I started with ten. That was impossible. I moved to eighteen. That made no sense. And then I thought ... how about thirty-one movies for Halloween, October 31? That'll really tie the room together. Well, that was a ridiculous attempt because I ended up with thirty-six and I still feel like I've forgotten more than two dozen other movies (Japanese horror requires its own list, Hammer, giallo, more silents, Peter Lorre, Vampyr, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane for heaven's sake). But I had to stop (until I got to thirty-seven). Many of these are iconic, some are lesser known, some aren't even technically horror movies, but all are favorites of mine. Happy Halloween!
Remember when Jan de Bont thought (or someone who told Jan De Bont) it'd be a good idea to remake one of the greatest haunted-house movies ever made? No? Well, good -- maybe some unseen force cleansed the memory right out of your brain. Or maybe the original film, Robert Wise's classic The Haunting (adapted from Shirley Jackson's enduring novel "The Haunting of Hill House") worked some mojo, ensuring the redo would fall into a crack in the earth. Whatever the reason, the original Haunting is powerful stuff. With its tale of three very different people staying in a haunted New England mansion under an observant parapsychologist, the film gives us the requisite bumps in the night (loud pounding noises, cold spots, dead people pulling dwellers into their thrall) but amps up the terror with intriguing, complex characters. Led by a wonderfully poignant Julie Harris (the house wants to keep her -- very scary), the film is not only tense and psychologically interesting, but also gorgeously shot, showing, once again, Wise's previous schooling under the great Val Lewton. The Haunting is still terrifying.
There are so many Lewton pictures to list (Isle of the Dead, The Seventh Victim, The Curse of the Cat People, Ghost Ship, Bedlam), but I am sticking to my favorite -- Cat People -- it's simply one of the most beautiful films ever made -- ever, ever, ever. With a small budget and only a title to work from, a title promising a potential cheapie, lurid movie, producer Lewton (a man every horror filmmaker should study), crafted a film about, not women running around in cat suits, but fear. What scares us? What we can't see. With director Jacques Tourneur (who would later direct the seminal noir Out of the Past and the great Nightfall) and beguiling star, French actress Simone Simon at the helm, the movie about a woman enduring a cat curse, manages to be about a lot more -- loneliness, sex, fear of the other, fear of oneself, fear of letting go. And it contains one of the creepiest, yet classiest scenes in a swimming pool. And the women...
I Walked With a Zombie
This may be the only zombie movie inspired by Jane Eyre, and perhaps, the only zombie movie that is about well, real zombies. As in, voodoo. It's ambiguous and therefore more mysterious, scary, gorgeous, intelligent, sensitive -- all those things producer Val Lewton excelled at. Directed by Jacques Tourneur after he made the masterful Cat People, the picture, while dealing with voodoo and devil worship, is elegant, poetic, expressionistic and still inventive in use of shadows, light, dark, daylight, and wind. The quintessence of haunting.
I will never, ever stop talking about Tuesday Weld. I love her so much, that as I've said numerous times, it almost hurts. Lord Love a Duck, Wild in the Country, The Cincinnati Kid, Play it as it Lays, Thie fand on and on. But my favorite Weld performance? As Sue Ann Stepanek in Pretty Poison. Pretty Poison is the definitive Tuesday Weld movie. Playing the beautiful but deadly high-school majorette to Anthony Perkins twitchy, creepy fire-starter, she is the deliciously deviant underbelly of America's heartland. Where blondes are supposed to be good girls but, in her case, are most definitely not. Made in 1968 and directed by Noel Black, the picture was something of a dud upon release (too sexually disturbing? too strange?) and has achieved cult status ever since. And deservedly so. With it's violence, pitch black comedy and sexy viciousness (watch Tuesday commit murder and immediately want to have sex after) the picture is wonderfully subversive and deeply strange. And Weld...she is charming, scary, beautiful and sickly erotic. Need I explain the plot? The manipulation of Perkins (who thought he was doing the manipulating)? The killing of her mother? The crazy, beautiful, psycho intensity of Weld? No. You really should watch it for yourself. Again, Tuesday, Tuesday. As Tiny Tim sang, "If only Tuesday Weld would be my wife."
