10 Scares You Shouldn’t Miss

It’s less than two weeks until Halloween, the holiday that empowers children, usually the victims of the rest of the big, scary world, to become the scary ones themselves for one night.  All of us were children once.  Now that we’ve survived, it’s fun to look back on the kinds of things that once filled us with fear.  Here are ten seldom seen spooky movies to get you in the right mood.  They are rarely shown on TV.  Look for them online, at your Public Library, or through rental outlets.  Eight of the ten are adaptations from published novels or stories and the others were written for the screen.  I guess that indicates my critical bias.  The last two are from a genre called “body horror”, simulating extreme gore and fleshy gickiness, so I wouldn’t recommend them for viewing by children under 13, but you adults can handle it.  They are only movies…muah-ha-HA-HAAaaaa!

 Vampyr (1932)

Danish genius Carl Theodor Dreyer directed this rare gem on a shoestring budget, filming it in simultaneously in different languages.  What’s most remarkable about it is the naturalistic style of acting, decades ahead of the kind of extravagant declamatory stuff available in American horror films of the time.  There is a convincing sense of utter dread pervading this tale of a vacationer encountering an ancient evil.  You can see the whole thing online, but Criterion also has a restored version, with extras.

Island of Lost Souls (1933)

This first, best adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau stars the inimitable Charles Laughton as the evil vivisectionist, but also features Bela Lugosi as one of the creatures.  The use of shadows and weird make-up is superbly creepy, and the horrible cries and moans emanating off-screen from “the House of Pain” will ignite your imagination.  “What is THE LAW?”

Triumph of the Will (1935)

You think this isn’t a monster movie?  Try a simple thought-experiment.  Watch this while pretending you know nothing about what will happen in the ten years AFTER it came out.  This brilliantly constructed propaganda film of the Nazi rallies at Nuremburg in 1934 will make you want to stand up, salute, and join in their quest to create a new nation.  What’s scarier than that?

Mad Love (1935)

Karl Freund, one of the inventors of German Expressionism, left Europe for Hollywood because of the monster from the last movie.  He directed a few films here, then settled in as a cinematographer again.  This was a remake of a silent horror about a mad doctor grafting a murderer’s hands onto a musician who’s lost his.  In a career dotted with portrayals of insane killers, this is one of Peter Lorre’s craziest.  Over-acted, but fascinating to watch.  Pauline Kael wrote that Orson Welles “borrowed” the look of the film for Citizen Kane.  She’s wrong, but it gives you an indication of how striking the visuals are.

Dead of Night (1946)

This is one of the earliest and best omnibus horror films, several short stories linked together by travelers sharing tales on a dark and stormy night.  The script is literate, the cast competent and restrained, and the stories range from surreal to black humor.  Four directors contributed to this production from Ealing Studios.

The Brides of Dracula (1960)

The titular ladies are brides in the same sense that nuns are “brides of Christ”.  The husband is only around in spirit.  The lead vampire is, young, handsome Baron Meinster (It’s a Meinster movie!), the sets and costumes are lush, the women are buxom and beautiful, and the blood’s in Technicolor.  From Hammer Studios.

The Pit and The Pendulum (1961)

Though this one is not as hard to find, I included it out of affection.  When I was 12 they showed it at my Middle School, charging us ½ dollar each to defray the rental cost.  It bore little relationship to the Poe story of the same name, which we read in class for comparison, but it was a perfect way to introduce a discussion of the problems inherent in adapting literature to film.  Though today’s teachers show DVDs in class, it’s not nearly the same level of energy as what burst from 300 screaming tweens in a darkened auditorium.

This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

This man’s work is in a class by itself.  Brazilian writer/director/actor José Mojica Marins created an unforgettable part for himself as the amoral mortician Zé do Caixão (“Joe of the Grave” aka Coffin Joe).  He’s been playing the part in a series of films and TV shows for nearly 50 years!  Joe is obsessed with siring a son from “the perfect woman”, one as fearless and intellectually superior as he estimates himself to be.  Everyone he considers “weak” is fair game to be cheated, tortured and even killed.  Joe laughs as they scream, though he will also stop mid-crime for a Socratic discussion right to the camera.  It’s all very Catholic, and incredible to experience.

Videodrome (1983)

Canadian writer-director David Cronenberg has been manufacturing nightmare films for years including Scanners, The Fly and Dead Ringers.  This was his disturbing take on the idea that television could be made to literally wreck your mind.  Long Live the New Flesh!

