Jason, Chucky, Freddy are no match for classic villains

October 31, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

AFTER THE SMALL fry get done today -- trolling the neighborhood dressed in their cute little costumes and begging for goodies -- you might be inclined to ask yourself: "What's in this Halloween thing for me?"

Adults are left to feast on a plethora of horror movies. Television serves them up throughout the month of October. For old-timers those of us over 40 -- television is the best bet. Current films offer nothing for fans of the horror movie genre.

Look at what Hollywood gives us. One theme repeated at least a half-dozen times. Today's film morons -- er, uh, I mean moguls -- have given us Jason in the "Friday the 13th" series. The "Jason" movies got up to around nine or 10, with each film showing the villain gleefully slashing teens to death.

Chucky, the homicidal doll from the "Child's Play" series, is back in theaters. "Bride of Chucky" was unleashed on an undeserving public last week.

Then there's the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series, with one Freddy Krueger terrifying teens in their dreams. The "Freddy" producers managed to milk this theme for five or six movies. They were aided by film critics, most of whom hailed the "Freddy" movies as innovative, creative and truly frightening. The truth is, they were neither.

The scariest horror movie ever was -- and still is -- "The Exorcist." Chucky, Freddy and Jason had two things in common: they weren't so much scary as disgusting, and they all left teens giggling and tittering in the audience.

"The Exorcist" sent folks to hospitals and psychiatric wards. That's how genuine and real the horror was. Movie critics who feel "Nightmare on Elm Street" is in the same class are probably Generation X-ers with their breath still reeking of Similac.

There've been only two post-1975 films that come even remotely close to approaching the terror of "The Exorcist." One is "Alien," about some fearsome and nearly indestructible critter looking to munch on a meal of homo sapiens. The other is "Angel Heart," which disguised itself as a detective film and just let the horror build.

The golden age of horror films occurred when baby boomers were growing up. We had the films that genuinely frightened, not those that repulsed. We had the films that still frighten even today. Generation X-ers probably can't appreciate these films. It's not because they find Freddy and Jason and Chucky frightening. It's because their horror comes from the music they listen to.

Horror films were so popular in the baby boomer days that there were some movie houses that specialized in nothing but showing fright flicks. The one in my neighborhood was called the New Albert, located on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was there that I got most of my childhood chills and thrills.

"The House on Haunted Hill" was released in 1959. I caught it at the New Albert, huddled between my older sisters Barbara and Carolyn and my younger brother Michael. (We went to see horror movies in a group, figuring in our twisted, tortured child minds that there'd be safety in numbers.) The film scared me half out of my wits.

The film has shown up in the past year, airing on cable's American Movie Classics. Baby boomer horror film fans will be delighted to know that -- after almost 40 years -- it's still scary. Freddy and Jason and Chucky won't be frightening 40 years hence. They're not even frightening now.

"The House on Haunted Hill" was produced and directed by William Castle, who was considered strictly B-movie talent. But our B-movie horror films are better than Generation X's A-movie horror films. In addition to "The House on Haunted Hill" we had "The Thing," and "Them!" On our A-movie list is a film today's horror film producers and directors will never top: Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."

Hitch's shocker -- also pushing 40 -- has its famous Shower Scene. No one -- now or 40 years hence -- will step into a shower and fret about whether Freddy or Jason or Chucky will rip the curtain back and start slashing. But anybody who's seen "Psycho" has in the back of his or her mind the notion that Ma Bates might snatch open the shower curtain and hack away.

That's the difference between our horror films and today's. And there's one other. Hitchcock noted with some justifiable pride that in his famous shower scene the audience never sees the blade penetrate Janet Leigh's skin. Hitchcock strove for fright, not blood and gore.

The Hollywood purveyors of today's trash can't make the same claim.

Pub Date: 10/31/98

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