This vicious bit of brilliance is as scary as it is strangely beautiful. Spawning sequels and even a stupid remake, it's the arfully rendered low-budget horror of Tobe Hooper's original that sticks in your nightmares. You can choose what scene scares you most, but for me, the most iconic is Marilyn Burns being chased by Leatherface -- seemingly forever. The length of the chase (over two minutes), along with the screaming and running and screaming and running through the brambles while a beastly freak donning a human face for a mask and wielding a chainsaw is hot on her tail, just gets me where I live -- or die. And may I just pause for a moment to discuss --- Edwin Neal? Holy shit. Leatherface is horrifying, for sure, but Neal's overly eager, smiling, goat-cheese-eating hitcher provides one of the film's creepiest sequences.
Before you know anything about the rest of these meat eaters, you're introduced to this young guy who is probably kind of weird, maybe even a little Manson-family like, but when his van ride is over, far worse. There's just something about him taking the picture and setting it on fire and then cutting his hand that feels totally and terrifyingly authentic. Like Tobe Hooper really did find this guy on the side of the road. And when the kids wise up and finally kick his crazy ass out of the van, that silent shot of Neal with his arms flapping is like observing documentary footage of total and complete madness.
Repulsion/Rosemary's Baby/The Tenant
Repulsion remains one of the most frightening studies of psychosis ever filmed. It's also one of the most sexually mysterious. Deneuve's nervous young manicurist finds herself languishing about her apartment, where, her pathological shyness, sexual repression and repulsions spiral into madness. Perplexing hallucinations haunt Carol as she's holed up in her pad: sexual acts with a greasy man whom she simultaneously loathes and lusts; greedy hands poking through the hallways and kneading her soft flesh; and the moving and cracking of walls. Left alone, she is able to act out what she is so afraid of: the dark sludge of desire. The obscure, slippery and decayed complexities of such desire are conveyed brilliantly and the diseased atmosphere of Carol's apartment/womb is meticulously created through Polanski's inventive camera angles, sound effects and images of clutter. This is a gorgeously elusive, unsparing vision of sickness, and Deneuve's performance is brilliantly mysterious. As Polanski cameraman Gil Taylor muttered during filming, "I hate doing this to a beautiful woman." A masterpiece of madness.
Rosemary's Baby One of Polanski's most famous, iconic and unforgettable movies, Rosemary's Baby is just as effective as a dark comedy as it is a horror movie. It also works as a strange celebration of one woman's love for her baby, no matter what, and the institutions that attempt to control her (yes, you can read Rosemary's Baby as a feminist work). We all remember young-mother-to-be Rosemary (Mia Farrow) moving into a lovely, though creepy, apartment building and eventually finding herself impregnated by Satan himself. Her ambitious actor husband, A powerfully desperate and touching performance by Farrow carries the picture (as well as unforgettable turns by John Cassavetes, Elijah Cook Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer and a charmingly though frighteningly coarse Ruth Gordon) and Polanski's colorful, tense and at times, surreal direction (the dream sequence/Satanic seduction is a particular standout) and attention to detail is superb. And again, it's at times, morbidly hilarious. "What about Dr. Sapirstein? What about ME!"
The Tenant Though Rosemary’s Baby remains Polanski’s classic horror picture (and I do love it), for psychological terror, hysterical paranoia, existential break-down and a man really going through hell in a dress, I thinkThe Tenant supersedes Rosemary in thought-provoking terror. We can relate to it. It makes one fearful of every friend, neighbor, sound and the very thought of attempting a romance -- not to mention the task of simply taking out the garbage. Polanski wisely cast himself as Trelkovsky, a beleaguered, nervous Polish file clerk who takes over an apartment after the previous tenant commits suicide. With neighbors who are all kinds of creepy (gotta love a thoroughly disagreeable Shelley Winters), he’s spying strange things in the bathroom across the courtyard and, in one of the picture’s more memorable moments, discovers a tooth hidden in the wall. What else? There’s donning the prior tenant’s clothes, complete with dress, wig and a thick smear of perverse red lipstick and then that double jump, which I won’t reveal here but, it's a spectacular leap. And such shattering of glass. And that crawl. All in that dress. It all becomes an odd mixture of impotence and satisfaction.
