Archive for the Horror Category
With Halloween just around the corner most horror fans will relish the moment to watch their share of Universal and Hammer classics. I will too, but I I thought it would be fun to pick a list of oddballs, following these simple rules:
- Include at least one silent film
- No Universal films
- No Hammer films
- No more than two sub-genre films (e.g. 3 vampire, 3 werewolf, 3 zombie films not allowed)
- Include at least one modern era film (year 2005 to present)
Here are my picks!
Mad Monster Party? (1967). This Rankin-Bass stop-motion gem features the voice talents of Boris Karloff, Allen Swift, Grammy award winner Gale Garnett (We’ll sing in the sunshine) and Phyllis Diller. Dr. Frankenstein decides to have one last bash and invites the crew, including Dracula, the wolf man, the creature, Dr. Jekyll, the invisible man, the mummy, a hunchback, the monster, and a few other surprises show up. Along with A&C Meet Frankenstein (1948), this is the most kid friendly monster film ever made. Horror fans will also enjoy this due to Karloff’s presence, a wacky busty cat-fight (!), and contributions by Forrest J. Ackerman. The puppets were designed by Jack Davis who was the poster artist for the minimalist U.S. one sheet poster of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
Brainiac (El Barón Del Terror, 1961). Described as “the most bizarre horror movie ever”. Along with The Ship of Monsters (La Nave de los Monstrous, 1959), which defies description, this film garners my vote for the most entertaining and weird Mexican horror film ever made. What’s not to like about a satanic Baron who seeks modern-day revenge as a grotesque, forked-tongue, pulsating bobble-head who gobbles up human brains? Be sure to track down the OOP CasaNegra DVD with Kirb Pheeler’s off the wall and informative audio commentary.
Dr. X (1932). This early two-strip Technicolor oddity was based on a short-run play from 1928. After its premiere, a New York Times critic described the film as a “production that almost makes ‘Frankenstein’ seem tame and friendly”. Lionell Atwill is at his creative creepiest as the vile Dr. X and Fay Wray screams her head off. What’s really sets this film apart is the bizarre production design and extraordinary makeup by cosmetic giant Max Factor.
After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight…
The Call of Cthulhu (2005). I double dipped on this one! Ha! This one gets my entry for both a silent and modern film, and what a duesie it is. This low-budget production by the HPLHS is bar none the finest film adaptation of Lovecraft ever. Had this film been made in 1929 it would have been hailed one of greatest horror films of all time.
Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972). Amando de Ossorio’s films are not for all tastes. They are clearly exploitative and full of contrivances and plot holes. Some people consider this film slow (try watching Dracula, 1931). However, the scenes with the evil Knight Templars, on horseback are so creepy and unusual it will keep most horror fans delighted. Tombs of the Blind Dead is essential viewing for fans of 1970’s Euro-horror.
I slipped in two Mario Bava films. The first is Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), starring Reg Park as Hercules and a dubbed (Err!) Christopher Lee as the evil King Licos. The sets, production design and cinematography (by Bava) in this film are just sublime. This film looks as good as any color film Bava has ever made. Reg Park is the definitive Hercules and Chris Lee is the prototypical villain. Sir. Christopher will you kindly dub your voice back into this film?
or an even better scene….
I Vampiri (Lust of the Vampire / The Vampires / The Devil’s Commandment, 1957) is widely credited as being the first Italian horror film. For my money it’s one of the best vampire films ever made. Credit Maestro Bava who helmed the camera and worked up the special effects. The sets, lighting, camera work and dream-like atmosphere elevates this film to top notch horror. The film suckers you in as a who done it mystery and leaves you with your jaw on the floor. This is exquisitive horror that looks good today.
The Deadly Spawn (1983). I saw this low-budget gem as a kid and have loved it ever since. It’s an homage to so many sci-fi/horror flicks from the 50’s. Think The Blob meets Audrey Junior (and if you know who Audrey Junior is you are reading the right blog), add lots of blood and a kid weened on FMOF and you have The Deadly Spawn. This is one of the very best horror tribute films to come out of the 1980’s and an effective monster movie to boot.
Eaten Alive (1976 or 1977, depending on source). This low-budget redneck horror flick stars cowboy heavy Neville Brand as a psychotic hick who feeds people who cross him to his pet crocodile. There you have it! This Tobe Hooper film came after Chainsaw Massacre (1974) but before the TVM Salem’s Lot (1979), and features a strong cast with Mel Ferre, Carolyn Jones, Robert Englund, and Stuart Whitman.
Blood Feast (1963). This infamous gore splatter concoction from Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Frieman first came to my attention in the 1980’s by way of the notorious Golden Turkey Awards (which I don’t agree with), where the brothers Medved nominated Lewis the worst director of all time (losing to Edward D. Wood, Jr.). The film is fairly tame by today’s standards and the blood comes across as being red paint, but the film still holds me in a trance and the scene with Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) yanking a tongue out of a woman’s throat still freaks me out. Don’t pair this with Mad Monster Party as a kiddie double feature!
Here’s the trailer from Something Weird Video:
During the making of Fitzcarraldo (1982) director Werner Herzog decided to actually cart and drag a 300-ton steamship through the rainforest of the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru, rather than using miniatures, forced perspectives or other special effects. The final results on film are extraordinary. Herzog attempted the feat because he noted that it had never been done before for a movie, calling himself “Conquistador of the Useless.”
