We’re back with another Halloween Scavenger hunt list! This time Lauren Gallo tells us some films we should be seeking out. Lauren was (maybe still is?) a frequent contributor at Deadlantern.com when I was so our paths crossed many a time. Then it turns out she is active in the anime and gaming convention circuit so we’ve almost run into each other literally through out the years but I’ve kept up the joke of trying to avoid her for years now so we’ve still never met in person. Funny only to me I think.
1. Opera – High opera. Murder. Heavy Metal. While Dario Argento tends to be more famously known for works like Suspiria, Profundo Rosso, and Bird with the Crystal Plumage, this lesser highlighted 1987 work of his feels a tad less giallo and more full-on slasher. A young opera ingenue becomes the obsessive focal point of a serial killer whose MO is to tied her up and tape sharp pins under her eyes so she must keep her eyes open while he murders victims in front of her, usually people she knows. Somehow, the killings have a connection to her late mother. My first exposure to this movie was through an amazing fan-created music video by the owner of the Twins of Evil horror movie blog, where clips of this movie were set to Portishead’s “We Carry On”. From that, I really wanted to watch it and basically I developed a weird love for this. It’s not as gorgeous looking and iconic as the crimson-stained Suspiria, but it’s also one of Argento’s more straight-forward narratives all centered around a brilliant concept of taking the frustration of movie-goers shutting their eyes during scary moments and making an allegoric response through the pins taped to the eyes. If there’s one critique I have of this, is that I don’t actually enjoy the heavy metal set to the murder scenes, to me it’s an odd tonal dissonance for a movie centered around an opera. But I digress, it’s still worth a viewing.
2. Black Sunday – Revenge. Dark magic. Beautiful Barbara Steele. A witch and her lover are captured and burned at the stake, a mask of Satan nailed to her face. The spite witch Princess Asa places a curse on her brother’s descendants before dying. Two centuries later, her lookalike descendant Princess Katia becomes embroiled in a dark plot to fully resurrect Asa when a professor and his assistant accidentally break the cross on Asa’s tomb and release her. This black and white film, shot by the incomparable Mario Bava, is a real testament to how incredibly well Bava could make a black and white film look in terms of shadow and light. The imagery is beautiful as much as the horror is palpable. This movie is an incredibly well done Italian horror film and would go on to be very influential to films like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
3. The Devil Rides Out – Satanic cults. The English countryside. Christopher Lee. I love a good many Hammer Films, but The Devil Rides Out is my absolute favorite, and one where Christopher Lee gets to be the hero for once! Lee plays Nicholas, the Duc de Richleau, an English noble in the late 1920s who upon reunited with old friends is horrified to learn his young friend Simon has fallen in league with a Satanic cult. Nicholas, familiar with the mystical arts, tries to save Simon from a dark fate with the help of their more skeptical friend, Rex. In initially saving Simon they also save the young, pretty Tanith, who will be the unfortunate catalyst for potential tragedy. Christopher Lee has gone on record stating this as his favorite film he’s worked on and that he would have love to seen a remake with modern technology and him as an older Nicholas. This movie has great set pieces, great locations, and Lee is a fantastic, charismatic hero fighting against black magic to save his friend. It’s less on gore and goes more for the supernatural horror, though I feel it sits more comfortably as an action-thriller. It feels like the most polished of the 60s Hammer horror films, and a bit more sophisticated than ones like Vampire Circus and even Dracula. If there is only one thing I find lacking in this movie, it’s the lack of Peter Cushing also starring in it.
4. The Mummy (Hammer Films) – Ancient Egypt. Mummys. Christopher Lee & Peter Cushing Double Billing. Were there ever better classic horror BFFs like Lee and Cushing? I’m hard pressed to think there is. The two always starred on opposing forces in their joint ventures, and Hammer Films’ The Mummy is no exception. Cushing plays John Banning, an archeologist on an Egyptian exploration with his father and wife, Isobel. There they get mixed up in the accidentally bringing the mummified Kharis (Lee), High Priest to the Princess Ananka, back to life. Three years later, this occurrence comes back to haunt them. It doesn’t help matters that Isobel is an exact ringer for Princess Ananka. Fans of the 1999 The Mummy film will find this sounding pretty familiar. Taking a page from the Universal Studios Boris Karloff classic, Hammer’s Mummy seems to take a backseat to the 30s classic and the Brendan Fraser one, but I feel it’s a solid entry in the Mummy mythos with Cushing proving he’s a great horror hero. Sharp listeners will also notice this movie has a background music leitmotif at times that would later be mimicked by the 1999 version.
5. Dracula (1979) – Vampires. Bram Stroker’s classic put in a blender. OMG CANDLES. In the scheme of famous Draculas, you have Bela Lugosi as the forever iconic, Christopher Lee, but one of my faves is Frank Langella. This movie, sometimes affectionately (or not) known as “Disco Dracula”, is based on a broadway adaption of Stoker’s original novel, which also starred Langella. This version ups the romance more and puts it in an Edwardian setting, with Mina now becoming Van Helsing’s daughter and befalling the tragedy of Lucy in the original story, an Lucy is more of the Mina character, and also Dr. Seward’s daughter and Dracula’s love interest. I say this in the best way possible, this movie is an absolute romp and like watching the best, slightly crackish Dracula fanfiction onscreen. It’s super, super 70s right down to a floating, shadow puppet super technicolor love scene and Frank Langella’s epic bouffant. I feel like this movie had to have influenced Coppola’s Dracula, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Sadly, one of the newer cuts had the color slightly desaturated but regardless of this crime against coloring, this movie is a worthwhile viewing.
Lauren Gallo is a fledgling fiction writer and pop culture reviewer with a nerd streak as wide as the day is long. Her love affair with horror began through being exposed to slasher flicks as a child, like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th and was cemented by a 1993 viewing of a VHS rental of Army of Darkness, one of the greatest cinematic triumphs of all day. You can find her (sporadically) on Twitter (@lgallowrites).