And it’s all so human, horrifying and morbidly hilarious -- a tough combination to successfully convey, but Polanski, master of the dark humor, does so effortlessly. For instance, watch Polanski smack a kid in the park, or observe an especially frightening and imaginative moment when Polanski’s head is bouncing like a basketball, and feel confused by your terrified bemusement. Try not to laugh. And then cringe. And then laugh. And then think of yourself and all those you don't trust (there are many).
William Friedkin's still-shocking movie about a girl possessed by a demon deservedly ranks as one of the scariest of all time -- and not just because I saw it on cable, babysitting at 12-years old and promptly stopped sleeping for .... six months. This movie really messes with girls entering puberty -- how out-of-control it all feels -- I was terrified that surely the next "change" was demonic possession. Though some watch the film with a bit of camp these days (the head turning just isn't as horrifying as when you were 12-years old), I completely understand why many viewers fainted or ran back to the confessional after watching cute little Linda Blair push a priest out of a window or shove a crucifix in her privates. There are many, many scenes and touches in this movie that'll stop the heart, but I think Father Karras' dream of his dead mother is one the creepiest dream sequences ever put to celluloid. Envisioning his mother walking up the stairs from a subway, Karras is seen across the street flagging her down. Sounds perfectly normal except that Friedkin fills the entire exchange with an anxiety that makes the viewer so uncomfortable that we literally gasp when the "subliminal" -- a painted white demon face with red-rimmed eyes -- flashes on the screen. What in God's name was that? FUCK! Evangelist Billy Graham wanted to know, branding the film as a subliminal incendiary work of the devil with "evil embodied on the very celluloid." Well if that doesn't make you want to see a horror movie, I don't know what does.
Don't Look Now
Don't Look Now is one of the scariest movies ever made. It's also one of the saddest and, by film's end, astoundingly shocking. With a sublime Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland starring as a couple staying in Venice after their young daughter dies, they struggle to come to turns with grief while Sutherland is commissioned to restore a church, and Christie befriends two strange middle-aged sisters, one of whom is psychic. And then it just gest weirder. And darker. And heartbreaking. The story (adapted from a Daphne du Maurier tale) is fascinating enough, but director Nicolas Roeg ladles the film with stylistic flourishes (bizarre angles, nonlinear cuts, off conversations) that are anxiously bewildering. And Venice has never felt so chilling -- this is not a romantic lovers' getaway but a place of shadows and doom and a creepy creature in a red coat. A masterpiece.
Director Bob Clark (who would later craft that little subversive yuletide favorite A Christmas Story) made a first of its kind--a sorority house slasher picture, complete with deranged lunatic (whom you never see), extra crazy obscene phone calls and sexy girls--especially Margot Kidder and the beautiful Olivia Hussey. Atmospheric, gorgeously shot, intriguing and filled with genuine fucking scares, Black Christmas is wonderful for two holidays. RIP Bob Clark.
I Saw What You Did
One of my favorite William Castle movies (and I love a lot of them- see: "Jacket, Straight"), this one takes the perfect concept of grounded teenage girls babysitting a little sister, their innocent though, dirty-flirty prank phone calls, a murderous John Ireland, a vengeful Joan Crawford and a hilarious night time car ride to meet a sexy mysterious stranger. Well, this is before Facebook and Twitter and Instant Messaging and all that business, so the jailbait girls can only think Ireland (no slouch in the looks department, mind you, but a bit old for them) is the hottest thing since Elvis. These girls are just dying for some thrills and jump into their parent's car (kid sis in tow) so the more daring of the two can meet up with this manly man for a little action. And who can blame her? Never mind hunky voiced Ireland really thinks they "saw what you did" and "know who you are" -- the menacing setup makes it all the more subversively sexy. And then it gets really frightening. A jealous Joan Crawford spies the teens, reaches into their car and steals the girl's parent's car insurance -- perhaps the scariest moment in the entire movie. Being busted by Joan fucking Crawford when you're grounded? Jesus Christ. That would make any teenager wake up in a cold, virginal sweat.
