Horror Cafe (1990)

Directed by J. F. Crook, the Horror Cafe was a single episode, unscripted television program which aired in 1990, that brought together a half-dozen of the most notable names in horror fiction at the time. The event was hosted by Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Books of Blood), with novelist Lisa Tuttle (Familiar Spirit), Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Haunted Palace), Peter Atkins (Morning Star, Hellraiser II),  John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) and author Ramsey Campbell (The Hungry Moon, The Influence).

The premise of the show and focus of the conversation was to create “the ultimate horror movie for the end of the Millennium,” this and many other topics, including the importance of art and the nature of horror, are all brought under discussion amidst the backdrop of a German expressionist studio.

The episode is excellent, but, as Zachary Paul of Bloody Disgusting remarks, “What a shame this didn’t become an ongoing series of specials. Each episode could’ve highlighted a different group of creative minds given a unique brief to inspire their ideal horror movie.” That is certainly something I should very much like to see today.

The entire program can be viewed online here: Horror Cafe (1990)

Selected quotes

Carpenter: We’re all going to that uncertain end of darkness. I think that’s everybody’s fear.

Barker: The thing that scares me is banality. The banality of the culture we actually live in.

Peter Atkins: To experience it [fear] and walk away from the theatre or close the book actually puts us back in a position of control. We actually control that fear. So, the fear that in real-life we have no control over—whether its fear of the unknown, fear of dissolution, fear of whatever anybody says—whenever that experience is turned into a fiction, whether its cinematic or literary, in some sense, its a saving grace that it is a fiction, that we can walk out, that we can close it. It gives us back that control.

Carpenter [to Barker]: When you’re talking about society, you’re anesthetized. The movie that changed my life was a film called ‘It Came From Outer Space,’ 1952—Harry Essex wrote the scrip, Jack Arnold directed it. 3D. Glasses on. This meteor comes screaming out of the night sky and blows up in my four year-old face. And I felt something. And I got up and I was shrieking in terror. But I’ve gotta tell you, a couple of seconds later, it was the greatest, because I felt such a high. I survived the meteor hitting me right in the face. It came out of the screen. Blew up in my face. I wanted to do that. I wanted to experience that because I was alive. It told me I was alive.

Corman: It was earlier suggested that what we’re doing is giving a negative experience, I don’t think it’s in any way a negative experience, I think it’s a positive, and very helpful, experience. Both on the basis of what John said and also if you go into a Freudian interpretation—I don’t want to go too deeply into that—

Barker : Freud’s under the table.

Corman: Right—where he should stay, at least for the moment.

Carpenter: I think you have to appeal to a universal emotion in people. Not their thoughts but their emotions. You have to get down to their feelings. And it has to be universal. It has to work in India. It has to work in the United States. It has to work in Great Britain. It has to work everywhere, emotionally. A big monster, that’s scary, it walks through that door, we all react the same way.

Campbell: Do we?

Carpenter: The thing in the pit [from The Hungry Moon] in your story, the thing that’s down there, if it was real, and it came out, I guarantee you, everybody at this table, we’d all run away from it.

Campbell: I wouldn’t. I wrote it!


Roger Corman’s The Phantom Eye (1999)

| Horror | TV series—feature film (1999)

Directed by Gwenyth Gibby | Edited by Lorne Morris | Written by Benjamin Carr

Starring: David Sean Robinson, Sarah Aldrich and Roger Corman, with Michael J. Anderson & Frank Gorshin.

Originally aired in 35-chapters for AMC’s Monsterfest 99.

The film begins with AMC Horror Department head Dr. Gorman (Corman, wearing a Frankensteinian labcoat) instructing archival interns, Joey (David S. Robinson) and Catherine (Sarah Aldrich) to find a film called ‘The Phantom Eye’ and return with it by midnight. The duo, in their search, moves into ‘dead storage,’ where they split up and find themselves within the vaults’ old films. From the speaker system, Gorman instructs them that they will face death and must utilize their knowledge of cinema to survive and escape.

The meta-satirical idea is a clever one and is executed in highly amusing fashion with the principal leads constantly rushing about the interiors of old films, complete with out-of-sync dubbing, grainy film and acting and tropes to match the period.

In one of my favorite segments in the film, Joey winds up in a old, melodramatic Hammer vampire film and resists the monster’s mesmeric charms by recalling that the bloodsucker speaks with a English, rather than Transylvanian, accent.

Senior vice president of original programming for AMC (the actual AMC, not the fictive one in the movie), Marc Juris said of the idea for the film, “We thought the best way to do this would be to go to one of the people who created these movies, and actually create an entirely new movie that pays tribute to him. It would [also] help educate and recontextualize these movies for a new generation of monster-movie lovers.” That it certainly does, as The Atomic Submarine (1959) and Corman’s own House of Usher (1960) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) all feature prominently in the picture.

My biggest criticism of the film is the bleak, twist-ending, which, though fascinating, is tonally at odds with the charming, tongue-in-cheek character of the rest of the piece. Whatever choice the interns made, they were fated to be actors in a play beyond their control—but then, what else is history; our own ‘phantom eye.’