Boo! Horror was different when I was a kid as much was left to take place in one’s imagination.
That’s not a judgement call, just a matter of film fact, and I don’t shy away from the graphic. What I don’t find entertaining is gore for gore’s sake, e.g. Rob Zombie films leave me bored, because more often than not gore-fests leave out characters, a story, dialog, acting, cinematography, and directing. In other words, the things that make watching movies transcend the banal.
All of the Movies That Don’t Suck (OK, there is cheese) included below are films I saw for the first time when I was but a wee lad in the later ’60s. I’ve also tried, once again, to include films that may not normally show up on Lists (of course they likely do).
The City Of The Dead (1960), released as Horror Hotel in the US, was my very first horror film, which happened to coincide with the first time I was left in the care of a babysitter (these two things may be more than coincidental). I don’t recall exactly how old I was, no more than 9, but I do recall watching this entire movie in a state of terror. After all, Davey and Goliath did not prepare me for. . .Satan!
Starring Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Patricia Jessel, and Valentine Dyall all sporting American accents, Horror Hotel was filmed in the UK but the story takes place in the foggiest fictional tiny town of Whitewood, Massachusetts where, in 1692, Elizabeth Selwyn (played with spice by Jessel) was burned at the stake for witchcraft (consorting with the devil). Back in the present (1960), college student Nan Barlow is sent to Whitewood by her creepy professor, beautifully portrayed by a young and creepy Christopher Lee, to further her studies in. . .witchcraft. Mayhem ensues.
Black Sunday (1960), released as The Mask of Satan and Revenge of the Vampire in the UK (I suppose to capture the turning tides of box office draw between Satan and Vampires), is an Italian horror film directed by Mario Brava starring Barbara Steele. I first saw Black Sunday as a pre-teen but Steele still stirred something within me besides horror (cough).
In 1630 Moldavia, Asa Vajda (Steele), a witch, is to be burned at the stake but in an interesting twist, the Moldavians first hammer a metal mask with spikes protruding inward onto her face (see still image above). As luck would have it, or was it Satan?, a storm blows in, preventing the bonfire. Fast forward 200 years and two travelers happen upon Vajda’s tomb, which is in a crypt (classic horror film words), where one of them accidentally breaks the tomb’s glass seal in the process drawing blood, which drips into…
You can guess the rest. A poorly dubbed (which ads to Black Sunday‘s foreign appeal) eerie foggy witchy-vampire-fest albeit more gruesome than Horror Hotel.
Carnival of Souls (1962) is an American independent horror film produced and directed by Herk Harvey, staring former model Candace Hilligoss. Carnival of Souls is a such a cult classic, it’s hardly a cult classic. This is another movie that had me scared out of my childhood wits, and I never looked into a mirror the same again. Boo!
Mary Henry (Hilligoss) and her girlfriends are innocently driving around rural Kansas when a carload of boys, who are clearly not innocent, challenge them to a race across a skinny bridge. Mary’s car is driven off, plunging Mary and her girlfriends into the dark waters below to their certain demise. But wait! Mary climbs out of the muddy waters, alive!
Mary’s profession as a church organist takes her to Salt Lake City where she is haunted by the dead (they want her back). This movie can still send a chill or two up my spine.
I’ve written about The Haunting (1963) before, I Slept In Hill House (I really did!), which was based on the novel, The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. The Haunting was the second horror film I saw, after Horror Hotel, where once again a babysitter decided it was age appropriate (my nightmares disagreed).
The Haunting is a British-made film that takes place in Massachusetts (sound familiar?) in one of the creepiest mansions in all of horror history. Dr. John Markway invites a group of people who have a connection to the paranormal to spend some time in Hill House which is claimed to be, you know, haunted.
Staring Julie Harris (she steals the show), Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn, The Haunting leaves everything to one’s imagination which, as it turns out, can be a very frightening place. I still find this movie chilling.
The Haunting was re-made a number of times but those remakes happen to be movies that do suck.
X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963) is another American independent horror film, this time directed by the one and only Roger Corman — and it’s in color! Ray Milland, who is simply brilliantly over-the-top, portrays Dr. Xavier, a man obsessed with seeing beyond what we normally see, into the ultraviolet and x-ray wavelengths and beyond (he must not have known about those mail-order x-ray glasses for sale in the back of magazines or liquid LSD). The Dr.’s obsession-fueled experiments result in eye drops that do the trick. Or did they?
As it turns out, we can see too much. Boo! Also starring Don Rickles, and he’s not being funny, The Man with the X-ray Eyes is the story of one man’s descent into madness. Boo!