Here are some fun facts about your favorite horror movies and characters. There are quite a few superlatives (e.g. Most Banned Movie of All Time, Most Influential Horror Dollars, Scariest Place to Film a Movie, etc.), plus some little known facts about why films were made, why actors accepted their roles, why people screamed and a lot more. As an added bonus, if you have seen all the movies mentioned and memorize these fun horror movie facts (including names and dates!), you will be granted ‘Horror Expert’ status by Horror Freak News. So, the next time you sit down with friends to watch a scary movie, pull out a fact or two in between kill scenes. If anyone questions you, shout real loud, “I’m a horror expert, dirt bag! You don’t get to question me!”
The Face of Horror
Silent horror star, Lon Chaney, achieved iconic horror status with his role as the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). His visage is immediately recognizable to not only horror fans, but movie goers everywhere. Because film was still in it’s embryonic stage in the 1920s, Chaney was allowed to do his own makeup. He used copious amounts of black paint to give his face a sunken, almost skeletal appearance. He also pulled his nose up with a wire so it stuck out like a pig’s and wore false teeth. They were the simple tools of a stage actor, applied in a masterful way.
Nothing a Good Facial Can’t Fix
Both Boris Karloff and Robert Englund stipulated in their studio contracts that they be treated to facial massages before makeup was applied and after it was removed. In Karloff’s case, he had to arrive at the studio at 4am, because it took six hours for makeup artist Jack Pierce to build Frankenstein’s face on top of his. Makeup effects had come a long way by the time David Miller was charged with transforming Englund into Freddy Krueger, but it still took a good four hours to accomplish such a feat.
Dracula Habla Español
In 1930, dubbing technology was still unreliable, so Universal made two completely different Dracula movies: One for English-speaking audiences and one for Spanish-speaking ones. The same sets were used, but the actors were different. Instead of Bela Lugosi, Carlos Villarias became the iconic face of the vampire in the Latin world. (Many Dracula DVDs have both versions of the film. If you watch the Spanish version, you’ll notice more goofs.)
What’s Your Motivation?
Role of a Lifetime
Porn sensation Marilyn Chambers had been attempting to break into mainstream films for years and finally got her opportunity with Rabid (1977), an early David Cronenberg movie. Cast as the lead, her character spreads a vampire virus from person to person. Although it was a laudable performance (by horror standards), the stigma of her earlier work prevented her from being cast in another mainstream role.
Six Degrees of Horror
Before Kevin Bacon had his breakout role in Footloose (1984) and before people started playing the time-killing game, ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’, the actor played a dumb teenager who met a very gruesome death in the original Friday the 13th (1980). It was the way he was killed and the graphic depiction of it that set the tone for Friday the 13th. Similar killings became the touchstone of the franchise’s success. But it’s worth noting that before the actor became famous for being in the right movie at the right time, he was the right person to kill in a way that will echo for all time.
Most Disturbing Scene to Act In
The Omen (1976) may have been relegated to the B-movie abyss were it not for the surprise casting of Gregory Peck as Ambassador Thorn. He brought a gravitas to the role that seemed natural (and in retrospect, necessary) for the character. Yet, he never would’ve accepted the role were he not desperately trying to escape the grief of losing his son to suicide. Work was the distraction he needed and he was willing to accept anything, even the part of father of the antichrist. One can only imagine what was going through Peck’s mind while performing in the last scene of the film. This much is clear: It’s disturbingly ironic that he ends up trying to kill his fictional son, while trying to escape the guilt associated with his own son’s death.
The First to Come Back
Although the slashers of the early 1980s would transform coming back from the dead into a cliché, in 1976 no one expected to see Carrie reach out of her grave and grab her friend’s arm. No one expected it, because it had never been done before. Although the sequence takes place in a dream, the audience doesn’t know it’s a dream until after the fact. Regardless, Carrie was the first.
