Wesley Earl Craven was born in Cleveland, Ohio on the 2nd of August, 1939. Studying English, psychology, philosophy and writing, he moved into the academic sphere and became a teacher for a number of years.
However, something was missing, and a passion for moviemaking led him to purchase a 16mm camera and he left the world of teaching for a career in the movie industry.
His first named directing credit – 1972’s The Last House on the Left – would link him to the horror genre forever. His subsequent work on 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes and 1981’s Deadly Blessing showed his gift for telling horrific stories that featured unsettling and otherworldly elements, but with the creation of Freddy Krueger in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, he gave moviegoers a terror they could all relate to.
Craven continued to innovate, his work including movies such as zombie thriller The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) and claustrophobic chiller The People Under the Stairs (1991). Throughout his career he showed an uncanny aptitude for casting actors who would later hit the big time, with A-listers such as Johnny Depp owing much of their early success to his films. 1996 saw him toy once again with audiences’ expectations with Scream, a project which kickstarted the horror genre.
Wes Craven married three times and had two children. While his movies broke new ground in frightening their audiences, he was recognised as a softly-spoken, thoughtful man; his death on the 30th of August, 2015 left a uniquely empty space in the movie world, but a filmmaking legacy whose impact can be felt in countless other productions.
A native of London, John Gilling was born on the 29th of May, 1912. At just 17 years of age he quit his job with an oil company and headed to Hollywood. His first movie credit was as assistant director on 1935’s Father O’Flynn; what followed was a hugely busy period in which he took the reins on a wealth of movies, from Bela Lugosi comedy Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952) to dramas such as The Gilded Cage (1955).
The 1960s marked the beginning of a long-running association with Hammer, his first directorial project for the company coming in the shape of thriller The Shadow of the Cat (1961). He went on to direct several key motion pictures for the studio, from The Scarlet Blade (1964) to The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and The Mummy’s Shroud (1967). In these, as in his non-Hammer projects, his ability to tell a story efficiently was an important element of his work.
His extensive experience in the movie world shone through in his skill as a screenwriter. In many cases his writing work went hand-in-hand with his role as director, particularly in the late 1950s when he was instrumental in the creation of movies such as Odongo (1956); he also wrote for projects he did not direct, such as Trog (1970).
Although his focus was mainly on movie work, Gilling was by no means limited to the medium, particularly later in his career. In parallel with his Hammer work, he directed several episodes of popular television series The Saint and The Champions. He later retired to Spain, and passed away on the 22nd of November, 1984 at the age of 72.
The descendant of a family of barons, Ingo Clemens Gustav Adolf Freiherr von Wangenheim was born in Wiesbaden, now part of Germany, on the 18th of February, 1895. He began working on the stage at an early age and became a student of producer Max Reinhardt.
Moving to the big screen, he made his motion picture debut with 1914’s Passionels Tagebuch before serving in World War I. He continued his movie work after the war and became a familiar face in features of the time, taking lead roles in films such as 1920’s Romeo and Juliet in the Snow.
His most enduring role came as ill-fated estate agent Thomas Hutter in Nosferatu (1922). While his performance is often criticised as over-exaggerated, the apparently giddy and naive characterisation perfectly suits not just the young man’s place in the story, but also the movie’s expressionist stylings as a whole. 1929 saw him take a major role in Fritz Lang’s spectacular science fiction movie Woman in the Moon.
Negotiations between Orlok (Schreck) and Hutter (von Wangenheim) over the purchase of a property in Wisborg move swiftly in Nosferatu (Prana 1922).
In 1931 von Wangenheim, a member of the Communist Party of Germany since 1921, founded a Communist theatre group, Die Truppe ’31; the group was shut down by the Nazis in 1933. The same year, von Wangenheim and his wife of two years, actress Ingeborg Franke, fled the Nazis and lived in exile in the Soviet Union. There, von Wangenheim briefly served as head of the cabaret group Kolonne Links, and became heavily involved with Communist politics.
A portrait shot of Gustav von Wangenheim, taken later in his career.
Returning to Germany in 1945, von Wangenheim was a founding member of the National Committee for a Free Germany and directed numerous theatrical productions. Having borne one son and twin daughters, his marriage was dissolved in 1954, and Gustav von Wangenheim passed away on the 5th of August, 1975.
Born in Albert Lea, Minnesota on the 29th of April, 1912, Richard Dutoit Carlson studied at the University of Minnesota and earned a Master’s Degree in English.
With his skills tending more towards performance than academia, he worked as a drama teacher before taking to the stage. Cast by David O Selznick in 1938 comedy The Young in Heart, he moved to California where he freelanced between studios. Roles in movies such as The Little Foxes (1941) with Bette Davis laid the foundations for what seemed a bright future amongst the leading names of the time.
After serving in World War II, he found it difficult to pick up where he had left off, and it was not until 1950’s lavish Technicolor adaptation of King Solomon’s Mines that he became a more attractive proposition to studios.
