31 Days (and Nights) of Halloween
Yeah, yeah, it’s already been October for a few days now, but I’ve been recovering from a tonsillectomy, so this is the first time this month that I’ve felt well enough to post anything. So consider this the official kickoff of my Countdown to Halloween this year!
This year it seems like everyone has been doing these “31 movies for Halloween” lists, to help people to watch a horror movie a day for the entire month of October. Which, to be fair, is something I come very close to doing most months of the year anyway. I thought that it would be fun to throw together a list, but with so many people doing them, it seemed impossible to think of a way to make my list stand out. And with so many movies to choose from, narrowing them down to just 31 seemed like a daunting task. So I hit upon a solution:
I would limit my list exclusively to movies that came out before prior to the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978. Part of the impetus for this decision was to make my job a little easier, but part was also to help draw attention to the fact that Monsters from the Vault, my collection of columns on vintage horror films, is on sale for only 99 cents on the Kindle for the entire month of October! (And is currently already sitting in the #1 bestseller spot on Kindle for “video guides & reviews.”)
So, to that end, not only did I limit myself to movies made before ’78, I also pretty much used the same criteria that I used when selecting movies for my Vault of Secrets column. No movies that felt too “modern,” for whatever ambiguous and subjective definition of that I wanted to use. So while my ’78 cutoff would technically let me include things like The Exorcist or even Suspiria, I ruled those too modern, and stuck to the stagey movies that dominated the horror scene in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Which brings me to my other stipulation. I also tried to avoid the most usual suspects, so you won’t find many of the most respected “classics” on this list. No Nosferatu or Psycho, no Haunting or Rosemary’s Baby. If a title seemed to obvious, I tried to eschew it, with a few exceptions. That means you also won’t find some of the classic monsters on here. No Frankenstein, Dracula… not even a mummy. Instead, I opted for at least somewhat more obscure titles that felt like they captured that “Halloween spirit,” while also hopefully covering a pretty wide swath of different styles, tones, and sub-genres. (This also means that you won’t find many kaiju, 1950s atomic panic movies, or alien invaders here… though maybe a few.)
If you like my list, these are exactly the kinds of movies that I write about in Monsters from the Vault, and there’s no time like the present to pick it up. Anyway, without further ado, here are my 31 vintage horror films for the 31 days (and nights) of Halloween:
- Night Creatures (1962)
- Dead of Night (1945)
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
- I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
- The Body Snatcher (1945)
- Night of the Demon (1957)
- The Devil Rides Out (1968)
- Black Sunday (1960)
- Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
- The Haunted Palace (1963)
- Die, Monster, Die! (1965)
- Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
- The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)
- The Brainiac (1962)
- Santo and the Blue Demon Against the Monsters (1970)
- Fiend without a Face (1958)
- Curse of the Fly (1965)
- Matango (1963)
- Kill, Baby… Kill! (1966)
- The Legend of Hell House (1973)
- The Vampire Lovers (1970)
- The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
- Doctor X (1932)
- Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
- The Thing from Another World (1951)
- The Undying Monster (1942)
- Return of the Vampire (1943)
- Mark of the Vampire (1935)
- Mad Love (1935)
- The Old Dark House (1932)
- House on Haunted Hill (1959)
MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT: CLASSIC HORROR FILMS REVISITED, by Orrin Grey. Vancouver, B.C., Canada: Innsmouth Free Press, 2016. 233 pages, $9.99.
Orrin Grey is a new name to me when it comes to critiquing the monster and horror movies we all know and love. But that’s unsurprising because so many worthy folks take to the Internet to express their appreciation and dislikes, as I do with Matinee Memories. Grey authors a column, “The Vault of Secrets,” for Innsmouth Free Press, also worth checking out because of its affinity with the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
What is unique about Grey and his collection of columns, MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT (not to be confused with a U.S. magazine bearing the same title) is his approach to classic screen horror, arising from his discovering these films only relatively recently, as opposed to those of us who have been raving about and re-watching them since, in my case, the early 1970s. Grey in part credits contemporary art and music derived from famous films for his interest, for example, how “We are men,” the chant of the creatures from ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1933), echoed more than four decades later in the work and image of Devo. “It probably doesn’t hurt that the film has proved fertile ground for inspiring musical acts …” Grey comments before illustrating his thesis.
Although apologetic for the brevity or tone of some of the early columns he included in MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT, Grey shouldn’t be embarrassed because his critiques are swift, on point and possessed of some fresh thought as befits a student discovering the greats for the first or perhaps second time. And what’s impressive is his use of columns exploring the lesser-known titles. Instead of beginning with DRACULA or FRANKENSTEIN as do so many other studies, Grey chooses 1932’s DOCTOR X with which to start and closes with an appreciative view of Bert I. Gordon’s FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), opening my eyes to some points I failed to appreciate when first viewed in a New York community college auditorium about a year after its release. The attention Grey provides for films on this level helps fill a gap others would rather avoid.
It was also gratifying to find Grey and I are on the same page about a number of matters he discusses, e.g., that Brian Donlevy rules (despite the Brits’ carping about his being imported from Hollywood) in his two 1950s movies as Professor Quatermass; THE TINGLER (1959) is William Castle’s best gimmick-oriented flick; and unexpected gothic touches make CURSE OF THE FLY (1965) stand apart from its predecessors in the series (and, of course, there’s no fly creature to speak of, either). Yes, a good deal of thought can be found in the essays of MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT that make this volume worth its affordable price, and it’s encouraging that a younger voice appreciates these classics instead of dismissing them as old-school claptrap. Actually, Grey strikes a balance between what constituted monster and horror movies then and what they are now, an equilibrium that doesn’t exist in some corners of the critical spectrum.
Yes, there are MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT to consider, and you won’t be disappointed.