February is pretty damn busy for being the shortest month of the year.
You’ve got Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, Women in Horror Month, Groundhog Day… Jesus Christ.
That’s a lot for one of the coldest, most brutal times of the season.
Perhaps because of the combination of events, iffy holidays, and (generally horrific) weather… months like January and February become dump months.
What is a dump month you say?
(Runs old timey projector and 1950s music…)
Well, in the most simple sense, movies that don’t do well at test screenings usually get dumped in this, the opposite of summer blockbuster season, void. That’s perhaps the shortest definition of a dump month ever (literally a book could be written on the definition of “dump month” alone and I encourage you to learn more about it), but it’ll suffice for this context.
In this list, I’ll be jamming some of the scariest dump month movies, in no particular order, ever released down your gullet.
So, you know… open wide!
Silence of the Lambs, a novel written in 1988, was made into what would become one of the most classic mystery thrillers of all time and was released on February 13, 1991. In order to apprehend a rampant (and fucking AWESOME) serial killer called Buffalo Bill, FBI agent, Clarice Starling, receives guidance from an already imprisoned murderer called Dr. Lecter. It grossed $272.7 million worldwide and, with a $19 million budget, did phenomenally in theaters. This long running hit garnered massive accolades for most cast and crew involved.
However, due to it’s use of a possibly trans man as the antagonist and his skinning of women, the film caught a lot of flack for it. The LGBT community was shocked and appalled that being a man and dressing as a woman made him “scarier.” Although specifically described as “not transgender” and just “[hating] his own identity,” the message was pretty clear that at this point in time… dressing in whatever clothes you wanted wasn’t fully accepted as a lifestyle yet.
We’ve learned a lot as a species since then (or at least I like to hope so) and can choose to view Silence of the Lambs as both a phenomenal film and a look into the window of prejudice in the early nineties.
Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
I’ll keep this short, as Nightmare on Elm Street has been done to death, but totally deserves a place on this list. Wes Craven had never planned on NOES becoming a franchised series. He had no part in the sequel, but came back to co-write the script for this amazing third installment.
Starring the infamous Robert Englund and Patricia Arquette in her first major role, NOES 3 pulled $8.9 million its opening weekend and over $44 million overall. Released on February 27, 1987, it was very well received critically and collected a handful of nominations and awards. This film is also important within the NOES series for being the first film where Freddy’s sick sense of humor shone through at a much higher volume than ever before.
Due to Freddy’s scene where he forces one of the characters to overdose, NOES 3 was banned in Queensland, Australia.
I’m biased as hell, but no one else does Dracula like Bela Lugosi. I’ve researched and written about his involvement with the character before and the more I learn about him, the more I feel for Bela and fall in love with him. Directed by Tod Browning, Dracula was released nationally on February 14, 1931.
Speaking of bummers, Lugosi almost didn’t get the role, but due to him accepting a measly $500.00 a week, Lugosi picked up the part and would go on to become one of the most memorable faces in modern horror. His haunting portrayal of the already terrifying literary character was one that would shock audiences and pull some killer critical reception. The studio hyped up the fact that people were fainting and shrieking while watching the film which brought in asinine amounts of moviegoers solely out of curiosity and wonder.
Dracula would go on to spur many a sequel, massive merchandising Browning and Lugosi could have never have dreamed of, and a legacy for decades, and hopefully centuries, to come.
David Cronenberg is, pardon my french, the tits. He directed this box office bomb starring James Woods and a not so blonde Debbie Harry. It opened on February 4, 1983 and while the critical reception was largely positive, the numbers disagreed. With a budget of over $5 million, the film only grossed roughly $2.1 million in its ten day feature run.
Additionally, Videodrome’s theatrical release was censored by the MPAA in part for its visualization of a castration, even though it was actually just electrodes on a fella’s testicles. I use the word just very loosely there.
Andy Warhol aptly called Videodrome, “the Clockwork Orange of the 1980s.” It’s stunning, horrifying, hyper sexualized, and, most importantly, riveting.
Videodrome is now at its current home on Criterion, an esteemed home to occupy in this day and age. However, the rights for Videodrome have indeed been purchased and a remake is currently in its pre-production works. Original content is at, what seems, an all time low. Chances are history will repeat itself, and Videodrome will bomb once again. However, remakes so rarely become cult classics like their predecessors. So perhaps, that will be the only variant in this chapter of the new flesh.
And to Universal Studios, I say…
The Fog (1980)
Directed and co-written by John Carpenter, The Fog is one of those movies that should really be a way bigger deal than it is. It has the terror of The Thing, the vibe of Creepshow and the cast of a lifetime. Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, and Janet Leigh, The Fog was released on February 1, 1980 and gathered a massive box office success and mixed reviews.
Carpenter himself has stated that he feels that The Fog could have likely done better had it not been for its numerous reshoots and spotty production value. This in and of itself is actually… kind of funny. Here’s an example of where movie studios can be real dicks. The budget for the film was only $1.1 million, however Avco Embassy Pictures spent over $3 million on advertising. Of course, Avco Embassy wasn’t aware they were working with what would become one of the most legendary directors of our day and age. In their defense, Carpenter only had Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween under his belt at the time.
But, come on, you just don’t dick around on production value when you have a director of Carpenter’s caliber on staff.
Before The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson wasn’t
anywhere near as large a director as he is now. His movies, like Bad
Taste and Meet the Feebles, were barely on the radar comparatively.
That’s why when Braindead came out in the states on February 12, 1992,
it got miniscule critical reception.
However, after LOTR became a massive blockbuster sensation, fans of Jackson revisited his earlier work which gained positive reception long after the fact; a kind of blessing in disguise. Had the masses been privy to Jackson from the get go, who knows how these cult classics would fare now.
Regardless, I imagine the horror fans would probably still embrace them, but that’s pretty typical of us. Give us gory, give us funny, give us shocks and jaw drops. We’ll be happy. Much like how we now remember this film. As the phenomenal gory funhouse it really is.
Tod Browning, the king of the short end of the stick, appears again to wrap up this dump month list. Poor guy.
After his success with Dracula, Browning directed and produced this massive box office bust. Freaks recorded a loss of $164,000 and Browning’s remote career would never quite recover.
Freaks has a phenomenal cast full of people with real disabilities, disfigurements, and more. An unprepared and (I’ll say it) ignorant audience would recoil in terror at the casts maladies and, what moviegoers perceived as, frightening lifestyles. I feel Browning was trying to convey that solely because they are different, the moral is, it doesn’t make them wrong.
Sadly, that point was missed by a long shot. The controversy surrounding the film caused for massive cuts and censorship of Freaks. Those scenes are now considered lost to the ages. And, honestly, that breaks my goddamn heart.
Spanning decades now, Freaks has inspired directors, writers, and audiences to go beyond what’s comfortable. To understand and learn about new and perceivably unusual cultures in the adversity of fear. Difference is one of the most overwhelming and beautiful aspects of the human experience.
And Freaks is an important lesson in that. Even if it was about 70 years ahead of its time.
Yes, dump months are where bad movies go to rot in obscurity. And, yes, dump months are where the classics may stand just outside the spotlight or become one for the ages.
But, it’s important to remember as a member of an audience, which you are, that just because a studio may not have faith in a production does not mean they will always be right.
Screw the man. Watch movies.
And long live dump months.