By Nickolas Cook
Hello, Black Glove devotees. This month’s editorial is sort of like a time machine ‘cause we’re going to take a little trip back…back…back into the long ago days of 1979. Here’s what we were listening to as a nation 30 years ago, folks.
1979 Billboard's Top 20 Songs & Artist
# 1 My Sharona- The Knack
# 2 Bad Girls- Donna Summer
# 3 Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?- Rod Stewart
# 4 Reunited- Peaches & Herb
# 5 Hot Stuff- Donna Summer
# 6 I Will Survive- Gloria Gaynor
# 7 Escape (The Pina Colada Song)- Rupert Holmes
# 8 Ring My Bell- Anita Ward
# 9 Babe- Styx
# 10 Too Much Heaven- Bee Gees
# 11 Rise- Herb Alpert
# 12 Tragedy- Bee Gees
# 13 No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)- Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer
# 14 Still- Commodores
# 15 Pop Music- M
# 16 Sad Eyes- Robert John
# 17 What A Fool Believes- The Doobie Brothers
# 18 Good Times- Chic
# 19 Heartache Tonight- Eagles
# 20 Heart Of Glass- Blondie
Here’s what we were reading:
1979 Fiction Bestsellers
1 The Matarese Circle Robert Ludlum
2 Sophie's Choice William Styron
3 Overload Arthur Hailey
4 Memories of Another Day Harold Robbins
5 Jailbird Kurt Vonnegut
6 The Dead Zone Stephen King
7 The Last Enchantment Mary Stewart
8 The Establishment Howard Fast
9 The Third World War: August 1985 John Hackett
10 Smiley's People John Le Carré
Yeah, you probably recognize a few names there- especially a certain horror writer that was about to take over the world.
And here’s 1979’s Top 10 TV shows:
1. 60 Minutes (CBS)
2. Three's Company (ABC)
3. That's Incredible! (ABC)
4. Alice (CBS)
5. M*A*S*H (CBS)
6. Dallas (CBS)
7. Flo (CBS)
8. The Jeffersons (CBS)
9. The Dukes of Hazzard (CBS)
10. One Day at a Time (CBS)
So why the step back in time?
If you’re a serious horror fan, the year 1979 should hold some dear memories, and if you weren’t yet born, then you should get down on your youthful knees and give thanks to the horror gods for the summer of 1979.
Called ‘The Summer of Fear’ by TIME Magazine, “Hollywood’s Scary Summer” by Newsweek, and written about as the ‘Horrors of 79’ in Rolling Stone Magazine by none other than two masters of horror, Stephen King and George Romero, it was as if the stars had aligned for a horror storm. By the end of 1980, that storm had become a hurricane of horror and boogeymen were popping up everywhere- in books, films, TV, commercials. Even the old Creature Features were making a solid comeback on local cable and small television stations, thanks to this horror renaissance.
The media labeled ‘Summer of Fear’ saw the theatrical release of several genre classics, including ‘Alien’, ‘Amityville Horror’, ‘The Brood’, ‘The Changeling’, ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Legacy’, ‘Nightwing’, ‘Phantasm’, ‘Prophecy’, ‘Salem’s Lot’, ‘When A Stranger Calls’ and the ultimate gore classic, Lucio Fulci’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ rip-off, ‘Zombie’ (known as ‘Zombie 2’ overseas).
A glance at the 10 Top Grossing films of 1979:
1. Kramer vs. Kramer $104,986,000
2. Alien $78,944,891
3. Apocalypse Now $78,784,010
4. Star Trek: The Motion Picture $56,000,000
5. The Jerk $42,990,000
6. Rocky II $42,169,000
7. 10 $37,000,000
8. The Amityville Horror $35,000,000
9. Moonraker $33,924,000
10. The Muppet Movie $32,000,000
…and you can see two of them are horror classics that have not yet lost their impact, even against today’s overblown CGI-fests. They still scare the be-jesus out of young and old alike.
I remember a certain summer night very well. A balmy night- a warm wind was cutting through the skeletal pine limbs, carrying with it the scent of mud and saltwater, of summer cooked dirt and sagging green things that persevered even in the 90 plus degree days of that year in Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Incidentally, that’s where I grew up. Well, more specifically, in a little shit-burg on the other side of the John Shave Jr. Bridge called Yulee (Blackrock). Back then, I saw that bridge only as cement and metal joining two lumps of Florida land. But by the time I was a teenager, I knew what that bridge really meant. It was the tacit social division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
I lived with the rest of the Cooks on the poor side of that bridge.
My family- mama, daddy and my little brother, Phillip- came across the bridge that night in 1979, as we did every Friday or Saturday at dusk, to see movies. The sun was going down in a burning crimson fury, leaving the world I knew in a dust blue dripping into another humid summer night. We were going to see a double feature at one of the six local drive-in theaters we had within 15 or 20 miles of home. Sometimes we’d hit two drive-ins in a weekend, depending whether daddy had gotten paid, and the bills and the beer hadn’t left us penniless for another seven days. Sometimes we went to ‘The Playtime’, or ‘The Fox’, sometimes ‘The Five Points’. But mostly, because it was the closest, we’d hit ‘The Pines Drive-In’, so named because it was surrounded by thick shadowy forests of pine. ‘The Pines’ had a single-screen, unlike some of the double- and triple-screen joints we sometimes went to, where you could watch up to six movies in a single evening, if you could read lips and the rearview and side mirrors were angled just right.
