Halloween 2021 Programming: CLASSIC

As previously noted, my wife and I have a tradition where I draft up a selection of horror films for Halloween viewing, and she picks one from each group: Contemporary, Classic, and Cult, and I thought I’d share my suggestions this year. Today features classic horror films, and mostly features the exact text I sent her.

This time I will apologize not for leaning on prior works, but for posting about films I have yet to watch, but they all have stellar reputations, and at least one of them will be viewed tonight!

DOCTOR X (1932, Criterion/VOD)

While I purchased a copy of the newly restored DOCTOR X — it was one of the rare early horror films shot on a very distinct, very early two-color Technicolor process (see also: THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933)) I have yet to watch it. It’s directed by Michael Curtiz, during his infamous horror run at Warner Bros, and stars Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray.

Excerpt:

SISTERS (1973, Criterion/HBO MAX/VOD)

Also previously suggested. Classic Brian De Palma film about two sisters, two sides of the same coin.

DIABOLIQUE (1955, Criterion/HBO MAX/Plex/Roku)

Also previously suggested. “More of a thriller than a horror film, but it’s a seminal piece of film history for both. I haven’t seen it in over twenty years, and I’m eager to revisit it.”

THE VANISHING (1988, Criterion/VOD)

This has been on my watchlist for years. I think I had a copy on the DVR via TCM, but it may have been auto-deleted due to space.

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, DVD/YouTube)

It’s campy, but very intelligent and darkly comic. Also, Vincent Price AND Joseph Cotten! (There’s a sequel I’ve been meaning to watch, but haven’t gotten around to.)

(Shh)

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927, epix/kanopy/Paramount+/VOD

I haven’t seen this yet but, similar to THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) — which we watched a few years ago — it’s an ensemble film along the lines of Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (although this film predates both works). It’s directed by Paul Leni, who directed THE MAN WHO LAUGHS, notable for Conrad Veidt’s (THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI) performance that was blatantly ripped off for the look of the Joker.

Excerpt:

GOTHIC (1986)

(Plex/tubi/VOD/Vudu) This is the predictable final entry in a three-part series of recommendations regarding films about Mary Shelley. It is, of course, Ken Russell’s GOTHIC (1985). Again, I’m no Mary Shelley scholar, and — given this final entry — it should be obvious that I have no interest in discussing the veracity of the portrayal of these real-life persons. (I simply don’t have the knowledge, but I don’t begrudge those that do.)

While GOTHIC is, on the surface, about the storytelling night between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley’s stepsister Claire, it’s primarily concerned with Mary and her life and her way of coping with this foursome, which becomes heightened via what one surmises is a fever dream.

GOTHIC is essentially fan-fiction, occasionally slash-fiction and, surprisingly, posits Mary as, for all intents and purposes, the Final Girl, with Lord Byron being the executor of the madness they endure. (Or not; there are many ways you can read it, but that’s my interpretation.)

There’s a lot to unpack in this film, far more than I can do justice to in a simple post, so I’ll just note a few highlights and leave it at that:

  • As usual, Russell has a ton of visual anachronisms, one of the boldest being the hexagonal ceiling molding designs, which are then mirrored when Mary finds herself as a prisoner.
  • It portrays Mary as someone who doesn’t buy into Percy’s ‘free love’, and touches on her problematic pregnancies.
  • I just happened to be going about this three-part project as I was reading MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAIN SAWS, which spends a significant amount of time talking about horror films’ handling of eyes, then Percy seeing nipples as eyes, which MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAIN SAWS author Carol J. Clover touches on regarding the feminine masochism viewing perspective, and yeah, there’s not more perfect film for that than this.
  • I’ll also note: I first saw this film at what I think is absolutely the perfect time in one’s life, in my mid-teens, thanks to my friend Chris, although I do know I spent a lot of time staring at the LaserDisc cover well before actually watching the film. I hadn’t re-watched it until today. It is far crazier and hornier than I remember, and I can’t believe we got away with watching it while his parents were away.

My friend Mark pointed out two other Mary Shelley films, both released in the late 80s, which I have yet to watch — there are DVDs available of both, but they can’t be streamed — that I hope to catch, and perhaps you may be interested in them as well:

ROWING WITH THE WIND (1988):

HAUNTED SUMMER (1988, which certainly backgrounds Mary, but is very much about her):

And, of course, here’s the trailer:

SOUND OF NOISE (2010)

(kanopy/Plex/Pluto/tubi/Vudu/VOD) SOUND OF NOISE is a Swedish feature film that’s based on the short film MUSIC FOR ONE APARTMENT AND SIX DRUMMERS about a collective of musicians who break into an apartment and make music solely with whatever exists in the apartment. There’s a lot of clanging on ceramics and glasses, rhythms created via vacuum suction, books thrown to the floor and the like.

“How can that possibly be turned into a feature film?” you might ask. The answer is: in a very cartoonish way. The troupe is sheer anarchy as they break into hospitals and banks to realize their musical works, progressing to one ultimate performance, all while being pursued by a tone-deaf cop. It’s funny and infectious, and the musical pieces stand on their own. (Well, they do if you’re a fan of say, avant-garde, percussive works.)

While there is an attempt to give an emotional, romantic core to the film, it falls a bit flat, but it’s not entirely unwelcome. Really, the set-pieces are the allure here.

