Its been a long, long journey from 1896 to the 2000s.
The early 2000s saw a lot of run off from the 90s, there were sequels to some of the 90s biggest horror hits as well as some original and interesting new movies. But 2001 brought about a real horror that would change cinema… 9/11. After the twin towers fell, the horror film became something ‘dirty’ and there was even a select few people trying to end the production of horror films afterwards. The aftermath of 9/11 impacted all of cinema, but especially the horror genre which fell into a slum for a few years as ticket sales dropped while writers, producers and directors struggled to find a happy middle ground as to what the public would deem acceptable now.
Final Destination (2000): Director James Wong offers a refreshing take on the supernatural horror film. A group of students board a plane to France for a school trip when one of the students, Alex, sees a premonition that the plane will explode shorty after take off. Alex panics and gets taken off the plane along with a few of the other students and one of the teachers. Its soon proven that Alex’s premonition was true and he learns he and the others have cheated death… but death is not very happy about that at all.
If you are scared of flying, then its probably best to avoid this flick. This one was a surprise hit when it was released and went on to become its own successful franchise with multiple sequels. I love the idea of death itself coming for its victims instead of some maniac with a big knife. Some of the kills are really creative too and the film offers more then a few scares along the way… bus scene anyone? The film is great as is its premise, but its just a shame the teenage victims are so cookie-cutter.
Ginger Snaps (2000): Directed by John Fawcett, this interesting twist on the classic Werewolf lore stars Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins. Two sisters who are obsessed with death find their lives drastically change when one of them is bitten by a werewolf.
This one past me by for several years, I didn’t even know the film existed until about 5 years ago. It really is a refreshing take on the classic movie monster. The two leads are amazing and the script they have to work with makes them feel ‘real’ and not like the stereotypical teenagers you’ll find in a lot of these pictures. The werewolf itself looks very similar to the one used in the John Landis classic; An American Werewolf in London (1981). The blood and violence never feels gratuitous, but what is shown is still pretty damn brutal, the opening involving a dog sets the tone. A really great film from start almost to finish. I say almost to finish as I personally found the last 20 odd minutes a bit of a drag and the finale is a disappointment.
28 Days Later (2002): Directed by Danny Boyle comes this zombie film with a difference. Animal activists break into a lab and release several chimpanzees that are being experimented on, a virus the chimps had begins to spread. 28 days later and Jim wakes up from a coma to find he seems to be the only person alive.
The zombie film fell out of favour by the end of the 80s and nobody really made a truly great one for over a decade and then this film was released. But what separates this zombie flick form others is how it tends to focus more on the sparse human characters of the film and not the zombies themselves. Its a well written movie that manages to avoid many of the zombie film clichés we have seen hundreds of times. There is a real feeling of sadness and helplessness all through the film that adds to the atmosphere.
Dog Soldiers (2002): Yet another werewolf movie given a fresh coat of paint, directed by Neil Marshall. A squad of British soldiers are sent on a training mission in the Highlands of Scotland where they find a wounded Special Forces captain and the bloody remains of his team. They seek shelter in a farmhouse where they have to fight for their lives against a pack of ravenous werewolves.
Bloody brilliant, that is all you need to know about this flick. Its gory and intense, all with that British charm that big budget Hollywood movies lack. The effects can be a little ropey at times and the film is far from perfect, but don’t let that put you off. I really enjoy ‘claustrophobic’ movies, ones where most of the action takes place in one simple locale and this one delivers in that regard. In an era of ‘slick teen horror’ films that the late 90s and early 2000s brought, this film offers something more grounded and visceral. The flick is loaded with references to past horror classics too for the horror fan to enjoy spotting. While not a ‘funny’ movie, it never takes it self too seriously either with some memorable and quotable dialogue. A horror film that actually cares about its characters and this shines through in the end as you’ll be genuinely concerned about what happens to these guys.
Freddy vs. Jason (2003): Director Ronny Yu brings together two of horror’s biggest icons. Freddy Krueger has long been forgotten about and the residents of Springwood have moved on. Trapped in Hell, Freddy resurrects Jason Voorhees and tricks him onto killing for him so people will remember Freddy once more. However, Jason becomes uncontrollable and the two horror giants finally clash.
Us horror fans waited years, over a decade in fact, for these two titans of horror film to fight, but was it worth the wait? This film is a mixed bag. It has the bog standard, mundane and cookie-cutter teens that I personally became bored of by the time the 90s came around. It also messes with the lore of the past movies and creates problems that never previously existed… Freddy is scared of fire and Jason is scared of water, since when? The flick just lacks so much heart and sadly becomes a sub-standard slasher picture and tiresome… until the final battle. Freddy and Jason hardly ever meet in this film titled Freddy vs. Jason, but the last fight is simply awesome as both Freddy and Jason are let loose on each other. I think the plot is kind of interesting and definitely far better than other films of this ilk tend to have. The concept of Freddy manipulating Jason is a great one, its just a shame the film is weighed down with a lot of uninspired tat. Worth a watch even if only for that final battle.
Saw (2004): Psychological horror from director James Wan. Two strangers wake up in what appears to be an abandoned bathroom. The two are both chained by their ankles to pipes and are unable to move much. In the middle of the room lies a dead body in a pool of blood. The two men have to work together, while not trusting each other, to escape their shackles and the room as they learn they are part of a sick game set up by an unknown killer.
One of the most tense and refreshing modern horror films ever made… shame about the poor sequels. Still forget about those films as I’m talking about the first film here. Such a minimalist movie with a small but impressive cast. The plot is kept pretty secret for us viewers as it is slowly drip-fed via flashbacks and we can start to piece together this intriguing puzzle. Its a well written picture and another one that requires subsequent viewings to pick up on the subtle clues you may miss first time. Brilliantly constructed and acted and it all ends will one of the most memorable and intense finales in recent years. Love the first film so much and yet detest the sequels and franchise even more so.
Shaun of the Dead (2004): British horror/comedy at its finest. From co-writer/director Edgar Wright and starring co-writer Simon Pegg. Featuring a great cast including; Nick Frost, Kate Ashfiel, Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy. Shaun is stuck in a dead end job, is having trouble with his girlfriend and spends most of the day slacking off with his best friend, Ed. When his girlfriend dumps him, Shaun and Ed decide to go the pub for a few ales and they wake up the next day to find themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and Shaun along with Ed decide to try and save his loved ones.
This flick is amazing. Just the right blend of horror, comedy and numerous horror references. Much like the overlooked Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright sitcom, Spaced. You can tell this film is made by fans of the genre who actually care. A brilliant love letter to the works of the grandfather of the zombie film, George A. Romero but injected with a fresh new twist and wonderful British humour. Essentially, this film is a romantic comedy, it just has the unusual setting of a zombie apocalypse as its backdrop. The first part of what became known as ‘The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’ followed by Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013).
The Call of Cthulhu (2005): Based on the H. P. Lovecraft short story of the same name and directed by Andrew Leman. Following the death of his uncle, a man begins organising his affairs. He stumbles across a series of clues that point toward an ancient horror lurking beneath the sea.
Brilliantly shot in the style of a 1920s silent film, this could possibly be the best movie adaption of a H. P. Lovecraft story. Even the acting has been nailed to fit the style and often feels stilted and over exaggerated as actors often were in the silent era. The film’s (few) flaws actually work as a plus and all add to the overall concept of a 1920s silent film. Well worth checking out of you love H. P. Lovecraft and the silent horror films of the 1920s.
Wolf Creek (2005): Written, co-produced and directed by Greg McLean. Starring John Jarratt, this film is ‘inspired’ by real,life killers Ivan Milat and Bradley Murdoch. Three eager backpackers explore the Australian Outback and become stranded at Wolf Creek. They are rescued by a bushman named Mick who offers them a helping hand and much more.
This movie is a very, painfully slow starter… and I love it. The very slow first half allows us to get to know the three main characters, so by the time the second half and carnage begins, we actually feel for the victims. The cinematography is beautiful and really shows off the amazing backdrop of the Australian Outback, this also works as a great juxtaposition for when we finally enter the world of Mick. Its a very tense and taught film and it manages to avoid a lot of horror movie clichés. Oh and John Jarratt’s Mick is one of the greatest modern horror villains created in recent years.
Grindhouse (2007): Two films in one from writer/directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof is a 70s inspired ‘slasher’ flick where the killer uses a specially adapted stunt car to murder his victims. While Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is inspired by the zombie films of the 80s when an experimental bio-nerve gas is accidentally released turning a small town into a backdrop for a zombie apocalypse.
An experience of a movie. A love letter to the grindhouse cinemas of the 70s and 80s that would show exploitation flicks often as double features. While the films were later released in a slightly extended cut and both separately. If you want to feel the experience as it was meant to be, then you need to watch Grindhouse in its original cut complete with faux trailers. This isn’t high brow cinema, this is dirty, grimy and glorious too.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007): Directed by Tim Burton, an adaption of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s stage musical of the same name. Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman. Corrupt Judge Turpin frames local barber, Benjamin Barker of a crime he didn’t commit. Fifteen years later and Barker returns to extract his revenge but now taking on the persona of Sweeney Todd.
A musical horror film… why not? Tim Burton’s directing is always at its best when he’s dealing with the dark and Gothic, this film delivers on both accounts. If you don’t like musicals, then you’ll not enjoy this flick, I personally found the film to be a much needed breath of fresh air in the stagnant mid 2000 horror film scene. Depp is amazing as Todd and is both scary and charismatic. The music, is taken directly from the stage play but slightly adapted. The film is not shy with the blood either and the whole movie feels very Hammer Horror from when they were in their heyday.
Drag Me to Hell (2009): Director Sam Raimi returns to his roots with this horror film. Christine Brown works as a loans officer at a bank where she has her eyes on a promotion. But she is worried that her boss thinks she is weak willed when it comes to turning down loan applications. When Mrs. Ganush, a lonely old woman who faces foreclosure and the loss of her house applies for a loan, Christine rejects it. Mrs. Ganush then places a curse on Christine.
Very tongue in cheek and a horror film that also offers that very specific Sam Raimi humour. Its loud, brash, humorous and scary all at the same time. The PG-13 rating put me off for a while, you can’t have a good PG-13 horror film… but I was happily proven wrong with this one as this offers plenty of shocks and scares. This is a B-movie, but one done with a clear passion and respect.
The ABCs of Death (2012): A modern twist on the horror anthology sub-genre. 26 different short films, each by different directors spanning fifteen countries, based on the letters of the alphabet.
This film will not be for everyone. In fact there is quite a lot about it that I do not like myself. But this is a very intriguing concept and I do love the horror anthology idea too. The trouble with this film that there are a few great stories here, but there is also a hell of a lot of utter crap too. 26 very different short films from 26 very different directors and they all have their own style and tone. Its hard to tell a good story in a short amount of time, and this is the film’s main failing as the stories are too short to really engage the viewer. Plus as there are 26 of them, sadly there is more crap then good in the overall grand scheme. But the flick is worth watching once. There was also a sequel ABCs of Death 2 (2014), but I never bothered to watch it.
The Woman in Black (2012): Starring Daniel Radcliffe and directed by James Watkins, this is a remake of The Woman in Black (1989). A solicitor, Arthur Kipps is grieving the loss of his wife who died giving birth to their son Joseph. Arthur is sent to the village of Cryphon to review the personal papers of the deceased Mrs. Drablow. Arthur soon learns that the residents of the village are none to happy about his arrival.
Released by Hammer Films, yes THE Hammer Films. This one is a not only a brilliant remake, but also proof there is still life in the classic bygone age of horror films. The cinematography and directing is wonderful and the set design is both gorgeous and foreboding. Creepy and atmospheric, the picture oozes a Gothic style sadly underused in horror films today. If it was not for the HD cameras being used, you could easily mistake this for a haunted house film from the 1960’/70s, and that is a good thing.
Bad Milo! (2013): Directed by Jacob Vaughan. Duncan is an average, every day kind of guy working a regular, boring office job. Whenever he feels stress, he gets pains in his stomach and these pains reveal themselves to be a devilish little creature called Milo that Duncan ‘gives birth’ to.
