Tomorrow on TCM: Horror All Day and Night for Halloween! (and don’t forget, as we posted this morning, tonight is a bill of Val Lewton films)
7:00am (EST): Dr. X (1932)
I saw this on one of my first dates with the Countess at the Film Forum, so it will always hold a special place. (This fact no doubt reveals much about us both, including why we’re together). The plot: there is a bizarre cannibalistic serial killer on the loose, who always kills on the full moon. Police track him to a scientific institute, where every one of the employees is a mad scientist. Each one is a suspect, and each one is disfigured in a different way. The purported hero (Lee Tracy), a reporter, is a goofball, a Jimmy Olsen type, and seems more like comic relief than a hero. The head scientist (Lionel Atwill) brings everyone back to his Gothic castle in Long Island and wires everyone to a giant Frankensteinian machine that will somehow tell us who the killer is when they react to elaborate re-creations of the crime featuring actors and wax figures. Eventually (spoiler alert) the killer turns out to be the guy we haven’t suspected because he happens to have an artificial hand. When the moon is full, he creates a real hand with artificial flesh and turns himself into a monster. The nightmarish climax has all the scientists including Atwill handcuffed and forced to watch the villain attack his daughter (Fay Wray). Tracy rescues her at the last moment and throws a lit kerosene lamp at the monster, who tumbles, burning and screaming to his death in the ocean below.
8:30am (EST): White Zombie (1932)
This is probably my favorite zombie movie. I find that I am rarely truly scared by modern zombie movies of the post-Night of the Living Dead variety. Whatever it is that scares people about them eludes me entirely. However I find VOODOO zombies terrifying. This one is set in Haiti, where it seems to be perpetually nighttime. A pair of young lovers comes there to marry. An unscrupulous plantation owner wants the girl for his own, so he contacts the evil zombie master Bela Lugosi (who uses zombie slave labor) to obtain his zombie-making secrets. He turns the bride into a zombie—she becomes the “wife” of the plantation owner. He quickly regrets this path…his zombie wife is a little unsatisfying. Lugosi starts to turn him into a zombie too. In the end the groom comes to rescue the girl, and the plantation owner in a last burst of humanity pushes Lugosi over a cliff to his death. Lots of cool Dracula derived elements inexplicably transplanted to Haiti…a ride in a similar carriage, and especially the mysterious, gorgeous Gothic castle. The atmosphere is nightmarish, chilling….
9:45am (EST): Dementia 13 (1963)
Francis Ford Coppola’s first legit feature as writer/director, produced by Roger Corman, was intended to be a rip-off of Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released a couple of years earlier. It’s all about machinations surrounding a bequest…and an ax murderer in an old Irish castle. It sounds promising but I’ve always found the movie plodding and boring and have tried watching it about three times without ever getting all the way through it.
1:15pm (EST): Homicidal (1961)
This is William Castle‘s none-too-subtle rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock’s Pyscho, a hit of the previous year. I don’t think I’ll be spoiling too much for you when I say the twist owes much to Psycho too, the evidence is that poster, and the very strange countenance of vocal qualities of the “woman” at the heart of this mystery. If it’s too much for you to stand, the film stops at a certain point to give you a “fright break”.
3:00pm (EST): The Tingler (1959)
An unspeakably good William Castle feature. Vincent Price as a scientist and county coroner (how convenient) who has a theory so unscientific it may as well have been hatched by a primitive tribesman. He finds that people who died in frightening circumstances often have cracked spines. He deduces from this observation that there is a creature that lives in people’s vertebrae, and that it grows strong when a person is tense with fear. Such “fear tensions” can only be relieved by screams; when you can’t scream the creature kills you. Castle rigged the seats in the theaters to tingle (a technique he called “Percept-o”), causing random audience members to scream. Great LSD freak-out scene with Price — perhaps the first ever on film!
