Tuesday, 20 September 2016

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Frightmare

Dir: Pete Walker. Starring: Deborah Fairfax, Sheila Keith, Rupert Davies, Kim Butcher & Paul Greenwood. 1974

Outside of the House of Hammer, director Pete Walker (along with frequent collaborator / screenwriter David McGillivary) created some of the most interesting British horror films of the 1970's - House of Whipcord, House of Mortal Sin and Frightmare, among others. Much of their best work, intentionally or unintentionally, attacked institutions if all sorts, with Frightmare, which takes an uncharitable look at the family, being my favourite. 

To explain the plot of Frightmare in any depth is to damage a first-time viewing. Suffice it to say that Deborah Fairfax plays Jackie, a young woman who goes to outrageous lengths to keep her troubled family functioning as best she can. Sheila Keith, a terrific screen presence who appeared in many of Walker's films, is outstanding here as Dorothy Yates, the matriarch of the family. 

What Frightmare has to say about family, particularly in its last scene, may not be cheery, but it does reflect a grotesquely heightened version of what for far too many is reality. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques
Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot. Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse & Charles Vanel. 1955  

Based on the novel She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, also writers of the source novel for Hitchcock's classic Vertigo (1958), Les Diaboliques feels very adult for its time, especially due to the nature of the central relationships at its core. In Les Diaboliques, two women, one the owner of a private boys school who is married to an abusive spouse, the other a teacher who carries on a very public affair with him, conspire to murder the abuser. Once they do, only a third of the way into the film, the real plot begins. Contemporary audiences may see the ending coming, but the way the story is told is compelling, suspenseful, and set the blueprint for many horror and suspense films to follow in its wake. Clouzot, a master of suspense in his own right, had already proven himself with Le Corbeau (1943) and the essential Wages of Fear (1954).   

Thursday, 23 June 2016

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead
Dir: George A. Romero. Starring Gaylen Ross, Ken Foree, David Emge & Scott H. Reiniger. 1978

George A. Romero returned to the familiar shambling grounds of his groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968) with a more openly satirical, day-glo splatter fest. The hype when Dawn of the Dead was released was astounding. A full-page ad in Rolling Stone magazine promised: “There is no explicit sex in this picture. However, there are scenes of violence which may be considered shocking.” And at the time, boy, were they! Unfortunately, the under-age me saw the cut Canadian version at my local theatre. Images in the first issue of Fangoria, however, let me know what I was missing. Seen uncut, Tom Savini’s effects give guts to the film’s plot, which, by now, is the stuff of legend: Zombie plague survivors take sanctuary in an abandoned shopping mall where the dead return out of mindless habit. Obviously, Romero was giving us the last word in consumerism, but he had even more on his politically-oriented mind. Romero frequently anchors his films with strong female and African-American characters, as evidenced in this, the ultimate zombie flick.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Burn, Witch, Burn!

Burn, Witch, Burn!
Dir: Sidney Hayers. Starring Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair & Margaret Johnston. 1962

Adapted from Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife, by Leiber, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, Burn, Witch, Burn! is an outstanding and contemporary look at witchcraft. Blair is the practitioner, and Wyngarde is the husband who tries to convince her that it’s all superstitious nonsense. However, it’s Wyngarde whose perceptions end up altered.

Smart, entertaining and suspenseful, Burn, Witch, Burn! deserves more recognition, and is, in many ways, a precursor to Rosemary’s Baby. Here, however, the heroine’s husband refuses to believe in her power until he’s shown otherwise. In fact, the film hints at the notion that women in general posses a necessary power that men, through our blindness, refuse to acknowledge.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Black Christmas

Black Christmas
Dir: Bob Clark. Starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Lynne Griffin, Art Hindle, Marian Waldman and Andrea Martin. 1974

The original “the calls are coming from inside the house” flick. Sorority sisters are stalked in their home by a madman in the attic. Simple and effective, but it's that simplicity supported by a potent setting, atmosphere, score, cinematography, direction and acting that make this proto-slasher a standout. The characters, too, are another key to the film's success. They, and their problems, are memorable, believable and relatable. It also doesn't hurt that, for my money, Black Christmas features the eeriest obscene phone calls in any film I've seen, er... heard. Finally, and significantly, Black Christmas successfully exploits and subverts all the elements of a Canadian Christmas to its best advantage – the snow, the cold, the lights, the carols, the quiet and the Yuletide loneliness.

Friday, 20 May 2016

More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: The Birds

The Birds
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette and Veronica Cartwright. 1963

How do you follow up a groundbreaking hit like Psycho? With more innovation, in the case of Alfred Hitchcock.

The Birds is a cunning movie with many layers. Hitchcock sets it up like a romantic comedy, and then turns it into the horror film that it truly is. The film's structure is iconic, having influenced George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) and countless others, no explanation is given for the attacks which echo the disharmony amongst the film's human characters, children are targeted, the ending is ambiguous, it's a technically challenging film, and there's no music; instead the screeching of birds gives us the soundtrack here. 

Like all Hitchcock films, The Birds is intensely visual, pure cinema. The suspense is outstanding, of course, but it's the characters that drive this movie, and the audience is asked to fill in the gaps between characters that are only hinted at in glances and actions. 

Suzanne Pleshette's Annie Hayworth is unforgettable, one of the most tragic characters in all of Hitchcock's films, and a sort of sister to Janet Leigh's Marion Crane in Psycho, unlucky in love rather then merely disappointed.  


More Favourite Horror Flicks, Alphabetically: Alien

Dir: Ridley Scott. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harr Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. 1979

Another version of this post originally appeared on November 5, 2007.

This movie has been written about ad nauseum, and it's so well known that it's a part of pop culture history. The premise isn't far removed from that of a slasher film - a group of stranded people are killed by a stalker, one-by-one. Elements of the film are also reminiscent of "It! The Terror from Beyond Space" and Mario Bava's "Planet of the Vampires". Still, it's a scary and suspenseful outer space horror movie with terrific effects and an iconic villain, one of the last (to this date) great monster designs. 

Though the first sequel, "Aliens", is the preferred alien flick by many, I still prefer the original. I like its emphasis on horror and suspense over the second film's focus on action scenes. And I find the original alien infinitely more scary than those in the sequel. The original creature is almost unstoppable, while the creatures in "Aliens" are easy to destroy, finding their strength in numbers.

Ridley Scott's direction is controlled and builds suspense terrifically. The script by Dan O'Bannon is smart, and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is eerie and effective. The cast are all perfect, with Sigorney Weaver being a standout. The unexpected arrival of the baby alien is one of horror's classic moments. File this movie under "You Must Have Seen This By Now" category.