Halloween may be long gone, but horror is alive and well in Roy Finch’s Modern Horror Workshop, one of the many interterm classes here at Dodge College. Throughout this four-week course, Finch has asked his students many questions, including why do such films invoke sensations of fear, dread, and more in audiences? Why do audiences gain pleasure from un-pleasurable emotions? And what are the ways in which a filmmaker can utilize techniques at their disposal to put tension on the screen? The class has spent the last few weeks exploring these questions from a practical, hands-on, filmmaker’s perspective.
In addition, Finch has brought in some great guest speakers to talk on subjects ranging from immersive horror to stories of how certain films got made. This was the case with Tom McLoughlin, who came in to speak about the film he directed that many consider to be the best in a popular horror franchise: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.
One of McLoughlin’s first jobs was not horror, however. In fact, it was comedy, working with Dick Van Dyke’s variety show. Van Dyke saw McLoughlin and his partner perform their mime act, and asked them to come join his show. They acted as the comedy troupe for him for two years, and in the process, got to work with Chevy Chase, Lucille Ball, and more.
McLoughlin also grew up during the peak of popularity for Universal Monsters, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and so on, and loved the gothic style of them. This love influenced his own filmmaking style, especially when it came to his feature debut, One Dark Night.
He got the idea for the film when he was visiting the catacombs in Paris, and fell in love with them.
“The feeling I got walking through them stuck with me, it left a lasting impression,” he said. Surrounded by all the bones, he felt supernatural fear for the first time, and it really affected him.
He loved the old school, gothic approach to horror films, and wanted to carry that over into his film. Though it took a few years to get it made, he felt it was well worth the journey.
“I had a presentation about what the film would be, and set it to music from The Amityville Horror. I got letters of intent from people, saying that would be interested in working on it if I got the money. Big names, so when investors saw the names, they were interested. The names gave me credibility,” he explained.
The film has become a cult classic, especially because of its PG rating.
“I still have a lot of people telling me their grandmothers took them to see it, and it traumatized them,” he joked. The film still resonates with people. In fact, the weekend after his talk, he was scheduled to record commentary for the upcoming Blu-ray release of it.
After One Dark Night was released, Frank Mancuso from Paramount saw it, and wanted McLoughlin to help resurrect the Friday the 13th franchise. He told McLoughlin he could write and direct the film, and really make it his own. In the previous Friday film, there was no Jason, so Mancuso really thought McLoughlin was the guy to get it back on track.
Having only seen the first film, McLoughlin watched the others to brush up on his Friday lore at a Paramount screening room, and then got to work.
“I wanted to make the characters likeable, and infuse my own style into it. I wrote a treatment, but I didn’t think anyone would like it,” he said. But, the studio did, and gave him the go-ahead.
He definitely added a lot of gothic touches to the film, such as resurrect Jason with a bolt of lightning, just like in Frankenstein. He even included nods to other horror icons, such as a store named Karloff’s Grocery and Carpenter Road.
The film has a ton of comedic moments as well. Using his comedy background, the film contains some of the most hilarious dialogue in all of the Friday movies. The deaths are also pretty innovative, which is why GQ recently named it the best film of the franchise.
“At the time, it was just a job, one that came and went. I had no idea how popular it would be to this day,” he said.
But it has, and still remains, one of the best horror films of all time. McLoughlin even brought in some of the merchandise, produced very recently, that came out of the film.
“It’s an amazing thing,” he said.
McLoughlin’s visit to the class was incredibly informative, and a great look at how horror films were made in the 80s. The students loved his talk, and enjoyed watching the film afterward.
For those of you who want to learn more about the horror genre, keep an eye out. Roy Finch has some more horror-related classes up his sleeve that may be of interest to you!
Thanks to Roy Finch for the photos!