The Feel of Horror, Not the Plot

And so we arrive at another celebration of horror as we approach October.  It’s the only month that gets a genre all to itself as Sci-Fi September and Musical May have never really caught on despite my repeated attempts.  I even did a kind of November Noir once but that didn’t really work either.  The reason?  No holiday associated with the genre.  You see, sadly, there is no celebration of musicals annually in which kids all across the nation dress up as The Nicholas Brothers, Gene Kelly or Eleanor Powell, tap their way to your door and ask for treats.   There should be, of course, but there isn’t.  Nor is there a holiday for westerns, spy thrillers or war films.  In fact, they all get lumped into Halloween, really.  Want to dress up like a cowboy?  Halloween.  Monster? Halloween.  Accountant?  Halloween.    I guess that last one you could do any day but you wouldn’t get candy unless you bought it yourself.  So October’s for horror and every year, once autumn blusters in, I examine what it is about horror that I like so much.

I usually end up writing about horror movies in October but rarely touch on them for the rest of the year, unlike a certain Morlock we all know (hint: it’s Richard), who writes about horror most of the time.  Richard has a devotion to and a deeply held passion for the genre that is enviable.  I was honored when he graciously included me in the Horror Dads group that discusses horror movies on these pages even though, I believe, I am easily the least knowledgeable horror dad when it comes to horror.  But what I lack in encyclopedic knowledge, I make up for in good looks.  Oh sorry, no, I meant, I make up for in enthusiasm.   And I am enthusiastic about horror, it’s just that I don’t care so much for the stories as the atmosphere, how it feels.

There are different things I go for with different movies and almost all of them have to do with how they make me feel.  I wrote a whole post here once on how the look of desolation is often enough to sell me on a movie (here’s the link for all those desperate to read it again) but really, it goes far beyond that.  This weekend, for instance, I saw a movie with a friend (Bill Ryan of The Kind of Face You Hate) and we briefly discussed Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and how the ending has such a great feel to it.  The ending is a brief montage played out behind a soundtrack of La Mer which ends with Gary Oldman’s George Smiley taking his seat in the winner’s circle.  Now, there are those who prefer the miniseries, others prefer the movie and others prefer the book.    But whichever you prefer, the movie version has an incredible feel to it and not just the ending.  The whole look of the film has the sounds and styles of the seventies have such an authentic feel to them I can’t help but be transported to another point in my life.  Meanwhile, the odd, stream of consciousness editing style that drifts the viewer in and out of scenes rather than abruptly cutting from one to the other had me kind of mesmerized when I watched it.   For the telling of the story, I prefer the miniseries but for the feel of the story, I prefer the movie.

Which brings me around to horror.  When I said earlier that I like how it feels it’s very much in the same vein as my feelings towards Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  That is, a horror movie that I can claim as a favorite almost always has a lot more to do with a look and feel than actual technical or cinematic merits.  I’ve mentioned one movie online enough times in my career to rival King Kong but I’ll trumpet it again:  Carnival of Souls isn’t about Kubrickian perfection, it’s about a feeling.  I don’t watch it and think, “I can’t believe this didn’t win a slew of Oscars!”  It’s about a feeling I get – every time – when I see that damn Saltair Pavilion in the distance and hear that low-level organ chord playing, the one that plays repeatedly throughout the movie.  It’s the way the pavilion feels when star Candace Hilligoss walks around it and, speaking of Kubrickian, that super slide mat comes sliding down from nowhere, years ball the tennis ball from nowhere caught Danny’s attention in The Shining. 

And, honestly, I’m amazed at how many big budget horror movies never have that feel.  In fact, horror movies made on the cheap almost always have a better feel to me than horror movies done big, The Shining being a notable exception.  For the most part, I find the Universal, Hammer and AIP horror movies far more appealing than the Poltergeists,  What Lies Beneath and Rings of the world.  It’s not that I don’t like those, I do (except for What Lies Beneath which I personally found abysmal), it’s that they don’t have the same feel that the lower rent projects have.  The reason is, partly, because all those stories take place in modern settings where technology plays a role and the feel that I like usually comes from the kind of heavy atmosphere only a low-budget movie can deliver.

It happened again last night.  I was trying to get some work done with writing and, as luck would have it, my lovely wife, Laura, decided she wanted to watch The Haunted Palace, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price.  So she puts it on and I stand in the doorway and think I’ll watch the opening credits and leave.  I watch the shots of a spider building its web and then catching a butterfly as the credits progress.  Now it’s time to leave except that I don’t.  Because now the movie opens and I keep watching because the shots of the town and the heavy fog won’t let me leave!  And there’s Elisha Cook, Jr doing that whole “Elisha Cook, Jr” thing with his face and, well, about fifteen minutes in I finally forced myself away because I had to get stuff done, but I didn’t want to.   (And may I just say, as a quick aside, that producing a good feel for atmosphere is a true talent and Roger Corman had that talent with all of his gothic horror films of the sixties.  Corman was a lot more talented behind the camera than a lot of people give him credit for.)

Most Hammer movies of the fifties and sixties have the same effect on me.  And the Universal movies of the thirties and forties.  And the Tourneur movies Cat People and Night of the Demon.  And so many other movies that understood that atmosphere is as important, if not more so, than story when it comes to horror.   It’s why Brides of Dracula is one of my favorite horror movies of all time and easily my favorite Hammer, though Dracula (aka, Horror of Dracula) and The Curse of Frankenstein are close.   I don’t like Brides of Dracula because it has an airtight plot and operates on pure logic.  It doesn’t and there isn’t any logic, period.   I like it because it has atmosphere and does it well, extremely well.

