Some of the You Tube links are now defunct, but here's a blog entry I wrote a couple of years ago over at TN which reflects my tastes:
I loved them, before I even knew what they were.
From the first time my father, a fellow night owl, whispered in my ear like a secret conspirator, I was hooked. 'I think there' s a great scary movie on tonight....'
There was something excruciatingly exciting and irresistibly foreboding about the proposition . Monsters, bloodsuckers, aliens, the dead returned...in a world with four TV channels, a great scary movie was about as dangerous and cutting edge as it got.
TV then was safe, sanitized, a sweetly-packaged and steady stream of pure vanilla. To get an education, you really needed a 'great scary movie'. Only there could you learn life's real secrets, that sometimes the good guy didn't win, bad things happen even to good people, and that there was more to the world than brightly-lit daylight was willing to reveal. Violence, sex, betrayal, murder, sin, cruelty, death, those just weren't topics for the dinner table in polite congenial suburbia, but if you stayed up late, they were lurking in the shadows.
Horror movies were the heroin of my childhood, and I was a two-bit junkie.
I loved movies of all kinds as a kid, and still do. But there was something about the horror film, good, bad, or awful, that was particularly seductive. Some of them are etched from start to finish in my memory, as if I watched them only last night. Others I recall for the power or atmosphere of a single memorable scene. I know I'm not alone out there. Some of my best childhood memories consist of sitting up into the wee hours of the night, watching some classic fright flick as my father kept me company from his recliner. We didn't say a whole lot those nights, but we shared a lot of murder, mayhem, and madness together. It was a bridge linking us together in a sea of uncommonness and incommunicado.
Sometimes even now, late at night, I'll be catching a spooky flick, and smile, knowing he's probably up at his house, wide awake, and watching the same movie.
I could catalog and describe a thousand horror films for you. I could put them in order of greatness, and tell you why they were classic, ground-breaking, laughably bad, or dogs. But the truth is, even the bad or obscure ones made an impression on me. So rather than dazzling you with my insightful 'Greatest Hits' list, I thought I'd share with you a few of the ones that come skittering, scratching, and screaming up from the cold, dark recesses of my repressed childhood memories. From my little spooky hope chest of horrors, I introduce you to a few memorable old friends...
- Political correctness wasn't invented in 1932. Like the tent only the grownups were allowed to visit when the Carnival came to town, this one gave me nightmares as a kid. 'Gooble, gobble, gooble, gobble, one of us! One of us!'. Sometimes, what we imagine is far scarier than what we see. Sometimes.
The Wolfman (1941)
- Of all the Universal classics, 'The Wolf Man' was my favorite. 'Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers at night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon is full and bright.' ****ing A Skippy. Like the sick kid home from school we all at times longed to be, Larry Talbot was the ultimate sympathetic figure. He even takes one for the home team in the end. And he gets to carry around that ultra-cool wolf's head cane. Naked under the moonlight in search of steak - that's every young American boy's dream.
Dead of Night (1945)
- Is there anything scarier than a really strange and unsettling dream? Me thinks not. I'm a huge fan of British horror, and this is a great example. It begins with a man stopping at a house he's seen in a recurring dream, only to find it filled with the same group of people he's had nightmares about. Strange tales ensue. Several, including one about (goosebumps) a ventriloquist dummy who's no dummy. If you haven't seen this one, you need to.
The Beast with Five Fingers (1946)
- Disembodied hand of tortured artist bangs out some Ludwig Von. Stir in a little Peter Lorre (who lets face it, was plain and simple scary looking) and you've got pure madcap entertainment. Not for music lovers only. Incredibly realistic effects for its time.
The Thing from Another World (1951)
- Dad and I loved this one. Malevolent space carrot defrosted, intergalactic throw down ensues. James Arness plays said space carrot. Ingenius humans prevail by cooking space carrot with a pinch of sugar and a little butter. This one established a precedent - sometimes the monster that you don't see is scariest of all. A great flick, but one of the rare examples of being surpassed by a modern remake. 'The Thing' starring Kurt Russell is balls-out terrifying.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
- An all-time favorite. He's athletic, he's aquatic, and he's got a thing for your girl. The Gill Man. The first in a long line of 'there's something under the water that's really scary' movies. One of the coolest looking monsters ever conceived, so cool most of us kids were rooting for him all along.
