Last October we listed ten of the best Classic Horror Films for Halloween. This year, we toss a few more into the hopper. Here's to frightening fun ...
Dead of Night (1945) I first saw this creepy English classic in the 1980s when I rented a VHS version of it from Erol's in Washington D.C. It is a series of tales, linked together by the story of an architect who goes to spend a weekend in a country cottage and discovers it is the house he has seen in a recurring nightmare. Since each tale is unique, you can't tell where this is going: so the ending is a goosebump-raising surprise.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) I don't know how I happened to leave this one out last year. The remake in 1978 isn't bad, but it doesn't compare with the quality of the strange story that slowly unfolds in this first version. Perhaps it is the sunniness of the setting when the movie opens: perhaps it is the terrific cast, including Kevin McCarthy, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones and the absolutely gorgeous Dana Wynter. But when those pods start snatching the bodies of the town's leading citizens (hey, maybe this explains my own city's recent troubles?) you really want our two lovers to get the heck outta there. Director Sam Peckinpah has a bit as a meter reader. Rumor has it, this movie was so scary, the studio decided to add a slightly upbeat coda to the ending.
Return of the Fly (1959) I just watched the three original Fly movies, now out in a DVD collection, and I think this one, the second in the series, holds up very well. Though it is in black and white (the first was in color) and doesn't have all of the production values of the first, it does move along a little faster. With a 1950s spy twist, it still manages to include both Vincent Price and that weird glass booth where people are supposed to get teleported but always keep getting their atoms mixed up with little creatures along the way. This time there is both a guinea pig and a fly involved and one combo gets squished under the boot of a bad guy. Eeeeew. For even stranger fun, also see The Curse of the Fly (1965) starring a slightly paunchy Brian Donlevy with the cast of mutants he keeps out in the back barn.
Devil Doll (1936) Lionel Barrymore plays a good bad guy in this one, wrongly sent to Devil's Island, who uses miniature people (he has stolen a formula that enables this shrinkability) to seek out his murderous revenge. Directed by the legendary Tod Browning, the film has Barrymore in drag most of the time, playing a little old lady shop keeper. Stay out of his/her Paris store, but don't miss this truly odd thriller
Homicidal (1961) I sometimes get this one mixed up with the Ed Wood "classic" Glen or Glenda, but it also has more than a little in common with Psycho. Very hokey, but it is a William Castle spook fest, with some very peculiar cross-dressing thrown in. Some of the scenes were shot in the Danish-California town of Solvang.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Angela Lansbury, Donna Reed and Peter Lawford star in this cautionary tale based on the Oscar Wilde story. It might be a roman à clef for today's plastic surgery addicts--not to mention the impact of corruption on one's soul. The painting and the narrative are truly haunting.
The Killer Shrews (1959) In my friend Steve Latshaw's honor, I'm recommending you see the original, so you can better enjoy his Return of the Killer Shrews (2011). Ken Curtis of Gunsmoke fame reportedly funded this little gem (and co-stars) with profits from his role in the long-running TV series. Also starring James Best (later of Dukes of Hazzard) and the lovely Ingrid Goude (Miss Universe 1957). Oh, and there is a mysterious island with shrews on it, grown to epic proportions--a horror (sans island) many of us will have run into in our very own lives.
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