Horror directors doing horror writers in the 90s

It  feels like the close of the millennium was the end of the era of horror movies based on iconic authors (although Stephen King has made a big comeback lately). So I thought I’d take a look back at a handful of them in my collection. And they all happen to be from veteran horror directors.

LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995)

Clive Barker writes and directs this one, which I watched in its 2-hour director’s cut Blu-Ray edition. That’s 3 strikes for me. I don’t know why I simply can’t appreciate the works of Clive Barker, either book or film. They are never scary to me, I can never connect with the protagonist, they are way too fantastical and out there, and they are all over the place.

This one begins in 1982 in the desert. An occult magician and his cult terrorize a girl they plan to kill (a baboon is involved). An illusionist comes in and defeats him.

13 years later, cutie Scott Bakula is an investigator who dabbles in the investigating the supernatural. He attends the illusionist’s show.

He falls for the illusionist’s wife, played by horror queen Famke Janssen. He investigates the illusionist and sees a lot of monsters that aren’t actually there but just illusionist holograms. He keeps having encounters with some androgynous baddies (I appreciate that this is probably Barker’s only film with some noticeable queer and homoerotic content).

This goes on and on and on, until finally everyone ends up in the desert to battle it out with the occult magician.

He’s all corpse-like and there are other hellish creature moments, but this segment is also overblown and over-indulgent. The special effects range from pretty cool to early CGI cheesy, and I’d say they’re the best part of the film.

PHANTOMS (1998)

The director of The Curse of Michael Myers brings us a sci-fi religious creature feature written by Dean Koontz. Blech. File Phantoms under my list of “why can I never remember anything about this one no matter how many times I see it?” movies.

As is always the case with these types of movies, I forced myself to pay attention so I could blog about it. Starts off pretty good. Rose McGowan and her sister return to their hometown to find it deserted…except for all the dead bodies. Some great creepy and gruesome moments.

Then they meet up with sheriff Ben Affleck and deputy Liev Schreiber.

More creepy body reveals and then mutant creatures attack that are not unlike what we’d eventually see in The Mist. And then…the military is called in. The movie turns immediately to shit. It’s like a The Thing knockoff (complete with dog and snow), but thrown into the mix is way too much science and religion when Peter O’Toole comes in to get a paycheck as he clings to a career.

The monsters are cool and there’s some of that spastic head shake effect that was all the rage back then, but none of that can save this one.

And you have to wonder why the military would allow Rose and sister to just be in the heat of the action instead of tucked away somewhere safe.

SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999)

I remember just thinking this one okay when it was first released, but I have to say upon a fresh viewing, it’s my favorite Tim Burton film! It’s a great blend of gory, campy, scary, and atmospheric, and visually and stylistically Burton is at the top of his game. It’s beautifully gothic and macabre, with a color palate right out of Corpse Bride.

Considering this is based on one of my all-time favorite stories, I’m surprisingly okay with and enjoyed the rewrite that turns the tale into a supernatural murder mystery. They had to do something to drag it out to a 105-minute movie.

Burton makes this a series of delicious horror vignettes beginning with the opener, in which he calls in a favor from Martin Landau, who appears briefly in a classic scarecrow scene. Christopher Lee appears as the judge who assigns Ichabod Crane to the case. Casper Van Dien plays the suave jerk Brom (although Crane is rather pretty for a change as well), and Christina Ricci is love interest Katrina.

While the movie doesn’t take place on Halloween, which is common for adaptations of Washington Irving’s original non-Halloween tale, Burton includes a great covered bridge/Jack o’ lantern chase that is clearly a nod to the classic Disney animated version.

All the Headless Horseman attack and chase scenes are outstanding, heads roll galore, there’s a great creepy witch that totally pulls a Beetlejuice (awesome), and witchcraft and the occult are smoothly folded into the story of the legendary figure.

To top it all off, Johnny Depp is perfect as the subtly comical Crane, who is no brave hero (he can’t even handle the sight of blood), and the icing on the cake is the totally unexpected appearance by Christopher Walken.

DAGON (2001)

I would say this late entry in his Lovecraft adaptations is one of my favorite of Stuart Gordon’s films. Unlike most of his over the top, campy gore fests, this one is truly chilling at times.

Two couples are out on a boat when a storm hits, causing them to crash on the rocks. One couple takes a lifeboat to a nearby fishing village to get help…and discovers it’s actually a fish village! It is totally unnerving as the couple starts to realize the people in the village are part fish.

Once the truth is out, this becomes one long, suspenseful and scary chase scene with the whole town doing the chasing! But it goes deeper than that, with themes of rituals, sacrifices, and a sea creature god. However, the film doesn’t let the more Lovecraftian complexities of the plot bog down the pacing or pure thrilling horror aspects. As a major non-fan of Lovecraft, this is a huge bonus for me.

Meanwhile, the lead is adorable, and I’m shocked he has very little acting credits beyond this movie.

There’s also some great, gruesome gore, the fish people are creepy as hell, and the big final ceremony scene is very reminiscent of Lair of the White Worm.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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