Not that you need my help, but I've run across several good choices over the years and I love an excuse to talk about movies....
Obviously, pretty much any of the old Universals of the 30's and 40's, or the Hammer cycle of the 50's and 60's, will make for a fine choice. The best among these include HORROR OF DRACULA, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF DRACULA, etc. etc. If at a loss, reaching for a Frankenstein or Dracula film is usually a good place to start! This list will focus on the less obvious choices, however, the ones less likely to turn up on TCM every year.
What follows is a list, in more or less random order, of some of my favored choices for the season. If a title has been remade, best assume I mean the original version.This list isn't authoritative, by any means, it's just some suggestions you can feel free to use. And to those who think I'm completely ripping off Ken Begg's halloween movie picks list from a few years ago..... you're only half right!
1-THE RETURN OF DRACULA -1958, a sadly obscure Dracula thriller which actually boasts a halloween setting. Dracula comes to the United States, taking the place of an immigrant painter, and his evil begins to infect an average American town. Quite nifty.
2-GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW -1959. What you might consider a dry run for the AIP beach movies of the next decade, DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW is mostly a musical spoof of the sort of JD and monster pictures AIP had been making up to that point. A hot-rod club is going to be kicked out of their clubhouse, so they check out an estate they're given permission to use. Said grounds, however, are haunted by something sinister...-and familiar! Fun little movie, but not quite as polished as the Frankie and Annette pictures. Character actor Russ Bender has one of his showier roles as a reporter who believes the kids aren't the delinquents the police claim. Also among the cast is Elaine DuPont, the adorable Debbie Reynolds-esque wife of Crash Corrigan, who would later play the female lead of THE BEACH GIRLS AND THE MONSTER.
3-HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE -In the 60's, country crooner Ferlin Huskey was given a chance to star in THE LAS VEGAS HILLBILLYS in what seemed an attempt to make him the Elvis Presley of country music. The film was actually quite fun, and did well in the box office, so this sequel followed shortly after. Characters from the first film are headed to a Nashville jamboree when they must spend the night in a haunted house teeming with enemy agents. Amusing, although not as good as the first film. For one thing, Huskey seems to be having a lot less fun this time around, so that may explain why there was no third film. A veteran cast of horror stars comes along for the ride: Lon Chaney! John Carradine! Basil Raithbone! George Barrows! Singer/model/actress Joi Lansing gets an all-too-rare chance to play the leading lady (taking over her part from Mamie Van Doren, who played "Boots" Malone in the previous entry -and it should be noted Joi's take is much more gentle).
One major problem is a spot of editing done when our heroes reach the hunted estate. It seems that as scripted, comic relief character Jeepers spots a mysterious form moving through the bushes later revealed to be a pet gorilla. The reveal of the enemy spies also seemed to be saved for a bit later. As edited, though, we first see the gorilla being put BACK into his cage before we see him creeping around outside! The only thing I can figure is that someone thought the shapeless mass moving through the bushes was potentially too scary for the youngsters and decided to reveal it earlier, so said footage wouldn't be scary. A shame, because this minor edit really throws the film off. Not a great film or anything, but fun for the kiddies.
4-FRIGHT NIGHT -The last great vampire film, and one of the true classics of the 80's. A teenager thinks the man who just moved in next door is a vampire, and tries to enlist the aid of TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell!), who formerly played a great vampire slayer in a series of AIP/Hammer-like monster movies, to stop him. A fine horror film, although it does include the 80's curse of opening with a guy trying to blackmail his girlfriend into sleeping with him because they've been seeing each other for more than a week. That aside, though, good stuff.
5-HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH -Originally, John Carpenter suggested a series of films with a holloween setting, but otherwise unrelated. What could have been a pretty neat slate of films was instead turned into another typical slasher series built around Michael Meyers, the pyscho of the first two entries. The third film gives us a glimpse of what might have been. Tom Atkins plays a doctor who has a patient murdered under his watch. His only clue is the halloween mask the victim was clutching when he reached the hospital. Something mighty strange is afoot, and it has some connection to the Silver Shamrock novelty company who produced the mask. Combo horror, science fiction, mystery, and espionage. A dandy film.
6-THE FOG -Another John Carpenter film, this one a classic ghost story with 70's/80's sensibilities. It's been 100 years since the Elizabeth Dane crashed into the rocky cliffs surrounding the town, and the ghosts of the crew are out for revenge! Tom Atkins again stars with many a familiar face along for the ride.
7-THE BLOB -Quintessential 50's monster movie. A meteor crashes to earth and unleashes a blob of goo which feeds on living creatures. It grows and grows with each victim and soon threatens the entire town. Noted, of course, for starring a young Steve McQueen. Great film. The film's co-feature, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, is also a really good choice for halloween.
8-THE UNEARTHLY -Mad scientist performs gland experiments in a gloomy old mansion that fronts as a clinic for mental health. A 50's film, although it harkens back to the PRC thrillers of earlier decades. Great cinematography for the season, and just look at this cast: John Carradine, Myron Healy, Allison Hayes, Sally Todd, and Tor Johnson!