Well this is a strange one. Very similar in tone to the cheap and nasty monster movies like Basket Case (1982). This is crude, bloody and very immature… but then it also has a softer side and even gets a little emotional too. You even start to feel a sorry for Milo as he and Duncan build a twisted father/son relationship. The movie is absurd and weirdly moving at the same time.
Mahi va gorbeh (2013): AKA Fish & Cat. An Iranian horror film directed by Shahram Mokri. A small group students travel to the Caspian region to participate in a kite-flying event. They set up camp near a local restaurant and things get strange.
Right from the off, I have to say that this film suffers for a few pointless and slow scenes that in the grand scheme mean nothing and offer little. But the film as an overall piece is utterly fascinating, playing around with the perception of time and more specifically, time loops. I quite honestly think this concept and they way it has been brilliantly captured on screen by director Shahram Mokri is a little too good for a horror movie. There is a mystery to be unravelled in this picture and that is pretty much all I want to say about it over fear of stumbling into spoilers. Never heard of this film? A lot of people haven’t, but it is well worth checking out as the plot will keep you captivated and riveted to your seat from the ominous start right to the shockingly beautiful ending. A true masterpiece in direction and camerawork.
Well I think I’ll end my Halloween celebration and very long pilgrimage from the very first horror film to modern day-ish. As you have probably noticed, I skipped a few years in the 2000s and offered nothing of the last 3 years. Mainly because I feel the horror film has been lacking for well over a decade now. For me, the pinnacle of horror films was the 70s and 80s. Now I’m not trying to say there are no good horror films anymore, as there are. But sadly they are few and far between and hard to find in a sea of the mundane horror film that the genre has now become. Besides, after Mahi va gorbeh/Fish & Cat, I honesty couldn’t find anything else that even comes close to its excellence, so I may as well end it right there.
And yes, I am aware I failed to mention dozens upon dozens of other great horror films, classics and modern. But this list was already way too long as it is and I already covered over a century of horror films, what do you want from me, blood? Besides, there is always next year…
This whole multi part article has been a great labour of love for me. I aimed to highlight some of the obvious and famous horror films out there, but also hopefully turn the spotlight on a few lesser known and less obvious titles too. I think I achieved just that. So close the curtains, turn off the lights and sit back to watch a few scary films this Halloween season.
There really is not much more to add other than…
The 90s horror film, a decade of plenty of hits and just as many misses.
As the 80s ended, so did our interest in blood and gore. Something that used to scare/disgust us became a joke and now used for laughs in the 90s with several notable ‘splatter’ films offering more laughs than scares. The 90s saw a rebirth of what the 60s aimed to achieve, making the everyday man scary. This decade saw a rise in grounded horror, the influx of ‘intelligent’ horror films, as well as directors refusing to call their films ‘horror’ and instead chose the label ‘thriller’. The serial killer movie became increasingly more popular and the Norman Bates-esque character began to appear more and more. But that doesn’t mean there were none of the 70s/80s horror films anymore as the 90s also had sequel upon sequel upon sequel. Some were good, some were terrible.
The Exorcist III (1990): The second sequel to my all time favourite horror film. Writer of the original, William Peter Blatty returns as writer and director for this instalment. A body turns up with the striking resemblances to the MO of the infamous ‘Gemini Killer’ that only the police were aware of, Lt. Kinderman begins an investigation. The main problem is that the ‘Gemini Killer’ has been dead for fifteen years…
Have you noticed how I haven’t mentioned the first sequel to The Exorcist so far? Because its absolutely terrible. However, this film is pretty damn good. An effective psychological horror that, while not as great as the original, does a damn fine job creating a strange mystery as you are left guessing who the killer is and whether the ‘Gemini Killer’ is still alive or not. This film is light on the scares as its more psychological, but that doesn’t mean there are no great scares in the film, hospital scene anyone? There are a few problems with the ending that came about as this film was never meant to be a sequel to The Exorcist. The novel by William Peter Blatty was called; Legion and has nothing to do with The Exorcist at all. The entire last third of the film was re-shot to make connections to the original film and they even hired Jason Miller, who played Father Karras in the first movie to make a few cameo appearances. Still despite a few problems, this is a good horror movie and a worthy sequel.
Frankenhooker (1990): Directed by Frank Henenlotter and (obviously) inspired by Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. A medical student/electrician, Jeffrey Franken loses his girlfriend in a tragic lawnmower accident and only her head survives. So he sets about bringing her back and goes to the red light district to find victims for his experiment.
The title is stupid because the film is. Another one of those horror/comedies and this is one of the better ones too. If you think a girl dying in a terrible lawnmower accident is funny, then you’ll love this picture. The movie is silly, but also pretty damn creative along the way too as the hookers are killed in ‘explosive’ ways. The effects work is impressive and you’ll see plenty of dismembered body parts and creative monsters as our mad scientist, Jeffrey Franken goes crazier and crazier as the movie progresses. Frankenhooker herself doesn’t even appear in the film until around the 55 minute mark, but its well worth the wait.
Jacob’s Ladder (1990): This psychological horror film is directed by Adrian Lyne and stars Tim Robbins. Postal worker Jacob Singer keeps witnessing hallucinations and flashbacks to his first marriage, his dead son and his tour of duty in Vietnam. These visions continue to become increasingly more disturbing as Jacob starts to lose his grip on reality.
This flick is genius, a psychological horror which oozes style and atmosphere. Tim Robbins as Jacob is outstanding as he struggles with his insane visions and slowly looses his grip. The hallucinations and flashbacks are done really well and can be scary one second but then next, you’ll be an emotional wreak. This picture is much more than just a movie, its an experience that will have you on the edge of your seat until its clever and satisfying conclusion. Subsequent viewings are a must with this one as you’ll spot very subtle clues the second, third, fourth time you probably missed before.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. This psychological thriller/horror tells the story of FBI trainee Clarice Starling who is asked to investigate a possible serial killer called, Buffalo Bill. But before Clarice can find this killer, she must earn the trust and confidence of Hannibal Lecter, an ex-psychiatrist turned murderer who who cannibalised his victims.
The writing, directing and acting in this film are top notch. The picture is full of suspense and tension that slowly boils away leading to one of the most tense and well directed ending scenes. Of course there is the legendary Anthony Hopkins whose calming and sedate performance just adds to the overall effect as Hannibal Lecter who is both charming and yet utterly scary at the same time. Not forgetting the serial killer, Buffalo Bill played by Ted Levine, who is based on real life killers, Ed Gein and Ted Bundy. The scenes between Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter are like watching a chess game of words as they both carefully think about their questions/replies trying to get as much information as possible while also holding back revealing too much.
Braindead (1992): AKA Dead Alive is an early film from writer/director Peter Jackson before he made it big in Hollywood. Lionel and his overbearing mother live in a small village in New Zealand. While on a secret date with a local shop girl at a zoo, mother follows Lionel where she is bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey, becomes infected with a zombie-like disease and dies. Then soon after her ‘funeral’, all hell breaks loose.
You know how earlier I said how blood and gore was now being used for comedic effect? Well Braindead is a perfect example of this. The gore in this is so ridiculously OTT and you’ll spend just as much time laughing as you will being disgusted. The movie is almost cartoon like with special effects as absurd as the characters. With a zombie baby, a pair of horny zombies that have sex continually, a kung-fu priest and an evil mother that makes Norma Bates look tame. Part zombie movie, part comedy and part love story… all covered in a visceral and violent blanket that climaxes with lawnmower, dozens of zombies and gallons upon gallons of blood. Just try to get hold of a full uncut version as even the ‘unrated cut’ is edited down to 97 minutes, while the full version runs at 104 minutes. “I kick arse for the Lord.”
Candyman (1992): Based on the story; The Forbidden by Clive Barker and directed by Bernard Rose. Helen and her friend Bernadette begin researching for a thesis on urban legends. Helen becomes obsessed by the legend of Candyman who is said to appear if you repeat his name five times in front of a mirror. She soon learns that Candyman is much more then just an urban legend.
A slasher film with so much style and substance that does away with many of the outdated tropes. The acting is particularly great, especially for a horror movie. With Tony Todd playing the titular Candyman and being scary, but in a very calming way and Virginia Madsen as Helen is just as impressive. I read a review of this movie which stated that it “wasn’t a nice film”… that’s a compliment in my eyes. The film is dirty, grimy and certainly ‘not nice’ at all. This is a horror film for adults, not teenagers. Deliciously dark and decadent, this urban legend is a must watch.
Bat sin fan dim: Yan yuk cha siu bau (1993): AKA The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story. Based on the real Eight Immortals Restaurant Murders that took place on 4th August, 1985 in Macau. the film is directed by Herman Yau. The rotting remains of a human are found on a beach, the police investigation leads them to a local restaurant owner, Wong Chi Hang. Wong has only recently become owner of the restaurant and the previous owners have disappeared without a trace. His customers love his pork bao and keep coming back for more. But just what did happen to the previous owners of the restaurant?
You know how earlier I said how blood and gore was now being used for comedic effect? Well The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story is a perfect example of the exception to the rule. This is no horror comedy, though there is some slight comic relief and this movie needs it. The Untold Story is brutally gory, how much so? Well Hong Kong film censors place films into numbered categories dependent on how severe the violence is and this film has been certified a category III. Category III movies are notorious for extreme violence or excessive sexual content and this film is no different. Extreme and excessive is just how to describe this one, its hard to watch and doesn’t shy away from its bloody, detailed violence. There is no mystery here and there isn’t meant to be, we know who the killer is right from the start. Its not who is responsible for the killings that is important but more so how the killings took place.
Body Bags (1993): An anthology film featuring three stories directed by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. The Gas Station is about a young college student who arrives for her first night shift at an 24 hour gas station. She learns that a serial killer has broken out of a mental hospital and is heading her way. Hair is a tale about a middle aged, egotistical business man who tries a ‘miracle’ hair transplant operation to save his thinning hair. Eye is a yarn where a baseball player is involved in a car accident and loses one of his eyes. Worrying his career is over, he decides to undergo an experimental surgical procedure to replace his eye.
The three tales are inter-cut and introduced by a morgue worker played briliantly by John Carpenter himself, using bad puns and cheap jokes. Also be on the look out for some great cameos from other horror directors like Sam Raimi, Wes Craven and Rodger Corman. There are plenty of in-jokes and nods too like the fact the gas station story takes place just outside Haddonfield… which is the fictional town Halloween (1978) took place. The three stories are all really enjoyable for very different reasons. An overlooked gem of a flick that is full of scares, surprises and a few laughs too. I particularly love the epilogue after the final story…
Schramm (1993): A German film from director Jörg Buttgereit and loosely based on true crimes of Carl Panzram. Lothar Schramm is a polite and friendly taxi driver, but he suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. Schramm’s disorder drives him to self-mutilate, rape and murder and we see all of this in a flashback as the film opens with Lothar Schramm dying in a pool of his own blood after falling of a ladder.
Director Jorg Buttgereit explained this film far better then I ever could: ‘Welcome to a trip into the mind of a serial killer.‘ This film is deranged and disgusting… yet beautifully shot and well wroth watching. Its only a short film running at a little over 60 minutes, but its a hell of an hour full of disturbing images and bloody gore. Most serial killer movies concentrate on the police POV as they track down the killer and finally stop them, this film does things very differently as we only see things from the killers POV. The things this guy gets up to are disturbing to say the least. From the murder and rape of females to hammering nails his own penis. Schramm is a bizarre and sometimes hard to watch but still worth a view regardless.
Dellamorte Dellamore (1994): AKA Cemetery Man, an Italian horror film directed by Michele Soavi. Francesco Dellamorte works at and lives near a cemetery. A beautiful widow attends the funeral of her husband and Dellamorte falls in love with her. The two eventually have sex on the late husband’s grave and he returns from the dead… yet this is only the start of the carnage.
