31 Lists of Horror: The Gemma Files Halloween Horrorthon

Howev­er you want to say and/or spell it—Halloween, Hallowe’en, All Hal­lows Eve, Rot­ten Egg Thrownanza—October 31 is indis­putably the (cor­po­rate-man­dat­ed) spook­i­est time of year. With that in mind, I present 31 lists of Hal­loween-cen­tric hor­ror, of my own and of my lit­er­ary brethren both near and far.

These are per­son­al, high­ly sug­ges­tive lists of rec­om­men­da­tions, avoid­ances, and/or rem­i­nis­cences. I make no guar­an­tees, save one: if you don’t read the whole of each list, you will be cursed for all eter­ni­ty. I don’t make the rules.

Today’s special guest lister: Gemma Files

Gem­ma Files was born in Lon­don, Eng­land and raised in Toron­to. Her sto­ry “The Emperor’s Old Bones” won the 1999 Inter­na­tion­al Hor­ror Guild Award for Best Short Fic­tion. She has pub­lished two col­lec­tions of short work (Kiss­ing Car­rion and The Worm in Every Heart) and two chap­books of poet­ry (Bent Under Night and Dust Radio). A Book of Tongues, her first Hexs­linger nov­el, won the 2010 Dark­Scribe Mag­a­zine Black Quill Award for Small Press Chill. The two final Hexs­linger nov­els, A Rope of Thorns and A Tree of Bones were pub­lished in 2011 and 2012. We Will All Go Down Togeth­er fol­lowed in 2014, and the Shirley Jack­son and Sun­burst Award-win­ning Exper­i­men­tal Film came out in 2015.


October 8, 2017
Gemma Files’ Movie Horrorthon

 

Some time back, I pro­grammed twen­ty-four hours of hor­ror to match Edgar Wright’s twen­ty-four hours of…just stuff he liked, I guess, when I ran across it on the Web some­where [ED: It’s the AV Club’s 24 Hours of Hor­ror with Edgar Wright]. My prob­lem with rec­om­mend­ing films to watch dur­ing Octo­ber for Hallowe’en is that—hey ho—I don’t actu­al­ly tend to watch much BUT hor­ror, on my own time. Mine is not a big drama/comedy exis­tence. That being said, here are rough­ly anoth­er full day’s worth of hor­ror films, clas­sic and oth­er­wise, which I’ve watched/would watch mul­ti­ple times. You will note that some of them are old as well as new, and I have absolute­ly no doubt there are entries here which oth­er peo­ple will find ris­i­ble, but it’s prob­a­bly best to treat this ros­ter like a visu­al playlist, a sam­pler which hope­ful­ly runs the gamut from oper­at­ic and edge-of-sil­ly to gen­uine­ly dis­turb­ing. The answer to “Why that?” is usu­al­ly just “Because I like it.”

Straight out the gate, I think we’ll start with some­thing spooky yet sil­ly: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn. I’m in a strange place with Raimi’s series, since the first Evil Dead scared the absolute crap out of me—I actu­al­ly had to turn it off while watch­ing it at home in a main­ly-emp­ty house, sim­ply because of the way all the pos­sessed peo­ple talked (espe­cial­ly Ash’s for­mer girl­friend, who spends much of the film pick­ing her infect­ed pen­cil-wound and gig­gling creep­i­ly while sing-song­ing: “We’re gonna get you, weeee’re gonna GET yooouuu…”)—while the third one I find more annoy­ing than any­thing else, for the com­par­a­tive­ly weird rea­son that Ash seems to have become a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter between Evil Dead II and Army of Dark­ness, i.e. a rav­ing male chau­vin­ist idiot so inca­pable of admit­ting he’s made a mis­take he lit­er­al­ly unleash­es hell instead of the sen­si­tive yet increas­ing­ly unhinged guy he appears to be through­out the first two instal­ments. I put it down to all those head injuries.