9-NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD -Revived corpses feeding on human flesh are today a horror staple (in fact zombies are threatening to consume the horror genre today as slashers threatened to in the 80's). It all started with this 1968 black and white opus of young George Romero. Ignoring the countless knock-offs and sequels and sorta-sequels, this film was quite a ground-breaker when it came out, and is counted today as the first 'modern' horror film. It begins like a fairly typical budgetless B picture, settling the original audience into a false sense of security before hitting them right between the eyes with a suspenseful yarn involving a group of people taking refuge in an isolated farm house surrounded by revived corpses which feed on the flesh of the living. Still packs a certain punch, despite the tireless re-use of the material in a hundred inferior films. Stark blacks and whites give the photography an edge no color film could muster, great for halloween night.
10-KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS -Wow. What a terrific film! A desert town finds itself ground zero for a sudden revolt of tarantulas which, having been denied their regular food sources by heavy use of DDT, have moved on to human flesh. Well-mounted, smartly written, extremely creepy. Well worth a look. Stars William Shatner.
11-EARTH VS THE SPIDER -Classic Bert I. Gordon epic is just about the perfect 50's drive-in monster movie. Two teens discover a gigantic bird spider living in the local cave and the authorities try to kill the beast. They result only in stunning it with a massive dose of DDT, and the creature escapes to spread a wave of terror through town. A must for fans of 50's monster movies, and one of AIP's very best.
12-THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH -Gloriously cheesy drive-in fare from that period where the 50's and the 60's merged together -although it should be noted 60's films tended to be a LOT less concerned with realistic science, which marked the 50's films compared to earlier decades.
Somewhat ahead of it's time, this one. Radioactive waste is dumped into the ocean near the local beach, and the contaminants transform some dead bodies and seaweed into gill-man vampire/zombies who rise from the deep and attack the local citizenry. For a film from 1963/4, the film is shockingly violent and has one of the highest body counts of any such film I can think of! Despite the gruesome nature of parts of it, though, the film is so astoundingly goofball as to be downright charming! Black and white photography is actually quite spooky at times during the night scenes. A drive-in classic.
13-MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY -An interesting rarity, a sort of independent knock-off of the AIP teen comedies. As a film, it's more or less a dud. AIP could have taken the basic plot here and made a pretty fun movie out of it, but this is well below the standards of William Asher's Beach pix. The most interesting aspect of the picture is that it was part of a live stage show! In short, the plot concerns a sorority having an initiation pledge that requires the newbies to spend the night in a hunted house. Down in the dungeon, a mad scientist and his monster henchmen set about capturing the girls. Again, the premise could have supported a much funner movie. At the climax, the girls escape and the mad scientist notes this happens at every showing, at which point he aims his giant laser gun at the screen and blows away the barrier between the film and our world! He sends his monsters out to gather up some fresh victims and then they return shortly with girls plucked from the audience (in real life, planted actors at each show)! Not overly successful in what it tries to be, but fun.
14-THE VAMPIRE LOVERS -1970, a far better film than it's premise would imply. A vampire woman is running around and seducing other young women into the world of the undead. Probably the only time you'll see a film this good concerning vampirism with lesbianistic over-tones. A fine feature, with Hammer favorite Peter Cushing on hand. Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith play the girls.
15-HOUSE ON BARE MOUNTAIN -In the early 60's, before pronography went mainstream, there was a genre known as the nudie cutie. Nudie cuties were sort of an extension of the nudist camp movies, except they came up with excuses to showcase naked women in more familiar settings through aid of devices like X-Ray glasses and such. What marks the genre, most all of them intentional comedies, is that while there was an abundance of female flesh on display, very few of them were all that dirty. Men seldom even touched women in these things, and even if they did it was never in an intimate way. The extent of the 'sex' was limited to guys peeking over bushes and watching girls skinny-dip or the like. Yep, they're my kind of dirty movie. I've actually run across a couple of these which, odd as it is to say this, were pretty good (at least entertaining) movies. Oh, cheap, but occasionally better than their nature would imply.
My favorite is probably THE HOUSE ON BARE MOUNTAIN, a spoof of monster pictures which is actually fairly funny. At times, it plays like an AIP beach picture minus the bikinis -at the risk of overselling it. Porno king Bob Cresse dons a dress and wig and does a fine Jonathan Winters impression as Granny Good, who operates a finishing school for frequently naked girls who spend a lot of time in the showers or lounging about without their tops. The school is actually a front for a moonshine operation Granny is running in the basement. Her head man is Krakow, a seven foot werewolf! The police suspect something is up, so they enrol an undercover policewoman to join the sorority and investigate. The film is just one long series of jokes, amazingly a number of them pretty funny, most of the Vaudeville tradition. It's one big burlesque show, and a pretty funny one at that. Off hand, I recall only ONE joke that was off-color!
16-ORGY OF THE DEAD -Not as dirty as the title sounds when you learn this was one of Ed Wood's porno pictures. Actually, that isn't quite fair. ORGY is what was known as a nudie cutie, or at least a nudie, which by 1966 was fading away. This film is almost charming in it's own way by being so backward. Needless to say, most nudie cuties were comical in nature, and this film is too, only not as intended!
A horror writer and his girlfriend crash their car and wander into the local cemetery to find help. Once there, they find the annual judgement of the dead where the Emperor of the Night allows a number of damned (female) souls to dance for him. Should they please him, their sins are atoned, or some such. Basically, the whole film plays like halloween night in a strip joint, as we watch a dozen or so girls come in and do a themed dance in a foggy graveyard set.