- Admit it macho. You're scared of bugs. And radiation. It's 'Revenge of the Ant Farm' as pesky giant mutant ants devastate humanity. We apparently had it coming. Followed by less successful giant radioactive bunny and gila monster movies. No giant radioactive mutant ants were hurt in the making of this movie.
- Pack your bags, we're going on a guilt trip! 'Honey - I told you we never should have bombed Hiroshima!'. Despite bizarre Raymond Burr splice-ins, the American version of the Japanese classic 'Gojira' is still pretty memorable. The big fella cuts a fine figure as he lumbers out of the ocean for a stroll through Tokyo. Joined later by nuclear drinking buddies Mothra and Gamera.
The Bad Seed (1956)
- Creepy. What would little Rhoda give you for a basket of kisses? A basket of hugs of course. Or burn you to death while you sleep. This one was a Broadway play before coming to the bigscreen, and it feels like it at times. Still pretty wild stuff for 1956. Cutesy Hollywood ending slapped on to lessen the jolt. Between this flick, and a beyond creepy poem my Mom used to read me 'And the goblin's gonna git ya if ya don't watch out!', I was pretty much messed up for life.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
- One of the great classic movies of my youth. The perfect Saturday afternoon movie. Scott Carey drives through a weird fog while boating and the next thing you know, he's sleeping in a dollhouse. A smart film that starts with the obvious horror of seeing the family cat and garage spider become mortal threats, but ends with a metaphysical riddle about the nature of the Universe and what it means to be a man. This one blew my mind as a kid. Powerful stuff.
Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)
- Like most kids in the 1960's, this one sparked a fascination with 'UFO's', 'little green men', and aliens from space. A pretty bad movie, but the bulbous headed aliens certainly got your attention, and oddly enough, sort of became the template for the quintessential alien form. That's because this **** is real
! An early 'teenagers save stupid grownups from certain destruction' flick.
Curse of the Demon (1957)
- Also called 'Night of the Demon', and another British classic. A skeptic (played by Dana Andrews) out to disprove the existence of the occult gets more than he bargained for. If this one doesn't scare you, you may have a career as a High School teacher ahead of you. Suspenseful, creepy, and downright spooky.
The Fly (1958)
- Hubris kills. Again. Another common horror movie thread, that man's technological genius might someday come back to haunt him. 'Aww come on honey, so I've got a fly's head on a man's body, whatever happened to 'for better and for worse? Now bring me my milk and bourbon!' A pretty clever plotline with a memorable ending as Vincent Price finally finds that little white-headed fly. Help you? Help me! Freaky!
The Tingler (1959)
- A giant horrifying bug that grows in your body, feeds on fear, and can only be killed by a scream. Lovely! One creepy critter when he finally makes his appearance. I'd loved to have been a kid when this one came out as William Castle had theaters rigged with buzzers under the seats that went off when the 'Tingler' attacked. 'Scream! Scream for your life!!!'.
The Wasp Woman (1959)
- Woman becomes test-subject for wasp-based makeup. There is enormous buzz around the product! Pure camp fun. She'll sting your brains out - but what a way to go
One of my early strange and inappropriate sexual attractions (see 'Queen of Blood' for additional disturbing examples).
Bucket of Blood (1959)
– Like a really great career day, Walter finally discovers his 'niche’. This one taught me the fine art of beatnik. I’ve more or less been hip ever since. Dig? Scary, but only in a nervous tic kind of a way. Reminiscent of another classic, the original non-musical 'Little Shop of Horrors’.
The Leech Woman (1960)
– A bad movie, unless you like older women – and I mean really
old. Who the hell needs Ponce de Leon when voodoo and innocent blood will get the job done? Early training in the 'some chicks are just bad news’ school of philosophy. Sadly, it took OJT for the lesson to really stick.