Eyes Without a Face
Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face still shocks me. I won't describe the scene (it involves a...face and ... surgery) but the shock is furthered by the picture's potent sadness. A brilliant combination of French art film and shock, the movie is a fiendish study of guilt after a doctor accidnetally disfigures his daughter in an auto accident. Beauty is snatched via his lovely nurse/assistant/partner in crime -- young women who will hopefully be the new face of his mask wearing daughter. To describe the beauty and horror of this movie is tough -- its cinematography, art direction, scary yet, gentle perforamnces, fragility mangled by blunt instruments, and guilt induced evil hits you in every soft spot. It's so damn beautiful and yet, so ghastly.
The Innocents, a reworking of Henry James' novel "The Turn of the Screw," finds Deborah Kerr as a governess hired by Michael Redgrave to care for two of the freakiest kids this side of The Brood. Are these children (played by Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) just precocious little buggers? Or, are they under the control of the deceased evil former servants? A suitably terrified Kerr sticks around to find out, which, as it turns out, probably isn't such a good idea.
Are these freaky things even kids? Well, yes... sorta. After watching Samantha Eggar birth them (licking the newborns and all, a scene every libidinous teen should watch to prevent pregnancy) in David Cronenberg's classic (and one of his greatest movies), they definitely come from her womb. But what are they exactly? That's what Eggar's husband (Art Hindle) wants to find out after mysterious, deformed blonde kids in ski jackets show up unannounced to kill people. Worse, they take away his daughter. And things become even more complicated when he realizes his wife's psychiatrist (a fantastic Oliver Reed) has something to do with it. So let me re-phrase this: they aren't really children but, when referring to the shrink's eccentric methods they are "shapes of rage." Shapes of rage that do your bidding. Damn. I have shapes of range in all shapes, sizes and eye colors. I'd like to birth a few. Oh, Ollie Reed. Damn the world for taking that man away from us too soon...
Even over 40 years later, Michael Powell's controversial Peeping Tom (and one that unfarily hurt his career) still manages to make me feel dirty after watching. In the spirit of killers we can't help but feel empathy for (say, Peter Lorre in M), Carl Boehm plays a soft-spoken, nice-looking but clearly twisted filmmaker who kills girls, filming their deaths on his snazzy 16mm camera (complete with attached knife). Even sicker, he places a mirror on his camera so he can watch their reactions while filming. When you get to know Mark, you understand how his perversion was formed (his scientist father used him as a terror guinea pig) and even hope he may improve through the kindness of a female neighbor. But could that really happen? No. A beautiful picture that examined sleaze, fetishism and voyeurism (which is the film's intriguing question to viewers: Do you like to watch too?) with vivid color and simultaneous darkness, the picture remains a classic in the canon of cinematic psychos.
The Night of the Hunter
Is this a horror movie? It's certainly a nightmare -- a beautifully filmed elegaic nightmare. Robert Mitchum is absolute genius in James Agee's adaptation of Davis Grubb's novel, directed by actor Charles Laughton (famously his only directing effort). An expressionist classic, the film works as gothic horror, children's nightmare, and fairy/religious tale all in one. As the mysterious, sadistic preacher Harry Powell who is shot at times, straight out of James Whale's gallery of monsters (Laughton picked up a few things), Mitchum is so powerful a presence, you almost forget to be attracted to him (almost -- but not quite). Riding into town -- a fantastically handsome wolf in sheep's clothing, Mitchum's Powell pursues a fabulously pathetic widow in Shelley Winters, whose two children know where their dead father's money is hidden, and then promptly kills her. Slitting her throat and dumping her body in the river, Laughton gives us a death scene that is one of cinema's most beautifully haunting -- she sits in a car, hair floating in the water like gracefuly seaweed. The children's escape, their magical trip down the river and love in the form of Lillian Gish . Love comes from Lillian Gish who never fails to turn me into a puddle of tears when she receives that apple. Or when she bravely sings her duet with Mitchum. Notice Miss Gish sings "Leaning on Jesus," while Mitchum never mentions Jesus once.
