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Dissecting Writer/Director Tommy Lee Wallace!

10.27.2015by: Jake Dee
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WRITER/DIRECTOR TOMMY LEE WALLACE!

From all of us here at Arrow in the Head, each and every one of you guys and ghouls have a happy and hellish Halloween!

But first things first. With the All Hallows Eve festivities on the brain, we thought what better way to get in the mood than by feting one of the original men to craft Michael Myers himself, Tommy Lee Wallace. The John Carpenter disciple not only worked with the master of horror in front of the camera, but behind it as well. Over his four-decade career, Wallace has served as actor, writer, director, editor, art director, production designer...each hat firmly adorned atop the horror genre. Movie and TV franchises like HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, FRIGHT NIGHT, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, etc. have been made undoubtedly better by the contributions Wallace gave to each. And really, that's just scratching the surface.

So do wise on this Halloween week and join us as we celebrate Tommy Lee Wallace the only way know how. That's right y'all, it's Dissection time!

BEST WORK

GET HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH HERE

While he's contributed a whole hell of a lot to the horror realm over his decorated CV, I'm not sure you could argue with a straight face that anything other than his contributions to the HALLOWEEN franchise aren't his most impressive. Remember, Wallace portrayed The Shape during the pivotal closet scene in John Carpenter's seminal slasher original back in 1978. That's right y'all, you're peering at the one of the OG Michael Myers right here. And frankly, we owe a lot to his piercing portrayal. The icily rigid posturing, the deadpan demeanor, the sterile state of sedation, the calm cool and collected murderous mien in which he comports himself with. Shite's mortifying. Wallace also edited the film, and under Carpenter's direction, the slasher motif of a killer slowly stalking, unrushed, until his victim dopily trips themselves up on their own, falling into the calculating clutch of Myers is one Wallace (and fellow Shape actor Nick Castle), who also served as production designer, absolutely nailed. No wonder why Carpenter signed Wallace up to play a Ghost in THE FOG just two years later!

Of course, most know that Wallace would go on to contribute further to THE HALLOWEEN franchise, having written and directed the oft-panned one-off third entry, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. As you'll recall, the original idea for the franchise was to take the anthological route, and base each new film around a new story conceit. Yet, when HALLOWEEN 3 alienated fans and lead to a clamorous demand for the return of Michael Myers, venally tepid sequel after sequel proved commercially successful, even if the artistic merits were often sacrificed for such. That said, as a total standalone film, SEASON OF THE WITCH is actually really quite solid. And we can thank Wallace for that. Dude took the risk (turning down the chance to direct HALLOWEEN II over what he deemed a poor script) of eschewing Myers for an entirely new tale, one about a sadistic mask-maker hell-bent on felling as many cute little kids as he can on one frightful Halloween night. Ancient rituals, summoned curses, and wonderfully realized Halloween atmosphere stud what holds up as an iniquitously overlooked horror ditty. Here's Wallace's own thoughts on the movie:

We threw in everything but the kitchen sink. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) has this weird homemade quality. It's not that slick. It's intentionally a little bit funky. It's like the Little Rascals went out and made this movie, just to spite Halloween. And I love that."

We love it too, Tommy, we love it too. Just as we love your other bona fide top tier credit, the two-part 1990 miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's IT. Forever priceless Pennywise!

GET IT HERE

That's correct kiddies, Wallace indeed helmed the beloved IT flick, in which a terrorized septet of young tykes grow old and fend off the revisited demon of Pennywise, the child-killing clown monster that tormented the group 30 years prior. As is usually the case with directing, casting is the key. The great Tim Curry plays the sinisterly subverted clown with ill intent, with support coming from seasoned vets like John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Richard Masur, Annette O'Toole, Emily Perkins, Dennis Christopher, etc. Hell even Seth Green and Jonathan Brandis pop up. According to cast members, Curry's portrayal was so genuinely creepy and realistic that no one even dared speak to him while on set. We understand why, it's one of the all time best horror villain portrayals we can remember seeing...big screen or small.

Moreover, word is Wallace went to painstaking lengths to craft IT impeccably as possible, being his first TV movie up until that point. He's also said to not have read the novel, instead opting to let the script, which he co-wrote with Lawrence D. Cohen (CARRIE, GHOST STORY), do most of the informing. Pretty remarkable. Other cool asides include Wallace's favorite scene being the one where we meet the adult Richie, primarily because it runs for so long. Wallace has also admitted that one of the most difficult shots to achieve in the 192 minute epic is the one where Mike's photo album comes alive and starts to bleed. He's also insisted the first part is much scarier than the second, in large part because the adults just weren't as entertaining. As for the indelible sewer scenes, it was actually a set built inside an old steel mill. Looks real, don't it!

WORST WORK

Look, when you cast Bon Jovi's gorgeously coifed feather-mullet in the lead role of VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS, a de facto sequel to Carpenter's VAMPIRES, yup, you've hit bottom. Not be mean or anything, but there's little wonder why Wallace hasn't directed a feature since this woefully inept 2002 debacle. Yikes! I really don't know what else to say, other than not even a young Diego Luna could elevates this one out of the muck and mire of low-budget horror schlock. The film finds a ragtag band of vampire slayers, headed by Bon Jovi (natch), that must quash a walking-dead incursion in Mexico. As a standalone film, it's simply okay, barely passable. But for a sequel, it grossly lacks. No way in hell Bon Jovi equates with James Woods, and the same applies right on down the line. No, this feels more like Carpenter throwing a bone to an old friend for both to capitalize on. Not Wallace's finest moment!

