“From the special effects masters behind Hellraiser and Hellbound” reads the tagline for the strategically titled 1989 horror film Hellgate. Aside from the titular first four letters, Hellgate would never, under any circumstances in this or any other dimension, be confused with Clive Barker’s visionary nightmare soon to not be remade by Pascal Laugier. Hellraiser and its first and best sequel Hellbound utilize innovative costume design, gooey yet restrained makeup, and grandly horrific sets that put the cheap puppetry and Disneyesque ghost town of Hellgate to shame.
I didn’t rent Hellgate for its pedigree (my real motive was the fact that it was on a double DVD with The Pit, a surprisingly lesser film that featured an evil teddy bear and forest trolls) but I did end up quite happy with the Scooby Doo feel and spontaneously combusting sea creatures it featured. That being said, the desperate ad line for Hellgate got me thinking of how some films--particularly horror--are buttered up for prospective audiences using a randomly hot industry name that may have stopped by the set one day to snag a Kraft Service donut. The most recent examples to my knowledge:
Craven Something Better
Wes Craven is something of the Krusty the Klown of the horror industry: a fine entertainer in his own right, but a little loose when it comes to lending out his name. For these reasons, the man owes me $11.50. Yes, I was one of those six people that attended the opening of Wes Craven Presents Dracula 2000, a limping update of Bram Stoker’s classic starring a pre-300, pre-personality Gerard Butler. This is only slightly less offensive than the $4 I lost renting They. Don’t bother looking for it and getting confused by its similar title to the classic giant ant movie and recent terrifying French thriller. This bland little film came and went in 2002 with less impression than leading man Marc Blucas ever made as Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s most despised love interest Riley. Yes, Wes Craven presented another opportunity for Marc Blucas to dig deep into his soul for some serious lip biting emoting. The horror is there, just not the way you expect it.
It’s Good to Be King
Stephen King has been associated with quite a large pile of...less than stellar film reels, but even he has his limits when it comes to using putting his name on unsanctioned adaptations. While he takes full credit for gleefully bad missteps like (he even cameo’d in Thinner, King tightened down on quality control in the early 90s. Thus poor Jeff Fahey’s starring role as a landscaping savant in 1992’s The Lawnmower Man may have lost a bit of its prospective audience when Maine’s most prominent author sued the producers for associating the film with his original short story. One year later, the country’s most ubiquitous horror writer’s name was nowhere to be found on Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice, the not that terrible sequel to one of his most popular pieces-turned-feature. A good deal of the King film canon may not be good, but at least we generally know it came with his lawyer stamped approval.
The Unborn of Whom?
The trailer for this early 2009 release (the third Un -titled film of the month) was fairly promising until Michael Bay’s name made its bow. I suppose there were a few hungry Transformers fans lured to theaters by the Pavlovian connection, but did The Most Hated Man By Critics In America really have that much say in the making of this film? At least “The writer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight” directed (although David Goyer does get a mere story credit for the more popular sequel). Having not yet seen The Unborn, I’m not qualified to say whether either marketing ploy is accurate. It was, however, extremely timely and convenient.
Trust In the Toro
Guillermo Del Toro is a man whose name most genre fans trust, and thankfully, he wields his power well. A few years back, you may have found yourself explaining to a less cinematic friend that the new creepy looking Spanish film about kids in sack masks was not actually directed by that cuddly hobbit-to-be who made such an impression with Pan’s Labyrinth. The Orphanage is one of the better--almost best--horror films of the last ten years and shares a lot of the spirit found Del Toro’s masterful The Devil’s Backbone. It is, however, directed by a lesser known, but very talented Juan Antonio Bayona...whose name generally appears nowhere on the cover art. Still, Del Toro’s producing credit--milked for all its gooey attraction--is at least fitting and probably helped to make this little import a box office success.
These are just a few forced to natural marketing connections of recent years. I imagine the list is unending, so please share you own discoveries and disappointments in the misadvertising of genre film. And by the way: unless my skimming and scanning skills are failing me, I can't seem to find a single connection on IMDB between Hellgate and its much more prominent near namesake.