Do NOT Watch Alone! Five Great Chiller Movies for Halloween

repulsion-detail

In my last blog piece I wrote about my hike on the Appalachian Trail. I talked about people’s fears of being in the woods at night, and I name-dropped a few scary movies with outdoor “creatures.” One movie I omitted was George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, about a bunch of zombies who terrorize a young couple. I also forgot to mention an eye-catching t-shirt I saw on my hike. It was worn by a bored-looking teenage girl who was hiking with her family. It said: “I Can’t Wait for the Zombie Apocalypse.”

Zombies are trendy these days for some inexplicable reason. By “Zombies,” I don’t mean the British rock band from the ‘60s. I’m talking about people who walk around in a daze, moaning, with their arms held straight out (kind of like Cleveland sports fans). I’m not sure why zombies are so popular. But I do know that scary movies never seem to go out of style.

leigh

Janet Leigh in the now-classic shower scene of “Psycho”

The ball got rolling in the 1920s with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, starring Lon Chaney. In the 1930s came Tod Browning’s DRACULA and FREAKS, and James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN. Monster movies became increasingly prevalent (and low-budget), hitting rock-bottom in the ‘50s with the movies of “The Worst Director of All Time,” Edward D. Wood, Jr. But Alfred Hitchcock, “The Master,” soon rescued fright flicks with psychological thrillers like PSYCHO and THE BIRDS. Most horror flicks today, unfortunately, spring from the Wes Craven and John Carpenter school of fright. They’re loaded with shocks and violent bloodletting, but have little Gothic or psychological horror.

Hitchcock and the 1960s were possibly a high-point for horror flicks. For this article, I’ve chosen five movies from the ‘60s that I consider some of the best horror flicks of all time, but which don’t get viewed much anymore. They’re very psychological. They start slowly and build in suspense, methodically drawing the viewer into the maelstrom. By the end of the movie, one feels drained. Some of them, like THE HAUNTING and REPULSION, can worm their way into your dreams.  Or nightmares..

So here they are, listed in order of their release. If you haven’t seen these movies and enjoy the stuff of nightmares, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you watch these at night. But a word to the wise: DO NOT WATCH THESE ALONE!

skull

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960, starring George Sanders): Residents of a rural English village one day fall asleep at the same moment. When they awake, things are different. Women become pregnant at the same time. The children born to them all have blond hair, hypnotic eyes, and are emotionally frigid. As they grow, they begin to huddle together privately, away from the other children. But this is only the beginning of the horror.damned

The movie is adapted from a novel called “The Midwich Cuckoos.” I saw it as a kid and had to sleep with my parents for several nights (the kids in this movie were far scarier than the bully down the street). Most children are innocent and playful. But these “creatures” are just the opposite: they’re abnormally intuitive, and they never smile. Whoever said “blondes have more fun” didn’t see this movie.

NOTE: John Carpenter remade this movie in 1995, and there’s a sequel to the original called CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964). But the original’s the one to watch.

THE INNOCENTS (1961, starring Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave): All the right ingredients for a ghost story are here: a dark Victorian mansion, a neurotic English governess, rumors, mysterious deaths, plus the same disturbing child actor who led the homicidal brats in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. The story is adapted from Henry James’s classic novella “The Turn of the Screw,” written when Sigmund Freud was postulating his revolutionary theories of sexuality, dreams, and the unconscious (James’s brother, William James, is considered the “Father of American Psychology”). innocents2The casting of talented Deborah Kerr, as the governess “Miss Giddens,” is spot-on. Her saucer eyes and halting voice perfectly convey the paralyzing fear of a woman on the verge of a breakdown.

NOTE: Truman Capote co-wrote the script for this movie between publication of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.” Capote was originally from Alabama, and he added a Southern Gothic aura to the film.

THE HAUNTING (1963, starring Julie Harris, directed by Robert Wise): The classic New England haunted house movie, adapted from a novel by Shirley Jackson entitled “The Haunting of Hill House.” I saw it with my daughter when she was about 13, and she says it’s one of the scariest movies she’s ever seen. hauntingNow, that’s a plug! (She normally hates black-and-white movies). But THE HAUNTING is a movie that could only have been filmed in B&W. The gray, shadowy cinematography gives the film depth and atmosphere, and accentuates the oppressiveness of mounting fear. Like Deborah Kerr in THE INNOCENTS, Julie Harris gives a standout performance as a young woman veering toward insanity. Is it the spooky house, or has she always been unstable, or is it both? You have to watch this movie to find out… but DON’T WATCH IT ALONE!

NOTE: this film has hints of Lesbianism between the characters played by Harris and Claire Bloom.

