- Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir)
- The Wolf Man (George Wagner)
- The Invisible Man (James Whale)
- Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava)
- Creature From the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold)
- Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindo)
- The Body Snatcher (Robert Wise)
- Bedlam (Mark Robson)
- Horror Hotel (John Moxey)
- Zodiac (David Fincher)
Halloween is upon us and in my house that means an orgy of classic (and not-so-classic) horror film viewing. This year The Criterion Channel is featuring a slew of Universal Horror films from the 30s, 40s and 50s. I have been working my way through them, and supplementing my viewing with goodies from my own DVD collection. Forget what they say about Christmas. Halloween is ‘the most wonderful time of the year”.
Back in 2013 I wrote this, which might shed a little light on my classic horror film obsession.
1- The Universal horror films I watched ranged from the sublime (The Bride of Frankenstein) to the ridiculous (The Creature From The Black Lagoon). This time around I really came down on the side of the auteurists since I noticed that pedestrian creators create pedestrian creations, and artists with a clear vision and signature create works of art. The Wolf Man is just fine as your typical lycanthropic adventure. It is even fun when Maria Ouspenskaya shows up to intone her famous couplet:
“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and Autumn moon is bright.”
And on top of it, Bela Lugosi is her son! But the film is a mess. It takes place supposedly in England but hardly anyone has an English accent, especially Lon Chaney, Jr. who plays the lunkhead of a wolfman.
2- What a difference the two James Whale films I watched were. Along with the spookiness, Whale provides a very quirky sense of humor to The Invisible Man, especially as Claude Rains (in an unseen US film debut – he is invisible until the last moments) goes more and more bonkers. I remember The Old Dark House being both spooky and quite funny.
3- I had never seen a giallo before, and Blood and Black Lace is enough for now. I quite enjoyed especially the over-the-topness of the whole proceedings. I could have done without the gruesome violence. But the film is gorgeous (and lurid) to look at.
4- The Creature of the Black Lagoon was curated by Criterion in their Halloween Universal Horror film series. The glory days of universal horror were long over by the time this turkey was filmed. It looks like a cheap episode of Gilligan’s Island but without the Howells.
5- In the midst of all this horror, I re-watched The Rules of The Game. It is still astounding every time. This time around it made me think of in its sonic and visual density. I need to go back and watch that again.
6- Japanese horror is both gruesome and gorgeously elegant. Kuroneko is a good example of what I mean. A horrifying but tragic story that is absolutely stunning to look at.
7- Genre actors don’t get the love they deserve. Who ever thinks of John Wayne as on of America’s greatest actors, but he is. Rewatching Bedlam and The Body Snatcher made me realize that Boris Karloff is an incredible actor. Each villain is nuanced. No one does ‘evil behind a smiling face’ better.
8- I was leery to watch Zodiac. I had heard how upsetting Se7en was, and was afraid I was in for more of the same. There were some rough scenes – it is about a notorious serial killer after all!
But the script is so smart and so fascinating. And kudos to Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Can those boys act.