Tops in Terror 2: More Cult Kings Pick Fear Flicks for You!

Paul Gaita returns for the second and final part of his pre-Halloween Must-See Round-Up with the Kings of Cult! – RHS Need more nightmare recommendations? Here’s Round Two of our master monster lists from the cult kings.

Joel Hodgson (creator, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Cinematic Titanic) (cinematictitanic.com)

HALLOWEEN (1978)

Whip-smart director/producer/composer John Carpenter makes a maelstrom of a scary movie by picking up some tried and true horror elements and then fashions new tools as needed to suit his wicked purposes. Stars the striking Jamie Lee Curtis and the bald Donald Pleasance. This film was a sensation in theaters – I know, I was there.  It was released when I was in college and some friends and I created our own “Halloween 3-D” by donning an “inside-out Captain Kirk mask” and standing up in the crowded theater at the climax of the film.

BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

Starring Boris Karloff as the Monster, Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester as the Monster’s Mate and Ernest Thesiger as the pixie-like Doctor Pretorius. Director James Whale builds on his initial sensation of the original Mary Shelly/ Universal FRANKENSTEIN (1931) by making an even moodier and more whimsical horror fable. Rich with German expressionism and magic: notes of smoke, cherry, and THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920).

THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Edward Woodward plays a police sergeant who is summoned to a remote island village in search of a missing girl. He doesn’t find the girl, but what he does find is a much deeper mystery to solve among the island’s strange inhabitants. I’m hesitant about saying too much about this movie except that it holds some real mystery and atmosphere that seems to exist beyond the content of the story and the method in which it was produced. Weird.

PHANTASM (1979)

This movie features the “Tall Man” (Angus Scrimm) and the hooded dwarf undead that do his bidding. Directed by a resourceful and talented 24-year-old Don Coscarelli, this original spawned a long line of sequels, which I’m not sure I can recommend, but the series trademark is this outrageous, jet-fueled-silver-zombie-impalement-ball that chases you through the dark and, once it careens into your forehead, begins to pump what ever is inside… out.

THE BIRDS (1963)

Tippi Hedren is a socialite who pursues Rod Taylor to a small Northern California town that becomes ground zero for a series of terrifying bird attacks and ornithological related catastrophes. This film was a technical tour de force of its day, utilizing a vast number of process shots and innovations. However, it seem that time and digital filmmaking has changed the way we see things and the “sodium vapor process” matte shots that confounded audiences in the early sixties now feel a bit “off”. Having said that, I realize that is often what makes a old spook house so great – seeing the seams, papier-mâché, and dark cables and still getting shocked and surprised anyway. Fifty years later, THE BIRDS still crackles with an intense, ever unspooling, and dangerous energy from the legendary director and showman Alfred Hitchcock.

ERASERHEAD (1977)

The late Jack Nance stars as Henry Spencer, a printer living in a dark, distorted netherworld that produces a “child” with Mary X (Charlotte Stewart). This film, directed by David Lynch, is bewildering in the best possible way and leaves you feeling a certain amount of dread and fascination about falling asleep and not being able to control whatever it is you are about to dream. Features the song “In Heaven.”

THE TINGLER (1959)

The beloved Vincent Price is a scientist whose research reveals that we all have a parasitical creature that inhabits our spinal columns called “The Tingler” that feeds and grows on fear. Fortunately for us, the body also has a natural ability to combat “The Tingler”: scream at the top of your lungs!  Content-wise, THE TINGLER could have easily been a feature we would have used on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER. However, the ballyhoo created by low-budget impresario William Castle is something special that sets it apart from other films of the day. The Tingler is now an artifact of a time when sideshows and films were much closer cousins that they currently are. Supposedly, when The Tingler was released, Castle outfitted each theater with a device called “Percepto,” which was a vibrating electric device attached to your theater seats and was synchronized with the onscreen “Tingler” attacks. Remember, when “The Tingler” attacks, you must scream!