Can only do ‘found footage’ Once
Part of the reason The Blair Witch Project (1999) breathed such rarified air of Indy film success was because the marketing campaign for its release was ingenious. In 1999 found footage was relatively unknown as a filming technique. After success at film festivals, Blair Witch was released on a rolling basis in and around universities. Several weeks prior to the release, missing person posters with pictures of the film’s protagonists were posted in and around student unions. If people got curious and wished to investigate online, they would find the Blair Witch Project website, complete with interviews and faked police reports about the missing individuals. Thus when people went to the theaters in the days before the film received national attention many believed they were seeing footage of real people who actually disappeared in the woods. Such a marketing campaign had never been tried before and as an ironic result of the campaign’s success, it will never work again. The secret is out now and although aspiring filmmakers would kill for a similar advantage, it can only work once.
Terror in the Making
Scariest Direction of All Time
Not only does The Exorcist (1973) make just about every scary movie top ten list, but it was also one of the scariest films to make. Director William Friedkin employed many unusual tactics to get the ‘best’ out of his cast. Lead actresses Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair both suffered back injuries after being yanked around in harnesses during some of the more violent possession scenes. In the movie, their screams seem genuine, because they were. Friedkin also had to talk Catholics in the crew out of walking off the set after he violently slapped Father Karras to get an authentically frightful expression out of him. As if these almost sadistic acts didn’t make the set tense enough, Friedkin would also randomly shoot a pistol loaded with blanks to elicit shock.
Most Grueling Filming Conditions of All Time
To keep costs on equipment low, the filming of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) took place sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, over a 30-day period. In July. In Texas. Temperatures ranged from the mid-90s to 110 degrees. The set had dead animals strewn all over the place and wreaked of formaldehyde, because they had to be shot full of the stuff to keep them from decomposing. Everyone wore the same clothes day after day without the opportunity to wash them. But the coup de grace was the dinner scene: It was filmed in a small room on a windless day in 100+ degree conditions. On that day(s), the actors gagged on the smell of human sweat and rotting chicken bones for 26 straight hours.
Want real terror? Get real sharks!
Open Water (2003) is the story of two scuba divers who by serendipity get a chance to experience that primal fear of the wild our ancestors faced. The film is based on the fate of Tom and Eileen Lonergan who are presumed to have been devoured by sharks in 1998 off the coast of Australia. Maybe it was because the movie was based on true events that the producers felt compelled to use real reef sharks when filming the stranded diver scenes. Or perhaps they thought the sharks would inspire genuine terror in the pair of actors they got to tread water for such a long time. Or perhaps they were hoping to catch on film another true-to-life shark attack, since their cameras weren’t there for the first one. Regardless, Open Water (2003) remains the only film to use real sharks with its actors in such close proximity. Jaws used a mechanical shark. Deep Blue (2003) used computer graphics. And even though a real Great White was filmed in The Reef (2010), it was shot at a distance and separate from the humans.
The Scariest Film to Act in
The actors in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) did not just have to endure a harrowing filmmaking environment; at least one had good reason to fear for her life. In the movie, Marilyn Burns plays the lone survivor of her group of friends. During scenes when she was being chased by Leatherface, her terror was palpable and believable because it was real: She knew that the man behind the mask, Gunnar Hansen, was stoned. One of the crew had made brownies as a snack for everyone without disclosing the secret ingredient. Hansen had some. They tasted good and he was pretty hungry, so he had a few more … And a few more. He was chasing Burns up the stairs when they hit him. And they hit hard. If Hansen seemed genuinely out of his mind in those scenes, that’s because he was. But think of Burns’ perspective: It’s hot. It’s smelly. You’re being chased by an actor, but one who can’t see well out of a mask, is brandishing a chainsaw and happens to have ingested a lot of wacky tobaccy; I’d be scared to.
