Call me a nerd – a geek – a throwback to weirdness. Whatever… I LOVE the old horror flicks and never more so than around Halloween. Now, the word horror is pure conjecture where the classics are concerned as there is very little to be horrified by. In fact, hilarity may be a better way to describe the experience, but when it comes down to it, I prefer to be entertained by greats like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., Boris Karloff, Maria Ouspenskaya, and so many more over anything Hollywood has produced in the past fifty years.
Modern TV has all but forgotten these films, instead focusing on how many hours of blood and gore filmmakers can legitimately get an audience to sit through rather than telling a story that requires a bit of imagination. In fact, unless you have access to channels that offer the classics regularly, you may never even see any of these films. (Svengoolie on Saturday nights 😊) Rent them – pick them up on Ebay – grab them from a thrift shop. They are black and white, spooky for their time and great Halloween fun!
So here are my favorites (in no particular order) and, if you’ve never had the opportunity to experience REAL spooky movies in your life, well, here’s your chance. Grab some munchies, your favorite blanket (to hide under) and turn off the lights.
Lights out is a requirement for any and all creep shows.
Bela Lugosi stars as the infamous Count Dracula. His piercing gaze, slicked back hair, and eloquent Hungarian accent set the standard for the character because NOBODY says, “I vant to suck your blooood” quite like the good Count can.
Of the gazillion Frankenstein movies that have been made, this one is by far my favorite. With Boris Karloff as the monster, Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein, and Mae Clarke as Elizabeth, Mary Shelley’s tale comes to the screen in all of its Universal Studios glory.
“It’s Alive – It’s Alive — Bwaahaahaahaaa!”
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
A sequel to the original Frankenstein movie, this one picks up right where the other leaves off. Apparently, the monster and the good doctor survive the fiery inferno in which they both were to have perished and now there is a need to provide a mate. Both Boris Karloff and Colin Clive reprise their roles as the monster and Dr. Frankenstein, respectively, and Elsa Lanchester is introduced as the beaming, blushing bride with the bodacious beehive bouffant.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney, Jr. is the (wolf)man of the hour. I think my favorite scenes are when he is actually transitioning from his human self into the wolf (and back again) because, in 1941, filming had not yet advanced to the point at which a transformation in appearance could be captured in any other way except to take a shot – stop and add more hair – take a shot – stop and add more hair – and so on and so on until the desired look is achieved. That said, when the editors put it all back together again, the footage just jumps along in stages as he progresses from the misunderstood, gentle giant Larry Talbot into the snarling, snapping Werewolf incarnate. There are so many other big stars in this film – Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Warren William, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva, the gypsy.
The Mummy (1932)
This is Karloff at his best! His role as the Mummy is cross cast with the character of Ardath Bey, the “modern” incarnation of Imhotep who was (apparently) horrifically entombed alive and brought back to life by the recitation of a forbidden curse. Imhotep is on the prowl for his long-lost princess, Ankh-es-en-Amon, who ironically bears a strong resemblance to the living Helen played by Zita Johann. Lots of twists and turns as the poor Mummy/Imhotep tries desperately to win back his beloved. Sigh…
The Black Cat (1934)
Starting out as the typical “young couple on their honeymoon get into an accident and have to take shelter on a dark, stormy night at the first creepy castle on the left” kind of film, this one takes some really crazy twists and turns with a story line that is weird today, let alone for 1934 standards. Another Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi collaboration with Karloff portraying a truly monstrous character, Poelzig, and Lugosi the mad doctor. The very best part of the film is hearing Bela, with his amazing accent, pronounce his character’s name – Dr. Vitus Verdegast.
(Not to be confused with “The Cat Creeps” of 1930 which was the film that forever scarred my poor hubby as a tot)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Claude Rains was cast as the Invisible Man after Boris Karloff turned down the role and it’s really interesting to read how the filmmakers achieved the effects they did by using black suits and wire outlines to portray invisibility. The character of Dr. Jack Griffin could almost be pitied were it not for the fact that he was a murderous lunatic. (that does kind of negate the sympathy factor) And, I can never take Henry Travers seriously as anyone other than “Clarence the Angel” from It’s a Wonderful Life.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1941)
What a cast! First, there isn’t a movie made with Spencer Tracy that I don’t like and this one, while strange, is no exception. Add to that, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Barton MacLane, Ian Hunter, and C. Aubrey Smith (love him) and the film probably made itself! There have been hundreds of variations on the Jekyll & Hyde story from serious to silly, animated to musical, and everything in between, but at the end of the day, I still find this version to be one of my favorites.
House of Wax (1953)
Vincent Price stars in this macabre thriller that swings from serious story line to silly notions to WHAT THE??? While not quite AS bizarre (and I do mean bizarre) as some of his other flicks, (Dr. Phibes and Masque of the Red Death come to mind) it’s still “out there.” Price’s characters trend toward disfigurement for some reason, which is a bit disturbing, and he seems to have a bit of a wax fetish as well. Other stars in this film include Charles Bronson and Carolyn Jones. (The Addams Family) It’s goofy and weird and creepy and typical Vincent Price.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
I saved this one for last because, well, everyone has that one film they saw as a child that scarred them for life. This one is mine.
I couldn’t have been more than five when I saw it for the first time. I know this because I can specifically remember where I was and we moved from that house when I was six. While I obviously wasn’t home alone, I can very plainly remember hiding behind a chair in the living room, peeking around from the back just enough to see the TV, but not nearly visible enough for the monster to get me.
I remember him laid out on the table the scientists had placed him on for examination and (of course) left him there – at night – untethered – doors and windows wide open – while they all went to bed, intent on continuing their research the next morning. Duh! I remember my horror as he began to move, first one hand and then the other and then rising up from the table to the accompaniment of sinister music, assuming a Frankenstein-like walk and generating terror and chaos for one and all, ultimately carrying the ever-present beautiful woman in her nightgown from the next room (that also had its windows open) off into the swamp.
But here’s what was even creepier about this creature. HE could swim! And I love(d) to swim!
This monster could just hang out down there below your feet out of sight and you would never even know – which forever ruined my innocence when it came to taking a dip in the lake or the river. And while he was slow and cumbersome on the land (but still dangerous) he could rival the best Olympian underwater. And he was ugly – kind of a scaly, reptilian version of Darth Vader.
A few Saturdays back, guess what was on TV. Yep! My creature. I made myself watch it and you know what? It’s still creepy. Even without the youthful innocence and the full knowledge that he’s just a silly movie character, he’s a little on the unnerving side under water. I laughed my way through the film and managed to watch it from the sofa instead of from behind a chair this time. (because my very brave husband was sitting next to me)
Imagine my surprise when I learned that there was actually a sequel that was set to air the following week! Nah! I think I’ll stick to vampires who turn to bats, Frankenstein monsters that end up in pieces, and mummies that dissolve into dust. At least their demise is permanent and therefore safe.
MY monster is still out there – watching – waiting – for just the right moment to grab me by the foot and drag me to the bottom of the lagoon forever.
(not my images)
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid — Psalm 118:6-7