Although Wood is only credited with the script, based upon his novel of the same name(!), his directorial fingerprints are all over this. Footage is merrily mis-matched, continuity is non-existant, the acting is horrible, the film is hysterical in ways I can't even describe. Criswell is back, playing the King of the Dead, or whatever his is, and he's obviously -and I mean obviously- sauced! He also had trouble seeing his cue cards through all the fake smoke, so he answers many lines after visibly looking beyond his fellow performers and squinting! My favorite shot is of a couple of monsters, cut into one of the dance numbers. The shot is the end of a previous take, and we can see the actors relaxing from their positions!
A couple of interesting bits of casting include burlesque starlet Pat Barrington in a duel role as both nice girl Shirley and one of the spirit dancers, and popular 60's figure model Mikey Jines as the most adorable (mostly naked) Hawaiian dancer you've ever seen. Miss Jines steals the whole show, possessing the figure of a Gil Elvgren girl come to life. I believe another girl to be fellow figure model Dawn Garyson. A number of the girls are quite lovely, in fact, so the endless dance sequences remain fun to watch, for the most part. The girls, though, are just icing on a cake of non-stop hilarity!
17-"MANOS" THE HANDS OF FATE -Once this could probably boast of being the most obscure horror film of all time, but it has achieved quite a following thanks to MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. The film is a wonder to behold, in it's own sense, as we bare witness to a film so inept it almost seems impossible it exists. At it's best it looks and feels like a really ambitious home-movie, and maybe that's why it has a certain charm that it really shouldn't have?
A man and his family get lost on their way to a lodge and must spend the night at the isolated desert home of "The Master" and his weird henchman Torgo. It really does defy description, but it has the right flavor for a halloween screening if you're in the right mood.
18-NIGHT OF THE GHOULS -The unreleased Ed Wood movie shows a marked improvement in the man's skills as a director and story-teller. There's a house outside LA where passers by have seen ghosts. A mad scientist used to live there (an oblique reference to BRIDE OF THE MONSTER), so the police investigate to find a phony swami bilking people of their money with a medium racket. Turns out, however, there are real ghosts on the loose....
There's way too much of Paul Marco's fidgety patrolman Kelton, a carry over from both BRIDE OF THE MONSTER and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, but there's much better use of sets and locations this time around. The stark blacks and dead trees which marked PLAN 9 are here seen in more natural exterior shots, and the result is some nicely spooky photography. It's still an Ed Wood film, so don't expect a great achievement, but this one makes for a fun little halloween screener.
19-FREDDY VS JASON -Talk about a miracle picture! By all sane reasoning, this should have stunk to high Heaven, but it's actually one of the better films for either monster! "Freddy" is really child killer Fred Kruger of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and it's many sequels. On occasion the character could be quite effective and intelligent, particularly in the three films Wes Craven was involved with (those being the first film, the third film, and WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE). Astoundingly, FREDDY VS JASON manages to capture the Craven Kruger better than one would think possible. Even more astounding, Jason Vorhees, the undead hacker of the FRIDAY THE 13TH cycle, is given an intelligent and interesting story!
In short, Kruger has been effectively erased from the memory of Springwood, preventing him an escape from Hell. To get people scared and talking about him again, he revives Jason Vorhees and sends him on a mission to kill. Ultimately, Freddy is revived, but Jason remains uncontrollable and the two monsters must eventually face off....
That this actually works is nothing short of incredible. The film, amazingly, only really stumbles one time pretty early on, and that's mostly due to it's needless and insane attempt to be politically correct, in this case the further dehumanization of tobacco smokers. The scene in question turns around a girl puffing a cigarette before meeting her boyfriend, who wanders in literally staggering drunk. Through his haze, he snaps into sobriety upon tasting and smelling the cig on her. Most sensitive nasal passages in history, that fella. I wonder how he can even get close to a bottle of booze. This moment of absurdity over, though, the film delivers in spades everything the casual fan could hope for but never expect!
20-LEFT BEHIND III -Darker and more action oriented than the first two entries, boasting a bigger budget and Lou Gossett Jr. as the President of the United States. This time around, the Anti-christ is through with diplomacy and triggers all-out war. Unfortunately, this was the last film produced in the series, likely due to rising production costs.
21-THE BOOGENS -Nifty 80's monster movie has some flesh-eating creatures released by mining operations. They begin to feed at a snowed-in town. An oft-overlooked gem.
22-ERNEST SCARED STUPID -The closest thing my generation had to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN was this little number that combines straight horror with the cartoon-like nature of Ernest P. Worrell. Worrell was a character created by Jim Varney and director Don Cherry for a slate of TV commercials in the 1980's. The pop culture icon that resulted was brought to the big screen for a series of films of varying quality, this one is one of the best.
A troll named Trantor is captured by early American colonists of Brairville, Missouri, before the evil creature is able to use the stolen souls of children to raise his army of monsters. They bury the monster under the roots of a tree. The reverend Finnieus Worrell has a curse placed upon his family by Trantor, who claims one of his own offspring will release him. A hundred or so years later and your old buddy Ernest does just that the night before halloween! Pretty funny stuff as Ernest tries to stop Trantor from unleashing his army with a new collection of souls.