A tongue in cheek zombie film with a lot of heart and even artistic style. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all ‘arty-farty’ crap as there is plenty of gore and even some gratuitous nudity. Its just that the film starts out like a bog standard zombie flick but soon evolves into something so much more. The plot is involving and the characters are brilliantly realised, but then there is the cracking zombie make up effects and quite possibly the best Grim Reaper on film ever. There is a love story in here as well as a philosophical look at insanity and loneliness. A zombie movie with a heart, brain and a delicious dark humour.
In the Mouth of Madness (1994): Directed by John Carpenter and starring Sam Neill. A Stephen King-a-like horror writer, Sutter Cane has gone missing. Insurance investigator John Trent is asked to look into Cane’s mysterious vanishing. Trent surmises that the disappearance is all an elaborate hoax to be used as publicity for Cane’s new book, but he soon learns there is much more to the writer’s strange vanishing act then he first thought.
The third in John Carpenter’s ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’ with the first two being The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987). I have a feeling that the writer of this film, Michael De Luca may have been inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. This film is very diverse, you’ll find people either love it or outright hate it. I personally love this flick and think its a massively overlooked Carpenter masterpiece that seemingly gets lost in his other works. Its quite an intelligent and insightful horror picture and will leave you scratching your head by the time the end credits roll. Not really a blood and gore film, though there are a few great make up effects shown. This is more of a psychological horror that plays on your mind much more. The story can be scary and gets a little dark but the script is as sharp as a tack and yet it never takes itself too seriously. I’m going to make a very bold statement here, in terms of directing I think this is John Carpenter’s best work, better than Halloween, better than The Thing.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994): The man that created Freddy Krueger, Wes Craven, gets back in the director’s chair to destroy his most famous creation. Bringing back Heather Langenkamp from the original to face her nemesis one last time. Heather Langenkamp starts receiving strange phone calls from someone sounding a lot like Freddy Krueger. This comes about around the same time she is asked to return to the franchise that made her famous as its revealed that Wes has been writing a new movie… coincidence?
This is Wes Craven’s masterpiece, his opus and yet the movie is always overlooked in favour of the less interesting, poorly made sequels in this franchise. Now I love the original Nightmare flick and think part 2 is a underrated horror film too. Then after that, from 3 onward, things just go downhill fast. Its quite poetic how it took the creator of Freddy to get things back on track after 10 years since the original. This picture is so clever and meta, I feel this is why most don’t enjoy it, they want the simplicity of the other sequels, they just want Freddy running around killing stupid teenagers and making bad puns. But for me, I got tired of this formula pretty quickly. This is a movie about making movies and the effect(s) violent films may have on the audience. This isn’t your stereotypical ‘slasher’ flick that the sequels became, this is a psychological horror that gets the brain ticking over. Heather Langenkamp who became known as Nancy from the first film is back… only she is playing Heather Langenkamp in a life that mirrored her real life at the time. Robert Englund is also back as Freddy and playing himself at the same time in a dual role. There are a ton of references to the original film as well as other actors from the franchise popping up. Cerebral is the word to use when describing this picture. Its plot is both simple and multilayered at the same time with Wes Craven himself even appearing in the film, writing/directing a film about making a film, which is the film you are actually watching. Watch the first film and then watch this directly afterwards and you’ll see just how irrelevant the sequels really are. This is why I miss Wes Craven, he was the thinking man’s horror writer/director who wasn’t afraid to break the rules now and again. Despite this flick getting high critical praise at the time, it tanked at the box office because the studio thought it would be a good idea to open against a little known film called Pulp Fiction…
From Dusk till Dawn (1996): Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by his best buddy, Robert Rodriguez. Starring George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel and Juliette Lewis. The notorious Gecko brothers go on the run after a bank heist. They kidnap a preacher and his family to use them and their motor-home as cover to escape into Mexico where they will meet a contact at a bar called The Titty Twister, but it seems that meeting at this bar was not the best idea.
One of the best twists in a film ever. This film is glorious, you have the snappy dialogue and interesting characters thanks to Tarantino’s writing, blended with the kinetic and stylised directing of Rodriguez. The film is really a film of two very distinctly different halves (which I’m trying not to spoil) and yet they seem the blend together seamlessly. I quite honestly do not want to say too much about this one as I feel going into it blind is the best possible way to approach it. If you have never seen this flick then don’t read any reviews, don’t even look at the cover (if possible). Just pop the DVD/BluRay in and sit back. I do have to mention how awesome Clooney is in the film, his breakthrough film performance. He is subzero levels of cool and yet a total badass with buckets of charm too.
The Frighteners (1996): Director Peter Jackson’s first American film and starring Michael J. Fox. Frank Bannister develops psychic abilities allowing him to see, hear, and communicate with ghosts after a car accident in which he was injured and his wife was killed. Frank befriends some of the ghosts and uses them as stooges to set up his own ghostbusting business. Frank encounters a spectre very similar to the Grim Reaper who seems to kill people (and ghosts) at random. Its up to Frank to stop this spectral killer before it kills of the entire town.
Originally intended to be a story for the Tales From The Crypt TV show, producer Robert Zemeckis decided this would work better as a feature film. This starts out as a pretty goofy comedy, but it turns into a really effective and scary ghost story with a great sense of humour. The visual effects are amazing and still stand up today, especially the Reaper ghost who flies around town killing people and offers some genuine scares. Sadly, this was Michael J. Fox’s final starring film role before he had to semi-retire from acting due to his Parkinson’s disease. Also be on the look out for iconic horror stars like Dee Wallace and Jeffrey Combs, even Peter Jackson himself makes a cameo. A great , chilling and yet funny film that stands up well today.
Scream (1996): Director Wes Craven is back to demolish the very genre of film that made him famous. One year after her mother’s murder, Sydney Prescott starts to receive strange phone calls from a crazed serial killer. As her classmates die off one by one, Sydney realises she is next in line and considers the possibility that this killer could have had something to do with her mother’s murder one year ago.
This is another one of those 90s horror films that tries to be clever, it breaks down many of the ‘slasher’ movie clichés and pokes fun at them. It takes the overused and stale ‘teenagers getting drunk and being killed off by a maniac’ trope and turns it on its head. Ironically, this film single handily managed to breath new life into the ‘dead on its feet’ sub-genre of horror film it was making fun of as there was an influx of teen slasher films released after the success of Scream that all had the same looking characters, same set ups and pay offs, similar 90s rock soundtracks and even pretty much the same posters. For me, I really do not think this one hold up all that well and certainly not as clever or cerebral as New Nightmare was and still is. The way this picture pokes fun at the ‘slasher’ clichés soon become cliché in of themselves and the film just does not hold the same appeal as it did back in 96. Its still a decent romp, but its cleverness became stale way before the asinine and inevitable sequels came about a few years later.
The Devil’s Advocate (1997): Based on Andrew Neiderman’s novel of the same name, directed by Taylor Hackford and starring, Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino and Charlize Theron. Kevin Lomax is a ruthless young attorney working in Florida who has never lost a case, he is hired by an even more ruthless law firm from New York. Kevin and his wife relocate to New York in spite of strong disagreement by his mother. His wife starts to witnesses devilish apparitions as Kevin becomes more engrossed in his work. Is there more to his new boss then Kevin realises?
I debated putting this on the list, not because its bad… its not, this is a great film. But because I wasn’t sure if this qualifies as a horror film, I don’t think that many do consider this a horror film at all. In many ways, its not a horror film, at least not in the most common sense. Yet this an horrific tale being told, one of neglect, power and greed. There are plenty of scary/horrific imagery too especially with the visions Kevin’s wife has, plus the film has a pretty decent amount of blood and death along the way. The film builds and builds as we learn more about Kevin’s new boss, John Milton, played brilliantly by Al Pacino until the climax where he gives one of cinema’s great monologues. Where John Milton tears apart the whole theory of religion and presents the inherent contradiction of it all… nobody can do a speech like that as well as Pacino can. I really do not want to delve too deeply into this movie out of fear of giving away too much. Its a cracker with plenty of twists and turns. Is it a horror film though? For me, yet it is.
The Faculty (1998): Directed by Robert Rodriguez. In a small town high school, the teachers and some of the students start acting a little strange. While hiding in a closet, two of the students witness the school’s nurse being strangled by two other teachers. After the students escape, they find the nurse is very much alive but also now acting strange.
I think this film may be Robert Rodriguez’s love letter and throwback to sci-fi horror films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/78) and The Thing (1982). It has one of those stories of alien assimilation blended with that slick 90s attitude towards horror films sparked off with Scream (1996), well the screenplay was by Kevin Williamson after all. There is a pretty good cast here including; Josh Hartnett, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick and Elijah Wood. The film features a nice slow build of paranoia before the inevitable reveal of the the aliens. An interesting modern twist on the sci-fi horror films from the past that manages to keep things fresh with plenty of in-jokes and references for sci-fi horror fans to spot.
Ringu (1998): AKA Ring, a Japanese psychological horror flick from director Hideo Nakata. Based on the novel of the same name by Kôji Suzuki, which itself was inspired by the Japanese folk tale, Banchō Sarayashiki. A journalist investigates a series of deaths that occur after the victims watched a supposedly ‘cursed video’. Her investigation leads her to a holiday cabin where she discovers the tape for herself…
No one does scary and effective ghost stories like the Japanese and this movie is one the best examples. Far superior to the American remake is every way. The direction here is both intense and gritty as it makes its way to one of the best, most creative and scariest endings to a horror film that I have ever seen. Most of the time, people recommend watching a film on the big screen, yet with this, you really have to watch it on TV at home with the lights off. The whole production feels very ‘documentary’ like and the characters are played perfectly which helps you fear for their own safety and sanity. The taught and bittersweet relationship between the two leads is really well done. Its a film based on one simple principle, that often broken rule we were constantly told as kids by our parents… ‘don’t do that’, which only spurred us on to do the exact opposite of what we were told. So DON’T watch Ringu…
The Blair Witch Project (1999): This found footage psychological horror film is written and directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez. Three film students travel to Maryland to explore a local urban legend known as The Blair Witch. The students were never heard from again and completely disappeared, but their video camera were found…
Right, I don’t like this film, I think its just plain boring and god awful… and I’ve seen some terrible horror films over the years. Its not scary, most of the film is shot in darkness while running through a forest and I stopped being scared of the dark from the age of five. I also detest how people claim this film created the found footage sub-genre. It didn’t as I proved in the previous part with Cannibal Holocaust (1980), even more so, The Last Broadcast (1998) did what this film did the year before… and did it better too. So why is it on this list? Because I think the publicity and fiction they created to make this film appear ‘real’ is some of the best marketing for a horror film ever. The ‘missing’ posters for the characters in the film that began to pop up in our world, The Curse of the Blair Witch mockumentary broadcast on the SciFi Channel before the release of the film, the website set up that detailed the legend of The Blair Witch and featured police reports, etc. The marketing for this film was amazing and in many ways, it was far better then the film itself. IMDb even got in on the fun and listed the people in the cast list as ‘missing, presumed dead’ for the first year of the film’s release. Didn’t like the film in 1999 and I still don’t like the film in 2016, but I will always praise the marketing for this flick as being pure genius.
Terror Firmer (1999): Directed by and starring Troma legend, Lloyd Kaufman. A low budget film crew led by their blind film director, Larry Benjamin are making a high art film when they come across a homicidal maniac only they can stop.
This is a Troma film and if you don’t know what that is… then avoid this film. Troma is an independent film production company famous for making very low budget OTT gore-fest, exploitation films full or sex, nudity and gallons of blood. They don’t try to make deep and meaningful entertainment, their aim is to make entertaining trash with films like; The Toxic Avenger (1984), Troma’s War (1988), Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990) and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006) as well as dozens of others. For me, this is the best film from Troma ever. Its a clever satire of the films they make and (co-founder) Lloyd Kaufman manages to poke fun at himself and his company while still providing a hell of a film along the way. Its rude, crude and full of immature scenes… as well as stupid violence and gore. There are plenty of cameos to look out for, multiple references to some of Troma’s other films and characters. Its stupid, puerile and cheap… but its a low budget film about making a low budget film featuring a blind director… so what are you expecting?
