Thursday, September 27, 2012

More Halloween viewing suggestions

     Halloween is fast approaching, and the best place to see pre-1980s horror films is the Turner Classics Movies cable channel.
     This year they have some worthy classics, plus some fairly obscure ones (many of which I haven’t seen, or sometimes even heard). Here are a few highlights:

     Vampyr (1932): One of the earliest films to feature a vampire. Supposedly it is based upon Sheridan le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” but that must just be where director-screenwriter Carl Dreyer read about a modern day vampire. It’s slow, and the film stock hasn’t aged that well, but there are some genuinely creepy moments in the film. Vampyr has had more names than most films, and this print is titled Not Against the Flesh, but I don’t know what differences may exist between it and other versions. Oct. 7 at 2:30 a.m.
     Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932): Of all the versions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic short novel ever made – and I think it is probably the most filmed work of literature ever -- this is the  best. Like every other version I’ve ever seen, it abandons the mystery format of the story (in which the reader does not learn that Jekyll and Hyde are two aspects of the same man until both are dead), and it adds the female characters of Jekyll’s fiancé and Hyde’s mistress, but it also adds the strong suggestion that Hyde is a throwback to our Neanderthal forebears. Fredric March stars as the title characters, and received an Oscar for the role. Though broad by our modern standards, back in the early days of the talkies it was an excellent performance and still holds up for the most part. It’s also a little more daring than most pre-1970s versions (the Hayes Act was just going into effect). (The 1943 Spencer Tracy version will also be shown in October; look for it if you must.) Oct. 8 at 6 a.m.

     Dead of Night (1945): One of the first horror anthology films, with at least five stories, plus a framing device. Not all are that good or that scary, but it does contain the first (I think, and probably the best) ventriloquist’s dummy story. One non-scary segment is based on a minor H.G. Wells story, "The Inexperienced Ghost." Oct. 10 at 1:30 a.m.

     The Devil’s Bride (1968): Also known as The Devil Rides Out, this is based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley, at one time a very popular British occult novelist, and features Christopher Lee as the Duc de Richlieu, a good magician, facing off against Charles Gray (the criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as the evil magician Mocata (an Aleister Crowley-like figure). Some of the special effects are laughable by today's standards, but it has a good atmosphere and plot. Oct. 17 at 2:15 a.m.

     Freaks (1932): The film that turned respected director Tod Browning (the 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi and many Lon Chaney silent classics) into a pariah overnight, and which I first saw in a theater when I was in third grade. Freaks (based on the short story "Spurs" by Tod Robbins) features circus performers, as had several other Browning films, but in this case he cast real “freaks” in featured and supporting roles. For the most part they are depicted sympathetically, but the whiff of exploitation – not to mention the severe deformities of some of them – was too much for a 1930s audience to stomach. Oct. 30 at 9:15 p.m.

    The Mummy (1932): Boris Karloff continued his climb from monster to great actor with this atmospheric supernatural masterpiece. This mummy is closer to the sorcerer of the recent Brendan Fraser films than the slowly limping, animated corpse of  Universal's kitschy 1940s films, though without the Indiana Jones-style action. A man, mummified alive for stealing the scroll of Thoth (to save the life of the princess whom he loved), is accidentally brought back to life, whereupon he looks for the reincarnation of his lost love. Oct. 31 at 12:30 a.m.  

     The Island of Lost Souls (1935): The first film version of H.G. Wells’ novel The Island of Doctor Moreau features Charles Laughton as a sadistic evolutionary scientist. Forget the Marlon Brando version, the Burt Lancaster version or the various Filipino rip-offs. Although Wells’ hated it, this is the only version of the book (so far) worth watching. Oct. 31 at 3:15 a.m.

     In addition, here are some more films by sub-category:

     "Dracula" films:
     House of Dracula (1945), Oct. 3 at 12:15 a.m., the last of the original Universal horror films, with John Carradine as the Count, and featuring also Lon Chaney as The Wolf Man, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster, a pretty but hunchbacked nurse and a mad scientist -- his blood contaminated by Dracula's -- turning him into a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde character.   
     Horror of Dracula (1958), Oct. 17 at 8 p.m., the Hammer classic, with Christopher Lee as the Count for the first time, and Peter Cushing as a more dynamic Van Helsing. It's a bit dated, but worth seeing for a few scenes and the vivid color. 
     Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) Oct. 27 at 10:15 a.m. Lee returns sans Cushing or the ability to speak.
     Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1969) Oct. 27 at noon. Lee again, but now he can't be staked unless you you recite a Latin prayer at the same time (huh?), but with some good visuals. 
     "Frankenstein" films:
     Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Oct. 17 at 9:30 p.m., Cushing as the Doctor, who is  much more evil than Lee as the Creature. This is the first of Hammer's modern horror films.
     Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) Oct. 20 at 10:15 a.m. The first Hammer sequel, with Cushing -- no Lee, alas -- and a better plot than most.
     Frankenstein Created Woman (1966) Oct. 20 at noon. Cushing's back again, this time transplanting "souls" instead of brains, and with a beautiful female creation (a Playboy centerfold, actually). Worth a look.
     Frankenstein (1932) Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. The Karloff original. Nothing more needs to be said.
     Son of Frankenstein (1939), Oct. 31 at 9:30 a.m. Karloff back as the monster, with Lugosi in one of his best roles as the hanged but still living shepherd Ygor.

     Zombie films:
     Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Oct. 3 at 1:30 a.m. No comment.
     Night of the Living Dead (1968), Oct. 3 at 2:45 a.m.,George Romero's modern-day classic.
     I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Oct. 3 at 4:30 a.m., could be described as the original (uncredited) classic/monster mashup; it's sort of Jane Eyre with zombies.
     The Plague of the Zombies (1966), Oct. 17 at 4 a.m. A Hammer horror film.
     White Zombie (1932), Oct. 31 at 5:15 p.m., one of Bela Lugosi's best roles. He stars as Murder Lestrange, a zombie maker and master. These are old school zombies, mostly just cheap labor, although they commit the odd murder or two. Absolutely no eating of human flesh or brains. 

     A few "curse" films: 
     Curse of the Cat People (1944), Oct. 5 at 10:30 a.m., which features no cat people per se, but some characters from the original Cat People.
     Curse of the Demon (1958), Oct. 5 at 2:45 p.m., also known as Night of the Demon, and based on the story "Casting the Runes" by M.R. James.
     The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), Oct. 5 at 4:30 p.m., another Hammer horror, but with no connection to their earlier version of The Mummy.


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