from the abyss, comes madness
from the abyss, comes madness
Pandemics and zombies go together like mac and cheese. Maybe, we’re looking for survival tips. I mean, zombie movies and apocalyptic horror have a special way of reminding us that humanity is worth fighting for, right? Well, we’re not dead, or undead, yet, so, if you’re not yet ready to build a bunker, start a collection of assault rifles, or learn to love cold chili from a can, here’s a list of my favorite zombie movies to better prepare us for doomsday.
10. Cargo (2017)
“I don’t think normal is on the horizon.”
Based on the brilliant 2013 short of the same name, Cargo is the story of a father wandering across the apocalyptic Australian wasteland with his infant daughter, searching for help, after he’s been bitten. Sometimes doing right by humanity means not getting caught up in other people’s misery.
9. Re-Animator (1985)
“You’ll never get credit for my discovery. Who’s going to believe a talking head?”
Stuart Gordon directs this blood-drenched, nudity-filled horror-comedy, based on the H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, about a group of ethically questionable doctors fighting for control of a glowing green serum that brings the dead back to life. This is quintessential 80’s horror for anyone who believes doomsday starts in a lab.
8. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
“In the back of my mind, I was always thinking, better them than me.”
Director Zack Snyder ups the survivor stakes by replacing slow shambling zombies with a little berserker action, in this retelling of George Romero’s 1979 film of the same name. While it falls short on Romero’s mastery of social commentary, it does have the most thrilling opening sequence of any zombie movie ever and does a good job showing what diversity looks like in apocalypse.
7. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
“As we approach your new home, you will notice a dramatically increased military presence.”
The US military swoops in to save the day or does it? This action-packed sequel to Danny Boyle’s horror masterpiece, 28 Days Later, features an all-star cast and another bleak story of desperate, complicated survivors, including two resourceful teens, whose father recently went out for ice cream.
6. The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
“Pandora peered into the box and found one more thing in the bottom. It was hope.”
Zombie horror for the thinking man, based on the book by M.R. Carey, with a story set in rural England, where military scientists study an airborne fungal pathogen that turns people into zombies, by experimenting on special children who born with bloodlust but managed cognitive thinking and learning capability. Humans may be willing to do anything to survive, but remember, nature has a way of favoring the dominate of the species.
5. Train to Busan (2016)
“Those of you who just got here, I don’t think you can stay with us.”
This Korean thriller about a group of survivors stuck on a bullet train, trying to make its way to country’s last stronghold before the zombie horde gets to them, is non-stop action from beginning to end. Korean directors sure like using trains to point out social inequalities and class warfare. Btw, Peninsula, Busan’s upcoming sequel set in the same universe with a new kinetic story is expected to be released sometime in 2020.
4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
“As Bertrand Russell said the only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation.”
Sometimes the only thing to do is go to your favorite bar, have a nice cold pint, and wait for this all to blow over. Oh, that’s right, we’re on lockdown. Well, I hope you stocked up on Cornettos. The world’s first zombie rom-com is loaded with laughs, but doesn’t skimp on the gore, nor the scares, plus, it can teach us a thing or two about sticking close to loved ones during the bad times.
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
“It started as rioting. But right from the beginning, you knew this was different.”
The fact that this film shows up on my zombie list sheds light on my opinion on whether this is a true zombie film. Some people debate that 28 Days Later is not a true zombie film because they’re highly infectious cannibals, who are very much alive. But, much of what’s most terrifying of Danny’s Boyle’s brilliant thriller about a military science experiment gone bad is the explanation of the rabid virus is the most logically plausible. Dead, undead, who cares, humanity has collapsed due to hordes of uncontrollable flesh-eating rage-monsters ravaging the London countryside. Sounds like a zombie film to me!
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
“Don’t you know what’s goin’ on out there? This is no Sunday School picnic!”
Inspired by political and racial strife of the early 60s, young filmmaker George A. Romero had no idea the impact his little low-budget movie would have on films, much less the horror genre, with a story of a group of complicated survivors holed up together in a farmhouse surrounded by undead corpses preying on the flesh of the living. The metaphorical snapshot of American society on edge is sadly, still relevant. Clerical errors sent the film into the Public Domain. As of March 2019, the film has been downloaded 3.1 million times. Looks like Romero’s biggest regret of not doublechecking the copyright form has been a true gift to humanity.
