Horror Film-Time Part I.

Around this time every year at least a few people ask me if I’d loan them some horror films. I hesitantly respond by asking them what they like, and I cringe when they invariably say: Movies like the The Fog (but they are refering to the re-make —gag) or I liked Hostel… I’d much prefer a response like I like Giallo or films like the Herzog remake of Nosferatu and I liked that film… Where there’s a train and a piece of parchment and a demon. I usually dig up a few modern horror films and hand them out and receive them 9 months later. Where the hell is my copy of The Blair Witch Project?  Unless I’m absolutely certain a person is open-minded enough and will watch a film for 10 minutes before popping it out for a Saw film, I typically don’t oblige. Yes, I’m a bit of a horror and b-movie film snob.

I won’t loan out scarce films or out-of-print copies. My VHS copies of Invasion of the Saucermen, It Conquered the World and The Town That Dreaded Sundown are hands off. Murders in the Zoo was lumped in this category until the Warner Archive Collection came out.  Criterion laserdiscs such as Forbidden Planet, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and King Kong are filed away too.  Not that anyone has one, let alone three (count ’em) laserdisc players (I have two as backups. Pioneer quit making them in 2009). Yes, I still watch laserdiscs.  I watch 8mm films for that matter.

In keeping in the spirit of fall horror film festivals, I usually set aside a dozen or so pics to watch in October.  I’m searching for obscure and rare titles now.  If I was teaching a year-long horror film course, here are the films I’d show to students:

Silents or Expressionism

Most historians would throw in Nosferatu, Vampyr or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I’d recommend Fritz Lang’s Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933), but only the Criterion DVD print from the Janus Films collection.  The film isn’t really horror, but there are occult undertones and it is definitely expressionism.  I also like Criterion’s print of Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922), which isn’t a very good film but it is different with striking imagery.  Last, I’d pick Kino’s print of Paul Wegener’s The Golem (1922) and Lon Chaney’s classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923). For comparison I’d also show the classic 1939 re-make starring Charles Laughton.

Early Talkies

Universal’s The Mummy (1932) for Jack Pierce’s extraordinary makeup and Boris Karloff’s brilliant performance; The Black Cat (1934), one of the most under-rated horror films ever made; and Son of Frankenstein (1939), for Béla Lugosi’s finest performance as Ygor. I’d also include Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) and Mad Love (1935). Wow -there’s so many to choose from.  I also like Karloff in MGM’s The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932).  Finally, of this lot I’d add MGM’s The Island of Lost Souls (1932), FINALLY available on DVD and Blue ray as a Criterion release in October 2011!

The 40’s

Universal’s The Wolf Man (1942), which might have the finest cast ever assembled for a horror film.  Of the Val Lewton films I’d choose Cat People (1942) and The Body Snatcher (1945). I like all of the Karloff-Lewton films.  I also recommend the British anthology Dead of Night (1945) only for the Hugo the Dummy sequence.

The 50’s and Hammer

Of the Hammer films I’d choose Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), which isn’t horror, but is too good not to show.  I’d also pick Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957), which I consider the best of the non-Hammer 50’s horror films.  I might throw a Mexican horror film in there such as El Vampiro (1957), for extra credit.

The 60’s.

Horror Hotel (1960), Psycho (1960),  El Baron del Terror (1962), Abel Salazar for fun, H.G. Lewis’ Blood Feast (1962) and Night of the Living Dead (1968).

I’d end the semester with Romero’s seminal classic.  Next up Part II…

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