At any rate, Evil Dead II remains per­haps the best hor­ror-com­e­dy blend I’ve ever encoun­tered. The stuff with the Kan­dar­i­an demons stays gen­uine­ly fright­en­ing even as the pitch-black phys­i­cal humour approach­es Warn­er Broth­ers car­toon lev­els of sheer sur­re­al­ism, and Ash’s ever-accel­er­at­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­in­te­gra­tion in the face of both brands of awful­ness only serves to make it all the fun­nier. The “Can’t Con­trol my Evil Hand!” sequence is par­tic­u­lar­ly great, as Ash is forced to cut his dead girlfriend’s body apart with a chain­saw, gets bit­ten by her sev­ered head and con­tracts evil, which iso­lates itself in his wound­ed hand. The hand then starts try­ing to kill him, which amounts to Bruce Camp­bell beat­ing him­self up and break­ing dish­es over his own head for maybe five straight min­utes before nail­ing his offend­ing appendage to the floor and bawl­ing, like Quin­cy M.E. try­ing to make a point: “You bas­tards! Give me back my haaaaaand!”

Any film whose cli­max involves blood falling from the sky like rain while a hell­ish grotes­querie pulls itself from the resul­tant red mud will always get at least part of my vote.
Next up, because I can, I’m going to turn to a film that’s become a strange sort of com­fort food view­ing choice to me—Fede Alvarez’s much-maligned Evil Dead remake, which man­ages to be grit­ty, oper­at­ic and ridicu­lous at the same damn time. I’m a big fan of Jane Levy’s per­for­mance as Mia Hansen, pos­sessee turned final girl, both because she man­ages to make me care deeply about an After-School Spe­cial trope of a char­ac­ter and because her suf­fer­ing seems com­plete­ly gen­uine even when she’s bisect­ing her own tongue with a box-cut­ter, or being raped by an evil molest­ing tree. The use of gore is over-the-top baroque but strange­ly beau­ti­ful through­out, while the mise-en-scène in gen­er­al is sim­i­lar­ly top-notch; both the cab­in and the woods sur­round­ing it seem con­stant­ly damp and hor­rid, sat­u­rat­ed with a vivid, mossy decay that lends every­thing a Laird Bar­ron/Richard Gavin sort of dark (super-)nature vibe. Any film whose cli­max involves blood falling from the sky like rain while a hell­ish grotes­querie pulls itself from the resul­tant red mud will always get at least part of my vote.

Next, we switch to the female-cen­tric vam­pire movie dou­ble-shot of We Are The Night (dir. Den­nis Gansel) and Byzan­tium (dir. Neil Jor­dan). The first is a crazy blend of cold­ly Ger­man­ic music-video mad­ness and grind­house punch, the type of film I used to dream about mak­ing, let alone finding—the very first time I saw it, I turned to my hus­band and said: “Man, I could have writ­ten this when I was six­teen.” It begins with haughty, gor­geous Louise—tall, blonde and gay as all Les­bos, a last regal rem­nant of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­i­an Empire—and her two “chil­dren” Char­lotte (a depres­sive for­mer 1920s Weimar Repub­lic film star, prone to wear­ing too much eye­lin­er and putting her cig­a­rettes out on her eye­ball) and Nora (a neon-coloured 1980s rebel Louise met the night the wall came down, whose idea of moral­i­ty is not bit­ing any­one she actu­al­ly likes) tear­ing their way through a jet air­lin­er in mid-flight, then just pop­ping off the door and jump­ing out, count­ing on the crash to cov­er up the car­nage they leave behind. When tough, nihilis­tic Girl With the Drag­on Tat­too-style thief Lena bluffs her way into the after-hours rave club Louise and the oth­ers man­age, Louise decides she needs to increase her fam­i­ly by at least one, and infects her. The even­tu­al fall­out from this impul­sive act will be spec­tac­u­lar­ly destruc­tive, for Louise and her girls as much as any­one else.

