Sequels & 3D: My Personal Journey With Horror (Swimming Upstream PART 7)

*Editor’s Note: B Harrison Smith is well known to horror fans as the writer/director of The Fields, Death House, and Camp Dread. He also directed The Special, released in 2020.

Related Article: Swimming Upstream: Filmmaker Harrison’s Smith Horror Journey (PART 1)

Related Article: Kid’s Horror Pushes Upstream: How ABBOTT AND COSTELLO & MAD MONSTER PARTY Made An Impact (PART 2)

Related Article: Horror’s Summer of ‘79; “Swimming Upstream: A Personal Horror Journey” (PART 3)

Related Article: Late Night in the Reagan Era: Swimming Upstream on A Personal Horror Journey (PART 4)

Related Article: Horror in Print: My Personal Journey With Horror (Swimming Upstream PART 5)

Related Article: Old Men and Slashers: My Personal Journey With Horror (Swimming Upstream PART 6)

This is my penultimate piece for this series on how the horror genre affected me personally, from a boy through my present career. The genre is often under attack, mostly from people that never saw a horror movie from beginning to end their entire lives.

I don’t love all aspects of the genre or its subcategories, but I can say that of all the film and literature genres, nothing has influenced me more than horror as this series will testify.

The slasher film craze was in full swing by 1982 with so many titles, I couldn’t name them all sitting here in the early morning writing this. The “brand name” titles were that led the way were Friday the 13th and Halloween.

Before I get into the “Terrible Threes,” there is one more “Two” to discuss.

When I heard Universal was planning Psycho II, the “uh oh” factor was the first reaction. A sequel to the classic 1960 “original slasher” was just a bad idea. I knew this at 15 years old as sequels were proliferating as if Hollywood finally understood what it was missing and opening franchises faster than McDonald’s.

Time ran an advanced piece that gave some insight as to what the sequel would be. In essence it said, Norman comes home from being locked up for 22 years and finds the Bates Motel filled with unscrupulous, sexed-up teenagers, and “Mother doesn’t like that.”

Oh…so it’s Friday the 13th at The Bates Motel. That was what I got out of the article and that final line. Horny teens would come to sex, drugs and rock and roll at the motel and Mother would visit them for her special room service. Maybe even a shower scene or two.

Then I read where Jamie Lee Curtis, the newly anointed “Scream Queen” (this was before the over-used trope “Final Girl” would become part of the horror lexicon) was discussed as starring opposite Norman. Her pedigree was at the forefront of this film. While she was a “nobody” in the original Halloween, in Psycho II it was imperative she was known as shower victim Janet Leigh’s daughter and Tony Curtis was her father as he would be producing the sequel under the name Bernard Schwartz.

The catch was getting Anthony Perkins to return. He was hesitant, putting in as many films as he could between the original film and its sequel. I remember being a little confused and then delighted to see him in Disney’s The Black Hole and I had yet to discover his cult gem, Pretty Poison. Perkins played coy until he heard that Universal was so serious in making Psycho II that they would recast the part, with Christopher Walken rumored to take over the manager’s job at The Bates Motel.

Perkins returned. Robert Bloch penned a new novel and in reading it thought, “If this is the actual plot, this movie will suck.” Bloch’s novel focused on Norman escaping the asylum and heading to Hollywood where a film was being made on his murders at the motel. It had a silly ending and overall tried to do a twist on the material, so I guess it got some points but overall, it was a rip off in my opinion. It left me with zero expectations for the movie.

We biked to the mall that summer, 1983. Return of the Jedi was out that year and was disappointing after seeing Empire. I told the several kids, including my younger brother, that I had no hope for Psycho II and they should expect it to suck. Why were we biking the five miles to the mall then? It was horror. Enough said.

We bought our tickets, got our pancreas-killing garbage at the concession stand and went into their biggest theater. The film was just released that week. I sat down and “suck suspicions” were confirmed when it opened with, of course, the shower scene.

Why the shower scene? Was it necessary? Starting the film with it just reminded us of how much better the first film was. We were in for a screw job over the next two hours.

Then something happened after the black and white, out of context scene.

