Sunday, March 29, 2015
The horror genre in film has been around practically as long as film itself has existed. Since the silent film era, the horror film has been a mainstay, with the period of the mid-1920s to right before 1960 marking the era of somewhat "classy" horror. I call it classy because a number of horror films from this era made huge bank (for their time), were surefire box office draws, and usually featured headliners such as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing among others. This was when the horror genre seemingly wasn't looked at with as much disdain as it would be in the near future, which kind of marks this era for horror fans as golden age.
So I've managed to compile a list of what I consider the ten best horror films from this pre-1960 era. I know that many purists certainly won't agree with this, and this was terribly difficult to put together considering what all I left off of here. Classic films that didn't make the cut included "The Wolfman", "House on Haunted Hill", "The Mummy", "Frankenstein", "White Zombie", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", and "Freaks". I also originally intended on including "King Kong" and "Gojira" (aka "Godzilla") on this list, but upon further examination, I decided against it because both of those films are more towards the adventure genre than horror.
Anyway, let's get on with the list. Try not to lynch me after please.
10. THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart
Helmed by the man that brought "Frankenstein" to the big screen, "The Old Dark House" is one of the most terribly underrated films of the era. The story revolves around a group of Welsh travellers seeking shelter during a violent rainstorm, and are taken in by the Femm family in their expansive mansion. It doesn't take too long to figure that there is something seriously wrong with the Femm's, as well as with their mute manservant Morgan (Karloff, who proves here he can be scary and tragic without the Frankenstein monster make up) in particular. Spooky, claustrophobic, and loaded with wonderful atmosphere, "The Old Dark House" is a hidden gem of the era that deserves your attention.
9. THE BLOB (1958)
Director: Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
Starring: Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe
What's the first thing you hear during this film's opening credits? That theme song. That wonderfully hysterical, fucking, theme song. I swear it's a thing of beauty. Anyway, "The Blob" is memorable for a lot of reasons, and not just because Steve fucking McQueen was 27 years old and playing a teenager, but because it's a super enjoyable creature-feature that featured some special effects that were ahead of its time. "The Blob" also has a special place in my heart because it was filmed in Phoenixville, PA. I was born there, and though I didn't live in that exact same area before I departed for Philadelphia years later, for years all I would hear from various neighbors, etc. was that "they made that Blob movie here in the 50s. Steve McQueen was here before he got famous". Call it for the sake of...well, call it whatever you want. I enjoy "The Blob" regardless. Not to mention I enjoy going to the Colonial in Phoenixville every summer for BlobFest. How many movies from this era can say that they inspired an annual celebration/festival in its name?
8. THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)
Director: Howard Hawks (uncredited), Christian Nyby
Starring: James Arness, Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan
I could talk about this film and everything associated with it for hours. Based on the short story "Who Goes There?", "The Thing From Another World" revolves around a United States Air Force crew along with some scientists in the Arctic that recover a flying saucer and its frozen pilot that have crash landed into the ice. Once dug up and thawed out, the alien being begins wreacking havoc, and the body count rises. Suspenseful and thoroughly entertaining throughout, "The Thing From Another World" isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination (with a few noticable continuity errors peppered throughout the production), but for its time it has plenty of heart and imagination. This was one of the earliest horror films I ever saw in my youth, so it has a special place in my heart. That, along with its 1982 remake from John Carpenter, which is a classic in its own right, and one of those rare cases where the remake is better than the original.
7. THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932)
Director: Erle C. Kenton
Starring: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Bela Lugosi
One of the most criminally underrated films of its era, "The Island of Lost Souls" has, in the decades since its release, been reclassified as a classic of the genre. The first film adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau", this take on his work wasn't looked upon too well by Wells, critics, or audiences, mostly due to the fact that much of Wells' philosophical musings were overshadowed by the surprisingly visceral horror elements. That aside, "The Island of Lost Souls" is a true piece of art. The makeup effects are good for their time, and the cast is brilliant, in particular genre veteran Charles Laughton as the manical Doctor. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion a year or two ago, which in itself pretty much helps solidify its status as a classic of the genre.
6. HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)
Director: Terrence Fisher
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough
Known just as "Dracula" everywhere else except for the United States, "Horror of Dracula" is the first of the Dracula series from Hammer Films. The legendary British horror studio that churned out numerous beloved genre films for decades, this film took Bram Stoker's novel and ran with it. It's barely faithful to the novel in all honesty, but its gothic atmosphere, beautiful set design, and the perfect casting of genre heavyweights Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing is the icing on the cake. Lee would play Dracula many more times throughout his career, becoming almost as iconic in the role as...well, someone we'll get to later. Anyway, "Horror of Dracula" is my personal favorite Dracula movie, and no I'm not just saying that because this was the first Dracula film to show blood and tits in full color glory.
5. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)
Director: Robert Wiene
Starring: Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Lil Dagover
One of two films that symbolize German expressionism at its finest (we'll get to the other one soon enough), "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is a thing of beauty. Dr. Caligari is a mad hypnotist that uses a man to commit brutal murders. There's much more to the story than that, but revealing more would be doing a disservice. Bold, brilliant, and with one of the very first uses of the "twist ending" in cinema history, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" isn't just one of the finest silent horror films ever, it's one of the greatest silent films ever, period. It's also public domain, meaning you have no reason not to see it.
4. HOUSE OF WAX (1953)
Director: Andre de Toth
Starring: Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Charles Bronson
The first color 3D film to be seen nationwide, the classic "House of Wax" sees horror icon Vincent Price at his best. A remake of a 1933 film, "House of Wax" revolves around a talented wax sculptor with some super shady secrets. Chances are you already know without possibly ever actually having seen the film...that's how much of an impact this has had on the horror genre and film in general overall. Price is wonderful; managing to switch from charming and suave to totally fucking creepy with the flick of a switch.
3. NOSFERATU (1922)
Director: F.W. Murnau
Starring: Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder
Remember what I said earlier about German expressionism when talking about "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"? All of that applies to "Nosferatu". When the rights to make an adaptation of "Dracula" couldn't be secured, director F.W. Murnau decided to make an "unauthorized" adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. Stoker's family sued, and every copy of the film was ordered to be destroyed, yet somehow one print of the film survived. I'm totally serious about that. Read up on the history of the film, you'll shit yourself in astonishment. Anyway, "Nosferatu" follows a lot of the same plot points that "Dracula" laid out, but it's the gorgeous cinematography and the foreboding atmosphere that really make it the classic that it is. To this day, almost a full century later, "Nosferatu" is still haunting.
2. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
Director: James Whale
Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester
This was difficult. It was almost a toss up between "Bride of Frankenstein" and its 1931 predecessor "Frankenstein", but for me, the sequel wins out. Picking up where the first film left off, The Monster demands his creator to make him a bride. Eventually Doctor Frankenstein complies, and things don't end up going well for anyone really. While it has its share of camp compared to the first film, "Bride of Frankenstein" has much more subtext in terms of being a religious allegory (and not in a positive light), something that was a no-no in this era of Hollywood. Ballsy and ahead of its time, "Bride of Frankenstein" is one of the best films of the classic Universal Monsters lineup...but there's one film from that family that manages to outshine it just a bit...
1. DRACULA (1931)
Director: Tod Browing
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners
What can I really say about "Dracula" that hasn't been said about a million fucking times already? Not much honestly. Out of all the classic Universal Monsters films from this era, and the horror films of this era in general, none have had the long-standing impact that "Dracula" has. What makes me say that? Just think about Count fucking Dracula right now. Think about him in your head. What does he look like? Does he look like Christopher Lee? Or Frank Langella? Or Gary Oldman? No, no, and fuck no. When you think of Dracula, you think of Bela Lugosi. It's the classic look that became forever associated with Bram Stoker's character. Those eyes. That voice. The hypnotic performance that Lugosi gives. There hasn't been an iconic performance of Dracula, and perhaps any other movie monster, in all of film history. Boris "Frankenstein" Karloff comes close, but it's Lugosi that makes "Dracula" as memorable as it is. Sure, Tod Browning's direction and the overall atmosphere help make it as epic as it is, but again, it all comes back to Lugosi. All of that combined helps make "Dracula" the best film of this era.
So that's my top 10 horror films pre-1960. Agree? Disagree? Have little to no idea what the fuck I'm talking about? That's okay, some of you may be wondering if I know what the fuck I'm talking about. Regardless, you should check out these films if you've never caught them before. You'll be glad that you did.
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Holy hell, it's been a while hasn't it? I've neglected this blog for quite some time. Not just the blog, but writing in general. Real life has gotten in the way a lot over the past many months, and I really would like to rectify that.
Recently, a friend of mine asked me to write a little something for a project he's working on. So I did just that. Churned it out fairly quickly, and I'm here to present it to you, FOR FREE.
