Oct. 25, 2007
Need More Fear in Your Life This Halloween?
If the daily headlines aren’t scary enough – wars, fires, super germs, rising oceans – then slip into your local theater for a blood-curdling two or three hours. Horror movies, from rambling monsters to torturers to psychos, remain ever-popular, especially during this Halloween season.
And what is the attraction? SMU horror flick experts Rick Worland and Kevin Heffernan offer
some insights and a list of rare favorites.
“The successful horror
film is similar to a nightmare," says Worland, chair of SMU’s Division of
Cinema-Television and author of
The Horror Film. "In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud argued very famously that all dreams are forms of self-communication about our deepest fears and desires. So, the monsters in horror films – human or otherwise - are easily seen as symbolic of what we fear most.”
“The horror genre is traditionally held in low regard, at least in public by arbiters of taste and morality,"
Worland continues. "However, horror often achieves its greatest impact when it exposes or flaunts cultural taboos. For fans, there is often a thrilling sense of partaking of something that is low, vulgar, and offensive to paternalistic authority.”
For those who want to get beyond such popular horror films as Jaws and The Exorcist, Heffernan, associate professor of Cinema-Television and author of
Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold:
Horror Films and the American Movie Business, recommends the
following, which are "less familiar but which hold untold pleasures for those lucky enough to see them."
(1932) MGM tried to imitate the success of Universal's DRACULA and
FRANKENSTEIN by giving Tod Browning, director of DRACULA, complete freedom
to make a horror film of his own choosing, and he cast real-life circus
sideshow performers in a tale of adultery, murder, and revenge on the
carnival circuit. Audiences literally fled theaters in shock and revulsion
upon its initial release.
- THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943) Producer Val Lewton was responsible for
a number of restrained, atmospheric horror masterpieces for troubled studio
RKO during the 1940s including CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE
(1944 - an adaptation of JANE EYRE set among Haitian voodoo practitioners)
and this film about a suicidal lesbian involved with a mysterious cult in
wartime New York city.
- EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959) directed by Georges Franju. French art
cinema meets surgical horror as an insane surgeon kidnaps young women as
unwilling skin donors to restore the beauty of his horribly disfigured
daughter, played by Edith Scob wearing a wax mask showing only her wide, sad
BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1962) Glorious and sleazy American drive-in
variation on EYES WITHOUT A FACE in which an insane surgeon keeps his wife's
decapitated head on a dish in his lab while he cruises strip clubs and
modeling agencies for unwilling body donors to restore his horribly
decapitated wife. Meanwhile, the mysterious and unseen "thing in the closet"
grows angry and restless. A baby-boomer late night TV favorite.
- CASTLE OF BLOOD (1963). One of the most delirious and delightful
of the early 1960s Italian vampire films starring the cadaverous and
beautiful Barbara Steele. A journalist wagers that he can survive a night in
a supposedly haunted castle. All who had died in the house (and there are
plenty) come back to re-enact their deaths and claim him as one of them.
Shadowy, expressionist cinematography and operatic tableaux of adultery,
necrophilia, and bisexuality abound.
- FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969). A nihilistic late-sixties
re-imagining of the Frankenstein myth with Peter Cushing as a suave, cold,
Josef Mengele-like Baron Frankenstein. One of British Hammer Films' finest
- MARTIN (1977). Director George Romero followed the hugely
successful NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) with a series of highly
experimental films updating horror myths of witchcraft and vampirism to the
modern American landscape. MARTIN is the boldest of these, recounting the
story of a young, shy sexual psychopath who may or may not be a ninety
year-old vampire plaguing a dying Pennsylvania steel town.
- ALICE SWEET ALICE (1977). A story of murder, tortured family
dysfunction, and teenage-onset mental illness set against the deranged and
repressive background of lower middle-class religious extremism. Brooke
Shields receives top billing as a murder victim, but the real star is the
young Paula Shepard, who plays the title thirteen year-old protagonist with
tenderness and fury.
(1981). The most repellent, misogynistic, and claustrophobic of all of the
early eighties Stalk and Slash horror films. Character actor Joe Spinell
(THE GODFATHER, TAXI DRIVER) stars as a schizophrenic NYC serial killer who
scalps his female victims and affixes their remains to department store
mannequins strewn around his filthy apartment. Gore effects maestro Tom
Savini designed the murders and is featured in a cameo role as a
particularly unlucky victim of the maniac.
- SLUGS (1988). Get out the barf bags. 1950s-style mutant invasion
horror meets eighties Grand Guignol full-stop gore. Industrial waste turns
millions of bloated, slimy ground slugs into fanged flesh eaters. And you
can't run away, because they leave that darned slippery goop everywhere!
- CHINESE GHOST STORY (1987). Hong Kong supernatural cinema left
Hollywood far behind in this wild horror romance martial arts comedy. A
young scholar tries to rescue his lover, a beautiful female ghost, from an
evil tree demon, and she tries to keep him being from eaten by her vampire
women in waiting. The final twenty minutes is a hallucinatory barrage of
martial arts and ingenious special effects as our hero is chased through the
woods by a giant tongue that is hundreds and hundreds of feet long.
- CURE (1997) director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira)
burst onto the international scene with this horrific and densely layered
investigation of a series of savage killings in Tokyo in which an "X" is
carved into the necks of all of the victims. Like many Asian horror films of
the 1990s, CURE successfully integrates the moody, character-driven horror
of 1950s and 1960s models with shocking graphic violence. Unlike other
Japanese horror hits, however, it was never remade in Hollywood because the
story was impossible to dumb down for American audiences.
A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003). Based on a Korean folk tale,
director Kim Ji-Woon's story of two sisters and their relationship to their
hated stepmother and ineffectual father is shocking, gruesome, and too
emotionally complex and narratively dense to absorb in one viewing. Glorious
cinematography highlights the hues of the "Red Lotus" and "White Lotus"
sisters of the story's Korean title.