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 filmThe 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!
The Coronavirus pandemic has certainly challenged Halloween 2020. In many parts of the USA, events have been canceled or scaled back, which means, no trick-or-treating, no public haunts or mazes, no festivals or parades, and no big parties.
Now, I’m not telling anyone how to spend their time nor how to celebrate the holiday. I’m simply saying that Halloween at Home can be a fun and safe alternative to going out during the Covid-19 epidemic. So, if you’re looking for ideas to make your Halloween night in more fun, please keep reading.
Halloween Camp-Out (Family)
This Halloween night, we’ll be able to bask under the blue moon like werewolves do! Now, whether you go camping in the woods or camp out in your own backyard is up to you. Just be sure to watch out for the creepy critters, flying witches, vampire bats, and Sasquatch.
Build a ghost fort outside (tent, tarp, cardboard, ghost clothing, you decide)
Play card games
Make shadows puppets
Read/Tell spooky ghost stories
Don’t forget to look up and howl at the full moon
Halloween Pinata (Family)
If your little ones are disappointed there’ll be no trick-or-treating in your neighborhood, try getting them a Halloween themed pinata. They can beat the pulp outta it and get their frustrations out. Kidding! Big kids should get their own pinata. No, kids love collecting and finding candy! It’s just as simple as that. Once that pinata bursts, they’ll be so happy to fill their bags with the sweet stuff, they’ll forget all about trick-or-treating.
Halloween candy, trinkets, and toys to fill the pinata (Try spider rings as a trick)
A baseball bat or something to hit the pinata
Halloween Jigsaw Puzzle Party (Family)
Jigsaw puzzles are the perfect indoor/rainy day activity. They’re super fun, and a great way to destress. In fact, puzzles help us cope with anxiety, depression, and stimulate cognitive activity. So, if you didn’t jump on the bandwagon when the lockdowns started happening back in March, now is your chance.
Any puzzle will do, but since it’s Halloween, why not get a Halloween themed puzzle? Check the links below for suggested retailers.
Another fun perfect way to spend the evening with family. Again, any board games will do, but Halloween/monster-themed games are best. You could also try spooky versions of old favorites.
What you’ll need:
(Halloween) Board Games
Suggestions: Clue: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, It, Scooby-Doo, Supernatural, etc. Monopoly: It, Nightmare Before Christmas, Scooby-Doo, Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, etc. Scooby-Doo: Betrayal at Mystery Mansion Trivial Pursuit Horror Edition (for Adults) Villainous (Disney) The Walking Dead Board Game
Halloween Relay Games (Family)
The internet is filled with ideas for indoor/outdoor relay games and races. Below are some of my favorites. Don’t forget the Halloween prizes or ribbons for winners and participants.
Mini Pumpkin Races
Not all mini pumpkins are cut from the same gourd. Some are much faster than others. Use masking tape to make a relay track with start and finish line. From the start line, roll your pumpkin. The first pumpkin to reach the finish line, wins!
What you’ll need:
Eyeball Spoon Race
Just like a traditional egg and spoon race, kids balance the eyeball on the spoon and try to get to the finish line first. Use music as a greenlight/redlight for more ghoulish fun.
What you’ll need:
Bobbing for Donuts
Now, this one can get messy, so make sure you lay down some covering or have your broom or vacuum handy. Hang donuts from a string/twine. Try different heights for added fun. The first to finish eating their donut wins! Works best with cold or firm donuts.
What you’ll need:
Tape if don’t have a way to tie the string
Halloween Scavenger Hunt
Why should the Easter Bunny get all the fun? Hide mini-pumpkins or various objects around the home or yard, then sit back, and sip Halloween margaritas, while the kids hunt for their candy. Easy peasy.
What you’ll need:
List of items for each player to find (optional)
Halloween candy, mini-pumpkins, trinkets, and toys to hide
Good hiding places
Host a Themed Movie Marathon in the Dark (Teen/Adult/Family)
Choose a theme you want to explore (Halloween family, paranormal, zombies, Universal monsters, etc.) and pick out 4-6 of your favorites or never seen before movies to watch alone or with friends for a watch party. Check out my picks for scariest movies to watch on Halloween night
There is nothing scarier than reading a scary book on Halloween night, in a dimly lit room, with atmospheric music in the background. Don’t believe me? Try one of the best horror books on Refinery 29’s spooky reading list and tell me how it goes.
Halloween Dress-up/Dance Party (Teen/Adult)
All dressed up and nowhere to go? Well, that’s why the world wide web was invented! Seeing as most people will be stuck at home this year, I suspect there will be no shortage of online costume contests, virtual dance parties, and ‘show us your costume’ requests on social media. Beware of pervs and internet demons.
Between wishing complete strangers a Happy Halloween, changing costumes, showing off your smart phone’s Halloween filters, and blasting your Halloween playlist loud enough to wake the dead, that should pretty much take up the whole night.
