October is the best month in the world: you can wear your cool jacket and sweater combo, but you’re not freezing cold yet, there’s no ‘family’ holiday looming at the end of it to undo what sanity you’ve managed to accrue over the last 11 months, there is only the looming darkness of Halloween and Daylight Savings, the merciful twin blanket set of disguise and darkness.
And of course, there’s the horror movies. The speeding darkness and chill draws ghosts and candelabras, witches, demons, and monsters to our cinematic desires like a magnet. And TCM is there. As are we at the Bright Lights After Dark, where we turn those bright lights way, way, way down, all the better to scare you.
But Halloween isn’t the time for just any kind of horror movie, not the time for giant bugs, Godzilla, radio active waste, torture porn, serial killer procedurals, etc., but the horror of the past… of the unconscious, the Freudian Gothic, of long dead relatives rising from their tombs to drink the blood (and, if they’re played by Paul Naschy, fondle the breasts) of the living. It is the time of murderous devolved cannibals in the basement fed by Lon Chaney, or Lovecraftian mutants fed by Boris Karloff who doesn’t really need that wheelchair because he’s grown his own ghost legs. It is the time for Vincent Price, 70s ESP pre-slasher cycle variants, and for old school Universal Lugosi films, and 60s Hammer Chris Lee films. And TCM has them.
Rather than just list them all, blah blah, I decided to pick out the best, rarest, most worthy dozen and just present the date / time of their showing/s, and a link or few words of descr. attached to a movie poster (unless the poster is weak)…. I skipped all the ‘essentials’ casual fans are familiar with already, such as Bride of Frankenstein, Night of the Living Dead, and The Wasp Woman. I want to point out the late night/early morning rarities, the ones worth recording.
All times listed Eastern Standard…. the best Standard in the world.
(after Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead)
“In Hammer’s undersung and tight little adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s novel we have everything that makes British devil films great, such as Christopher Lee, intelligent hot older women, and monsters. The cult worshiping Satan through black magic are upper crust jet set bored types peppered with a few older eccentrics who look like any minute they’re flying to Manhattan to behold Rosemary’s baby shower. There’s two devils here, including a smiling black guy with yellow eyes who appears in the center of a big room with a pentagram. With his cocky, frozen grin he’s pretty terrifying, his ebony blackness and the chicken in a basket connected voodoo to the fringes of this distinctly Pagan brand of devil dealing…” — CinemArchetype #17
Even if the whole butoh theater thing is not new to you, Blood‘s sheer ghostly otherness, the nightmare stillness of Spiderweb Forest, coupled to neverending darkness and fog and the wild undead make-ups, put you in a high art trance, no matter if you’re from Somerville or Princeton, drunk or sober. It’s Kurosawa’s great triumph that his windblown images resonate straight through all their age and culture barriers, like a samurai sword through one of those sliding paper walls. Mifune (whom I always secretly thought a bit over the top in SEVEN SAMURAI) blows away all doubts as to his magnificence. He was born to look stricken. I love how he stands there in these wacky butoh poses, his eyes bugging out, his crazy mascara eyes alight with that ‘holy shit’ waking up from a three-day black-out expression. We can read every thought that passes across his brow from 30 yards away. — Hallowed be thy Shakes – 3 MacBeths
Known in the UK as Night of the Eagle it turns out Burn, Witch, Burn is the best-kept secret in early 1960’s black-and-white British horror. What makes this tale of witchcraft and skepticism amidst the faculty of an ominous university is its moody black and white photography and AIP talent roster, including Corman Poe screenwriters Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, who always instill ‘classic’ material with a keen razor edge of wit that does nothing to dispel the unease and terror. The acting is all top flight, even if there’s nary a familiar face in the bunch: Janet Blair is the wife, Peter Wyngarde the brooding Rod Taylor-ish lead, Margeret Johnson the limping rival, Judith Stott an amazing and odd face as the charmed co-ed. Crisp b&w photography brings out the spookiness of the British countryside, rocky beaches, and cloudy English skies, enabling the film to stand up against the Lewton films, and ambiguous shadowy horrors like Night of the Demon. — Acidemic
The fact remains, why haven’t more “good” films been made about this great character and his sexy sadist daughter? Why must we let political correctness and fear of controversy stop the flow of first-class Fu? TMC knows this movie rocks, so they just pop it into a 6 AM slot so casual viewers aren’t likely to find it. You’re either still awake, crazy, or are a pre-code luridness enthusiast with an active DVR. What about releasing those early Anna May Wong and Warner Oland Fus in a big boxed set, so we don’t have to crawl around gray markets on our hands in knees?
What the PC thugs and the disapproving Chinese Government don’t understand is that in our post-colonial worldview, Fu Manchu has become the GOOD GUY!! He’s James Bond in reverse, fighting to restore the third world’s riches back to its own people. He’s got all the good lines and gadgets, crazy taste in clothes and architecture. He makes ironic little jokes while describing how he’s going to torture you and the tortures he picks are always more psychological and slow than the typical waterboard and beating variety of our own brave boys overseas. His foe, Nayland Smith is just a worrying hothead for the forces of colonialism and stoic blandness. He’s dull and proper and would insist you go to bed on time if he were your babysitter (as opposed to Fah Lo Suee, who would let you stay up to watch horror movies while she drugged you and ‘did’ your nails). Fu and Fah Lo Suee represent the stuff Steven Spielberg has managed to deny us — the truth that kids are EVIL! We kids want to destroy the world because it makes us eat vegetables and clean our rooms and do our homework. And while the Nayland Smiths of the world work to uphold the unfair system, glorious celestial Fu is out there making his own rules and going for the gold, torturing and killing and throwing the anguished young males to his daughter for “her pleasure.” What traits could be more admirable in a future father-in-law? Aren’t movies the place we go to get away from the tired bonds of “order” and “civilization”? Can’t Fu Manchu ever get a break? Turns out, only here…
There’s a lot of good stuff going in in between these two films, but you probably know them and have seen them a thousand times, like Freaks and The Devil’s Bride, which we just talked about.
But what we haven’t talked about is Incubus!
It’s weird, nonstop bizarre shots of fog and mist and ethereal forest creatures and magic spells, in Esperanto! And co-starring William Shatner. It’s halfway between a Kenneth Anger and a Jean Cocteau, with a dash of Rafael Baledón and even some Jean Rollin!
(to be cont.)