TRADEMARKS

Sequels. If one bulls-eyed through-line could be drawn across Wallace's work, it'd have to be his willingness to inject new life (or new death, ay?) into well-worn horror franchises. As mentioned above, his contributions to HALLOWEEN cannot be overstated, but as you'll learn in detail below, there's another couple of horror properties that Wallace has staked a serious claim upon: AMITYVILLE HORROR and FRIGHT NIGHT. Beyond that, Wallace also helmed a TV redo of Hitchcok's STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (dubbed ONCE YOU MEET A STRANGER), not to mention a trio of revamped Twilight Zone episodes from the 80s: Dreams for Sale, Little Boy Lost and The Leprechaun-Artist. Real shite, dude knows how to pick up the reigns passed on and not only continue to keep the tradition going, but also offer a new take, a new angle, a fresh eye on what could easily become stale old breadwinners. Wallace knows how to keep death alive!

HIDDEN GEMS

GET THE AMITYVILLE HORROR 2: THE POSSESSION HERE

We taunted them a bit above, but now we dive into the nitty-gritty of the two. Check it guys and ghouls, Wallace's first produced screenplay credit comes via the unfairly passed-over 1982 sequel THE AMITYVILLE HORROR: THE POSSESSION. Talk about a hell of a first foray!

Directed by Italian journeyman Damiano Damiani, a perfect namesake to helm an OMEN-like tale of antichrist horror, THE POSSESSION finds a quaint family that moves into a seemingly idyllic new home, only to learn that a malefic presence is slowly grabbing hold of the young son. And wouldn't you know it, only a local priest has the tools of salvation. Even if a bit derivative, right down to the house being built atop an Indian burial ground, this is a competently spun horror yarn, both paying homage to, and branching out from, the original material. Hell, I know some who actually prefer this one to the Josh Brolin/Margot Kidder original. Not sure I'd take it that far, but as far as horror sequels are concerned, especially in this day and age, you can do a lot worse than AMITYVILLE 2. Same goes for FRIGHT NIGHT 2!

GET FRIGHT NIGHT 2 HERE

Granted, Chris Sarandon's glorious v-neck sweater and suave demeanor is grossly missed, but with William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall back in the saddle, this feels like a legitimately germane continuation of Tom Holland's cult-classic original. The story finds Regina, the sister of Jerry from the original, back with bloody vengeance when she (Traci Lind) and three sharp-fanged pals descend upon Peter Vincent's manor. The real goal? To turn Charlie into a fellow vampire and let his soul forever rot in eternal damnation. Girls!

Unfortunately, the merits of FRIGHT NIGHT 2 may always be clouded by what happened to the exec who produced the movie, Jose Menendez. In fact, just hours after Wallace and McDowall had an unpleasant lunch with Menendez on the marketing of the film (as well as talks of a 3rd film), the Live Entertainment chairman was brutally slaughtered to death by his two sons. Unthinkably tragic.

NEXT PROJECT

Fortunately for all of us Wallace acolytes, it appears the man is quite done with the film biz. According to IMDB (I know, that bastion of truth), Wallace has completed a film he co-wrote with Stephen Langford called HELLIVERSITY. There's just one caveat. We first wrote about this flick way the hell back in 2008! Where the movie stands at this juncture, as we near 2016, is anyone's guess, but suffice it to say that based on his track record, there's bound to be a rabid fan base spuming at the mouth to see this sucker. Peep our probably antiquated logline below:

HELLIVERSITY is the story of a group of American exchange students terrorized by a vengeful spirit while locked inside a high-security foreign university.

I like it. A lot. School is already inherently hellish, so to turn a place of higher learning into a place of horrific lurking is all kinds of rich. Of course, such a setting also gives way for rife social commentary on the nature of universities these days...debt mounting cesspools that tend to rob young kids of their futures just like a vengeful jinni would in a horror film. The $700,000 feature, yet to align a distributor, stars Cameron Dye, Libertad Green, Ben Whalen, Justine Herron, Ebony Perry and India Wallace. Keep it here to officially register with HELLIVERSITY when commencement approaches.

OVERALL

As you can see, Tommy Lee Wallace is a force to be reckoned with in the cinematic world of horror. Not only has he smoothly assumed the reins and added to such iconic horror franchises with HALLOWEEN, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, THE FOG, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR 2: THE POSSESSION, FRIGHT NIGHT 2, he also imbued his own horrific stylings to the beloved Stephen King epic, IT. Whether penning scripts, calling the shots, acting in front of the lens, designing the overall look of a film, Wallace has succeeded at all points during his hallowed 40 year run. Happy Halloween Tommy, you're the f*cking man!

Extra Tidbit: What's your favorite Wallace flick?
Source: AITH

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2:15PM on 10/29/2015

Actually...

The female vampire in FN2 is named Regine, and she's played by Julie Carmen.
The female vampire in FN2 is named Regine, and she's played by Julie Carmen.
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12:45AM on 10/28/2015

Love the articles!

I adore these articles! They're great when maintaining the structure of your explanation and your analyzation of a master filmmaker! My only complaint is your writing is difficult to read. If you could continue to put your identity into the writing without the usage of consistent comma's and your quick anecdotal thoughts, it might read better. This is just a writer-to-writer piece of unsolicited advice. Other than that, bravo Mr. Dee! Thanks for the read!
I adore these articles! They're great when maintaining the structure of your explanation and your analyzation of a master filmmaker! My only complaint is your writing is difficult to read. If you could continue to put your identity into the writing without the usage of consistent comma's and your quick anecdotal thoughts, it might read better. This is just a writer-to-writer piece of unsolicited advice. Other than that, bravo Mr. Dee! Thanks for the read!
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