A lot of people make their living directing horror movies. But they don’t always get the name recognition of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper or George Romero, even if they’re very good. Even today, most of those guys still aren’t household names. Which means that there are a lot of really good directors out there, even guys who probably directed films you enjoy or that you really loved when you were younger, who tend to go pretty largely unnoticed.
Tom McLoughlin is definitely one of those guys. I’ve been a fan of his for some time; for three major films in particular. He directed one of my favorite horror comedies of the 1980s, even if it was a late-entry sequel to a major slasher franchise. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives shows an amazing grasp of the medium. It’s tight, funny, scary, and most importantly manages to move between horror and humor without missing a beat.
So it’s a little unfortunate to see this director never really became as known among the horror community as he should have been, outside of hardcore Friday the 13th fans.
With that in mind, I want to take a look at some reasons McLoughlin is an excellent mind in the genre who needs a little more love.
One Dark Night
Claustrophobic, moody and atmospheric, One Dark Night is a 1983 movie about a teenager stuck in a mausoleum overnight. It creates an interesting villain in the form of dead Russian occultist Karl Raymar. On top of that, it boasts a cast including Meg Tilly, E.G. Daily, and the late Adam West. It may have its flaws, but there’s just really something endearing and fun about it. At the very least, I think it’s worth a look. It also boasts a little more gore than Jason Lives, for those who still feel like that movie held out on them.
Amazing Stories: “Go to the Head of the Class”
So this episode was only co-written by McLoughlin, but he wrote it with Mick Garris, the man responsible for Masters of Horror and many of the Stephen King adaptations, not to mention Critters 2. On top of that, it was directed by Robert Zemeckis. The man wrote for Zemeckis! It doesn’t get much bigger than that. The episode itself was one of the best of that generally optimistic series. It was darker than the usual, centering on a horror fan using black magic to get back at his English teacher. Christopher Lloyd stars as the aforementioned teacher.
Friday the 13th: The Series: “The Playhouse”
Like many people who worked on the film franchise during the 1980’s, McLoughlin also directed several episodes of the television series. His best, and one of my favorites of that show, was “The Playhouse.” It might be the darkest of the entire show, which actually says something, considering that the series often skirted those lines. This one is about two children who have a magic playhouse that provides them with a fantasy world and an escape from their awful, abusive lives. The only catch is that, in order to keep it going, they have to provide their playhouse with human sacrifices. It easily marks one of the most disturbing of the series and sticks with the viewer much more than many other episodes.
Sometimes They Come Back
Sure, I can see the low budget, I know it wasn’t made for much money and the quality of acting varies… But I love this movie. I really do. It’s a fairly straightforward adaptation of Stephen King’s short story, a story that actually managed to scare me. It’s such a unique concept: A man haunted by his past and the teenagers who murdered his brother when he was a child has some new students in his class who are dead ringers for the boys that committed the crime. They’ve been dead a pretty long time, but, well, sometimes they come back. The idea of ghosts replacing someone after they die, filling up empty slots in the classroom, really got to me. And the performances from the ghost greasers were actually pretty good.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
What’s left to say about it? It’s such a strong, sleek horror comedy that really had an impact on the horror films that followed, even if it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It was meta long before anybody was even using that word. But I think the ultimate success of Jason Lives is that it’s actually scary. While it’s full of great, genuinely witty gags and winks at the audience, Jason himself is perhaps the scariest he’s ever been. Some of those shots of him walking through the camp, lurking outside the cabins, looming over sleeping children, these elements are genuinely creepy, but the movie as a whole is hilarious. That is something that is very hard to pull off and for that alone, McLoughlin deserves the utmost credit.