrayal of Pennywise on the easily-traumatized imaginations of an entire generation of Reagan babies (I’m speaking from experience here). The Story of It explores how this unlikely literary adaptation found its way to the network development desks, assembled its all-star cast (John Ritter! Harry Anderson! Seth Green! Jonathan Brandis!) and executed a tricky production en route to becoming a double-VHS classic that still continues to creep out audiences today.
QUEER FOR FEAR (2022)
Creator: Sam Wineman
Directors: Bryan Fuller, Tom Maroney, Sam Wineman
Where to Watch: Shudder
Why it’s scary: Subtitled The History of Queer Horror, Sam Wineman’s four-installment Shudder original definitively encapsulates—for anyone who was doubtful—just how inextricable the horror genre is from the Queer experience. With blood-red loveseat interviews from a who’s-who of LGBTQ+ horror filmmakers, stars and aficionados, topics explored include the baked-in gayness of horror’s DNA as descended from the sexual fluidity of genre pioneers Oscar Wilde and Mary Shelley, to the lingering stylistic and thematic influence of 1930s and ‘40s Universal Monsters auteur James Whale, to the metaphorical value of monster archetypes for Queer artists and critics. Our favorite episode? A deconstruction of the “killer lesbian” narrative trope as expressed in titles ranging from Dracula’s Daughter (1936) to Bound (1996). Full of fun clips and first-person insight from the folks who were there both onscreen and in the audience, Queer for Fear will send you on a streaming spree to add hundreds of new titles to your watchlist. (And yes, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 pops up here, as well.)
NEVER SLEEP AGAIN (2010)
Director: Daniel Farrads, Andrew Kasch
Producer: Daniel Farads, Thommy Hutson
Where to Watch: Tube
Why we love it: Should PBS docuseries majordomo Ken Burns ever apply his exacting eye for historical detail to the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, the results would be… well, redundant. Why? Because filmmakers Daniel Farads and Andrew Kasch have already been there, with their exhaustive blow-by-blow about the rise, fall, semi-rise, semi-fall, second rise and overall cultural endurance of the disreputable venerable horror series. Featuring over 100 interviews from major franchise players ranging from legendary New Line exec Bob Shay to Dream Warriors soundtrack kings Dokken, no stone goes un-terrorized, as Farrad and Kasch chart the evolution of the Nightmare series from gothic Wes Craven sleep paralysis metaphor to kitschy, kid-friendly cartoon fare. The controversies of Nightmare on Elm Street 2 are again explored here, as are the property’s highest-high (New Nightmare) and lowest lows (Roseanne Barr… in 3-D?!?!). The result is a totemic chronicle of the unglamorous Hollywood manufacture-and-marketing model of the 1980s and early ‘90s.
CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES (2013)
Director: Daniel Farrands
Producer: Thommy Hutson
Where to Watch: AMC+, Hoopla
Why it’s scary: A few years after the success of Never Sleep Again, Farrands took that film’s exhaustive formula and applied it to that other iconic ‘80 slasher franchise. You know—that one with the guy in the hockey mask? Despite an even bumpier journey through the desultory architecture of studio franchise management, the Friday the 13th series nevertheless dominated the teenage box office throughout the Reagan era. Does the famously publicity-hungry Kane Hodder appear to talk about his role as Jason? You better believe it, despite the fact that the man behind the goalie mask changed throughout the Friday films nearly as often as the drummers in Spinal Tap. What begins as an unspectacular attempt to rip off John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s Halloween soon turns into a focal point for powerful critics like Roger Ebert to decry the state of cinema while meanwhile, Jason takes his machete to oodles of Crystal Lake Campers (including names like Kevin Bacon, Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman), takes Manhattan, goes to space and beyond. Warning: sleepaway camp may never be the same.
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