The skills to become a successful mainstream filmmaker are not always the same skills that make for a great horror film. There are exceptions in the case of directors like Steven Spielberg and Sam Raimi, whose style and execution elevated the horror films in which they worked. Another, lesser known name in those ranks is journeyman director Lewis Teague.
After getting his start directing for the television series “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” Teague cut his teeth on a lot of various film jobs while working with Roger Corman in the 1970’s. He learned editing, second unit directing, and even acting, in films like “Death Race 2000” and “Crazy Mama.”
After his solo directorial debut with “The Lady in Red” in 1979, he went on to a string of successful horror and action films through the 1980’s, directing the sequel to the popular “Romancing the Stone,” reuniting the cast for “Jewel of the Nile.”
The 1990’s was quieter for Teague, directing only two feature films (“Navy SEALS” and the Rutger Hauer sci-fi thriller “Deadlock”) before venturing into television for the rest of the decade. Working on TV series from “Profiler” to “Nash Bridges,” he also directed the Luke Perry-starring TV thriller “The Triangle.” And after a long break from feature filmmaking, Teague returned to the screen with a surprising project: a comedy about a transsexual called “Charlotta-TS.”
Though never as well-known as some of his contemporaries, Teague’s professionalism and skill at the technical aspects of filmmaking have left the viewing audience with at least one truly brilliant horror film, and two other horror films that are worthy of note for their cultural significance.
“Alligator” began its life as a rip-off of “Jaws” and ended up as more of a satire of 1970’s police dramas. With a script by John Sayles (who also wrote the other “Jaws” satire, “Piranha”), and a lead performance from the brilliant Robert Forster (who plays the role with every ounce of sincerity he can muster), the film is an interesting hybrid; it plays like a hard-boiled detective story at moments, and occasionally veers off into giant animal attack territory. Definitely worth seeing to watch the development of Teague’s skill creating a convincing animal antagonist.
The film that made a sweet-natured breed of dog the icon for terror, “Cujo” was the first of two films by Teague taken from Stephen King’s source material. Though Teague shied away from the more supernatural overtones of the book (the explanation for Cujo’s attacks in the books is possession, not simply rabies), there is real and palpable terror in the last half of this movie. The performances by Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro (who was only a year away from landing his role on “Who’s The Boss?”) are effective and desperate, and the technical aspects of the movie, from the editing to the score, combine to create a masterwork of claustrophobic tension.
The second of two 1980’s anthology horror films based on the work of Stephen King (the first was director George A. Romero’s “Creepshow”), “Cat’s Eye” has the distinction of having the anthology stories connect with a linking theme of a cat who travels into each story (as opposed to simply having all the stories in “Creepshow” come from the same comic book). Another surprising difference is the level of dark humor in “Cat’s Eye,” from the anti-smoking insanity in James Woods’ segment to the over-the-top walk around the narrow building ledge for Robert Hays, this film builds from unusual to unbelievable, ending in a segment where a cat has to save Drew Barrymore from a troll who sneaks through the wall to try and steal her breath. Sandwiched between “Firestarter” and “Silver Bullet,” and followed in short order by King’s directorial debut “Maximum Overdrive,” this era of King on-screen proved that a King story doesn’t always make a good movie; luckily, Rob Reiner would make “Stand By Me” a year later.
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