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What a Blockbuster Movie Can Do to a Small Town

What if a story about your little hometown became extremely popular and brought visitors from all over the world seeking a piece of it? When a book or movie puts a quiet little town on the map, you have to expect people will want to come and see it. Whether that's a benefit or curse may depend on the movie.

Forks, Washington

Some towns revel in the notoriety that comes with a movie. Thousands of fans make their way to Forks, Washington (population 3,221) every month to enjoy the atmosphere of the setting for the Twilight books and movies. Local businesses have erected signs referring to the movies. The principal of Forks High School says the school has designated lockers for the characters Edward and Bella -for the benefit of the tourists. Sales of Twilight merchandise and tourist services have energized the small town that once depended on logging for its economy. Even those residents who don't like the books welcome the money the tourists bring in.

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The Forks Chamber of Commerce website has an entire section on Twilight, including a map of "points of interest", and (of course), an online store where you can buy a "New Moon Over Forks" sweatshirt for only $40. Last summer, Forks hosted an event called Summer School in Forks: A "Twilight" Symposium at Forks High School. The ultimate event of the symposium was a prom featuring Twilight cast member look-alikes. Twilight has been good for business since the first book was published.

Burkittsville, Maryland

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The residents of Burkettsville, Maryland (population 171) have mixed feelings about the movie that put them on the map. The Blair Witch Project was released in 1999 and promoted as a documentary, although it was a work of fiction. The city website urges visitors to:

Please understand, while the town of Burkittsville is real, the movie is just that, a movie. The legend is a fake. True, there is a dark, dense woods to the west of town, but most people are convinced there is no Stick Manchild-stealing witch inhabiting those woods.. Burkittsville is a small, sleepy, historic village nestled between two Civil War battlefields in central Maryland. Yet Burkittsville is visited annually by thousands of movie and witchcraft fans -- just wanting to "see" for themselves. It is a pretty town (pictures), it is an historic town, but it is not haunted town. Hmmmmm...what about all of those spirits from the nearby battlefields?

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The success of the movie brought sudden and unexpected notoriety to Bukittsville. The town signs were stolen over and over again, and the cemetery was vandalized. Even now, tourists are warned that the locals might not be welcoming. However, money talks. Even as it steers you away from believing what is depicted in the movie, Burkittsville invites you to shop there for Halloween costumes and explore the local businesses that cater to witch-hunting tourists.

Amityville, New York

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Amityville, New York is famous twice for horrifying stories. In 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. killed six members of his family in the house at 112 Ocean Avenue. The same house later became the subject of the 1979 movie The Amityville Horror. The movie was not about the murders, but about the ghosts that remained behind in the home to haunt the new owners, George and Kathleen Lutz. The movie and the 1977 book it was based on, The Amityville Horror - A True Story, were promoted as a real-life account of paranormal phenomenon. Eight other movies followed. The publicity surrounding the book and movie brought tons of tourists into Amityville, much more so than the DeFeo murders. People pulled shingles off the roof of the house and destroyed the yard as they marched through uninvited, upsetting Barbara Crowmarty, the next homeowner. She estimated 5,000 people came to her home in one month. Her neighbors were also upset. Souvenir-seekers grabbed parts of their homes as well!
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Much of the anger of the Amityville residents came from the Lutz's claim that the haunting was a true story. As years passed, those claims fell apart. A friend of George Lutz who was also Ronald DeFeo Jr's lawyer admitted he helped concoct the story. None of the subsequent owners of the home experienced any unusual or paranormal events. Several times the idea of turning the house into a bed and breakfast was turned down by the village council. In the years since The Amityville Horror, the house address has been changed, and the home was remodeled to make it less recognizable as the haunted house in the movie. And that's the way Amityville residents want it.

What causes such a difference in the way small towns react to the notoriety a film brings? The three towns here are much too small of a sample to draw any conclusions. It could be the suddenness of the onslaught, or the behavior of tourists, or the need for the economic boost tourism brings. It very well could be the amount of controversy that surrounds the film. Amityville had to deal with thousands of people who believed the house was truly haunted, on top of the tragedy of the earlier murders of a local family. In the case of Burkittsville, a large part of the audience was skeptical of The Blair Witch Project's documentary marketing stunt, which the film makers didn't bother to defend. After all, the students who disappeared during the movie later gave interviews about it. Forks, Washington has no need to correct tourists' perceptions, as there are no claims that vampires actually go to high school there. If the locals can have some fun with their notoriety and make a profit, it's all good -as long as the tourists behave themselves.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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