If you’re like me and find modern hard-core horror films less than entertaining, have I got a treat for you! With Autumn upon us and Halloween just around the corner, I do enjoy slipping into a seasonal kind of mood. And though the last few days here in sunny Southern California have been more sultry than crisp, I revel in decorating, comfort foods, and the quintessential scary movie!
|Photo courtesy of the lovely and talented Margo von Pigtails|
While I love a good fright as much as the next gal, I am admittedly far too squeamish for the whole guts and gore scene. So, for a (mild) fun scare that won’t keep you up all night like a terrified little kid, please peruse My Favorite Vintage (not so) Scary Films for the Faint of Heart:
Caveat: These films are listed in no particular order… I love each and every one equally.
Bell, Book, and Candle
Starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester
Alright, so this film isn’t remotely frightening. It is a light, quirky love story, and it’s completely adorable! Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is a modern gal living the NYC life… with one difference, she’s a witch! When she meets handsome publisher, Shep Henderson (Jimmy Stewart), she decides she wants him for her own and casts a love spell. Now, I’m not going to sing the praises of the cinematography or any other such highbrow hoodoo. I will just say that this film is fun and colorful. Novak and Stewart are enchanting. This is my go-to Fall movie when I’m feeling girlie and want to paint my nails or bake some sort of Halloween treat. I recently purchased a copy at my local Target for a measly $7 after my DVR mysteriously erased the TCM version I had recorded.
*On a side note: This was the last “leading man” role Stewart ever played. He and Novak had just wrapped Vertigo when they did Bell, Book, and Candle. He was 50 years old and Kim Novak was 25. Apparently the love scenes left the dignified Mr. Stewart feeling like a dirty old man, and he vowed to only play roles befitting his age with costars his age.
Starring Harry Earles, Daisy Earles, Olga Baclanova, and Wallace Ford
This film is quite possibly the ONLY thing Rob Zombie and I have in common! Technically speaking, this cinematic treasure can be regarded as an exploitation film, though I find it less exploitive and more empowering. Side-show little person, Hans (Harry Earles) becomes infatuated with the beautiful trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). When she and her (full size) lover find out Hans has a huge inheritance, they hatch a plot of scandalous matrimony and murder. The thing that I love about this film is that the “freaks” aren’t so freaky. They are portrayed as real people with real lives, and the whole side show freak gig is only a job. “Freaks” is loaded with suspense and art deco film styling (I’m completely in love with Daisy Earl’s hair, make-up, and wardrobe)! Though not really frightening, the final scenes had me on the edge of my settee!
*On a side note: Freaks was originally shelved by MGM and the distribution rights were snagged by notorious exploitation road-show specialist, Dwain Esper who showed the film under such tawdry titles as “Forbidden Love” and “Nature’s Mistakes”.
Famed author (and one of my personal favorites) F. Scott Fitzgerald was writing for the studio at the time “Freaks” was filmed. The notorious loaner, never feeling comfortable around glamourous movie stars and powerful movie moguls, often dined at the commissary table with the side show actors… I knew I liked him for a reason!
Zombies of Mora Tau
Starring Gregg Palmer, Allison Hayes, Autumn Russell, and Joel Ashley (and a bunch of other folks I’ve never heard of)
This film is B-movie gold! It has got it all: virginal heroin, dashing bad-boy who wants to be good, over sexed vamp in a bullet bra, and her greedy no-good husband. I’m not going to pretend that this little flick won any awards. The acting is bad, the set is laughable, and the script reads like a high school play, but if you love camp, then you will love “Zombies of Mora Tau”. I LOVE Allison Hays; she is sex in a skirt! Anyway, the “plot” goes like this: A greedy gent and his HOT wife commission a ship to hunt for a lost treasure guarded by the undead sailors who originally found it. The treasure is cursed and anyone who dares to go after it winds up dead… or worse! Watch this film and you may be left wondering if this is where the Disney folks got the idea for Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
*On a side note: I want to be Allison Hayes when I grow up!
Anything by Val Lewton
So, I couldn’t pick just one here. Val Lewton is, for me, the master of suspense! This man could do no wrong, but never seemed to really get anywhere. He is remembered as a genius buy those in the know and completely forgotten by those who are not. I love every film he has ever done (except for Curse of the Cat People, but we’ll just pretend it never happened. OK? OK.) , but here are my faves in order from best to “oh that one is sooo good too”!
The Leopard Man
I Walked with a Zombie
The Body Snatcher
Isle of the Dead
The Seventh Victim
Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Simon Simon… need I say more?! Yes, I should. I’m not suggesting that had he a bigger budget, Val Lewton would have lost his touch. I just appreciate what the low budget leant to his films. Take “Cat People”. The swimming pool scene is truly frightening, and never once does the audience ever see the “cat”. Now compare that with the B production of “Zombies of Mora Tau” and you will see that great film making rests in talent, not cash. The Val Lewton box set is most certainly on my Christmas list this year! I cannot say enough about his films. They are some of my all-time favorite films… EVAH!