It's short, it's sweet, and it may make you squirm.
Written and created by Nick Durham
I remember once back in ma' youth that this seemed ta be easier than I thought it'd be. Maybe that was 'cause I was young and Pa did all the big work while I watched. "Watch 'n learn boy" is what he'd say. And I did. I did watch and I damn sure did learn from seein' him work. If he saw me now he wouldn't be too happy with me at the moment.
I'd been lookin' for this boy for a while now. It ain't like he coulda gone far. My own damn fault I guess if I was bein' honest. Trouble is he's small, which means he's fast too. And I been doin this shit for so long now that youth just ain't on my side no more. He's gotta still be here, ain't nothin else around here for at least 20 miles. He gotta still be in the barn. I can almost smell him I think.
Just a couple hours ago him and his momma had their "car trouble", just like they always do this time of year, and found me close by, just like they always do too. It been a long time since there been a young'n that got caught too, but I wasn't gonna complain. When I saw the boy I forgot just how sweet the young'ns could be. His momma was pretty sweet too. Sweet and stupid. Too damned stupid to have seen the poppers I put on the road that made her spin out. Broad fuckin daylight and the bitch didn't see shit. I knew this was gonna be a okay day.
When my daddy showed me how to do all this he always told me there was two kinds of folk in this world: one's that were too smart for they own good, and the ones that were too goddammed stupid to live and live right. He always said that by the grace of God we'd be lucky to get the stupid ones. The smart ones we'd never get if we were lucky. I remember I asked him why we did what we did, why he did what he did, and he gave me the answer that I ain't never forgot in all this time: "because it was right 'cause his daddy 'fore him taught him to do it, told by the good Lord."
We needed the blood. That's all there is to it. We need the blood to continue. Years and years back when the earth dried up and the ground weren't fertile no more, my grandpappy said somethin' happened. He said that the ground was alive but it was dyin from how much use we were gettin' out of it. With all the crops and work we done for years and years it messed everything up. The ground needed blood to live. It needed blood to make things grow again. My grandpappy knew this when he seen his cousin get in an accident with the mower. He watched his blood soak into the dirt...and the dirt spoke to him. It was the Lord he said. The Lord told him what he had to do to live. What he had to do to help the dirt live. We needed the dirt to live, and the dirt needed us to live. There's a word for that I know it, I just don't know the word.
So my daddy done kept doing the same thing grandpappy did. And Pa taught me the same. I'm supposed to pass it down to I guess, but I ain't gettin any younger and I got no woman. That boy's momma sure was sweet, but I don't think she woulda been interested in me. Seemed like a city broad.
But the boy. The boy. Maybe I could teach the boy. He's young. I can mold the boy. Yes I can. I can keep this going. It's the Lord's work. We keep things goin with this we can save the dirt and ground and earth. We can do right. But first I gotta find the boy.
I got the blade in my hand just because I guess. The momma's blood still on it. I can still smell the momma. Her scent still strong, and the smell of her blood. I strung her up and bled her into the dirt. I swear I can feel it under my feet, feel the ground breathe and live. This is what real ranchin and harvestin is now. It's the best for everyone. Just gotta accept it.
I hear one of the barn doors swing open. He got out. It don't matter. Like I said before, he ain't gonna get far. But that kid got guts. I'll give him that. I get to the door and swing it open but I don't see the boy outside. I figured I'd see him runnin but nope, nothin. I shoulda known better right then and there. Like Pa said, "the smart ones we'd never get if we were lucky"...and the boy was smart.
I feel the sharp stab in my calf and go down hard. I don't know where the little fuck hid but he tricked me, and now he got one a my blades straight through the back of my fuckin leg. In them few seconds I think about beggin for my life, but I feel that ground move again underneath me. My blood's drippin in it now. Last of my family line gonna be sucked up into the earth. I know there's a word for that too but damned if I know what it is.
I give that boy one last look. He look like he doesn't know if he should do it or start cryin. Not that I blame him. When I was his age I cried at my first time too. I just gave him a nod and I let my blade fall outta my hand. Last thing I see is his knife come down straight on to me. Last thing I feel is my blood, my life, go leakin into the ground.
I ain't mad that this how things went. It's ranchin and harvestin in a new world. It's what needs to be done. That's all there is to it. The look in that boy's eyes looked so...familiar. And in the end it just looked so damn right I guess. I think maybe he gets the point. If that be the case, I didn't have to teach him shit. The Lord and the earth done did it for me. That's life.