Time to end the 90s here and take a look at modern horror films of the 2000s in part VII, the final part of my Incomplete History of Horror.
Its the decade of big hair and even bigger horror films. the 80s.
If the 70s was my favourite decade for horror films, then the 80s is a very, very close second. This was the era of the slasher film (and their numerous sequels), plus a few examples of modernising the classic movie monsters from the past. Some of my favourite horror movie directors cut their teeth in the 80s and it was also the decade of amateur, low budget masterpieces. The effects were bigger, better and bloodier and the films became more controversial as the boundaries of what was allowed to be seen on film were pushed to breaking point with many movies being outright banned here in the UK as the censors hit hard and the dawn of the ‘video nasty‘ was born.
Cannibal Holocaust (1980): Well, if I’m going to show how controversial the 80s horror movie was, I may as well go straight for the jugular. Directed by Ruggero Deodato and easily one of the most infamous and controversial horror films to ever be made. A team of four documentary makers go to a South American jungle to search for cannibals. They go missing, so an anthropologist and his team is sent to find them. The documentary team are never found, but their film reels are…
Where to start with this film, so much to cover? This is often regarded as the first of the ‘found footage’ sub-genre that became popular in the late 90s onward, as the movie’s plot is told through the film that the missing documentary team made. Onto the controversy; the director was arrested and charged with obscenity then all copies of the film were ordered to be destroyed… but why, its only a movie right? Well that is not what a magazine in France thought, they believed the film was real and that people were actually killed. This prompted charges against director; Ruggero Deodato to now include murder. It all even went to court as Ruggero Deodato had to prove his innocence by having the actors who supposedly died in the film appear in court as well as show behind the scenes photos of other actors that ‘died’ on screen still being alive as well as the effects work used. Eventually the charges against Deodato were dropped, but that was not the end. So no human was killed making this film, but something(s) were. There are actual animal killings shown in this movie, not special effects but real animals being killed. A coati is killed with a knife, a large turtle is decapitated and its limbs are then cut off before its shell and entrails are removed, a tarantula and boa constrictor are killed with a machete, a squirrel monkey is decapitated and a pig is shot in the head with a shotgun. All real and all on film. This lead to the film being heavily censored or outright banned in some countries and its still a sore issue today. There is a lot more to cover with this film, but I have plenty more pictures to talk about so need to move on. But do I recommend this one? Yes I do. There are various versions of this film to watch, there is an edited version that cuts out most of the violence and all of the animal killings. However, I have to be honest here and say its crap. If you really want to watch this movie, then you just have to watch the full, uncut version. Yes its hard to sit through and I’m an animal lover so detest the killing of animals for entertainment. But for the full impact of the film, the uncut one is the only version to watch.
Fade to Black (1980): A very low budget psychological horror movie written and directed by Vernon Zimmerman. Eric is frequently bullied and betrayed, he hides away from his torment in his love for horror movies and often fantasies about being one of the villains. Eventually he snaps and begins a killing spree against the very people that bullied and opposed him all while being influenced by some of his favourite horror icons.
Its a shame this picture is so low budget as its a great idea, but the lack of money really shows on screen.The plot is a little bare, some of the death scenes are just pathetic and the editing is terrible. But there is still a watchable movie here. Its great to see someone get made up and dressed in classic movie monster garb (Dracula, The Mummy, etc) and show that there is still room for the old guard in horror films. Dennis Christopher playing Eric is a joy to watch and Linda Kerridge as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike is great too. Plus be on the look out for a small appearance by Mickey Rourke. A good film, but tremendously flawed. Only worth a watch if you enjoy low budget schlock.
Friday the 13th (1980): Just like Halloween (1978), I think its law to include this in a horror movie list. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. It summer at Camp Crystal Lake and a group of young camp counsellors are readying the camp for a busy season. But it seems that somebody isn’t happy about all the commotion as the camp counsellors are killed off one by one.
I think it can be said without much argument that Friday the 13th is one of the main trendsetters in terms of the ‘slasher’ sub-genre of horror film. After John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) set the standard, many, many followed and this film was one of the big hitters that went on to become a very successful franchise with about six hundred sequels (I may have over counted), spin-offs and even a remake. The franchise became so huge and popular that everyone knows the killer in Friday the 13th is Jason Voorhees… isn’t he? One of the all time classic horror films with exceptional make up/effects work by the grand-master himself, Tom Savini. The film also features an early role for Kevin Bacon.
The Shining (1980): I said in the previous part how The Exorcist (1973) is my all time favourite horror film, and it is, but this picture is a close second. Based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring the legendary Jack Nicholson. Jack Torrance is a writer struggling to write his next book, he takes on a job offer as a caretaker at a remote hotel that closes down for the winter. Arriving with his wife and son, Danny. As Danny starts to witness strange hallucinations, Jack begins to experience cabin fever and slowly goes insane.
One of the very best examples of a tremendous psychological horror film. This movie was detested by Stephen King, so much so that he went on to publicly slam this picture and even make his own version as a three part TV mini-series in 1997. I love King’s novel and I also love Kubrick’s version just as much (I also enjoyed the TV mini-series… but not as much), they are two very different animals from two different geniuses. Jack Nicholson gives one of the best performances of his career, if not THE best and goes down in horror history as one of the all time great villains. There is a unnerving feeling of tension right from the opening credits of the film and it never lets up until the end credits roll. The hotel backdrop is both gorgeous and foreboding and Jack’s slow decent into madness is well done throughout the picture. It all builds up to a terrifying ending with a quizzical footnote involving a photo that still has people theorising and debating today. Beautifully shot, brilliantly adapted from the novel (despite what King says) and genuinely scary… “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!” .
An American Werewolf in London (1982): “I see the bad moon arising.“, great song by CCR from an equally great film directed by John Landis. Two American backpackers go exploring the English countryside moors where they are attacked by a wolf-like creature. One of the two outright dies, while the other is mauled but lives and he slowly learns he has been given the werewolf curse.
Oh, how I love this film. A modern twist on the classic werewolf lore. The film is a great mix of genuine scares blended with a very dark sense of humour. The make up effects are just sublime, especially on the ever decaying Jack who haunts his werewolf friend David as he is trapped in limbo. The main werewolf transformation scene is still the greatest werewolf transformation ever filmed and make up artist, Rick Baker deservedly won and Oscar for his work in this movie. Another thing that needs mention are the terrifying nightmares David has as his curse starts to take over. Some absolutely amazing visuals and scary scenes. My favourite werewolf movie by far… and the soundtrack is awesome too as each of the main songs has the word ‘moon’ in the title. Almost forgot to mention the radio adaption form 1997 which is also worth checking out if you can find it.
Docteur Jekyll et les femmes (1981): This is a French film by director Walerian Borowczyk. A modernised take on the Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Set in the 19th century in London. A celebration for Dr Henry Jekyll and Fanny Osbourne’s engagement is being held at Dr. Jekyll’s home. Later that night, one of the female guests is brutally attacked, raped and murdered in her room and this starts a very bizarre and bloody series of events.
This film is a strange and often difficult watch (if you can find a fully uncut version), yet its beautifully shot and directed. The movie is very surreal and often feels almost dream like. There is quite a lot of sex and nudity in this one and often mixed with violence. The film feels very sleazy, but that sleaze just works. Not a film for everyone, but if you want a Dr Jekyll yarn that dares to be different and even shocking at times, then you may enjoy this picture.
The Evil Dead (1981): Directed by Sam Raimi and starring cult fan actor, Bruce Campbell. Five college friends shack up in a cabin in the woods. A recording is found in the cellar and played back which unleashes an evil force with the power to possess humans and turn them into demons.
I already did a quick overview of this film. I really enjoy low budget horror movies from first time directors and The Evil Dead is pretty much the pinnacle. The plot is bare basic, the acting is horrible and the effects work is cheap… but the film is still one of the best horror films made. This is the movie that got me interested in what happens behind the camera just as much as in front of it. I love reading/watching anything about The Evil Dead and think its amazing how this film was made by a few teenagers and how it has gone on the become a successful franchise recognised around the world. It a cheap, low budget effort. But its also a bloody, scary and effective picture with some of the best camerawork and direction seen at the time.
Possession (1981): A little known French/German horror film directed by Andrzej Żuławski and starring Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani. Mark returns home from a business trip away, he finds is wife, Anna is restless and withdrawn, Anna says she wants a divorce and she starts to act even more irrational and bizarre. Mark believes another man is involved but it seems Anna’s behaviour is related to something much more sinister.
How best to describe this movie? An extreme assault on the senses, that sounds about right. This picture is surreal and hyperactive, its beautiful and disturbing at the same time. The acting is OTT and eccentric, yet it all fits perfectly with the tone of the film. You’ll watch this film once and think to yourself ‘what the fuck did I just watch’ but then immediately want to watch it again and it is subsequent viewings that make this film so much more enjoyable. Isabelle Adjani won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981 and deservedly so too. Not an easy watch, but if you can make it through, you will be rewarded with a hard edged and brutal horror film that will stick with you forever.
Basket Case (1982): Written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. This is another one of those low budget, gore-fests that I enjoy so much. Duane is a strange young man who goes everywhere with a wicker basket which contains his surgically removed, deformed Siamese twin. The brothers set out to seek vengeance on the doctors who separated them.
Bizarre seems such a tame word to use as a descriptive of the one, but bizarre it is. This is a trashy film, its not high art, it has no political statement to make. Its just what it is meant to be. A low budget, low brow piece of rubbish… but its great and entertaining rubbish. Its a film about a deformed Siamese twin kept is a wicker basket that wants revenge, what are you expecting? Its silly, hokey and gory. A stupid film that entertains from start to finish.
Creepshow (1982): I love horror anthology pictures and this is one of the very best. Directed by George A. Romero, the film includes five tales (and a wrap around story); Father’s Day is about a cruel dead father who comes back to carry on his reign of terror. The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill is a tale where a country bumpkin discovers a recently crashed meteorite but after he touches it, things slowly go very wrong. Something to Tide You Over has a man who finds out his wife has been having an affair, so he buries his wife and her lover alive up to their heads on a beach as the tide comes in, only they return for revenge. The Crate is a wonderful tale about a hard done by man who finds a way to rid himself rid his overbearing wife thanks to a mysterious crate. They’re Creeping Up on You is about a ruthless businessman suffering from mysophobia and locks himself away in his germ free apartment only to be invaded by his worst nightmare.
I could quite honesty go on about this picture for hours and hours… but I can’t here as there is so many other films to cover. What is there to like? Directed by George A. Romero, written by Stephen King and make up effects work by Tom Savini… you couldn’t get a better horror team than that in the 1980s. Each of the five stories are great and offer a varying amount of scares as well as macabre comedy. Inspired by the old horror EC comics of the 40s-50s and that inspiration shines through. This film’s tongue is firmly placed in its cheek and its a complete riot.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982): The second sequel to the John Carpenter classic that isn’t really a sequel. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, the film departs form the story of Micheal Myers and does its own thing. A mysterious toy maker releases a new line of Halloween masks for sale which seem to have some kind of a connection to a strange series of commercials on TV that are counting down to a big event… but what?
This film was despised at the time of release as it took a severe departure from the Halloween movie franchise (even though this was only the 3rd film). Fans hated it as did the critics, yet over the years, the movie has gained a strong a loyal following. I adore this film and always have done, I got tired of the whole Micheal Myers thing after the first film anyway, so this movie was a breath of fresh air. Originally, John Carpenter wanted this to be the start of a whole new anthology idea after he killed of Micheal Myers in the first sequel. His intention was to have a series of Halloween themed films each year all with a new story, yet they would all exist in one shared film universe. But as the fans at the time were too small minded and just wanted more Micheal Myers, more of the same tired old formula, the idea was dropped and Myers was brought back for several other terrible sequels instead. Still, this movie is a great horror picture full of scares and a few hard to watch scenes too. A massively overlooked film that deserves much more credit.