I've seen this movie so many times and each time I think, it's not going to scare me. It's too ... "Here's Johnny!" Wrong. The moment Jack Nicholson begins talking about The Donner Party, I should be amused, but I'm terrified. Cabin fever and most especially cabin fever as directed by Stanley Kubrick scares me -- on a personal level. So does staring at a blank page. In that isolated Colorado hotel, the unsettling Torrance family endures forces beyond daddy going bonkers. Nicholson's caretaker/writer not only talks with the ghosts of hotel past, he also attempts to seduce one -- the beautiful naked woman in Room 237 who shrivels into a bony old woman, those Arbus looking girls in the hallway, the elevator gushing tidal waves of blood, "Red Rum" which should be stupid (murder spelled backwards? Ohhhh .... scary! But then, it is!) and poor Shelley Duvall. From opening shot to closing, freezing finale, The Shining is a cold stunner, spiked with powerful music (Bela Bartok was never fucking scarier) and stupendously upsetting. The death of Scatman Crothers remains one of the most traumatic viewing experiences of my life.
Dead of Night
Some consider this British Ealing quintet of horror tales one of cinema's most chilling -- especially the final film, "Ventriloquist's Dummy" (directed by Alberto Cavalcanti) -- the scariest of the bunch. That terrible tale concerns ventriloquist Maxwell Frere (played by a remarkable Michael Redgrave) who believes his dummy, Hugo, is out to get him -- like really, distressingly, sneaking out of the box, out to get him. Since Maxwell's act is based on disparity between him and Hugo, the realization that Hugo is running the show more than Maxwell makes their banter extra disturbing. When Maxwell suspects Hugo's ambition is not only causing him to look at other dummy masters for partnering but purposely sabotaging his shows, his fears result in one truly terrifying hotel room confrontation. The picture's structure (flashbacks and even flashbacks within a flashback) is expertly handled with Hugo's horror equaling Redgrave's potently freaky nuttiness. And, well, dummies. Dummies attacking you.
The ugly vampire. Not one of these lovely Twilight creatures. Ugly. And sad. And scary. And weirdly beautiful. F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu features the wonderfully rat-like Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok, creeping around his digs in expressionistic though understandable psycho sexual torture. The movie is re-known for many innovative techniques, but the biggest creep out is simply watching Schreck walk, reach for things, and sleep in, of course, a coffin. This film never ages with time. Schreck is truly the symbol of nightmare -- the guy who would send you running to an insane asylum if you woke up to him sucking your neck, or finger or whatever else.
Carnival of Souls
This low-budget ($30,000) cult film may well be one of the freakiest pictures not well known enough to the general public. Pre-The Sixth Sense, the story finds Candace Hilligoss "surviving" a fatal car crash after it plunges into the river. She moves on to Salt Lake City and gets one of the creepiest jobs you can acquire in a movie like this: church organist. But life is not normal. She constantly sees "The Man," a corpse-like specter who seems to follow her every move. And she's oddly pulled by a deserted pavilion that, in the film's frightful climax, will prove exceedingly horrific. The picture is filled with wonderfully eerie touches, including a bus full of ghouls, our heroine's realization that people can neither see nor hear her, and the carnival-esque dance of the dead. Once you watch Carnival of Souls, you cannot get this movie out of your head.
An obvious one, but it's one of the best. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was so shocking in its time (people had rarely seen a toilet, much less a shower drain, in a movie before, much less gorgeous Janet Leigh being knifed by a transvestite) that if you ask your parents or grandparents, they can remember the exact time and place of viewing the masterpiece. And again, they especially remember Janet Leigh's infamous wash. Not only was it taboo to watch a major star being murdered before the first half of the film was over, but to view the stabbing, screaming and dying scored to the infamous musical shrieks of Bernard Hermann was a landmark in our cinematic lives. It still is.