Byzan­tium, meanwhile—adapted from her own play by Moira Buffi­ni, cur­rent­ly showrun­ner of the British TV series Har­lotsis dri­ven by the lit­er­al moth­er-daugh­ter act of Clara (Gem­ma Arter­ton) and Eleanor Webb (Saoirse Ronan). Once a young girl of the ear­ly 1800s, deflow­ered and sold into pros­ti­tu­tion by casu­al­ly evil Cap­tain Ruthven (Jon­ny Lee Miller), Clara gained immor­tal­i­ty when she stole knowl­edge about a strange island off the Irish coast and the “Name­less Saint” who inhab­its it, whose bite will trans­form even some­one rid­dled with tuber­cu­lo­sis and syphilis into a death­less crea­ture capa­ble of amaz­ing vio­lence. That this knowl­edge is con­trolled by a cabal of male vam­pire elders who nev­er turn women is enough to make Clara an auto­mat­ic out­cast, let alone the fact that she lat­er uses her “gift” to save Eleanor—the daugh­ter she didn’t kill because “love con­found­ed her,” then gave away to an orphanage—from her own mor­tal­i­ty. They now roam the Unit­ed King­dom, stop­ping in dilap­i­dat­ed coastal resort towns where Clara can prac­tice her trade while Eleanor writes her sto­ry over and over, then throws the pages to the wind. Clara preys on johns and pimps—“limit[ing] the pow­er of men,” as she promised to, back in the day—but Eleanor prefers to bring peace­ful ends to the elder­ly, though she finds her­self dis­tract­ed and tempt­ed by Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), a young hemo­phil­i­ac. Inevitably, how­ev­er, Clara’s pur­suers arrive, spark­ing a final con­flict.

While both films are phys­i­cal­ly beau­ti­ful and emo­tion­al­ly engag­ing, Byzan­tium has a cer­tain dark poet­ry to it that ele­vates it slight­ly above We Are The Night’s slick­er thrills—it’s res­o­nant in ways that’ll have you think­ing about it long after the final frame fades to black. But one way or the oth­er, it’s always nice to see sis­ters doin’ it for them­selves, espe­cial­ly when fangs are involved.

From the recent to the less, meanwhile—Clive Barker’s Night­breed has always meant a lot to me, and its expand­ed and re-for­mat­ted Director’s Cut, avail­able from Scream Fac­to­ry, show­cas­es all the rea­sosn why (the fabled Cabal Cut is twelve min­utes longer, but I’ve seen both and I’m not con­vinced those extra min­utes are nec­es­sary, espe­cial­ly in their degrad­ed cur­rent form). Set in Cana­da(!), Night­breed is the sto­ry of Aaron Boone (Craig Shef­fer), a dis­turbed young man who keeps on dream­ing of Mid­i­an, an under­ground city when mon­sters live. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for him, the psy­chi­a­trist he turns to to keep these dreams in check—creepily lev­el-head­ed Dr. Deck­er, played by Can­Con hor­ror icon David Cro­nen­berg, direc­tor of Scan­ners, The Brood and Video­drome—hap­pens to be a ser­i­al killer who car­ries his zip­per-mouthed mask-face in his brief­case, and is only treat­ing Boone in order to set him up for a series of mur­ders he com­mit­ted.

Arrest­ed, Boone breaks cus­tody and runs for Mid­i­an, where he’s quick­ly turned into one of the same mon­sters he dreams about; when his girl­friend Lori (Anne Bob­by) tries to retrieve him, Deck­er soon shows up to incite the local police chief to “exter­mi­nate this nest of freaks and breed­ers!” In any ver­sion, Night­breed remains a deliri­ous, amaz­ing mess of a film, sur­re­al, polit­i­cal and odd in the extreme, and while I’m total­ly unsur­prised it nev­er did very well in wide release, I think its time may well have come…frankly, this head­long apoc­a­lyp­tic cul­ture-clash between unashamed tran­shu­man fetishists and secret­ly per­verse law-and-order author­i­tar­i­an types is look­ing more rel­e­vant by the sec­ond.

