Here’s a great article in the New York Times that highlights the incredible(ly bizarre) career of filmmaker-provocateur José Mojica Marins, aka Coffin Joe. Mojica managed to nearly single-handedly create a horror film scene in Brazil. Combining shock value and an amazing DIY, hyper-macabre aesthetic, his films are engrossing, gruesome events; they are fascinating for their sheer audacity and rabid creativity.
This is a pretty cool list; lots of great horror films on it. However, it’s typical of most “__ Scariest Movies of All Time” lists in that the choices, as far as scariness, seem pretty arbitrary. Some of the movies on this list are scary, some are kind of creepy-ish, and some are downright funny. So I can’t make any guarantees as to how scary a lot of these are, but the large majority of them, in my opinion, are definitely worth watching.
Har-har, yet another Hallowe’en-time movie suggestion:
This one is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 kind-of-talkie/kind-of-silent Vampyr.
Made shortly after his brilliant but commercially-disappointing Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr follows a young man, Allan Grey,
who, while staying a country inn, is given an envelope by a mysterious stranger, marked “open upon my death”.
Allan then goes wandering through a castle, with all sorts of bizarre, shadowy imagery dancing around him, and strange characters at every turn.
And a dense, delightfully macabre atmosphere. I should also say at this point that the film was shot by Rudolph Maté, who also worked his magic with Dreyer on The Passion of Joan of Arc. Like on that film, composition is stark, utilizing lots of dead space. However, the lighting in Vampyr is much sharper and more dramatic than in Passion, creating a sense of the ominous; daggers of darkness, the unknown.
There’s more, of course. Allan Grey just sort of wanders into a story that seems to flicker in and out of reality, involving vampires,
But what works best in Vampyr is how we’re allowed to wander about with Allan, through this atmospheric, half-waking, half-sleeping nightmare world. The camera glides like a ghost through dimly-lit rooms and corridors, beautifully framed and illuminated, lyrical horror.
Dreyer also does what he does best in capturing faces:
Vampyr certainly has more chilling mood and uncanny ambiance than you’ll find in nearly any other horror film; it’s distinctly cinematic, gorgeous, engrossing, and I think it’s perfect for this time of year.
Oh, and this one is also available on Netflix Instant. So, yeah.
The Monster Channel is the first 24/7 interactive horror movie channel, featuring classic horror movies and TV series, retro trailers and commercials, features hosted by the nation’s new generation of horror hosts and you!”
Internet Archive (archive.org) is an incredible online resource; it’s a free digital library of seriously mammoth proportions. And so they have a seriously mammoth collection of public domain horror movies that you can either download or stream.
So if you like horror movies and have a decent internet connection, here’s a new way to make your October even shorter:
Also, visit the long-running and fantastic blog Monster Movie Music, which has been cataloguing pretty rare, rare, super rare, and not-so-rare soundtrack bits from classic and obscure horror/sci-fi movies.
Okay, so for tonight’s recommendation, I picked a film that is available on Netflix Instant. It’s by Mario Bava, a brilliant Italian filmmaker whose unique artistry elevated and amplified the horror film to another level completely. And actually with any genre he tried: spaghetti western, spy, crime, etc. He is known to have inspired filmmakers like Fellini, Lynch, Scorsese, Argento, and Del Toro; you can certainly spot that influence in their works. This particular film is called Black Sabbath.
This name is a bit of a non sequitur (and yes, the band did name themselves after it); the original Italian title I tre volti della paura, or The Three Faces of Fear, makes much more sense, as this is an anthology piece. Anyway, we have three tales linked together by host Boris Karloff.
As you can see, when Bava is working in color, he does surreal and painterly things.
Just wait, though.
The first segment is called “The Telephone”, and concerns a woman, at home alone, who begins to receive phone calls from an anonymous and menacing caller.
The voice threatens her, but also purrs sexually at her. He claims that he’s “closer than the police”, and can see her every move.
Those are eyes looking through blinds. It’s like those close-up “what is it” pictures from Disney Adventures. Anybody remember those? No? Anyway…
The calls are intense and unsettling. And they keep coming.
The man on the phone eventually identifies himself as Frank, a man who’s just escaped from prison…after she put him there. There are some very interesting twists from there; I’ll leave it up to you to watch it. I just want to showcase Bava’s incredible eye.
Evocative lighting and grand, dense compositions; his characters often are swallowed by gaping sets, wandering around in imposing, gilded space. Here it enhances her isolation and helplessness.
The second bit is called “The Wurdalak”. A traveling nobleman comes across a headless corpse with a dagger stuck in its back. Taking the dagger, he continues deep into the country. He comes across a house and stops there to rest.
