And Yet More Classic Horror. Again.
By Kristin Battestella
Yes, I’m list crazy this October, but let me ask you this: Is there anything like a public domain scary surprise or a classic black and white thriller to fill a lonely decrepit autumn night? I think not.
A Bucket of Blood – Some of the 1959 beatnik goods in director Roger Corman’s (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum) low budget satirical creepy are tough to hear thanks to uneven sound, soft dialogue, and a loud but sweet and swanky jazz score. Yes, it’s slow to open and doesn’t look very good, but we feel for Dick Miller’s (Gremlins, Fame) outcasted Walter Paisley as he resorts to deadly lengths for his sculpting and artistic acclaim. Even if the whippersnappers of today probably don’t know what the Beatnik movement was all about or why Corman’s commentary is meant to be funny, at just over an hour, this freaky and bemusing oddity is worth a look for young horror fans or Corman aficionados.
Carnival of Souls – Sometimes black and white filmmaking seriously adds to the visuals and atmosphere of a movie- and such is the case here. Though there are some fun 1962 cars and nostalgia to start, the suddenly somber opening and eerie credits establish the creepy; and writer, director, producer and star Herk Harvey provides some very disturbing appearances whilst waxing philosophical on isolation, loneliness, claustrophobia, and spiritual debates. Spooky sheers and askew reflections make for great jumps and scares and build the paranoia and fear for Candace Hilligoss (The Curse of the Living Corpse) – which may or may not be all in her mind. Naturally, there’s something kinky afoot, too- such a wild, demented circus and merry go round feelings intimately clashing with the safe, white cathedrals! I did suspect the end, but like a supersized Twilight Zone episode, it’s still great in getting there, and damn freaky!
Dead of Night – This 1945 anthology is a little too pip pip cheerio dated to open its framing story, and the first two tales of deadly premonition and ghostly happenstance are a little short and more merely bizarre or déjà vu than scary. However, tale three chronicles an askew mirror with a suspenseful juice the likes of Tales from the Crypt. The ghostly golfer switcharoo of plot four is played more for the laughs of Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne (The Lady Vanishes), but in such an early compilation film, I suppose some levity was needed. Even if it is a little familiar now thanks to other ventriloquist horror, Michael Redgrave’s (Mourning Becomes Electra) final tale is very well played paranoia and twistedness. Perhaps contemporary audiences won’t find the scary here because we’ve had so many other warped anthology shows, but this one is still dang entertaining. No effects or sex and gore shockers needed; its all done with performance and suggestion- and the conclusion definitely leaves the audience thinking on the kicker.
Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Oscar winner Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Desperate Hours) can do no wrong in this 1932 adaptation of Stevenson’s quick and spooky read. Wow, March is so young and handsome as the gentlemanly Jekyll but also so utterly creepy looking as Hyde. The monstrous change is even more scary thanks to the science of the villainy, the element of truth in the dual nature, and the dark half examinations of the human soul we all share. Hyde may be the straight encapsulation of evil, but isn’t Jekyll just as bad because he has the sought to extract the vile in the first place? Oh the tormented meat and performance here! The lovely Miriam Hopkins (Becky Sharp, The Heiress) adds a little pre-code kinky, too, and a great use of basic camera techniques and mirror tricks also adds a visual and moody parallel layer. The subtle and simplistic but smart filmmaking here seems a lost art today- but dang, that organ music is eerie, and gosh, I want those candelabras!
The Invisible Man – This chilling 1933 classic from director James Whale (Bride of Frankenstein) has all the obsessive and murderous madman science from H.G. Wells’ novel and more. Claude Rains (Casablanca) is dynamite, along with Gloria Stuart (Titanic), Henry Travers (It’s a Wonderful Life), Una O’Connor (Witness for the Prosecution), and an equally fun supporting cast. You have to admit, even in such a bent tale, it is amusing to see these thirties folks talking to thin air and getting hysterical over objects moving by themselves! The black and white photography looks perfectly crisp, and the silver palette helps to hide any of the special effects glitches our modern eyes may spot. But the cutting edge for the time matte and screen and wire work graphics still look damn good, too. The approach and pursuit of the eponymous villain is contemporarily believable, and it’s all just so good and weird thanks largely to that suave talking but not quite there Rains. Truly, a must see- and read, for that matter, too. But sigh, a remake is on the horizon!
The Wolf Man – Claude Rains is at it again in this 1941 Universal essential- along with his onscreen son Lon Chaney, Jr. (Of Mice and Men) as Larry Talbot. So what if the then exceptional werewolf makeup and transitional transformations might not be up to snuff for today’s CGI spoiled. Get over it. You can’t be a werewolf fan without loving this granddaddy of lycan establishment- dated and stereotypical though it may be. All the staples needed are here in beautifully sharp black and white, with lots of fog and atmosphere capping off the monster pursuits. The agony and titular torment of the players carries the hour-plus time swiftly, and fun performances from Bela Lugosi (Dracula) and Maria Ouspenskaya (Love Affair) set off the blooming wolfsbane wonderfully.