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Scott Sigler – 30/20/10 – Three Decades of Holiday Horror (or We Miss Our Body Snatchers)

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Can it be true? Is it possible that horror movies are not popular during the holiday season?

I’m as much a family man as the next guy, but I wish death upon Uncle Morty every Christmas Eve around 10 p.m., once his toupee starts flopping the wrong way, he’s cradling the fifth of Chivas like the child he never had, and he only sets it down to play his favorite holiday game, “Let’s juggle the Nativity scene.”

So you get crammed into these tight quarters with your family: Ever seen The Mist? It’s kind of like that, just substitute a three-bedroom ranch for the supermarket, and you’ve got the idea. So you’re there and you’re thinking, “Golly, I sure would like to see someone get eviscerated with a chain saw right now.” But you know what? It’s Christmas, and the movie screens are filled with cartoons, action flicks, and — of course — sappy family melodramas. What, we didn’t cry enough when Second Cousin Betty revealed she’d been knocked up by Third Cousin Donnie? (I grew up in a very small town, and, sadly, that was cause for celebration by most of my clan.)

Yes, kids, it’s true: It seems that horror-movie releases are few and far between over the holidays. Nevertheless, there have been a few…

30 Years Ago: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Released on December 22, 1978, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a horror classic. Based on the novel by Jack Finney (and a remake of the 1956 movie), it starred Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, and Jeff Goldblum. Snatchers finished number three at the holiday box office, behind Every Which Way But Loose and Superman . It really doesn’t swell the horror heart with pride to think that a movie featuring an orangutan (and, OK, Clint Eastwood) took the top prize and that some dude reversing the effects of time and gravity by making the Earth “spin backwards” took second. There was one other horror offering in theaters 30 years ago, the Australian flick The Last Wave . While it didn’t make waves at the box office (yeah, pun intended), this Peter Weir picture did set the high-water mark for horror based on Aborigine culture (at least until The Howling III, or maybe Cocodile Dundee).

20 Years Ago: Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Released on December 23, 1988, the second installment in this Clive Barker-based franchise debuted in eighth place, the next week dropped to tenth, and by the end of January was down past the twentieth position. It went on to gross just $11 million. Considering its low budget, that ain’t bad. Doug Bradley was back as Pinhead, treating us to another dose of bass-heavy, gravitas-laden vocals. As for quality, it’s a Hellraiser movie: The poster features a dude with pins sticking out of his face. If you’re down with random supernatural powers that make absolutely no sense, a puzzle box that is unsolvable until the last possible moment, and finding out how Pinhead got his name, then this movie rocks. Close your eyes for the special effects, though — what was low budget two decades ago does not stand the test of time.

10 Years Ago: The Faculty
Jon Stewart as a zombie-esque teacher figure hell-bent on taking over student’s minds? (Yes, that Jon Stewart.) Boom, dead, done — he makes the flick immediately worth the rental. Wait, it was directed by Robert Rodriguez? It’s starting to smell fragrantly of “classic B-movie.” Hold your horses: Selma Hayek, Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Famke Jansson, Bebe “Lilith” Neuwirth, and Robert “Terminator” Patrick? How was this not the number one movie of the 1998 Christmas season? Well, because of the movie, you see. It takes heavily from Puppet Master and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A character even uses those movies as “reference materials” when trying to figure out why the teachers and students are turning into identical-yet-less-than-enthusiastic versions of themselves. There is some fun psychodrama in this one, but don’t plan on being wowed by high-level effects. The Faculty ended up turning an estimated budget of $15 million into a $75 million gross (to date). Oh, so that’s why you spend the money on stars, instead of effects: so you can cash in on DVD sales.

The Ghost of Christmas Future:
So, in 2008, what horror goodies are awaiting us on Christmas day? There aren’t any. I guess I’ll have to entertain myself by watching Uncle Morty’s behind-the-back juggle of the Virgin Mary. I can only pray that that big package under the tree is a chain saw.

Scott Sigler writes tales of hard-science horror, then gives them away as free audiobooks, at www.scottsigler.com. His new novel, Contagious, hits bookstores on December 30 and is currently available for preorder. If you don’t agree with what Scott says on this blog, please e-mail him at scott@scottsigler.com. Include all relevant personal information, such as your address and what times you’re at home, so Scott can visit and show you his world-famous Chicken Scissors.

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