23-SPACED INVADERS -The Martians have landed! A scout ship part of a greater invasion force which has been destroyed in another system mistakes an anniversary re-broadcast of Mercury Threater's "The War of the Worlds" for actual invasion reports and set down in the small town of Big Bean, where the locals mistake them for trick or treating youngsters. Rather than fearsome conquerers they pride themselves to be, the Martians prove to be a bunch of misfits who cause a great deal more aggravation than panic. Terrific fun, and I always try to end my October viewing with a screening!
24-ARSENIC AND OLD LACE -Cary Grant and his new bride go to his childhood home on halloween to.... No, I dare not say anything about this all-time classic! See the film for yourself, please! One of Grant's best. Based on a long-running stage play, and in fact because of a contract that said the film couldn't be released until after the play ended it's run, the film version was held back from release for years! One of the side-effects of this was a spoiled bit of product placement! Hoping to sell newer style telephones which incorporated the speaker and ear-piece into a single part, Grant uses one of these phones throughout the film. By the time it was released, everybody had already switched over!
25-WHISTLING IN THE DARK -First of three Red Skelton movies in which the red-headed comedian plays "The Fox" the fictitious but brilliant crime detective of radio. A cult decides he's the only man who can dream up a 'perfect' murder plot they can use to kill someone, and they abduct Red and his leading lady to a creepy mansion filled with the usual sliding walls and hidden tunnels. Hysterical stuff with a twist of genuine suspense. Followed by WHISTLING IN DIXIE and WHISTLING IN BROOKLYN, equally fine films.
26-HAUNTED HONEYMOON -Gene Wilder and friends star in this 80's take on 40's old dark house movies, including THE OLD DARK HOUSE. Wilder plays a radio performer who has just gotten married to Gilda Radner, but is swept into a murder mystery at a creepy estate (complete with werewolf!) before he can go on his honeymoon. Very much in the tradition of WHISTLING IN THE DARK and other films like it. Worth a look, although the language gets a touch rough in a couple of spots (otherwise, it's a fine family flick).
27-DARK AND STORMY NIGHT -There has been many a mystery/comedy over the years which do their best to harken back to the old dark house/who-done-it's of the 30's and 40's. This is Larry Blamire's take on the material, and in my humble opinion is his best work as both writer and director. Every cliche is pulled out of the closet as a group of people find themselves pulled together for a will-reading. Again, I wouldn't dare spoil anything, track down the film for yourself! I've seen the film a few times now and I still laugh so hard I miss a lot of gags. Manages to not only spoof the films it imitates, but actually compares well with them! Gather the family together and prepare to laugh yourselves silly!
28-BATTLESTAR GALACTICA -One of the first and most impressive clones of STAR WARS was this movie/teleseries. I point mainly to the feature version, as it somehow manages to capture the more festive side of halloween parties. I can't really explain why, maybe because of the colorful costumes and over-all sense of fun, but this film would lend itself well to halloween.
In a distant galaxy, the Cylons and Humans are having peace negotiations. Everything looks promising, and the humans are celebrating, but the Cylons are actually planning a sneak attack while the entire space fleet is away and their home worlds are unprotected. The war is on and the fleet is quickly destroyed, save one Battlestar, the Galatica. Their planets destoryed, the humans decide to gather every ship they can and convoy to a lost planet where it is rumored other humans exist. A planet called Earth. Should you want a more traditional halloween experience aboard the Galactica, there is the two-part episode of the follow-up series GALACTICA 1980 titled "The Night The Cylons Landed." This adventure follows Troy and Dillon as they chase a couple of Cylons who have crashed on earth on halloween night (and abduct Wolfman Jack!).
29-THE CAT PEOPLE -A true classic, and the film that put Val Lewton on the map. His philosophy, born of budgetary limitations, was that the audience would be a lot more creeped out by what they DIDN'T see than what they did see. Lewton produced a handful for films, but this remains his best and most iconic work.
A man meets a girl in the park and they eventually get married, only she refuses to perform all her wifely duties because of a curse she believes is upon her. Said curse, in short, is that if she becomes aroused, she'll become a clawed creature and kill the man she loves! This puts a wedge between the couple and he finds himself being drawn toward a co-worker who has secretly loved him for years. But the Mrs. is also strongly in love with her husband and doesn't take kindly to having competition for his affections.... Strong, intelligent, wonderful 40's film. A must-see, no matter what time of year it is, but it's spooky black and white photography is so perfectly suited to October it defies belief!
30-MAD LOVE -The film that made Peter Lorre a horror star of the first order is also one of his best performances, and the film itself is just wonderful. Seldom has there been a film so tight. Lorre plays Dr. Gogol, brilliant surgeon who happens to be in love with a married woman, an actress who is leaving town with her husband, Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive!). Orlac is hurt in a wreck, his hands crushed. Only Gogol can save his hands, and he does so, but did he replace Orlac's hands with those of a strangler recently executed? I think this was the first filmed version of The Hands of Orlac, (there may have been an earlier silent version) and is easily the best.
31-THE GORGON -Josh Kennedy's all-time favorite Hammer film is this rather unusual mix of mythology and horror/science fiction. Science confronts a living monster of legend in a gloomy mountain town. In the words of Mr. Kennedy: "Greatest film of all time."