Scariest Place to Film a Movie
Wes Craven strived for authenticity when filming The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) to the point of filming the scenes that ostensibly took place in Haiti, in Haiti. That feat alone makes Serpent, if not unique, extremely special. However during filming, the Haitian government informed the crew that due to civil and political strife, their safety could not be guaranteed. They were forced to evacuate and complete shooting in the Dominican Republic. In February 1986, days after the crew left, the army forced the dictator Papa Doc (Jean-Claude Duvalier) to resign. The producers of Serpent speculated that the crew may have been forced out of the country due to the content of the film, which features a Vodou revolt against Papa Doc.
Most Deprived Filming Crews
Most know, or at least can reasonably assume, that Night of the Living Dead (1968) was an extremely low-budget movie. But here’s how low budget it was: Over the course of 30 days of filming almost all of the cast and crew members slept in the same farmhouse in which the movie was being shot. The movie was also filmed with a single camera, which was so old and LOUD that it made shooting dialogue impossible. Romero overcame this obstacle by wrapping the camera in a custom-made blimp to shield it from the microphone.
Horror for the Ages
The Only Best Picture
Although The Exorcist (1973) and Jaws (1975) were both nominated, Silence of the Lambs (1991) remains the only horror movie ever to win the academy award for Best Picture.
Horror Films that Will be Preserved for all Time
The National Film Registry stores American films that have a cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance. As of 2014, the registry has selected 650 movies and currently stores them in a vault meant to withstand natural and manmade disasters. Each film is considered integral to the American experience. (Though one wonders what Americans were tripping on when they had these experiences.) There are not many horror films in the registry, but here they are: To Be Expected: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), King Kong (1933), Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973) and Jaws (1975) Interesting: Phantom of the Opera (1925), Freaks (1932), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Halloween (1978), Alien (1979) and Silence of the Lambs (1991) Really Interesting: The Invisible Man (1933), Cat People (1942), The Thing From Another World (1951), House of Wax (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Eraserhead (1977)
Strictest Release Rules
Alfred Hitchcock believed that Psycho (1960) had the potential to scare audiences more than any other film in history, but only under meticulously controlled conditions. These conditions applied not just to the filming, but also the release of the film. Theater owners could only show the movie if they signed contracts guaranteeing that no one would be allowed in late to the theater under any circumstances. Psycho had to be seen from opening to closing credits completely uninterrupted for audiences to feel its full effect. Frustrated moviegoers sometimes tried to bully their way into the auditorium. But most patiently waited for the next showing and listened to the following message from Hitchcock, which played in the lobby: “How do you do, ladies and gentlemen. I must apologize for inconveniencing you this way … You see, Psycho is most enjoyable when viewed at the beginning and proceeding to the end. I realize this is a revolutionary concept, but we have discovered that Psycho is unlike most motion pictures. The manager of this theater has been instructed at the risk of his life, not to admit to the theater any persons after the picture starts.”
The Movie that Made Audiences Feel Fear
The Tingler (1959) is a decent William Castle movie, featuring a solid performance by Vincent Price. But it probably would have sunk to the depths of silver screen obscurity, had Castle not convinced Columbia Pictures to distribute the film to theaters with Percepto! In the movie, Price’s character is obsessed with uncovering the biological source of terror. He discovers that a creature in the spine appears when fear is aroused and produces a tingling sensation. The ‘tingler’ grows as the feeling of terror grows, but once someone screams it shrinks back into nothingness. During tingler scenes, several members of the audience whose chairs were hooked up to Percepto, would feel a tingling sensation. At the beginning of the film audiences were warned that the film may trigger the tingler in all of them. The only way to keep it from killing was to scream. And scream they did.
