Posted by Richard Harland Smith on October 14, 2011
Horror Dad Paul Gaita has control of my page today with some Top 10 and Top 5 lists of Must-See horror films he has culled from the ranks of the kings of cult especially for the Hallowtide. Here is part one; part two follows later today – RHS Selecting the right film for a Halloween screening can be nerve-wracking business. A well-considered fright flick can deliver the optimum horror movie experience, while the wrong movie can leave one feeling like the last Squirrel Nut Chew at the bottom of the trick or treat bag. To alleviate any sense of Hallows Eve anxiety, we’ve asked a panel of experts and aficionados to list their favorite horror films for your consideration, delectation and edification.
1. THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) Early James Whale-directed, music-less classic about a group of people stuck inside a house with the most insane family in film history. Boris Karloff “stars” as a mute butler, but just about every other cast member steals the film, particularly Ernest Thesiger as the fey host. Gloria Stewart’s acting is wooden, but would improve slightly by the time she appeared in TITANIC (1997) 66 years later.
2. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) is a French film that’s ultra creepy and also ultra sad. The scenes of the “brilliant surgeon/grieving father” removing his daughter’s face are pretty hard to watch. In fact, my wife won’t watch it, so I watch this one by myself. Years ago, SPY magazine did a “Separated at Birth” with Peter Ustinov and Julian Schnabel. Add the portly French actor (Pierre Brasseur) who plays the “brilliant surgeon/grieving father” to that list.
3. BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA (1953) is technically neither a “horror film” nor a “comedy,” and stars the brain-altering team of Duke Mitchell & Sammy Petrillo, the cloned Martin & Lewis. Well, Sammy Petrillo was a clone of Jerry. Duke was unto himself, but would shine decades later as a film auteur (see GONE WITH THE POPE, 1976). This film is actually not bad, but basically on the level of an actual Martin & Lewis film, and it has the added bonus of (an old & drugged-out) Bela Lugosi, a superb horror villain who was never equaled in an actual Dean & Jerry film.
4. CURSE OF THE DEMON (1958) stars a slightly inebriated Dana Andrews as a skeptical American psychologist who’s hurled 90 minutes of concrete proof of devil worship and witchcraft, including murdered colleagues, instant horrific weather, parchment papers flinging themselves into fireplaces, and possible the most frightening demon ever to appear in a motion picture. Yet, he still remains skeptical.
5. THE HAUNTING (1963) A truly scary, ghost-less ghost film directed by Robert Wise just before he got lost in the THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Claire Bloom plays the sexiest lesbian in motion picture history.
6. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) has the distinction of being the best film ever shot in Pittsburgh. It’s also possibly the only film ever shot in Pittsburgh.
7-8. I EAT YOUR SKIN/I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1964/1970) These two played on a double bill in 1970 which I insisted to be taken to by my patient, long suffering dad. Both films are pretty lousy: the first was just a B&W voodoo B- film from the early ‘60s given a new title, while the other one was about hippie Satanists that acquired rabies and spew what looked to be gobs of toothpaste. To this day, I like telling people I had such a great dad that he actually took me to the double bill of I EAT YOUR SKIN and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD.
9. BASKET CASE (1982) A fun horror film about a nutty guy who carries around a large basket that contains his deformed Siamese twin brother. While visiting my (patient, long suffering) dad at his Long Island home in the mid-‘80s, he tossed me his car keys and asked me to rent some movies for us to watch that evening. I returned with TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and BASKET CASE. Needless to say, we both vastly preferred the latter.
10. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) A William Castle gimmick film – here, it’s “Emergo,” a skeleton that glided over the audience’s head on a pulley – starring Vincent Price as an eccentric millionaire who hosts a party at his Frank Lloyd Wright home in the Hollywood Hills for a group of people he’s never met. Blood drips from ceilings, women scream, decapitated heads pop up, skeletons walk, people fall into acid vats, women scream some more, Price’s wife hangs from atop a banister in her nightgown, the actors stand around looking like they’d rather be in another movie, and again, women scream. All of this is neatly explained at the end. The film also contains what I think is the greatest scene in motion picture history: The terrifying old hag who briefly glides by (on roller skates?) in the cellar. That image has haunted me now for close to a half a century.
Photo credit: K. Bidus
1. PSYCHO (1960) The game changer: the horror is within the person next door! Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece became the turning point in horror and spawned countless imitators, but none better than his.
2. THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) Simply the most frightening film ever made! The horrible sequels and remakes are proof that Tobe Hooper’s original was a moment of genius.
3. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) Seeing this film at a midnight screening with a packed house in a then-rundown NYC West Village theater was a once in a lifetime experience!
4 . CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) The closest I’ve ever seen to a nightmare on film! Must be seen late at night.
5. THE EXORCIST (1973; any version of the original) This is truly the most perversely scary film ever made by a major studio! William Friedkin made the ultimate terror of facing evil seem so plausible and real.
Photo credit: William Lustig
1. HOUSE OF WAX (1953) Vincent Price — my horror film hero! I haven’t seen any of the new 3D films, but I doubt I’d be as knocked out by any of them as I was when I first saw this one.
2. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) This made me a fan of Kevin McCarthy. He was so believable – even in the tacked-on ending that I actually liked because it left us feeling we weren’t all doomed. And what about those creepy pods?!? For what appeared to be a low budget film, the special effects were amazing.
3. THEM! (1954) The giant ants were a cut above most of the ‘50s critters. The cast was also great but Edmund Gwenn stood out in his performance, as he always did.
4. THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) Not a science fiction epic, but it packs quite a wallop! As the alien, James Arness was amazingly ominous.
5. THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956) You couldn’t help but feel bad for The Creature as they tried to turn him, unsuccessfully, into a human.
6. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) This was the first time I saw both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in a movie, as I imagine it was for most people at that time. They had a unique chemistry that really got to me.
7. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) I do wish Boris Karloff had been involved with the movie, but it’s a classic for me all the same.
Oddly, none of the music in these films stood out for me, although I wasn’t really aware of soundtracks until I started playing guitar in 1959.
Photo credit: Daniel Solomon
In no particular order:
1. I’ll start with the scariest, the two films that I saw for the first time when I was in college and are tied in a dead heat: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), directed by George Romero, and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), directed by Tobe Hooper. I found them incredibly disturbing, and the level of anxiety they put me through can be attributed to their very convincing “reality.” (And the CHAINSAW remake sucked!)
2. PSYCHO (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Two great serial killer films came out in 1960, this and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. I love the Powell film just as much, but Psycho is scarier.
3. THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976), directed by Pupi Avati. An extremely creepy giallo set in a backwater rural Italian town about a dead artist’s legacy with a faint whiff of supernatural dread, tied with Elio Petri’s A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (1969).
4. TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) directed by David Lynch. Lynch has horror noir elements in all his great films (except THE STRAIGHT STORY, 1999) but this is the one I find most disturbing and with the greatest emotional impact. Terribly underrated, especially by the more prosaic TWIN PEAKS TV fans who couldn’t take the dark truth and corresponding lack of folksy humor (except at the beginning with Chet Desmond) lurking in Laura Palmer’s heartbreaking, terrifying back story of familial abuse. A masterpiece.
5. KILL, BABY… KILL (1966), directed by Mario Bava. This was a hard one, because there are several other excellent Italian gothic horror pictures I could have very well put up here, including Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963), Antonio Margheriti’s CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), Fellini’s “Toby Dammit” segment from SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1969), Riccardo Freda’s THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (1962), Aristide Massacessi’s DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (1973) and Camillo Mastrocinque’s AN ANGEL FOR SATAN (1966).
6. HORROR OF DRACULA (UK: DRACULA, 1958), directed by Terence Fisher. The best vampire (and Hammer) film ever made? Still wish Fisher had fleshed out the last third of the film a little better. But the movie’s three great set pieces at the beginning (w/Harker, Dracula and the vampire bride), middle (with Van Helsing and Lucy) and the end (with Van Helsing and Dracula) are still incredibly exhilarating to this day. Contrary to most opinions, DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1965) was a more than respectable sequel and BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) also has its share of great moments. An honorable mention to the very satisfying, non-Hammer sex-horror VAMPYRES (1972) directed by Jose Larraz.
7. VIDEODROME (1982), directed by David Cronenberg. I love SHIVERS (aka THEY CAME FROM WITHIN, 1975) and RABID (1977) as well but VIDEODROME remains, for me, Cronenberg’s most fully realized sci-fi body-horror movie, superior to his more popular remake of THE FLY (1986). I also love Cronenberg’s non-horror neo-noirs, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) and EASTERN PROMISES (2007).
8. QUATERMASS 2 (US: ENEMY FROM SPACE, 1957), directed by Val Guest. Hammer Films turned out the scariest, most nightmarish sci-fi films ever, rivaling/equaling Don Siegel’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), including Guest’s THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1955) and Joseph Losey’s THESE ARE THE DAMNED (1963). Both Quatermass films gave me intense nightmares as a child.
9. ICHI THE KILLER (2001), directed by Takashi Miike, is one of the most disturbing, imaginative, emotionally resonant yet still dark and gory absurdist comedy horror pictures. Seamlessly blending horror, grand guignol gore and yakuza/gangster genres into another entry on this list that requires multiple viewings for fullest appreciation. J-horror runners up are Miike’s AUDITION (1999) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s CURE (1997).
10. CUL-DE-SAC (1966) Many readers may ask, “How isCUL-DE-SAC a horror film?” and note that it certainly isn’t the scariest Roman Polanski film. I beg to disagree. The excellence of REPULSION (1965) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) notwithstanding, the sidesplitting dark comedy of Donald Pleasence, Lionel Stander and Francoise Dorleac’s weird menage is one of the casting coups of the sixties. Their chemistry humanizes the characters in an endearing way so that when Pleasence finally stands up to bullying gangster Stander, thus losing everything and going off his rocker, the emotional impact is a true gut punch. The film suddenly takes a dive into the chilliest of hellishly icy existentialist waters, offering no escape. An underrated and brilliant tragi-comedy of epic proportions.
Photo credit: Chris D.
Interviews: Paul Gaita
To be continued!
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