Book Gift Ideas for Halloween and Horror Fans

I’ve compiled a list of great holiday horror and Halloween books that your favorite Halloween and horror fan will love this Creepmas. I live in Los Angeles area so some of my suggestions reflect my current location, but free feel to check local bookstores in your area. Happy Holidays!

Holiday Horror:

We Bleed Red and Green by Jeff C. Carter

Hot off the heels of his October anthology We Bleed Orange & Black: 31 Funsize Tales for Halloween, Jeff C. Carter is back with 12 new tales of Christmas terror.

Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer

There’s a lot to unwrap in this fun, festive horror set in the big, bad, cut-throat publishing world of the 1980s.

Nos4A2 by Joe Hill

Time-travel, immortal vampires and Christmas make for one terrifying tale for the holidays. When you’re done reading, check out season one of the TV adapation from AMC Channel on Amazon Prime.

Krampus: Shadow of Saint Nicholas by Michael Dougherty (Graphic Novel)

From the creator of Trick ‘r Treat, Michael Dougherty shares his Krampus vision in a new graphic novel form, filled with stunning artwork.

The Old Magic of Christmas by Linda Raedisch

Come check out the Yuletide tales of witches, elves and ghosts, Perfect winter reading. Keep an eye out for the new Audiobook coming on December 22, 2020.

Krampus’s Great Big Book of Yuletide Monsters by Amanda Woomer

Come explore the spooky world of Krampus and other holiday monsters in this latest book from author and paranormal investigator, Amanda Woomer.

Halloween Books:

Pumpkins and Party Themes: 50 DIY Designs to Bring Your Halloween Extravaganza to Life By Roxanne Rhoads

I know 2020 put a damper on our Halloween celebrations this year, which only means we should come back hard in 2021. This book is full of ideas and DIY designs to help get us ready for the perfect party next year!

Creating Your Vintage Halloween: The folklore, traditions, and some crafty makes by Marion Paull

What a fantastic way to learn all about Halloween traditions. This beautiful, fully-colored little book is a dream for vintage Halloween collectors and Halloween lovers.

The Halloween Kid by Rhode Montijo

From author and illustrator Rhode Montijo, follow along with the adventures of the mysterious masked defender of Halloween. Word around town is there’s an animated show in the works.

Other Horror Related Books:

The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara

This LA Times Bestseller, which topped all the 2019 ‘Best Of’ lists, uncovers the mysterious life of former Disney animator, Milicent Patrick, the only woman in history to create a Hollywood classic movie monster.

Graven Images: The Best of Horror, Fantasy, and Science-Fiction Film Art from the Collection of Ronald V. Borst (Hardcover), Introduction by Stephen King

I absolutely fell in love with this beautiful, bright, fully-color collection of vintage Hollywood movie posters. It’s a great read for film lovers and filled with the history behind some of Hollywood’s best classic horror and sci-fi movies.

Universal Studios Monsters: A Legacy of Horror by Michael Mallory, Stephen Sommers (Foreword)

Come explore the magnificent legacy of Universal Studio’s Monsters, learn all about the characters, their mythologies and get behind-the scenes insights into Hollywood’s golden age of horror.

The Spirit Guide: America’s Haunted Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries by Amanda Woomer

I predict once this pandemic is over, travel will come roaring back to life and 2021 will be the perfect time for a paranormal adventure. This awesome read breaks down what to expect when you visit some of America’s most haunted bars, breweries, wineries and more!

Classic Books:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (Poirot) by Agatha Christie

Throwback Thursday: Horror 3D

Anyone who follows film, knows the history of 3D is a bit murky. Some people just don’t take to it. During the 80s, 3D made a short-lived comeback with big name franchises such as Friday the 13th Part III, Amityville 3D, and the biggest money-maker of the three, Jaws 3D. All of the films were critically panned and stand out from their predecessors as the campiest of all. I don’t know if you could call them B-movies. Beside the weirdo 3D effects, they were hella expensive and mad glossy, but everything about those stories were heinous. Barf!

