“… a wagon is carrying the colossal head of a statue, the head of an emperor in marble, which bumps against the corners of the houses, chipping them.”
Horror movies were a big, pivotal influence on me during my youth, especially in the post-Halloween years. In the 1980s I watched everything I could get my claws on, whether in the theater (it was a time when the local theaters could care less if you were underage, just as long as your mom popped her head in the box office and gave the ticket cashier the “okay”), on cable, or on videocassette. I watched things I probably shouldn’t have (Maniac, Don’t Go in the House, Don’t Answer the Phone, et al). But I also viewed movies that branded themselves in my overactive brain, ruining me forever in the best of ways (John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Shining, Dawn of the Dead, Phantasm, Scanners, Gates of Hell, and so many more), and have never failed to entertain, fascinate, and disturb me to this day.
Although a steady diet of slashers, Italian zombies, and rubbery over-the-top gore fests were what kept me sane through my teenage years, it was horror films of an earlier vintage that put their hooks in me. My first real memories are of monsters, ghouls, and creatures from beyond the grave–King Kong, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Godzilla, and all the rest. Back in the early 1970s in Portland the local television station KATU would air a program on Saturday nights at 11:30 called Sinister Cinema, that would show a double-feature of old horror movies hosted by a bearded Victor Ives in Dracula cape, along with his sidekick the late Jimmy Hollister. It was monstertastic, to say the least, and the perfect entertainment for a monster kid like myself. Not to get too nostalgic… but I sometimes feel sad that kids now don’t get programs like Sinister Cinema or Creature Features (a Bay Area program that I used to see whenever we’d visit relatives down in San Jose every summer). Then again, cable television and DVDs have made it a whole lot easier for monster-minded parents to indoctrinate their horror-happy tyke with a wider variety of scaretastic goodies in ways that I couldn’t have dreamed of as a wee lad. There’s simply so much more out there to offer up. And I say cheers to that! But sadly, the horror hosts seem to have left the mausoleum for good.
As we creep toward another Halloween, I thought I’d post some trailers from a few of my favorite horror films. I’ll start with some from the 1960s, one of my favorite eras. Not necessarily the best trailers, but definitely my favorite films. Now, outside of Rosemary’s Baby (which I remember seeing on television when it aired on ABC when I was around six), I sadly didn’t see any of these until my late teens or in my twenties. Nevertheless, they’re faves and I revisit them often.
The first trailer is for Georges Franju’s lyrical masterpiece Les Yeux sans Visage (1959), aka Eyes Without a Face. Although the American trailer–double-billed with the deliriously enjoyable though campy The Manster–makes it seem over-the-top, this French film is anything but despite the plot elements straight from a 1930s pulp magazine. It’s a haunting, strangely moving experience and one that sets the tone for other serious-minded, atmospheric, fetishistic, and extreme Euro horrors that would be released over the next two decades. Though no film, except for perhaps moments in Argento’s Suspiria or Inferno would be able to capture the dark poetry so integral to Franju’s parable.
The second clip is for the Italian film The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962), starring the iconic Barbara Steele. Talk about fetishistic! It’s one of my all-time favorite horror films and why it hasn’t been released on DVD is a crime. You can read more about the film here, which was written by Glenn Erickson aka DVD Savant originally for the online web zine Images (a site I also wrote reviews for). The trailer doesn’t really sell it correctly… but don’t let that stop you from seeing the film if you run across a cassette of it. It’s brilliant.
The third trailer is for Mario Bava’s Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966). If the first five minutes doesn’t pull you into its fierce, hallucinatory design… then you may just not like horror films. Bava’s a favorite around my house and he has more than one great film in his long resume. But there’s something about this one–the period setting, the little girl revenant, the score–that nails me every time. It obviously made an impact on Fellini as well, since he pays wonderful homage to it in his Toby Dammit segment of Spirits of the Dead. And one can’t help but think that Martin Scorsese had Bava on the brain when he made The Last Temptation of Christ, personifying Satan in the guise of a little girl to tempt Jesus from the cross.
The fourth trailer is for the great Hammer horror film, The Devil Rides Out (1968). Based on the Dennis Wheatley novel of the same name, this is one of the best non-monster movies that the famed British studio ever put out, if not the best. Black magic, an Aleister Crowley-type villain, Christopher Lee as the suave hero Duc de Richleau, satanic orgies, and a blitzkrieg-paced script by Richard Matheson… what’s not to love? This is old school Hammer horror at its finest.
And then there’s Rosemary’s Baby. This is Roman Polanski at his most fiendishly polished and enjoyable. Along with William Friedkin’s The Exorcist it’s also one of the best big studio horror productions ever.
It’s without a doubt a desert island movie for me. I’ll leave the other two installments from the Euro horror anthology film Spirits of the Dead (1968), directed by Roger Vadim and Louis Malle respectively, at the pier… but Fellini’s is coming with me. Vadim’s and Malle’s episodes are perfectly fine from what I remember. It’s just that Fellini’s tour de force, Toby Dammit, is masterful–seeped in burned-out psychedelia, fueled by a terrific performance by Terence Stamp (was he ever better?), and is truly unsettling as we watch a seedy, boozed-soaked English actor played by Stamp journey to Rome to… well, you’ll have to find out what happens. Clocking in at around 45-minutes, the short is a nightmarish, blackly humorous downward spiral that delivers in legion what many a longer horror film is limp to accomplish in twice the length. It also contains one of the great, antithetical interpretations of the Devil ever… albeit one swiped with gratitude from Mario Bava’s equally masterful 1966 film Kill, Baby… Kill! which also featured a little girl in the role of the Great Deceiver.
This clip, showing Toby painfully having to make an appearance at an awards ceremony, is one of my favorite scenes. And it’s particularly gratifying to view it since it showcases the original soundtrack, letting us finally hear Stamp in his native English tongue. Currently, the only DVD that is available in the States is of the French soundtrack which is a dub when it comes to the Fellini episode (it should be in Italian, French, and English).