As part of the Groovers and Mobsters Present series we posted a Halloween special last year. For those who missed it over on Movie Mobsters last year here it is again:
What Happened to Baby Jane (1962)
My concept of Halloween is probably skewed: I’m not American and we don’t celebrate it in my country. In theory I suppose What Happened to Baby Jane has no remnants of the visceral terror that one would probably associate with the holiday. Still, the theme is horror and more than just the knee-jerk scares that dissipate before an hour wears out sometimes what’s more horrific is when the terror is established through the monotony of everyday life.
Blanche and Jane are two sisters; both were stars somewhat in their youth although Blanche – now crippled – was the more successful one. A resentful Jane must now be caretaker to her sister and she begins to plot the most monstrous of plans to torture her sister while working on a comeback to the screen. It perhaps reads a little like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, but What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is altogether more disconcerting and freakish. We’ll watch as Jane kills her sister’s pet bird and feeds it to her, she’ll eventually do the same with the rats in the cellar, she’ll drag her up the stairs, kick her in the head and in one of the film’s most disgusting scenes perform a bizarre show-tune. Sometimes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is so awful to look at its almost parody, but I have a feeling that that might be the point.
But the film’s horror manages to hit home despite the allusions to parody, or perhaps because of it. Robert Aldrich seems intent on showing us how ridiculous and awful the human spirit can be. It’s more than the ageing makeup on Bette Davis, her entire demeanor indicates grotesquery and it’s even more distressing because it all seems to be so logical. The most horrific things are those which make sense, despite their awfulness, and that’s where Jane one-ups so many horror movie villains. Keep your Freddy Krueger’s and Chucky’s. Lock me up in a room with Baby Jane and I’d probably go crazy… if she’s not a horror movie villain, I don’t know what is.
By Andrew K from Encore’s World of Film & TV
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
How do you pick a movie to write about for something like this? I was struggling to decide so went back to the beginning, the first Hammer Horror movie I ever saw and the one that got me into horror movies. The movie starts with a prologue made up of the closing scenes of the previous film (the first Hammer Dracula) complete with a voiceover explaining the destruction of Dracula (Christopher Lee). We cut to a group of English tourists including Charles Kent (Francis Matthews, a sort of low rent Cary Grant type) who are stranded by a superstitious coach driver whist on their way to Carlsbad. After a coach and horses turns up out of nowhere, they find themselves rescued and accepting the “hospitality” of a dead count in his mysterious castle. I won’t give the plot away but I think you can guess that the castle belongs to Dracula and it is no accident that they have found their way to his castle.
An interesting movie, the story is original but holds many similarities with the original, this is evident in the characters. The traditional Van Helsing character (played by an un-credited Peter Cushing in the prologue) is replaced by Father Sandor (Andrew Keir who went of to play Prof. Quatermass in the Hammer movie Quatermass and the Pit). Charles and Diana Kent (Francis Matthews & Suzan Farmer) are a good stand in for Jonathan and Wilhelmina Harker. Ludwig (Thorley Walters) fills the Renfield part. The movie did two things for the genre: it set the template for the Hammer Dracula movies and also opened the floodgates for Dracula (and vampire movies in general) to move away from the original Bram Stoker novel. Directed by Hammers greatest director Terence Fisher the film has a perfect blend of carefully manipulated tension and just enough gore and horror to make this a great atmospheric movie that only Hammer could have made. There has been some contention as to why Christopher Lee’s Dracula is mute, whatever the reason it just makes it more sinister. A Must for all classic horror fans.
By Andy From Fandango Groovers
The Wicker Man (1973)
Let me ask a simple question: What scares you? Masked psychos lurking in the shadows, stalking you in your house or through dark and foreboding woods? Alien invasions, full-scale or otherwise, staged by extraterrestrial races with less-than-benevolent intentions? The dead rising from their graves to consume the living– or perhaps menacing you as malevolent spirits rather than shambling, rotting bodies? Perhaps you fear an encounter with a monster thought to be mythic and legendary, a werewolf or a troll? There’s no end to the myriad, ceaseless evils that filmmakers have unleashed upon the hapless characters of their movies for decades, nor to the number of locations and manners in which the victims-to-be might encounter them, but for my money nothing is scarier than something rooted in something real. Which is why almost forty years after being introduced into the world of horror, the residents of the Hebridean island called Summerisle still frighten me more than the deadliest wraiths and the most remorseless slashers.