This isn’t a best of horror list though, this is a best of 80s horror, and we gotta embrace the fact that for like two hours, 3D was totally gnarly!

Friday the 13th, Part III (1982)

Believe it or not, Friday the 13th was supposed to be a trilogy and this was the movie to end it all. It marked the first time Jason Vorhees appears in his signature hockey goalie mask and for sure that had something to do with the film’s growing popularity, enough to convince studio suits to keep making movies.

As far as 80s connections go, I’ll be honest, the campground setting makes it harder to distinguish the time era, but take one look at those feathered locks and cashmere sweaters, now, you know you’re time traveling.

Amityville 3D (1983)

This movie was sort of an anomaly of the franchise. At the time of filming, a legal dispute between the famed Lutz family and studio producers broke out and the result was the film featured brand new fictional characters and the story didn’t follow either of its predecessors. Also, supposedly, the home owner at the time was totally being a spaz and the studio had to make physical changes to the infamous haunted house.

Sadly, the film was not well-received by fans or critics. The 3D was reportedly bad compared to technology used by other 3D films of the time, and so, it was all just a major bummer. We did get the future America’s sweetheart and Aunt Becky playing with Ouija Boards in jean jackets and feathered hair, conjuring slimy demon creatures from Hell, like, it doesn’t get more 80s than that.

Jaws 3D (1983)

I think Jaws 3D had the toughest sell considering how beloved the first film was to audiences. They did get to keep the fancy disposable cardboard 3D glasses and I pity anyone who didn’t keep those amazing souveniors, cuz they totally still work. Of course, because televisions weren’t equipped with 3D capabilities at the time, thus, the name of Jaws 3D changed to Jaws III once it hit home video and there were no 3D versions until the early 2000s.

Unfortunately, not even the magnificence of Louis Gossett, Jr. and the curiously coked-out Dennis Quaid performance could save Jaws 3D from being anything more than fish food. If you want real scares, stick with the original, Jaws, a magnum opus of horror filmmaking. For frivolous fun, under the sea in 3D shots, a fantastic historical look at Sea World parks before Blackfish backlash killed their business, and great 80s vibes, including water-skiing stunts, this is the movie for you!

I think to truly appreciate the small strides 3D has made over the years, one should watch the even older scary movies, like House of Wax, starring Vincent Price. That was the first feature length 3D film with stereophonic sound. Arguably the most famous 3D movie ever was Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and its 3D spawn, Revenge of the Creature (1955), was the only 3D sequel of a 3D movie of the time. That was major back then. Other notable 3D horror films are It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Mad Magician (1954), The Tingler (1959), House on Haunted Hill (1959), and 13 Ghosts (1960).

What you do think about 3D movies? Hit me up in comments section or tag me on Instagram or Twitter @HalloweenHaiku9 and let me know your thoughts.

Trick or Treat Tuesday: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Full-length, remastered HD version of Night of the Living Dead,
directed by George A. Romero, brought to us by Public Domain Films

Ever wonder how the most popular zombie film of all time, Night of the Living Dead ended up in U.S. public domain? Well, it happened after the original theatrical distributor, Walter Reade Organization, failed to replace a necessary copyight notice on the title card of the print of the film, after changing the movie’s title from Night of the Flesh Eaters to Night of the Living Dead.(1) 

According to U.S. copyright laws, any work made or published before 1923 automatically enters the public domain. According to the 1909 Copyright Act, all creative works needed to have a sufficient copyright notice. That’s why most works are accompanied by the following symbol © and a year.(2) The act has since been updated, but at the time of its release, Night of the living Dead needed to follow this simple rule. 

As a result of the distribution company’s error, George A. Romero immediately lost the rights to his film, and subsequently, millions of dollars in lost revenue, advertising and merchandising. In fact, up until Night of the Living Dead, zombie movies were about mind-controlled humans through manipulation, sorcery or voodoo. Romero was actually the first to create an undead flesh-eating creature that preys on the living. So, we can pretty much speculate that if Romero had retained the rights to Night of the Living Dead, every zombie book, film, TV and video game would have been controlled by George A. Romero.

Romero often expressed that losing the rights to his first feature film was one of his biggest regrets. The famed horror director passed away in 2017, after watching his creation grow into a monsterous sub-genre of horror. Strangely enough, Night of the Living Dead falling into public domain helped make zombies more popular, inspired creativity across the globe, helped spawn several horror franchises, and even launched the careers of some of today’s best horror directors. The entire zombie industry owes a debt of gratitude for its existence to this man. Maybe the universe knew the power to control zombies was too big a task for one human being.

It all worked out for George A. Romero too. As zombie popularity grew, Romero earned more opportunities to make movies, created projects, wrote books and comics, and even capitalized on his own notoriety as the “king of the zombie films.” In 1999, Night of the Living Dead was added to the U.S. National Film Registry for its historical and cultural significance.

Source Material:
1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Living_Dead
2) https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15a.pdf

Throwback Thursday: The Toxic Avenger

These movies are so painstakingly 80s, they serve as a tubular tribute to both spandex and bloodsplatter.

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Today is National Cheese Curd Day (10/15) and cheese curd is basically immature cheese that hasn’t gone through any proper process. That’s kinda how I view Troma movies, films shot, cut raw, and served to the masses as unrefined horror. It’s definitely an acquired taste. The Toxic Avenger is a story of a bullied young man who gains superhuman strength after falling into a vat of toxic waste. The new mop-carrying hero promptly sets out to get revenge on those who tried to kill him, but also manages to clean up his small town of Tromaville, by getting rid of the bad guys and corruption along the way.

Directed by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman, who also helped write and produce the film, The Toxic Avenger was panned upon its initial release but gained a strong cult following after being the featured midnight show at a popular movie house in Greenwich Village in 1985. The rest is history. Troma Entertainment went from making campy sex romps to campy horror, building a franchise of Toxic Avenger movies, which spawned five films and even a short-lived cartoon television series.

Armed with a specialized in a brand of satire, Troma effectively exaggerated the issues of the 80s drug-fueled excess, gym craze obsession, raging crime, political corruption, and clear class divisions, while serving up a satisfying revenge fantasy. The Toxic Avenger is campy, it’s gory, it’s silly, and may have played on stereotypes of the time, but once you swim through the bloodsplatter and Aquanet cloud, the Toxic Avenger is just as heartwarming as any of those John Hughes teen comedies of the 80s, and it had a lot to say about teen bullying. The Toxic Avenger isn’t the best-looking superhero on the planet but he sure is the hero the world needs.

Throwback Thursday: Chopping Mall

These movies are so painstakingly 80s, they serve as a tubular tribute to both spandex and bloodsplatter.

The Chopping Mall (1986)

The fear of machines taking over and destroying mankind was all the rage in 80s, and Chopping Mall delivered feathered hair and killer lasers in spades. One-time protégé of B-movie king Roger Corman, Director Jim Wynorski kicked off a long career of B-horror movies and exploitation films, with this story about of group of mall employees partying after hours, only to find themselves the target of the mall’s new nighttime security system. I’m sure the movie had some meaningful message about not having sex in furniture stores and trusting machines to do a man’s job, but who cares, we came to see robots vs. humans!

These formidable Dalek-looking knock-offs rack up a kill count that could make the Terminator proud. They start by impaling a couple of techs and electrocuting a night-time janitor, played by character actor and Corman alum, Dick Miller, before moving on to our horny co-eds, played by a cast of hot 80s hopefuls, including Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, and the legendary Barbara Crampton, in one of her earliest roles. Our spunky protags fight back with Molotov cocktails, flares and propane tanks, but ya know, bad bots and their neon lasers gotta steal the show.

Honestly, most of the special effects are as cheesy as the gratuitous boob shots, but one death does stands out as unbelievably gory, even by today’s blood-thirsty audience standards. It wasn’t as well done as say, Scanners, but it probably was the highlight of Suzee Slater’s career.
All and all, Chopping Mall isn’t the best killer robot movie in the world, but I think true horror fans will appreciate it, besides, once Hollywood figured out how to make heads explode, even bad 80s B-flicks got a little more interesting.