He learns that the body was that of a wurdalak, a sort of vampire that most enjoys feeding on the blood of those he or she loved in life, and the patriarch of the household (played by a quite-chilling Boris Karloff) has been missing for days in pursuit of that wurdalak. He returns at the stroke of midnight, generally not looking too hot.
It seems pretty obvious that the wurdalak got to him, but no one wants to kill him. He shows off his trophy, the head of the wurdalak.
Now before too long, he’s absconded with his grandchild (to feed on his blood, remember)
and they go chasing after him. With good reason.
I guess I’ll stop there. A bunch of bad things happen after that, of course. But again, I’d just like to wallow in Bava’s cinematography (he always was either officially or unofficially the cinematographer on his films).
Uh oh! Spooky, but pretty.
The last segment, and my personal favorite, is called “The Drop of Water”. Actually, I would say that this 30-or-so minute mini-film is one of horror’s finest artifacts. Every aspect is practically flawless. It has this bizarre, stylized lighting approach that intensifies the caretaker’s experience. The composition is alternately lush and stark, and often sickly baroque, bouncing back and forth between anxiety and complete freaking terror. In the story, a caretaker is called to the home of a rich old woman that has just passed away, in order to prepare the body.
She notices a particularly expensive-looking ring on the dead woman’s hand, and, when no one is looking, promptly steals it,
which is a bad decision, because she looks just like the kind of dead lady that would come back to reclaim her ring. And with that being said, I’ll tell you that the caretaker doesn’t get away with it. Whether it’s her own guilt-ridden conscience or some justice from beyond the grave, we’re not sure. But actress Jacqueline Pierreux (who was the mother of Jean-Pierre Léaud, star of The 400 Blows, for any film buffs) gives a series of incredible terrified reactions; one of them in particular, for my money, is one of the best screams in all of horror filmdom:
This is by far the scariest of the three, and probably one of the most genuinely chilling and creepy pieces of horror cinema I’ve ever seen.
So like I said, this one is available on Netflix Instant. In fact, I’ll link you right to it:
Okee-dokee, kids. It’s time for a Nickelodeon Hallowe’en!
I was television-lucky enough to grow up in the late 80s and 90s, when kids TV was creative, funny, and often bizarre; they gave children credit, and didn’t talk down or coat morals in fluff like most shows do today (with the exception of a few like Flapjack, The Regular Show, Adventuretime). So this is in honor of those times, when October meant Nickelodeon stayed on constantly, and we excitedly took in Hallowe’en special after Hallowe’en special. I’ve gathered as many of them as I could find, so enjoy!
"On Atlas Obscura this month, every day is Halloween. Stop by the blog every day this month for true tales of the unquiet dead. Come for the severed heads, stay for the book bound in human skin. Every story is true, and each one is a real place you can visit. We dare you.”
Features links and information on fascinating scary sites around from around the world.
"In this poetic and atmospheric horror fable, set in a village in war-torn medieval Japan, a malevolent spirit has been ripping out the throats of itinerant samurai. When a military hero is sent to dispatch the unseen force, he finds that he must struggle with his own personal demons as well. From Kaneto Shindo, director of the terror classic Onibaba, Kuroneko (Black Cat) is a spectacularly eerie twilight tale with a shocking feminist angle, evoked through ghostly special effects and exquisite cinematography.”
"A twisted treasure from Hollywood’s pre-Code horror heyday, Island of Lost Souls is a cautionary tale of science run amok, adapted from H. G. Wells’s novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. In one of his first major movie roles, Charles Laughton is a mad doctor conducting ghastly genetic experiments on a remote island in the South Seas, much to the fear and disgust of the shipwrecked sailor (Richard Arlen) who finds himself trapped there. This touchstone of movie terror, directed by Erle C. Kenton, features expressionistic photography by Karl Struss, groundbreaking makeup effects that have inspired generations of monster-movie artists, and the legendary Bela Lugosi in one of his most gruesome roles.”
Next movie recommendation is a great, atmospheric British film called The City of the Dead (1960).
The City of the Dead was put together by the two producers that would later form Amicus Productions (Amicus was a production house made to capitalize on the success of Hammer Films. They actually put out a good number of awesome horror films, often using Hammer cast and crew members.).
It’s about a college student, Nan Barlow, who is studying the history of witchcraft in New England, particularly the fictional town of Whitewood, where a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn was burned at the stake in 1692. Her professor is a ridiculously suave-looking and subtly-menacing Christopher Lee,
who in fact grew up in Whitewood (uh oh…). Nan decides to vacation there to do some serious research (by herself),
and is met with unwelcoming scowls, deep shadows, and creepy, mysterious characters. I also imagine that at least half of the film’s budget was spent on fog.