Peeping Tom (1960)
– Let he among us who didn’t wander our childhood neighborhood at night trying to catch a glimpse cast the first stone. This movie shows, if one really loves their work, and applies themselves, there’s really no stopping him. Pretty spooky and daring little film for 1960 – banned in some parts of the country. But not at my house
– She’s blond, she’s mysterious, and sporting a major attitude problem! This one left me feeling, gulp, conflicted for days afterwards. Let’s see? Square chin, big ol’ knuckly hands to pull me close with. Ruh-roh. On a positive note, apparently blondes really DO have more fun!
The Innocents (1961)
– One of my favorite old horror movies of all time, with Deborah Kerr as an unsuspecting new nanny. I dare you to double this one up with 'The Other’. You could go nights without daring to go to sleep. Based on Henry James 'The Turn of the Screw’. Watch out for 'the kiss’. Chicken skin city. I was weirder after watching this one. Highly recommended.
Carnival of Souls (1962)
– Mary dies. Then gets a job offer she can’t resist! Some amazing visuals and chock-full of eerie atmospherics. Anyone who’s ever found themselves at an abandoned old playground or carnival in the Fall, and suddenly felt the temperature drop 10 degrees will 'get’ this one. Unsettling and will stick with you over the years.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
– Bette Davis, old and crazy as hell. Need I say more? Show tunes have never been creepier. I never really let my grandmother hug me close again.
The Brain that Wouldn't Die (1962)
– Re-Animator with it’s clothes on. True love never let a little decapitation get in the way. And watch out for that damn thing in the closet! Good fun, one of my brother’s favorites.
The Haunting (1963)
– Of all the horror subgenres, the ghost story is probably my favorite. One of my first 'serious’ scary movies – a researcher and a group of volunteers investigates Hill House. A classically spooky story with a great set and some lesbian undertones thrown in for good measure. You won’t hold her hand in bed after watching this one. I hadn’t seen one this spooky until 1995’s 'Haunted’ (with Aidan Quinn and the luscious Kate Beckingsale) – another must-see!
Black Sabbath (1963)
– One of my top 3 favorites – ever. An anthology film, with 3 spooky stories narrated by the Godfather of Ghoul, Boris Karloff himself. Made in Italy (also known as 'Tre volti della paura’) by Italian horror master, Mario Bava, this is horror at it’s best. Watch the first half of 'A Drop of Water’ below. I dare you. You’ll never shoplift again.
Castle of Blood (1964)
– aka 'Danza Macabra’, another classic made in Italy by Italian Antonio Margheriti. The old 'bet you won’t stay a whole night in the haunted castle’ routine. Horror goddess Barbara Steele presides over midnight naughtiness. Very nice.
The Gorgon (1964)
– She put the hiss in histrionics. Hammer Films, my favorite producer of horror in the 60’s and 70’s, does a great job here. Calling on solid front man Peter Cushing to take on one cold stony bitch, this one will really get your rocks off.
The Skull (1965)
– Made by Amicus, a Hammer Films rival, and featuring Cushing and fellow horror stalwart Christopher Lee. Alas poor Yorick, this skull belonged to the Marquis de Sade, who’s apparently got a mean streak a mile wide. Atmosphere galore…
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1965)
– Bette Davis is older, and even creepier. Nuff said.
– the amazing Catherine Deneuve stumbles into madness before your eyes. It’s amazing Roman Polanski got any work done. Slow, agonizingly suspenseful, and disturbing. What more could a growing boy ask for!
Queen of Blood (1966)
– She’s alien, she’s green, and my God, I’ve got to have her. My first non-human crush. Cheesy sets and a real 'Star Trek’ feel add to the campy fun. Starring John Saxon and Dennis Hopper. Hard to find, but if you get a chance, you’ve got to see this one (sometimes aka 'Planet of Blood’). Also checkout Tobe Hooper’s 1985 'Lifeforce’ for the adult version. Yowza.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
– 'They’re coming to GET YOU Barbara!!!’. Needs no commentary. An instant classic. And if you’ve caught C-SPAN lately, you know it’s already starting! I have no idea what Mom and Dad were thinking letting me watch this one?