The 1950s saw him emerge as something of a poster boy for the burgeoning science fiction genre. Beginning with cautionary tale The Magnetic Monster (1953), he went on to star in cult favourite It Came From Outer Space (1953). As Dr David Reed in 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon, he gave a convincing performance as a man of science whose altruistic thirst for knowledge clashes against the pressure to exploit the world for profit.
Carlson became a familiar face on television, largely thanks to his long-running leading role in spy thriller series I Led Three Lives. He would enjoy numerous guest roles in TV series such as Bonanza and The FBI throughout the 1960s and 70s. Retiring from acting in 1975, he died on the 25th of November, 1977 after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage. He was survived by his wife Mona and two sons, Richard and Christopher.
Born in Fort Pierce, Florida on the 23rd of November, 1930, Ricou Browning grew up in nearby Jensen Beach and soon developed an aptitude for swimming.
He took a job as a lifeguard at the newly-opened Weeki Wachee Springs attraction, where the underwater mermaid shows pioneered the use of hosebreathing techniques so as to enable performers to remain submerged. While majoring in physical education at Florida State University, he was recruited as a location scout for Universal staff as they planned the shoot for their new monster movie.
The rest, of course, is history. Movie director Jack Arnold was so impressed by Browning’s swimming that he recruited the young student as the Gill Man for the underwater sequences of Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Browning’s prodigious skills brought the Creature to life, his apparent ease betraying no trace of the costume’s restrictive nature.
The success of his work on Creature from the Black Lagoon secured Browning the role in both sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). He went on to focus more on movie production, co-creating the 1963 movie Flipper; he also coordinated the underwater sequences for James Bond movie Thunderball (1965).
Married twice, Ricou Browning remains an iconic figure in the world of moviemaking. His passion for underwater stuntwork is clearly not a one-off, as his son Ricou Browning Jr runs a marine coordination and underwater photography business of his own.
Willis Harold O’Brien was born on the 2nd of March, 1886 in Oakland, California.
He took on a variety of jobs including working as a guide for palaeontologists; the role gave him an interest in dinosaurs which would inform much of his later work.
As assistant to the head architect of the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair, O’Brien had some of his work exhibited at the event and was commissioned by a fellow exhibitor to create short animated film The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Tragedy (1915).
The success of O’Brien’s work led to a collaboration with Herbert M Dawley on The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918), the first movie to combine stop motion models with live action; further acclaim came with his animation for 1925’s The Lost World.
1925 also saw O’Brien’s marriage to Hazel Ruth Collette, with whom he had two sons, William and Willis Jr. Reports indicate that O’Brien was forced into the union, which had dissolved by 1930.
In 1932, O’Brien’s work on RKO’s cancelled epic Creation was transferred to Merian Cooper’s upcoming King Kong (1933). His innovative integration of live action and stop motion animation dazzled audiences and studio bosses alike, and broke new ground in the worlds of animation and special effects. The hurried sequel, Son of Kong (1933), had less of his input, but was still an effective showcase for the techniques he had pioneered.
Willis O’Brien in his Edison Studios workshop around 1917
However, the triumphs of 1933 were overshadowed by deep personal tragedy. O’Brien’s ex-wife killed their two sons before making an attempt on her own life, ironically prolonging it by draining her tubercular lung. She died in 1934; O’Brien remarried the same year.
O’Brien’s ongoing work with Cooper led to various projects taking shape; while many did not come to fruition, the Academy Award-winning Mighty Joe Young (1949) gave the animator the recognition he deserved. Mighty Joe Young was also a key step in the career of O’Brien’s protégé Ray Harryhausen.
Willis “OBie” O’Brien died on the 8th of November, 1962.
Patricia Betsy Hrunek was born on the 1st of November, 1926 in East Chicago, Indiana.
Graduating from the Goodman School of Drama, she quickly found her feet in the acting world with a part in the television soap opera Miss Susan. A range of stage and screen appearances followed, including a tour of South Pacific, news reporting work on Today in 1958, and a long tenure as a panellist on quiz show I’ve Got a Secret.
Her movie career was most prolific in the 1950s, including a starring role in The Tin Star (1957), but she reached a whole new audience as deranged Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980) despite her initial reticence about taking on the part. As one of horror cinema’s few female antagonists, she became Queen of the Slashers.
Betsy Palmer as the unhinged Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (Paramount 1980)
While she only appeared as Pamela Voorhees in the first instalment in the Friday the 13th series, save for a few short moments in the second movie and flashback sequences elsewhere, Palmer appeared in horror short Penny Dreadful (2005). She passed away on the 29th of May, 2015.
A falsely tender moment between Pamela Voorhees (Palmer) and Alice (Adrienne King) in Friday the 13th (Paramount 1980)
Agnes Teresa McGlade was born on the 23rd of October, 1880 in Belfast.
She split her time between London and New York as her career flourished; such was the extent of her talent that Noel Coward wrote a part in his play Cavalcade specifically for her.
A gift for speaking rapidly and contorting her face in exaggerated shock made O’Connor the perfect fit for James Whale’s brand of gothic humour. Her portrayal of Jenny Hall in The Invisible Man (1933) adds a zany humour to proceedings, disarming the intensity of Claude Rains’ brooding performance but, crucially, never undermining it.