Now, are you ready for an earthshaking revelation? I don’t believe a working version of “Percepto” ever really existed, as no evidence has ever emerged showing what it actually looked like or felt like in the field, except of course for the images and descriptions Castle seeded in his PR and film advertising campaigns.  What was real was William Castle’s ability as a showman and illusionist to strongly suggest that the theater was wired with “Percepto” and that, coupled with the cues from the film, was all his audiences needed to make THE TINGLER and the imagined “Percepto” into an actual movie going scream fest. Genius.

Photo Credit: Josh Tarogwnik

Howie Pyro (Intoxica Radio DJ; Danzig, D Generation, countless others) (jellsmayhemsgarage.podomatic.com)

This is not necessarily my top films of all time, but there are so many memories here. There could have easily been 50 movies on this list.

A BLOOD-O-RAMA SHOCK FESTIVAL OF MY OWN:

1. HORROR HOTEL (1960) “Just ring for DOOM service!” Man, my sister and I saw this on TV when I was about six years old, and it scared me to death. My parents said I crept into their bed with them at night for a week afterwards. To this day, it’s my favorite movie – I’ve seen it probably 75 times and have never tired of it. And I genuinely feel that my raving about the film resulted in the Misfits song of the same name. The first movie poster I ever got was for this film, and I brought it with me to summer camp and hung it outside of my door! It’s a truly creepy, underappreciated film.

2. PICTURE MOMMY DEAD (1966) Another one I watched with my sister as a kid, and the kid singing, “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out…” creeped me out. My damned sister sang that “at” me my whole life when she wants to annoy me. Still does on occasion. Not my favorite film by a looong shot, but this was one of those staples throughout my childhood and haunts me to this day when my sister is being a smartass.

3. BEAST OF BLOOD (1971) I was massively obsessed with the newspaper ad for this film, which was printed in blood red ink and featured the monster ripping its own head off. I used it as the back cover for a loose-leaf paper monster magazine I made by hand when I was 10 or 11. I couldn’t see BEAST OF BLOOD when it was released, which only served to fuel my obsession. The Blood Island films, which include MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968) and BRIDES OF BLOOD (1968), were favorites on bootleg VHS in the 1980s, and remain so on DVD. BEAST was also featured in a combo film package (with one of my favorite one-sheets) from which I took the title for this list.

4. HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958) Something about this one always made me really excited, even when it was on TV, where you couldn’t see when the movie turns to color in its final scene, like a 30-cent bummer WIZARD OF OZ (1939). I guess it was the combination of monsters from different films (including I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, 1957) and the glimpses of backstage at American International Pictures. Seeing the amazing poster (which now hangs in my kitchen) for the first time also blew my mind. Perfect .

5. THE TINGLER (1959) It’s tough to have just one William Castle on this list, but I’d have to pick this one, because I really loved it as a kid. I don’t remember seeing all of Castle’s films on TV (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, 1959, for sure, and maybe HOMICIDAL, 1961), but THE TINGLER always stood out for me. Again, like with HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, I didn’t know about the color sequence until many years later. As incredible as that is, the movie also features the first use of LSD on film (with Vincent Price shooting it up with the specific intent to scare himself, no less!). The silent movie scene was shot in the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue (now home of The Cinefamily, a super hip film buff’s paradise). I love going there, knowing The Tingler first struck in that room.

6. CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (1980) I spent most of the ‘70s and mid-‘80s avoiding reality (school, work, etc.) and spending all my days on 42nd street between 7th & 8th Avenue on “The Deuce”. My experiences there are a book on their own, though the closest and best recounting of that time and place is the Sleazoid Express book, by the late Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford). Somehow the pinnacle of my time there was the release of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. I took loads of photos of the insane, Hollywood-style, old time exploitation theater fronts and display ballyhoo. The entire area was covered with the movie’s great one-sheet, sometimes 20 or 30 in a row along a construction site. This somehow cemented the entire experience for me into a specific reality that I miss greatly.

7. THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (1959) A perfect, short, goofy, fun rock n roll horror flick from AIP. There’s just something about it makes me feel good. With great rockin’ tunes (that were Kim Fowley’s first recording sessions). I have a 3- sheet poster for this up in my living room.

8. DAUGHTER OF HORROR (1955) Another early-days-of-video mindblower! All the wonderful early horror zines from this period, like Shock Theater, Gore Gazette, Sleazoid Express, Slime Time and others covered this stuff as it surfaced on VHS. It was a very exciting time of endless discoveries on a weekly basis. With Ed McMahon as the only voice in the surreal film.

9. VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (1965) My favorite film from Bert I. Gordon, Mr. B.I.G. himself and maker of films with BIG stuff, like THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957), WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST (1958), THE CYCLOPS (1957), FOOD OF THE GOODS (1976) — and PICTURE MOMMY DEAD! Not big, though.). This fueled my rock n roll fantasies and my delinquent revenge desires all in one great package of pre punk rock fury. A bunch of rotten, rock n rollin’ creeps take this drug called Goo (created by pre-teen scientific genius Ronnie Howard) and become giant, go-go dancing monster delinquents who terrorize a small town. Man, what more could you ask for???

10. A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) Killer Roger Corman quickie loaded with beatniks, black humor & blood. An all-time fave feel-good flick. Starring underdog Corman regular Dick Miller as Walter Paisley.

11. SPIDER BABY (1968) Discovering this on video, along with everyone else I ever met or was destined to meet in life, was like a revelation. A religious one. And one that a whole generation of freaks in the early ‘80s had by themselves or in small groups in front of TV sets all over the world, leading here…

Photo credit: DevilOne.net

Robert Martin (original editor, Fangoria; co-screenwriter, FRANKENHOOKER, 1990, BASKET CASE 3, 1992) (www.facebook.com/UncleBob.Martin)

MOJU(BLIND BEAST, 1969)

Director Yasuzo Masumura was a pioneer in bridging sexploitation and art, though it’s very unlikely that he was ever exposed to the purely utilitarian brand of sexploitation that dominated the so-called “adult cinema” of the West during the peak years of his career. Masumura’s filmmaking apprenticeship in Rome during the 1950s brought him under the influence of Fellini, Antonioni and Visconti, but the primary lesson he took from his sojourn in the West concerned the relative cultural timidity of the postwar Japanese; after his return, as he gained the ability to pick and choose his projects, his films became increasingly confrontational and, in the 1960s, a fascination with erotic grotesquerie came to the fore.  BLIND BEAST concerns a blind sculptor’s obsession with a woman’s physical beauty, a beauty he can only “see” through his hands. The simple story of a kidnapping and sexual enslavement goes to places that remain impolitic for filmmakers today. In 1969, it was unprecedented. To say more would be a disservice, see it.

HABITAT (1997)

Balthazar Getty starred in this made-for-cable movie in the same year that he made LOST HIGHWAY with David Lynch, and one would be hard-pressed to pick either of these as the stranger of the two films. Written and directed by Rene Daalder (MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, 1976; a filmmaker whose cult is so low-key as to be nearly invisible), the film is most apparently unique in that it may be the only film made for SyFy that isn’t a total embarrassment to all involved.  Stripped of its protective ozone envelope, Earth is facing ultraviolet armageddon — plant and animal species are disappearing in a massive die-off, and the most useful survival tactic available to humanity seems to be to be the liberal application of sunblock. Getty, as Andreas Symes, is chafing under the parental influence of his super-scientist parents, rebelling despite the fact that his father’s experiments in accelerated evolution have made him impervious to the harmful effects of the sun’s unshielded rays. The family unit grows further disjointed as Dad evolves himself to a godlike distance… leaving son and mom alone in a very curiously “evolved” house.  There’s more than a touch of incestuous vibe between Getty and his mom, played by Alice Krige in a role quite reminiscent of her bit as a monster’s mommy in the flawed but memorably operatic monster tragedy SLEEPWALKERS (1992). Financed in part by Sony as a showcase for an early digital HD camera, the film makes heavy use of particle animated digital effects, which, despite their intrinsically cheesy look, dovetail well with Daalder’s recurrent theme of disintegrated ego, and help the film achieve a nebulous hypnotic drone that may seem familiar to viewers prone toward chemical experimentation.

GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS (1973)

“Art or no art, this is one movie goody requiring a full bag of popcorn, at least half a pack of cigarettes and, somewhere in between, a tranquilizer.” So The New York Times appraised the 1969 feature TROIKA, the film debut of Fredric Hobbs. Hobbs had been a San Francisco artist of some notoriety during the Beat era. His best-known work was “The Trojan Horse,” a tableaux of mythological beasts created in fiberglass and mounted on the chassis of a Chevy sedan. Hobbs specialized for a time in what he called “Parade Sculpture,” and would occasionally don an orange jumpsuit and pilot his creations through the streets. Perhaps it was this taste in spectacle that led to Hobbs’ brief career as a filmmaker.  Where TROIKA was a self-consciously experimental art film — and therefore reached the very limited audience interested in this category — Hobbs’ final feature, GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS, is an art film in stealth mode. To all appearances, it seems to be a ham-handed attempt at making a horror film perpetrated by some desert-crazed Nevadans with a camera and access to a cheap source of 35mm film ends. A script that lurches from a frontier Wild west celebration to a pie-eating contest still manages to straightforwardly put forth a cautionary tale about a slow-witted farmhand who drunkenly passes out in a sheep-pen and somehow winds up fathering a half-human, chemically mutated hybrid fetus (the psychedelic sequence in which the farmhand gets incoherently raped is all the explanation needed).  For years, GODMONSTER has been celebrated as an accidental work of demented genius. Hobbs may well be a demented genius, but contrary to appearances, nothing about GODMONSTER is accidental. The title creature, a sheep-human hybrid resembling a plush toy rescued just a moment too late from a garbage disposal, is, after all, a work of sculpture by a recognized artist, on the plane of Giger’s work for ALIEN (1979), though its stealthy nature makes the entire affair much more pointed and subversive. The painful mime performance of the man in the monster suit is a deliberate evocation of the archetypal Passion Play, as the Godmonster suffers for all of our sins.

CEMETERY MAN (1989)

The least obscure film in this list, CEMETERY MAN is the fairy tale account of Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett), night guard at the cemetery of Buffalora, a little town in the north of Italy, where, for no particular reason, corpses regularly rise from their graves and must be destroyed. The film is based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi, whose acclaimed comic book Dylan Dog was adapted to film with considerably less success last year.  For director Michele Soavi, this film was the peak of a long career in Italian gialli, after having worked as actor, assistant director and second unit director with such notorious practicioners as Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Lucio Fulci, and Joe D’Amato.  Soavi’s debut horror film, THE CHURCH (1989) was a sequel to Bava’s DEMONS (1985); Bava was unable to direct it due to his commitment to multiple projects for Italian television.  After CEMETERY MAN, Soavi continued directing, but he also moved on to the more reliable paychecks offered by Italian TV. And so gialli died.

THE BLACK CAT (2006)