32-THE TINGLER -Director William Castle is legendary as the screen's master showman. Combining Hitchcock style suspense with carny hoopla, Castle created a slate of pictures well-remembered for their slick professionalism and their corny publicity! This film is probably his most famous, as it was the one in which he wired theater seats to cause a panic at the right moment in the story!
Vincent Price plays a scientist who subscribes to the theory that fear causes a creature to grow along the spine of humans unless their screams kill the "Tingler." When a mute with a heart condition comes his way, Price suddenly finds his theory proved and a Tingler is now on the loose!
33-ATTACK OF THE OCTOPUS PEOPLE -The opus of then-16 year old Joshua Kennedy is a knowing and quite brilliant spoof of 50's genre films. Although self-admittedly crude, the film is a fun send-up/tribute to bygone days of movie-making. As with the very best of such spoofs, the film even manages a couple of genuine scares.
34-MADHOUSE -Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Robert Quarry in early 70's AIP send-up of movie-making and the madness (industrial and monstrous) behind the scenes. Price plays an actor noted for the film character of Dr. Death, and has been called out of retirement to revive the character for television. It was just after wrapping the last Dr. Death movie that Price found his bride-to-be beheaded, and soon enough more bodies are turning up.... Fairly obscure, but out on a nice disk from MGM.
35-13 GHOSTS -William Castle's ultimate haunted house epic, filmed in the magic of ILLUSION-O (the only Castle gimmick that has been successfully brought into the home via a nice disk release from Sony). A family inherits a haunted house, complete with 12 ghosts. Who will be no.13? Fun family-friendly scares leave no cliche untouched.
36-HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL -Castle's haunted house epic the year previous to 13 GHOSTS is in many way the definitive haunted house picture. Vincent Price is a reclusive millionaire who invites a group of people to a haunted house party. Anyone who survives the night will receive a cash reward. A great every-thing-into-the-pot spooker. A halloween party in itself!
37-BLACK SUNDAY -Barbara Steele's AND Mario Bava's first horror film is the best work of both in my opinion. Very Hammer-esque plot has a pair of vampire/witches revived to torture their descendants. Excellent black and white photography (Bava was a cinematographer prior to being a director, and he was much better suited to his earlier job) and Steele never looked better. If you can find a copy, it's worth a look (I'm speaking of the AIP version here).
38-THE MUMMY -I'm thinking the 1959 Hammer version over the stagy Universal film of the 30's. A much more exciting thriller, and one that no doubt got the monster kids excited about the prospect of a new cycle of Mummy films. Hammer, however, didn't follow Universal's lead on this and never did an actual series. Hammer did try a couple more unrelated Mummy films in the 60's, but neither THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB or THE MUMMY'S SHROUD left much of an impact compared to this one. Hammer did have a somewhat successful release in BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB, which went in a completely unexpected direction!
39-CULT OF THE COBRA -A fairly obscure Universal from the 50's follows the curse placed upon a group of Americans who witness a sacred ceremony of the titular cult. The cult wants them all dead, and dispatches a sexy woman (Faith Domergue!) to do the job by periodically turning into a giant snake! I dare not say too much about the film, which in it's structure seems decades ahead of it's time. Great cast of familiar faces too!
40-GALLERY OF TERROR -Cheapo AIP imitation from David L. Hewitt tries very hard to copy the successful AIP/Poe films of the period, but suffers by minimalist sets and a single camera set-up. Extras in one scene are only implied by sound effects! It tries, though, with a wide-screen scope and horror vets John Carradine (who doubles as host) and Lon Chaney. Five short stories are told, giving it much the feel of a comic book. One involves a clock that brings an unexpected visitor by when it's wound, another follows Scotland Yard as they track down a vicious killer, another has medical students talking their teacher into reviving a corpse, in one a man returns from the grave to claim revenge, and another retells the story of Dracula with a new twist on the end.... Not a terrific film, but not a bad way to spend halloween in between greeting trick or treaters.
41-CRITTERS -Nicely constructed 80's monster movie has flesh-eating creatures from space (Krites) landing in the small farming community of Grover's Bend. They take up refuge in a family's farmhouse basement and then lay siege upon them through the night. Fortunately, a pair of intergalactic bounty hunters are hot on the trail of the Krites.... A huge hit when it came out, and thus it sired no less than three sequels. The first film remains the best in the series, though, thanks to a sharp script and nicely developed characters. In the 80's, screenwriters had a much better feel for small town USA than they do today. The second film, while not bad, it much larger, but also comparatively empty.
42-THE UNINVITED -Let me stress, I don't mean the dozen other films by this title if you can get your hands on the classic 1940's ghost story starring Ray Milland. (Although, the recent film of the same name about a pair of sisters weary of their new stepmother isn't bad either.) There's no denying this ealier film is one of the all-time great supernatural horror flicks!
43-ALIEN ZONE -Obscure anthology horror film from 1980 is better than it looks. Captures the feeling of an EC horror comic better than any other anthology film I've seen, and one of the few films I've ever found to actually be scary in parts! Finding a good print may be a challenge, however....