Throwback Thursdays: The Howling II

These movies are so painstakingly 80s, they serve as a tubular tribute to both spandex and bloodsplatter.

The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985)

In celebration of the Harvest full moon, we’re kicking off Throwback Thursdays with this 80s classic, chosen over Joe Dante’s brilliant first film The Howling because it stars Christopher Lee as aging werewolf hunter, who recruits a young American couple to accompany him to Transylvania, on a hunt for the immortal witchy-werewolf queen Stirba, played by B-movie queen Sybil Danning and all her royal glory!
You get the Prince of Darkness himself, cheesy special effects, awful werewolf costumes that were actually ape costumes, bloody carnage, bitchcraft, werewolf menage a trois, werewolf orgy, a catchy theme song on repeat throughout the entire movie, a Czech club full of punk rockers, 80s perma hair, sunglasses at night, the tightest black leather outfit ever stitched together for film, and Sybil Danning’s gigantic scene-stealing breasts. My friends, this is a masterclass in 80s B-movies!

Five Sleeper Hits on Streaming

Summer is always a rough season. Summer combined with the Corona virus lockdown is almost unbearable, but being stuck inside doesn’t have to be torture. I found these five low budget gems, definitely better than expected, that should satisfy your horror movie cravings.

We Summon the Darkness (2019)
Service: Netflix

“There’s a lotta evil out there.”

For anyone’s who has ever worn a leather vest over a jean jacket, sported big feathered hair, or been bullied for listening to Ozzy or Slayer, all over the misguided belief that heavy metal is Satan’s music for devil worshippers, this one’s for you. Set in the 80s, this low-key thriller about three victims falling prey to a murderous cult with diabolical intentions isn’t particularly scary or gory, but it definitely harkens back to those old glossy B slashers that the studios used to churn out. The movie stars a gaggle of Hollywood’s brightest teen stars, led by Alexandra Daddario, and Johnny Knoxville, surprisingly right at home, playing a smarmy televangelist. The energy is high and acting is decent, honestly though, absolutely nothing else stands out here. Both the plot and the twists are totally predictable, it’s a little hard to tell if that’s by design or not. If I was one of the filmmakers, I’d get all meta and say, ‘oh yeah, it was supposed to be that way.’ People really enjoy homages, and stickin two giant middle fingers up to the real evil in the world, those big greedy corporate churches, for lying to the world about great music, using the lord’s name in vain, and besmirching religion. That, plus a bitchin’ soundtrack, and heavy metal couture, so 80s, you can almost smell the AquaNet, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night.

Spring (2014)
Service: Shudder

“I gotta make sure you’re the kinda crazy I can deal with.”

There aren’t too many well-made horror romances out there in the world, but this movie is in top ten. Spring, the story of grieving young man who finds love with a mysterious woman, while on a vacation in Italy, is just as refreshing as its name sounds. It’s simply a beautiful movie, everything from the strange Lovecraftian story to the incredible cinematography, and the dark, creepy suspense to the blossoming love between two strangers. What makes the film work, besides getting lost in charming scenery of Southern Italy, is the chemistry between the leads Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker, it’s sweet, like saccharine, yet, definitely filled with a touch of danger and mystique. Their romance moves a little fast and even seems unrealistic, but if you factor in love at first sight (hey, it can happen), and remember the vulnerability of a lonely, grieving, inexperienced young man, it becomes real easy to understand why he would be attracted to an alluring, beautiful, mystical 2000 year old creature. It’s almost sad to watch her toy with him so effortlessly, then again, the boy is as impulsive as he is lost. A violent episode in the film’s beginning shows he’s far from a perfect hero and they might just be morally matched. As for the girl and her “condition”, well, you’ll just have to go watch the movie to see if her intentions are pure or not.

Ghost Stories (2017)
Service: Hulu

“Things are not always as they seem.”