She picks up the above fellow and gives him a ride into town, no questions asked.
On the suggestion of her professor (remember: the suave and subtly-menacing Christopher Lee), she checks into the wonderfully-named Raven’s Inn, where she is again met with strange characters, including the seemingly-scheming innkeeper, Mrs. Newliss (who looks an awful lot like Elizabeth Selwyn, the witch that was burned in the opening sequence), who exchanges an awful lot of suspicious glances with the gentleman Nan drove into town.
So Nan goes looking around the town, meeting even more unwelcoming denizens, and also this kindly, but creepy priest that warns her to “leave immediately!”:
Yeah, I’d listen to him.
But she doesn’t, and begins to hear chanting coming from beneath the floor in her room at the inn. Her inquiries are dodged by Mrs. Newliss, but then other, more menacing warning signs appear. And after seeing this,
she decides to investigate herself. She opens a trapdoor under a rug in her room, and goes beneath the inn, towards the obviously Satanic chanting.
I’ll leave it there. And keep in mind this is only about the halfway point of the film.
The story is good enough, and sure there are a few plot holes, but what really makes this film special is the heavy, brooding atmosphere it creates, as dense and pervasive as the Whitewood fog. The cinematography is amazing (by brilliant British cinematographer Desmond Dickinson); the lighting in Whitewood is stark, besting most film noirs, creating angular shadows that obscure most everything in the frame, trapping Nan and creating a claustrophobic, imposing space.
The compositions are also fitting, using busy frames and canted angles a-plenty to add to that sense of suffocation,
yet also leaving room for the film’s atmosphere to fill the space when needed.
There’s also a bizarre, subdued sense of humor that runs throughout, presented in some mildly absurd sequences and heightened drama. It all fits together really well, though.
You’ll hardly find a better film to convey the Hallowe’en mood; I know, personally, this is exactly the kind of movie I want to watch on a chilly October night.
Also, I just realized that my recommendations so far (other than having almost the exact same title) are not available on Netflix streaming (The City of the Dead isn’t available on Netflix at all.), so I’ll try and pick something more easily available next time. This one can be found pretty cheaply on DVD, and I’d obviously suggest a buy.
Contrary to popular belief, books are still cool and effective. Like real books, though. I have here some excellent Hallowe’en-time reads (and looks). I also put Amazon links to each book on its picture, so just click the book cover if you’d like to trade $ for it.
Haunted Air by Ossian Brown
First up is a (look) book I just ordered earlier this year, called Haunted Air. It is (and when I first heard this, it seemed too good to be true) “a collection of anonymous Hallowe’en photographs [from] America c. 1875-1955”, as the subtitle reads. The pictures are samples from the personal collection of English artist Ossian Brown, who also compiled the book (God bless him). I first heard about it from a blog from a man named Stephen Thrower (his cool blog is here [<—-there]). I believe he should get some credit.
And as if the book’s premise weren’t enough, David Lynch (!) wrote the introduction. Of course, in it he says all sorts of very David Lynch-y things; you can hear him in your brain, endorsing the book in that same delightful, nasally, avuncular way in which he says “you remind me today of a small Mexican chi-wow-wow”. Now keep flipping past the intro and you’ll forget about all that.
These photographs are stunning, quite cinematic. They tell stories that get more complex the longer you look. People trapped in a moment that, at the time, was most likely unimportant, fleeting and forgotten, but to us, suspended there, they seem profound and enigmatic,
and even unsettling, sometimes logistically. Like this one:
What the hell could have possibly led to this picture being taken?
"Oh, Margaret. You’re going to make so many new friends in your Elephant Man costume!"
And some are fun (yet still unsettling):
In fact, you could come up with a new set of adjectives for every picture in this book.
I guess what I love most about these is the very tangible sense of the past that they convey; I feel very connected to these times and places, and it brings me back to my own past Hallowe’ens: trick-or-treating with my friends, Hallowe’en parties, hayrides, and haunted houses.
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
This is a no-brainer. A sprightly, engaging story of children that are whisked away on an adventure that spans time and space, to learn the history and meaning of Hallowe’en. This produced a kickin’ cartoon TV movie adaptation (narrated by Ray Bradbury; have you ever heard that guy’s voice?!), which I will try and post later in the month.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Scary Stories 3by Alvin Schwartz
I’m not linking to these on Amazon; if you didn’t grow up on them, then you kind of missed the boat. The stories in here were awesome and often creepy (even if they didn’t always make sense), but what made these books insane/special were Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. His style is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; his art is sinewy, drippy, rendering trippy, surreal little dream worlds that can be so disturbing, I’m still surprised my parents got me these when I was like, four.