Don't Deliver Us From Evil
Never released in the United States and "banned" for blasphemy, the masterful movie presents a wonderfully deceiving package. The story of two teenage convent girls who "dedicate ourselves to Satan" could have been some dippy horror movie--a T&A fest with demons and multiple slayings and loads of sex (I know, you've probably lost interest ... just stick with me). It could have been one of those '70s horror films that make you run for the shower directly upon watching because even your soul feels soiled. Which isn't a terrible thing. But that's not what Don't Deliver Us From Evil is going for. It's really about the obsessive nature of female friendship, of living in a boring world filled with hypocrisy, of becoming fueled by literature and the forbidden and all the stuff that's so intense when you're 15. Here it's gorgeous raven-haired Anne (Jeanne Goupi) and her best friend Lore (Catherine Wagener), two beautiful but curious (yes, curious) girls marking their time at Catholic School by sneaking into bed with each other and reading erotic literature under the sheets.
They're especially fascinated by evil, which, isn't that strange considering their Catholic environment. But when they renounce Jesus Christ and all his works to become baby brides of Satan, they one-up the typical Catholic schoolgirl naughtiness. They kill animals, torture men and...I don't want to spoil the, uh, fun. I love movies that are able to crawl under your skin and almost make you feel guilty--complicit even--with the character's intentions. With loads of sacreligious imagery and the director clearly giving the Church a big, fat middle finger, the general ambiance of the movie is unsettling and cheeky, but in an intoxicating, magical way. You really fall in love with these girls. And that, quite simply (and subversively), makes you feel evil. And you'll never, ever forget their recitation of Baudelaire's "Les Morts des Amants" (Death of the Lovers). If only all poetry readings were this insanely brilliant.
An A-project at the time (most horror films -- even great ones -- were relegated to B status), director Lewis Allen crafted a creepy, classy film starring a terrific Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. Brother and Sister (Milland and Hussey) buy a country house that's not only riddled with curious sounds, smells and temperature shifts, but also inhabited by two female apparitions - one evil, the other friendly. What's particularly distressing is the mean ghost's constant attempts to kill the pretty girl who lives next door (with whom Milland is smitten). Nicely paced and atmospherically shot, The Uninvited is witty, nerve-racking and a wonderfully scary/solid Haunted House movie.
Peter Medak’s film is as sad as it is scary, but the melancholic tone just underscores the terror. George C. Scott plays a lonely musician who moves into a house haunted by a dead little boy. When we learn what happened to the child, the sounds of loud knocking (nope - it's not the radiator this time) make perfect sense. But we sure don’t feel any better - especially when that red rubber ball keeps appearing by the stairs. One of the film’s creepiest moments has Scott throwing the thing over a bridge only to return home to that same ball, bouncing down the stairwell wet. Yes, The Changeling makes a ball scary.
I love this movie. I don't care how cheesy some viewers find it. It scares the hell out of me. And when Karen Black's scary, she's beyond terrifying. But when you add some Bette Davis and Oliver friggin Reed, things get wonderfully weird. This Shining-like tale of a family affected by the hauntings of an old mansion they’ve rented for the summer showcases some seriously horrifying moments. Especially when Black becomes possessed. Creepy, sometimes funny but grim to the end, the film offers up some helpful advice -- chiefly, don’t rent a home from Burgess Meredith. Ever.
The Phantom of the Opera
All you Andrew Lloyd Webber fans just stop. OK, OK, enjoy the Phantom. But -- I'm not talking about some heartbroken guy with a face mask like Tom Cruise's in Vanilla Sky bellowing out pop opera tunes. I'm talking a genuinely scary, tortured man/monster played by a genius, one of the greatest actors of all time -- Lon Chaney -- in the 1925 silent picture. The movie and Chaney are so effective, so creepy, so sad, so transcendent and so weirdly beautiful. Lon Chaney is the phantom.
And you were worried that sending your daughter to a dance academy might expose her to bad habits like excessive dieting or smoking cigarettes. Please. You didn’t hear about the Dario Argento Dance Academy. At this place, young Suzy must contend with a school run by a coven of witches. Suzy survives, enduring some of the most demonic plies of her life. After successfully killing the worst witch, who is (of course) the headmistress, we have to wonder what the future holds for Suzy. That's all I can write. This movie digs into corners of my mind and makes me too frighted to sleep, let alone walk through glass doors.
