Posted by Richard Harland Smith on September 30, 2011
Every October 1st I turn into a big weirdo. Well… more so.
Summer has its charms and there’s a certain magic in those long days and slow-arriving nights, afternoons by the water, concerts on the green, the flicker of heat lightning, the sparkle of fireflies… but screw summer, it’s over, stick a fork in it because tomorrow is October! (Dances spastically.) I love the fall, always have, always will. I grew up in Connecticut and though I’ve weathered seven years in Los Angeles I’ll always be a Swamp Yankee at heart. I love the sensations of Autumn, the arrival of coolth and crispidy after months oppressive heat and intrusive sunshine… the downward spiral of maple leaves from the tree tops, the wind in the willows, the shadow over Innsmouth, the silence of the lambs, the howling in the woods, I love every damned thing about this glorious but all-too-short season! I won’t bore you with the origins of my favorite holiday, Halloween, but it is of course tied at its core to the change of seasons, to the harvest, and to primal fears of the shortening of the days, of darkness, of perceived demons and the monstrous personification of our doubts about the future. As with any old timey holiday, Halloween is a corruption, a compromise, an amalgam of ye olde dread and Hollywood horror, with trick-or-treating the happy relic of Thanksgiving begging and penny-for-the-Guying. But I love the corruption, the compromise. I love all the shades of Halloween, from the ticky-tack gee-gaws on the shelves at CVS and Rite Aid to the widespread enjoyment of classical music (Camille Saint-Saëns ‘ Danse Macabre, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue), literature (Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), creaky old spookshows (THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, VAMPYR, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, THE BLACK CAT, MAD LOVE) and freaky old black-and-white cartoons…
I was born in 1961, post-PSYCHO (1960) but pre-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), game-changers both. My earliest education was in the Gothic horrors of DARK SHADOWS and the canons of Universal and Hammer Studios. As a boy, I walked alone along country roads to see DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969) first-run and to catch re-releases of DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965) and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967). My parents didn’t ask for a MonsterKid but when they realized they had one, they chipped in, providing me with an allowance so I could afford monthly issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland, leaving editions of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley under the Christmas tree, scaring me up an adult chaperone for an evening screening of LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) and dropping me off at the local tech school for an afternoon exhibition of HOUSE OF USHER (1960). Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I put in my time with the taboo-shattering likes of THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) and paid my dues as a horror lifer with the hell of ill-advised but profitable fright franchise sequels: PSYCHO II (1983), PSYCHO III (1986), TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE III (1990) and assorted FRIDAY THE 13THs and NIGHTMAREs ON ELM STREET. I still try to keep current and see all the new PARANORMAL ACTIVITYs and DESCENTs but I bailed after SAW III (2006). I believe horror should be transgressive and upsetting, yes, but I get tired of the old rusty-medical-instruments-on-the-nonsterile-tray-while-the-naked-chick-screams gambit. More and more I’m drawn, as I draw closer to my own autumn years, to the old stuff. To glorious antiquity. To fuzzy monaural soundtracks. To theatrical-style acting. To black and white.
Or sepia. Sepia works for me, too, and all that tinting business from the silent cinema. I love the monochrome and the dominance of shadows. I will be forever resentful that nighttime isn’t really blue. There is such mystery and magic encoded in these frames and the more I read about Hollywood or even Germany between the first and second world wars the more modern, the more contemporary silent horror films seem to me. I guess that’s because I understand what was going on and why supernatural and grotesque themes became the vogue after World War I. It’s exciting to go back to Roland West’s THE MONSTER (1925), Rupert Julian’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925), Rex Ingram’s THE MAGICIAN (1926) and Paul Leni’s THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) to see the first seedy tendrils of the American horror film breaking through the cultural topsoil. Part of my dilemma is that I’ve gotten too close to contemporary horror filmmaking. I’ve been a critic of it for over ten years now, I’ve written it, and I’ve come to know a legion of other horror screenwriters and filmmakers, too many of whom are trying to show off, to cudgel with the gross weight of their cheap cynicism, to shoehorn their way into the genre rather than giving back to it, enriching it. Horror has become thuggish and anal expulsive rather than reflective and evocative. And I’m not demonizing gore, mind you… gore has its uses. There’s nothing like a smart horror film that uses the laying open of mankind’s tender corporeality as a metaphor for secrets and hidden desires being forced out into the open but as with any gag or device it just gets old. And not good old, either. I guess the thing I’m missing is the charm. Where’s the charm, the moments of strange beauty, the ambiguity, the mystery?
Well, anyway. To each his, her, or its own. Halloween can accommodate a wealth of differing tastes and aesthetics. If you thrill to slice and dice, cut loose! If it’s goo and spew that you’re into, rock on! But if you are, like me, enamored of old school spookery, then bring on the freaky flickers. I know from experience that this October, the most blessed month on the Roman calendar, is going to go fast. Some of my fellow Morlocks are going to focus exclusively on horror films through the next four weeks and the Morlocks as a body (mummified, natch) will offer a horror blog-a-thon starting on October 25th and lasting through to the big day itself. For my part, I’m going to get the HorrorDads back together for a roundtable of recommended Samhain viewing and I will also point you to some other blogs of note whose shock-in-trade will enhance your Halloween experience. You dig?
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
Popular terms3-D Action Films Actors Actors' Endorsements Actresses animal stars Animation Anime Anthology Films Autobiography Avant-Garde Aviation Awards B-movies Beer in Film Behind the Scenes Best of the Year lists Biography Biopics Blu-Ray Books on Film Boxing films British Cinema Canadian Cinema Character Actors Chicago Film History Cinematography Classic Films College Life on Film Comedy Comic Book Movies Crime Czech Film Dance on Film Digital Cinema Directors Disaster Films Documentary Drama DVD Early Talkies Editing Educational Films European Influence on American Cinema Experimental Exploitation Fairy Tales on Film Faith or Christian-based Films Family Films Fan Edits Film Composers Film Criticism film festivals Film History in Florida Film Noir Film Scholars Film titles Filmmaking Techniques Films of the 1980s Food in Film Foreign Film French Film Gangster films Genre Genre spoofs Guest Programmers HD & Blu-Ray Holiday Movies Hollywood history Hollywood lifestyles Horror Horror Movies Icons independent film Italian Film Japanese Film Korean Film Leadership Literary Adaptations Martial Arts Melodramas Method Acting Mexican Cinema Moguls Monster Movies Movie Books Movie Costumes Movie locations Movie lovers Movie Magazines Movie Reviewers Movie settings Movie Stars Movies about movies Music in Film Musicals New Releases Outdoor Cinema Paranoid Thrillers Parenting on film Pirate movies Polish film industry political thrillers Politics in Film Pornography Pre-Code Producers Race in American Film Remakes Revenge Road Movies Romance Romantic Comedies Russian Film Industry Satire Scandals Science Fiction Screenwriters Semi-documentaries Serials Short Films Silent Film silent films Social Problem Film Spaghetti Westerns Sports Sports on Film Stereotypes Straight-to-DVD Studio Politics Stunts and stuntmen Suspense thriller Swashbucklers TCM Classic Film Festival Tearjerkers Television The British in Hollywood The Germans in Hollywood The Hungarians in Hollywood The Irish in Hollywood The Russians in Hollywood Theaters Thriller Trains in movies Underground Cinema VOD War film Westerns Women in the Film Industry Women's Weepies