1. Dawn of the dead (1979)
“Wake up, sucker! We’re thieves and we’re bad guys. That’s exactly what we are.”
George A. Romero’s magnum opus is number one on all the zombie lists for a reason. It’s the one that created the most popular subgenre in horror films, for which, all others pay homage to. The film was chock-full of both realism and symbolism. There are unforgettable characters, heroes with real flaws that audiences find identifiable or admirable in some way. Deep down inside, there’s a little fly boy or fly girl in all of us. Then, there’s Romero’s brilliant social commentary, a story that simultaneously mocks and celebrates American society and its insatiable consumerism. Our sanctuary, the American Mall. Our tool for survival, the almighty gun. Our privilege, unimaginable wealth, just behind glass doors. Golly gee, if we only had the guts to brave the hordes of flesh-eating monsters standing in our way. Pssst…all the living dead are capitalists!
We must stop the killing, or lose the war.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
No one shall ever enter this room again.
Pit and the Pendulum was a film of many seconds for director Roger Corman. It was the second film adapted from an Edgar Allan Poe story, written by author and screenwriter Richard Matheson, who penned such successful novels such as I am Legend and the Incredible Shrinking Man. It was second big hit for distributor American International Pictures, grossing over $2 million USD from a measly $300,000 budget. It was also the second time that Corman would work with Vincent Price and Barbara Steele, each of whom would go on to become horror icons based on their work in numerous horror films.
Loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe of the same name, the story revolves around a tenacious Englishman Francis Barnard who goes to foreboding castle in Spain, after hearing word that his sister Elizabeth has died. He confronts his brother-in-law Don Nicholas Medina, demanding to know how she died. While there, Barnard finds the grieving don is slowly losing his mind, convinced that his late wife is haunting the castle, a site once used in the Spanish Inquisition. The don’s sister and personal physician try to sooth Barnard’s suspicions that Nicholas had anything to do with the sister’s death by revealing the tragic childhood trauma (shown in color-tinted vignette style flashbacks) that inflicts the don, but as the dark night drags by, it becomes apparent that a more sinister plot is afoot.
Richard Matheson creates magic here by fleshing out the Poe’s torture chamber story bringing in the doomed Don Nicholas Medina, who already believes he’s cursed with same madness that drove his father to inflict unspeakable horror on the Spanish population, as well as his own family. In some ways, Matheson’s story is better than Poe’s gothic tale, giving audiences a backstory into understanding the horror the Poe wrote about.
The Merchant of Menace, Vincent Price, is at his best here, playing both a grieving man losing his sanity and his sinister father in flashbacks. His acting is somewhat melodramatic but entirely encouraged by dark dreamy orchestral score by Les Baxter. The always beautiful and haunting bright eyes of Barbara Steele turn in another wicked performance, cementing her legacy as a horror vixen, and John Kerr, Luana Anders and Antony Carbone also give strong memorable performances.
Despite the low-budget, Corman’s gothic adaption looked like million dollar film, with its vibrant color, gorgeous costuming, intricate set design, and carefully planned wide-angle shots by Floyd Crosby, the lusciously filmed Pit and the Pendulum only took 15 days to film. Shot entirely on a sound stages in California, Corman’s meticulous pre-production with his team, in particular, set designer, Daniel Haller, who created a real pendulum for the movie’s nightmarish ending sequence. The imposing pendulum was 18-feet long, weighed over 2,000 lbs and hoisted thirty-five feet in the air at the top of the sound stage above the actors. The blade was made of rubber, but a real metal blade covered in steel paint was switched out for the close shots, giving John Kerr some serious anxiety, which shows in his perspiring face during the final scenes.
This is my favorite Roger Corman and Vincent Price collaboration. It’s the scariest and best overall production, an absolute epitome of gothic horror, inspiring dozens of other filmmakers, from Hollywood to the Italian gallo films of the 60s. Horror at that time was changing in a way that the scares were no longer implied. Horror master Stephen King remembers the Pit and the Pendulum scene which Price’s don Medina finds the decayed corpse of his dead wife, as having changed the horror landscape, King says “the most important moment in the post-1960 horror film, signaling a return to an all-out effort to terrify the audience…and a willingness to sue any means at hand to do it.”
Black Sunday (1961)
Sometimes Satan, with his capacity for doing evil, even plays tricks with the dead.