44-GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER -The Big Blue Dinosaur is in full superhero mode as he tackles a poisonous creature born of pollution. The last Godzilla film to get the full AIP treatment, and one of the most iconic of the 70's. Not Godzilla's best work, however. Due mostly to the sparse and listless musical score, the film seems to drag when it should romp. It often feels as if some of the Smog Monster's sludge has oozed into the projector and the film is all gummed up. Easily the darkest film of the franchise, the only one reported to have disturbed the mostly kiddie matinee audiences that saw it! Much of the last half is a long night-time battle set on the wilderness around Mt. Fuji. If you can keep yourself awake during the slow spots, it'll suffice. I'd suggest a more lively entry to start November, though! GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER, anyone?
45-UNIDENTIFIED -Was the 1938 "The War of The Worlds" panic just a dress rehearsal? One of a handful of Christian-themed horror films that try to present a realistic take on familiar material. This one seems to be most influenced by THE X FILES period of investigation into strange happenings. Not bad at all.
46-HOLD THAT GHOST -Abbott and Costello's first spook comedy remains among their very best. The boys inherit a spooky old mansion and must spend the night there with some stranded motorists. Among the gang is a young Richard Carlson! Makes a fine double feature with WHO DONE IT? if you can swing it!
47-GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI -I reviewed this film at length for an Oddball Film Report, but I felt it worth mentioning as it's perfect fodder for the season. The last AIP Beach movie centers around a haunted house and a hunt for buried treasure. Harmless fun, though not up to the level of the previous films in the series.
48-THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN -According to the film's preview, the titular menace was the screen's first great monster of the modern age of horror. Debatable, but I'm willing to give it to them.
An astronaut returns from space having picked up a little condition which causes him to physically melt. To retain his vital functions as his brain deteriorates, the Melting Man goes on a brutal murder spree and feeds on the victims. An attempt to mix low-brow gore with high-tech make-up effects by the young Rick Baker (no relation) in a story that comes across like a mix of a 50's B and a 70's TV movie. Not really a bad film, but one you certainly would want to keep the kids away from! Prolonged night-time sequences add to the October flavor of this one.
49-NIGHT CREATURES -One of my favorite Hammer films isn't exactly a horror film, but more of a British version of Disney's THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH. Hammer favorite Peter Cushing plays the leader of a band of rebels who dress up as ghouls to ride in the night. Excellent stuff. A terrific swashbuckler!
50-INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS -Natch I mean the 1956 original, still a mighty powerful tale of possession and lost identity. Socialist seed pods land on Earth and begin to replace human beings with emotionless duplicates. Kevin McCarthy stars. Great action, terror, and a timeless treat.
51-NIGHT FRIGHT -Forgotten John Agar vehicle looks like one of Larry Buchanan's AIP TV movies of the same period. A bit better than most of them, though. Almost budgetless, but that somehow adds to the charm. After a meteor fall, a hulking creature is violently killing the locals. Somewhat generic plot, not the slickest production values, but not all bad.
52-ISLAND OF TERROR -Classic British 60's sci-fi features horrible creatures accidentally created in a laboratory escaping and feeding on human and animal bone. All that's left behind is a gooey mass. Superb little thriller. Stars Peter Cushing. If looking for similar fare, try THE CRAWLING EYE and ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED. Other good British pictures for the evening could also include THE PROJECTED MAN and THE VULTURE.
53-DRACULA, DEAD AND LOVING IT -Leslie Neilsen's last great part was that of Count Dracula in this Mel Brooks spoof of Hammer vampire movies. The plot hugs the 1931 DRACULA closely, but mixes in touches of THE HORROR OF DRACULA and the 1969 DRACULA. Funny, but also one of the better vampire movies of it's day.
54-SHOCKWAVES -"Once they were ALMOST human!" So screams the ad materials for the seeming single really good movie to feature Nazi zombies. The passengers of a cruise boat find themselves stranded on an island inhabited only by former Nazi scientist Peter Cushing, who has exiled himself here in addition to one of his old experiments -a squad of SS troops who live in the sea and can't die! Well worth a look for fans of science fiction films of the 70's, and horror films in general. John Carradine co-stars, however briefly! Also in the cast is Brooke Adams, who looks absolutely fetching in her tiny yellow bikini she wears for much of the last reel....
55-MAD MONSTER PARTY?!! -Rakin/Bass, who produced the beloved stop-motion Christmas specials, here try their hand at a monster theme. Quite fun, although rather more listless than it should be.... Boris Karloff voices Baron Frankenstein, who has perfected a means of destroying matter. Ready to retire, he throws a monster bash before turning over his formula to a completely human relative -much to the horror of the collected monsters! It'd be hard to do better if you've got kids in the room.
56-THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES -Abbott and Costello's most unusual film. Lou plays one of two ghosts who haunt an estate because they had been cursed during the Revolution, under the mistaken identity of being spies for the British. Bud is a descendant of one of the men who framed Lou. Classic stuff. It seems almost certain someone at Hanna-Barbera saw this around 1969....
57-IT CAME WITHOUT WARNING -The last great American B picture, considered by many to be the inspiration for the mega-hit PREDATOR a few years later. A creature from space has come to Earth to hunt, which he does by aid of little living parasites which fly through the air and latch themselves onto their victims. Among the cast you'll find Martin Landau, Cameron Mitchell, and Jack Palance! An overlooked gem desperately crying out for an official DVD release.
