For Week Two of my Halloween movie suggestions, I’m turning to the real Silver Screen – black and white classics! Some of these are well known and loved, some of these offer a set of chills that are unique to their eras, and I hope one or two will be new to you.
The Bad Seed (1956)
You may have forgotten this one. This is a calculated (and calculating) look at our culture’s insistence on childhood innocence. Created at a time when motherhood had become almost a fetish, it takes a look at the dark side of motherhood’s purpose: children. Refreshingly free of either serious psychoanalytic or PC explanations, this movie will take you places you hope you never go.
The Black Cat (1934)
This stylish chiller from Universal bears almost no relation to the Poe short story of the same name but you won’t care. Karloff and Lugosi explore the dynamics of a relationship forged in war and betrayal. There’s a heavy dose of Satanic intrigue here and a bit of a disturbing sexual undertone. The sets are famous for their cutting edge Bauhaus style.
Bride of Frankenstein
Although the original ‘Frankenstein’ horrified audiences and annoyed censors, that movie is generally not considered the best of the bunch – you could argue that this one might be. The themes of this movie were even more controversial and disturbing to audiences of the time and we are still wrestling with them today: can man play God? See it for the moral issues but don’t forget to enjoy the deliberate campy humor offered by Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Pretorius.
Bucket of Blood (1959)
This Corman romp is a wry look at the state of the art world. If you think that modern art is bad now, you’ll need to think again. Shot in 5 days on a budget that these days would buy a beer and shot back, this little gem launched Corman’s comedic horror career.
Cat People (1942)
A classic of film noir, this little effort also provides a number of disturbing chills for the contemporary viewer. Much, much more understated and oblique than the modern remake, ‘Cat People’ easily handles its erotic and horrific themes with greater impact and more empathy. Great fashion, also!
Carnival of Souls (1962)
This is an example of the very best kind of B movie horror. The sole survivor of a horrible car accident returns to her life…..or does she? You’ll have to see it to find out. I guarantee that you will never listen to organ music in quite the same way again.
Dead of Night (1945)
To lighten up slightly, you might like this thoroughly enjoyable spin through a horror anthology. Perhaps the first well known HA, this movie weaves together the stories of a small group of people stuck in a house in the English countryside. Tales both amusing and eerie are told and ultimately they return to the beginning. A must see for witty remarks and a terrific ensemble cast performance.
Although this film was variously re-cut, censored, and banned in many locations when it first appeared, the interest here is not in what audiences of the 1930s considered shocking but in the main question of the film: what is a monster? This question is actually the underlying reason for the quick censorship at the time. Audiences of the era were very familiar with freak shows and freaks; that was not the problem. It was that the film portrayed the seemingly “normal” as the worst freaks of all. See it for the moral values but don’t hesitate to enjoy the performances of the many famous sideshow performers such as Daisy and Violet Hilton, Prince Randian, Johnny Eck, and others captured on film.
The Innocents (1961)
Taken from James’ novella ‘The Turn of the Screw’, this unsettling piece is part ghost story, part possession tale, part atmospheric gothic horror, and part unspeakable seduction story. Kerr turns in her usual wonderful performance as the inexperience governess of the two afflicted children but it Pamela Franklin as the child Flora who will rivet your attention.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Truly a classic, this movie examines society’s conflict over headlong scientific progress. Readers who are hoping to see a more faithful rendition of Wells’ novel in this older movie than in more recent versions will be disappointed. 1933 displayed an almost alarmingly naïve faith in scientific inquiry compared to Wells’ own views in his novel and compared to our own time. If scientific ethics aren’t your thing, see it for the snappy dialog among the villagers, the white shirt scene, and those crazy goggles!
The Mummy (1932)
Karloff shows that he can actually act in this seductive flirtation with Egyptian gods and scanty costuming. People in the 30s were crazy for all things Egyptian and this movie caught the crest of the fad. It has everything: curses, undying romance, reincarnation, Isis, the fabled Tanna leaves, and quite a bit of thirties-style eye candy. To create the illusion of crepey wrinkles on Karloff, the makeup artists stretched his skin and applied very thin pieces of gauze. With some coloring and powder, the effect is one of an ancient yet unholy vitality.
Village of the Damned (1960)
Another take on childhood and motherhood. A sleepy English village is knocked unconscious and a few months later every girl and woman is pregnant. The resulting offspring are brilliant, telepathic, and fond of cheap wigs. Although this can be seen as a typical invasion horror story, the real horror is the question every woman in the village must ask: when is your child not your child at all? The men have even worse questions to ask themselves.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Two fading screen giants (Crawford and Davis) chew the scenery in this delicious romp through sibling rivalry and beyond. You’ll love the psychological terror but enjoy the comic relief provided by Victor Buono as the talentless and sycophantic Edwin Flagg. Crawford and Davis disliked each other in real life and had many “interactions” during filming of this movie that come through loud and clear. Look for Davis’ daughter in a small role as a neighbor child.
I know you have your favorites to add. Just remember – stick to black and white films. :D