Poltergeist (1982): A true classic in every sense of the word. Directed by Tobe Hooper, written and produced by Steven Spielberg. The Freelings are a young and loving family who move into their new home. The youngest daughter, Carol Anne, develops a strange connection to the TV and things only get stranger from that point on.
One of the all time classics and a modern retelling of a golden age ghost story. The film is chock full of iconic and memorable imagery/scenes. That picture of the clown up there probably sparked off childhood memories you’d rather forget. What about the tree or the skeletons in the unfinished swimming pool, maybe the scene where the paranormal investigator goes to wash his face? The visual effects in this one still stand up today (for the most part) and are still some of my strongest memories of a horror film. As scary as it is tense and well made, Poltergeist has stood the test of time and can still offer plenty of chills today.
The Thing (1982): Another one form one of the all time greats, director John Carpenter. A loose remake of The Thing from Another World (1951) and based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. Starring Kurt Russell and featuring music by the legendary Ennio Morricone. Set in Antarctica and a US research station is suddenly brought to attention by a Norwegian helicopter trying to kill a dog. After the helicopter crashes, the members of the US research station take the dog in as a pet, which was perhaps not the wisest idea.
I must have been around 7/8 years old and watching this with my brothers and cousins at my Auntie Chris’ house one night. I have a very strong memory of watching THAT dog scene and if you have seen the film, then you know exactly which very specific dog scene I am talking about. I remember being both horrifically scared and yet unable to look away at the same time. I was terrified but amazed. It was that moment when I fell in love with horror films. Oh I had seen other horror films before this one, but nothing quite like The Thing. So I have John Carpenter and a dog to thank for my love of horror films. This film is amazing, the directing is spot on and the isolation you feel due to the setting is unnerving. Ennio Morricone’s score is almost minimal and fits perfectly. Then there is the small cast full of great performances of which the star, Kurt Russell is easily the best. Also of note is Rob Bottin who headed up the effects/make up department and created some of the most stunningly grotesque and yet beautiful effects work of the 80s. “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding!”
Psycho II (1983): The first sequel (there were others) to the Hitchcock classic Psycho (1960). Sitting in the director’s chair this time around is Richard Franklin and returning as Norman Bates is Anthony Perkins. After 22 years of being institutionalised following the events of the first film, Norman is released and goes back to his motel and it seems that mother is also back too.
I love the original film, it is one of my all time favourite films ever. Is this sequel as good? No, not at ‘as good’… but its still a damn good film regardless. There are some genius moments of directing here including blending the aftermath of perhaps the most famous scene of the original film into this sequel seamlessly. There are a few scenes that I’m not a fan of (like a bloody, overflowing toilet… been done countless times before) but then there are also scenes that are also excellent. The film leaves you guessing as to whether Norman is settling back into his old ways, or is somebody attempting to give him a few gentle pushes? Maybe Norman is innocent in all of this? Anthony Perkins is just as great playing the role here as he was in 1960, also returning from the original is Vera Miles and even Hitchcock makes a cameo appearance despite dying three years earlier. An overlooked film and one of the better horror sequels made, well worth checking out as a double feature with the original.
Gremlins (1984): Directed by Joe Dante and starring Zach Galligan & Phoebe Cates. Billy is given a Christmas gift, a small and unusual creature called a Mogwai. This Mogwai has a strict set of three rules that Billy must adhere to, but due to series of ‘accidents’ the rules are broken and the Gremlins are born.
How do you categorise this film? Its a family friendly, Christmas themed, horror, comedy, action, satire of monster movies… movie. There is a weird cocktail of so many genres and sub-genres it just shouldn’t work, but it does. Gremlins can be genuinely scary at times, but then a few seconds later and it’ll make you smile with its humour. The very dark and macabre tale Kate tells about how she learned there is no Santa Claus is both disturbing and humorous. The Gremlins themselves are malicious but engaging and thoroughly entertaining. And of course, yes Gizmo the Mogwai is ‘cute’. This is a fun romp for all the family to enjoy regardless of age.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): The film that made me a fan of writer/director Wes Craven. The birth of one of the all time great horror icons, Freddy Krueger and the start of the career of some unknown actor called Johnny Depp. A group of teenagers are being haunted by nightmares where a horribly scarred and burnt maniac with knives for fingernails called Freddy, who scares them so much they refuse to sleep. It soon becomes apparent that if this guy kills you in your dreams, then you die for real. But who is this Freddy and where did he come from, maybe the parents know more than they are willing to let on?
Does Freddy Krueger (or this film) really need any kind of an introduction? This is arguably Wes Craven’s masterpiece (for some anyway, there is another film he made later that for me is his masterpiece…). Rather like Friday the 13th (1980), this film is one of those trend setters that defined the slasher sub-genre of horror films and much like ‘Friday’, it too spawned many, many sequels, spin offs and a remake. Freddy has rightfully gone down as one of the all time great horror icons and has become cemented in many a subconscious of the horror fan. The film has some overtly bloody scenes, but also a film with just as many creepy/scary images and scenes that contain really well done frights. “One, two…”
The Terminator (1984): Its another one of those low budget films from a little known director and this time its James Cameron in the hot seat. Starring the then unknowns; Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton and some guy called, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the year 2029, a killer cyborg is sent back in time to 1984 to murder the mother of the leader of the resistance who leads the humans to defeat the self-aware Skynet super computer. If the mother is dead, then the leader can never be born. But the resistance themselves send back a lone soldier as a protector.
I know what some people are thinking as they read this. “The Terminator isn’t a horror film.”. Yeah, I’ve heard this before numerous times, even my girlfriend said the same thing as I was writing this when she peered over my shoulder. The Terminator is a horror film and please allow me to plead my case as not only will I put forward a convincing argument, I’ll also categorise what sub-genre of horror film it falls into. Okay, so we have a weak female who by the end becomes a stronger version of herself (Sarah), a virgin who has sex and dies shortly afterwards (Kyle), a killer that is in someway masked or in disguise (Terminator), POV shots from the killer, a chase type movie where the killer keeps perusing its intended victim(s) and there is even an ending where the killer is (supposedly) stopped just to come back at during the end for more. Does any of this sound familiar? These are slasher movie tropes as The Terminator is a slasher horror film. Just remove the sci-fi element for a while and think of the film on its purest terms. A movie about a stalking killer who systematically goes through a phone book and murders women named Sarah Conner. Change the killer form a cyborg to an everyday flesh and blood human, remove the time travel and sci-fi elements, change the title to ‘The Phone-book Killer’ and you have a bog standard 80s slasher film. The Terminator is anything but bog standard though and simple because it just threw in a few sci-fi elements. Watch something like Halloween (1978) and then watch this film directly afterwards and you’ll see so many of the tropes and clichés from the classic slasher film repeated in The Terminator. This flick is a horror film, and a damn good one too.
Dèmoni (1985): AKA, Demons is produced by Italian horror guru, Dario Argento and directed by Lamberto Bava. A group of people are invited to attend a preview screening of a new film. One of the guests tries on a prop from the movie, a silver mask of a demon and this kick-starts a gruesome series of events that get worse and worse.
The plot is simple, the acting is sub-par and the music is typical, cheesy 80s rock. But the film is one of the most enjoyable demonic possession films made with buckets of blood thrown in too. Much like the decade it comes from, this film is a bit of a mess and a lot of things don’t make much sense… but it all just clicks and works. It almost gets a bit meta with the idea of a film about demons being shown in a film about demons, as life begins to imitate art. The dead bodies build up, both human and demon as the film progresses and what is left of the survivors escape the cinema and out onto the streets where they are saved, only for the viewer to be hit with a great stinger of an ending that still resonates with me today. Here’s an interesting tit-bit for you too, the guy in the mask handing out invites at the start of the movie is Michele Soavi. A protégé of Argento who would go on to become a horror movie director himself.
The Return of the Living Dead (1985): From writer/director Dan O’Bannon. A pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a gas into the air. The gas brings back to life a cadaver which the duo cut up and then enlist the help of a local mortician to burn and hopefully end their problems, only this triggers an even bigger problem.
“Braaaaaaaaiiins!” the zombies cry out in this film as they hunt for brains to eat. This was the first film to introduce the idea of a zombie that eats brains, something that has now become common place and referenced countless times. The idea of mixing comedy and horror is not a new one, it has been around since the 1930s, but very few films manage to get the balance right. ROLTD doesn’t just get it right, it nails the blend of comedy and horror perfectly. As gory and scary as it is funny, this film is a riot and wicked fun. The scene where a zombie torso is interrogated (above image) and it is revealed that zombies need to eat brains as being dead hurts and brains ease the pain is genius, as it gives a reason for the zombie attacks and you actually start to feel a little sympathy for them too. The make up is amazing with some of the most detailed and creative zombies ever seen on film, Tarman, need I say more?
Re-Animator (1985): Loosely based on the H. P. Lovecraft short story, Herbert West–Reanimator. Directed by Stuart Gordon and starring Jeffrey Combs. Herbert West is a scientist who creates a fluid which can bring dead tissue back to life. With the help of his medical student housemate Dan, Herbert West gains access to a morgue where he can continue he research into bringing the dead back to life.
Part Frankenstein, part zombie movie and all topped of with a deliciously dark flow of humour. Re-Animator is a gory masterpiece of horror cinema. Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West is wonderfully over the top and a joy to watch as his passion drives him to the brink of insanity, an interesting modern take on the ‘mad scientist’ of the 50s era. Also of note is the main antagonist of the movie, Dr. Carl Hill played by David Gale who ends up tangling with Herbert West and coming off worse for wear. There are some truly gore-tastic scenes in this one as well as some rather ‘WTF’ ones too that all build up to an unforgettable ending. Its also worth checking out the other films in this franchise; Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003).
Entrails of a Virgin (1986): An infamous Japanese horror classic directed by Kazuo Komizu. A group involved in making porn head out to a house in the mountains where they find a mud covered demon who brutally kills the males and rapes the females with its ‘impressive’ appendage.
Errrr, yeah. How do I cover this one? I really enjoy Japanese horror, alas not all of it is good. I find that it falls under three basic categories. 1) Damn good, 2) Damn terrible and 3) What the fuck did I just watch? Entrails of a Virgin definitely falls into category 3. There is no plot, just and excuse to show sex, nudity and gore. The sex is mostly censored/fogged out as there were some very strict rules when it came to showing sex on screen in Japan, yet strangely the gore is shown in all its glory. Never understood why something as natural and normal as sex was taboo but murder, blood and gore was perfectly fine. And the gore in this is taken to ridiculous levels. Is this a good film? No, its terrible. But it is a film that has become so infamous that I feel it deserves a mention here. Worth watching? Not really, but if you want to see some soft core censored porn alongside unbelievable gore… then this is the film for you.
The Fly (1986): A remake of the 1958 film that was based on the short story by George Langelaan. Directed by the wonderfully weird David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. Seth Brundle is a brilliant scientist who has created two pods capable of teleportation. he uses himself as a guinea pig to test his invention, but just as he prepares to teleport himself, a fly enters the pod with him and the DNA of the fly becomes part of Seth.
This is how you do a horror remake well. The chemistry between Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis is amazing (well they did marry in 1987) and they play off each other perfectly. The make up effects as Seth slowly turns into ‘Brundlefly’ is astonishing and the slow transformation brings about some disturbing scenes. Goldblum gives a stunning performance as he manages to break through all the make up he has to endure and still make you feel something for the character. The ending is a bloody, grotesque conclusion and yet utterly heart breaking at the same time. Its a strange feeling how the film makes you feel for the monster by the time the credits roll. A simple story, but told so very well.
The Hitcher (1986): An overlooked masterpiece of thriller/horror directed by Robert Harmon and starring the mesmerising Rutger Hauer. A young man has a job transporting a car from one state to another. While driving along a quiet desert road, he spots a hitchhiker and offers him a ride. This hitcher is not quite what he seems and a game of ‘cat & mouse’ begins between the two.