58-KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE -Invaders from space with a taste for human blood happen to have floppy shoes and round red noses. The brilliance of this one is that it's actually played straight, built upon the frame of Jack H. Harris' THE BLOB. As a result, it's one genuinely creepy film. Possibly the best monster movie of the 80's!
59-TORMENTED -My personal favorite ghost movie is this 1960 pic in which a man is haunted by the ghost of a woman who still loves him. Richard Carlson, as Tom, is about to get married to a nice girl, but his former flame, Vi, isn't ready to call it quits just yet. When she slips and falls from the local lighthouse, Tom is partly responsible because he hesitated in grabbing her. (It's a nice little moment for Carlson, who manages to be guilty and innocent at the same time!) Vi's fully convinced of his guilt, though, and begins a campaign to have him join her! Dandy little film.
60-VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED -A well mounted and highly respected classic. Following some strange cosmic event, a tiny English town finds any woman capable of bearing children is about to do just that! The kids, it is discovered, have a linked mind and frightening telekinetic powers which threaten the entire world! Followed by a sequel of sorts in CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED, which falls pretty flat. It's not that CHILDREN is a bad movie, it's just that VILLAGE is so superior.
61-ALIEN PREDATOR-Here's an obscure one! Skylab falls to earth and brings with it an alien organism which is starting to infect a Spanish town, and threatens to spread to the rest of the world. Gory, but worth a look. One of the few actually scary films I've seen. What's more, it manages to be very funny too!
62-INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN -AIP spoof of the very pictures it was churning out and making a mint on. Martians land and some young lovers hit one with their car! If you're looking for some light-hearted 1950's chills, this one is a fine choice.
63-THE GREEN SLIME -Great pulp sci-fi has lethal monsters infesting a space station in the near future. Co-production between the Americans, the Italians, and the Japanese, and the film somehow manages to capture the flavor of all three nationalities! Super fun stuff. A long-time personal favorite.
64-THE NAVY VS THE NIGHT MONSTERS -A great cast confronts acidic tree monsters brought back from the Antarctic to a tiny Naval base on Gow Island. Sadly, rather obscure and good prints can be murder to find! A sort of Earth-bound variation of THE GREEN SLIME and a warm weather take on THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Cheap, but very enjoyable.
65-FROM HELL IT CAME -I always found this one pretty nifty. Voodoo and radioactive fallout both seem to be the cause for a living tree monster which is now stalking a tiny island in the Pacific. One of the single best scores of ANY 50's monster film. Fun stuff, although the monster isn't the best designed critter to ever grace the screen....
66-MUTANT -Woefully obscure 80's horror movie in which an isolated town begins to notice changes taking place.... I dare not go into the plot. It's a great little flick and I strongly suggest it. Stars Wings Hauser and Bo Hopkins.
67-THE HAUNTED PALACE -Guest selection via Mr. Joshua Kennedy. In his own words: "Vincent Price, Roger Corman, "intriguing" Debra Paget, Lon Chaney jr, a warlock, a castle, a curse, angry villagers, reincarnation, sacrifice, and a monster in a closet... WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?!"
68-MONSTROSITY -More popularly known by the more exciting title of THE ATOMIC BRAIN. Frank Gerstle is a brilliant experimental surgeon in the employ of an old maid who wishes to have her brain placed in the body of a beautiful young woman. Kooky and cheap. Would make a good double bill with THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE. I include it here because despite itself the film has some nice moody moments and all the halloween trappings are here: graves, revived bodies, spooky mansion, mad science lab, lightning, a black cat, etc. etc.
SCREAM OF FEAR, 1961
69-SCREAM OF FEAR -One of those fine Hammer suspensers of the early 60's which mixed the psychological horror of PSYCHO with the murder-mystery formula of 50's crime thrillers. In this one, wheelchair-bound Penny (Susan Strasberg, who is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen) returns home to find her estranged Father absent and her Stepmother spending a bit of time with the local doctor (Christopher Lee!). She stumbles across her Father's corpse, but then finds no trace of it. She begins to suspect the others have killed her Father and are now trying to use the body to drive her insane! Quite the little thriller, with some incredible editing in the 'scare' scenes. One of those films without about three different twists at the climax. Well worth a look, but then most of these black and white Hammer shockers are.
70-ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY -Wally Brown and Alan Carney were a rival studio's attempt to copy the success of Abbott and Costello. The result was a slate of Abbott and Costello movies that didn't have Abbott and Costello! Despite themselves, the films could be fun and Brown and Carney made for a fairly amusing comedy duo in films like GIRL RUSH, ROOKIES IN BURMA, and, of course, ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY. In this one, the boys mix it up with Bela Lugosi as the typical mad scientist trying to farm zombies in the tropics. Fun, once you stop instinctively comparing the two comedy teams in your head!
71-ED WOOD, LOOK BACK IN ANGORA -The single greatest Ed Wood documentary of all time, narrated by Gary Owens and swimming with film clips. Without doubt, also the funniest. The entire life and career of Ed Wood gets covered in a fun and fresh 54 or so minutes. Ed was so quirky, any documentary about him is going to have a certain off-kilter feel, so they're prefect for halloween, and this more than others. Tim Burton's ED WOOD is also a pretty good choice for the evening.
