Week 14: “Tom Holland: The Underappreciated Director”
When you think of great horror directors the name Tom Holland is never at the top of the list and for many his name is completely unknown. With the exception of his debut feature Fright Night (1985) and the original Child’s Play (1988) most of the rest of his films have been mostly forgotten but I’m here to say that Mr. Holland has crafted some excellent and underappreciated films and if you don’t know his films then maybe you should take a few moments to do so.
Enough has been said about Fright Night and Child’s Play to fill an entire book and I’ve already written a detailed account of my love for Child’s Play and the Chucky franchise but I would like to add that these films are a perfect genesis of childhood trauma. Child’s Play deals with a young innocent child whose doll is corrupted by a serial killer and Fright Night deals with teen angst and fear in the disguise of a “boy who cried wolf” story. In ’93 he directed the thriller The Temp, which starred an amazing Lara Flynn Boyle and Timothy Hutton in a suspenseful thriller of a hostile takeover and a temp too good to be true. Boyle is at her most Sharon Stone ala Basic Instinct in this film and you can’t take your eyes off of her (and why would you want to). This film did horrible business at the Box Office and was quickly forgotten but it is an early film of Holland’s that shows he knows how to bring the suspense without any supernatural elements.
For Stephen King fans he is known for the TV adaptation of The Langoliers (1995) and Thinner (1996). I’ve never been a big fan of The Langoliers but I’ve always been under the impression that most King TV adaptations were more miss than hit because of the limitations of what can be shown on TV. This being said, it is the first film in which I became known of who David Morse was and I’ve always been a huge fan of Dean Stockwell having grown up watching plenty of TV’s Quantum Leap. Thinner, on the other hand, is one of my favorite King adaptations more for the story than any of the horror elements contained within. This is not your typical King story as there are no monsters of real supernatural elements – just a Gypsy curse which eats away at the characters. The film contains one of actor Robert John Burke’s finest starring performances (the other being ‘92’s Dust Devil). The other great thing about this film is that Joe Mantegna gives one of his most entertaining performances and steals every scene he’s in.
After the dismal returns of Thinner the big screen films disappeared for Mr. Holland which is a shame since I saw this film on opening night in ’96 (like I did pretty much any film based on the works of Stephen King). It was hard to figure out where the director of such classics (in my opinion) had disappeared off to. Mr. Holland didn’t really disappear though but went to the small screen.
In ’90 he directed the TV movie The Stranger Within another rural thriller starring Ricky Schroder and his Fright Night pal Chris Sarandon. I saw the film once a long time ago but have forgotten much about it. I enjoyed more his contributions to the anthology film Two-Fisted Tales (1992) and HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. I’m still a huge fan of Tales From the Crypt even to this day and his episode “Four-Sided Triangle” is my favorite of the three he directed. He also contributed to Amazing Stories but I never saw his episode. What I did enjoy was his contribution to the beloved anthology series Masters of Horror with the episode “We All Scream for Ice Cream” which starred William Forsythe. It wasn’t one of the best episodes of the series but it was one of the more entertaining of the second (and final) seasons. Even though Mr. Holland seems to have more or less disappeared the success of the Masters of Horror series added a renewed lease on life for him and paved the way for his own anthology series Twisted Tales (2013), which can be found on DVD/BD as Tom Holland’s Twisted Tales. These are hit or miss but it has allowed Mr. Holland to continue to contribute to this genre that we all love.
Many of you who only know Mr. Holland from the films he directed should also know that he got his start writing the screenplays of such cult classics as The Beast Within (1982), Class of 1984 (1982), Psycho II (1983), and The Initiation of Sarah (1978). He also delved into non-horror by writing Cloak & Dagger (1984) and directing the Whoopi Goldberg favorite Fatal Beauty (1987) but he had his greatest success in the horror and thriller genre.
The greatest thing about Mr. Holland is that he contributed so many great films that were not simple slasher or monster films but all had deeper meaning and subtext which cannot be said of many horror films. This is one of the reasons why he has always been on my radar and why I continue to eagerly await his next film or television project. As of right now there are rumors that he is finally working on a new feature called Killing Frank which he wrote and is directing and which stars Freddie Highmore, Melanie Lynskey, Rebecca De Mornay, and Bruce Davison. If this is true then we all have something to look forward to in the near future.