Mark of the Devil (1970)
– One of the most hyped horror flicks of my youth. Barf bags were handed out at the theater. Mom heard my brother describe an infamous scene where a young girl has her tongue torn out with forceps and that was all she wrote. A bad movie, I didn’t miss anything, but this 8 year old was crushed.
The Vampire Lovers (1970)
– Hammer horror at it’s peak. Glorious semi-dressed vampire vixens want each other and
anyone else in sight. Reportedly inspired the invention of the VCR. Atmospheric, sexy, and bloody. That about sums a good Hammer film up.
Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
– A very scary movie. Man’s smarts prove his undoing. A computer system decides he doesn’t need his human caretakers any more. Surprisingly chilling. This one hasn’t lost it’s punch. When I got my first Tandy, I let it know right off who was boss.
– 'You made me hate
myself’. Lets face it, did any of us really LIKE Ernest Borgnine to begin with? Odd flick with that classic 70’s vibe to it. I always knew bellbottoms would drive people to the edge.
The Other (1972)
– From the very frightening Tom Tryon novel of the same name. Two twins are up to some real mischief. There’s only one problem…Another of my favorite ghost stories.
– Steven Spielberg’s first movie, a made-for-TV classic starring Dennis Weaver (of 'McCloud’ fame) as an unsuspecting driver terrorized by a phantom on the highway. Spellbinding and incredibly tense.
– Another classically bad 70’s movie, this one set in a swamp where some truly deserving people meet their amphibian just desserts. I saw this one at the Springfield Cinema on a Sunday afternoon. Luckily, I soon-after discovered the Redskins, which later would satisfy a similar insatiable Sunday appetite for horror.
The Wicker Man (1973)
– Unique, amazing, and unpredictable. Skip the Nic Cage remake, and find the original. An incredible little film that you’ll never forget.
Tales from the Crypt (1973)
– an Amicus production based on the popular comic book. Cemented my Joan Collins fixation. Great fun as a group of misfits relive the deeds that brought them to their surprise destination. Did I mention Joan Collins?
The Creeping Flesh (1973)
– More bones, Cushing, and Lee. The missing link was never more fun. Watch out for Cushing’s crazy nympho daughter!
Don't Look Now (1973)
– Forget about 'looking now’, don’t watch this strange little movie alone. Incredibly eerie and foreboding with an ending (spoiler alert – it’s featured below!) that will freak you out for days. Donald Sutherland was never the same.
It's Alive (1974)
– The commercial alone was worth seeing. One of the most over-the-top horror movies ever (see 'Basket Case’ for another example!). Proud mommy and daddy soon discover something is amiss with their little bundle of joy.
Trilogy of Terror (1975)
– The scariest movie I ever saw as a kid. An anthology of three (duh) stories, all starring Karen Black. In the first story, 'Amelia’, a lonely young woman comes home to her apartment with a gift from her boyfriend, an African Zuni doll. It's the gift that keeps on giving. Every kid in America alive in 1975 remembers this movie. I wouldn’t walk around the house at night without all the lights on for weeks.
Burnt Offerings (1976)
– More Karen Black in a predecessor to 'The Shining’. Spooky old house in the country is an amazing bargain. Trust me, there’s a reason.
– The timeless tale of boy meets girl, boy and girl have near fatal accident, girl saved by groundbreaking tissue grafting, girl develops strange orifice and begins vampirizing cattle and men who try to get in her pants. Marilyn Chambers really stretches her acting chops in this one. Strangely charming in a 'is it wrong that I feel aroused watching this’ kind of a way.
Salem's Lot (1979)
– I watched this in my bedroom with a new girlfriend in High School. I didn’t pay a bit of attention to the movie until Danny Glick started scratching on his best friend’s window at midnight while floating 40 feet in the air. That pretty much got my attention. One of the very few Stephen King horror treatments worth watching. Packs a wallop with a great cast and naturally spooky New England locations.
The Changeling (1980)
– George C. Scott deals with tragedy and a hundred year old mystery. The rubber ball scene will stay with you – be forewarned. Another George C. Scott note – see 'The Exorcist III’ if you haven’t – one of the most underrated and scary movies – ever.