With Halloween just a few days away, you just knew a couple of box office anniversaries for horror flicks would be popping up. Rather than bore you with two entries, we’ll throw together two titles celebrating different birthdays that both came from Universal Studios in the 1980s. Of all the majors, Universal has the strongest connection with horror thanks to their classic B&W monster films from the ‘30s and ‘40s. In the ‘80s they adjusted with the times and it gave us two horror films of varying degrees – the documentary TERROR IN THE AISLES (1984) and Wes Craven’s SHOCKER (1989), which are celebrating their 30th and 25th anniversaries, respectively.
Yes, it made just under $11,000 less than THE TERMINATOR (1984). In total the film ended up grossing $10,004,817. While that may not seem like a lot, you have to remember this was a documentary. In fact, it was the highest grossing documentary of that year…unless you count BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984). Amusingly, it was Universal’s second highest grossing horror film that year behind FIRESTARTER (1984).
The story of Wes Craven during the ‘70s and ‘80s is actually a pretty sad one. Despite having created three box office hits (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT , THE HILLS HAVE EYES , and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET ) for different companies, the director still found himself broke in the mid-‘80s. How broke? He signed on to do THE HILLS HAVE EYES 2 (1985) for the cash. Goddamn! Anyway, Craven sat back and watched his Freddy creation earn millions for everyone but himself and, even though he came back for part 3, he soon found himself frozen out of that film. This led to doing TV work on the new TWILIGHT ZONE and DEADLY FRIEND (1986) before Craven scored the surprise box office hit THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988) for Universal. This led to a 4-picture deal with Alive that began with SHOCKER. Craven freely admitted to the press he wanted to do other things but couldn’t pass up the company’s offer for a new horror franchise with a character he owned. Uh oh.
Telling a very ELM STREET-esque story of a vengeful killer who stalks a high school teen he has a mental connection with, SHOCKER is a glaringly obvious attempt to create a new franchise horror character. If you had any doubt that Craven was trying to capture lightning in a bottle again, know that the original title for his script was DREAMSLAYER. Hell, he was cooing about plans for SHOCKER 2 and SHOCKER 3 before the release and went so far as to tell Cinefantastique this:
“Certainly, this is a sincere and unabashed attempt to create a series that I will own and control with my partners. There’s a profound sense of loss in being so out of the participation of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET…Rather than sulking in a corner or doing something really nasty, I go out and compete with them. It’s my way of saying ‘I can do it again, can you?’”
Fans, however, weren’t buying it. Perhaps it was the film’s goofy ass poster or just a general horror burn out, but the film came in second place when it hit theaters on October 27, 1989. It earned a total of $4,510,990 that weekend and lost out to LOOK WHO’S TALKING (1989), which had previously felled HALLOWEEN 5 (1989). In total the film made $16,554,699 at the U.S. box office. That was about $6 million less that the fifth ELM STREET sequel from the previous August and a far cry from the $57 million garnered by PET SEMETARY (1989), that year’s biggest horror hit. No one outside of Craven seemed to have an interest in the further exploits of Mr. Pinker. LOL, Pinker, what were you thinking with that name, Wes? The director rebounded for Universal a few years later with THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), but the deal with Alive ended there. Craven later found himself partying with Freddy again in NEW NIGHTMARE (1994). Oddly, that film didn’t rekindle the franchise flame and Craven has to suffer by making some film called SCREAM (1996), which ended up capturing audiences and creating a highly profitable series. Kind of funny how that works.