Poor Laurie Strode. Did she know a masked lunatic was going to make her senior year such a goddamn bummer? 21-year-old Myers, who stabbed his teenage sister when he was a wee-one, has escaped from the loony bin in pursuit of the likable Laurie. With his understandably concerned and stressed-out shrink (Donald Pleasance) on his tail, Myers still manages to terrorize and murder nearly all of Laurie’s friends before finding himself face to face with the one power he can’t contend with…virginity! Well, that’s not really the power at hand though Laurie’s good-girl antics do keep her away from danger. And... well you've all seen Hallowen. I hope.
It's all about Robert Blake as the ”Mystery Man.” Jesus Fucking Christ he's terrifying. Since David Lynch knows creepy better than Leatherface knows a good slab of beef, it's no surprise, but casting Blake was a touch of genius. Blake’s unwelcome party guest was his last role (and I’m wondering if he’ll do any more pictures in the future ... I hope) swirled in my grey matter days after viewing, notably for his white makeup and his way with words: “We’ve met before … at your house … I’m there right now.”
The Village of the Dammed
The picture hasn't worn as scary throughout the years, but there is something iconic about these blonde, mod-looking children with their blank, penetrating glow-eyes. And disturbing, too, since they can make people do things they didn't intend to do (like, oh, drive their car into a wall). Taking a cue from the blonde psycho from The Bad Seed, this cult classic decided to flood an entire English village with flaxen freaks, unleashing a horror that's tough to fight -- who wants to attack the kids? After women become pregnant under bizarre conditions (let's just say their husbands have nothing to do with it), out pop scores of Vidal Sassoon-haired babies who grow up freakishly fast and claim superior brains, but are seriously lacking in the social skills department.
They also appear to be in on some secret, which is truly the film's scariest conceit. If you just think about it and transfer it to real life, the idea of a bunch of grimly serious little blonde kids, dressed in matching clothes, glaring at you, would be terrifying. And if George Sanders is having a rough go handling these brats, well, something is genuinely wrong.
Why aren't more movies set in haunted carnival fun houses? But, more importantly, why aren't more slasher films this great? The Funhouse has gone relatively unknown, which is baffling because the picture is a tight little horror film imbued with some tremendously scary (and funny) sequences. Dig this idea -- a group of stoned friends decides it'd be a kick to stay the night in a fun house after closing time. Yeah, such a kick -- especially when a deranged albino fond of wearing a Frankenstein monster mask begins terrorizing you. Directed by Tobe Hooper, Funhouse benefits from an effective lead killer and the already creepy setting of a carnival, making it an under-looked classic of the genre.
Though much of Brian De Palma's Carrie is more sad than scary (tricking poor, mousy, abused and telekinetic Sissy Spacek into thinking she's really prom queen -- so mean!) there are horrifying moments that stick. Yes, we know the pig's blood dumped on the poor girl is pretty gruesome, but then, Carrie White wreaks major revenge for the taunting. The moment that really made us jump out of our seats was Amy Irving's dream at film's end. As she visits Carrie's grave, suddenly a bloody hand pops out of the dirt and attempts to pull her in. No matter how sorry we are for Carrie, we're sure as hell not going in the ground with her. And no matter how much we tell ourselves this is only a movie, this is not something we want to think about before retiring for the evening. Though, I have to say, Sissy is even sexier covered in blood.
The Unholy Three
So unsettling was this picture that it was made twice -- and with most of the same cast. Talkies had something to do with it also, but if you're going to re-make( the first by Tod Browning, the second directed by Jack Conway) a movie especially one involving a ventriloquist, might as well assemble the cast and let them speak. Though the movies (again, one silent, the other most famously the great Lon Chaney’s first and only talking picture) aren’t technically dummy stories, ventriloquism plays such a key role in the picture’s dirty deeds that it can’t be ignored. Discussing the talkie -- -the ventriloquist here is named Echo (Chaney), a man who forms the triad of unholy thieves with Hercules (Ivan Linow) the strong man, and Tweedledee (Harry Earles) the midget, after their carnival is closed down.