The Wicker Man is the kind of film that purchases its fear directly from the stores of reality. Relaying the misfortunes of a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) who travels to the aforementioned island at the behest of an anonymous letter tipping him off to a child’s kidnapping, The Wicker Man quickly shifts from a crime thriller into something weirder, and eventually into something incredibly sinister (which, incidentally, occurs around the time that Christopher Lee’s character is introduced). Investigating the kidnapping, Woodward’s devout Christian policeman delves into the customs, rituals, and culture of the island folk– all of whom celebrate a form of Celtic paganism, which among other things involves sexual liberation, animal
sacrifice, and…well, I’ve said enough already. Watch the film for yourself.
Robin Hardy here aims to inspire suspense and dread not through supernatural or otherwise fantastical plot devices but through nothing more than human ignorance. And maybe Hardy’s greatest feat in The Wicker Man lies in the way he makes us, the audience, feel as much like outsiders and interlopers in this pagan community as Woodward’s rigidly Christian police officer. Truly there’s nothing sillier inherent to the belief structures of the pagans than to those of Christian doctrines, and yet it’s hard not to judge the island inhabitants for adhering to such an outmoded dogma as Woodward mingles among them. (And then again, it’s equally difficult not to do the same to the sexually self-repressed Woodward.) Walking away from the film’s climax we realize that in the end Woodward and the islanders could have learned an enormous amount from each other, but chose instead to clash over religion; in this way The Wicker Man seems to be holding up a mirror to human history, and the reflection is utterly sobering and disquieting. Few horror films since have managed to be so bold or brave, nor so deeply disturbing.
By Andrew C from Andrew at the Cinema
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Anyone that knows me knows that I think Zombies are the end all be all of the Horror genre. And when it comes to Zombies, no one does it better than George A. Romero. Romero has made 6 Zombie films in his “of the Dead” series to date and while Night of the Living Dead is the Bible for all that follow, Dawn of the Dead remains the best film he’s ever made. Here’s the basic idea:
In this first sequel to Night of the Living Dead, a group of four people take up residence in a deserted mall while trying to stay alive amidst the armies of the dead and a vicious gang of militant bikers.
“Dawn”, or the one that takes place in the mall, succeeds on so many levels. First, who hasn’t thought about having free reign over all the stuff in a mall. It’s every consumer’s dream… regardless of whether or not the world is going to hell around you. Second, Zombies make such interesting baddies on film because (a) they’re just relentless and endless and (b) they’re basically us. I mean, what better way to make man take a good look at himself and what he’s capable of than to pit him against his own self. Another thing that makes “Dawn” great is that it was the first time that Romero also began to explore the world beyond people just trying to survive and began to look at the way the living would treat each other if ever they were in a situation where rules and laws no longer applied… turns out, not so good.
To this day, I rarely come across Horror films that are let alone good but offer up chills to boot. Dawn does both and if you haven’t seen it yet, well… get on that!
By Kai from The List
The Changeling (1980)
Nothing like a good haunted house flick to cheer you up when you’re sick and that’s exactly what The Changeling did for me. No, not the attractive Angelina Jolie. You’re thinking of the wrong Changeling movie. I’m talking about the classic one with the less than attractive George C. Scott. He may not be as easy on the eyes as Jolie but he can act circles around her which is a very good thing when it comes to this movie. Scott plays John Russel, a man who has lost his wife and daughter in a terrible car accident. A few months after their deaths he moves to Seattle so he can teach a music course in college and spend time alone composing on his piano. He rents an old home from the historical preservation society but soon finds that he’s not the only resident there.
While typical of a ghost story where the spirit searches for some type of justice and someone, obviously the homeowner, must put the spirit at peace, The Changeling manages to take that simple idea and make a grand conspiracy of it involving a senator and a large sum of money promised in a will. It isn’t very long into the movie that we get treated to the usual scares of the ghost film. Doors opening and closing, hushed whispers and strange visions. The film does manage to generate some dread and tension as it builds to these moments though. Early on the ghost appears in very subtle ways but as John moves closer to uncovering the secret surrounding the ghost’s fate we’re treated to much more intense and frightening situations.
The ghost goes from a simple spirit to a full on poltergeist and the events of the film become more frantic as the mystery unravels. It was nice to see a ghost story that doesn’t rely on excessively loud and sudden music cues to create the fear. Here we’re just left with images or scenes that are just plain creepy. One little ball in the movie is just as effective a scare as any killer jumping out of a closet! The film is apparently based on an experience that writer Russel Hunter had at one time and that story is as interesting as the film. This one probably won’t have your friends jumping out of their seats and cowering in fear but it’s an effective haunted house movie with some genuine moments of tension and creepiness.
