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5 Classic Horror Movies (and an XXX parody)

We belong dead!

That was the famous last line from the Monster in the Universal classic, Bride of Frankenstein, undeniably one of many gems of a golden era. It was a time when horror had a license to print money, with major studios pouring much of their resources into genre fare, and stars like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi not only crystallising a particular brand of movie stardom, but setting the template for others to follow for decades to come. Many similarities can be drawn between the Universal Pictures fare of the 30s and the Hammer Studios revamps (no pun intended) of the 50s, Hammer being the next group to pick up the classics ball and run with it. The results, across the board, were some of the greatest serial horror films ever produced. Even when their respective cycles had played themselves out, and tongue-in-cheek adaptations were the only movies left to make (Abbott & Costello Meet the Wolf Man or Dracula A.D. 1972, anyone?), they did it with style, leaving our favourite villains with a healthy dose of their old menace intact, while simultaneously changing the playing field around them so ridiculously, it could only be taken with a wink and a nudge. Not to mention with the broader audience that genre-bending usually yields, of course. Regardless of when or why the horrors eventually diluted, we were still left with some great arcs to fondly look back on.

The great horror of the 70s

As a little kid, I was first hooked on the old black and white Universal cable matinees, but upon hitting the double digits (the ripe old age of 10, or so), Hammer started winning me over. The girls, the blood, and those unmistakeable leading men. You don’t even have to look up from anything else you might be doing, in order to identify Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee, the moment they walk on screen and deliver a single line. Lugosi was that way, too. Sure, his stilted English was largely to blame, but it’s of no consequence. We knew who it was the second he opened his mouth. Over the years, horror films have twisted and turned, jumped through different hoops, ripped each other off, ripped themselves off, played it straight, played it for laughs, and played-it-the-hell-out. But like most great antagonists, they always came back with a vengeance. In my personal opinion, the last truly great cinematic horror run happened in the 70s and arguably peaked with Halloween or Dawn of the Dead. It says as much about the freedom of that era’s filmmakers and the power of the auteur, as it does anything else. Put simply, guys and girls were allowed to execute their vision and were allotted the proper funds to do so, much easier than in today’s rigidly corporate studio landscape. Or maybe it was the drugs, who knows? Either way, the ends justified the means and it sounds like it was a genuinely badass time to call action.

Rest assured, I’m not naysaying here. Quite the opposite. There are still some great scares to be found out there, but it’s more of an orphan’s party in our current era, with horror unbound and roaming the hills as opposed to having a place to call home and a roster of familiar players. The monster can now pop-up anytime, anywhere, and it does. Perhaps as it should be. I can count ’em on one hand, but the greats are out there. Off the top of my head, Session 9, The Strangers, Frozen, and House of the Devil come to mind. And since we’re taking a little Babylonian stroll down memory lane this month – or digging-up horrific repressed memories, if you will – I thought we’d revisit some of the renowned, the misunderstood, the less easily-defined, and the downright bizarre instalments of some of our favourite popular series. The years contain some quirky ones lying in wait, so let’s drag a few out into the light and examine what made ’em so special, or consequently, not-so-special. We don’t spare the rod here at HOB, but I love all the films I’m about to run down, for one reason or another, so there’s not gonna be much trashing going on. If you were expecting piss and vinegar, my apologies in advance. Maybe next month. We’ll see how it goes, eh?

Dracula (1931)

Dracula 1931Let’s go for broke straight outta the gate and look at what’s probably the most famous, iconic, and enduring cinematic rendition of Bram’s sly old wampyr. Sure, this one’s almost universally (no pun intended) ingrained into the psyches of horrorphiles everywhere, but believe it or not, it’s also got its share of detractors. Lots of ’em. Stagy and plodding, it’s been called. Agonisingly slow and lazily photographed, just some of the arrows slung its way. Sure, we can look at it that way if we like. Technically speaking, the film grinds to somewhat of a single long shot halt after the atmospheric Borgo Pass & Castle Dracula opening, and the finale is just a wee bit anticlimactic. But maybe Browning & Lugosi didn’t need tricks, flashy moves, or swelling scores to draw us in. They just needed to take their time and let it roll. I like to think the silent, eerie stillness of this one is a huge part of its charm. And to this day, whenever the familiar strains of Swan Lake pop up, “I never drink…wine,” baby.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Another genre benchmark, Bride is widely heralded as trumping Whale’s original, but I like to take it a step further. If you agree with any of film history’s knee-jerk assessments of the greatness of Welles’ Citizen Kane, I urge you to pop Bride in and compare the two, at least in a technical respect. I find that most of the accolades heaped on Kane’s camerawork and narrative structure are evident to a large degree in Bride, which of course preceded Kane by six years. So, why does one get the arguable ‘greatest film of all time’ love, while the other stays confined in its genre box as ‘one of the best horror films of all time?’ Kane is great, no doubt about that, but the answer’s in the question. The horror genre has always and will always stand a step outside the critical intellectual mainstream, just because it’s easier for those prudes to turn-up their pampered noses than to mine the wild and free territory our genre offers. That doesn’t mean Pauline Kael doesn’t get nightmares. But I’d bet anything that Rosebud isn’t what’s chasing her down those long shadowy corridors of the subconscious.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

