It's October and suddenly it's gray and cold (cool, in the 50s) here. Of course, later this week it'll be back to the 80s, but it's kind of nice while it lasts. (Except for the horrific effect on my sinuses.) It always makes me want to watch black and white 40s/early 50s horror movies on TCM, but today TCM is failing to cooperate.
They did show some the other day, and the trick to picking them is finding the ones that are still fun and cheesy but not so awful that you need Mystery Science Theater 3000 to help you get through them. The ones that have a real delight in telling a fun yet scary story.
William Castle movies are usually a safe bet for cheestastic fun. Early on, he did The Whistler series and the Crime Doctor series but I always felt his top fun scary movies were The Tingler and The House on Haunted Hill. He also did the original 13 Ghosts but that one I just didn't feel was as good. It didn't have Vincent Price, which is always a disadvantage.
There's also Val Lewton, whose movies were in the early 40s and tend to be more serious and not fun, but are definitely worth watching. He was Russian and went more for mystery/psychological horror than haunted house type scares. He's known for Cat People but I always thought The Leopard Man, set in New Mexico, was much scarier and a better story and mystery. It has some incredibly tense scenes that pretty much rival anything being made at the time. (Note: the titles were forced on him by the studio and have little to do with the content of the movie.)
One of my favorites is Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon, which is from 1957 and was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who also directed some of Val Lewton's best movies. It's from an M.R. James short story, and it's a mystery plot with a strong supernatural element, with a psychologist trying to discover who is committing apparently cult-related murders.
There's also the Spanish version of the original 1931 Dracula, which was filmed at the same time as the English language version, on the same sets, but with different actors and a much, much better director. (the English version of Dracula is still good, but the director didn't go to the trouble to move the camera much (the early sound cameras were much bigger than the silent cameras and hard to move, which is why some early sound remakes of silent movies tend to look weirdly static compared to the originals -- Kenneth Brannagh narrates a great documentary that talks about this, called Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood)
And one of my other favorites which is hard to find is Mark of the Vampire from 1935. It's a sound version with the same basic story of the famous lost silent London After Midnight (1927) (which despite what the TV series White Chapel said will not kill you or turn you into a serial murderer and the print of it they were supposedly casually screwing around with would have been worth a crapload of money) though with different characters. It's also a mystery, and seems like a typical cheesy vampire story -- until the end, when suddenly it's awesome.
Beast with Five Fingers is also a good bet, more fun, more cheesy than Lewton, but not quite to Castle's nutty peak. It's from 1946 and starred Peter Lorre. It's set in Italy, and again the title doesn't really convey what the movie is about.
And if you already like these kinds of movies, you must watch The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
eldritchhobbit is doing her Halloween Countdown, with links to stories, audio files, (including James Earl Jones reading The Raven, articles and more great scary stuff.
October 7th, 2012