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Halloween Horror Recommendations - 2001

     BO0! Before my Halloween horror recommendations, can I assume that you've seen The Others? Those of you resisting a theatrical viewing are missing one classy scarefest, with a literate script, a great castle setting, a cool, pale star turn by Nicole Kidman, and three or four scream-out-loud ghoulish jolts. I even savored the surprise ending.

     And if you plan to curl up at home with creepy movies and seasonal candy corn? Here's my video-store checklist of the 25 greatest horror flicks ever produced: George Franju's Eyes Without a Face (the greatest), David Cronenberg's The Brood and Dead Ringers, Kurt Neumann's The Fly (the original), Jacques Tourneur's The Cat People and Curse of the Demon, Dario Argenta's Suspiria, John Carpenter's Halloween, F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, Erle Kenton's Island of Lost Souls, Charles Barton's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, James Whale's Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Tod Browning's Freaks, Karl Freund's Mad Love, Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death and The Little Shop of Horrors, Carl Dreyer's Vampyr, Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, George Waggner's The Wolf Man, Terence Fisher's The Horror of Dracula, Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, Rupert Julian's Phantom of the Opera (silent), Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat, Afred Hitchcock's The Birds, George Waggner's The Wolf Man.

     Filmmaker Jacques Tourneur, the subject of a knowing 1998 scholarly book, Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, by my Phoenix colleague, Chris Fujiwara, is represented by two eerie films above; and a third Tourneur horror movie of distinction, I Walked With a Zombie (1943), plays October 31, Halloween night, at the Harvard Film Archive. In this slimmed-down, mini-budget West Indies retelling of Jane Eyre, a nurse comes to Haiti to minister to her brooding boss's flipped-out wife, who has come under a disruptive voodoo spell. Tourneur evokes an oneiric Carribean-of-the-mind, and the final scene, in which a tall, lank, mesmerized native holds the wife in is arms and sleepwalks into an inky sea, stands as one of cinema's grand surrealist gestures.

     Is one supernatural movie not enough for a night out? Note the Coolidge Corner on October 27, a midnight to noon All Night Horror Movie Marathon, with six features plus, says the Coolidge Calendar, "gruesome shorts, bloody surprises, and plain old evil." The program includes screening Scream (the 1996 original!) plus the e-feature duo, The Exorcist and The Evil Dead II. My favorite film in this collection is The Howling (1981), a 20th anniversary showing of a prime werewolf work by a pre-Gremlins Joe Dante, who had grown up writing fanzine articles for such magazines as The Castle of Frankenstein.

     That's why The Howling is populated with a supporting cast of genre movie icons: John Carradine, the post-Lugosi Dracula; Kevin McCarthy, the paradigmatic paranoid from The Invasion of the Body Snatchers; Kenneth Tobey, the stalwart hero and mutant-carrot killer from The Thing; Dick Miller, the nebbish star of The Little Shop of Horrors. Actor Patrick Macnee plays a psychiatrist named Dr. George Waggner, in homage to the director of The Wolf Man. And there's a Roger Corman walk-on.

     The Howling is half-goof. The jokes are in the hip script by John Sayles, and the horror comes from the master designs of then twenty-one-year-old Rob Bottin. Our hero, Eddie, does a two-minute, on-screen makeover, sprouting shrubby hair, a hideous snout, foul claws, a Superman barrel chest, and teeth magnificently yellowed from chewing illicit carrion. "All the script said was 'Eddie turns into a werewolf'" Battin explained, when I once talked to him. He said that having a basketball-player-sized werewolf was something he'd picked up while working on Roger Corman's Humanoids of the Deep. Bottin: "Corman walked up to a humanoid and said, 'Stand up and be big. Big is scary.'"

     The Coolidge all-night of horror is completed with George Romero's Monkey Shines (1988), about a drugged-up homicidal monkey acting out the anger of his wheelchair-bound owner, and The Bad Seed (1956), the schlock movie (John Waters' favorite!) based on the kitsch Maxwell Anderson Broadway play from the spurious William March best-selling novel about a merrily murdering 8-year-old girl. Both films are fun in parts but wear out their welcomes due to their unconscionable running times. But they'll be great places for 3 AM and 5 AM snoozes.

(October, 2001)


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