"Oh good. Thanks, Mom. This image will follow me to my grave."
Now the reason I didn’t link these, and the reason the ship has sailed, is that last year, for some stupid reason (there can be no good reason), they replaced all of Stephen Gammell’s work with some other guy’s (I’m not going to give him any credit, because if I do, then they’ve won.). If you’re interested, I would recommend picking up older editions used somewhere.
Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe by…yeah.
And here are a few other recommended reads:
I ripped these pictures from Amazon! If you want to click to look inside, you’ll have to do it there.
In 1933, before Orson Welles’ notorious War of the Worlds broadcast made thriller radio more commercially viable, a man named Wyllis Cooper, a writer for NBC pitched an idea for a program, “a midnight mystery serial to catch the attention of the listeners at the witching hour.” Radio with a chilly, prickly Grand Guignol flavor; it’s something that had never been done before. Cooper left in June of 1936, and was replaced by Arch Oboler, who would kind of become the Rod Serling of Lights Out (Serling would later list Oboler among his influences for The Twilight Zone). He was wildly prolific, maintaining a frenzied output for several shows; Lights Out quickly became a huge favorite among listeners. Boris Karloff himself performed during the show’s fourth anniversary. Finally, Arch left in 1938, resurrecting it himself once more for a year in 1942. After that, it would eventually have several reboots on into the late 40s and beyond.
Unfortunately, many of the early Cooper and Oboler broadcasts are lost. But the great Digital Meltd0wn blog has gathered many of Oboler’s broadcasts, as well as two of his LPs.
Download, speakers up, lights down, cider in hand:
So I’ve gathered together some great horror-themed cartoons (non-Disney category). Nothing rockets me back to memories of Hallowe’ens-past like these do.
The amazing Chuck Jones is responsible for all the Merrie Melody ones (of course); the Tom & Jerry is classic Hanna-Barbera. And in this particular Betty Boop cartoon, a young woman named Bonnie Poe lends her voice to Betty. You may remember her from somewhere (i.e. my first post).
I thought another function I might serve is suggesting some October-worthy horror movie watches. First up on the chopping block is one of my personal favorites from Italian horror master, Lucio Fulci. His most well-known work, Zombie (aka Zombi 2 [also aka “that movie with the zombie vs. shark battle in it”, which you should YouTube if you’ve never seen]), while pretty awesome, is nothing compared to the wildly creative lunacy of films like:
City of the Living Dead (1980)
This film concerns a medium that has an intense vision of a priest hanging himself, who in doing so, opens up the gates of Hell.
She and a somewhat-sleazy, yet endearing reporter go on a journey to try and stop the….blah, blah. Honestly, Fulci’s films aren’t amazing for their storylines, which are often tissue-thin and full of holes, but their unabashed execution.
They’re like strobe lights of wild imagination, flashing scene after scene of gorgeous gruesomeness; held together not by plot (or even characters, usually), but by an incredible atmosphere: dark and chilly. Also, delightfully cheesy. In fact, they’re kind of like the aforementioned reporter: somewhat-sleazy, yet endearing.
I highly recommend getting a hold of this one. Watch it late, with the lights down, especially if you need help getting into the Hallowe’en spirit.
It’s time again for that pumpkin ale, and another tall cool glass of Hallowe’en tunes via my podcast, M.T. Coffin’s Weird-O-Matic Wax. If you didn’t check out Volumes 1 & 2 last year, please do (or be sorry)! Then, check out Volume 3, brand new, dripping with fresh…
Tonight, we’ll travel back to the 1950s. Kids all over the country had their noses buried in pulpy horror comics, much to their parents’ dismay. A decade of anxiety, the collective fear of the content of these horror comics got the best of the adults, believing that they were turning the country’s children into mindless delinquents (kind of like rock ‘n’ roll, you know). This fear was mainly exploited and promoted by a psychologist named Fredric Wertham; he wrote a book on the subject, oh-so-subtly titled Seduction of the Innocent. All of this hysteria and wild overreacting (not unlike Britain’s censorship of “video nasties” in the 1980s) eventually led to the horror comics being banned, by what was called the Comics Code Authority.
Today, however, we have incredible collections of these comics. Not just the well-known EC stuff like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror, but obscure ones, too. All of them bonkers, visually striking, and completely entertaining.
Check out this amazing blog, The Horrors of it All, that has been archiving these comics since 2007. You could spend all of October digging through these amazing stories: