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Old Halloween Movies Haunting Popflick: Must-Watch Spooky Cinema


There is nothing like an old horror movie to give you the creeps. It’s not just the scary plot or the boogeyman they deploy. The simple unfamiliarity of the past adds up to the disorienting effect. And what is horror but a disruption of whatever you think is normal?

Do you want to add another level of disturbance to these old Halloween movies? Think how everybody you are watching on-screen is dead! You are virtually ghost-watching. Now that is scary!

White Zombie (1932)

Fresh off the success of “Dracula” (19931), Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi was sought after for every creepy thriller made in Hollywood. United Artists poached him for this early zombie film, one of the first instances of the undead appearing as villains in a movie. In a backlot-recreated Haiti, Lugosi plays a strange zombie master recruited by a wealthy plantation owner to persuade a woman to leave her fiancé and marry him. Somehow, the only way to achieve this is by turning her into a zombie. It’s fascinating to see White Zombie from a contemporary perspective, with the mechanics of cultural appropriation laid bare. Black characters are mere background, while white actors take lead roles in a story inspired by Haitian folklore. It’s not like they are coy about it. It’s right there in the title!

And Then There Were None (1945)

Agatha Christie made her career with sturdy whodunits. Her mystery novels and short stories entice you with the far-fetched possibility of solving a crime side by side with a clever detective. Her most famous sleuths were nosy church lady Mrs. Marple and allegedly retired Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Just now, Kenneth Branagh premiered his adaptation of "Hallowe'en Party." "A Haunting in Venice" transplants the plot to the Italian city at its creepiest. Still, one could argue that the most interesting - and scary - Christie plot finds the possible victim in charge of uncovering a murderer. More than an intellectual exercise, it is a fight for survival.

That is the case of the eight persons summoned to an Island by a wealthy man nobody knows. As the lifeless bodies hit the floor, the survivors try to unmask the killer before he gets to them. This adaptation, directed by French master René Clair, opened barely six years after the novel's publication - in mid-XX Century Pop culture, that was fast! -. "And Then There Were None" won the Best Film award at the 1946 Locarno Film Festival.

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

This exercise of low budget sci-fi taps into a horror trope that chips away at a sacred tenet of masculinity. Or maybe we should say "probes." As the space age overtakes politics and audiences' imagination, Roger Corman produced this bizarre movie about an astronaut who returns to Earth filled with gestating aliens. Yes, this avatar of macho heroism is, technically, dead and pregnant with little monsters aiming to conquer the planet. Feminization of the male and world destruction? That must have played like a double nightmare for late-fifties audiences.

This premise anticipates classics like “Alien” (Ridley Scott, 1979), where a heartless corporation wanted an intergalactic crew to return to Earth carrying a lethal alien life form in their innards. The low budget production values and barely adequate acting of "Night of the Blood Beast" make it a ripe candidate for “Mystery Science Theater 3000” merriment, but if you get on its wavelength, you are in for some creepy kicks.

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

The trope of the rich man who summons strangers to an isolated location to terrify them or dispense twisted justice is evergreen. Just recently, Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) directed "The Viewing," an episode of "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities," with Peter Weller playing an eccentric mogul who brings together a hazard group of artists and scientists he admires to expose them to, well, something! Vincent Price is the host in this sensational lark, produced and directed by William Castle. Half carnival barker, half filmmaker, Castle never met a gimmick he didn't like. His sensibility fits beautifully in a genre rich with opportunities to set up jump scares and dreadful twists, and House on Haunted Hill is no exception. 

The movie was remade in 1999, but nothing beats the original for low budget film charm. The "House on Haunted Hill' cast in 1959 includes legendary character actor Elisha Cook Jr. as the scaredy-cat owner of the mansion. You can also see him in Marlon Brando's only film as a director, "One-Eyed Jacks." He plays a doomed bank teller who pays a high price for pulling a gun on a robber. Even the skeleton gets the credit!