This movie about a skeptical professor and paranormal debunker is a cleverly disguised anthology from IFC Midnight, turns out to be one of the scariest movies that I’ve seen in a long time. Triple threat writer-director Andy Nyman stars as the wry skeptic investigating the disappearance of his hero mentor. Once he finds him, he is then tasked with looking into the old man’s three most disturbing cases, which brings the professor on a terrifying journey of self-discovery. Nyman, along with co-creator Jeremy Dyson based their script off their hit theater show of the same name. The writing, cinematography and performances here are all phenomenal, in particular, Martin Freeman as a haunted banker, and in a mystery role, that I won’t give away. Ghost Stories makes good work of jump scares and sports some deep Hammer vibes, paying homage to numerous horror films, so it’s not inventing the wheel or anything, just making really good use of the tools from the tool box. Sometimes, that’s all a proper horror film needs.

One Cut of the Dead (2017)
Service: Shudder (Japanese subtitles)

“One take, no cuts. With one camera from start to finish.”

Shin’ichiro Ueda’s brilliant feature debut is a bit of movie inception. The movie starts off as a seriously cheesy low-budget zombie movie about an indie film crew filming a zombie movie in an abandoned warehouse, when suddenly, they’re attacked by real zombies, much to the director’s delight. If you’re still watching by the time the credits roll about 37 minutes in, yes, you read that right, boy, are you in for a treat! As you’re sitting there wondering ‘what the hell was that?’ a new movie starts. Well, sort of, it’s a flashback, and all good things to those who wait. One Cut of the Dead isn’t really a cheesy low-budget zombie film, it’s a hilarious meta-satirical comedy about filmmaking, including the backstage antics of producing live television. There are a ton of references to zombie movies and lots of gore and screaming, of course, but, the real prize here is the storytelling. One Cut features a strong message about the collaborative filmmaking process, and the resourcefulness, courage and heart it takes to be in the entertainment business. I guarantee, by the third act, you’ll forget all about those 37 minutes wasted in the beginning and cheer on the film crew’s spirited efforts to make their zombie movie.

Blood Quantum (2019)
Service: Shudder

“Every one of those motherf****** is a time bomb.”

Blood Quantum is essentially zombies on a modern-day reservation. You get all the blood-thirsty ravaging undead and pensive natives struggling to survive day-to-day, while reconciling their anger, resentment, and fears. Writer-director Jeff Barnaby channels his inner Romero and delivers biting social commentary on real life native troubles by drawing parallels to surviving in the zombie apocalypse, thus, immediately making it a better than average zombie story. Life on the reservation hasn’t improved, but it hasn’t necessarily deteriorated either. The white man is still trying to kill us. Same shit, different millennia. A little closer to the heart, there’s nice family drama subplot involving a wayward son named Lysol, wonderfully played by Kiowa Gordon. Lysol is one complex dude. He’s angry and alluring, righteous, and terrifying, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he represents a lot of young native men across the North America. Sadly, in a film filled with quirky interesting characters, Lysol is one of the few fleshed out characters. Dropped plot points involving back stories is just one of tiny problems that all add up over time, keeping the film from being truly great. I read director Barnaby wore several post production hats to ensure he told the story he wanted to tell, but I can’t help but wonder what the film could have been, if only it had a bigger budget and better editing. Despite its obvious flaws, this is a solid horror movie with nice cinematography, comical one-liners, ranging from cheesy to endearing, and plenty of zombie action and bloody carnage.

Monthly Haiku Corner – June

murky waters
from the abyss, comes madness
cthulhu

murky waters

 

Apocalyptic Planning from the Couch

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.”

cargo
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?”

reanimator

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.”

dotd04

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.”

28weekslater

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.”

gir

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.”

busan

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.”

shaun

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.”

28dayslater

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!”

notld

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.”

dotd79

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.

 

Tuesday Terror – The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
No one shall ever enter this room again.

pit-and-the-pendulum-1961-movie-barbara-steele-iron-maiden
© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

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.

pitpaint
© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

 

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.

pitbro
© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

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.

pitmad
© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

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.”

mgm pit pendulum
© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.