Night­breed remains a deliri­ous, amaz­ing mess of a film, sur­re­al, polit­i­cal and odd in the extreme.
From the depart­ment of Cool Flicks No One Else Seems To Have Seen, mean­while, comes Nicholas McCarthy’s At the Devil’s Door, a rather won­der­ful spin on the hoary old Satan’s Cho­sen Baby­ma­ma trope. Weav­ing back and forth through time non-lin­ear­ly, we’re intro­duced first to Han­nah (Ash­ley Rickards), a sweet young thing who once made the bad mis­take of speak­ing her name at the cross­roads out­side her vaca­tion boyfriend’s creepy uncle’s trail­er-park in exchange for $300, then to Vera (Naya Rivera), who wants to know why her real­tor sis­ter Leigh (Catali­na Sandero Moreno) sud­den­ly died while prepar­ing a vacant house—once Hannah’s, as it turns out—for sale. Much like Ti West’s The House of the Dev­il, it starts out sound­ing a bit like any giv­en Chick tract, only to turn into a decon­struc­tion of Rosemary’s Baby run through a fil­ter of low-bud­get 1980s/2010s Americana—a dis­con­nect­ed, alien­at­ed post-ram­pant con­sumerism world under con­stant eco­nom­ic threat in which peo­ple don’t know enough to pro­tect them­selves against the things they no longer believe in: Satanists, the dev­il, a ghost that isn’t quite a ghost. Add in the fact that the antichrist pro­duced in this case is female, not male, and the whole sce­nario real­ly starts to pop in inter­est­ing ways.

Mar­i­ano Baino’s Dark Waters also revolves around a woman under pres­sure from var­i­ous super­nat­ur­al sources—but here, instead of being the prospec­tive not-so-Vir­gin Mary, she’s more of a grown-up Damien com­ing home for the first time since the end of The Omen, if the cult that mon­i­tored Damien wor­shipped Moth­er Hydra instead of el Dia­blo. After the death of both her estranged father and her best friend brings Eliz­a­beth back to the remote island where her moth­er died giv­ing birth to her, small enough it only sup­ports a fish­ing vil­lage and a con­vent staffed entire­ly by nuns giv­en to per­form­ing rit­u­als in the under­ground cat­a­combs every night (either to raise some­thing hor­ri­ble from the sea, or per­haps keep it impris­oned), she hooks up with a young novice—Sarah—to inves­ti­gate the appar­ent link between her fam­i­ly and the nuns’ beliefs. This inquiry soon ensnares both women in an ever-tight­en­ing web of weird reli­gious iconog­ra­phy, mur­der­ous attacks, bod­i­ly muta­tions and sud­den yet inevitable betray­als.  Pos­si­bly the first West­ern movie shot in the Ukraine after the Sovi­et Union’s col­lapse, the movie plays like a cross between Michele Soavi’s The Church and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shad­ow Over Inns­mouth, jam-packed full of strange­ness and dread.

Then there’s Dario Argento’s Phe­nom­e­na, the film which—via its bad­ly re-edit­ed Amer­i­can release ver­sion, Creep­ers—first intro­duced me to the weird lit­tle genre of Ital­ian crime-hor­ror known as gial­lo. Jen­nifer Con­nel­ly stars as Jen­nifer Corvi­no, daugh­ter of an Amer­i­can film star, whose already-stormy tenure at an exclu­sive girls’ board­ing school in the Swiss Alps is soon inter­rupt­ed by the dis­cov­ery of a fel­low student’s muti­lat­ed body. As prone to sleep­walk­ing as she is rebel­lious while awake, Jen­nifer dis­cov­ers she also has a mild form of telepa­thy which allows her to see through the eyes of the car­rion-flies that incu­bate on dead bod­ies. This leads her to form a friend­ship with retired foren­sic ento­mol­o­gist John Mcgre­gor (Don­ald Pleas­ance), who’s cur­rent­ly con­sult­ing on the case, along with his ser­vice chimp Inga (who famous­ly bit off the tip of Connelly’s fin­ger dur­ing film­ing). The inves­ti­ga­tion leads Jen­nifer deep­er and deep­er into trou­ble, as hand­i­ly sym­bol­ized by her increas­ing ten­den­cy to fall head­long into pits full of rot­ting corpses, until even­tu­al­ly she finds her­self fac­ing off alone against the killer to the sweet strains of Iron Maiden’s “Flash of the Blade,” with only “her” flies to defend her.