A Bucket of Blood (1959):

Walter (Dick Miller) is a milquetoast busboy with artistic ambitions. He is constantly humiliated by the artists he idolizes until an accidental killing pushes him over the edge. Walter learns how to turn death into art and trips into popularity. The body count rises, as does the estimation for his art pieces. What makes this more horrifying is that Walter remains innocent throughout the whole ordeal. The satire of "A Bucket of Blood" takes the counterculture to task. Beatniks can be as cruel as the squares. An early Roger Corman scorcher, the movie gains substance from a jazzy score that goes a long way to place you in a particular time and place.

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Roger Corman got behind the camera for this fiendishly clever combination of comedy, romance, and horror. Nerdy Seymour Krelborn (Jonathan Haze) loves Audrey (Jacquie Fulquard), his colleague at a run-down flower shop. The business' fortunes change when an exotic plant he nursed to health attracts flower-loving crowds, but there is a catch. The plant, baptized as "Audrey Jr.," is an unknown carnivore specimen. It does not eat insects but human blood. And flesh, when available. Blessed - or cursed - with a mind of its own, Audrey Jr. demands Seymour to feed her. He can't do anything else but oblige. True to the Corman ethos, this low budget film was shot in a few days. The sets had already been used for "A Bucket of Blood." Check out Jack Nicholson in an early role as the masochist patient of a sadistic dentist.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

It’s hard to convey with words the nightmarish qualities of this true-blue 1962 indie film directed by Herk Harvey. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligloss) miraculously walks away from a fatal car crash after a drag race gone wrong. She moves to Utah to rebuild her life, but strange apparitions haunt her. A silent white man with dark pools of blackness in his eyes seems to follow her everywhere, and more ghouls are coming up behind him. Does Mary have a bad case of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome? Survivor’s guilt? Or perhaps something more sinister is afoot? The final revelation is a doozy. The dream logic and unaffected American ambiance must have influenced David Lynch’s work. Who would not want to see that?

The Terror (1963)

Roger Corman directed this scary period piece amid his lauded run of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, although this is an original script. The action takes place during the Napoleonic wars. An achingly young Jack Nicholson plays Andre Duvalier, a French soldier who is separated from his regiment and ends up in a remote castle after following a mysterious woman who turns out to be a ghost. Wait. Is she? Well, at least that's what her husband says. Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) is a creepy fellow who lives in a ruinous castle and offers refuge to the lost man. Run the hell away, Jack! I mean, Andre. Francis Ford Coppola, who would become one of the greatest directors of our times with movies like "The Godfather" (1972), has an Associated Producer credit and allegedly took over directing duties from Corman for a few days.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The nightmarish quality of George A. Romero’s original vision transcends time. The undead threaten to devour you. Or worse yet, bite you and turn you into one of them. However, regular folks in desperation can be just as dangerous, if not more. A random group of strangers finds refuge in an empty farmhouse after a mercifully unexplained phenomenon relieves the dead, who promptly come out of the ground looking for human flesh. The twist is that the living can be just as dangerous, ready to sacrifice their fellow man - or woman - for survival. Boomer parents get bit by their progeny, and the last decent person is a black man who can keep monsters that bay, but he is no match for law enforcement. The more time passes, the more this movie feels prescient and evergreen.

The Unnaturals (1969)

Is there anything more disturbing for Americans than European debauchery? There is plenty of it afoot here. Somewhere in the British countryside, during a dark and stormy night, a group of rich folks get their car stuck in the mud and must spend the night in a ruinous castle nearby. Their hosts treat them to a seance that will bring their resentments and betrayals to the surface. “The Unnaturals” have everything pitched at hysterical levels. Infidelity! Lesbian affairs! Theft! Betrayal! Forget ghosts. The living are more dangerous than any specter. To make things more disorienting, the plot of this Italian production takes place in England. The studio-bound production makes everything look like a spooky theme park attraction. The dialogue is dubbed, as with practically every Italian film of the times, giving the movie an extra layer of otherworldliness.

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