This week the Internet is knee-deep in Halloween horror movie lists, and TCM is running its annual marathon of classic horror, so the world is very much where I like it to be right now. I feel compelled to join in the list-making, but I don't have a definitive favorites list, really. If I was asked, I'd say my favorite horror film visually is "Shiver of the Vampires" by Jean Rollin and my favorite "serious" horror film is "The Shining," but any attempts to make a top ten list just fragments into endless sub-lists by genre.
What do I like? In a sentence: visually compelling 1960s and 1970s gothic horror with lots of color and psychedelic flourishes, and a great soundtrack. To be clear: things like plot and acting are not important to me. I don't need things to make sense. I just like the progression of haunting imagery from certain times and places, and the atmosphere these films create. Decrepit mansions, haunted castles, ruins, lush decadent interiors, gorgeous gowns, statuary and portraits, forbidden rituals. I do not think these films are "funny" or "cheesy." I love them deeply as moving works of psychedelic gothic art and I love the dream logic present in many of them.
Here is a random handful of a few colorful favorites of mine. I'm not going to try to write a plot synopsis or a review...not this moment, anyway. For me, just seeing a still image from one of these was enough to make me want to see it, so that is mostly what I'd like to share right now.
Curse of the Crimson Altar (The Crimson Cult) - 1968
This image right here is pretty much all I need to know, to want to see this. Barbara Steele is blue, and has a rams-head headdress? Why yes, I'd be interested in that.
And things just keep getting better. Christopher Lee is a reason to see any film, but the promise of occult rituals and masks in a film from the 1960s is irresistible. Not pictured, incidentally, Boris Karloff also appears in the film...his last film appearance, if I'm not mistaken.
Once you have people in animal masks, I am pretty much there. This film is supposedly based on HP Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witch House," as it involves dreams of a witch cult, but the connection is pretty tenuous. Tigon released it, so if you enjoy British horror, this might be one you haven't seen before. It is on Youtube as "The Crimson Cult," which was how I initially saw it on late night cable, some years ago.
Vengeance of the Zombies / La rebelión de las muertas - 1973
One of the many fantastic Paul Naschy/León Klimovsky films. I'll just go ahead and append the imdb summary, as it gets the job done: "An Indian mystic uses magical chants to raise women from the dead, then sends them out to perform revenge killings for him." The main thing that I retain from my viewing of the film are Paul Naschy's bizarre roles here. First we have, well, the devil. And he plays the Indian mystic, of course, because...for whatever reason, movies did things like that in the early 1970s. It's worth suspending your disbelief, in this instance.
You also get these lovely ladies.
The film also had a jazzy score that seemed out of place, but added to the charm, if I recall. While "The Werewolf Vs. the Vampire Women" (aka Werewolf Shadow) is probably my favorite Paul Naschy film, this one made quite an impact on me as well and I need to go back and view it again.
Fascination - 1979
My favorite director, Jean Rollin. It might be his best, although it's not my tippy-top favorite of his films (Shiver of the Vampires gets that distinction) or the most visually out of control (La Vampire Nue might be that one), this image, among many others, has made a lasting impression. It has one of the most fantastic movie posters of all time as well.
Set just after the turn of the last century, a group of women lure men into a fog-shrouded chateau and drink their blood, amidst lush, decadent and surreal surroundings. Trying to write one or two sentences about the complete aesthetic experience that is a Jean Rollin film, may be beyond my abilities, but Halloween would not be complete without a re-viewing of one of his films.
Murderous, bloodthirsty Victorian women in white, in a foggy chateau, or waltzing on a stone bridge to the tune of an old phonograph...Rollin is simply the master of atmosphere.
Messiah of Evil -1973
Another dreamlike film, this one American -- and for some reason it took me forever to get a DVD copy that didn't have a flaw that caused the film to stop a little over halfway through. Remembered perhaps most for its scene of zombies in an eerily empty supermarket, gnawing on meat, or filling in all of the rows in a movie theatre around a single living patron, one of my personal favorite things about the film is actually the weird setting in an artist's house full of pop art murals on the walls.
I called them zombies but they're not zombies the way we normally think of them. They are denizens of this strange town, under the malevolent influence of the Blood Moon.
Above, one of the interesting murals, this one on the bathroom wall. Whenever a horror movie has an artist as a part of the plot, it is extra interesting, because you have a chance to see some really interesting artwork. See also: Juan López Moctezuma's "Mary Mary Bloody Mary" which contains artwork by the surreal artist Rosa Rosenberg. Here is an example of her work....very grateful to that film for making me aware of her!
The Blood Rose - 1970
Let's make this a five-movie list and come back another day for some more. I haven't seen a lot of people talk about this film, but "La Rose écorchée" by Claude Mulot is as stunning and decadent as they come. Just look at this picture.
This scene is at a costume ball, but once you paint someone gold, you have my interest. The film is one of the genre wherein a mad doctor's wife is disfigured, and others have to die to restore her beauty. The madman in this case is a botanist/artist which is even better for my purposes, because that means we get: lots of plants and flowers, and a very arty environment.
Oh so many nightgowns and candelabras.
This concludes my small attempt to capture a few images that inspire me from 1960s and 1970s horror films, though I would like to write a more proper summary and discussion of them other than "Oh my god there are so many candelabras in this movie, you HAVE to see it!"
But for a sampling of a few that probably aren't going to make the rounds on cable this year...look for these on Youtube, and some may still be available on DVD in some form or another.