What’s In A Name?

As I noted in the most recent installment of the “Horror Trivia” series, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was originally going to be called “The Brain of Frankenstein.” It’s hard to imagine audiences going to a film with such a title and expecting a comedy. I imagine many would write it off as yet another entry in the franchise and it wouldn’t have been the smash hit which revitalized interest in the Universal monsters. A title can make or break a movie. Can you imagine as many people would have been interested in checking out Shriek of the Mutilated if it didn’t have such a striking title? That’s why I’m convinced the generic titles many of the classic Gamera movies were saddled with for their American release helped make the character more obscure in America than he was in Japan at the time. This is also true for novels, as Bram Stoker had gone through several proposed titles before settling on Dracula. It seems unlikely the character would have been as popular if Stoker had gone with The Dead Un-Dead” or “The Un-Dead as the title of his novel, especially if he had used his original name for the character: “Count Wampyr.”

Troma certainly knows the marketing power of an interesting title. It goes all the way to back to when the decision was made to change the name of “The Health Club Horror” to The Toxic Avenger during the production of said film. This understanding is also why they changed the title of Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake to Croaked: Frog Monster from Hell and created A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell by some extra footage and narration onto “Dark Fortress.” Although it appears the film was only publicly released as A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, not unlike how Roger Corman’s “Prehistoric World” was retitled as Teenage Caveman by the distributor.

Night of the Living Dead went through several proposed titles before settling on the one we all know and love. The earliest version was a horror comedy about aliens called “Monster Flick” but the comedy and aliens were eventually phased out in later drafts. A work print for the film bore the title “Night of Anubis” in reference to the Egyptian deity associated with embalming and death. This eventually became “Night of the Flesh Eaters” and was to have been the actual title for the film before the distributor decided to change the name.

Somewhat similarly, Konga was originally pitched as “I Was a Teenage Gorilla.” Sometimes movies are shot under a fake or placeholder title in order for the true nature of the production to remain a secret. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi was famous shot under the title “Blue Harvest” under the idea that nosy people interested in the adventures of Luke Skywalker and friends wouldn’t pay attention to a horror movie. However, there were plans to make an actual horror movie called “Blue Harvest” at one point! X-Men: Days of Future Past was humorously called “Hello Kitty” as a reference to the character Kitty Pryde. It’s often reported how Hellraiser was originally going to be titled “Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave” and I suspect the title was just a cheeky placeholder rather than what the movie was actually going to be released as.

I also suspect this is the origin of the “These Bitches are Witches” title associated with The Evil Dead. That film was originally titled “Book of the Dead” until Irvin Shapiro decided it would make people think they were going to have to read while watching it! This prompted the creation of potential titles like “The Evil Dead Men and the Evil Dead Women,” “101% Dead,” “Death of the Dead,” “Blood Flood,” “Fe-Monsters” and “Evil Dead.” As the last one was chosen since it was (and I quote) the “least worst” of the bunch. After the film’s release, Irvin Shapiro proposed a sequel called “Evil Dead II: Army of Darkness.” If you pay attention to the end credits of Army of Darkness, (which turned out to be the third installment in the series) you’ll see this name listed as a way of thanking him for the title! The “the” being dropped from the title of the first sequel wasn’t the only name change, as the book known as “Naturom Demonto” in The Evil Dead is referred to as the “Necronomicon Ex-Mortis” in the sequel! Further confusing matters is the 1992 comic book adaptation written by Sam Raimi, which refers to it as the “Nacheron De’manto.”

The Last House on the Left was filmed under the title “Night of Vengeance.” When it was finished, other proposed titles like “Krug and Company,” “Sex Crime of the Century” and “The Men’s Room” were considered before the iconic title we’re familiar with was chosen. It’s a good thing they chose that title, or else The Last House on Dead End Street would have either been stuck with the briefly used title The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell or the proposed “At the Hour of Our Death.”

Dracula A.D. 1972 started out as a script called “Dracula in Chelsea”, which later went from “Dracula – Chelsea 1971” to “Dracula Chelsea 1972” and “Dracula Today” before settling on its final title. Those links also reveal how The Satanic Rites of Dracula almost wound up seeing release as “Dracula is Dead… and Well and Living in London” and “Dracula is Dead and Living in London” before the comedic title was wisely dropped.

History would have turned out very differently if Spook Busters had stuck with its original working title: “Ghost Busters.” Both titles were goofs on the stage play (and basis for several movies) The Ghost Breaker. This is appropriate, given how the play itself admits its title is a take-off of terms like “trust-breaker” and “strike-breaker.”

Working titles for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre include “Head Cheese” and “Leatherface.” I can guarantee you the film would have bombed if they used the first working title. Speaking of massacres, The Slumber Party Massacre started out as a script called “Don’t Open the Door” and was filmed as “Sleepless Night.”

Alien was called “Memory” in its earliest script form and was later called “Star Beast” before the final title was chosen.

The Horror of Party Beach was initially known as “Invasion of the Zombies.” This might seem like an odd choice of name for a movie about humanoid fish monsters, but it makes sense once you realize the monsters were originally portrayed by men in rubber costumes covered in sponges until someone felt that wasn’t monstrous enough. Although revived corpses covered in growths could be considered zombies, the new design would have been a much harder sell.

I’ll leave you with the following short list of horror movies and their original titles. I’ll also leave it up to you to decide whether the changes were a good or bad idea:

The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!“Curse of the Full Moon”
Night of the Blood Beast“Creature from Galaxy 27”
Friday the 13th“Long Night at Camp Blood”
Curse of the Undead“Affairs of a Vampire”
20 Million Miles to Earth“The Giant Ymir”
The Invisible Ghost“The Phantom Killer”
Space Master X-7“Missile into Space”
Halloween“The Babysitter Murders”
Shivers“Orgy of the Blood Parasites”

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