Is this a horror film? Quite a few people I know don’t think so, but for me it most definitely is. This isn’t a picture about blood and gore, this is a movie that plays on tension and fear. Is a slow burner with a simple plot. Often massively overlooked and often forgotten about too. This film oozes atmosphere and tension, there are scenes in this movie that will stick with me forever. As every time I have a burger and fires, I always check the plate first. Rutger Hauer is simply astonishing in his role of ‘John Ryder’ (if that is his real name) and is perfect casting, Hauer is at his most ‘Rutger-ist” in this film. I could sit here and write about this film for hours, who is ‘John Ryder’, why is he doing all of this, etc? The film has a lot of subtlety and subtext that many people miss. An amazing flick the deserves a lot more credit… just avoid the terrible sequel and remake.
Hellraiser (1987): Clive Barker is the writer/director behind this gothic classic based on Barker’s own short story; The Hellbound Heart. Larry moves into his old family home along with his wife. They soon discover that Larry’s bother, Frank has been squatting in the house but has mysteriously disappeared. While moving in, Larry cuts himself by accident and this triggers a series of events that reveal what happened to Frank and his connection to a strange puzzle box.
What a movie, I love this film. Its a great throwback to the gothic horror films Hammer were making in their heyday, but mixed with the blood-soaked gore that became common place in the 80s. Its essentially a haunted house movie… but not. There is so much memorable imagery in this film its hard to know where to start. Well you have the poster-boy himself, Pinhead (though only known as ‘Main Cenobite’ in the movie), it strange how Pinhead became the face of Hellraiser despite the fact he actually only has a few minutes of screen-time, I think the puzzle box itself has more screen-time. There is a scene in this picture that is disgustingly disturbing and yet strangely alluring and beautiful to watch, I refer to the re-birth of Frank. A visual treat along with a compelling plot, interesting characters and of course, plenty of blood. A great movie well worth watching and if you don’t, “we’ll tear your soul apart!“.
The Monster Squad (1987): Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker, directed by Fred Dekker. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Gill Man, and The Mummy try to take over the world by taking possession of a scared amulet. But a group of young kids known as ‘The Monster Squad’ team up to take on the classic monsters.
The classic Universal movie monsters are back in this wonderful Goonies-eque style family friendly action/horror/comedy. Really not so much of a horror film (compared to other films I have listed) but more of a horror themed movie the whole family can enjoy. It just puts such a huge smile on my face to see the classic Universal monsters still being used and in such a fun way too, and that is the best way to describe this flick… fun. There are some great gags here along with plenty of (mild) scary scenes. If you have kids, then sit down with them and watch this one. While mainly aimed at a younger audience, there’s still plenty for the older horror fan to find here with jokes, references, etc that will keep you more than entertained. And remember, this is the film that taught us that “wolfman’s got nards.”
The Lost Boys (1987): From director Joel Schumacher comes this teenage take on the vampire lore. A mother and her two sons move to a small coast town in California. The youngest son, Sam meets the Frog brothers who claim the town is being taken over by vampires.
This film just proves how shit other teenage vampire moives really are… mentioning no Twilight, I mean names. A film of its age that is somehow ageless at the same time, the word ‘classic’ does not does this movie justice. There are some great scary scenes, but all through the picture there is a fun sense of humour. A particular highlight is Barnard Hughes who plays Grandpa who rounds of a great cast including; Dianne Wiest, Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland. The title comes form the Lost Boys of Neverland, from Peter Pan. The film is topped off with a beautiful and memorable soundtrack. Modern vampires done justice creating on the best vampire pictures ever made.
Shiryô no wana (1988): AKA; Evil Dead Trap is another Japanese horror film directed by Toshiharu Ikeda. A TV station host, Nami comes across a strange video tape. The tape appears to be a real snuff film and Nami along with her TV crew decide to investigate the location where the tape was filmed only to find themselves caught in a gory nightmare.
Yes more Japanese horror and this one is brutally, bloody, brilliant. The flick feels very Argento-esque in many ways, its not shy with the gore and its plot is as basic as it can get. Yet the whole package just works and doesn’t fail to entertain and horrify along the way. The death scenes are graphic, gory and gruesome (there is a particular ‘eye opening’ opening) as the victims are dispatched of in pretty creative ways. The film’s plot is pretty formulaic and ‘slasher’ like and you’ll be correctly second guessing where this film is going… until, the last act where things go a little ‘weird’ and even almost ‘Cronenbergian’ and accumulates into a brilliant conclusion.
Society (1989): Brian Yuzna is sitting in the director chair for this one. Teenager Bill Whitney feels as if he doesn’t quite fit in, even among his own family. He is given a disturbing tape that may prove incest within his family that involves a weird society. Bill then decides to try to uncover the mystery of this society that seem to be in control.
To say this film is weird is a massive understatement. Its beyond bizarre, its in a world of its own. It feels Cronenberg-esque, but even I don’t think he would go this far. The effects work is both disgusting and beautiful and with effects by a guy called; Screaming Mad George, what do you expect? I think the film is trying to make some kind of social comment on the soullessness of the upper classes but at the same time, the movie never takes itself seriously at all. There are some pretty disturbing and hard to watch scenes as the picture builds to a 20 minute climax dubbed ‘The Shunting’ that will stick in your subconscious and never leave.
Well that is the end of the 80s in my Incomplete History of Horror and what a strange and wonderful journey it has been. In part VI, I’ll take a look at the 90s as horror films try to be clever.
My Incomplete History of Horror is back and this time, its the 70s. I love 70s horror films, so this one is going to be a big entry.
A new wave of horror movie was on the horizon as the 1970s rolled around. There was still room for some of the classics as Hammer films continued with their Dracula series (as well as others). But the 70s built on the films of the 60s like Psycho where the bad guy was just that… a guy. This time around, the entire family was brought in to be the monster; father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter, any and everyone was fair game now. Horror movies ‘inspired’ by real events began to appear and there were great advancements in technology and make up effects too. Writers and directors began to push the limits of what could be seen on the big screen, many of them even pushed things a little too far…
The Wizard of Gore (1970): Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis who is often called; “the Godfather of Gore” and credited with creating the ‘Splatter’ sub-genre of horror film. A magician, Montag the Magnificent performs gruesome mutilation tricks on ‘volunteers’ who always walk away from the performance, but also later end up dead. A TV talk-show hostess begins to investigate the magician and suspects him as the killer.
Herschell Gordon Lewis was known as “the Godfather of Gore” for a damn good reason, this film is gory and then some. The acting is terrible and the plot can be cumbersome, but its still an absolute riot of a gore-fest. If you want deep characters and a meaningful story then you wont find it here. But what you will find is a blood soaked, car crash of a horror movie. It difficult to watch, but impossible to look away.
The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971): Starring Vincent Price and directed by Robert Fuest. Dr. Phibes supposedly died in a car crash after learning of his wife’s death during an operation in hospital. Four years later and the doctors that performed the fatal operation are turning up dead in strange circumstances based on the ten plagues of Egypt. Dr. Phibes is back and extracting his revenge.
Vincent Price is just amazing here and plays the part of a heartbroken, vengeful man like no other. The sets and costumes are a beautiful throwback to art deco of the 1920s when this film is set. There is also a wonderful dark, British humour flowing through the whole movie that never feels out of place. The deaths are very creative and quite surprising with an ending that leaves it open for a sequel… and a sequel we got too. Dr. Phibes Rises Again,(1972) is not quite a great at this film but still worth checking out as a marvellous double feature.
Reazione a catena (1971): AKA; A Bay of Blood, Twitch of the Death Nerve or Blood Bath is an Italian horror directed by Mario Bava. A wheelchair bound heiress is murdered by her husband in her mansion, who in turn is killed by an unknown murderer. News of the murders gain the interest of four local teenagers who break into the seemingly deserted mansion only to find the murderer is still there.
As mentioned in the part III, its often said that Peeping Tom (1960) was the first film that put in place many of the tropes of the ‘slasher film’. This film is the birth of the modern ‘slasher’ and main influence for Friday the 13th (1980). You have the teenagers, the stalking killer and the gruesome deaths. In fact, some of the death sequences in this film were ‘borrowed’ by Friday the 13th and its sequels. This is an awesome and little known film well worth watching as the story is not quite as straight forward as it first seems that’ll leave you trying to second guess who the killer is in this blood soak orgy of violence.
The Last House on the Left (1972): From the legendary writer/director Wes Craven comes one of the most infamous and controversial horror films ever made. Mari Collingwood is turning seventeen and she plans on going to watch her favourite band in concert with her friend. The two set out to the gig, but on the way they cross paths with a gang who recently escaped from prison lead by Krug Stillo.
This film is notorious for many reasons. It was hugely controversial when it was released and was heavily cut or even outright banned in some countries. Its a brutal, hard to watch picture as the torture and torment the girls go though is shown in great detail, plus there is the overly long rape sequence. Its a rough looking film that has an almost documentary style and feel about the whole thing. Overall, the film is hardly what I would call ‘good’ as there are many, many problems with it (mainly the ‘comic relief’ cops). But I would describe this movie as a flawed masterpiece. It a low budget, cheap schlock film that tries its hardest to shock and shock it does do. One of the first films that pushed the limits of what could be shown in movies during the 1970s.
The Exorcist (1973): Based on the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty and directed by William Friedkin. Chris MacNeil and her pre-teen daughter Regan, live a quiet life in Georgetown. After playing with a Ouija board, Regan begins to display unusual behaviour which slowly gets worse and worse as Regan transforms from a sweet and innocent young girl into a foul mouthed, violent child. As if someone or something is controlling her.
Let me just get this out of the way first. The Exorcist is my all time favourite horror film. You say to me ‘horror film’ and The Exorcist instantly pops into my head. It featured such strong and iconic imagery like the exorcist arriving at the house shot in silhouette or Regan in full possession (see above). Then there is the often overlooked sound design of the film and the incredible music of Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield, watch this film with a good surround sound system for the full effect. This is a true horror film in every sense of the word. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel after being inspired by true events, and this film sparked off a trend in movies that were ‘based on true events’ through the 70s. I simply can not recommended The Exorcist enough. Over the years there have been multiple different cuts of the movie with added/alternate scenes, but any version you watch (as long as its not a edited for TV one) will be well worth checking out.
Theatre of Blood (1973): From director Douglas Hickox and starring Vincent Price. Edward Lionheart is an actor who is continually berated and overlooked by critics and denied a prestigious acting award. He attempts suicide by driving his car into the river Thames but is saved by a a group of homeless people. Lionheart returns to extract his revenge on the critics by murdering them in ways inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.
This could pretty much be described as Dr. Phibes 3 as the plots are very similar. Only this film is much more violent and gruesome than the two Dr. Phibes films as the death scenes are much bloodier and creative. It interesting how Vincent Price is playing a character similar to himself as he was an overlooked actor for years and didn’t really become famous until much later in his life. You can really tell Price had a great time playing this part with all the disguises he wears and characters he gets to play. Plus the fact he also does a fair bit of Shakespeare along the way too. If you enjoyed the Dr. Phibes films but crave something a little more bloody, then this is the film for you.
Black Christmas (1974): AKA; Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House. One of the forerunners of the ‘slasher’ sub-genre, directed by Bob Clarke. During a Christmas party, an all female sorority receive strange phone calls from somebody called Billy and things slowly get worse after one of the girls goes missing.
Panned by critics when first released, but this film has gone on to become a cult classic and much loved among the horror fans of today. A wonderful and moody picture that is shot well and offers plenty of creepy/scary moments. The film also has a really good sense of humour with many memorable funny lines, even the tagline is pure genius; “If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl… it’s on too tight.” You can really see where films like Halloween (1978) got their ideas from, in fact Halloween was originally planed as a sequel to this film. Its a well balanced mix of thrills, horror and comedy, some great and atmospheric cinematography and topped off with a moody musical score. Watch this one late on Christmas Eve.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974): Hammer films team up with the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio and mix classic horror with Kung-Fu. Directed by Roy Ward Baker and Chang Cheh. Dracula is asked to help bring back to life the legendary Golden Vampires in China. Van Helsing is giving a lecture at a Chinese university and learns of Dracula’s plans so sets about to stop not only Dracula but also the legendary Golden Vampires.