It’s the reason that I don’t care for horror movies that have a lot of special effects and lots of brutal killings.  I like horror movies where the fog is heavy and the air is thick with dread.  And that’s why I’ll be concentrating on a few lower budget horror movies this October that didn’t bank on stars or plot but instead put their money behind the look and the feel.   Plot-wise, they don’t always make a lot of sense but I’ll take a vague sense of dread over an airtight resolution of all loose ends any October of the year.   Anything else would be a horror.

0 Response The Feel of Horror, Not the Plot
Posted By nedkelly : September 26, 2012 9:26 am

I like all horror including the so-called “B-movies”. Why don’t we talk about those horror movies with too much of fantasy in them…too much “Harry Potter” type fantasy I mean…ohhhh the horror of those kinds of movies:)!!!

Posted By nedkelly : September 26, 2012 9:26 am

I like all horror including the so-called “B-movies”. Why don’t we talk about those horror movies with too much of fantasy in them…too much “Harry Potter” type fantasy I mean…ohhhh the horror of those kinds of movies:)!!!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 9:30 am

I love horror movies with fantastical elements the best. I’ll take fantasy (vampires, ghosts, paranormal, witchcraft) over reality (psycho killers, stalkers, mad men) any time. It’s my favorite part of the genre.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 9:30 am

I love horror movies with fantastical elements the best. I’ll take fantasy (vampires, ghosts, paranormal, witchcraft) over reality (psycho killers, stalkers, mad men) any time. It’s my favorite part of the genre.

Posted By Angelabsurdist : September 26, 2012 10:03 am

Very well written. “Carnival of Souls” is a feeling. The feeling of the unknown, the surprise.

The Hammer movies are perfect.

Thank you.

Posted By Angelabsurdist : September 26, 2012 10:03 am

Very well written. “Carnival of Souls” is a feeling. The feeling of the unknown, the surprise.

The Hammer movies are perfect.

Thank you.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 10:05 am

Angelabsurdist, when Candace Hilligoss goes into the dressing room and the sound stops, that’s the kind of eeriness that costs a film nothing to do but produces such a great effect. You can see the clip here from a post I did three years ago on it.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 10:05 am

Angelabsurdist, when Candace Hilligoss goes into the dressing room and the sound stops, that’s the kind of eeriness that costs a film nothing to do but produces such a great effect. You can see the clip here from a post I did three years ago on it.

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : September 26, 2012 10:16 am

It begins…

Posted By Richard Harland Smith : September 26, 2012 10:16 am

It begins…

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 10:29 am

I’m so ready! Last night Laura watched Comedy of Terrors while I was writing. It’s all so very exciting.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 10:29 am

I’m so ready! Last night Laura watched Comedy of Terrors while I was writing. It’s all so very exciting.

Posted By bill r. : September 26, 2012 12:20 pm

Greg’s not lying. We did talk about that. I remember.

Posted By bill r. : September 26, 2012 12:20 pm

Greg’s not lying. We did talk about that. I remember.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:21 pm

And we talked about my cholesterol but I figured I’d leave that part out.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:21 pm

And we talked about my cholesterol but I figured I’d leave that part out.

Posted By Kevin : September 26, 2012 12:24 pm

Exactly why I love horror as well. I don’t mind ones that make you jump, especially if they have fun with it, but excessive blood/gore is just too much (maybe I’m just too sensitive). I love feeling that dread, and Carnival Of Souls is a terrific example of this. Love this season!

Posted By Kevin : September 26, 2012 12:24 pm

Exactly why I love horror as well. I don’t mind ones that make you jump, especially if they have fun with it, but excessive blood/gore is just too much (maybe I’m just too sensitive). I love feeling that dread, and Carnival Of Souls is a terrific example of this. Love this season!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:25 pm

Kevin, blood and gore, especially in brief exposure, certainly add something to the best horror but the worst horror always tries to compensate with excessive gore. It’s usually a sign of a lack of imagination.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:25 pm

Kevin, blood and gore, especially in brief exposure, certainly add something to the best horror but the worst horror always tries to compensate with excessive gore. It’s usually a sign of a lack of imagination.

Posted By Arthur : September 26, 2012 12:33 pm

You are dead right about low budget horrors being better. After all, the genre is about death and decay. Brightly lit, perfectly edited, extremely well dressed and coifed beautiful people, facing carefully spaced and choreographed scares, goes against the grain. Note the inexpensively made classics like The Thing From Another World, Dr. Terrors House of Horrors and Corman’s own Galaxy of Terror.

(The same is true of noirs, scruffy, offbeat quirky pictures like Raw Deal really stand out. I like that Claire Trevor film far better than Key Largo which she also starred in in the same year.)

Posted By Arthur : September 26, 2012 12:33 pm

You are dead right about low budget horrors being better. After all, the genre is about death and decay. Brightly lit, perfectly edited, extremely well dressed and coifed beautiful people, facing carefully spaced and choreographed scares, goes against the grain. Note the inexpensively made classics like The Thing From Another World, Dr. Terrors House of Horrors and Corman’s own Galaxy of Terror.

