Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Classic Horror Movies

When I think of classic horror movies, I don't necessarily think of "The Mummy" or "Frankenstein," but I think of the era in which I grew up in, the 60s/70s. The one that started my fascination with horror movies was the 1963 "The Haunting" which I first saw on TV as a child. I remember (living a famously haunted house) how scary it was to watch something that was extremely feasible and in which--like all ghost movies should contain--an unseen element that is tormenting you. What's so scary about ghosts is--we don't know where they are or what they'll do next. "The Haunting" totally delivered on that count.

The elements that make a great horror movie are universal; mood, atmosphere, suspense, darkness, the unseen, and those who are vulnerable. I don't even like the movie "Darkness Falls," but I like a horror movie to take place in darkness and so I enjoy watching it just for that element. If you want mood, you watch "The Others" (if you can stay awake watching her boring days roll by). If you want atmosphere, you might consider seeing "The Changeling." If you want suspense, put on the movie "Amityville Horror. If you're into the unseen, "The Legend of Hell House" will have you wondering what the unseen spirits are up to. And, if you find solace in seeing others who are equally frightened and vulnerable, you might like "The Entity." There's no doubt something out there for everyone, except there's too little of it out there nowadays for those of us who like the unseen forces more than blood and guts. I know there's some sad folks out there scared of snakes and bugs and needles and blood and those slasher movies are horrifying to them, but what about those of us who fear invisible forces that want to torment us slowly, sneak up on us, and offer no way to "kill" them?

I'm pleased nowadays that there is the occasional good quality horror movie that has the 70's feel to it. "Dead Silence" was an excellent case for that. The music, the mood, the dolls (who isn't scared of ventriloquist dolls?), and the lack of ridiculous special effects made it very "other worldly" and sinister. "Silent Hill" was creepy and even with a heavy reliance on special effects, it only helped to put us in a world that couldn't exist which was very creepy. Sometimes when special effects are used in an otherwise serious movie, it falls flat real fast. Everything seems realistic up until we see a computer animation. Anyone who loved "Signs" by M. Knight surely must have cringed as I did at the end of the movie when the creature was full-frontal. Yikes! He had me up until that point so easily wound around his finger. Had he just showed the creature doing its thing as seen on the dead TV screen's reflection instead of straight on, it would have kept me shivering the entire time. I have to admit, I burst into laughter in the theater when I saw it.

I'd like to tell movie makers, spend your money on a great script or a great actor, and screw the special effects. You can make a movie that's dark, creepy, has atmosphere, draws us in, makes us shudder, and you never have to spend a penny on special effects guys. Leave that to blockbuster action films with Will Smith and SciFi movies. Don't taint the pool of scary movies with fake blood, hokey ghost figures, and animated statues. Don't assume we're so basic that we need to see knives cutting into flesh to scream. After all, look at how "Blair Witch" profited.

What's the ideal movie? Location: The house in "The Changeling." (With multiple levels, a central winding staircase, hidden rooms, banging pipes, gigantic and making the person seem small inside it) Atmosphere: "The Haunting." (With no sense of windows, cornered, walls breathing, doorknobs turning). Ghosts: "The Legend of Hell House." (With its truly demented past occupant who has absolute control).

My parents always said, "music was better in the old days." I say, "Horror movies were better in the 70s." Please, please revolutionize the genre by going retro. Do it now. See your fan base who cut its teeth on 80s/90s slashers find a love for what is truly horrifying, not some guy with a butcher knife, but a ghost with a hidden agenda.


  1. what about Clayton's "The Innocents"? 1962 I believe, based on Henry James' Turn of the do see the ghosts in this film, but it is very quietly creepy. I enjoyed the Changeling as well, and the original The Haunting (the remake was ridiculous)
    I also love to read old ghost stories, there are so many great ones, many written before the 1900's.

  2. Jennifer;
    I didn't think of "The Innocents" as horror so much as atmosphere. "The Changeling" is on my top 5 list. The moment where he plays back the tape and hears the voice--made me decide I wanted to be a ghost hunter and look for answers to what happened in my childhood home. "The Haunting" remake I consider comedy. I also adore "Legend of Hell House" which is another ghost hunter early one from the early 70s.

  3. you know, I've been thinking and I can't remember last time I saw the Haunting of Hell House - probably MANY MANY years back. I most recently read the book.

    I agree with you that The Innocents was all about atmosphere, but the scene where she sees Quint looking into the drawing room windows counts up there as one of the most frightening things I have ever seen in a movie. I saw it for the first time as a kid, and to this day it still creeps me out. The book is hard to read, sooo wordy,but has it's great scenes as well, my favorite is where the governess meets up with Quint on the staircase in the early dawn hours.

    Anyway, I just found your blog last night, some link from somewhere else brought me here, and must say I am enjoying it. Hard to find serious websites about these subjects, some turn me off with all the silly graphics before I even start reading (cartoon ghosts and skulls and crossbones etc) and then you have to page thru the thousands of silly posts from teens about their "experiences". Your blog is thoughtful and intelligent and something I can understand. Good job! I can't wait to read more.

  4. Jennifer;
    I'm so glad you found me! You're exactly the kind of person I'm writing for. I agree about that scene. Wasn't it the one where she's downstairs in the parlor or something like that? I remember that as probably the main part of the movie that gave me chills. Definitely see "The Haunting" again. It's probably the finest ghost story every done. It was believable and probable. Cartoon skulls and such.... hee hee. I don't know if you watch ghost hunting shows, but you'll probably enjoy my LAUGH series. If you look on my blog to the righthand side of the screen halfway down there's a list of great reads. The ones that are called LAUGH are a series making fun of ghost hunting shows and they'll give you a huge chuckle, but not in a teenage goofy way, but an intelligent adult way.