The screen went black, the opening titles came up with a striking blast of Jerry Goldsmith score, surprising me and jolting me in my seat. Then the ominous tone took a maudlin, almost sympathetic turn, and from there on out, I fell in love with Psycho II. I left the first showing, called my mom from a payphone to say I was catching the second, bought a ticket and went back in for another screening.

Psycho II is one of the best of any film sequels. It ranks up there with The Bride of Frankenstein in quality follow-ups to a classic horror motion picture. The film is almost a standalone story and in some ways not dependent on the first film. A good sequel builds on the characters and events of the previous film and takes us somewhere new. Psycho II does exactly that.

The best part is, it didn’t have to and that set it aside from the rest of the slasher fare as the subgenre peaked by 1983.

“The Terrible Threes” started with Halloween III. The second film ended it. Michael burned up after shot in both eyes by “bring her back for the fans” Jamie Lee Curtis in the lackluster, overrated, and over-loved Halloween II.

By now, most of you reading understand that Halloween III is part of the franchise in name only. It has zero to do with any of the films, no matter how much present-day fanboys try to rationalize their bullshit to fit it into the Halloween canon timeline. It is a standalone film, created to make a new Halloween-themed standalone movie every year. A new franchise, giving us a yearly new story and that’s exactly what director and writer Tommy Lee Wallace envisioned.

Acclaimed writer, Nigel Kneale

“What we had worked out was the idea that Halloween was going to become a yearly franchise. A new launch…so there was just endless possibility…year in and year out there would be a new theme,” Wallace said. Only it didn’t turn out that way. John Carpenter’s writing hero, original writer and acclaimed horror and science fiction writer, Nigel Kneale left the project, demanding his name be removed from the blood-soaked script. Universal panicked at the idea of doing something new. Producer Dino DeLaurentiis wanted more blood and gore to match the competing slasher films that had grown in scope since the original Halloween.

Instead of doing something new, taking a risk, they slapped Halloween III over the title Season of the Witch and duped an entire fanbase into a hearty opening weekend or two before word got around that fans had been screwed. No Michael, no Jamie Lee…no connection to the two previous films. It was a hit and run.

I sat in our small town theater watching the film with a girlfriend and watched as people slowly walked out of the movie, some asking the manager for their money back as I heard when getting popcorn. The audience hated it. We stayed and I found myself really liking it. Once I figured out this had nothing to do with the original Halloween timeline, it was fun ride and we were two of a handful left in what was once a packed house. I left liking Halloween III a lot because it wasn’t Halloween II.

The third installments to the franchises had arrived, and most will agree that the third time is not always a charm. The third part is usually where the stress fractures begin to show. This applies to any genre. The aforementioned Return of the Jedi showed just where the eventual franchise was headed. Harrison Ford was “Harrison Bored,” sleepwalking for his paycheck in a film that had Chewie yelling like Tarzan and…Ewoks–fucking plush toys in the making to add to the Lucas Toy Empire.

Friday the 13th got on the newly revived 3-D craze. Maybe because it was 1983? Who knows? It was thankfully short-lived. What seemed to kick it off for me was some broadcast TV showing of the original Creature From The Black Lagoon in anaglyph 3-D. You got special red and blue glasses and sat in front of your TV to watch the first 3-D televised showing. It was cool. I guess. After 30 minutes you got sick of the glasses and I got a headache.

I was at that cynical teen age of 15 where nothing was all that impressive anymore. I just had my consumer cherry popped when I went in on half for the Atari 2600 version of Pac Man and we all know how that turned out—fuck E.T. It was Pac Man that popped the video game bubble and sunk Atari. I had zero expectations. That was the last video game cartridge I ever bought.

Carpenter’s The Thing played to me in a near-empty theater summer, 1982. I left astounded, believing at that time it was his best film and might be one of the best horror films ever made. I still feel that way. This was decades before Johnny-Come-Lately fans would “rediscover” it and claim they loved it all along. Where the hell were you in the theater I was sitting to help that film fight back against Spielberg’s alien that year?

I stand firm that The Thing is not a remake, but more a direct adaptation of Campbell’s Who Goes There? novella. Fight me. And bring your dad. We will meet at the dumpster after school. The problem was Americans wanted friendly aliens that ate Reese’s Pieces. They didn’t want shape-shifting creatures that corrupt every cell and invade from within. Unexplained, leave it to the audience, downbeat ending–that was so 1970s.