After following in his father’s footsteps, cinematographer Mario Bava made his directorial debut with 1960 gothic horror, Black Sunday, aka, The Mask of Satan, about a witch named Asa Vajda from Moldavia, who vows revenge after she and her apprentice are condemned to death by her brother, the crown prince. Two centuries later, on Black Sunday, the day Satan walks the earth, a traveling physician and his assistant unwittingly bring the witch back to life. After turning her apprentice into a vampire, Asa immediately sets out to fulfill her cursed prophecy, by terrorizing her brother’s descendants.
Production started in late March 1960 and took less than two months to film, releasing in Italy in August of 1960. The film was a modest success, bringing in $140 million lire, earning back its production costs, but performed much better in Europe and the US. Despite being low-budget, Black Sunday was praised for its originality and vivid imagery, however, the gore and gruesome violence shown in the film drew much criticism and was even banned in the UK until 1968, when a heavily censored version, retitled as Revenge of the Vampire, was finally released. The uncut version wouldn’t be shown until 1992!
In the US, Black Sunday was shown as a double feature with Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors in February 1961. In order to make the film less objectionable, American censors edited the movie down three minutes, excluding such violent scenes as, the burning and branding of flesh, eyeball impalement, and blood spewing out from the mask as it was hammered onto witch’s face in the opening sequence.
Unknown British actress Barbara Steele was cast in the lead duel role of the evil witch vampire Asa and her innocent descendant Katia. Even though her voice was dubbed by another actress, audiences swooned over Steele’s haunting beauty and loved her villainous portrayal of the vengeful Asa. Barbara Steele reportedly had a hard time on set and gained reputation for being difficult, mostly due in part to the lack of communication and language barrier.
What was once shocking to audiences of the early sixties, holds the same magic to influence numerous artists and filmmakers over the years, including Francis Ford Coppola, who is said to have recreated several scenes in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as a homage to Bava, and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, which borrowed imagery, namely, the iconic death by iron maiden scene. The horrifying story of revenge and all its extreme violence and sexual suggestions actually helped Black Sunday become a cult classic.
Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!
Hammer Film’s first incursion into the Frankenstein mythos, Curse of Frankenstein, spawned several sequels, all of them starring soon-to-be horror icon Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein. Directed by Terence Fisher, in what would be the first of many films that Fisher would make for Hammer Films, the film also starred a young Christopher Lee, playing the Monster, before he would go on to don Dracula’s cape for the next three decades.
Universal Films fought vehemently to protect their own Frankenstein film and its rights, which reflected heavily on many decisions Hammer made during filming. Make-up artist Phil Leaky created a brand-new look for the monster, and several key scenes from the novel were cut due to a limited budget. Despite its limitations, Curse of Frankenstein impressed many with its art direction, costuming, camera work, and the stellar cast, which also included English actor Hazel Court, (just starting out in her lengthy career as a horror queen), and Scottish stage and TV actor Robert Urquhart.
This story revolves around Frankenstein himself, rather than his creature, choosing to show the Baron as a more ambitious, egotistical and ruthless man; at the start of the story, he awaits execution for several murders. Hammer’s version of Dr. Frankenstein is a villainous man, willing to commit crimes, set up a man’s accidental death, aka murder, to obtain the parts he needs to create his creature, and even use the poor creature to kill opponents standing in the way of greatness. Since, the brain was damaged, it becomes apparent quickly that the monster has little intelligence and is too far too violent to control, thus, Frankenstein is forced to destroy his greatest creation. With the evidence gone, fate comes down to his younger associate Dr. Paul Krempe, the only witness to the experiments.
Colin Clive may have had the most memorable line in horror history, but it was Peter Cushing who was highly praised for the truly unforgettable performance of Victor Frankenstein, for fleshing out the character that audiences deemed charming and intriguing, in spite of his villainy. It was Cushing that helped inspire the mad scientist archetype and motivated Hammer to continue his story all the way into the 70s.
Curse of Frankenstein was Hammer’s first color film and considered by many to be the first truly gory film. The deep red blood and guts appeared gorier on screen than any other horror film of its time, causing a bit of uproar and scathing reviews. It even received an X rating for a time, when it opened at the London Pavilion in 1957. Despite receiving the lukewarm reviews from critics, audiences seemed to really like the film, grossing nearly $8 million, thus, putting Hammer Films squarely on the map.
The Black Cat (1932)
“Did you ever hear of Satanism, the worship of the devil, of evil?”
