Monday, October 18, 2010

Best Classic Horror for Halloween

The first Dracula movie is good (with Bela Lugosi) but the Hammer Films version is better (see below). Plus the Hammer version has its blood in color.

Here's our look at the Best Classic Horror Films, while there is still time to order them or download them to share with your coven on Halloween Night. These are all from the classic film era, so the "Chucky" series, alas, is not included.

The Haunting (1963) Based on the Shirley Jackson story, "The Haunting of Hill House" this is the absolute best haunted house movie ever made, and that is probably because it was directed by the great Robert Wise. Filmed in England, (it is supposed to take place in New England but everything about the countryside says Old England) the film stars Julie Harries, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn as test subjects invited to spend time in a house alleged to be haunted, so researcher Richard Johnson can discover if there is a scientific basis for such a "haunting." Things do more than go bump in the night, yet the fear is more about what lurks in the shadows than what you actually see. Carnaby Street and mod Beatles era designer Mary Quant (she's also more recently designed the interior of the Mini) does Claire Bloom's wardrobe. You'll be sleeping with the lights on for several nights after you discover the secret of The Haunting.

The Wolf Man (1941) Lon Chaney, Jr. plays the kind young man who returns to his homeland only to discover the perils of a gypsy's warning, the bite of a strange creature that haunts the moors, and of hidden desires that erupt in the full moon. The cast is outstanding and includes; Claude Raines, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Warren William, Bela Lugosi, and the weird and wonderful Maria Ouspenskaya. Lots of fog, a cane with a silver top shaped like a wolf's head, and a village maiden who must be saved from a fate worse than death. Includes the famous incantation: "Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." In my own dealings with men-who-are-pure-of-heart, I can only say the Gypsy's rhyme almost always proves true. Woof woof.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) You won't believe this film is almost eighty years old when you see the first rate use of the camera from director Rouben Mamoulian. Frederic March plays Dr. Jekyll in this pre-code film, the moral of which seems to be: IF YOU DENY YOURSELF SEX IT CAN TURN YOU INTO A MONSTER! (It's the same theme used much less effectively in Splendor in the Grass, thirty years later, but we will talk about that turkey another time.) Miriam Hopkins is fetching as the naughty girl entrapped by Mr. Hyde, and March's transition from Jekyll to Hyde was so effective it won him his first Academy Award for Best Actor. I've always been puzzled by the fact that he wears lipstick during the first quarter of the film and that it disappears from his face later on; but just consider it one of the mysteries of this creepy melodrama based on one of Robert Louis Stevenson's best, and much less bosom-heaving-than-the-movie short stories.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Made by George Romero with a budget of $114,000, this goosebump-producing creep-fest has grossed $12M and counting. And gross is the word that applies here! The simple premise is that something has caused the dead to rise up and that these living dead guys have an insatiable need to nosh on human flesh. That's the bad news. The good news is that, because they are dead, they don't walk very fast, and, if you can find a gun, a bullet right through the noggin will make them be truly dead again. Don't watch this one alone, late at night, or you'll be boarding up your windows and doors. Great zinger ending.

Dracula (1958) The best Dracula movie ever made. It comes from England's Hammer Films and is the first pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. In color using Elstree Studios wonderful sets, it has just the right amount of bright red blood dripping trippingly out of the corner of various vampiric mouths. Black coaches with black coach horses, pubs in which the crowd goes silent when a stranger enters, crosses of Christ that burn the skins of the Evil Ones and spiced with large cloves of garlic, it's a winner all the way 'round. And you'll never want a love bite, ever again.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) None of the later Sherlock Holmes films to come out of Hollywood match the quality of this rendition of one of Arthur Conan Doyle's spookiest Holmes tales. Basil Rathbone stars as Holmes with Nigel Bruce as a befuddled Dr. Watson, and Wendy Barrie as the girl our young lord falls in love with, much to his peril. Richard Greene plays the heir to the Baskerville fortune, a fortune that seems to bear the curse of a Hound from Hell. Holmes is convinced the threat is much more prosaic, but what with the fog swirling, an escaped convict lurking about, and, " ... they were the footsteps of ... a giant hound!" this Gothic thriller will have you from the first footfall on the steps of 221 B Baker Street. Famous last line you won't want to miss.

The Fly (1958) This is the original "experiment gone wrong in the basement" movie and it is a doozy. David Hedison (under the name Al Hedison) plays the handsome scientist and Vincent Price his sympathetic brother. Herbert Marshall is the chief inspector who has to get to the bottom of what appears to be a murder in a metal press of a husband by his slightly out-of-it wife. And she keeps looking around the house for a fly. The Jeff Goldblum/Geena Davis version has none of this buggy film's zing, and this one's more is more weird in its handling of kinky subtext about lust between humans and insects. From 20th Century Fox, directed by Kurt Neumann. As in several of the other movies on this list, there is a line to linger with at the end.

The Tingler (1959) Vincent Price again, only this time directed by showman William Castle, in a film about another mad-scientist-in-the-basement, trying to discover the physical thing in our bodies that makes our "spines tingle." (Hint: it looks like a cross between a large lobster and a rubber centipede.) If it grabs hold of you, the only thing you can do to make it go away is scream with fright! So scream!! This includes a sequence in an apartment above a movie theater in which a mute woman awakes to all kinds of frightening images, as well as a scene in which it appears our hero takes something very nearly like a tab of LSD! And you thought 1959 was all bobby sox and Davy Crockett! Wire your date's chair before movie time, and give him a buzz during the climactic scene. What better way to tell if he's the kind of guy you would really like to give a tingle?

The Thing (From Another World) (1951) The first excellent Atomic Age monster movie, directed by Christian Nyby with some alleged help from Howard Hawks. Something has landed up near a SAC base in the Arctic and our crew of dapper World War II vets, still in the Air Force, gets orders to take a plane up from Alaska to investigate. An intrepid reporter hops a ride with them, and all heck breaks out. Another mad scientist temporarily derails their plans to save the world from this alien menace and James Arness gets his first breakthrough role, and I do mean break through. Keep Watching the Skies!

I Walked With a Zombie This is a film in which atmosphere is the real star. Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, it one of several excellent horror films to come from this team at RKO. A West Indies re-telling of Jane Eyre, it stars the lovely Francis Dee, whose smartest move in her life was to jilt Joseph L. Mankiewicz and marry hunky actor Joel McCrea, who became one of California's wealthiest men. In this movie she wears a lot of white, finds herself following voodoo drums through fields of sugar cane, and discovers the brooding Tom Conway (George Sanders' real life brother) has plenty of reasons for his gloom.

But you will have none of your own if you nestle by the fire, dim the lights and enjoy any of the above. Happy Halloween!

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Jon said...

I looked these up on Netflix for your viewing pleasure. Some are double features.

The Haunting (DVD)

The Wolf Man
The Wolf Man / Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (DVD)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: 1932 & 1941 (DVD)

Night of the Living Dead (online & DVD)

Horror of Dracula (online & DVD)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (DVD)

The Fly (online & DVD)

The Tingler
The Tingler / Zotz! (DVD)

The Thing (From Another World) (DVD)

I Walked With a Zombie
Val Lewton: I Walked with a Zombie / The Body Snatcher (DVD)

Robin Chapman said...

Thanks for the research Jon! You won't go wrong watching any of these with your kids.