From Switzer­land via Italy and back to Amer­i­ca, where the team behind the lat­er Saw fran­chise entries  (direc­tor/-co-writer Mar­cus Dun­stan, co-writer Patrick Melton) attempts to apply gial­lo tac­tics to the good ol’ U.S. slash­er film.

The Col­lec­tion is one of my favourite sup­pos­ed­ly guilty pleasures—yes, it’s osten­si­bly a sequel to The Col­lec­tor, but I gen­uine­ly don’t think you need to see that first in order to under­stand it, because much like the first The Purge movie, it’s a 90-minute the­sis state­ment. All you real­ly need to know is there’s this guy, see—the Collector—who tar­gets groups in con­trolled spaces, kills every­body except one per­son using ridicu­lous­ly sadis­tic Rube Gold­berg tor­ture-traps, then stuffs that last sur­vivor into a box and dumps them at his next prospec­tive kill-site as a pre­view of what his new vic­tims can expect. In this case, the dump-ee is incred­i­bly unlucky career crim­i­nal Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stew­art), who falls out of the box only to find him­self inside a dance club the Collector’s turned into his very own human-sized food proces­sor. He man­ages to escape, leav­ing behind sur­pris­ing­ly tough deaf rich girl Ele­na (Emma Fitz­patrick), who the Col­lec­tor takes back to his mur­der palace for soft­en­ing up, but almost imme­di­ate­ly man­ages to escape and start mov­ing from room to trap-infest­ed room. That’s when a squad head­ed by Elena’s Dad’s right-hand man Lucel­lo (Lee Terge­sen) black­mails Arkin into tak­ing them back to the Collector’s place so they can res­cue her, and all hell, etc.

I love this stu­pid movie unre­served­ly: it’s inven­tive­ly cru­el and grue­some in a Grand Guig­nol body hor­ror way, with a great colour scheme and a hun­dred tiny twists. And after three emo­tion­al­ly ambigu­ous sea­sons of Han­ni­bal, I also some­what love what a sheer dick the Col­lec­tor is allowed to be right from the get-go, all kill-crazy ego and the­atri­cal emptiness—Dunstan and Melton refuse to empathize with him even a lit­tle bit, nev­er dig­ni­fy­ing him much beyond his obvi­ous­ly strong work eth­ic. He deserves every­thing that’s com­ing to him, which makes the main char­ac­ters’ incred­i­bly blood­i­ly-won even­tu­al vic­to­ry (spoil­er alert!) all the sweet­er.

From the Dark begins when an old man cut­ting peat pulls what soon proves to be absolute­ly the wrong fuck­ing stick out of a par­tial­ly-buried mess of brown-stained flesh.
A brand-new favourite next: the tiny, almost-silent Irish hor­ror film From the Dark, first watched on Shud­der TV, which begins when an old man cut­ting peat pulls what soon proves to be absolute­ly the wrong fuck­ing stick out of a par­tial­ly-buried mess of brown-stained flesh. Sud­den­ly there’s some­thing bald dressed in a very pre-Medi­ae­val-look­ing robe bit­ing him in the throat, after which we cut to two young lovers dri­ving into the coun­try to see her Da; they get lost, night starts falling, they’re stuck in suck­ing mud, they end up at a farm that turns out the belong to old peat-cut­ting man, slow­ly dis­cov­er someone’s already bro­ken all the bulbs in the fix­tures, and things go from there. The rules are learned hap­haz­ard­ly, on the run—light becomes our pro­tag­o­nists’ only weapon, their only pos­si­ble shel­ter against a crea­ture that main­ly seems to hunt by sense of smell, touch and hear­ing, though hold­ing still and hold­ing your breath will at least work for a lit­tle while. Over­all, how­ev­er, this is a lit­er­al shad­ow-show: no expla­na­tions, no respite, plus the thing goes like a son-of-a-bitch. It’s less than 90 min­utes long, yet you feel every sin­gle sec­ond.