Stuart Gordon, best known for finding a way to make a fun ride from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft with his very loose adaptations, FROM BEYOND (1986) and RE-ANIMATOR (1985), made amends to that dead author with his 2001 picture DAGON, a far more respectful adaptation of Lovecraft, combining elements of two Lovecraft tales, “Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”  Gordon’s crimes against Poe have been lesser — his version of THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1991) was no Oscar contender, but it did cleave to Poe’s storyline more faithfully than the entry in the Roger Corman “Poe Cycle.” But THE BLACK CAT, one of two Gordon contributions to Mick Garris’s late, lamented Masters of Horror anthology series, is clearly a love letter from a lifelong horror fan, a thank you to the man who remains the single sine qua non of modern horror.  “The Black Cat” has been adapted for film and television about a dozen times, according to the Internet Movie Database; for this iteration, Gordon and his longtime collaborator Dennis Paoli made Poe himself (played by Jeffrey Combs) the protagonist of his own story, layering factual details of the writer’s life into the events of his oft-repeated story. This conceit works surprisingly well, the story is barely changed at all by placing Poe in the midst of it; and, for those who know the details of Poe’s life, dividing biography from fiction is a fun exercise. It’s especially amusing to see Rufus Griswold (1) curry Poe’s favor (Griswold’s actions after Poe’s death (2) — heinous manipulations done in the name of “friendship” — make him a contender for the most contemptible figure in the history of American literature). The only problem I have with THE BLACK CAT is that, at the end, I wanted more. The mysterious circumstances of Edgar Allan Poe’s last days remain a fascinating puzzle to this day, one that begs dramatization. Seeing THE BLACK CAT made me want to see that movie, and convinced me that Gordon is the man to make it — and surely the very best movies aren’t the ones we’ve seen, but the ones we long to see.

(1) www.eapoe.org/geninfo/poegrisw.htm

(2) www.eapoe.org/geninfo/poedeath.htm

No photo credit.

Interviews: Paul Gaita.

12 Responses Tops in Terror 2: More Cult Kings Pick Fear Flicks for You!
Posted By dukeroberts : October 14, 2011 11:05 pm

MST3K was never the same after Joel left. Mike couldn’t hold a candle to him.

Posted By dukeroberts : October 14, 2011 11:05 pm

MST3K was never the same after Joel left. Mike couldn’t hold a candle to him.

Posted By Tom S : October 14, 2011 11:22 pm

Joel’s picks are killer, though I’ve never been big on The Birds. Bride of Frankenstein and The Wicker Man are seriously the tops.

I like the Mike-era MST more or less just as much as Joel’s, but I always felt like Joel had much more affection for the movies they were watching, and movies in general- I think his list here confirms that.

Posted By Tom S : October 14, 2011 11:22 pm

Joel’s picks are killer, though I’ve never been big on The Birds. Bride of Frankenstein and The Wicker Man are seriously the tops.

I like the Mike-era MST more or less just as much as Joel’s, but I always felt like Joel had much more affection for the movies they were watching, and movies in general- I think his list here confirms that.

Posted By dukeroberts : October 15, 2011 2:33 am

Joel did seem to have a great affection for the movies. And he had the quirky personality, whereas Mike did not so much.

Posted By dukeroberts : October 15, 2011 2:33 am

Joel did seem to have a great affection for the movies. And he had the quirky personality, whereas Mike did not so much.

Posted By ichi balzac : October 15, 2011 10:09 pm

Fango was never the same after Uncle Bob left. Timpone couldn’t hold a candle to him.

Posted By ichi balzac : October 15, 2011 10:09 pm

Fango was never the same after Uncle Bob left. Timpone couldn’t hold a candle to him.

Posted By Castor Hoyle : October 16, 2011 12:48 pm

Great list! BTW, remove the extra “o” from “Food of The Goods”.

Posted By Castor Hoyle : October 16, 2011 12:48 pm

Great list! BTW, remove the extra “o” from “Food of The Goods”.

Posted By Elise : October 19, 2011 9:13 pm

I too had nightmares about the commercials for Picture Mommy Dead since I wasn’t allowed to watch it. A shot of a hand scratching a painting, and the scratch bleding – a bed engilfed in flames. I found it recently at the 99-cent store and it was actually a pretty good movie.

Posted By Elise : October 19, 2011 9:13 pm

I too had nightmares about the commercials for Picture Mommy Dead since I wasn’t allowed to watch it. A shot of a hand scratching a painting, and the scratch bleding – a bed engilfed in flames. I found it recently at the 99-cent store and it was actually a pretty good movie.

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