From Beyond (1986)

It’s less known than Re-Animator, their first adaptation of an H. P. Lovecraft story, but this tale of a twisted scientist using an amplified tuning fork machine to make his house a gateway to other, darker dimensions is more memorable.  This comes from Empire Studios, a short-lived independent taking advantage of the talented craftspeople in and around Rome.

Pleasant dreams, children.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “10 Scares You Shouldn’t Miss

  1. Fun, Mikey,
    We can all use a little fun and de-stressing activities in our lives. Thank you much!

  2. You can bet that I will not be watching any of these. I don’t like scary movies although some do look interesting and like they do not rely on the gore and cheap thrills of the scary movies today. They don’t really scare me as much as I just feel like I have so many more positive things I could do with my time. I know, I know. Relax a little, huh?!

    Great synopsis though! You never fail to impress me with how much you know about a wide variety of stuff!

    • Thanks, Debbie, and it’s perfectly all right to choose any kind of entertainment you like. I enjoy ALL kinds of movies, and having worked in restoration for DVD re-releasing, I’ve seen many more than the average viewer. The only gory ones of these are the last two, and certain scenes in the Dracula and Poe movie. I find off-screen horror to be much scarier in general, however. Island of Lost Souls really gives me the willies! (“His is the hand that makes! His is the hand that heals! His…is the HOUSE of PAAAAIN!!!”)

      When I was a little boy and visited the State Fair each year, I would take a ride inside the “Spook House” on the midway, and each time I was so full of fearful anticipation I never once opened my eyes, and I kept my fingers in my ears the whole time. I really enjoy a good scare now, though.

  3. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a nice blog like this one these days..

  4. I like all of these movies. Kudos for “This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse” which no one will ever see enough of, and “Pit And The Pendulum,” which, with the exception of maybe Masque Of The Red Death, is the best Poe film ever made.

    • Thanks, Daniel. Yeah, Morins’ films are so weird and amazing, and I find them simultaneously scary and screamingly funny when he goes into his philosophic speeches. I love all the Corman Poe-inspired movies, even though they are not at all like reading Poe stories. But I’m not one of those who thinks movies should be like books. They aren’t the same, nor do I believe they ought to be. Each should stand on their own merits!

  5. Some good choices. Good to see Vampy there. I love silent cinema, and yes, I know techincally it’s a talkie, it still has that fluid, dreamlike quality of silent cinema.

    Interested to see you’ve picked Brides of Dracula out of the Hammer back catalogue. I probably would have gone with either Curse or Revenge from their Frankenstein series. Or perhaps one of the really campy 70s films such as Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde. Was always disappointed with Brides as a young teenager, but that was more because I felt short-changed with it not featuring Christopher Lee’s Dracula despite the title. Watched it again a few years back and it’s an awful lot better than I remember it. Certainly one of the stronger casts. Cushing is always good value and you’ve got great character actors such as Martita Hunt and Miles Malleson as support. David Peel was also a lot better than I remember him from my teenage viewing, shame he didn’t carry on acting as I think he could have been a good addition to the regular Hammer stable in the way Ralph Bates was in the 70s.

  6. Nice to see you, Anthony. I almost picked “Revenge of Frankenstein”, because Cushing is so good in it. I was lucky enough to have restored the soundtracks for most of the Hammer films, and as a result had to watch and dissect them repeatedly. That’s when I gained more respect for “Brides”. I agree with you that “Vampyr” is a transitional film between silent and sound forms. Did you notice the killing of the henchman by burying him in falling grain got repeated in “Witness”?

    • Fascinating you could to work on the restoration of the soundtracks. Has the repeated viewing utterly ruined any films for you?

      Couldn’t find any Hammer Horror on the television the Halloween. Was always jealous of the campy horror hosts you got on American TV when I was a teenager, but there days seem, for the most part, well and truly over.

      Hadn’t noticed the homage to “Vampyr” in “Witness”.

      • The effect of working over films repeatedly scene by scene is that the good ones get better and the bad ones worse. By the end of my 15 years doing that, all the best films had been completed and I had nothing to work on but bad TV shows. I was happy to quit.

        Turner Classic Movies showed about a dozen Hammers before and on Halloween. No other channel did that I have access to.

        We do still have corny, monster movie hosts here! Though they were part of local programming decades ago, now they are syndicated. I sometimes watch a Chicago-based bizarro billed as “Svengoolie”, who’s on ME-TV:

        http://svengoolie.com/

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