No one is Going to Believe he Came Back From the Dead
Sean Cunningham saw spectacular initial success with Friday the 13th (1980). Like John Carpenter, for the sequel he wanted to keep the title but do a completely different movie that also took place on Friday the 13th. The common factors would be the horror and the date on which it occurred, but that would be it. Carpenter got to do just that with Halloween III (1982), but Cunningham didn’t have as much clout. Instead, Friday the 13th Part II (1981) brought Jason back to life. But when a colleague first suggested the idea for the sequel, Cunningham thought it was the “worst idea in the world,” because it wouldn’t make sense to have a child come back from the dead to avenge his mother’s death, unless he was a ghost. But Cunningham was taken off the project and Steve Miner, who didn’t care about storyline feasibility, was brought on because the studio thought it wouldn’t really matter how believable the story was: Friday the 13th sold and so would another movie with the same title and near-identical action. And they were right. Then right again. Then right again. Then right again. Etc…
The Inspiration Behind the Blood
Chicks Can Write
Mary Shelley wrote the horror classic, Frankenstein, in the early 19th century. The monster in the novel would become one of the most iconic characters in literary history. But those who have read the novel will notice that the monster’s behavior has little in common with the one featured on the silver screen. When James Whale was directing his Frankenstein (1931), he drew inspiration for his monster and its behavior from Paul Wegener’s Der Golem (1920), a silent expressionist film. If you want to see the true Frankenstein forerunner, watch Der Golem (Most surviving silent movies can be streamed for free on youtube.)
What makes great films? Pettiness.
Petty competition with the French inspired Psycho (1960). Robert Bloch’s novel by the same name, was loosely based on the life of Ed Gein. Bloch lived in a rural Wisconsin town not far from where Gein performed his grisly acts and was intrigued by the possibility of an otherwise normal-looking guy being a serial killer. When the novel was published in 1959, Alfred Hitchcock jumped at the opportunity to make it into a movie. He had been searching for an opportunity to direct a “better” suspense-horror film than the critically acclaimed Les Diabolique (1955), which had convinced critics that Director Henri-Georges Clouzot was the new master of suspense. Hitchcock wanted an opportunity to reclaim his title and Psycho was his vehicle. Without Clouzot’s film, Hitchcock likely never would’ve made his masterpiece. Ultimately, Psycho produced an intimacy between the audience and the camera that was unprecedented in horror. “It wasn’t a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it great performances,” Hitchcock stated. “They were aroused by pure film… It’s the kind of picture in which the camera takes over.” It also was a great one up on the frogs.
A Horror Classic That Almost Wasn’t (because of a woman)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) is the most popular story in cinematic horror. It has been adapted to film more than any other to date, beginning with a 1908 silent short (now lost). There are over 123 known film adaptations. But this source of inspiration was almost lost forever because Stevenson’s wife didn’t like it. Stevenson burned the first iteration of the novella but fortunately questioned his wife’s judgment soon thereafter and rewrote it. (He did not show the second iteration to her.)
Horror Masters who Hate Each Other
It’s no secret amongst horror fans that Stephen King didn’t like the theatrical adaptation of The Shining (1980), but Stanley Kubrick didn’t really care for the book either. So why make the movie? “With The Shining, the problem was to extract the essential plot and to reinvent the sections of the story that were weak. The characters needed to be developed a bit different than they were in the novel…” Kubrick confessed. “Its virtues lay almost entirely in the plot.” Kubrick went on to comment that there was no finesse in the writing or great insight by the author. The Shining got made purely because it presented Kubrick with an eerie concept that could “really be scary.” And it was. But King hated the adaptation, because of the lack of believability of Kubrick’s ending and how Kubrick chose to develop the characters.
The Scariest True Story
A lot of things about The Exorcist (1973) are scary. Not the least of which is that many of the creepiest parts are all based on experiences from a real-life exorcism: The exorcism of Roland Doe (not his real name). The family of Roland had exhaustive medical exams performed before approaching a priest. Several witnesses claimed that furniture moved and beds shook in the boy’s presence. The boy was also reported to cower at the appearance of sacred objects and speak in a deep, guttural voice that spewed profanity. Unlike the in movie, however, the exorcism ritual was not singular and was conducted by various priests in Washington D.C. and St. Louis, a total of thirty times. In all, nine priests were involved. Every priest, plus thirty-one witnesses signed official Roman Catholic Church documents attesting to the occurrence of the supernatural events. The priests also reported the appearance of words, such as ‘evil’ and ‘hell’ on the boy’s body during the exorcism. This testimony became the basis for the William Blatty novel, which formed the basis for the movie.