If you’re look­ing for dark­ness, though—and who isn’t?—there’s no one work­ing in hor­ror today who does that par­tic­u­lar effect bet­ter, in my opin­ion, than Kiyoshi Kuro­sawa. The direc­tor of Cure, Creepy and Ret­ri­bu­tion, all of which could occu­py this same slot, Kuro­sawa spe­cial­izes in oblique but increas­ing­ly hor­ri­fy­ing sce­nar­ios that branch out in very odd ways, and in Kairo (some­times known as Pulse), he became per­haps the first per­son to make a movie explor­ing the full poten­tial hor­ror of the Internet—an inter­est­ing feat, con­sid­er­ing that this was in 2001, when peo­ple were still using dial-up modems and at least one main char­ac­ter has man­aged to make it all the way to uni­ver­si­ty with­out ever hav­ing got­ten him­self a per­son­al email account. After this guy signs on for the first time, he gets an email which sim­ply says: Do you want to see a ghost?, plus a web­site click-through link he declines to take advan­tage of, delet­ing it instead—at which point the web­site appears to call him back. As he makes inquiries into this phe­nom­e­non, how­ev­er, he dis­cov­ers that many oth­er peo­ple seem to have already tak­en advan­tage of this offer, with increas­ing­ly apoc­a­lyp­tic results.

Like a lot of Kurosawa’s films, Kairo works best as a com­men­tary on Japan­ese society—once vic­tims of the haunt­ed web­site receive a vis­it from one of the hor­ri­fy­ing­ly ani­mat­ed spec­tres inhab­it­ing it, they tend to exchange places with those appari­tions, leav­ing behind a flak­ing, burnt sort of shad­ow rem­i­nis­cent of human remains at Hiroshi­ma. Sim­i­lar­ly, it’s implied that the ulti­mate hor­ror of the after­life is much the same as that of life in super-con­formist Tokyo, i.e. feel­ing your­self doomed to an exis­tence of end­less unloved lone­li­ness inside a crowd of strangers. But Kurosawa’s more uni­ver­sal achieve­ment lies in cre­at­ing a mood of sheer accel­er­at­ing doom through­out, mak­ing the last half of the film won­der­ful­ly dif­fi­cult to watch.

[The Exor­cist III con­tains the] leg­endary “hos­pi­tal hall­way sequence,” whose seem­ing­ly sta­t­ic sin­gle-cam­era long-shot ends in one of the hor­ror world’s sin­gle best jump-cut moments ever.
Shout Factory’s recent re-issue of William Peter Blatty’s Exor­cist III: Legion comes next—yet anoth­er movie that flopped head­long on release, only to grow itself a nice lit­tle cult fol­low­ing once it was released for home view­ing. Here we final­ly get a restora­tion of Blatty’s fabled Director’s Cut, cob­bled togeth­er from not-so-great video ele­ments, which adheres far more close­ly to his own nov­el yet sac­ri­fices at least one amaz­ing moment: the tri­umphal cli­mac­tic mono­logue in which Lieu­tenant Kin­der­man (George C. Scott) is forced to admit that belief in the dev­il con­sti­tutes neg­a­tive proof of a side­long belief in God. That said, either ver­sion retains Blatty’s dark-hued admix­ture of mag­ic real­ism and out­right sur­re­al­ism, as well as the entire leg­endary “hos­pi­tal hall­way sequence,” whose seem­ing­ly sta­t­ic sin­gle-cam­era long-shot ends in one of the hor­ror world’s sin­gle best jump-cut moments ever.

