A haunted house film is a tough sell. No masked stalker, no creatures that eviscerate and certainly no zombies lurching down those shadowed halls. A single setting, a dark secret, a group of people terrified by something is usually your standard template, and even the best haunted house flick doth not stray from the formula. So the trick is to convince the viewers once you get them inside – something that the low on budget, high on conviction, and seldom talked about The Evil (1978) accomplishes admirably.
Movies dealing with witchcraft are usually lumped in with the supernatural, so they’re sometimes unfairly shoved to the back of the horror line. However, I truly believe they should have their own category. With supernatural horror, forces are typically thrust upon a protagonist, revenge for misbegotten deeds perpetrated upon the deceased, or righting of wrongs from beyond the pale. Where witchcraft sets itself apart is in the approach – yes, it does deal with the unseen, unkempt and unwanted from beyond – but these forces are usually conjured by a human, for good or nefarious purposes. It’s definitely a case of “don’t call us, we’ll call you”, and you won’t find a finer example of filmic witchery than 1962’s Burn, Witch, Burn.
When one looks back at mid ‘70s to early ‘80s horror, it’s quite surprising to see how many Canadian made films are nestled among fan favorites. Titles such as Black Christmas, Shivers, Prom Night, Happy Birthday to Me, and My Bloody Valentine continue to delight and shock veteran horror lovers or those just starting their jagged journey down the terror path. There is one, however, that due to a troubled production and poor distribution, seems relegated to the discount bins of time. Today, we’re pulling back the curtain on, uh, Curtains (1983), an unsung slasher weirder than a sack full of rabid beavers.
Zombies. The damn things are everywhere now, the last 12 years filling the screens big and small , carried on the rotting backs of Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn of the Dead remake (both 2004). The Walking Dead is one of the biggest shows on TV, and films ranging in quality from great to Netflix saturate the market. But let’s go back to a time when the zombie film as we know it (the Age of Romero) was in its infancy. Jorge Grau’s The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) acts as a bridge between two seminal George Romero films, Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (‘78), and rightly stands as one of the finer Euro horrors. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth the trip.
The late ‘80s signaled the end of my first golden age of horror. Which is to say two things: adulthood beckoned, and horror films – especially slashers – were running low on inspiration (remember the early ‘90s wasteland? Brr.). However, looking across the waters, some veteran Italian filmmakers weren’t throwing in the towel yet. Michele Soavi’s Stage Fright (1987) stands apart from the crowd because it proved that not only was the beaten and flogged sub-genre alive, it was still capable of surprising fans with enough fresh blood pumping through its weary veins to make you sit up and notice. Just when you thought you couldn’t survive another hack ‘em up, Stage Fright made you a believer again.
Blaxploitation films burst onto the scene in 1971 with the huge success of Gordon Park’s Shaft. By 1972, audiences were clamoring for more, and filmmakers and studios were keen to jump on the bandwagon. While most of the majors were focusing on the Shaft formula of hot chicks and cool Dicks, American International Pictures saw a void that no one had filled yet: the black horror film. And so, with as little money as they usually invested, they sent forth into the world Blacula (1972), and wouldn’t you know it? Audiences loved it.
By the early ‘80s, Roger Corman was firmly entrenched in the public’s eye as THE low budget wizard, always cranking out movies like a reliable sausagemeister. However, to the more discerning trash hound, his films were fertile ground for up and coming filmmakers, a place to learn the craft and hopefully develop one’s own style. And while Galaxy of Terror (1981), a crossbreed of Alien with a strand of Forbidden Planet DNA, does boast one James Cameron among the crew, its most notable feat is being highly entertaining regardless of a decimated budget and convoluted plot.
It’s one of those fears I never think about until someone brings it up – being buried alive. Just saying it makes my skin crawl, and not in a scary movie kind of way. Waking up in total darkness, unable to really move, hearing the sound of my heart beating wildly in my chest and this is before the true panic sets in. Check please, and bring the car around, won’t you? This is why I will be cremated, thanks (and save the comments about waking up engulfed in flames – it’ll be quicker, at least). Roger Corman’s Premature Burial (1962), based on the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, taps directly into this fear and mines that vein for 81 entertaining minutes.
“You begin to resent an actor if you always have to give him bad notices.” Upon his death in 1993, Vincent Price left an unfillable chasm in the horror community. He was our King Ghoul, the Gentleman of Terror who never missed a lipsmack or an arched eyebrow. His leering, singsong tones were music to horror lovers’ ears, every syllable a delicious symphony of delight. To the fans, that is – Price, while alive, was dismissed by the press as a preening ham not to be taken seriously. How fitting then, that he should find his greatest role as a vengeful actor lashing out at his critics in the most macabre of ways? Theatre of Blood (1973) reflected on Price’s place in the pantheon, and showed the naysayers once and for all his innate gifts.
I’ve always been obsessed with watching movies. From seeing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at the age of four at a Saturday matinee revival to today, the flickering shadow shows have filled my life. Consumed, I’m sure some would say. However, discerning fact from fiction has never been an issue, unlike Eric Binford, the hapless ‘hero’ of the eerie (and funny) Fade to Black (1980) – now here’s a kid with issues.