Thursday, October 31, 2002


Horror films always go in cycles, but they seemed to completely vanish in the 50's; I suppose that sci-fi films became the atom-age version of horror films, but in my mind, the two are really separate genres, at least until ALIEN in 1979. So here are the rest of my favorite horror movies, mostly from the 60's and 70's.

BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)--Reviewed earlier this month; the best Hammer horror ever, even if David Peel is not the best Hammer vampire (that would have to be Christoper Lee in HORROR OF DRACULA). Colorful, creepy, with a fairly interesting twist on the usual vampire story.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)--A B-movie for sure, but a masterful mood piece. A car full of girls goes off a bridge and sinks in a river; Candace Hilligoss is the only survivor, but she finds herself unalterably changed by the experience. She seems to go in and out of fugue states, and ghostly figures haunt her. The dialogue and acting leave something to be desired (though Hilligoss is good), but the creepy atmosphere is built up nicely and sustained to a great climax.

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)--Mia Farrow as a young woman who slowly begins to suspect that she has been impregnated by Satan. The movie is most effective as a study in urban paranoia; for most of its length, we're kept in the dark as to whether or not Farrow is really being plotted against by devil worshippers, or is going mad. Ruth Gordon is wonderful as the little old lady next door who may be a ruthless Satanist.

THE OMEN (1976)--Gregory Peck and Lee Remick discover they are raising the anti-Christ. At heart, this has a lot in common with movies like FRIDAY THE 13TH where the main goal is to kill off a bunch of people in freaky ways, but the big budget, big stars, and original (at the time) plotting make it stand out. The first sequel is almost as good, but I've avoided the third one on sound advice of others.

CARRIE (1976)--A socially inept teenage girl with a religious nut case for a mother discovers she has telekinetic powers and, when some mean students plot to ruin her prom night, she strikes back for keeps. This was very early in Brian DePalma's career and I don't think he has topped himself. Scary, funny, sexy, and with one of the truly great horror movie performances, by Piper Laurie as Carrie's crazy mother. She was nominated for an Oscar and should have won. The last 15 minutes or so, from when the bucket of blood falls on Carrie's head to the credits may be the best horror movie sequence ever.

HALLOWEEN (1978)--Since no Ray Bradbury film has yet done justice to his works, this is the quintessential Halloween movie. Jamie Lee Curtis is a babysitter who is stalked on Halloween night by a seemingly invulnerable killer wearing a mask and slaughtering horny teenagers. This was the beginning of a long and tedious trend in horror movies that, unfortunately, shows no sign of letting up; still, it holds up to repeated viewings: great music, great atmosphere, good acting by Curtis and Donald Pleasance, and spectacular murder scenes.

ANGEL HEART (1987)--The convoluted plot is difficult to describe; I remember it took me three viewings to figure things out. Still, even when you're not sure what's happening, the movie is never less than compelling. Mickey Rourke is hired to find a missing war vet and winds up tangled up in voodoo, murder, and a little hot sex with Lisa Bonet that almost got the film an X rating. Another wonderful mood piece that is sustained strongly throughout, with a nicely underplayed performance by Robert DeNiro as a mysterious stranger who may be behind all the death.

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)--Do I really need to say anything? Yes, there is too much use of the F-word and the camera is too jiggly and it's hard to care about any of the characters. Still, this fake documentary about three young people who trek out into supposedly haunted woods to find the secret behind some local folklore about a dead witch is absolutely tense and scary. Like CARRIE, it has a killler finale that makes all the ambiguity and tedium that came before worthwhile (even though the ending itself is famous for being ambigious).

There are lots of others I love as well: PSYCHO, THE HAUNTING (the original, not the ludicrous remake), DEAD OF NIGHT, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, THE TINGLER, BURNT OFFERINGS, THE OTHER (the 70's is the only era to rival the 30's for horror film greatness), but I don't have the time to comment on all of them. Tomorrow, I'll be going back to the usual mix of classic movie reviews, but it's been fun to focus on horror, and I may include more of them into the mix in the future.

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