One of my favorite pieces is a skillfully edited highway driving scene — it features co-director/co-writer Ola Simonsson and is a bit more liberal with its use of sound sources — as it vaguely reminds me of the experimental electronic band SHINJUKU FILTH:

-Music for One Highway-:

SHINJUKU FILTH – The Art-:

(Also, check out the companion track, -The Sale- if you can.)

MUSIC FOR ONE APARTMENT AND SIX DRUMMERS:

Trailer:

M.F.A. (2017)

(Plex/Prime/Tubi/VOD/Vudu)? A revenge thriller from director Natalia Leite (BARE) and actress/writer Leah McKendrick that pairs well with PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. It’s a stylish tale about assault and baring yourself in your work, unfurls at a fine clip, and is more complex than you might expect.

THE VELVET VAMPIRE (1971)

(Plex/tubi) Extremely padded vampire seductress film, but the sexual politics make it far more interesting than most Corman fare, and visually it has more in common with giallo than most films his studio was churning out.

Katie Rife does a far better job of boosting it than I ever could, so I implore you to read what she has to say about it: https://film.avclub.com/dreamy-and-atmospheric-the-velvet-vampire-added-a-subv-1844538361

DARLIN’ (2019)

(Plex/tubi/VOD/Vudu) I skipped THE WOMAN (2011) as I’m not a huge fan of Lucky McKee (although I intend to revisit MAY (2002) soon, and KINDRED SPIRITS (2019) is a quality ‘jealous woman’ film) but I really don’t care for Jack Ketchum. That said, DARLIN’, a sequel to THE WOMAN, is written and directed by Pollyanna McIntosh who played the title role, and reprises it here.

I’m sure I’m missing out on some lore but, despite the cannibalism, the blood and the grime and the stink, DARLIN’ is more of a character study of a -wild child- , complete with an astounding array of idiosyncratic players, some sympathetic and some despicable. It’s sharply shot, features some very sly dialogue but, most importantly, is concerned with calling out exploitative men.

I’d love to see more writers/directors hand over their characters to the people that gave them life, because this was far better than I ever expected.

THE WASHINGTONIANS (2007)

(hoopla/kanopy/Plex/tubi/VOD/Vudu) Yes, this is a bit of a cheat, as it is technically part of Showtime’s TV horror anthology series MASTERS OF HORROR (masterminded by Mick Garris, who will pop up later). Yeah, I could mention any of Stuart Gordon or Joe Dante’s contributions, but those feel like -prestige- horror (-especially- Dante’s brilliant version of THE SCREWFLY SOLUTION) but, to me, THE WASHINGTONIANS is a perfect go-for-broke hour long ‘What If?!’ adaptation, which I feel is what short horror stories excel at.

THE WASHINGTONIANS is about the buried history of George Washington, based on Bentley Little’s short story, and it’s batshit crazy in a NATIONAL TREASURE + Joe Dante way. It’s horror via discovery. The stakes are high, but the peril is low. I won’t say it’s family-friendly, because it’s utterly disgusting at times, but it’s mostly non-threatening and a lot of dumb fun in a way that I think has been lacking in the past decade of horror. (It helps that they have Saul Rubinek to sell the lore. Oh, and did I mention that Peter Medak (THE CHANGELING, plenty of TV including two eps of HANNIBAL) directed it?)

(Just to be clear: if you do watch it, I’d like to note that I don’t approve of the epilogue.)

EXCISION (2012)

(Plex/Prime/tubi/VOD/Vudu) A thrilling, often very funny, horror tale about a teen girl discovering herself, despite her parents (including Traci Lords). Delightfully horrific and fucked up, features a small part with John Waters, and not nearly as campy as the casting may sound.

I’m pretty sure they had the rights to NINE INCH NAILS’ CLOSER for a split second and this is a fan-captured trailer but, even if it’s a fan-made trailer, it’s goddamn perfect — far better than any of the other trailers (NSFW):

THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)

(fubo/Plex/Prime/VOD) Arguably Orson Welles’ most influential noir — although not the best, as that honor belongs to TOUCH OF EVIL — in that you’ve almost certainly seen a film or TV show that has lifted from its carnival scene.*

(If you’ve watched Lindelof’s WATCHMEN mini-series, you know what I’m talking about.)

The film itself is a bit of a mess, and Welles’ absolutely ridiculous accent doesn’t help matters, but Rita Hayworth is a fantastic femme fatale — it’s worth noting that she was married to Welles at the time — as is significant character actor (and a member of Welles’ Mercury Theatre stable) Everett Sloane, and the piece is elevated by audacious visuals.

  • Fun fact: The carnival scene was originally meant to last twenty minutes. It ultimately was cut down to under four.

IN A LONELY PLACE (1950)

(Plex/Prime/VOD) Adapted from the groundbreaking Dorothy B. Hughes novel, Nicolas Ray’s film is less of an examination of PTSD and toxic masculinity than that of a melodramatic noir of a distrustful couple. It’s a completely different beast, but no less powerful, mostly because Ray was contractually obligated to make the film with his recent ex-wife Gloria Grahame, who he divorced because he caught her in bed with his 13-year-old son, whom she later married. (Yes, really. https://medium.com/@stowens/the-not-so-wonderful-life-of-gloria-grahame-2d996a843c83 )

It’s a gorgeous, sad, film that utilizes Bogart’s charisma and volatility, while also leveraging some pitch-perfect production design, and puts post-WWII emotions on display.