So again this October, I have made an effort to build up a bit more of a horror vocabulary thanks to the suggestions of my readers when I put the call out a month ago. In thinking back on that call for suggestions, I have to smile that it garnered a massive amount of comments. Seems as though when the topic turns to “Freak Ryan Out”, y’all are happy as hell to jump into the dog pile.
I’ve decided to take these in chronological order, and to that end, I’m somewhat intrigued by the fact that the pile was primarily stacked with classics this year. Perhaps the demographic of my readership has changed somewhat since last Halloween?
So chronologically we begin with Murnau’s NOSFERATU. I had to give my head a shake as the film began, because I realized that I had completely forgotten that the film was an adaptation of Dracula, but with the title changed. So the moment Jonathan Harker was introduced and I gave my forehead a slap, I was able to relax in the notion that I wasn’t going to have to hang on every word and gesture.
Slight hiccup though: The dvd I borrowed had a truly atrocious soundtrack playing under the film (many silent film soundtracks vary from pressing to pressing). So not wanting to suffer through the horrendous ditties, I decided to play the score for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM in the background. Matched up pretty well!
Now having seen this, I think I might go so far as to say I prefer it to the Bela Lugosi-starring DRACULA.
Next came THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, which was delightfully eerie. Y’know, I’m not 100% certain, but something tells me this might have been the first time I ever watched a film or TV show that featured Vincent Price in his prime. Most of my experiences with him pick up some twenty-five years after this film.
This movie actually features a lot of screaming, which you’d think would get bothersome after a while, but somehow on the cold, dark night I chose to watch it, every scream got more and more unsettling. I loved every trick the sentient house in this story pulled on its guests (it could give the cottage in HAUSU a run for its money!)…well, all except one. When Elisha Cook brings everyone down to the wine cellar and opens up the floor vat to show them that it’s filled with acid, I had to laugh and shake my head.
Sure, it’s a great conversation starter, since said vat of acid was the scene of one of the house’s many murders…but how was it that none of the subsequent owners never saw fit to drain the acid? Just keeping it handy in case they have an acid-related emergency? It’s all good though, all of the characters in this film seem like they passed their acid vat safety certification.
Acid vat aside, this movie is awesome.
So I went from one creepy house to another when I pulled THE INNOCENTS from the stack, a 1961 gothic thriller starring Deborah Kerr.
The interesting bit about this viewing came during the opening credits. See, as the credits rolled out I saw that the screenplay was co-written by Truman Capote (“Oh cool!”), and that the screenplay was based on Henry James’ Turn of The Screw (“Ah crap!”). I’ve read that book and remember an awful lot about it, so what I was hoping would be a really chilling classic was yet another walk down a familiar path (in case you’re keeping score, that’s three in a row where I knew the story ahead of time).
The good news was that plot familiarity aside, this film delivered the goods! Not only did it utilize my favorite horror device (creepy kids), but the way the paranormal activities really screw with Kerr made for some wonderful visuals and glorious soundtrack moments. Even though I knew where a lot of the beats were coming in, it did a good job of giving me chills. If you’ve never read the James novel, I’d say to track this one down for a blind watch. There’s a modern film I can think of that’d make a great double-feature with this…but I hesitate to mention it for fear of tipping off the hook of this gem.
CARNIVAL OF SOULS was the very first film I watched for this whole series, and might well have been my favorite.
Not only did it give me a story that I didn’t know coming in, but it ramped the creep factor up to eleven – helped in no small way by the fact that I watched it very late on a Friday night. Alone. In the dark.
The soundtrack in this film just isn’t fair – it’s all spooky organ music, and you’d think that would be cliché, except that in this particular instance, the main character is a church organist…so the soundtrack is actually plot-driven. The freaky thing about this one is that the way fate is unhappy with the leading lady. See, she managed to walk away from a car crash where everyone else died, so Death is trying to tell her that she might be counting herself lucky, but that her number is coming up (think of it as a much better-executed FINAL DESTINATION).
The way Death keeps reminding her is by sending Paleface McFreakypants in the photo above to keep showing up. He spends most of his time standing at a bit of a distance and just staring at her. Every once in a while, just to keep things fresh, he reaches towards her.
This got to me, because along with creepy kids, one of the scare tactics I love most is people who unnerve us just by staring at us from afar. I think the crusade for me to watch this was spearheaded by Jandy Stone Hardesty, and if I’m right, I gotta get her a basket of mini-muffins or something, because that woman has nudged me towards a lot of great titles over the years.
Speaking of creepy kids, I got to the 1976 version of THE OMEN as part of the syllabus.
Now that I’m three years into this annual Halloween bender, I’m actually beginning to nail down my taste in horror, and I think it can safely be said that I much prefer the stuff that was being made in the 1970′s. JAWS is a personal favorite, AMITYVILLE HORROR, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and HALLOWEEN played gloriously, and lest we forget that the 70′s brought that one film that truly scares me. So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me how much I enjoyed THE OMEN.
Besides the fact that it has one of the wildest deaths I’ve ever seen – one I actually had to rewind to make sure I saw it right – the film went to town tap-dancing on my Catholic upbringing (though not as badly as that film).
Good time all around, and now I suddenly feel an urge to rewatch WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.
That got me to SUSPIRIA.
Dear God, SUSPIRIA.
I should start by mentioning how smitten I was with the vibrant colour palette the film uses, it actually made me fall for it harder since I found myself fascinated by the craft of the film (I find too many “so bad it’s good” films leave any semblance of craft at the door).
Obviously though, this was where the tone of the whole watchlist took a turn towards the schlocky, and once it took that turn it never looked back. This was my introduction to Argento, and considering how much I laughed my way through the film, I’m really anxious to dig into more. I mean, I was laughing out loud all by myself – I can only imagine how much fun I’d have with a group of friends and a few beers in me.
So much of this film is gloriously batshit, but for me it’s tough to beat the girl who dies in the room full of barbed wire. WHAT THE FUCK IS A DANCE STUDIO DOING WITH A ROOM FULL OF BARBED WIRE???!!! As if that didn’t have me laughing hard enough, I lost it even more when she seems to get her shit together twice but both time just falls back into the wire!! (Don’t let her near the pit of acid, which I’m sure the studio has tucked in a room somewhere).
Awesome. This entire watchlist is a rousing success based on SUSPIRIA alone.
I probably should have quit while I was ahead, but there was one more film in the series – CANDYMAN, which y’all suggested to me for reasons completely lost on me.
Funny thing is that CANDYMAN is a film that dropped around the time I was finally growing a little bit of backbone, and if memory serves, a few high school friends did want to go see it when it played theatres. I can’t remember my reasoning for skipping it at age 14, but it would appear that 14-year-old me was pretty bright, because this movie sucks!
This movie wasn’t freaky in the least, though it was a little gross in places. I was also left sorta perplexed at the nature of The Candyman himself. He seemed too grounded to be paranormal, and too paranormal to be real. The set the villain up to be this crazy urban legend, and get the heroine caught up in a web of his veracity. I’m not saying that I needed it to be deep prose or anything, but if you can’t be smart at least be fun. CANDYMAN was neither.
So that’s about enough freaky for me for another year. I think doing this little ritual for the last three years has actually given me a taste for some of these films. That’s not to suggest that I’m ready to plow through the entire SAW franchise in one sitting…but certainly where the greats are concerned, I can tackle them without hesitation.
So trick-r-treat folks. Thanks for helping make my October suitably creepy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to change gears and watch a musical or something…