As we move towards the end of the pro­gram, I’m stick­ing in two recent films that should real­ly be viewed as a sin­gle nar­ra­tive chopped into parts—James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s Insid­i­ous and Insid­i­ous Chap­ter 2, the New Clas­sic haunt­ed-peo­ple-not-haunt­ed-hous­es movies that caused Orrin Grey and I to coin the phrase “vaude­ville creep.” Love them or hate them (and many do the lat­ter, appar­ent­ly), the Insid­i­ouses are right­ly cred­it­ed with res­ur­rect­ing both Wan’s career—dormant in the wake of a evil ven­tril­o­quist saga Dead Silence and genre mis­step Death Sen­tence’s dou­ble failure—and that of elder hor­ror stateswoman Lin Shaye, who stars in both entries (plus Insid­i­ous Chap­ter 3 and the upcom­ing Insid­i­ous: The Last Key) as medi­um Elise Rein­er.

For myself, I’m a huge fan, obvi­ous­ly; I love how firm­ly Wan roots his weird­ness in a rec­og­niz­able world, how effec­tive, spooky and odd his mythol­o­gy is, how well his recog­ni­tion that com­pos­er Joseph Bishara looks creepy af with lip­stick all over his face inter­sects with David Lynch’s on-set “dis­cov­ery” of Frank Silva/Killer Bob. In fact, my sole com­plaint about the series lies in my under­stand­ing that the char­ac­ter of Park­er Crane—the goth­ical­ly res­o­nant “Bride in Black,” who stalks our hap­less pro­tag­o­nist Josh Lam­bert (Patrick Wat­son) both inside and out­side the Further—could eas­i­ly be seen as a trans­pho­bic cliché rather than yet more proof that Wan and Whan­nell are ass-ter­ri­fied of creepy old ladies with too much make­up on, so if that’s like­ly to upset you, then know it going in. If not, strap your­self down and enjoy!

Because I (gen­er­al­ly) like to end things on a note of fun, I’ve lined up three prime mon­ster mash­es for our final entries—two from Uni­ver­sal in its hey­day, one a 1970s-era Span­ish-shot frip­pery star­ring two Ham­mer Hor­ror stal­warts. For a shame­ful­ly long time, Son of Franken­stein—the main source of inspi­ra­tion for Mel Brooks’ Young Franken­stein—was ridicu­lous­ly dif­fi­cult to find, which is a pity, because this direct sequel to Franken­stein and Bride of Franken­stein is a neat lit­tle romp. Basil Rath­bone stars as Baron-Doc­tor Wolf von Franken­stein, who’s bent on reha­bil­i­tat­ing his infa­mous father’s sci­en­tif­ic rep­u­ta­tion; he moves his wife and son into his fam­i­ly cas­tle, where he’s imme­di­ate­ly met with wide­spread mis­trust and tar­get­ed by local police inspec­tor Krogh (Lionel Atwill), whose arm was ripped out by Dad­dy Frankenstein’s cre­ation as a child. Soon enough, with the help of devi­ous hunch­back Ygor (Bela Lugosi), he dis­cov­ers the crea­ture (Boris Karloff) lying dor­mant in Dad’s old lab under­neath the cas­tle and throws him­self head­long into bring­ing it back to life. As ever, this turns out to be a hel­la­cious­ly bad idea.

If Son of Franken­stein is a high-class “B” pic­ture shot with faux Ger­man Expres­sion­ist flair on James Whale’s old sets, then House of Drac­u­la is the exact opposite—a “C” pic­ture infused with dement­ed ener­gy and the courage of its pre­ten­sions, full of rub­ber bats, slow dis­solve transformation/disintegration sequences and some very weird cos­tume choic­es (in this film, for exam­ple, Count Drac­u­la wears a top hat). Its jam-packed cast includes Drac­u­la (John Car­ra­dine), trag­ic orig­i­nal-brand Wolf­man Lawrence Tal­bot (Lon Chaney Jnr.), Lionel Atwill as an Inspec­tor Krogh knock­off, sexy female hunch­backed nurse Nina (Poni Adams) and Onslow Stevens as the trag­i­cal­ly mis­guid­ed mad sci­en­tist I like to call “Franz Edel­mann, Mon­ster Psy­chi­a­trist.” After dis­cov­er­ing a plant mould that can soft­en bone and kill par­a­sites, Edel­mann con­vinces him­self he can cure first vam­pirism, then lycan­thropy, then—after being infect­ed by Drac­u­la dur­ing a reverse trans­fu­sion and turn­ing into a sort of half-vam­pire/­Jekyll and Hyde mon­ster himself—decides oh what the hell, why not bring Frankenstein’s crea­ture (which he and the Wolf­man acci­den­tal­ly find in a sea-cave under­neath Edelmann’s cas­tle, half-buried in a mud­slide) back to life and use it as a weapon against his ene­mies? Because that always helps. (Pro-tip: it doesn’t.)