Disguising themselves to scam people, Tweedledee dresses up as a baby, with a pretty pickpocket named Rosie (Lila Lee) playing his mother while, in the picture’s most impressive twist, Echo disguises himself as a little old lady named Mrs. O'Grady. Working a pet shop, Echo throws his voice to sell "talking" parrots among other misdeeds. Though the silent Browning version is considered the superior film, the talkie is interesting, graced by the presence of that genius Chaney. It’s especially tragic that his last role was in a talkie, proving the brilliant man had a career ahead of him outside of silent pictures. Still, it’s the silent version that boasts the picture’s scary/sad ventriloquist ending in which Echo’s dummy bids an sad farewell. But the talkie is even sadder. The last time we'd see that genius Lon Chaney on screen again.
These Are the Damned
Directed by the great Joseph Losey, the masterful These Are the Damned was made in 1961, hacked up by producers and not released in England until 1963. It finally found its way to America in 1965, thank God (or Satan, whomever). The story is convoluted and... sad. Macdonald Carey plays an American tourist who, while vacationing the English seaside, falls for Shirley Anne Field, a young woman who just happens to be the sister of the great, bad boy sexy Oliver Reed, a tough-ass motorcycle gang leader to a bunch of Teddy Boys. Reed hates Carey and exhibits some decidedly incestuous feelings for sis, but that's just part of the problem. Reed is such a violent hoodlum (wonderfully so -- it's a thrill to see him so young here), the new couples run off, but... to a cave under a nearby military base which is where some incredibly weird kid action starts.
In this case, a group of children, who've suffered experiments conducted by a scientist intent on developing a race of humans who can survive an atomic blast. So, naturally, the kids have all become radioactive and have the power to kill anyone who dares to get near them. What's makes this movie so powerful and poignant, is that rather than recoil from these children, the couple yearns to save them. But alas, life isn't so easy (you can't just adopt a brood of radioactive children) and the picture remains hauntingly grim. I'm not begging for any type of remake -- but this seems like something Cronenberg could accomplish, and with some added layers ... of birthing scenes. And too bad Reed, Cronenberg's Shape of Rage guru, couldn't have returned to the scene of the brood..
The Old Dark House
James Whale's penchant for the perverse, darkly humorous and finally, just flat out scary is on full display here as travelers Raymond Massey, his wife Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton and his chorus girl companion Lillian Bond find themselves stranded in an isolated mansion. A scarred, crazy, mute butler (a terrific Boris Karloff) is there to greet them, but that's just the start of it. The homeowners are nuts (one's a whacked-out atheist, the other a religious freak) while the rest of the family includes a bedridden 102-year-old grandfather and a pyromaniac son who is locked up. Gorgeously, stylishly photographed and containing outrageously freaky performances, this is as wonderfully bizarre as it gets.
And here's another one (37!) -- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
This an absolute favorite -- a movie I'm obsessed with. Rouben Mamoulian's cinematically inventive, innovative, experimental, sexy, scary, pre-code masterpiece of perversion, blue-balls repression and twisted desire moves me on so many levels -- I can watch it over and over again. It was far ahead of its time and never dates in theme, style and special effects.
And it boasts one of Frederic March's most brilliant performances (next to Design for Living and another sexy-scary-funny-drama -- Death Takes a Holiday -- and so much more). And Miriam Hopkins was never hotter. Neither was March -- as both Doctor and Hyde. Call me a sicko, but I have a strange case for both man and beast.
And some more:
Audition, Antichrist, Vampyr, Pulse, House, Nightmare, Dracula Prince of Darkness, Black Sabbath, The Invisible Man, The Other, Freaks, Black Sunday, Night of the Living Dead, The Curse of the Cat People, Ghost Ship, Bedlam, Night Tide, The Golem, The Exorcist 3, Let's Scare Jessica to Death,
The Unknown, M, The Isle, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Straight-Jacket, Shivers, Alice Sweet Alice, Homicidal, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, Island of Lost Souls, The Black Cat ... I will never stop this if I don't stop ...