70s Horror Classics. Again.
By Kristin Battestella
More and more, I am finding myself watching and enjoying more horror and mayhem produced in that shiny, glittery, and be-bell bottomed decade of the 1970s. Here’s a small sampling of our latest late night seventies viewings, because it was ten years with a lot of onscreen scares, shocks, scandals, and sophistication.
Blood on Satan’s Claw –We Americans would call the shaggy hair, peasant costumes, and poor candlelit interiors of this 1970 British scare fest “Colonial.” Great screams, sound effects, and music accent the off-camera frights and country crazies. There are plenty of spooky locales, too; lonely wooden houses and ruined cathedrals out on foggy, overrun and empty greens. Dark, intimate, and up-close photography smartly keeps the villagers’ fear, not the titular hand, as the focus- and it is scary. Yes, the dialogue scenes in between the scares might be slow, confusing, or tough to understand for some, and having had a horror proper cast would have been nice, too. Fortunately, the steady reveal, religion versus demons tug and pull, and nasty sexual overtones up the horror ante. The rapaciousness is not for the faint audience, but the evil temptations, nudity, and demented 17th century teens aren’t there for the titillation as in today films. Obviously, witchcraft is painted as the devil worship of the day, and this will be an offensive movie for some. However, fans of the genre will enjoy the instrumental, heavy, intense, and hairy finale- literally!
Dracula vs Frankenstein – Good blood, scary zooms, carnival crazy, scientist mayhem, and cool laboratory works with flashing gizmos and vintage radical machines accent this 1971 swansong for both Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) and J. Carrol Naish (Sahara). It’s pleasing to see Chaney’s silent, big, and scary henchman. He’s used and sympathetic in contrast to the no less intriguing but vengeful and wheelchair bound Nash as Frankenstein. Forrest J Ackerman (The Howling) has a fun appearance, and the crazy credits are a good time, too. There’s enough homage and sentiment here to keep the bright seventies setting entertaining, although the bizarre UFO-esque sound effects music is too dated. The Vegas singing montages- perhaps to somehow capitalize on the Hello Dolly trend- are also weird, and the hectic, glossed over attention on hipness doesn’t serve this tale well. Regina Carol (Black Heat) is also kind of bad, but she’s not given much guidance from director/her man Al Adamson (Blood of Dracula’s Castle). I’m also not sure about Zandor Vorkov (Brain of Blood) debuting this strange look to Dracula; a young guy made to look, well, kind of like Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes! The echoing voice effect too tries too hard, and the zooms punctuating the end of his sentence….err no. The disjointed mix of dumb happy summer of love interferes with the fine old school demented monster plots, and the finale melts down to drinking game viewing. Thankfully, it’s all fun, but Sweet Jesus, is the boyfriend upset because he spent $1 on gas? One Dollar. Pfft!
House of Shadows – There’s not much information on this 1976 Spanish murder mystery starring Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) and John Gavin (Psycho). I mean, no Wikipedia page, gasp, the horror! The stormy scenery, eerie music and sound effects, spooky décor, colorful period costumes, decrepit haunted house vibes, and past luxuries gone awry are all gothic and moody enough- and most importantly, they help disguise the somewhat bemusing English dubbing. The dialogue seems more like the tone of an audio book than you know, acting. De Carlo is lovely as always, but it’s weird that she is also dubbed. Something’s lost when we don’t hear her sultry voice, and this contributes to some of the awkward or confusing and slower scenes. Some of the values here are also just too dark to see. Thankfully, a few unexpected scares and deadly twists accentuate the initial mystery, subsequent murders, amateur investigation, and spectacle séances. Yes, this is hampered by some poor post- production. Is it hokey like a telenovela thanks to the dubbed dialogue? For sure. Is it classic? Maybe not. Nonetheless, there’s a fine little story here for an audience to enjoy solving, and it’s worth a look.
Murder on the Orient Express – Yes, yes. This 1974 Agatha Christie adaptation starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Jacqueline Basset, Sean Connery, Michael York, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, John Gielgud, Everyone, and Your Grandmother isn’t really a horror film as we know it. Nonetheless it is dang suspenseful and entertaining with great thirties Art Deco design, tunes, and cars. There’s European and Asian flair, mixed languages, and lots of visual joys and dangers of trains that perhaps some today can’t appreciate. Likewise, director Sidney Lumet’s (Dog Day Afternoon) hectic in a good way pace won’t be for everyone. Some today may find conversational beats too talkative instead of action, but the unwrapping of the crime is pleasing and intelligent, a step above all those other all-star seventies disaster pictures. The suspenseful flashbacks and sudden edits reveal the case with lovely procedures, clues, suspense, and stunning performances. The whole family can spend an evening guessing with this one or a sophisticated Halloween party might enjoy the debate. Perhaps it’s all old hat to those familiar with Christie or the story, but this one’s delightful for new viewers looking for something beyond Clue.
Night Gallery – Growing up, I really enjoyed watching this 1970-73 Rod Serling follow up to The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, there is a lot of distaste and confusion surrounding these unloved episodes- from being butchered initially, and then chopped further in syndication, and recently its difficult road to DVD. All that aside; some of these episodes are damn decent creepy, with Serling’s sense of morbid, demented inspirations from the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, and solid guest players such as Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, Adam West, Leslie Nielson, and more. “The Housekeeper,” “The House,” “The Doll,” “Lone Survivor,” “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes,” “A Death in the Family,” “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” and “The Dark Boy” are but a few examples of the quality here. Due to the behind the scenes troubles, is Night Gallery a step down from The Twilight Zone? Yes. Is it nonetheless worth a place in your scary viewing marathon? Absolutely.