My Incomplete History of Horror arrives in the swinging 60s.
The movie going trends have changed again. The post-war fears of the late 40s and 50s gave way to a new horror. Aliens, nuclear power and giant insects were fading fast. Some of the classic movie monsters were still around thanks to Hammer films and their continual reinventions and sequels. But things were changing and while movie monsters still had a place, audiences began to fear something more grounded and realistic, the human. The 1960 saw the rise of the boy/girl next door just going a little mad, as after all… “we all go a little mad sometimes.”
Peeping Tom (1960): Many horror fans will debate and discus which film was the first ever ‘slasher movie’. This is the film that is often cited as being at least the first film that put in place many of the tropes we now consider to be part of the ‘slasher’ sub-genre. Directed by Michael Powell, the film tells the story of Mark Lewis, an amateur film maker who murders women with the aid of a hidden blade on his camera stand as he films their last moments alive at the same time.
Upon its initial release, Peeping Tom met with huge controversy and was slammed by critics. But today, its often considered a classic and even a masterpiece of British film making. The film has become a cult classic and much loved among horror fanatics and even respected film critics today. In 2004, Total Film magazine named Peeping Tom as the 24th greatest British movie of all time. Then in 2005, they listed it as the 18th greatest horror film ever. Peeping Tom may have been a disaster in 1960, so much so that it even ended the career of its director; Michael Powell. But it has since become one of the most respected and praised films in its genre.
Psycho (1960): Of course Psycho was going to make this list, it is one of my all time favourite films. I love Robert Bloch’s novel, I love this film and I even love the trailer for the film. Directed by the legend that is Alfred Hitchcock, this film is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. A tale about a young secretary, Marion Crane, who steals $40,000 from her boss so she can run away with her boyfriend. After making off with the money, she pulls into a motel to rest for the night but regrets the theft and decides to return the money the next morning…
There really is very little I can say about this film that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over already. This is Hitchcock’s finest work, his opus. Everything about this film just works from its directing, the tight screenplay, the amazing acting and of course… the music. This film is so iconic and famed that even if you have never seen it, you know of the infamous shower scene. Psycho became such a popular and influential movie that is was imitated for years to come…
Homicidal (1961): Directed by the gimmick master himself, William Castle. This film follows the young and beautiful but mysterious Emily who is an outright murderess and whose presence in town could unearth deeply guarded secrets of a well to do family.
Homicidal was one of the first Psycho rip-offs that tried to ride on the coat-tails of Hitchcock’s masterpiece. The film lacks the quality of Hitchcock’s far superior film… but it still is a very well put together horror/thriller none the less. Its has some pretty scary scenes and decent acting throughout. And of course, this is a William Castle picture so it featured a gimmick. Just before the film’s climax, a 45 second countdown called a ‘Fright Break’ appeared on screen and would warn the audience of the horror that was about to be shown. The voice-over tells the audience that they can claim a full refund if they were too frightened to stay until the end. But that was not all William Castle had up his sleeve. If you were stupid enough to walk out before the end and claim your refund, then you would have to wait in what was called ‘Coward’s Corner’, which was a yellow cardboard booth. Then a ‘nurse’ would offer a blood-pressure test while a recording would repeat, “Watch the chicken! Watch them shiver in Coward’s Corner!”. Then finally while you waited in ‘Coward’s Corner’ you would have been forced to sign a yellow card stating, ‘I am a bona fide coward.’ So you could claim a full refund if you wanted, but William Castle would make you pay for it.
The Last Man on Earth (1964): Directed by Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow, starring Vincent Price. This film follows Dr. Robert Morgan who finds himself to be the last man alive after everyone else has been infected by a plague that has turned them into undead, vampire-like creatures. If any of this sounds familiar, then that is because this is the first film adaption of Richard Matheson’s novel; I Am Legend.
Vincent Price is amazing as the lonely and desperate last man alive. The film is a low budget picture and this does show as some of the post production work is a little ropey. But at its heart, its a great and well told horror/thriller and some consider this the best film version of the novel. It can be quite dark and depressing at times which all adds to the mood of the overall film.
Kwaidan (1964): An anthology horror film from Japan, directed by Masaki Kobayashi. Based on the book “Kwaidan: Stories and studies of strange things” by Lafcadio Hearn. A collection of four stories including; The Black Hair which tells the story of a poor man who divorces his wife to marry a wealthier woman for money, but soon regrets his decision. The Woman of the Snow is a tale about a woodcutter who becomes stranded in a snowstorm where he comes across a ghostly spirit. Hoichi the Earless where a blind singer who is tricked into singing for ghosts who want more than just his voice. In a Cup of Tea is the final story and features a writer who writes a story about a samurai who keeps seeing a haunting face in a cup of tea.
This is not an all out ‘scary’ film, but it is more of a slow paced and tension building collection of creepy ghost stories. The film is beautifully shot and shows of some amazing set design and scenery. Each of the four stories are intended to represent the four seasons of a year. Kwaidan went on to win the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was even nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. A tremendous and atmospheric picture that will stay with you long after you have finished watching it.
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965): Another anthology film, this time from British production company, Amicus. Directed by Freddie Francis and starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. A collection of five stories including; Werewolf, Creeping Vine, Voodoo, Disembodied Hand and Vampire. There is also the connecting and wrap around story.
