Wednesday 29 October 2014

Hallowe'en Movies

Every year people compile lists of things to read, watch, do, and indeed wear at Hallowe'en. As I'm not a fashion guru (pause for gasps all round) I'll leave the spooky attire to others. So let's consider some spooky movies instead.

In my arbitrary way, I've decided to divide films into categories. First up:


1. Night of the Demon (1957)

The only big-screen adaptation of an M.R. James story, and a little masterpiece of its kind. Yes, it's got a boozy Dana Andrews in the lead role, as was necessary if a British movie wanted a chance of American distribution. But that apart it's a sharp, intelligent, and convincing take on the old idea of the evil cult and the perils of summoning up things best left undisturbed. Some criticise the film on the grounds that director Jacques Tourneur shows the demon in the opening scenes. But this is an artistically necessary move. In the original story, 'Casting the Runes', we are introduced to the idea of a real menace rather easily, but film is a literal medium and Tourneur shows us just what the sceptical hero is up against. And Niall MacGinnis as Karswell is one of the most compelling Grade A baddies.

2. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)

Director Rouben Mamoulian's version of Stevenson's classic is enjoyable for many reasons, but Fredric March's Oscar-winning performance in the title roles is brilliant. There is a genuine sense of evil being unleashed when March drinks the formula. The transformation is good even by modern standards, and the joy of the ape-like Hyde at being freed is something to behold. This is a pre-Code horror movie, and there is also an air of sleaze and general grubbiness about some scenes that better reflect Stevenson's intentions. The studio, MGM, recalled most prints of this film and destroyed them when it made a much tamer version with Spencer Tracy.


3. Dead of Night (1945) 

We're back in Good Old Blighty for this classic anthology of weird tales. One might quibble about the choices of story - Wells' 'The Inexperienced Ghost', adapted here into a golfing tale, is weak - but overall this one stands the test of time. It tackles some of the great ghostly themes in traditional ways, and sometimes exudes charm and a rather old English whimsy. But when the tone darkens towards the end we really do confront the stuff of nightmares. It also makes for an interesting contrast with Night of the Demon.

4. The Innocents (1961) 

I'm not a Henry James fan. He is the Milton of pre-modernist prose - you can't ignore him, but he is frankly no fun. Fortunately, Jack Clayton's masterly film is not replete with Henry's wordage, and instead gives us the very effective plot and characters in his story 'The Turn of the Screw'. Deborah Kerr is excellent in the leading role as the inexperienced governess who discovers that the children in her care are under the influence of someone, or something, else.

5. The Haunting (1963)

Another country house drama with a supernatural core, Robert Wise's film based on Shirley Jackson's novel is a favourite of almost every ghost story writer I know. As in The Innocents, it's a gore-free horror story focusing on a woman who is somewhat deluded and naive. The difference is that here the characters are attempting to prove, or disprove, survival after death. The supposed medium Eleanor Lance becomes a conduit for the house's energies - or does she? It's a film that could easily have been frustratingly oblique, but instead packs a dramatic punch.

Well, those are my first batch of Hallowe'en movies. I'm sure you have some black and white masterpieces you'd like to recommend - I've omitted rather a lot! We'll move on to colour soon.


Oscar Solis said...

I enjoy most of the films here. Night of the Demon is a must see for any person serious abut horror fiction. Sadly, I don't see that anyone raised on today's gore fests would have any patience for it. Still, it's good to know that it's out there.

The Innocents is a great film. This might seem odd but it would make a great double feature with Black Narcissus.

Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of The Haunting. I know it has a reputation as being the greatest haunted house film ever made and it has some wonderfully hair raising sequences but I can't get past the character of Eleanor. I've never been able to enjoy it.

valdemar said...

I can see how Eleanor would be irritating - indeed, perhaps she is meant to be, to some extent. You're in good company re: Shirley Jackson, in that T.E.D. Klein doesn't rate her either.

It's funny that a few of my friends are very wary of horror movies precisely because of the gore factor. If they watched the classics...

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