*On a side note: Val Lewton was one of the (lesser) producers of Gone With the Wind.
Starring Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, and John Gavin
Allow me to just say, if you’ve not see “Psycho” then you’ve not lived! This film is beyond classic. It is scary, suspenseful, well done, and just fantastic. Anthony Perkins is the epitome of freaky… he just looks like the kind of guy that has body parts in his freezer, or fruit cellar! The subject matter, the filming, the acting, all way ahead of their time. Even the most devoted horror film enthusiast must tip their hat to this piece of cinematic history. It is, in my humble opinion, the “Citizen Cane” of horror films!
*On a side note: the “blood” in the shower scene was really chocolate sauce. The fake blood normally used in filming was diluted by the shower water and didn’t show up as dramatically in the black and white film as Alfred Hitchcock wanted.
If you are not familiar with Hitchcock films, you may not know that he loved to make little cameos in his films. Keep a sharp eye for a pudgy pedestrian in the early scenes…
Starring Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder, and Alexander Granach
Don’t let the fact that this film is a silent one fool you. It scares the hell outta me every time I watch it! What can I say, it is beyond creepy. It being a silent film only adds to the unnerving effect. Not only are you watching, but by reading, one is also participating in said feature. The imagery is hypnotic to the point where plot becomes irrelevant, but here’s the deal anyway: a realtor travels to an isolated castle, despite warnings of local villagers, to sell creepy Count Orlok a house nearby his own. The count becomes infatuated with the realtor’s wife… will she fall prey to the evil Nosferatu? I can’t believe this film was made in the 1920’s! It truly rivals any modern vampire flick… and it’s the only one on my list!
Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi
I confess that one of the few modern horror films I love is Wolfman (2010). Mainly because it shadows the original so well! Both films stick closely to classic werewolf folklore, so one already has an idea of the plot when sitting down to a Wolfman movie. There is nothing to figure out, no twist ending, just good old fashioned jump outta your skin frights… accompanied by the whole moral conundrum of the wolfman condition. Lon Chaney Jr. plays the conflicted Larry Talbot perfectly, and Claude Rains, well, I just love me some Claude Rains! This film is a classic and should be required viewing at film school or just regular school too.
*On a side note: the wolf Larry Talbot wrestles with was Lon Chaney Jr.’s own pet German Shepherd. I need to get my dog an agent!
**On a side, side note: All of the Universal Monster movies are worth watching as they are the defining films of vintage horror. I just have a special place in my heart for The Wolfman. But, please do see Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible man, The Mummy, The Phantom of the Opera, and all of the subsequent sequels.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Starring George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, and Angela Lansbury
I love this 1945 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel! Dorian Gray is a dandy… a Victorian playboy. He is dashing, fashionable, and morally corrupt. He sells his soul for eternal youth, and a curse is placed on his portrait. As time passes the real Dorian stays young and handsome while his portrait, which he keeps locked away, takes on the visage of Dorian’s behavior… and it ain’t pretty! Sex, murder, and all kinds of Victorian debauchery abound, but the thing that makes this film creepy is Hurd Hatfield’s performance. He reminds me of that charming, cold serial killer one learns about in those true crime TV shows. I would rather be trapped in an elevator with a gorilla than this cat! His voice, his face, his complete lack of emotion… sociopath! “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a fantastic film and an even better book.
*On a side note: I have a mad crush on George Sanders, who always played a right cad! He sadly committed suicide in 1972.
**On a side, side note: Dame Angela Lansbury and Hurd Hatfield teamed up again in the 1980’s for three different Murder She Wrote episodes.
Is it weird that I find Vincent Price incredibly sexy? There is something about his voice and his wicked smirk that I find irresistible! That being said, I love everything he has ever done. He was famous for his gothic horror films, but Price was also an Ivy League scholar, author, and gourmet… he was also quite tall and I dig that, just ask my Mr.! So for the sake of time, I shall abandon all further flattery and simply list my Favorite Vincent Price films and their clips. It just isn’t halloween without his creamy voice pouring over the phonograph!
House of Wax
House on Haunted Hill
The Fall of the House of Usher
Pit and the Pendulum
Diary of a Madman
*On a side note: Vincent Price had his own mail-order book club in the 70’s “Vincent Price Books”… I think I need to add to my vintage book collection!
Well, there you have it, pigeons, my favorite spooky films for a crisp autumn night. Pop some pop corn, curl up by a warm fire… or warm body, and enjoy! Oh, and Happy Halloween!
|Photo courtesy of the lovely and talented Margo von Pigtails|