By Will from The Film Reel
When I think of scary movies and when I think of Halloween, my heart immediately leaps to Poltergeist, one of the most eerie, smartly written psychological mind freaks ever to grace the silver screen. It inspired the horror genre to be a smarter place and realize that things don’t have to jump out to scare you, what seems possible instead of extreme situations is far more terrifying.
It immediately whisks the viewer into a world of suburban reality. Every house is a cookie cut out of another, but the neighborhood continues to grow and grow. A typical family that is clearly happy, yet humanly flawed begins to experience strange events out of nowhere. Their youngest daughter Carol Anne begins talking to the TV and the dog begins to act manic. In the meantime strange electrical currents seem to be having an effect on the house, while summer storms are also plaguing the neighborhood. Nature seems to be out of whack, and clearly is when suddenly the furniture in the families home begins to move around. By itself. Suddenly lives are in peril, and a darkness invades the house.
This is still is one of the most terrifying movies ever made. The special effects never go too far, yet there is an epic feel to it, still balanced by realism. The characters are full on tangible, and never do you feel like yelling at them telling them how stupid they are. It feels like a real situation, where human curiosity becomes the catalyst for the impossible, and a nightmare that no one can wake up from. The creativity of Poltergeist, with it’s terrific writing and direction put it in the category of one of the greatest horror movies of all time, without question for me.
By Heather from Movie Mobsters
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Evil lives in our world, and it rarely wears an obvious or garish mask of villainy. That’s a truth human beings prefer not to confront. It’s simpler to imagine that true evil is recognizable somehow, that it cannot hide beneath a pleasant-looking surface. John McNaughton, who shot “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (1986) on a paltry $110,000, understands this elemental human need … and he ignores it. His film is a crumpled snapshot of evil in its basic, most mundane form – a grim reality that can’t be shaken easily.
Talented as he is, McNaughton couldn’t create such a disturbing film without the right actor to play the killer, who must seem harmless enough to function in everyday life but be viciously single-minded in his goals. Michael Rooker, then a relative nobody, plays the part so monstrously well that it’s difficult now, 24 years later, to see him as anyone other than an emotionless murderer. Rooker is Henry, a polite, even-tempered drifter/serial killer who moves into the Chicago apartment of Otis (Tom Towles), newly paroled and not the least bit rehabilitated. When Otis discovers Henry’s secret, he wants to join in, and Henry obliges – but not before schooling Otis on the importance of never developing a traceable pattern. The arrival of Otis’ sister Becky (Tracy Arnold) causes friction between Otis, who lusts openly after his sister, and Henry, who treats this lost soul with kindness and is flattered by her interest in him. But love and companionship, Becky will learn, mean nothing to Henry.
McNaughton based “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” (very) loosely on the story of Virginia-born serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, which lends a feeling of authenticity to the film. More important than that, though, is the director’s pointedly unromanticized direction. He forces us to see through the killer’s eyes – as Henry sizes up potential victims, as Henry and Otis slaughter an entire family, videotape the massacre and watch it again for their own sick pleasure. McNaughton forces us to become voyeurs, and it’s the removal of that protective distance that makes “Henry” so frightening.
By Meredith from M. Carter at the Movies
Takashi Miike has undeniably earned the title of Master of Horror, and it’s because he really knows how to harness an audience’s imagination. The horror industry is known for shocking, bloody, fright-fests, full of chainsaw-wielding bogey men, but I think that when it comes to scary films, less is oftentimes more. A good horror film is one that’ll give you that creeping sense of dread in the pit of your stomach and Audition certainly fits the bill. There’s nothing more chilling than gradually putting together the pieces of a puzzle that’s been gently nagging at you, and slowly coming to the realization that you’re being manipulated by someone you trust—especially when you’re under the impression that you’ve been the one manipulating her.
Aoyama is a middle-aged widower, and like most single men his age who are dipping their toes back into the dating scene, he’s pretty sure he can land a pure, young virgin—if only he could figure out where to meet one (modern girls can be so uppity these days, with all their book larnin’). So, in a stroke of genius, he decides to put out a casting call for actresses to play a sweet, young thing for some unspecified movie or play or something. You’ve seen this ad on craigslist before: “seeking model/actress, 18-24, attractive, good morals, no fatties!” Since most actresses are accustomed to the degrading audition process (being treated like cattle, revealing intimate secrets to strangers, then never hearing back from them) no one will ever suspect that there was never a real acting job. Unfortunately for Aoyama, this little charade is really only good for discovering good actresses—not good girls. (Queue the maniacal laughter).