Today’s black and white classic is the horror-thriller The Black Cat from Universal Pictures. Horror icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff square off for the first time in a movie about a traumatized doctor with a cat phobia named Werdegast and an American newlywed couple, who seek medical aid at the home of the doctor’s nemesis, Hjalmar Poelzig, the dark high priest of a devil-worshipping cult. The doctor’s original plans of revenge on Poelzig are changed when it is revealed the priest plans to sacrifice the young bride at the dark of the moon.
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., the young studio head believed in director Edgar G. Ulmer’s vision enough so the man had free rein over the pic. Although presumed to be loosely based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe, there are not too many similarities here. It’s a bit strange really because the movie is good enough to stand on its own merits. This perhaps one of my favorite classic films. The story is excellent, with strong performances from the entire cast. David Manners and Julie Bishop pile on the melodrama with their romance, which is now part of the charm in some of these old films, but let’s be honest, they weren’t who we’re here to see anyway. Lugosi playing the tortured Werdegast against Karloff’s evil Poelzig in a battle for screen supremacy is one of the best horror face-offs ever found in horror. I’d say Lugosi is the clear winner, due to a more fully fleshed-out character and more dialogue to offer, but Karloff does manage to say quite a lot with just a creepy stare. Madness and secret motivations are the whole reason why this film is so scary. Clearly, something evil has hold of these men.
The film escaped the Pre-code guidelines but Ulmer’s first cut of the film, which included several scenes of satanic worship and skinning alive of Herr Poelzig, was deemed too dark and violent for the Laemmles (father and son). Between that and Bela Lugosi’s complaints that he appeared to be too villainous, Ulmer reshot several scenes, downplaying the gruesome last scene, and added some sprinkling of humanity in the tragic Dr. Werdegast. In a touch of irony, while cleaning up the film’s ending, Ulmer snuck in some extra shots of Poelzig’s necrophilic menagerie. Already heavy with a dark look and satanic theme, studio execs managed to miss The Black’s Cat’s seriously taboo subject matter, or perhaps they ignored it.
The eerie movie score runs 80 minutes contains many classical selections, including the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, only the second time a horror film featured the now cliched song. The set of Poelzig’s mansion is considered somewhat of a masterpiece in the industry, part art deco, part haunted house. In contrast to The Old Dark House, this film is well-lit, casting defined shadows in a way that you’re unsure if you’re watching a horror film at all.
The Black Cat is considered to be the first movie to use psychological horror, capitalizing on public interest in psychiatry at that time. Despite the audience’s distaste for the dark subject matter, it was the biggest box office hit for Universal that year, due in part to the popularity of its stars. What didn’t work then is exactly why it works now. The Black Cat is creepy, scary, and a masterclass in great classic horror.
The Old Dark House (pre-code 1932)
“Have a potato.”
Kicking off Tuesday Terror is black/white classic The Old Dark House from 1932. Once considered a horror film, really, it’s more a thriller-comedy about a group of travelers, who on one violent stormy night, find themselves stranded in the mansion of an eccentric Femm family and their creepy mute butler.
Directed by James Whale and produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr. at Universal Pictures Corp., who were still riding the wave of success from the horror sensation, Frankenstein, the film starred soon-to-be-leading man Melvyn Douglas, English actors Ernest Thesiger, Eva Moore and Lilian Boyd, and was the first Hollywood film for both British star Charles Laughton and Canada’s Raymond Massey. The film gave up-and-coming starlet Gloria Stuart her first starring role as well, and oddly enough, the film hottest star at the time, Boris Karloff, received his first credited starring role (Karloff’s name was not printed on Frankenstein publicity packages).
The Old Dark House is one of the first atmospheric, dark, creepy house movies. The lightening and cinematography and dreadful, menacing music sets the tone perfectly: cold, dark and wet. While it has its moments of creepy melodrama, particularly towards the end, I found the movie quite humorous. The script was brimming with funny lines and sardonic wit, remember, this is pre-code too, so there’s drinking, smoking, and a very thinly dressed leading lady.
As for the scares, it’s an entertaining build to the end, and then, it gets real dark and weird. Most of the horror is contained to the audience not knowing the motivations of the hulking mute butler, Morgan, played by Boris Karloff, in a role so similar to Frankenstein’s monster, the movie company issued a notice in the first frame that this movie is not the Frankenstein movie released in 1931. Unlike the sympathetic monster, Morgan is a nasty piece of work here, a mean drunk who terrorizes Gloria Stuart’s Margaret, navigating her way in the dark like a delicate gazelle.