The Movie That Didn’t Need a Story
Few movie ideas begin with just a title. Titles on screenplays are usually afterthoughts, because they invariably get changed into something studio executives believe will be more marketable. But filmmaker Sean Cunningham was always acutely aware of the business side of filming and Friday the 13th (1980) was one of those rare instances when the title came first. Cunningham was working on another project at the time, but couldn’t get the title out of his mind. He knew it would be a horror movie and he knew the billboard alone would make the film profitable, especially if he could do it within a relatively small budget. But that’s all he knew! And that’s what he committed to. Instead of worrying about little things like a screenplay and funding, Cunningham took out a full page add in Variety announcing the production of Friday the 13th and everything fell into place afterward. I guess he was right. Some titles just work themselves into movies.
Finding Footage: Terror and Treasure
The Most Banned Movie of All Time
Due to graphic violence presented in the never-before used found footage format, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) was believed to be a snuff film after its debut in Italy. The film was seized and Director Ruggero Deodato was taken into custody. He was released after revealing the filming tricks behind scenes critics thought could not be faked. Nonetheless the movie was banned or heavily censored in 50 countries, in part due to its (unfaked) scenes of animal torture, which included the slicing open of a giant tortoise and filming the still-beating organs on the inside.
The Most Influential Horror Dollars of All Time
The Blair Witch Project (1999) had an impact on the horror genre on par with that of Halloween (1978). Not only did it surpass Halloween as the most successful independent movie of all time, but it also launched the found footage branch of the genre. But more than it’s precedent setting success, Blair Witch opened up the filmmaking market to many entrepreneurs only capable of producing projects on a shoestring budget. Still, none have come close to getting the bang for their buck that Blair Witch did. With a budget of $22,500, the film raked in more than $248 million at the box office alone. In other words, for each dollar invested, the average return on investment was $11,022; easily making the initial investment the most wisely spent money in horror movie history.
Why Lifeguards Hate Spielberg
They Didn’t go in the Water
The 1975 horror blockbuster Jaws, broke box office records and encouraged studios to take more risks with big budget horror films. But most telling of the film’s influence on society was its impact on the beach business in the summer of its release. Not only did beach resort reservations drop but the entire industry suffered a depression, because after seeing Jaws most simply didn’t feel like going into the water.
The Greatest Indy film of all time is… The Babysitter Murders
When Irwin Yablans proposed the idea for the film that would eventually be called Halloween (1978), he initially wanted to call it ‘The Babysitter Murders’. Fortunately, John Carpenter persuaded him to change the title.
The Accidental Franchise
At the end of Halloween (1978) Michael Myers vanishes, leaving the door open for a sequel. But that was never the original intent of John Carpenter or the producers of the film. The purpose of having him get up and walk away (we don’t see this part, but it’s assumed) was to suggest to the audience that Michael Myers was beyond the movie. He was the boogieman who was now haunting the streets of your neighborhood. (That’s also the reason there were so many neighborhood shots in the film; to emphasize how similar Haddonfield is to where you live.) Carpenter didn’t want there to be another Michael Myers film and actively fought against the sequel until begrudgingly agreeing to write and help direct it.
We Don’t Need no Stinkin’ Michael Myers
Once Halloween (1978) became a commercial success, Carpenter had the idea for sequels that were completely different movies but also took place on Halloween. There would be a new one every year, each premiering in theaters in the days leading up to October 31st. Yet, the studio demanded the Michael Myers story be finished first. (It seemed to have more moneymaking prospects.) Carpenter begrudgingly accepted and didn’t get the chance to showcase his idea until Halloween III (1982). Maybe it was because he let Tommy Lee Wallace direct it, but although the film proved profitable, it didn’t attract nearly as big of a box office as the previous two and sent the franchise into the doldrums for several years. (Halloween IV didn’t premier until 1988.)