Coming nearly a decade after the classic Horror of Dracula, this one takes its time and achieves some truly eerie deja vu, before plunging us headlong into the thrills and chills. For you lovers of Hammer’s Technicolor mayhem, it’s all here: busty maidens, priestly warnings, a creepy manservant, the same gloriously gothic sets, solid scripting that invokes a high level of dread well before the titular vamp makes his inevitable return, and of course, Sir Christopher Lee. An interesting side-tone is Dracula’s complete absence of dialogue, which has been an issue of debate for years, with Lee stating he so hated his scripted lines that he opted to say nothing at all, while scribe Jimmy Sangster claimed he never wrote any in the first place. I tend to think Sangster’s just saving face, but whatever the reason, it works way better than it should. Well-played, Lee. By far, this is the Count’s creepiest outing. Besides, recalling his painfully drawn-out demise at the end of the first film, you can’t blame the guy for not feeling chatty. Ouch. Burn.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Frankenstein and the monster from hellThe last instalment of the Hammer Frankenstein series, and possibly the best, albeit quietly. The studio took the opposite approach of Universal in adapting Mary Shelley’s tale to the screen, instead focusing on the doctor, not the monster. With Peter Cushing as the Baron, they hit pay-dirt. Over the course of six films, we get to watch in glee as Victor von Frankenstein goes from an idealistic, wealthy young genius to a stark-raving mad lunatic, while somehow still managing to follow his muse and create life wherever and whenever there’s a stitch to be made. God almighty, it doesn’t get any better than this. Aging, with fire-damaged hands and a ridiculously overdone fright wig, the good doctor hasn’t lost a step in the way of persuading anyone in his vicinity to succumb to his bidding. He’s confined to an insane asylum, but has free reign to do as he pleases, since he knows some dark secrets about the hospital director. Another gorgeous Hammer leading lady, Shane Briant as a mirror of the young Victor, and a de rigueur tortured monster (played to heartbreaking perfection by David Prowse, who’d go on to play Darth Vader a couple years later) make this entry not only a gem in the rough, but the perfect capper to a virtually flawless series of horror films. If you’re unfamiliar, push that rock off your head, find all six, and view them in order immediately.

Black Christmas (1974)

Without a doubt, the best-kept secret of 70s horror, this one might be directly responsible for the equally-timeless Halloween. Featuring both Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder in their primes, it’s got sex appeal, creep factor, solid premise, crack pacing, airtight execution, and some of the most morbidly memorable visuals ever committed to celluloid. An unseen killer terrorizes a sorority house during a Christmas party, and no one is safe. If the plot sounds hackneyed, it’s because every single slasher film that came after it walks in its colossal footsteps, without exception. But not one of them matched the expertise on display here. If you wanna see how it’s done, look no further than Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. I can’t say it any clearer than that. If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl…it’s on too tight!

And, in the name of all that’s fringe, our honourable mention goes to:

Fuckenstein (2012)

FuckensteinPorn genre parodies are really cumming into their own, I tell you. In this XXX send-up of the aforementioned horror classic, that old dog Doctor Frankenstein has an epiphany. Whilst bedding tattooed vixen Joanna Angel, he takes an unannounced liberty, prompting the punk princess to go bonkers with pleasure. Being a medical genius and whatnot, he additionally takes things one step further and creates a monster to assist him in simultaneously pleasuring sultry Joanna’s front & back doors. We, in turn, are treated to the ensuing salacious images of the doctor and his randy monster thoroughly double-penetrating Ms. Angel until reaching the, um, explosive finale. I’ll bet the farm that Hammer Films never considered this narrative twist. Give it up for Burning Angel Entertainment, everybody. For doing their part to keep the home fires burning. Salutations, Joanna. It’s art. It really is. [Editor’s Note – congratulations to BC Furtney for becoming the first columnist to have a link censored, yes that’s right folks, he went there and tried to link to a stream of said film.]

On that note, let’s all settle down. Go find a great horror film, pop it in the player, dim the lights, gather round the telly, and remember why we love this stuff, eh? It’s art, it’s entertainment, it’s social commentary, it’s comic relief, it’s primordial instinct, it’s a glimpse into other worlds – or a mirror to our own. It’s the noise in the closet, the scratching behind the door, the shadow outside the window, the pounding under the bed. It’s the fantastic, the wondrous, the unexplained, the obscene. Be afraid. But not too afraid to watch. It’s only a movie, after all.

To a new World of Gods and Monsters. Ha, ha. The creation of life is enthralling, distinctly enthralling, is it not?

– Dr. Pretorius

BC FURTNEY

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2 comments

  1. Haven’t seen the last two but Andrew Keir who starred in “Dracula Prince of Darkness” went to school with my father and occasionally when he was in this part of Scotland we’d bump into him in the supermarket. He wasn’t on horseback, with a rifle, sadly, but he was a great “Quatermass”.

  2. Man, that’d make going for a gallon of milk a very entertaining experience. I kept an eye peeled for Christopher Lee when we lived in California at the same time, but alas, never did bump into the Count.

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