Lights-out Dinner Party* (Adult/Family)
Ever seen those Dining in the Dark events that are supposed to introduce you to the dark, sensory experience? Well, this is basically a mini home version of that. Same experience, without the hefty bill. For home servers, I think the trick is to set the food on the table so you know where everything is before sitting down eat, but there are several methods. Go check out Delishably’s great article with suggestions on how to enhance your dark dining experience.
What you’ll need:
Halloween themed Food/Drinks
Plate covers or tin foil to cover plates of food
Disposable/Plastic dinnerware (Let’s be honest, things could get messy.)
Patience and a sense of humor
Hallo-wine Party* (Adult)
The boo’s are the best part of Halloween! Oh, were you thinking ghosts, cuz I was talking ’bout the vino!
Set up wine stations in different areas of the room/home and rotate periodically, ensuring each person has a chance to taste wines. Try to pick new wines or wines you haven’t drunk before. Then, dim the lights, put on a spooky playlist, and have fun!
Remember to wear a mask when not eating/drinking, and social distance as much as possible.
What you’ll need:
Wine – If everyone brings a bottle, that’s at least six different wines to taste.
Cheese, crackers, fruit, bite-size desserts, other Halloween snacks
Mini pencils/slips of paper (tasting slips) for people to rate wines
Halloween jar or bowl for the tasting slips
Halloween décor & lights
Halloween Playlist or Halloween background videos, movies, 3D Effects, etc.
Halloween Drive-up Experiences (Adult/Family)
Covid-19 isn’t scaring some folks. There are a number of Haunters across the USA that plan to host a drive-up experience throughout the month of October. Below are some links to events in SoCal. Check your local listings for such events in your area.
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.
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.
Today we celebrate Women in Horror, with a tribute to a legendary queen of horror, Sigourney Weaver, star of enduring Alien franchise.
In Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece Alien, Sigourney relished the chance to bring a smart, no-nonsense, powerful leader to movie audiences during a time when women yearned to see a strong female presence on the big screen. Lt. Ellen Ripley proved to be way more than just the final girl, and in the 1986 sequel Aliens, Sigourney continued to portray Ripley, this time as a badass survivor and the voice of reason in this crazy new world. In her final action-packed showdown with the queen mother of all Xenomorphs, Ripley emerged as one of the greatest female kickass heroes on film, period.
Halloween fans are dreaming of a dark and moody Christmas. Forget the goofy grandma sweaters and wicker baskets full of over-processed cheese and stale crackers, this year, slay the holidays with some frighteningly awesome gifts for your favorite Halloween lover or yourself!
THE STOCKING STUFFERS
Halloween miniatures, $2-$20
Help your Halloween fan get a jump on creating a miniature display for next season with these adorable little Halloween miniatures.
Don’t laugh. Everyone needs batteries. Sure, you could go for AA or AAA, but I suggest those CR2032 batteries that go in tea lights and animatronics. Those little guys get costly. Believe me, they are so appreciated.
The kitchen is one of the hardest rooms in the house to decorate for Halloween fans and this little garlic crusher is simply delightful. This little novelty item is probably not good for serious cooks and heavy usage but seems perfect for once-a-blue-moon meals.
The Nordic Ware Haunted Skull Cakelet Pan is an absolute treasure. You can make pizza skulls, skull muffins, skull burritos, Dia de Los Muertos cakes and whatever your imagination can come up with. This quality cast aluminum, non-stick pan is a must-have for any Halloween lover’s kitchen.
The Ghoulish Grimoire books by artist Diana Levin and author Shawn Givens, $12
Now on the 7th issue, these unique horror anthologies feature stunning black/white pen and ink illustrations, accompanied by two short stories, sometimes poems and other musings, which are always the perfect blend of creepy and macabre imagination. Back issues from this talented couple are still available. Get them before they’re gone!
“United” Halloween flag 3×5 ft by Rhode Montijo, $25
Halloween fans can now let their freak flags fly with this giant orange and black striped jack-o-lantern flag that will look great hanging on the wall. Don’t forget to pick up some adorable Halloween prints and buttons too!
Citing the monster as a childhood favorite, acclaimed artist Gris Grimly jumped at the chance to illustrate the very first, full-length novel using the original 1818 text from Mary Shelley. This beautifully haunting book with stunning artwork is one-of-a-kind. Pick up a copy at his newly reopened online store.
Welcome to the colorful and spooky world of artist and designer John Pelico, whose digital artwork is simply mind-blowing. Whoever thought grim could be so cheerful. Only prints are available online but if you catch Killer Pumpkins at San Diego Comic Con or other So Cal conventions, sometimes they carry unique merchandise like coffee cups and lamps.
Infernal Creatures: A Collection of Rare Occult Artworks book from Century Guild, $35
Century Guild is a private museum and gallery, now based out of Southern California, that specializes in fine arts between 1880-1920s, particularly Arte Nouveau and Symbolism. This exquisite hardcover book features full-color, professionally photographed art and posters, printed on the highest resolution paper. Fascination with death and the occult is not a contemporary concept
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.