4:30pm (EST): House of Wax (1953)
One of my favorite movies of all time. Price at his absolute best, as a demented wax sculptor and museum impresario, maimed in a fire by an unscrupulous partner for the insurance money. A throwback to an earlier age of horror. The script keeps many lines from the original pre-code Mystery of the Wax Museum, but generally improves it, streamlines and clarifies the story. The mise en scene is gorgeous: designed for 3-D and Technicolor, and historically accurate in many details, set in the time of gaslights and hansom cabs (as opposed to the original which was merely an atmospheric “present day”. It has references to some of the places I talk about in my book No Applause such as the Eden Musee etc. Carolyn Jones (Morticia Addams) is in it as Price’s first victim. Charles Bronson is also in it, thankfully as a mute. The 3-D gimmick is used in many silly ways, but that’s part of its charm.
6:15pm: The Devil’s Bride (1968)
A rare Hammer film in which Christopher Lee is not the villain but the concerned friend of a young aristocrat who has fallen in with a bad crowd (Satanists, don’t you know) who summon demons from hell. Lee leads a small group of heroes to rescue the girl the demon plans to take for his own and send the unholy ones back to Hell. For added interest it is set in the 1920s. It is based on the 1934 novel The Devil Rides Out.
8:oopm (EST) The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
What better horror story to tell than this one which isn’t really a horror story, in that period when they weren’t really making horror films? Well, ya know, it is and it isn’t. Yes, it is a tale of unimaginable evil; and yes there is some kind of mysterious, supernatural soul transference (or to be more accurate — facial transference, one that any plastic surgeon might envy). And the doppelganger theme is strongly reminiscent of Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And there is just a soupcon of Jack the Ripper. So we’re close, we’re awfully close. Yet it’s subtle and subdued, isn’t it? There is the wonderful Technicolor money shot at the end, but they do make you wait for it. Mostly we just wonder about creepy, vacant Hurd Hatfield (in his best known role) as he does increasingly mean and cruel things over a period of years, never aging, never becoming less “beautiful”. Don’t get me wrong. I think this is the PERFECT adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel. Though others have made the attempt, I don’t think a better one is possible. Do we ever want anyone but George Sanders uttering Wilde’s arch epigrams as Lord Wotton? What would be the point? But Wilde was a literary author. I think the story is too elusive and ambiguous to slot it into a genre.
10:00pm (EST): The Curse of the Demon (1957)
Dana Andrews makes the mistake of attending an international symposium on the supernatural and pays for it by having a curse place on him. Can he get it lifted? Wait around and find out!
11:30pm (EST): Dead of Night (1945)
One of the terrifying classics of the horror anthology genre, Dead of Night tells six stories, the most memorable of which casts Michael Redgrave as an insane ventriloquist named Maxwell whose dummy Hugo gets him into some very bad trouble. In the end, Max does what must be done.
1:30am (EST): Mark of the Vampire (1935)
Essentially a remake of Tod Browning’s 1927 London After Midnight. Not a good film, though a good and weird one! Seems to be set in Czechoslovakia. A baron has been killed, presumably by vampires from a nearby castle. Browning revisits much of Dracula here, right down to the recapitulation of certain scenes. Lionel Atwill as some sort of investigator, frequent Browning collaborator Lionel Barrymore as a Van Helsing-like vampire expert. It is clearly a vampire movie for most of the film. Bela Lugosi plays the count…who never speaks! And he has a daughter, a sort of early template for Vampira, Lily Munster, et al. Many scenes of the usual slow moving bats on fishing wire changing into vampires and so forth. One very cool shot—the only one in the movie—of the vampire daughter flying into the castle as a giant bat. Then the movie stops on a dime and the entire reality changes. It turns out to be a conventional murder investigation. Barrymore hypnotizes the suspect and forces him to relive the crime. It turns out the vampires are hired actors; the guardian of the murdered man’s daughter murdered the baron with poison. Talk about being short-changed! Surely this ending must have left audiences grumbling!
After this: lots of crazy early-career David Lynch shorts! Until dawn!