Friday the 13th went for broke and saw that the slasher was waning as the 80s moved on. It was time to wrap this shit up and we got Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3-D. Say what you will, the acting and story sucked, but that’s not what we paid for. In addition to boobs and blood, we got them in 3-D. I don’t know about where YOU saw the film theatrically, but the theater we watched it in had fantastic projection. While the movie itself was just “meh” the 3-D was spectacular and provided the best thrills and jumps. Aside from that, Jason got his iconic hockey mask, but we didn’t know it would become a thing. For most of us kids, we thought this was Jason’s last hurrah. The slasher was fading out.

Jaws 3-D continued the “Terrible Threes” death spiral. I worked at McDonald’s at the time, the only job I ever walked off. Before I told them where they could shove their two whole beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame bun, I switched shifts to catch the third shark movie in my beloved series.

I was planning to jump the Golden Arches for an usher job at the movie theater and the assistant manager on that night let me in for free. It was opening night. We got our polarized 3-D glasses and went inside to see if the third dimension really was terror.

The trailer for this film played months before at the front of one of those stupid Airplane! type spoofs, Young Doctors In Love. At first, I thought I would orgasm in the seat like I was in some porn house, but then those 3-D style red and yellow titles came up and it was “Uh oh” time.

I read Fangoria’s interview with director Joe Alves who was production designer for the first two films. He admitted they toyed with the idea that this shark would be the same one from the end of Jaws 2. In case you don’t remember, that shark was fried by over 200,000 volts from a lighthouse power cable. Just CONSIDERING this idea gave you clues that things were off.

And they were.

The opening gave us a bitten-off fish head floating into the camera and it got laughs. It never got better, ending with the scene in the photo above. Some of the worst effects ever put to screen. A rubber, souvenir stand shark. A mechanical fish that moved a mile every five weeks and worst of all…a kill show from the INSIDE of the shark. The 3-D was murky, dark and sucked. It left me with a headache and wanting money back for a film I saw for free.

I was PISSED over Jaws 3-D. Pissed because they ran two good films into the ground. It was an affront to the original classic. Hell, I wrote my own Jaws 3 in sixth grade and it was better than the 3-D turd we saw floating in our theater punchbowl.

By 16, I figured out hype. From Atari 2600 Pac Man to movies…you had to pay attention a lot closer because the clues are always there. There are always warning signs. Whether no screenshots of the video game on the box or TV commercials, “All New!” emblazoned on posters and ads for a film, or Joe Alves telling you they seriously considered an electrocuted, burned-up shark as their monster in the third film—you always get clues.

The only real pleasant surprise for 1983 was Sleepaway Camp. It didn’t get a screen at the mall, but our trusty small, local theater downtown got it. I grabbed my date and we hit The Sherman Theater to see what this summer camp slasher was all about.

I was pleasantly surprised. Overall it was Friday the 13th with a twist and an ending that so shook the girl I was with, she was silent as we left the theater. Out in the lobby, she asked “So what did you think of that?” I replied that I thought it was a fun little horror film. The ending was the whole thing and it worked.

“I don’t know if I can date someone who thinks a movie like that is ‘fun’.“ she snapped back. Judge much? What the hell did that mean? My knee-jerk reaction came fat. “Fine.” I decided we shouldn’t see so much of each other and we awaited our parents at opposite ends of the lobby without a final word to anyone. Decades later I would cast Felissa Rose in my film Camp Dread, and I wonder if that girl saw it and found it a “fun, little horror film.”

1984 made things a little better. Change was coming. There was a shift in the tide. Paramount knew it was time to end their Friday the 13th series so they decided to go out with a bang. The opening titles of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter literally blew up Jason’s mask. The poster even told us that this Friday, April 13th was going to be Jason’s unlucky day.

I was an usher at the mall theater then. I was 16, with a car and the power to let my friends into the movies for free. I was now president of my class and being invited to the parties and social excursions I pined for. When the “Beautiful People” or the apex predators atop the high school food chain were spotted in line, I acted like Steve Rubell at Studio 54, opening the red rope and waving them through. They would sometimes protest, but they always took a free movie.