Beautiful, innocent-looking, young psychopaths will always shock the conscience. (That’s why any good zombie film worth it’s salt will include a little girl amongst the ranks of the flesh-hungry undead.) Our natural instinct is to love and protect such a fragile creature like this, so we’re utterly horrified when we discover her black heart and unnatural appetites. And that’s even before she pulls out the piano wire and eye-acupuncture kit. Yup, films like this will always have a permanent home in the horror genre!
By Allison from My Film Habit
28 Days Later (2002)
A group of animal rights activists break into a laboratory, and, like big turkeys, release a monkey with a certain ailment. Said monkey is infected with Rage, a highly contagious, quick spreading virus that sends the host into a homicidal craze, causing them to run wild, killing and infecting everything they see. 28 days later, the entirety of England has been ravaged by the virus. Enter Jim, who awakes from a coma on to a dead world. As he walks through the abandoned London streets, he soon meets other survivors, and together, they try and escape the city and get to a military blockade. When they get there though, they find something far worse than the infection waiting for them.
28 Days Later… was a real game changer for the zombie horror genre. Not only was it the first of its kind to incorporate zombies infected that sprint, it was also the first of its kind that seemed possible. There was a clear explanation behind the outbreak of the virus, and the way it spreads and behaves, though heavily fictionalized, is quite believable, making 28 Days Later… all the more terrifying. But, it’s the quiet moments that really set Danny Boyle’s film apart from its brothers. Early on in the film, Jim walks through a completely desolate and abandoned London. There is not a single person in the streets. The only vehicles he comes across are stalled in the middle of the road, having been destroyed or ransacked. The only clues he gets to his situation are the out of date newspapers that litter the sidewalk and the posters of missing people that adorn the walls. What is truly amazing about this is that Boyle and Co. achieved these images with absolutely no special effects. That’s right! Zero! The shut down sections of London’s streets and then filmed the scenes. Those early images are incredibly haunting are truly frightening. 28 Days Later… keeps that level of terror up for the entire run time, despite the film going a little off the rails in the third act. Imagine that. A horror movie these days that is actually scary.
Pretty much every single modern zombie movie owes something to 28 Days Later…. Remember how cool it was to see zombies running in Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead? 28 Days Later… did it first, and better. Remember how, in I Am Legend, the shots of Will Smith walking through an empty city looked really cool? 28 Days Later… did it first, and without any special effects. Danny Boyle’s film ushered in a new era for the modern zombie movie. It did away with the usual conventions of the genre, chiefly the concept of a slow moving zombie that anyone could get away from. It was the first legitimately scary movie of its kind since Night of the Living Dead. That one was scary because the concept was brand new. 28 Days Later… is scarier because it takes that concept, and updates it to fit in the real world. Hey, it made me believe that a zombie apocalypse could happen. That’s gotta count for something.
Ok, fine, they aren’t really zombies; they’re diseased humans, but come on! Give a guy a break! Zombie movie is easier to write, say, and read then diseased human movie! Let it go (Here’s looking at you, Nick)!
By Sebastian from Films From the Supermassive Black Hole
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Raw and unadulterated, this movie features an unsettling amount of violence brought on by this murdering clan of intensely evil people. The Devil’s Rejects (the sequel to the 70′s throwback House of 1000 Corpses) again follows the Firefly Family, the most vicious Texas backwoods murderers. Yet while the original was full of 70′s B-Movie weirdness to compliment the savagery, this sequel was just full on brutal realism.
The film opens with the Firefly Family barely surviving an incredibly awesome shootout (one John McTiernan or perhaps Luc Besson might approve of) and the entire film becomes a chase to bring the Fireflys to justice. Yet in the case of Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe), being that the Fireflys are responsible for the death of his brother, justice goes right out the window. He wants them to suffer and goes on a half-mad quest for their heads. But while the Fireflys are hiding/escaping the law, laying low just isn’t in their nature and they are still content to destroy as many lives wherever they go. Set to the best collection of 60′s/70′s folk music it’s hard not to like this movie even though you will probably never shake some scenes from your brain…ever. Unsettling is an understatement and this movie has been called “The Terminator of horror films” for a good reason. But there is some fun thrown in amongst the gasp inducing sequences and it all ends fantastically with the best use of “Freebird” I’ve ever seen in a movie.
The Devil’s Rejects is the kind of film you need to see because sometimes, when typical hack-n-slash horror won’t cut it, you need something jarring to cleanse your pallet of all the trite horror. I’m not saying you need to see The Human Centipede but give The Devil’s Rejects a shot especially for Halloween. In short this will rock your world. This isn’t for everyone but in this film which is basically visual blunt force trauma it is really really good in a really really bad way.
You see them walking down your street, you RUN the other way!!
By Marc from Go See Talk