There’s some real laugh out loud moments and charming interactions between the travelers, as well as a rushed love story, or maybe I’m just too cynical to believe two people can indeed fall in love in ten minutes. Despite not knowing whether to laugh or hide under the covers, it’s those bizarre and charming characters that really make the film worth watching. The film was even marketed on the strength of its cast and for being weird.
One of the highlights is Ms. Rebecca Femm played by the veteran stage actress and women’s suffrage activist, Eva Moore. Her turn as a cantankerous religious fanatic going deaf is both creepy and hilarious. Rebecca hates the idea of opening up her home to strangers (“No beds! They can’t have beds!”) and seizes several moments to insult her guests, especially the young and beautiful Margaret.
In 1957, Universal lost the rights to the film and the William Castle was hired to direct the remake in 1963 for Columbia Pictures. The original film was considered lost for many years until found by director Curtis Harrington, who discovered a negative print in the Universal Vaults in 1968. The first reel was in such bad shape, the famed George Eastman House was brought in to help restore the film.
With lukewarm reviews, the pic didn’t do much box office business in the US but broke some records in the UK, due in part to the talented English cast. Now, The Old Dark House is just an underrated thriller with a cult following.
Don’t forget to join us for Tuesday Trivia: http://halloweenhaiku.freeforums.net/thread/8/random-classic-horror-movie-trivia
Happy September! School is back in session, summer is winding down, and that recent holiday in the sun is now a distant memory. Everyone knows vacations can sometimes be more stressful than relaxing. Between the airlines losing luggage and hotel rooms not looking anything like the brochure, to pricey tourist traps or flat out being robbed, the reality of exotic trips not living up to their expectations is a top reason why people just stay home. Let’s be honest, a lot of the disappointment could’ve been solved with better research and a Lonely Planet travel guide.
No matter how awful your trip was, just be glad you weren’t a character in an Eli Roth movie.
Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th (1980) dir. by Sean S. Cunningham
Years after a child’s accidental drowning, a group of young camp counselors prepare for the summer camp’s reopening, only to be stalked and murdered by an unseen force.
This one almost didn’t make the list because for all its posturing and preparation for summer visitors, Camp Crystal Lake never actually opened to the public. That’s right, no vacations were had, which is a good thing because after all those brutal murders, they never would have survived the Yelp reviews. The locals called it ‘Camp Blood’ for short. I mean, can you imagine the BBB rating on this place? “One star for the blood-stained bunk beds!” Never before has the mere uttering of a vacation destination sparked so much fear, because no one steps foot in a forest these days without hearing Jason’s theme ‘ki-ki-ki-ma-ma-ma‘ in their head.
Posting this blog a day late and a dollar short, just like dear ‘ole dad. If you were one of the millions who spent Father’s Day pining over your lost, non-existent volatile relationship with daddy dearest, cheer up, and be glad you weren’t the offspring of any of these bad dads of horror.
10. Satan – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
It doesn’t really get much worse than having Satan for a dad. Sure, there are probably perks to being the Antichrist, but the trade-off is lifetime of micromanagement from mid-level staffers on daddy’s payroll. Satan’s coven rape, conspire, commit murder and drive the chosen mother-to-be to the brink of insanity, all to ensure Satan’s son is born on the exact date that will make him 33 years on the millennial, the same age as Jesus when he came into his own. Who would’ve guessed the devil would be so petty?
I was supposed to post this on Mothers Day but I was too busy hanging out with my momma.
Moms have one job, protect their children. There’s a reason why you’re not supposed to mess with women with offspring. Ever heard of mama bears? Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off mum! Now, most moms are good moms, but all moms have the potential to be scary. If you manage to survive their wrath, these terrifying ladies of horror will keep you in therapy for years.
10. Mama/Spirit – Mama, 2013
Mama is a vengeful spirit who doesn’t know how to let go. When she finds two children alone in the woods after a tragic accident, she cares for them, in the only backwoods way that a dark, scary cursed ghost can. Years later, the girls are finally rescued and sent to live with their father’s twin brother and his wife, but unfortunately, Mama is not okay with the new living arrangements. It’s unfortunate this movie tried so hard to be twisty because the plot only ended up in knots, but at its heart, this is a classic ghost story with solid jump scares.