Everyone loves movies.

I stood in the back of the theater watching my friends in that packed house scream as Jason tore through the cabin at the end of the film. Tom Savini returned to do the special effects and it showed. Corey Feldman wailed on Jason with a machete and when that Voorhees kid got the death blow to his head and then fell ON TOP of the blade, pushing it through his skull I swear you could hear that audience scream throughout the entire mall.

I felt like I was the one putting on the show, delighting in the screams and frights. I would stand in the back of that theater and know that one day I would make things to play the audience like that film did. One day I would work with Corey Feldman, visit Tom Savini’s home and drink with him. Who knew then?

The problem is Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter made money. A lot of it. There was still life in the long-in-the-tooth franchise after all. A Part 5 was quickly commissioned and that’s where they made the Halloween III mistake. Don’t screw with formula as New Coke was going to prove. Just give people what they came for. That’s a story for another time.

Horror shifted against the slasher 80s. We got this small horror film that opened in our smallest theater. Only 150 seats and most nights you barely saw 20 people in them. I would stand in the theater watching this film to almost empty houses nightly.

The film? A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Is NOES a “slasher?” It didn’t really follow the “have sex and die” formula. It was offbeat, imaginative and with a villain that was far scarier with an even more mundane name. Freddy was disturbing because he was calculating. He played long-term games for keeps. He wasn’t some lumbering, mute hulk-like Michael or Jason. Freddy had brains.

The film came and went from our mall multiplex. It would be a year later, the summer after I graduated, that home video made it a monster hit. With theaters glutted with slasher fare, NOES carved out a fanbase on home video. Perhaps it played better there because you could sit in the comfort of your home, perhaps even your bedroom and watch it and then have the fun of falling asleep.

I saw the impact of the film firsthand in the Summer of 1985. I worked at a video store part-time against my newly appointed assistant manager’s job at the mall cinema. I brought Elm Street home to show with some friends. It would be a horror night with beer, pot, and pizza. The goal was to increase the female-to-male ratio.

One of my friends was about as straight-laced as they came; open-minded, objective but had a bold sense of adventure and I adored her. I didn’t have any designs on her but loved her company. Despite hating horror, she obligated herself to attend this little get-together and enjoy the film. Another female friend was light-hearted, always positive and in a good mood. She was game for any gathering. While she didn’t smoke pot, she put up with the joints floating around and I doubt she was much of a horror fan.

We got through the whole film and overall the twelve or so kids seemed to like it. But my lighthearted friend and my straight-laced friend were unusually quiet. Straight-lace later told me she drove her parent’s van home in absolute terror from watching Nightmare.

It was my light-hearted friend who seemed the most disturbed. At the end of the night with almost everyone gone, she asked if I would personally drive her home. Now while I also didn’t think she was my type, she was attractive and always thought of her as a great friend. This request took me by surprise. Far be it from me to turn down a pretty girl’s interest.

I drove her home and she asked if I would come inside. Her father was gone for the weekend and she was alone. If this wasn’t an invitation, I don’t know what was. Where was this coming from? Didn’t matter. I walked her into the big, empty house.

She turned on the lights and we sat at the kitchen table. She was troubled by the film— particularly by Amanda Wyss’s death, thrown upside down in the bedroom and slaughtered like an animal.

Reminding her it was just a movie didn’t help. Instead, she shook her head and told me how, as a child, she came from a town where a couple of little kids in her school went missing. The abductor took them because they wore their names on their T-shirts. Something like that. She described how their town lived in fear…which kid would be next?

“Every town has a Freddy Krueger,” she finally said. It wasn’t the effects. It wasn’t the makeup. The story got her. Wyss’s death jolted her viscerally, as it was such a raw and horrifying performance. The film shook her far deeper than any of us and she didn’t partake in a single puff of weed.

I stayed with her until sunrise, saw her to bed and left, locking the door behind me so she could day sleep. I entered that house thinking one thing was going to happen and left with a whole different scenario to ponder.

Summer 1985 would be it. One horror film would stand out to me, reach me and create another course correction on my swim upstream.

And…it would get me laid.



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