72-DR. OTTO AND THE RIDDLE OF THE GLOOM BEAM -Jim Varney's first feature film is a great showcase for his talent, but don't expect over-much from the film itself. Dr. Otto has a magnetic ray which he uses to cause economic devastation. When an oblivious hero is dispatched to stop him, Otto steps into his "changing coffin" to assume the appearance of assorted characters -among them the ever-popular Auntie Nelda.
Fun in a wacky sort of way, and it has some pretty good laughs spread throughout, but for the most part drags itself out too long in too many places. Many of the actors and some of the characters, including Otto himself, would go on to appear on Varney's Saturday morning series HEY VERN, IT'S ERNEST! which was much more reliably funny. There, Dr. Otto was "the naive, semi-mad scientist" who lived in the same neighborhood as Ernest, Nelda, Chuck and Bobby, Mac and his roommate George, Mike the Clown and family, etc. Here, in his first appearance, Otto is more outright evil and surrounds himself with a harem of chicks in punk outfits. Otto, of course, for no reason, has a hand growing out of his head.
The film was, as I understand things, made with leftover funds from the production of ERNEST GOES TO CAMP, and was more or less thrown together over a weekend or two. Not a great film by any stretch, but it does have some really good laughs sprinkled throughout. Unfortunately, just about any time Varney is off screen the show slows way down. For what it's worth, this is one of those films that gets better with repeat viewings.
73-THE BRAINIAC -I had to include a Mexican monster movie here because they, as a genre, tend toward some nicely moody black and white photography and a lot of night scenes. They do, however, also tend toward absolutely wacky plots and shoddy effects work. In this one, a warlock is executed by the Spanish inquisition during the passing of a comet over the Earth. How does this guy intend to get retaliation against his accusers? He vows to return to Earth in 300 years (when the comet returns in it's orbit) to kill all the descendants of the tribunal... Anyway, 300 years pass and in the 20th Century the comet not only returns, but falls back to earth where it turns into the warlock, who then turns into a...thing... with a pulsating head, lobster claws, and a balloon tongue it uses to suck peoples' brains out through the back of their heads! Wow. Pretty lively for a Mexican flick, so it's one of the better ones, if typically silly.
74-KING OF THE ZOMBIES -Some pilots discover a mad scientist with Axis ties raising zombies on an island. The real draw here, though, is comedian Mantan Moreland!
75-THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING -DOCTOR WHO-ish plot has an army or robots invading the world after first killing almost everyone. Fine British science fiction thriller.
76-NIGHT OF THE LEPUS -Simply due to the fact that the film features giant, flesh-eating rabbits as it's menace, the film has been rather unfairly panned. It's actually a pretty solid 70's killer animal film with slick production values and a good script. Also on board is one terrific cast! Stewart Whitman and Janet Leigh are the scientists working to save rancher Rory Calhoun's spread from being devastated by an explosion of rabbits. DeForrest Kelly is a mutual friend, and Paul Fix plays the sheriff. Not bad at all. Certainly better than THE FOOD OF THE GOODS, with which you could make an interesting double feature.....
77-SHOCK -Great 40's suspenser. Vincent Price is a doctor who specializes in releasing mental blocks. Unfortunately, he has just murdered his wife, and his new patient witnessed it! The shock has blocked her memory, and Price must battle his desire not to go to jail against his earnest wish to help her! Fine stuff. You might also check out any of the Universal INNER SANCTUM movies starring Lon Chaney....
78-ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU -Allison Hayes was one incredibly beautiful woman.... In other news, some sailors come to a small island to raise some sunken treasure guarded by the titular zombies, who want it back in it's rightful place! The treasure has been in the wrong location for centuries and the dead have become so restless about it they wander about the island! Great cast of familiar faces, including Greg Palmer and Gene Roth. Watch for the scene where a zombified Hayes takes a candelstick to the face without flinching!
79-THE BEAST MUST DIE -70's monster take on the classic who-done-it has a bunch of spooky characters gathered to a spooky house on a spooky island. One of them is a spooky werewolf!
80-THIS IS NOT A TEST -A handful of people on a lonely road outside LA try to take cover as the bomb is about to fall. A tad soap opera at times, but a nice little thriller. Well worth a look.
81 (Bonus Suggestion) -SQUIRM -Electricity from a fallen power line attracts an army of flesh-eating worms from deep in the earth. The critters then begin to feed on the small Georgia town of Fly Creek. Good and bad at the same time, one of AIP's 70's drive-in films that plays out mostly in the form of a mystery story. Better than most of the similar fare, actually, but keep the kids away!
82 (Bonus Suggestion 2!) -INVASION EARTH! THE ALIENS ARE HERE! -It's like getting 50 movies in one! Martians take over a movie theater and then subject the patrons to a marathon of monster movies so as to soften their brain activity to create a monster from their mental impulses. Mostly, it's a collection of clips from dozens and dozens of classic science fiction films like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, ATOMIC SUBMARINE, FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, and on and on and on! This was the first place I was able to see clips of a lot of these films in my childhood, so the film is pretty special for me. It's sort of the middle ground between IT CAME FROM HOLLYWOOD and MATINEE. It can be hard to find, but this clip party is a great choice for the evening!
Very special thanks
to Mr. Joshua Kennedy, for his help in preparing, and contribution to, this article.