Though the 70s, Hammer films began to loose popularity as their films became tired, over produced and the quality began to decline. The rise in popularity of Kung-Fu films at the time lead to the idea of trying to breath new life in Hammer productions by melding their classic Dracula series with Kung-Fu. While Peter Cushing returned in the role of Van Helsing, Christopher Lee chose not to reprise the role of Dracula and stepping into the fangs is John Forbes-Robertson. This film is as bad as it is great, you still have some of that famous Hammer horror style but now thrown into a Shaw Brothers Kung-Flu flick. If you want Kung-Fu vampires, then you’ll not get much better than this effort. Its a bad film, but one of those good/bad films that is still worth watching for some stupid fun.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): One of the most seminal horror films not only of the 70s, but ever. Directed by Tobe Hooper and featuring the legendary Gunnar Hansen playing the role of Leatherface. Five friends are travelling around the back roads of Texas where they come across a strange hitchhiker who they quickly get rid of. Later, they run out of gas and look for help at rundown house where they meet Leatherface.
The ad campaign for this film and the film itself claimed the events in the picture really happened. They didn’t, the characters and story are 100% fiction but the film is very loosely inspired by the infamous killer, Ed Gein. Still, this film is one of the greats of horror cinema. There are scenes in this movie that are just burnt into my subconscious forever, that dinner table sequence for one is still as effective and disturbing today as it was in 1974. This is a very slow burning film but in a good way as the plot unfolds and you learn about Leatherface and his family. A true horror film that terrifies through its style and tone more than blood and gore.
Jaws (1975): The 70s just kept churning out classic after classic horror film, directed by Steven Spielberg. Its summer on Amity Island and the tourists are turning up in droves. After Sheriff Brody investigates what he believes is a shark attack, he tries to shut the beaches down in an attempt to enforce public safety. Local businesses and Amity’s Mayor fear they will lose money and persuade Brody to keep the beaches open, a decision that leads to death and a fight to kill the shark.
I wrote a behind the scenes look at Jaws that you can read here. Jaws is one of the biggest and most famous films ever made, it created the ‘summer blockbuster’ and went on to become a successful franchise. A horror film with a difference as it almost goes back to the classic 40s/50s era of monster movies, but manages to keep things very grounded and real at the same time too. A tense and scary thriller/horror that delivers on every level from great acting, amazing directing and a theme tune that will stick in your head forever. The king of shark movies that has often been imitated, but never bettered.
Trilogy of Terror (1975): A made for TV anthology horror movie. Directed by Dan Curtis and starring Karen Black who appears in all three of the stories playing different parts. The three stories are; Julie where a teacher is drugged, rapped and has sexual photos taken while she is unconscious. She is blackmailed by the photographer but he doesn’t realise that Julie had the upper hand all along. Millicent/Therese is a tale about two sisters, one sister believes the other is pure evil and kills her. But things are not as straight forward as it seems. The final story is Amelia who after returning home from shopping trip. She unwraps her latest purchase, an African Zuni doll.
Trilogy of Terror is an often overlooked/forgotten film that deserves more credit. The first two stories are the weakest of the three, but they are still good yarns none the less. But the best is definitely saved for last. The TV movie budget means you don’t get to see any glossy, big movie effects or production here but the film still manages to pull off effective effects work with its meagre budget. Karen Black is amazing in all three of the tales playing different parts and is perfect casting. A little known film worth a view of you like anthology horror films.
Communion (1976): AKA Holy Terror and Alice, Sweet Alice. Directed by Alfred Sole and featuring Brooke Shields. Alice is a problematic twelve year old girl living with her divorced mother. The mother tends to give more attention to her oldest daughter, Karen over Alice. When Karen is found dead the number one suspect is the 12 year old Alice as more bodies begin to turn up, but could she really be capable of murder?
This film was originally shown as Communion at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1976 but legal issues prevented the movie from being released and Columbia Pictures eventually dropped it entirely. Then Allied Artists brought the picture for distribution and released it as Alice, Sweet Alice in 1978. Paula Sheppard who plays the 12 year old Alice was actually 19 when she made this film and this is also the very first film appearance of Brooke Shields. An effective and tense horror film that uses the Catholic religion as its backdrop. The film is little known and hard to come by today, but if you can find a copy then I recommend this one.
Carrie (1976): Another all time classic form the 70s, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name and directed by Brian De Palma. Carrie White is an awkwardly social teenager raised by her overtly religious mother. Carrie is bullied at school and this bullying crossed with Carrie’s coming of age triggers a hidden talent.
Carrie is often thought of as being one of the best books Stephen King ever wrote and Brian De Palma does a great job of bringing that book to the big screen. Sissy Spacek as Carrie is just amazing and she was nominated for the best actress Oscar in 1977. The film also marks an early appearance for John Travolta. The film is another one of those slow burners, but it all builds up to one of the most iconic and famous climaxes in a horror film. De Palma was clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) as whenever Carrie uses her power, you get the infamous music cue from the shower scene and Carrie attends Bates High School. A case of one of the best ‘borrowing’ from one of the best.
The Omen (1976): Directed by Richard Donner and written by David Seltzer, starring Gregory Peck. Robert Thorn is the US Ambassador to Great Britain. He has a wife, great job, money and a lovely home but he doesn’t have a child. When his wife, Katharine, has a stillborn child, Robert agrees to take the newborn child of a mother who died during childbirth without telling his wife of his decision. The child he ‘adopts’ turns out to have very interesting parentage.
A fantastic story of thrills and horror that takes us all over the world. The film is dark and moody with plenty of scares and shocks as the arrival of the possible Antichrist comes about. This film has some of the most famous scenes ever caught on film. There is the ‘accident’ that leaves Katharine Thorn in hospital, the nanny’s sacrifice at a birthday party, a church steeple death, the scene involving plate glass and that final scene where Robert Thorn has to kill his ‘adopted’ son. That particular scene must have been especially hard to film for Gregory Peck as Peck’s real son, Jonathon committed suicide the previous year. I also have to give mention to Billie Whitelaw as the nanny, Mrs. Baylock and David Warner as the over eager photojournalist, Jennings. A great gimmick by the studio was to release this film on 6th June 1976… a date that features the number 666.
The Possessed (1977): A low budget, made for TV movie directed by Jerry Thorpe and featuring Harrison Ford in one of his early acting roles. A priest who loses his faith dies in a car accident and as penance, he’s sent back to Earth as a exorcist. He arrives at an all girls school where he has to battle demonic forces that are threatening the students.
This one tries hard to ride on the success of The Exorcist and was one of many rip offs that were quickly released in hope they could cash in on the hype. For a rip off and low budget TV movie, this is actually pretty damn good. Harrison Ford is really great in the movie even if his role is small and this was his last role before he was cast in Star Wars. As this is a TV movie, it lacks the effects and budget of a cinematic film but it still manages to create some intense and suspenseful scenes as well as a few images that should stick in your head for a while. If you can find it, this is worth checking out.
Rabid (1977): An early film from legendary director David Cronenberg. A woman, Rose is involved in a motorbike accident and has experimental surgery to save her life. The surgery leaves her with a thirst for blood as she goes on a killing spree to quench that thirst and spreads a vampire-like plague.
If you enjoy Cronenberg’s bizarre and often disturbing imagery then you’ll love this movie. A strange variation on the vampire mythos all wrapped up in that distinct Cronenberg style. Famous 70s porn star, Marilyn Chambers plays Rose and she’s actually quite good too. The make up and effects are beautifully gory and are as bold and visceral as anything else Cronenberg has done since. A disturbing visual treat that often repulses as much as it does attract, you may not like what you see but you’ll continue to watch regardless.
Suspiria (1977): From one legendary horror director to another. This is from Italian horror meister Dario Argento. Suzy Bannion is a talented ballet dancer who travels to Germany to join a prestigious ballet school. As she tries to settle into her new surroundings, Suzy begins to witness bizarre happenings as she learns that the ballet school is not quite what it seems.
Every list of horror films should contain at least one Dario Argento picture and this one is often considered his masterpiece. Suspiria is a visual treat with amazing set design and wonderful cinematography. But don’t let that fool you as its also a bloody orgy of violence with a double death sequence near the start of the film being a major highlight. The plot is a little all over the place and doesn’t always make sense, but that kind of adds to the nightmarish tone the film has. If you want a highbrow and thought provoking horror film then you are not going to find that here. But what you will find is a beautifully shot movie that will stick in your psyche forever.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978): Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland. A remake of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). An epidemic of people changing personalises grasps San Francisco and when a corpse is found, it is discovered that humans are being replaced by clones, but by who/what?
A great throwback to the 1950s sci-fi horror but with a modern twist. Often regarded as one of the very best horror remakes ever. This is a truly terrifying picture that is told in a slow but engrossing pace, the characters are believable and likeable as the film builds it suspense towards one of the most iconic and famous endings to a horror film. The effects work is really well done and feels very grounded in reality which adds to the overall verisimilitude of the film. As far fetched as the plot is, it still manages to feel ‘real’ and that itself makes the film much more effective.
Dawn of the Dead (1978): George A. Romero’s follow up to his groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968). This is the second in Romero’s classic ‘Dead trilogy’ with Day of the Dead (1985) being the third. Four survivors of an ever expanding zombie apocalypse find themselves in a shopping mall. With the shops full of supplies, food and weapons, the quartet lock the mall down and believe themselves to be very safe and they live in the mall for several months. But things start to go wrong when a biker gang discover the mall and decide to break in.
If Night of the Living Dead (1968) created the mould that zombie films would follow, then this film broke that mould. Often thought of as being the very best of zombie pictures and the film that other zombies movies aim to best, but rarely do. Full of not just genuine horror, but also a few laughs and wicked social commentary/satire. Dawn of the Dead is so much more than ‘just a zombie film’, its an unforgettable and extraordinary experience. Definitely George A. Romero’s finest film and the best of the entire ‘Dead’ franchise he continued to make.
Halloween (1978): As if I couldn’t include this one, I think it may be law to have Halloween in a list of horror films. Written, scored and directed by one of horror film’s most influential visionaries, John Carpenter. A 6 year old boy called Micheal brutally murders his older sister with no apparent motive and he is institutionalised. 15 years later on the night before Halloween and Micheal escapes his incarceration to return to his home town and begins to thin down the population.
This may not have been the first film in the ‘slasher’ sub-genre, but it is the film that popularised it. Many films followed in Halloween’s footsteps with varying degrees of success, but it is this film that is often held up as the template for the ‘slasher’ horror movie. Wonderfully moody and atmospheric, the film moves along at a snails pace as the tension builds and builds and starts to evoke fear and dread on the audience. In the era of blood and gore that the 70s provided, Halloween is mostly bloodless (save a few very minor instances) and offers a more tense viewing experience over flashy effects work. A film that will stay with you forever, as will that infamous music.
Phantasm (1979): Written and directed by Don Coscarelli a blend of the supernatural, sci-fi and horror. A teenage orphan, Mike crosses paths with a mortician known as ‘The Tall Man’. Mike breaks into the mortuary and witnesses strange events including weird creatures and dangerous flying spheres. With the help of his brother and friend, they discover the truth behind ‘The Tall Man’.
As weird as it is wonderful, this film feels like the two Davids (Cronenberg and Lynch) had a love child-movie and named it Phantasm. The plot is ridiculous and the overall film is just plain bizarre… but its also great campy fun. Angus ‘The Tall Man’ Scrimm plays the antagonist beautifully and his dulcet ‘Booooooooooooy!’ taunt towards Mike will stick with you forever. In my opinion, The Tall Man (and Angus) is one of the most overlooked/forgotten horror villains that deserves more acknowledgement. Phantasm went on to spawn several sequels; Phantasm II (1988), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) and finally, more recently Phantasm: Ravager (2016). Sadly the overlooked Angus Scrimm died in January 2016, but he manged to end his career playing the role that scared millions of people around the world.
