Tuesday, October 23, 2012

FEATURE: LoEB ''This is Halloween''

After a brief hiatus from our League duties (hey, I was off saving a planet, OK?) we triumphantly return to The League of Extraordinary Bloggers!

This week's assignment is all about the most horrific of holidays, Halloween!

This is Halloween! This is Halloween! What are your Halloween traditions?

My Halloween tradition is a simple one: watch lots of scary movies. I know it's an obvious and easy route to take for the assignment but as I'm a bit of a horror nut, you may find this list features a few movies you may not be so familiar with. So give it a chance, as each and every one of these movies is an example of the kind of stuff you should be watching.

Night/Curse of the Demon (1957)
Like HP Lovecraft, MR James is a writer who used mood, suggestion and restraint, who only ever gives us the tiniest of peeks into the world beyond. And because of that, cinema - a mostly visual medium - has tended to ignore his work, which is a shame, as he's one of the greatest authors of the ghost story ever. Aside from the BBC's excellent adaptations of his work in their Ghost Story for Christmas anthology series, Night (or Curse) of the Demon is one of the few attempts to bring his nightmarish world to the screen. And who better to handle this than the master of shadow and suspense himself, Jacques Turneur?

It's just a shame that even back then Hollywood didn't trust the intelligence of their audiences and insisted on adding actual images of the demon in post-production, which is a shame, as Turneur's original vision of the movie was truer to James'.

I think it's about time somebody did a Phantom Edit job...

See Also: The Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, Curse of The Cat People

John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)
Forget about the (surprisingly tame) murders and (again, surprisingly restrained) body count. The original - and best - Halloween is all about atmosphere. In a movie most people recall as being the story of a mass murderer running rampage, you may be surprised to learn that there are actually only five deaths in the movie and that there's a good hour or so between the first and second.

The rest of the movie is instead about the atmosphere and the foreboding sense of dread. Dean Cundey's use of the widescreen format is particularly impressive, with The Shape (as he's always called in the script and by pretentious fans) appearing almost as at times as part of the landscape, an element as natural as the shedding of leaves and the chill in the air.

It's a movie that you've probably seen a hundred times. But there's a reason why.

See Also: John Carpenter's The Fog, Black Christmas (1974)

The Island of Lost Souls (1932)
If you only know HG Wells as a butt-kicking, sexy Warehouse Agent then you need some schooling, son. The real Wells was one of the greatest authors of ''scientific romance,'' penning such classics as The Time Machine, War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. But one of his most disturbing works is The Island of Doctor Moreau, in which an insane scientist uses vivisection to twist the flesh of animals into humanoid forms in an attempt to elevate them from their status as beasts and into men.

That's probably come as quite a shock to those with only a passing knowledge of the story. Moreau doesn't use some kind of special potion or evolve-o-ray to modify the animals. He's using extreme surgery to reshape their flesh. This horrific idea is front-and-center in Island of Lost Souls, the 1932 adaptation of the novel that sees the mad doctor played with absolute creepy aplomb by Charles Laughton and features a supporting cast that includes Bela Lugosi and - if the stories are to be believed - Buster Crabbe and Alan Ladd.

It's a wonderfully creepy, unsettling piece that will stick with you long after the credits roll - especially when you give some thought to Moreau's plans for Parker and Lota...

See Also: Freaks

The Legend of Hell House (1973)
If Wells was the Father of Science Fiction, it would probably be safe to say that Richard Matheson is the Father of Modern Horror. That Twilight Zone episode with Shatner and the gremlin? Matheson. I am Legend? Matheson. The Incredible Shrinking Man? Matheson. The Zuni fetish doll? Yup, you guessed it.

One of my favorite Matheson adaptations is 1973's The Legend of Hell House. Often confused with the similarly-themed The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House tells the story of a group of paranormal researchers attempting to unlock the secret at the heart of this purportedly haunted house. What's particularly brilliant about The Legend of Hell House is the way in which we're presented with the on-screen action. Despite some fantastically creative - and unsettling - camera work and superb visuals, there's an almost documentary feel to the movie, even going so far as to include time and date ''stamps'' on-screen. Add to this a superb sense of atmosphere and mostly-suggested haunting and you've a recipe for a truly enjoyable entry in the science vs supernatural genre.

See Also: The Haunting (1963), The Stone Tape

The Innocents (1961)
Henry James' Turn of the Screw is probably one of the most debated ''ghost'' stories ever written. It's difficult to discuss why without giving away some major plot spoilers but the essence of the debate comes down to the fact that there are a couple of ways in which the events can be interpreted, one of which is indeed supernatural.

Jack Clayton's 1961 adaptation, The Innocents, remains a fantastic example to filmmakers as to how atmosphere, suggestion and - yes - vagueness can be used to unsettle the audience. On the surface it's the story of a woman who believes her wards are being haunted by the ghosts of the previous governess and her lover. But that's only part of it. Dig deeper and you'll find an absolute mother lode of subtext to mine. And intellectual discussions and debates aside, it's also a bloody good, scary ghost story dripping with Gothic atmosphere and subtlety.

See Also: The Others (2001), The Haunting (1963)

The Wicker Man (1973)
Folk music, rural Scottish types and Christopher Lee combine in a movie that's actually impossible to describe or define. Just see it for yourself (and forget the Nic Cage comedy ''remake'') and then, when it's over, watch it again immediately, because it's a movie infused with a magical glamour that increases its hold over you the more you watch it.

See Also: There's nothing like The Wicker Man.

Bad Movie Bonus: Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)
It wouldn't be a Halloween movie marathon without at least one stinker and when it comes to stink, there's none more stinktacular than Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Shot for a budget of about $3 and change by a ''filmmaker'' whose only talent seems to be that he was able to point the camera at things as they moved around, Birdemic: Shock and Terror gives Plan 9 from Outer Space and Manos: The Hands of Fate a run for their money in terms of inept cinematography, painful performances and terrible dialogue. Here's a video of the ''best worst'' moments from the movie, although to be honest you could watch the entire movie and it would qualify. Just be sure to stick with this ''highlight'' reel, as it only gets worse (or better, depending how you look at it) as it goes on.

And proving that there truly is no God (or if there is, he has a sick sense of humor), 2013 will see the release of Birdemic 2.

See Also: Troll 2, Manos: The Hands of Fate


  1. The Innocents is a masterpiece. I discovered it a couple of years ago and was completely blown away. I much prefer horror films, as you say, that use restraint and rely on atmosphere and subtleties to tell a story vs. beating you over the head with it.

    1. It is indeed. Although it's no Birdemic! :D

  2. I loved the original Halloween and Legend of Hell House. I hate when Hollywood goes back and either re edits a film or remakes a film. I think then it losses its feel and charm.


    1. There are very few remakes that I'd consider worthy. I like the Dawn of the Dead remake, plus The Thing is also very good but after that I struggle. I think it's because 99% of remakes are made simply as cash-ins rather than wanting to tell the story in a different way or do anything interesting with it.


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