(The same is true of noirs, scruffy, offbeat quirky pictures like Raw Deal really stand out. I like that Claire Trevor film far better than Key Largo which she also starred in in the same year.)

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:35 pm

Note the inexpensively made classics like The Thing From Another World, Dr. Terrors House of Horrors and Corman’s own Galaxy of Terror.

The Thing from Another World, especially, relies on dialogue and the thing, mostly unseen, hidden away but always lurking. When you don’t have the budget for the big effects you’re forced to rely on suspense and dread and it turns out those are much more effective anyway.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:35 pm

Note the inexpensively made classics like The Thing From Another World, Dr. Terrors House of Horrors and Corman’s own Galaxy of Terror.

The Thing from Another World, especially, relies on dialogue and the thing, mostly unseen, hidden away but always lurking. When you don’t have the budget for the big effects you’re forced to rely on suspense and dread and it turns out those are much more effective anyway.

Posted By bill r. : September 26, 2012 12:50 pm

Speaking of the feel of horror, I need to buy me a copy of Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE and watch it this month, probably the closer to Halloween the better. It would be perfect for Halloween night. Too bad it falls on a stupid-ass Wednesday.

Posted By bill r. : September 26, 2012 12:50 pm

Speaking of the feel of horror, I need to buy me a copy of Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE and watch it this month, probably the closer to Halloween the better. It would be perfect for Halloween night. Too bad it falls on a stupid-ass Wednesday.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:55 pm

Bill, have you seen it? It’s a great movie, if you haven’t. A personal favorite, in fact.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 12:55 pm

Bill, have you seen it? It’s a great movie, if you haven’t. A personal favorite, in fact.

Posted By Kingrat : September 26, 2012 2:04 pm

Greg, I have to say that I thought TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY had one of the worst screenplay adaptations I’ve ever seen. I saw this at a regular shopping center multiplex, and it was clear from comments afterward that the main reaction was, “Why did this film get such good reviews?” But we can talk about that later.

I’d be interested in a discussion of why people like horror films. Atmospheric movies like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE or Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING, of course. Those I get. But hard-core horror? A friend once suggested that he liked the adrenaline rush a horror film gives. I find the sudden rush of adrenaline acutely unpleasant. Maybe that’s the difference. Horror movies aren’t much fun if you identify with the victims.

Arthur, RAW DEAL is great. The TCM festival showed a beautiful print. If you can see this on the big screen, don’t miss it.

Posted By Kingrat : September 26, 2012 2:04 pm

Greg, I have to say that I thought TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY had one of the worst screenplay adaptations I’ve ever seen. I saw this at a regular shopping center multiplex, and it was clear from comments afterward that the main reaction was, “Why did this film get such good reviews?” But we can talk about that later.

I’d be interested in a discussion of why people like horror films. Atmospheric movies like I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE or Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING, of course. Those I get. But hard-core horror? A friend once suggested that he liked the adrenaline rush a horror film gives. I find the sudden rush of adrenaline acutely unpleasant. Maybe that’s the difference. Horror movies aren’t much fun if you identify with the victims.

Arthur, RAW DEAL is great. The TCM festival showed a beautiful print. If you can see this on the big screen, don’t miss it.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 2:10 pm

Kingrat, I know a lot of people who didn’t like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy because of the way it paces its reveals, which is kind of anti-thriller but that’s the feel, the hypnotic type of feel that I’m talking about that I liked so much. Nonetheless, that’s why I wrote “For the telling of the story, I prefer the miniseries but for the feel of the story, I prefer the movie.” I think for a clearer, more straightforward rendition of the story, the miniseries can’t be beat. But for an amazing look and feel (well, to me at least and Kimberly, too, if I recall) the movie version is great. I don’t have much more to say on it than that, though. Just the look and feel won me over.

Now as to horror, the real reason for this post, you’ll have to tell me what you mean. I assume, though I could be wrong, that you’re talking about things like Halloween, Friday 13th and Evil Dead. Movies like that. I must say, I like the haunting, low-level movies like Carnival of Souls much more but I can definitely see what you’re friend is saying except that I’d say it’s thrilling because you identify with the victim. The Friday 13th movies bore me because the victims are just ducks in a shooting gallery but in Halloween Laurie Strode is someone you want to live and so each time she gets attacked you feel anxiety followed by relief at her escape. It’s a mix of feelings, definitely, but one I find exhilarating at times.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 2:10 pm

Kingrat, I know a lot of people who didn’t like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy because of the way it paces its reveals, which is kind of anti-thriller but that’s the feel, the hypnotic type of feel that I’m talking about that I liked so much. Nonetheless, that’s why I wrote “For the telling of the story, I prefer the miniseries but for the feel of the story, I prefer the movie.” I think for a clearer, more straightforward rendition of the story, the miniseries can’t be beat. But for an amazing look and feel (well, to me at least and Kimberly, too, if I recall) the movie version is great. I don’t have much more to say on it than that, though. Just the look and feel won me over.

Now as to horror, the real reason for this post, you’ll have to tell me what you mean. I assume, though I could be wrong, that you’re talking about things like Halloween, Friday 13th and Evil Dead. Movies like that. I must say, I like the haunting, low-level movies like Carnival of Souls much more but I can definitely see what you’re friend is saying except that I’d say it’s thrilling because you identify with the victim. The Friday 13th movies bore me because the victims are just ducks in a shooting gallery but in Halloween Laurie Strode is someone you want to live and so each time she gets attacked you feel anxiety followed by relief at her escape. It’s a mix of feelings, definitely, but one I find exhilarating at times.

Posted By Brian : September 26, 2012 2:45 pm

Greg, You captured exactly why I love the old classics so much…atmosphere. Even as Universal evolved into b movies in the 1940′s there are still black and white moments of chills that capture that atmosphere and take me back to a time of childhood memories. The days of seeing a movie that scared me ended decades ago but the classics still deliver a precious gift.
I remember seeing Carnival of Souls when I was 12 years old at 3 in the morning. It was the end of a long Halloween night and the last time a movie ever truly scared me.

Posted By Brian : September 26, 2012 2:45 pm

Greg, You captured exactly why I love the old classics so much…atmosphere. Even as Universal evolved into b movies in the 1940′s there are still black and white moments of chills that capture that atmosphere and take me back to a time of childhood memories. The days of seeing a movie that scared me ended decades ago but the classics still deliver a precious gift.
I remember seeing Carnival of Souls when I was 12 years old at 3 in the morning. It was the end of a long Halloween night and the last time a movie ever truly scared me.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 9:19 pm

Brian, that feeling of fear at a horror movie probably left most of us long ago but the chilling feeling from heavy atmosphere never goes away.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 9:19 pm

Brian, that feeling of fear at a horror movie probably left most of us long ago but the chilling feeling from heavy atmosphere never goes away.

Posted By tdraicer : September 26, 2012 9:35 pm

I love The Haunted Palace-it is one of the best HP Lovecraft movies ever made (even if for marketing reasons they pretended it was Poe). When Price says, “We don’t really understand it ourselves-we just obey” I can feel the Cthulhu creeping up my spine.

The two recent films by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (the 45 minute silent The Call of Cthulhu and the longer talkie The Whisperer in Darkness) are both dripping atmosphere as well.

I look forward to more haunted posts…

Posted By tdraicer : September 26, 2012 9:35 pm

I love The Haunted Palace-it is one of the best HP Lovecraft movies ever made (even if for marketing reasons they pretended it was Poe). When Price says, “We don’t really understand it ourselves-we just obey” I can feel the Cthulhu creeping up my spine.

The two recent films by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (the 45 minute silent The Call of Cthulhu and the longer talkie The Whisperer in Darkness) are both dripping atmosphere as well.

I look forward to more haunted posts…

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 9:40 pm

tdraicer, I recently purchased a whole collection of Lovecraft to start reading over the coming months and look forward to reading those stories. I haven’t seen either of the films you mention though so I look forward to catching up with them. Thanks.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 9:40 pm

tdraicer, I recently purchased a whole collection of Lovecraft to start reading over the coming months and look forward to reading those stories. I haven’t seen either of the films you mention though so I look forward to catching up with them. Thanks.

Posted By Cary Watson : September 26, 2012 10:31 pm

Excellent piece. You’re bang on about atmosphere being the key to good horror films. Even action/sci-fi horror films like Alien and Predator work because they establish a sense of dread before they get to the shooting and bloodletting. Director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie) did atmosphere better than anyone in the 1940s, and, as others have mentioned, Wise’s The Haunting is one of the best at this. For my money, the quickest way to create dread in a horror film is to shoot it in black and white. Even the creakiest Universal horror films from the ’30s have atmosphere in spades. My favorite recent horror film that scores high on the dread-o-meter is an Australian film called Lake Mungo. I’ve got a piece on it here:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/07/film-review-lake-mungo-2008.html

Posted By Cary Watson : September 26, 2012 10:31 pm

Excellent piece. You’re bang on about atmosphere being the key to good horror films. Even action/sci-fi horror films like Alien and Predator work because they establish a sense of dread before they get to the shooting and bloodletting. Director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie) did atmosphere better than anyone in the 1940s, and, as others have mentioned, Wise’s The Haunting is one of the best at this. For my money, the quickest way to create dread in a horror film is to shoot it in black and white. Even the creakiest Universal horror films from the ’30s have atmosphere in spades. My favorite recent horror film that scores high on the dread-o-meter is an Australian film called Lake Mungo. I’ve got a piece on it here:

http://www.jettisoncocoon.com/2011/07/film-review-lake-mungo-2008.html

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 10:40 pm

Cary, I love Tourneur’s work. I think my favorite is Night of the Demon, even with the ridiculous demon being shown in the end (I’m with the “I wish they hadn’t shown it” camp).

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 26, 2012 10:40 pm

Cary, I love Tourneur’s work. I think my favorite is Night of the Demon, even with the ridiculous demon being shown in the end (I’m with the “I wish they hadn’t shown it” camp).

Posted By Arthur : September 27, 2012 8:33 am

Greg, recall the original Frankenstein? That 1931 big budget film wasn’t graphic, but it was really quite scary. Back then graphic gore was not yet in Hollywood’s repertoire. Bride of Frankenstein was also pretty good. Both films had a lot of atmosphere.

Posted By Arthur : September 27, 2012 8:33 am

Greg, recall the original Frankenstein? That 1931 big budget film wasn’t graphic, but it was really quite scary. Back then graphic gore was not yet in Hollywood’s repertoire. Bride of Frankenstein was also pretty good. Both films had a lot of atmosphere.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 8:40 am

Recall it? I love it! That and James Whale’s Old Dark House and The Bride of Frankenstein. Absolute masterpieces, each and every one of them. Whale was a great filmmaker and those movies never get old with me (well, close actually, with Bride because my youngest loved it and watched it a million times, but still).

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 8:40 am

Recall it? I love it! That and James Whale’s Old Dark House and The Bride of Frankenstein. Absolute masterpieces, each and every one of them. Whale was a great filmmaker and those movies never get old with me (well, close actually, with Bride because my youngest loved it and watched it a million times, but still).

Posted By Chubbles McWuss : September 27, 2012 8:57 am

There are so many fascinating sub-genres of horror … Lately I’ve even been trying to take the plunge into “giallo” — but found it to be a little too rich for my blood most of the time … I love the atmospherics and bright colors — and sometimes wonderful scores — and sometimes even the over-the-top eroticism of films like “Black Belly of the Tarantula” which I just watched yesterday — but the level of gory violence & the stupid scripts just undermine the experience for me — even though for many people, those factors only enhance it I guess …

By the way, Arthur, if you liked “Raw Deal”, you should check out the Robert Wise- directed noir “Born to Kill” — which features another really stupendous Claire Trevor performance — & is a very entertaining film from beginning to end — filmed in part on location on the ocean side of San Fran (where I live)

Posted By Chubbles McWuss : September 27, 2012 8:57 am

There are so many fascinating sub-genres of horror … Lately I’ve even been trying to take the plunge into “giallo” — but found it to be a little too rich for my blood most of the time … I love the atmospherics and bright colors — and sometimes wonderful scores — and sometimes even the over-the-top eroticism of films like “Black Belly of the Tarantula” which I just watched yesterday — but the level of gory violence & the stupid scripts just undermine the experience for me — even though for many people, those factors only enhance it I guess …

By the way, Arthur, if you liked “Raw Deal”, you should check out the Robert Wise- directed noir “Born to Kill” — which features another really stupendous Claire Trevor performance — & is a very entertaining film from beginning to end — filmed in part on location on the ocean side of San Fran (where I live)

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 9:00 am

I still haven’t fully immersed myself in Giallo Horror although I liked Cat O’Nine Tails enough to do a full spread of it on Facebook, which didn’t get much of a response. I’m guessing it’s not among the most popular of the genre.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 9:00 am

I still haven’t fully immersed myself in Giallo Horror although I liked Cat O’Nine Tails enough to do a full spread of it on Facebook, which didn’t get much of a response. I’m guessing it’s not among the most popular of the genre.

Posted By Dou : September 27, 2012 11:34 am

Can’t recall the name of the movie, but one of those European 1960′s films such as Barbara Steele would star in had a scene which is very memorable-a servant girl in a dark lodge is hypnotized by a witch who suddenly appears-the witch causes the girl to step up to a fixture with protruding spikes and impale herself through the throat. The girl is horrified, and tries to fight against the witch’s control…but fails and dies.
Atmosphere-I couldn’t finish watching “Young Adult” as the atmosphere of the piece, with Charlize Theron’s character so desperate and needy, willing to do ANYTHING to get back together with her ex…I couldn’t hardly breathe.

Posted By Dou : September 27, 2012 11:34 am

Can’t recall the name of the movie, but one of those European 1960′s films such as Barbara Steele would star in had a scene which is very memorable-a servant girl in a dark lodge is hypnotized by a witch who suddenly appears-the witch causes the girl to step up to a fixture with protruding spikes and impale herself through the throat. The girl is horrified, and tries to fight against the witch’s control…but fails and dies.
Atmosphere-I couldn’t finish watching “Young Adult” as the atmosphere of the piece, with Charlize Theron’s character so desperate and needy, willing to do ANYTHING to get back together with her ex…I couldn’t hardly breathe.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 11:40 am

Barbara Steele has the famous end in The Pit and the Pendulum where she’s left to die in the Iron Maiden and, of course, her witch’s face has been spiked in Black Sunday.

By the way, that ending of The Pit and the Pendulum is a real shocker.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 11:40 am

Barbara Steele has the famous end in The Pit and the Pendulum where she’s left to die in the Iron Maiden and, of course, her witch’s face has been spiked in Black Sunday.

By the way, that ending of The Pit and the Pendulum is a real shocker.

Posted By Heidi : September 27, 2012 12:07 pm

Not much (ok at all) into blood and guts horror. Love the moody, creepy, uncertantity and shadowy effects of the older movies. Trust me, my imagaination goes farther when you don’t show me what is going on. When you show me, it ruins it. Give me the shadow of the vampire over the bed of the sleeping damsel, and I scream when she does. Simple. *G* There is a movie with a very young Jack Nicholson who gets seperated from his unit. THe title escapes me, but there is a scene where an old lady is being dragged into a chapel, and she is screaming like a banshee because she knows if she crosses the threshold some sort of damnation and brimstone will appear. THe music and atmosphere creeeps me out everytime I see it. Oh, it was “The Terror” how could I lose that? you do get the wrath of God, but it is really built up before hand. She deserved it though.

Posted By Heidi : September 27, 2012 12:07 pm

Not much (ok at all) into blood and guts horror. Love the moody, creepy, uncertantity and shadowy effects of the older movies. Trust me, my imagaination goes farther when you don’t show me what is going on. When you show me, it ruins it. Give me the shadow of the vampire over the bed of the sleeping damsel, and I scream when she does. Simple. *G* There is a movie with a very young Jack Nicholson who gets seperated from his unit. THe title escapes me, but there is a scene where an old lady is being dragged into a chapel, and she is screaming like a banshee because she knows if she crosses the threshold some sort of damnation and brimstone will appear. THe music and atmosphere creeeps me out everytime I see it. Oh, it was “The Terror” how could I lose that? you do get the wrath of God, but it is really built up before hand. She deserved it though.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 12:10 pm

Heidi, I love so many of the AIP films, including The Terror and like I said in the post, Roger Corman is a lot better than most people give him credit for.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 12:10 pm

Heidi, I love so many of the AIP films, including The Terror and like I said in the post, Roger Corman is a lot better than most people give him credit for.

Posted By Gene : September 27, 2012 12:30 pm

Great piece. I would agree that atmosphere is everything. I Walked With A Zombie, The Seventh Victim, The Innocents as many other films all build up a sense of dread. Even a brutal film such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the 1974 version) had that build up but somewhere along the way that has been traded in for torture porn. Hopefully that will fade by the wayside and a return to form will take precedence once again.

Posted By Gene : September 27, 2012 12:30 pm

Great piece. I would agree that atmosphere is everything. I Walked With A Zombie, The Seventh Victim, The Innocents as many other films all build up a sense of dread. Even a brutal film such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the 1974 version) had that build up but somewhere along the way that has been traded in for torture porn. Hopefully that will fade by the wayside and a return to form will take precedence once again.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 12:45 pm

Gene, it’s interesting because so many of the movies now considered to be classics started with sullied reputations as exploitation slasher flicks of which Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a prime example. But now, looking back on it, it’s amazing how much of a build up there is, how much formal suspense technique is used before everything explodes. Even the ending is a study in restraint by many modern standards. I mean, in a modern piece, the truck driver would have easily been hacked up to pieces while Sally ran but instead, Leatherface just bounces around with his chainsaw as she rides off to safety.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 12:45 pm

Gene, it’s interesting because so many of the movies now considered to be classics started with sullied reputations as exploitation slasher flicks of which Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a prime example. But now, looking back on it, it’s amazing how much of a build up there is, how much formal suspense technique is used before everything explodes. Even the ending is a study in restraint by many modern standards. I mean, in a modern piece, the truck driver would have easily been hacked up to pieces while Sally ran but instead, Leatherface just bounces around with his chainsaw as she rides off to safety.

Posted By Emgee : September 27, 2012 3:37 pm

Maybe the horror genre has become too bloodstained to return to more atmospheric moods. The Woman in Black was a good effort, but probably too sanitised for the hardcore horror fans ( or fiends?)
Atmosphere is indeed the key, and what’s atmospheric about a chopped head? Personally i love a good ghost story, and The Innocents is still the best in that genre, although the Haunting isn’t far behind. I’d almost label Vertigo as a ghost story, but that probably stretching it. Garuanteed goosebumps every time though, while with Psycho, the granddaddy of slashers, the effect has waned somewhat over the years. Maybe because Vertigo is a tragedy, and Psycho more of a shocker.

Posted By Emgee : September 27, 2012 3:37 pm

Maybe the horror genre has become too bloodstained to return to more atmospheric moods. The Woman in Black was a good effort, but probably too sanitised for the hardcore horror fans ( or fiends?)
Atmosphere is indeed the key, and what’s atmospheric about a chopped head? Personally i love a good ghost story, and The Innocents is still the best in that genre, although the Haunting isn’t far behind. I’d almost label Vertigo as a ghost story, but that probably stretching it. Garuanteed goosebumps every time though, while with Psycho, the granddaddy of slashers, the effect has waned somewhat over the years. Maybe because Vertigo is a tragedy, and Psycho more of a shocker.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 4:00 pm

Emgee, I heard a lot of good and bad about The Woman in Black and never got around to seeing it. I remember when it came out, I kept wanting it to get rave reviews to justify a return to more atmospheric horror. When it didn’t, I felt disappointed.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 4:00 pm

Emgee, I heard a lot of good and bad about The Woman in Black and never got around to seeing it. I remember when it came out, I kept wanting it to get rave reviews to justify a return to more atmospheric horror. When it didn’t, I felt disappointed.

Posted By Arthur : September 27, 2012 9:03 pm

Psycho, if I am not mistaken, was actually the first slasher film. Hitch though the consummate filmmaker did introduce us to graphic gore. Interesting that you should mention Vertigo as a horror. Then let’s also bring in Pandora And The Flying Dutchman, A Portrait of Jennie and The Picture of Dorian Gray. If not horror then “near-horror” so to speak.

Posted By Arthur : September 27, 2012 9:03 pm

Psycho, if I am not mistaken, was actually the first slasher film. Hitch though the consummate filmmaker did introduce us to graphic gore. Interesting that you should mention Vertigo as a horror. Then let’s also bring in Pandora And The Flying Dutchman, A Portrait of Jennie and The Picture of Dorian Gray. If not horror then “near-horror” so to speak.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 9:24 pm

Arthur, I know that techically Peeping Tom came out a few months before Psycho but, regardless, Psycho provides the archetype. Peeping Tom’s killer has a knife on a camera tripod while Norman has a butcher knife he repeatedly drives into his victim’s torso. And it has the lost son/protective mother connection that two later seminal slashers, Halloween and Friday 13th used in their story lines. Well, with Halloween it’s just the lost son part but still, Psycho provides the blueprint for the genre in a way Peeping Tom never did.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : September 27, 2012 9:24 pm

Arthur, I know that techically Peeping Tom came out a few months before Psycho but, regardless, Psycho provides the archetype. Peeping Tom’s killer has a knife on a camera tripod while Norman has a butcher knife he repeatedly drives into his victim’s torso. And it has the lost son/protective mother connection that two later seminal slashers, Halloween and Friday 13th used in their story lines. Well, with Halloween it’s just the lost son part but still, Psycho provides the blueprint for the genre in a way Peeping Tom never did.

Posted By Arthur : September 27, 2012 10:18 pm

Have not seen Peeping Tom. I will look it up. By the way, you know that much of Psycho was also lifted from Orson Welles Touch of Evil which also starred Janet Leigh who was attacked in a hotel which had a repressed, retiring front desk clerk.

Posted By Arthur : September 27, 2012 10:18 pm

Have not seen Peeping Tom. I will look it up. By the way, you know that much of Psycho was also lifted from Orson Welles Touch of Evil which also starred Janet Leigh who was attacked in a hotel which had a repressed, retiring front desk clerk.

Posted By Ken Russell : September 27, 2012 10:18 pm

I absolutely Love the old fifties and sixties horror films especially the Hammer films with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and other such great actors of that time. Roger Corman had Great talent with all of his gothic horror films of the sixties.
Most Hammer movies of the fifties and sixties were fantastic when I was growing up.You never get to see them much anymore. I sure wish to god that TCM would play them this year during the month of October and Especially Halloween. Like a marathon, Especially like Night of the Silicates(Island of Terror); The Gorgon; The Beast must Die, and such Classics like that. The older Black and white 30′s and early forties movies are okay but not as great as the fifties,Sixties and early Seventies movies.

Posted By Ken Russell : September 27, 2012 10:18 pm

I absolutely Love the old fifties and sixties horror films especially the Hammer films with Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and other such great actors of that time. Roger Corman had Great talent with all of his gothic horror films of the sixties.
Most Hammer movies of the fifties and sixties were fantastic when I was growing up.You never get to see them much anymore. I sure wish to god that TCM would play them this year during the month of October and Especially Halloween. Like a marathon, Especially like Night of the Silicates(Island of Terror); The Gorgon; The Beast must Die, and such Classics like that. The older Black and white 30′s and early forties movies are okay but not as great as the fifties,Sixties and early Seventies movies.

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Meet you at the cemetery gates! : September 28, 2012 2:45 am

[...] other day, Morlock Greg wrote about the delicious atmosphere of good horror movies. He was speaking generally, of course, of a sustained mood and feeling but I’d like to narrow [...]

Posted By MovieMorlocks.com – Meet you at the cemetery gates! : September 28, 2012 2:45 am

[...] other day, Morlock Greg wrote about the delicious atmosphere of good horror movies. He was speaking generally, of course, of a sustained mood and feeling but I’d like to narrow [...]

Posted By Emgee : September 28, 2012 5:59 am

Arthur, strictly speaking i called Vertigo a ghost story, since the male character is basically in love with a phantom. Which brings up the question: are ghost stories part of the horror genre? But then The Ghost and Mrs. Muir or the Uninvited are horror movies?
And if The Old Dark House, basically a parody, is a horror movie what about all those Abbott and Costello movies?

Posted By Emgee : September 28, 2012 5:59 am

Arthur, strictly speaking i called Vertigo a ghost story, since the male character is basically in love with a phantom. Which brings up the question: are ghost stories part of the horror genre? But then The Ghost and Mrs. Muir or the Uninvited are horror movies?
And if The Old Dark House, basically a parody, is a horror movie what about all those Abbott and Costello movies?

Posted By Arthur : September 28, 2012 7:30 am

Emgee, those are fascinating questions. Though not an expert, I would venture to say that strictly speaking a horror movie is one that induces horrific, shocking reactions not only in the characters but also in the viewers, and not just once or twice but several times at least. A horror movie also contains terror, that is, the repeated, fearful expectation that something horrible is about to happen.

Posted By Arthur : September 28, 2012 7:30 am

Emgee, those are fascinating questions. Though not an expert, I would venture to say that strictly speaking a horror movie is one that induces horrific, shocking reactions not only in the characters but also in the viewers, and not just once or twice but several times at least. A horror movie also contains terror, that is, the repeated, fearful expectation that something horrible is about to happen.

Posted By Emgee : September 28, 2012 8:14 am

Arthur, i’d say that is a pretty bulletproof definition. Although, would that still label Bride of Frankenstein as a horror movie? Nothing all that terrifying happens, unless the creation of the bride can be seen as such. Of course, people’s nerves were more easily rattled back then.

Posted By Emgee : September 28, 2012 8:14 am

Arthur, i’d say that is a pretty bulletproof definition. Although, would that still label Bride of Frankenstein as a horror movie? Nothing all that terrifying happens, unless the creation of the bride can be seen as such. Of course, people’s nerves were more easily rattled back then.

Posted By Dave Murphy : September 28, 2012 3:22 pm

“Nor is there a holiday for westerns, spy thrillers or war films.”

Actually, there do seem to be a lot of war movies shown around Memorial Day.

