While Halloween is not my favorite holiday, one of my favorite things does come around full force this time of year. Horror movies! No, not the Freddie Kruger/Jason-type horror movies. The B-movie horror flicks from the 50′s and 60′s. The black and whites that creeped my mom out as a kid and still do 50 years later. I don’t do gore or torture or those “disturbing images” we are always warned about. But I do love suspense and still think the original Dracula with Bela Lugosi is the best horror movie ever!
Let me tell you about two of my favorite producers of horror films, Hammer Films and William Castle. Of course, most of these movies are only shown on TCM. I gather you’d need to do some digging to watch these movies if you don’t have the station on tv. But good news, you can find the Hammer Films YouTube channel here!
Hammer Films began production in 1934 but did not gain notoriety until they dove into horror films during the late 50′s. Their Gothic style movies gave them the title of “Hammer House of Horror”. Their horror films were so popular that Universal and Colombia wanted to talk deals. Fortunately Hammer stayed in England at Bray Studios.
Have you heard of these names? Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Michael Gough, or Yvonne Furneaux? Probably not, but these were main actors that showed up in many of the films. When watching B-movies, the quality of acting is as laughable as the quality of the film itself. Not so in Hammer Films. The budgets were small but the performances were what kept people watching. They also filmed in color, which effectively began the gory horror noir. ”Until The Curse of Frankenstein horror films had not shown blood in a graphic way, or when they did it was concealed by monochrome photography. In this film, it was bright red, and the camera lingered on it.”
There were six sequels to their first Frankenstein movie. Cushing starred as the Baron in all but one. Each time he rebuilt another monster which differed from the American versions that kept the same one. There were also multiple Draculas starring Lee. I watched The Mummy the other night. Three Hammer films are playing this Saturday. Hammer churned out a ton of movies since the 50′s and they are still making movies today. Did you see The Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliff? That was a Hammer Film!
Now I know that you know who Vincent Price was. I hope I don’t have to school you on his horror movie status. He is the ultimate horror actor and I always make time for him if he’s on TCM. He is also known for starring in some Castle movies. William Castle was a Hollywood producer and director starting in the 40′s. By the late 50′s, just like Hammer Films, he found his niche in horror. But Castle added a twist for the audience! In order to promote his movies, he brought some gimmicks to the theater. How about a life insurance policy payable in the event the movie goer died of fright? Brilliant! The “Fright Break” allowed watchers to leave the theater with a full refund and issue of a “Coward’s Certificate” with the refund. Ingenious! ”Percepto” had some theater seats equipped with electric buzzers. Could you imagine your own shock?
William Castle’s films also reignited Joan Crawford‘s career in the mid 60′s, starring in Straight-Jacket and I Saw What You Did. If you know anything about Ms. Crawford, you know how serious she took every one of her acting roles. Imagine her as an ax wielding serial killer…you’re seeing the best serial killer ever!
Castle’s films played on his audience’s fears in daily life. In House on Haunted Hill, Price invites five people to the house for a “haunted house” party. Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000 each. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers and other terrors.
In The Tingler, Price is a pathologist who discovers that the tingling of the spine in states of extreme fear is due to the growth of a creature that every human being seems to have, called a “Tingler”; a parasite which lives by attaching to a human spine. It curls up, feeds and grows stronger when its host is afraid, effectively crushing the person’s spine if curled up long enough. The host can weaken the creature and stop its curling by screaming.
In Straight-Jacket, Crawford plays Lucy Harbin who has spent twenty years in a psychiatric hospital for the decapitation ax-murder of her husband (Lee Majors) and his mistress, after catching him cheating on her. Years later, a series of murders happens and all indications point to Lucy as the culprit. I won’t tell you the twist at the end!
In Crawford’s last Castle film, I Saw What You Did, when two mischievous teens Libby and Kit are home alone with Libby’s younger sister Tess, they amuse themselves by randomly dialing telephone numbers asking prank questions, later telling whomever answers: “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” Libby places a call to Steve Marak, a man who has recently murdered his wife and disposed of her body in the woods. Believing he has been found out, he decides to track down the caller to silence her.
I hope you get the chance to watch some of these classic horror movies one day. You won’t be disappointed…buwahahahahahaha!!! (written in my best Vincent Price voice)