Horrifying Movie Madness

Halloween Special 2000

If you're looking for a good, old horrific time at the movies, chances are you may need to look back into cinema's history to fill your scary movie needs. After all, before director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson made unsuspecting audiences Scream, the horror film genre had slipped into its worst slump ever.

Ironically, it was John Carpenter's Halloween that re-invigorated a slowing industry in 1978 by creating a whole new sub-genre of horror: the Slasher film. From that point on, through the Friday the 13ths and the Nightmare on Elm Streets, horror films increasingly relied on more blood, guts, and heaving bosoms in a desperate attempt to keep audiences interested.

But, long before Halloween, there was black and white. These were the films that got under your skin - the insidious, unrelenting creepy films that conjured up a deeper, more primal fear: fear of the unknown; fear of the mystical; fear of the insane…

And, of course, there were movies that conjure up nothing but intensely sharp, delectable cheese. So, when you bunker down with the lights low to get your fill of Halloween movie heebie-jeebies, don't forget some of these hidden horror classics… and, for goodness sake, don't watch them alone!

Still from the Cabinet of Dr. CaligariCabinet of Dr. Caligari [Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari] - (Robert Wiene: 1920)
This film is one of the most disturbing bits of celluloid to emerge out of pre-WWII Germany. The story follows a hypnotist as he beguiles a poor soul into commiting murders for him, with suitably horrific results. In 52-minutes, the film pulls the viewer into a world of hallucination, fear and delirium, made even more nightmarish by the use of expressionistic sets and unorthodox camera work. Not to be missed, as this is one of the most influential horror films ever made.

Need more German horror? Check out F.W. Munrau's vampire classic Nosferatu, and the equally fine Werner Herzog 1979 remake Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht.
I Walked with a Zombie One SheetI Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)
The brilliant collaboration between Frenchman Tourneur and RKO producer Val Lewton resulted in some of the most chilling moments ever. This film followed their equally creepy Cat People, and showcased Tourneur's uncanny mastery of light and shadow. The story is an inspired take off on Jane Eyre, with elements of voodooism and the Caribbean added in for spice. This eloquent, visually stunning film boasts a languid, subtle tone that allows a sense of unease to take hold almost imperceptively in the viewer's mind. Highly recommended.

Other Tourneur / Lewton gems: Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, The Leopard Man.
Still from Island of Lost SoulsIsland of Lost Souls (Erle Kenton, 1933)
Forget the disasterous 1996 Marlon Brando remake - the original version from 1933 best captures the horrific tone of writer H.G. Well's vision. The plot follows the misguided experiments of Dr. Moreau (the great Charles Laughton) as he attempts to change evolution by grafting humans and animals together. Look for Dracula star Bela Lugosi as the "Sayer of the Law" - he turns in one of his best performances of his career here. Also of note: This film was nearly banned upon its release for its horrifying ending - an ending that still shocks even today.

Other Mad Scientist spook-fests: The Devil-Doll, X - The Man with the X-ray eyes, Mad Love (not to be confused with the horrible Drew Barrymore movie!)
And, for those who need a bit of humour with their horror:

AIE! Burt Convy!Bucket of Blood (Roger Corman, 1959)
Easily the first (and possibly the only) beatnik horror film, this Corman classic follows the horrific events that transpire after Walter Paisley, a lowly busboy (well played by Dick Miller) attempts to break into the artsy bohemian scene with murderous results. With an hilarious script by Charles B. Griffith (featuring a sidesplitting parody of Allen Ginsberg) and good all-around performances, this film is great Halloween fun. Who can resist lines like, "Oh, Walter - take me to a cool, blue place… and gas me!" Watch for the future game show host Bert Convy as Lou.

Other funny scary escapades: Little Shop of Horrors, The Ghost Breakers.

ISSN 1499-7894
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