I’m just very quickly glossing over this one, not because I don’t like it (I love this film), but because I covered every Amicus anthology film earlier in more detail which you can read here. This was the first of the Amicus anthology films series that became very popular in the 60s and 70s.
Carry On Screaming! (1966): The Carry On films were a British comedic tradition and they covered a myriad of topics. For this one, they poke fun at the Hammer Horror style films. Directed by Gerald Thomas, the film stars; Kenneth Williams, Jim Dale, Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims, Harry H. Corbett and Fenella Fielding. The evil Dr. Watt is kidnapping beautiful young women and turning them into mannequins.
I’m a big fan of the Carry On films and this one is a riot. Very tongue in cheek and full of laughs that lampoon the great Hammer Horror films perfectly. Not a scary film, more comedy heavy as a Carry On film should be, but the film still has some great light horror moments and the film really looks the part too. This was filmed using the actual Hammer Horror film sets, which is why it looks so authentic. Well worth checking out if you want a few chuckles.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966): Hammer Horror are back with the third entry in their Dracula series. Directed by Terence Fisher and of course starring Christopher Lee. Two couples go on a holiday in the Carpathian Mountains and soon find themselves at Dracula’s castle. Dracula’s loyal servant, Klove greets the quartet and tells them that his master has been dead for 10 years and offers them shelter for the night where they will be perfectly safe…
While the third film in the series, the second; The Brides of Dracula (1960) didn’t even feature Dracula at all. So this film is often considered the first true sequel to Hammer’s original Dracula (1958). Christopher Lee is just as amazing playing Dracula as he was in the first film. One interesting fact is that Dracula does not have a single word of dialogue in the entire film. There are conflicting stories as to why this is. According to Christopher Lee, he refused to speak the dialogue written for him as it was terrible. But writer Jimmy Sangster claims he never wrote any dialogue for Christopher Lee’s Dracula to begin with. This picture is what Hammer Films does best, its dark, gothic and scary in all the right places. It was very well received by critics with some even claiming this film is better than the original.
Picture Mommy Dead (1966): Directed by Bert I. Gordon. This was another of those Psycho rip offs that popped up through the 60s. Recently released from an asylum, Susan Shelley returns home to her father who she suspects killed her mother in a fire. Susan begins to believe her father and new wife are conspiring against her.
While nowhere near as well made or respected as Hitchcock’s Psycho, this is not a bad effort. The acting is a little overdone for the most part and the whole thing feels a little ‘campy’ today, but its still an effective horror/thriller. Made on a very low budget (and it shows) but worth at least one viewing.
Esta Noite Encarnarei no Teu Cadáver (1967): AKA; This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is the second film in the ‘Coffin Joe’ trilogy. The first being; À Meia-Noite Levarei Sua Alma/At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964) followed by; Encarnação do Demônio/Embodiment of Evil (2005). A Brazilian film from director, writer and actor José Mojica Marins. Coffin Joe terrorises the residents of a small town with his sadistic practices while he searches for the perfect woman to bare his son.
The ‘Coffin Joe’ trilogy are a little known collection of gory and brutal horror movies, from a country not really famous for its horror films, that posses a very bizarre atmosphere. This one is often cited as the best of the three pictures and I have to agree. Its not an easy watch though as the film is not shy in showing gruesome rituals and sadistic tortures. While most of the film is shot in stunning black & white, there is one sequence that takes place in Hell which is shot in full colour… and what a great sequence it is too. If you think your stomach can handle this one, give it a go. In fact, give all three ‘ Coffin Joe’ films a view.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): There were several good horror films released in 1968, but this one is the only one worth mentioning. Directed by the grandfather of the zombie film, George A. Romero. While visiting her father’s grave, Barbra is attacked by a strange man. She escapes to a farmhouse where things just keep getting worse and worse.
While not the first ever zombie film (not even close), this film is regarded as THE definitive zombie picture. Before this, zombies were often depicted as people under some kind of voodoo curse. Yet it was George A’ Romero who created the zombie persona we all know know, that of a reanimated dead corpse that feasts on flesh. This film was a revelation when it was released and changed horror cinema forever. A low budget production, but a well shot and scary film none the less. The film had undergone several revisions over the years including a colourised version in 1986 as well as other coloured versions through the years. And in 2009 a colorized 3D version of the film wa salso released. Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition was released in 1999 which added an all new soundtrack and even had newly filmed scenes added too, this version is often considered pretty terrible as it tampers with a classic. There was even an animated version called; Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated in 2009 which used a wide variety of animation styles by artists from around the world all laid over the original audio. There was also a remake released in 1990 directed by horror make up genius, Tom Savini. There are plenty of other versions of this film too that I have not mentioned, I could do a separate article just on alternate Night of the Living Dead versions/remakes/reboots and spin offs. Night of the Living Dead is an all time classic and deservedly so…due to a lack of copyright, its also in the public domain so can be viewed completely legal and free. “They’re coming to get you Barbra!”
I think its time to say goodbye to the 60s. There were some notable horror films released in 1969, but after Night of the Living Dead, everything else just seems to pale in comparison. So I may as well end on one of the very best of the 60s. Next up in part IV its the 1970s and this is where things get really, really amazing…