Watch­ing House of Drac­u­la is prob­a­bly the clos­est we’ll ever come to a filmed ver­sion of Marvel’s equal­ly crazy Tomb of Drac­u­la com­ic. Regard­less of bud­getary con­sid­er­a­tions, how­ev­er, both these films are deliri­ous­ly cheesy fun that you owe it to your­self to check out, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing their even­tu­al mutu­al impact on Glow-in-the-Dark Build Your Own mon­ster fig­ure dis­plays every­where.

And now, at last, we come to Hor­ror Express, per­haps the sin­gle whack­adoo­d­liest movie the bunch—a grandiose­ly-mount­ed head­long rush into genre-bend­ing crazi­ness. Turn of the (19th) cen­tu­ry adven­tur­er Sir Alexan­der Sax­ton (Christo­pher Lee) believes a skull-faced ape­man fos­sil he dug up on the frozen steppes of Manchuria to be just the miss­ing link to prove the hereti­cal the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion. So nat­u­ral­ly, he packs it in a big crate and gets on the Ori­ent Express, where he acci­den­tal­ly col­lides with his old col­league and rival Doc­tor Wells (Peter Cush­ing), a blithe­ly seedy ama­teur who thinks noth­ing of brib­ing the bag­gage car guard to drill a hole in Saxton’s crate just so he can see what all the fuss is about. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it just so hap­pens that the wildman’s frozen corpse is inhab­it­ed by a body-hop­ping alien that reads people’s minds so stren­u­ous­ly it cooks their brains, sow­ing a trail of bloody, white-eyed corpses in its wake as it moves from pos­sessee to pos­sessee.

As befits their sta­tus as Ham­mer Horror’s best tag-team, Lee and Cush­ing are an absolute­ly joy to behold togeth­er, espe­cial­ly since they’ve final­ly got a script Lee appar­ent­ly finds wor­thy of mem­o­riz­ing to work on. Oth­er pas­sen­gers include: A beau­ti­ful red-head­ed adven­turess in Chi­nese fin­ery who may be a spy, slut­ty Count­ess Ire­na and her much-old­er industrialist/inventor husband—who seems to have no prob­lem with her set­ting her cap for Saxton—plus the mad monk they’re tot­ing around with them for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son, as well as Wells’s no-non­sense biol­o­gist assis­tant, the pos­si­bly les­bian (or Cana­di­an) Miss Jones. The red-head­ed adven­turess has no tick­et and ends up bunk­ing with both Sax­ton and Wells, who’ve been inad­ver­tent­ly assigned the same berth; “I’m sure we will all­l­ll be VERY COMFORTABLE,” she says, lying back on Wells’s bunk, who actu­al­ly looks like he’d be up for a three­some if Sax­on wasn’t such a lit­er­al­ly huge prig.

Sax­ton and Wells end up with the creature’s eye (don’t ask), and man­age to peel its lens off. Through sci­ence, they are then able to project the images con­tained there­in onto the car­riage wall, includ­ing one that seems to be of the Earth as seen from space—the mind-suck­ing crea­ture is an alien! They then come up with an are-you-pos­sessed test, which proves to be—I shit you not—“let’s just turn out the lights and see whose eyes glow in the dark.” “But what if one of YOU is the mon­ster?” The local cop asks, to which Wells imme­di­ate­ly snaps back: “Mon­ster? We’re British, you know!”

So there we have it: 24 hours’ worth of hor­ror, give or take—from the ridicu­lous to the sub­lime, and right on back again. Hap­py Hal­loween.

Leave a Reply