NOTE 2: the movie was remade in 1999. I haven’t seen it, but it supposedly stinks.

SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON (1964, starring Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough): A domineering wife and her caspar milquetoast husband devise a plot. They will kidnap a young girl and hold her for ransom so the woman can get publicity for her psychic abilities. In the beginning, they have no intention of harming the girl. But the woman, haunted by the early death of her son Arthur, slowly begins to crumble mentally, and contemplates murder. Her meek husband is the only thing standing in her way.seance

SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON is a tour-de-force of acting, direction, and atmosphere. This was only Stanley’s second movie, and she didn’t make many afterwards. She was most known for theater work and for doing the narration in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But hers is a powerful performance that earned an Oscar nomination. Richard Attenborough is also great as the submissive husband. The subject matter is sensitive, but it’s handled with care. And the movie title, well… let’s just say they don’t write ‘em like this anymore.

NOTE: the part that Kim Stanley eventually got was turned down by both Deborah Kerr and Simone Signoret (famous for her role in DIABOLIQUE, a sort of French take on Alfred Hitchcock)

REPULSION (1965, starring Catherine Deneuve, directed by Roman Polanski): A definite pattern has developed in this list. Why stop now? Catherine Deneuve’s character in REPULSION makes the mental instability of Kerr, Harris, and Stanley seem like a walk in the sanitarium garden. I saw this movie for the first time two years ago. All I can say is “Wow.” And not just for the shimmering beauty of Deneuve. RepulsionDirector Polanski crafted a movie about a sexually repressed young woman whose older sister leaves her alone in their apartment for a week. At first, the woman’s behavior is just a little odd. But over time, we realize she’s slipping dangerously downstream. When she finally cracks, it’s a shocker. Watch this movie through the last camera shot, which is a close-up of a photograph of the woman as a young girl. Very unsettling.

NOTE: REPULSION was Roman Polanski’s first English-language film. It’s ranked #14 on Rotten Tomatoes’ list of best-rated films.

skull

After making this list, I noticed four out of five of the movies have a woman in the central role. Even PSYCHO and THE BIRDS feature a beautiful woman at the center of the plot. It was purely accidental on my part. But I’m glad I could strike a blow for women’s rights, even if all of these femmes are a little “off.” Maybe because women’s psyches are more vulnerable? Or have more complexity?

Whatever the answer, I hope that, if you do watch these movies, you’ll agree that one doesn’t need a lot of violence and blood to convey horror. On the contrary, psychological horror is far more riveting than monsters, aliens, or comic-book figures like Freddy Krueger. The greatest horrors are intangible: they lurk inside the human mind.

pumpkin

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Part One

HoF2

Rolling Stone magazine recently stirred anger over its rock star-styled cover photo of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Marketing to young people’s fascination with beauty, celebrity, and danger is nothing new for RS.  They’re good at selling magazines, and they’ll undoubtedly sell a lot of copies of the Tsarnaev issue.

The RS Tsarnaev issue controversy deserves a blog post by itself, but that’s not what this one’s about.  RS is a bedfellow of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RnRHoF).  And I’d like to talk about Halls of Fame here.

_______________

Since Jackie Brenston‘s “Rocket 88” in 1951, rock music has had the power to galvanize young people.  I’m one of those who believes that the best rock also has integrity and adult appeal.  In the ‘50s and ‘60s rock music was the anthem of a generation.  Today it’s more the anthem of Chevrolet and Monday Night Football.

But, for better or worse, rock’s impact on popular culture is undeniable.  Unlike classical, jazz, country, or other types of music, rock is flexible in its form and delivery.  There are very few rules.  It can blend different genres.  It can have words (“Rocket 88”) or not have words (the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out”).  It can be strident (the Clash’s “White Riot”) or peaceful (the Grateful Dead‘s “Dark Star”).  It can be poetic (Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”) or a crude street rap.

Procol Harum, circa 1968

Procol Harum, circa 1968

It’s also brutally honest.  I can’t imagine classical, jazz, or country doing a musical equivalent of John Lennon’s “Woman is the Nigger of the World.”

Rock is also cross-cultural and multi-generational, and it’s rarely static.  I listen to Bruce Springsteen on Friday evening after work, and Joni Mitchell late at night, alone, while wearing headphones.  Depending on the song, rock’s a drug that can affect the head, heart, or nervous system.  When I’m a little depressed, a soft-rock tune like Loggins and Messina’s “Brighter Days” can actually make me feel less isolated.  Sterling Morrison, the second guitarist in the Velvet Underground, once said that he considered music more important than politics.  I heartily agree.

Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols might agree, too.  Jones has his own memorable quote: “Once you want to be put in a museum, rock & roll’s over.”  Someday I’ll delve into what I feel the RnRHoF is all about, and why a lot of it is “bollocks.”  I’ll need a few beers for that one, though.

Sex Pistols, circa 1976 (left to right: Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook)

Sex Pistols, circa 1977 (left to right: Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook)

But since the RnRHoF is obviously here to stay, I feel a need to rectify some wrongs.  So for this blog post, I’m inducting the first five of ten artists not yet in the RnRHoF, but which I feel should have been inducted long ago.  Steve Jones won’t agree with this list, but that’s okay.  I love his band anyway.

Most people favor the music of their youth – me included.  But I’m not biased strictly out of nostalgia.  I really believe the high-water mark of rock music – with apologies to Elvis, Buddy and Chuck – occurred during the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.  So don’t expect Goo Goo Gadget on this list.

As Spinal Tap documentarian Marty DiBergi once said, “But hey, enough of my yakkin’… let’s boogie!”  Here are five artists to be inducted into the longitudes’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

The Zombies: most baby boomers know their three hits: “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season.”  But anyone who has dared plunge beyond these knows this band had a treasure chest of beautiful, carefully 220px-Odessey_and_Oraclestructured tunes that should’ve been hits.  Colin Blunstone’s breathy vocals were unique, and the group had not one, but two exceptional songwriters in Rod Argent and Chris White.  Next to the Beatles, the Zombies wrote maybe the prettiest melodies of any band from England in the ‘60s.  Not sure why the Dave Clark Five is in the RnRHoF and this band isn’t.

Jethro Tull: Tull began, like so many other Brits from the 1960s, as a blues band, but soon drifted into English folk.  They made a bunch of excellent albums: Stand Up, Benefit, Aqualung, Songs from the Wood, and the part-live double LP, Living in the Past.  They were one of the most exciting bands to see in concert in the ‘70s, with leader Ian Anderson’s simultaneous humming and flute playing (inspired by jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk) and elaborate group costumes and theatrics.  tullTull managed the trick of appealing to “heads” while also achieving commercial success in both the U.K. and U.S.  Often classified as “progressive rock” (loosely defined as rock that borrows from classical or jazz, and frequently using organ, woodwinds, strings, or brass) they were actually quite unusual, mixing hard rock with blues, folk, and even baroque: challenging and intelligent music that was also listenable.  The RnRHoF likes “listenable,” but maybe not “challenging and intelligent.”  But Traffic was inducted nine years ago, so why not this similar group?

Roxy Music: another unclassifiable band, though often lumped in the progressive and “glam rock” genres, Roxy was one of the most visually exciting bands of the ‘70s.  The leader was a stylish former art student named Bryan Ferry.  He had a unique tremolo voice that could fluctuate between heavenly highs and deep lows.  He was also a gifted and underrated songwriter.roxy  Early on, Roxy was the quintessential “art rock” band (the visionary, multimedia artist/producer Brian Eno was an original member), but by the early ‘80s Ferry was writing more mainstream songs, though on a higher plane than most radio-friendly acts.  Roxy was very popular in Europe, but couldn’t get beyond cult status in the U.S. because they were too weird and sophisticated.  The RnRHoF likes weird only when it’s unsophisticated.

Moody Blues: the Moodies are a difficult case.  They wrote some of the most pretentious lyrics in rock, but these were accompanied by luscious arrangements and melodies.  The main songwriter was lead singer and guitarist Justin Hayward.  Hayward was extremely prolific, writing the FM classics “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” as well as “The Story in Your Eyes,” “The Question,” “It’s Up to You,” “Lovely to See You,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Gypsy,” and many more.moodies  The other members also occasionally chimed in with great songs like “Ride My Seesaw,” “Legend of a Mind” (“Timothy Leary’s dead…”), “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band,” etc.  The band started in 1964 in Birmingham, England as part of the British beat boom, and they still tour today, although now they’re primarily an expensive nostalgia trip.  But their endurance, song catalog, and distinction of being the first progressive rock band have me scratching my head as to why only longitudes has inducted them.

Love: unless you were a hippie who lived in California during the late ‘60s or a rock critic with grandkids, you may not have heard of Love, rock’s first racially integrated band (along with the Butterfield Blues Band).  But they made one album that has guaranteed them rock immortality: Forever Changes, a psychedelic masterpiece that many rock historians rank with the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.love  They started out in L.A.’s Sunset Strip in 1966, sounding like a garage-folk-rock band on acid.  Their legendary status rests on their first three records: Love, Da Capo, and Forever Changes, all of which feature some of the most innovative music and lyrics in rock.  Jim Morrison (the Doors) and Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) idolized them.  The RnRHoF is still sleeping.

To be continued!