Posted By Dave Murphy : September 28, 2012 3:22 pm

“Nor is there a holiday for westerns, spy thrillers or war films.”

Actually, there do seem to be a lot of war movies shown around Memorial Day.

Posted By Arthur : September 28, 2012 5:50 pm

Emgee, you do have a point. Regarding movie months, I just learned September was scifi month. TCM should perhaps try to encourage a month for every genre.

Posted By Arthur : September 28, 2012 5:50 pm

Emgee, you do have a point. Regarding movie months, I just learned September was scifi month. TCM should perhaps try to encourage a month for every genre.

Posted By Dane : September 28, 2012 9:35 pm

“The whole look of the film has the sounds and styles of the seventies have such an authentic feel to them I can’t help but be transported to another point in my life.”

Yes! You mentioned the La Mer sequence, and both that and the snippet of Sammy Davis Jr.’s cover of “Spinning Wheel” did the same thing for me that you talk about. I hadn’t heard either version of those songs before, and though the whole movie had that fantastic ability to take me back to the ’70s, when each song kicked in, the atmosphere really brought it home.

The feel of the entire film was so wonderful that I just got lost in it to the point of not caring that I couldn’t totally pin down the plot. Kind of relieved to hear that I probably wouldn’t have been able to anyway!

Posted By Dane : September 28, 2012 9:35 pm

“The whole look of the film has the sounds and styles of the seventies have such an authentic feel to them I can’t help but be transported to another point in my life.”

Yes! You mentioned the La Mer sequence, and both that and the snippet of Sammy Davis Jr.’s cover of “Spinning Wheel” did the same thing for me that you talk about. I hadn’t heard either version of those songs before, and though the whole movie had that fantastic ability to take me back to the ’70s, when each song kicked in, the atmosphere really brought it home.

The feel of the entire film was so wonderful that I just got lost in it to the point of not caring that I couldn’t totally pin down the plot. Kind of relieved to hear that I probably wouldn’t have been able to anyway!

Posted By swac44 : September 30, 2012 9:37 am

Thanks for the heads-up about Lake Mungo! At first I thought it was set in my favourite Australian city, Perth, but that’s actually Lake Munga, where I was terrorized by black swans trying to get the bird feed from my hand. Maybe one of them was really Natalie Portman in training for her role, who knows?

I also enjoyed the feature version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, even though there were a few plot elements that didn’t become clear until I’d mulled them over in my head following the screening, but there’s nothing wrong with a film that makes you use your noodle to untangle its well-woven web. I was pleased with The Woman in Black, it did a great job of creating a dread-filled mood, and Daniel Radcliffe showed he does have a career beyond Harry Potter, I look forward to seeing more work from him down the road.

Posted By swac44 : September 30, 2012 9:37 am

Thanks for the heads-up about Lake Mungo! At first I thought it was set in my favourite Australian city, Perth, but that’s actually Lake Munga, where I was terrorized by black swans trying to get the bird feed from my hand. Maybe one of them was really Natalie Portman in training for her role, who knows?

I also enjoyed the feature version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, even though there were a few plot elements that didn’t become clear until I’d mulled them over in my head following the screening, but there’s nothing wrong with a film that makes you use your noodle to untangle its well-woven web. I was pleased with The Woman in Black, it did a great job of creating a dread-filled mood, and Daniel Radcliffe showed he does have a career beyond Harry Potter, I look forward to seeing more work from him down the road.

Posted By Kyle : October 8, 2012 1:41 pm

I love the point you make here, and totally agree with you. October is the month where I actually make a list of movies I have on DVD that I want to watch before Halloween because they give that fall feel that Halloween should have. Recently, I saw on TCM (for the first time, too) The Legend of Hell House. The movie itself wasn’t great, but I thought about buying it because the atmosphere was possibly the best ever for a haunted house movie shot in color. The use of fog machines, old mansion decor, the black cat running around, and the little chapel. It’s all great. The original “Halloween” (even though it was filmed in California) feels exactly like Halloween day when I used to go trick or treating – which makes the movie even scarier, becasue it could’ve happened in my neighborhood! Carpenter brings similar, spot-on atmosphere to Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, The Thing, and Escape From New York. The Exorcist may be the best though, because it takes a D.C. apartment and gradually changes the atmosphere of that entire neighborhood from normally to eerie in such a masterful use of events and effects to Reagan’s room bring cold breaths and lighting effects to key moments. Great stuff!

Posted By Kyle : October 8, 2012 1:41 pm

I love the point you make here, and totally agree with you. October is the month where I actually make a list of movies I have on DVD that I want to watch before Halloween because they give that fall feel that Halloween should have. Recently, I saw on TCM (for the first time, too) The Legend of Hell House. The movie itself wasn’t great, but I thought about buying it because the atmosphere was possibly the best ever for a haunted house movie shot in color. The use of fog machines, old mansion decor, the black cat running around, and the little chapel. It’s all great. The original “Halloween” (even though it was filmed in California) feels exactly like Halloween day when I used to go trick or treating – which makes the movie even scarier, becasue it could’ve happened in my neighborhood! Carpenter brings similar, spot-on atmosphere to Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, The Thing, and Escape From New York. The Exorcist may be the best though, because it takes a D.C. apartment and gradually changes the atmosphere of that entire neighborhood from normally to eerie in such a masterful use of events and effects to Reagan’s room bring cold breaths and lighting effects to key moments. Great stuff!

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