‘The Pine’s’ double feature that summer night in 1979 was Don Coscarelli’s ‘Phantasm’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’, and if that’s not enough to scar a kid forever, I don’t know what is.
I was almost ten years old (Nine years and nine months! I would have been sure to clarify, if you’d asked my age back then. That was when every month counted. Well…they still do, but not the way they did when I was in rush to grow up; now their passing is only getting me closer to a place where the months won’t matter one day). At ten, I had no conscious intellectual concept of the power of media, and how a buzz can build into a self-fulfilling prophecy. All I knew then was that there seemed to be a palpable sense of dark excitement in the air. It was that same dark energy I always felt around Halloween- when being scared was fun, and monsters were king, better than fucking jolly old St. Nick, the Easter Bunny, and my birthday rolled into one, as a matter of fact.
You know memory is funny thing…
I can’t remember where I park my car when I go to the mall, or whether I mailed off a check to keep the lights burning. But by God! I remember every damned thing about that night in the summer of 1979. Every minute, man. It’s like some higher force was at work on me that night. As if some horror god had reached down from the darkness between the stars and touched my head with his cold, dead finger and said, “You are one of us now”. I even remember what I wore that evening: a striped brown and yellow t-shirt, a pair of cutoff denim pants-become-makeshift redneck shorts, and a pair of ratty old Converse red high top tennies. And I distinctly recall what I ate that night, as if it was my last meal: a slice of that greasy ass drive-in pizza- you know the kind you could lube your car’s wheel bearings with the napkin afterwards- a pickled egg, a pickled sausage, a bucket of buttery, salty popcorn, and of course, that staple of Southern life, a big old wax paper cup of icy cold Coca Cola.
But mostly I remember the fear.
When The Tall Man popped through the window towards the end of the film, before the big climax, I remember getting cold sweats.
“Boooooooooyyyy!!” he intoned with that perfect menace that every kid knew meant business.
My brother huddled up close, buried his head in my shoulder, near tears with his own terror of Angus Scrimm’s spot on character. I remember thinking, Well, that’s all well and good he’s got someone to protect him, but who the hell is going to protect me?
When the credits rolled, I remember mama turning in her seat to see if we were okay, and the both of us only stared at her, wide-eyed and terror stricken. Oh, yeah, there’d be plenty of nightmares for a couple of days.
We almost didn’t stay for the second feature, ‘Alien’, and that would have been a crying shame. Thank God daddy interceded on our behalf. And, of course, that only compounded our kid terror. That fucking alien has to be, hand’s down, one of the creepiest things ever created for the screen. You didn’t see a whole lot of it in the movie, but when you did…oh boy, did it work on something deep inside you. Like having a spider crawl through your shirt or something.
Since that night I’ve watched ‘Phantasm’ dozens of times, and, you know, I get that same cold gut thrill every single time I do. It’s magic has not diluted in the least for me, folks. And its importance on my own creative life can’t be measured.
But enough of the past…
So it’s officially 30 years since that huge heyday for horror known as ‘The Summer of Fear’, and its easy now to cast a critical backwards glance into the shadows of the past to see the domino line of begots and begots to the here and now. Some of the begots that inherited a little of the magic of that special time in the history of horror have gone on to leave their own mark on the genre (1980’s Friday the 13th, for instance). But it’s my own opinion that the wonderfully dark heritage handed down to subsequent generations of genre filmmakers has been horribly squandered.
Some of this is due to short sightedness, studio avarice, creative laziness, and an overbearing zeal for style over substance.
Folks, we are smack dab in the middle of an American horror culture etiolation. It is the worst I’ve ever seen. I’ll be forty this year, so I’ve seen plenty of ups and downs in the genre. I know what I’m talking about, here.
There is no originality in American horror cinema. It’s dead! Kaput! Finished! To paraphrase a famous pet store customer, ‘It is no more!’
And where do you think the next creative renaissance in American cinema will come from?
Drama? Crime thrillers? Comedies?
Please. Let’s be serious.
No sir, it has always, and I suspect always will, come from the speculative genres.
Horror. Sci-fi. Fantasy.
Those are the bread and butter of imagination and creativity. Not fucking chick-flicks. Not cop buddy movies. Not explosive action films. And not teenage sex comedies. They all have their place, of course. But they do NOT progress our creativity in filmmaking.
It is the responsibility of the young filmmakers, or the wannabes out there, to stop relying on overblown CGI and video game violence to rule the day. There is nothing new in it. Get back to the basics of horror, people!
Why did ‘The Blair Witch Project’ scare the hell out of everybody, and finally beat the top grossing indie film of all time, ‘Phantasm’?
The short answer is because they did nothing but setup the scares; we did the rest. It was our imagination that made it work.
There is still much to be said for exploiting the seeds of paranoia and fear of the unknown inherent in the human condition. Those things, as simple as they are, still work, by God!
So why are we making PG13 kiddie horror? Why movies which consist of nothing but jump scares and no substance? Why all the video game violence with no real world consequences?
If you sense frustration in my words, you’re right. I am.
And I suspect I’m not alone in this frustration.
Horror is important to me.
The genre should be important to any creative mind. It is the one true thing we all share.
So come on Hollywood! Get off your collective arse and start respecting our intelligence. Stop making dummied down horror for teenagers.
Scare me, for Christ’s sake!
Don’t piss away ‘The Summer of Fear’ and its heritage in American horror cinema.