Una O’Connor and Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (Universal 1933)
In Bride of Frankenstein (1935) she brought a similar sense of busybody outrage to the character of Frankenstein family housekeeper Minnie.
However, O’Connor’s other performances were often characterised by insight and restraint. Remaining in the US after World War II, she gave a performance in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution so celebrated that she was given the same role in the 1957 movie adaptation, just a couple of years before her death on the 4th of February, 1959.
O’Connor with Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein (Universal 1935)
The success of Halloween II naturally raised the question of what would happen next. Having reduced Michael Myers to a scorched mess, John Carpenter and Debra Hill felt they had quite literally taken the character to its furthest extreme; it made sense to do something completely different.
Hill and Carpenter engaged English screenwriter Nigel Kneale to create the next instalment in what they envisaged as an anthology series of movies, each covering the festival of Halloween in a different way. Ultimately, Kneale was so dismayed by the violence that was added to his work that he asked for his involvement not to be publicised.
Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) realises that, at least for himself, the game is up in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch stands very much alone in the series, but this does not detract from its fresh angle on the scares that fans had enjoyed in the previous movies. Inky shadows, skin-crawling tension, people emerging from out of shot; all have been imported, and all are well handled by Tommy Lee Wallace in his new role as director.
Also present is a sense of threatening mystery, this time embodied as toy company Silver Shamrock Novelties. The first two movies portrayed Michael Myers as a near-unstoppable presence, but throughout Season of the Witch, the danger is a much larger one, the ‘company town’ of Santa Mira portrayed as an eerie, soulless place. Nemesis Conal Cochran is well played as the centrepiece of the story’s focus, and if the run-up feels nothing like the previous Halloween films, the final sequence certainly takes a leaf out of its predecessors’ books, with Dan’s (Tom Atkins) exploration of the factory packed with jump scares.
Dr Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) try to discover the secrets of Santa Mira in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)
The movie is undoubtedly keen to make its own mark, daring to include the taboo idea of violence against children. The scene of Buddy Kupfer Jr (Brad Schachter) becoming a test subject of the arcane-powered mask is genuinely ghastly, and the bleak, panic-stricken final scene stops abruptly, leaving us in little doubt as to the inevitable outcome of events.
The assassin android (Dick Warlock) comes undone when his attack on Challis (Atkins) goes awry in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)
Fans who had enjoyed two movies’ worth of bloodshed didn’t see the point of changing the franchise model, and Season of the Witch served as a warning to future franchise custodians never to abandon Michael Myers. However, Halloween III is by no means universally shunned; some series purists object to its complete lack of a Shatner-masked antagonist, but it fits in well with the 1980s vogue for horror thrillers and as such, has a valid place in cinema culture of the time.
An original theatrical release poster for Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Universal 1982)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch had not fared well at the box office, with fans of the franchise furious at the absence of Michael Myers. When series executive producer Moustapha Akkad decided the time was right for another sequel proper, he approached John Carpenter to write and direct Halloween 4 in late 1987.
For the story treatment, Carpenter teamed with Denis Etchison, who had penned the novelisations of both Halloween II and III under the pseudonym of Jack Martin, with the intention of passing directorial duties to Joe Dante. The draft for Halloween 4 was an intellectual ghost story focusing on the psychological effects Michael Myers had had on the residents of Haddonfield, but it was considered “too cerebral” and promptly rejected. Carpenter bailed on the project.
A crazed Michael (George P Wilbur) dispatches have-a-go hero Brady (Sasha Jenson) in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)
For an impatient Akkad, it was back to the drawing board, and he began seeking a new director. He handed the reins to Ohio born Dwight H Little, who seconded fellow Ohio native Alan B McElroy to write a new narrative. With a budget of $5 million, shooting for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers began on the 11th of April, 1988 and, due to financial constraints, the filming location of the fictional town of Haddonfield was moved to Salt Lake City, Utah from its original Pasadena, California.
Akkad had wanted Jamie Lee Curtis back, but the actress had gone on to bigger and better things after hits like Trading Places (1983) and was already working on A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Her character was killed off in a car crash, leaving her nine-year-old daughter Britti to assume the mantle, sought out and pursued by her deranged Uncle Michael.
In a tense rooftop chase, Michael (Wilbur) viciously pursues Rachel (Ellie Cornell) in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)
Donald Pleasence did return though, as the scarred, dishevelled Loomis, by now as mad as a box of biscuits and paranoid to boot in his bid to finally undo Myers, and still sporting his trademark mud-stained macintosh that was proving as indestructible as Haddonfield’s most infamous son himself, this time played by George P Wilbur.
Jamie (Danielle Harris) proves she’s just a chip off the old block in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)
Although not as tense as its predecessors, Halloween 4 is nonetheless a grown up film, eschewing many of the cheesy traits of its genre stablemates and almost maintaining a standard that had been set some ten years earlier.
An original theatrical release poster for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Galaxy 1988)