With rare exceptions, Herzog’s films are realistic and minimalistic character explorations. Off hand, I can think of one Herzog vehicle —Incident at Loch Ness (2004), which uses CGI. Herzog stars and narrates this film, but it was directed by Zak Penn. Herzog’s films focus on people and relationships. Some, like the largely forgotten and gorgeously photographed Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) (nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes), starring Bruce Spence (The Road Warrior, 1982) have a political message. Most of his films are beautifully shot, such as Green Ants, Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre the Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), and Herzog’s revisionist spin on the German Expressionist classic Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922), titled Nosferatu the Vampyre (Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht) (1979), just released by Shoutfactory as a stunning HD Blu-ray transfer.
Nosferatu the Vampyre is an exceptional homage made during the same time-frame that John Carpenter completed Halloween (1979), Ridley Scott helmed Alien (1979), and mainstream American horror was evolving into mad slasher films and creature eat ’em uppers (my term), respectively. Herzog’s boogieman of course is Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski, b. 1926 d. 1991), portrayed as a sickly and grotesque elf-like being, carrying plague and in turn being plagued by the beauty of Lucy Harker (Isabelle Adjani). There are no transformations from humanoid to bat, rat, wolf nor hyena. Herzog implies Dracula’s metamorphosis through simple images of a bat in motion or rats crawling as pestilence on the vessel Demeter or on the mainland.
The film was lensed in a distinct expressionist style by Herzog collaborator and cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. I don’t know of any horror films from that era shot and designed quite like Nosferatu the Vampyre, with muted color palate, asymetrical photographic compositions (just like Murnau’s original) and dramatic use of light and dark lighting contrasts, because it’s probably the only horror film from the 70’s shot that way. I might be wrong. The European settings (Germany?) help the same way Dan Curtis’ version of Dracula (1974) works —the Count is in home territory.
The makeup effects are old school prosthetic appliances helmed by Dominque Colladant and Reiko Kruk. Kinski is particularly vile as the Count. I think he is terrific in the lead role and along with Max Schrek (Nosferatu, 1922) and Reggie Nalder as Barlow (Salem’s Lot, ironically also made in 1979), is arguably the ugliest vampire in cinema history. I also like Roland Topor’s performance as the insectivorous Renfield —he reminds me of Peter Lorre (who would have made an awesome Reinfield) when he laughs.
A few final comments on the Blu-ray pressing. The film looks great and has been out of print for several years. I had an old VHS copy, but there is no comparison. Both the English and German versions of the film are presented. The English version has an outstanding dub. I believe Kinski performed the English dubbing for his parts, but I may be wrong. It sounds like Kinski. I can hear Herzog calling up Kinski on the phone: “Now KLOWZ…Be nice… I need you to come in for the English dialogue….” “Piss off VAHR-Ner…”.
There are also a few trailers and a supplemental film on Making of Nosferatu (worth watching). This is essential horror viewing and one of the 5 best vampire films ever made.
I found this book at the 2014 Motor City Nightmares convention. I am familiar with and have read professor Robert Spadoni’s essay on Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935), which I like, so after a brief thumb-through and spot check on Amazon (5 star reviews), I picked up Uncanny Bodies, The Coming of Sound Film and the Origins of the Horror Genre (University of California Press, 2007). This is a not a book about Frankenstein (1931) or Dracula (1931), although these influential films figure prominently in Spadoni’s thesis.
Uncanny Bodies is a serious treatment on the evolution of horror film from silent expressionist and Universal Chaney films to the early sound horror features from 1931 (Dracula) to 1936 (Dracula’s Daughter). This is a literate and meticulously researched book which students of film studies should enjoy. Uncanny Bodies is not for the layman, and casual film buffs might get bored with the opening chapters.
Three of the chapters dive into the development, evolution and influences of the Universal films Dracula and Frankenstein. Lugosi/Browning and Karloff/Whale fans will enjoy these chapters. Spadoni is not a critic although he seems to agree with most critics and film historians that Frankenstein is the better film. I too agree, but I won’t go as far as Michael Brunas, John Brunas and Tom Weaver who note (Universal Horrors, 2007):
The flaws inherent to Dracula are so self-evident that they are outlined in nearly every critique; only Lugosi freaks and the nostalgically inclined still go through the motions of praising and defending the film.
Spadoni’s basic thesis is the concept of the uncanny body modality of early sound films. I’m going to go out on a limb a bit and describe this as horror film umami —the uncanny body is an audience perception for film-goers who witnessed this new sensation. It is a modality that exemplifies the physical attributes in the fantasy (unrealistic) genre. Spadoni refers to an ethereal quality (like a ventiloquist projecting his voice) that film-goers witnessed when first viewing these unfamiliar talkies.
Spadoni uses Dracula and Frankenstein as examples of the uncanny body. MGM’s visceral adaptation of H.G.Wells’ Island of Lost Souls (1932) and Karl Fruend’s The Mummy (1932) also certainly fall under this veil. Spadoni presents a simple graphic illustrating four quadrants with the uncanny body occupying the lower left. For contrast I have added additional films that might occupy this illustration: The Most Dangerous Game, a graphic and believable tale of a man who hunts humans; Hitchcock’s Psycho, a realistic mind-fuck; and Altered States, a cerebral mind-trip. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) might be an example of a modern horror film on the opposite spectrum of the uncanny body, while The Blair Witch Project (1999) might be a neo-uncanny body for ushering in found-footage hand held camera indie horror. At least that is my take.