Alien (1979): Sc-fi horror doesn’t get any better than this. Directed by Ridley Scott and featuring a small but great cast including; Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto and Sigourney Weaver. A ragtag deep-space mining crew are woken from hyper-sleep by an SOS distress call from a moon. They land on the moon to investigate the call and find a chamber inside a crashed spaceship containing thousands of unhatched eggs…
Amazing directing, stunning set design and as scary as fuck. Alien is the definitive sci-fi horror film. A simple enough plot about a small group of people trapped on a spaceship with an alien could have been one of the dullest things ever to be caught on film, but Director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon turned the mundane into the masterful. The film is tense and suspenseful, the claustrophobic nature of the film’s setting really adds to the feeling of fear as does the eeriness of the musical score. The alien itself is imposing, disgusting and yet beautiful at the same time. Of course the fact it was designed by H. R. Giger has a lot to do with that. Some of the most memorable scenes ever to be filmed are found in this picture, the discovery of the eggs, the ventilation/flamethrower bit, the fight between Ash & Ripley and of course, the ‘birth’ of the alien itself. A great end to a great decade of horror.
Well that’s all for the 70s, but believe me, I could go on as the 70s has dozens of great horror films I haven’t even mentioned. But I need to move onto part V and its the turn of to 80s and the rise of the ‘video nasty’ era.
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…
Part II of my An Incomplete History of Horror Films.
The end of the 1930s saw horror films become more and more popular as well as help turn stars like Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff among others into household names. The 1940s saw a many sequels and spin offs to classic Universal Studios monsters with Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Mummy all returning in more films which helped build on their popularity.
The Wolf Man (1941): Directed by George Waggner and starring Lon Chaney, Jr in the title role. Larry Talbot returns to his ancestral home in Wales after learning of the death of his brother. One night, Larry tries to save a friend from a wolf attack but ends up getting himself bit. A gypsy woman tells Larry he has been bitten by a werewolf and that he is now cursed.
While not the first ever werewolf film, this is the film that put in place much of the werewolf lore we know of today as the film combined several werewolf legends into one film. Pentagrams, gypsies, silver bullets and even the full moon were all mingled together to create the modern myth of the werewolf on film that is still used today. The film is also famed for its use of groundbreaking make up and effects work at the time. The time lapse effect used to show Lon Chaney, Jr transform from human to werewolf was only displayed on screen for a few seconds, but in reality, it took almost 10 hours to film that effect with all the make up applications. This film really is an all time classic and if you want to see the birth of the modern werewolf legend, then this is the film to watch.
Cat People (1942): This was based on the short story; The Bagheeta by Val Lewton. The film was directed by Jacques Tourneur for RKO Pictures. While Universal was riding high with the success of the monster films, other film studios like RKO wanted to try something a little different. Irena Dubrovna is a young fashion designer who believes she had been put under a curse and that she will turn into a dangerous cat-like creature if she consummates her marriage.
Unlike Universal’s big monster movies, this film is more subtle and is more of a psychological thriller/horror. It is famed for is dark and moody atmosphere as well as two particular, well shot scenes involving a bus and a swimming pool. A very downbeat film with a bleak but fitting ending. RKO would carry on this formula through the 40s of a different, more subtle horror film and Cat People even got its own sequel; The Curse of the Cat People (1944).
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943): Universal Studios team up two of their most famous monsters in what is the first ever ‘vs/meets’ ensemble horror film. Directed by Roy William Neill. Larry Talbot (The Wolf Man) is accidentally brought back from the dead and travels to Frankenstein’s castle in an attempt to end his curse. While exploring the castle’s catacombs, Larry finds Frankenstein’s monster.
Lon Chaney, Jr. returns to play Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man and Bela Lugosi (famous for playing Dracula) is Frankenstein’s Monster. This is the film that kicked off the ensemble horror film that still occasionally gets used in modern day. Alas, Universal also ran the idea into the ground in the 40s with films like; House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and even trying a more comedic slant with; Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). This is a decent enough film and is well made, but to be honest, the whole monster thing was getting a bit tired at this point. As through the 40s, Universal churned out monster movie after monster movie and audiences wanted something different.
Dead of Night (1945): Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Robert Hamer and Basil Dearden. This was quite a rarity at the time as it was a horror anthology film telling five separate stories all wrapped up in a connecting narrative. The stories include; a racing driver’s premonition about a fatal crash, a children’s Christmas party with a ghostly visitor, a haunted antique mirror, a tongue in cheek story of two obsessed golfers and a tale about an unbalanced ventriloquist. There is also the framing story with a twist ending.
Not only was this a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the monster movies, it was also a British horror film. This stands out as horror films had been banned from production in Britain during the war. The idea of the horror anthology came to become very popular in the 1960s 70s and 80s (coming up later) and this film left quite a legacy as several of its stories were reworked for later films and TV shows. Director Martin Scorsese considers Dead of Night as one of the scariest horror films of all time. This is a fantastic film with the stand out story being the Ventriloquist’s Dummy starring Michael Redgrave.
The mid to latter part of the 1940s kind of got a bit bland when it comes to horror films. There were a handful of sequels/spin offs to Universal’s monster films and some fairly decent films like; Isle of the Dead (1945), House of Horrors (1946) and Scared to Death (1947). But the monster movie was slowly dying off and by the 1950s people were no longer scared by Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, etc as they had witnessed the real horrors of World War II. With over 40 million people killed, the monsters shown on the big screen lacked the punch they once had. People lived in fear of something else… the atom bomb. Seeing/hearing about things like the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 changed the world forever and cinema with it. The bombings made film goers fear something more grounded than make-believe monsters, they feared science and the people behind it. The infamous Roswell UFO incident also occurred in 1947 and gave the public another thing to worry about… aliens. The 1950s horror films started to reflect this with the rise of the crazy scientist, nuclear energy, advanced technology and ‘visitors’. Sci-Fi horror was born. The 50s marked the decline of the top grade horror movie (though they were still being made) and classic movie monsters began to slowly die out as the the drive-in B-movie began to rise.
House of Wax (1953): A remake of; Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) only with a much darker tone. Directed by André de Toth and starring the legend that was Vincent Price. Henry Jarrod is a highly talented wax figure sculptor with his own wax museum. Jarrod’s business partner sets fire to the museum intending to claim on the insurance and Jarrod is left to die in the fire. Jarrod survives, but with severe injuries that prevent him from sculpting… but that doesn’t stop him creating an all new wax museum.
The film was originally released in 3D and was in fact the first ever colour 3D film released by an American studio. Vincent Price is amazing in this film as you feel sympathy for him, but also fear him at the same time. He’s a man that has been wronged and seeks vengeance… and he gets it. The film has a hell of an exciting ending that will leave you hot under the collar.
The War of the Worlds (1953): With aliens and UFOs being reported in the newspapers, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood took advantage. Loosely based on the classic H. G. Wells novel and directed by Byron Haskin. You all know this story, Martians invade Earth and begin to decimate the planet to destroy humanity while humans (particularly scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester) try to find a weakness in the invaders.
This film takes quite a few liberties over its source material with many huge changes to not only the setting, but also the characters and plot. The movie is fondly remembered and its influence can still be found in similar films made today. One of the all time classics of cinema that latched onto the fears the general public had at the time, even nuclear weapons make an appearance in the film. The alien invasion film was very popular in the 1950s and this was one of the stand out efforts.
Godzilla (1954): The film that captured the fear and aftermath of the atomic bombings of 1945 like no other. Directed by Ishirō Honda, this film took the concepts of monster films to a new level by mirroring the devastation of real life events. Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka stated that, “The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.” A huge, 165 foot tall ancient sea creature attacks Japan after being awoken via nuclear weapons testing.
If King Kong was the pioneer of the big monster movie (and it was), then Godzilla is a very, very close second. Coming from the same country that saw the devastation of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 first hand, its hard not to see the intended parallels. Godzilla’s attacks on Japan clearly mirror the fear and destruction of the bombs. Godzilla is the physical manifestation of an atom bomb attack and the fact Godzilla is woken by nuclear weapon testing is more then just a coincidence… and he also has an atomic breath that destroys buildings.
Them! (1954): Giant ‘nuclear’ creature films became popular in the 1950s and this was one of the first that kick started the trend. Directed by Gordon Douglas, this film took the fears the public had at the time about nuclear energy and mixed it with the big ‘creature feature’ films that were starting to become popular. Taking something as innocent as an ant and turning it into a feared gargantuan became a trend setter. In the New Mexico dessert, a nest of gigantic irradiated ants is discovered and a battle between the giant ants and the humans begins.
Even today, this film is regarded as one of the best Sci-fi horror films of the 1950s. Its a well remembered classic and rightly so too. Often copied, but never bettered. Other similar films were released through the 50s like; Tarantula (1955), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Deadly Mantis (1957), Earth vs. The Spider (1958) and several others. Them! was even nominated for an Oscar for its special effects. I really have a soft spot for these giant creature feature films and this one is the cream of the crop.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957): By the late 50s, the classic Universal Studio’s monsters were losing popularity, but one film studio refined and reinvented the classics all with a certain British charm. That studio was Hammer Film Productions (I love Hammer films) and this film marked the turn around point. A modern retelling of the Merry Shelley novel all filmed in colour. Directed by Terence Fisher and staring two actors who would soon become horror icons; Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Hammer films created the gothic horror sub genre with this film and went on to make many other movies in the same vein. They saved the classic movie monsters from dying out as they took characters like Dracula, The Mummy, etc and retold the stories in their own unique style. Christopher Lee was only cast to play the monster due to his 6′ 5″ height and Universal Studios’ even fought hard to prevent Hammer from replicating their iconic Frankenstein monster image, so Hammer created their own look. For me, Hammer films were when horror films started to hit hard, they were like nothing seen before. There was blood and lots of it, genuine scares, amazing set design and all filmed in glorious colour. Hammer films made Universal’s monster movies look amateurish in comparison… and they had only just started…
Dracula (1958): Hammer followed up on the success of; The Curse of Frankenstein with another retelling of a Universal Studio’s classic monster. Directed by Terence Fisher (again) and starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (again).
That image right there… I said in part I how Bela Lugosi’s performance of Dracula is THE definitive Vampire and I stand by that. But he always felt like an actor playing a part, playing it really damn well, but still just an actor. Christopher Lee as Dracula scared the hell out of me as a kid like nothing else. I actually believed he WAS Dracula and up until he sadly died in 2015, I still believed he was Dracula. Hammer films created one of the best, if not the best version of this story. I love both of Universal’s versions from 1931 but this is the Dracula film that got me hooked on the character. Peter Cushing’s Dr. Van Helsing and Christopher Lee’ Dracula are two characters that are burnt into my subconscious forever.
The Tingler (1959): From producer/director; William Castle and starring Vincent Price, The Tingler was B-movie making at its finest. A simple enough story about a scientist who discovers a parasite that feeds on human fear. This parasite is able to make people’s spine tingle, hence the title.
Producer/director; William Castle was famous for the gimmicks he would use for his films. For Macabre (1958), he offered every customer a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy in case they should die of fright during the film. With House on Haunted Hill (1959), he arranged to have a skeleton attached to wire float over the audience as they watched the film. He also used similar gimmicks for this film too. Castle had a scene in the movie where the Tingler seems to break free of the film and Vincent Price directly spoke to the the audience, told them the Tingler had escaped into the cinema and instructed them to “scream, scream for your lives!”. This scene was a cue for buzzers that were fitted to the seats to go off giving the sensation that the audience were being attacked by the Tingler. He would also hire actors to faint during his films and they would be taken away by fake nurses. William Castle made movie going fun and would often pull similar gimmicks in his films of the 60s too.
Well I think that will do for the 40s and 50s era of horror films. We saw the rise, fall and rise again (thanks to Hammer films) of the classic movie monster. Sci-Fi, the fear of nuclear energy and aliens became a staple of the 50s for a while. So what fears will the 60s bring us in part III?