23 October 2008
Trick or Treat or Movie?
Halloween is just around the corner (how's that for hokey intro!). Many of us old geezers no longer play dress up. And if the kiddies are too old to trick or treat (at least with parents in tow) we're free to stay at home and enjoy a scary movie or two.
Hollywood has been churning out horror films since the silent era. Sadly, the genre has recently morphed into slasher films that emphasize gratuitous gore. But there's still plenty to choose from from days of yore. Here's a sampling of choices for your Halloween viewing pleasure.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Not just the best of the classic horror films of the Thirties, a wonderful film in its own right. The great James Whale's direction along with an intelligent script for a seemingly preposterous story outshine even the magical performance of Boris Karloff. Colin "it's Alive!" Clive is the now conflicted scientist and Elsa Lanchester is the blushing young bride. But Ernest Thesiger as the evil Dr. Pretorious is an absolute scene-stealer. This is a must-see film.
Frankenstein (1931) How about a shout out for the original? While out shined by the sequel its still an excellent film. Clive, Karloff and the prototype of the angry mob star. Excellent cinematography and some touching moments highlight this classic.
The Old Dark House (1932) It was a dark and stormy night. Let's see a group of travelers seek refuge from a driving rainstorm in a forbidding looking mansion. What could go wrong? You'll see. The residents are a decidedly odd lot with a temperamental butler. Amazing cast including Melvyn Douglass, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Charles Laughton that man Karloff again and the delightful Thesiger (watch and listen as he offers his guests potatoes). This is my third straight Whale selection. Obviously he had the Gothic horror story down cold.
Alien (1979) No, no, no it's not science fiction it's a horror film. This time the role of the haunted mansion is played by a space ship and the victims/heroes are astronauts. This does not change the fact that all the elements of the horror film are at work. While the Alien is terrifying (and set the standard for many years to come) it's those moments when it is lurking off screen that are tense and scary.
The Exorcist (1973) I was reading the book in college on a weekend when my roommates all happened to be out of town. I slept in the living room with lights on and though not a religious man I've worn a cross around my neck ever since. The movie is just as frightening even after repeat viewings. An innocent young lass is possessed by the devil (don't you just hate that). Satan is profane, duplicitous and oh so dangerous. A great film by any standard.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) I like this better than the original (my God I've got a sequel and a re-make on this list, who'd of thunk). An absolutely terrifying concept expertly done by director Philip Kaufman. Alien clones are invading bodies and the human race is in peril. Will star Donald Sutherland save humanity or fall victim to this alien plot? The very notion of retaining your human form but your mind being taken over is chilling (hey, that sounds like Scientology!).
Psycho (1960) I know you've seen it a few times already but like a lot of Hitchcock's finest it gets better with each viewing. It never loses its suspense (how did Hitch do that?). Just don't think about it in the shower. Janet Leigh and Vera Miles star along with the creepy Anthony Perkins and his..um "mom.."
Young Frankenstein (1974) Why not some Halloween chuckles? I've never been a huge Mel Brooks fan but I love this film. This is, of course the classic send off of the Frankenstein film with Gene Wilder as the doctor and Peter Boyle as the monster. The all star cast includes Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman and Marty Feldman as the funniest Igor you'll ever see.
The Ring (2002) What's this? I have a film of recent vintage? Yes. I obviously quite liked it. It's a mystery as much as a horror film (many scary movies are) with an intelligent plot. The opportunity to enjoy Naomi Watts is a plus. She's both a great beauty and a great actress.
The Shining (1980) If he'd a mind to Stanley Kubrick could likely have directed a lot of good horror films and Jack Nicholson could have starred in them. Their respective directing and acting styles lent themselves to the genre. The Shining is proof. A family of caretakers in a snowed in mountain resort. The father goes bats. Supernatural events take place. Kudos to Stephen King's story and Kubrick's adaptation of it.
Omen (1976) What could possibly be scarier than the anti-Christ? I can't think of anything either. Gregory Peck is an American statesman who's got the bad fortune of being the anti-Christ's father (and you thought your kid was a little devil). Richard Donner was the perfect man to direct this. It's got grisly deaths, tension and excitement and maybe a little something for bible thumpers and agnostics alike to think about. There are sequels and remakes aplenty but stick to this, the orignial.
Rosemary's Baby (1968) What could be worse than fathering the devil? How about giving birth to it? That was Mia Farrow's lot in this wonderfully scary Roman Polanski film. The worst part is that everyone seems to be in on it. Not knowing whom you can trust is scary stuff indeed. What's really scary is when there's such a sense of normalcy but you gradually discover something is amiss. Horribly so.
Dracula (1931) We close with this absolute classic. No one will ever be better in the title role than was Bela Lugosi. His performance is one of the reasons that this Dracula version ages so well. A seductive and intelligent demon is the worst kind to deal with. Repeat viewings only increase the film's allure.