Posted on: October 26th, 2009 TEN OF TERROR: Top 10 Retro Horror Flicks

I’ve never been what one might call “current”.  It’s not like I live under a rock but my preferences in movies and music have always prepped me more for a conversation with my grandmother than one with my friends.

So my contribution to the Ten Of Terror?  Well, why not do a retro list?  Alright, great-What do you base the list on?  The most enjoyable?  That’s kind of hard to justify.  I like a lot of movies for no particular reason.  Scariest?  Not so much.  It’s a little hard to be scared of creatures when you can see the strings that hold them up.  How about the most influential?  Makes sense.

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#10.  “She will tear up the whole town until she finds Harry.”  “And then she’ll tear up Harry.”-Attack of the 50 ft Woman (1958):

Hell hath no fury like an alcoholic 50-foot tall woman’s scorn. It’s a simple enough idea: man cheats on rich wife, wife gets angry and takes a drive, she sees an alien ship, goes back to prove to everyone she’s not crazy, radiation makes her a giant, woman seeks revenge on husband. There’s a giant paper-mache hand, the acting is terrible and the giant alien, and later the woman, are fairly transparent due to the overlap of film reels. But, hey. It’s 1958. All things considered, it’s pretty impressive.

Its cultural popularity is nothing to argue over. We just saw Susan from Monsters Vs. Aliens as a direct tribute to the 50 foot original, not to mention the remake with Bridget Bardot back in 1993. Why should this classic B-movie even reach the list? It was the first massively popular horror movies that revolved around a female antagonist. While true she’s actually treated as more of an anti-hero, she’s still ultimately the cause of death and destruction in the small town. All in all, this movie was the start of the sexy villains in horror flicks back in the 50s and 60s. And trust me, after this one they flooded onto the screen.

HOW#9.  “To you they are wax, but to me their creator, they live and breathe.”-House of Wax (1953):

Probably just an excuse to get Vincent Price on this list, this one hits the Number 9 on the basis that it was the first movie to give you the classic 3-D experience. I say classic because those goofy transparent glasses that we have today are not cool. Red and blue pieces of plastic glued to cardboard, now that’s cool. Pair those bad boys up with stereophonic goodness? You start the beginning of a history filled with cheap promotional techniques that become more of a pull than the movies themselves. From this we got chairs with electric shock systems installed, vibrating chairs, smell-o-vision and random giveaways. Thanks, Marketing Department.

It was the start of Vincent Price’s horror legacy. You could see it in 3-D, and it’s honestly and legitimately creepy. Please, let me have this one.

#8.  “It’s alive….IT’S ALIVE!”-Frankenstein (1931):

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You have a brilliant novel about the monster, a couple movie adaptations prior to your own, and you decide not to follow any earlier depictions and just make up your own esthetics.  In the meantime, you are held responsible for the most iconic character in horror history.  A gutsy move paid off.

Frankenstein1910The first movie adaptation of Mary Shelly’s novel was all the way back in 1910.  This ultra-quick silent movie actually followed the novel description fairly close.  Granted, you see that monster now (pictured left) and he’s hilarious and I suppose it’s possible Universal felt the same way. The movie isn’t ground breaking; it hits the Top Ten simply for the fact that it caused a cultural phenomenon.  Boris Karloff’s role as the monster has inspired an unimaginable number of works from Mel Brooks to Konomi’s Castlevania.


WOTW#7.  “All radio is dead, which means that these tape recordings I’m making are for the sake of future history…if any.”-War of the Worlds (1953):

The horrors of a space invasion in beautiful Technicolor.  In my humble opinion, the greatest science fiction movie to date.  In fact, if someday I were to meet my demise by an alien ship that resembled an athletic cup with lights, I think I’d go with a smile on my face.  Okay, that might be because the sound the lasers make is the same sound of Starfleet phasers in ST:TOS, but my bright green disintegration would be beautiful at any rate.

Like any solid horror movie, this treasure has serious moral and religious undertones.  Okay, not really undertones-this one hits you over the head with it.  The military doesn’t retaliate on the aliens until the pastor is killed, you’ll find what you’re looking for in a church, evil isn’t destroyed until it attacks God, and never underestimate the power of prayer.  I’ve always found apocalyptic films especially terrifying.  Not because the world is ending; that doesn’t matter.  It’s the fear of what happens to your fellow man when a crisis is upon you.  Here you are, trying to do what’s right and you get attacked by a guy scared out of his mind that wants to steal your truck full of scientific instruments.  It makes you not only scared of strangers or people you know, but it makes you truly question yourself and what you could become if frightened enough.

Nosferatu#6.  “Recently I discovered that to preserve their diabolic power, vampires must sleep during the day in the same unhallowed ground in which they had been buried.”-Nosferatu (1922):

Before there were sexy vampires, there were creatures that kill instead of recruit.  Undead rat-like monsters that were creepy more so than sinful.

This silent German ditty was actually done illegally in that the screenplay was written without film rights to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.  That eventually led to one hell of a lawsuit but the affects of such were barely enough to keep us from seeing the movie today.

By no means the first vampire movie, the production is not what makes this movie important.  This movie is the reason we believe sunlight and vampires don’t mix.  Count Orlok (the vampire) is destroyed in the end by an open window.  Not exactly thrilling but a little obscure when you think that wasn’t ever a part of the novel.  Maybe Galeen had a deadline and just came up with it randomly; whatever the reason, he changed our perception of vampires and their weaknesses.

POTO#5.  “If I am the Phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so…If I shall be saved, it will be because your love redeems me.”-Phantom of the Opera (1925):

Here it is 1925, speakeasies as far the eye can see, and none of them hold enough alcohol for you when you see Lon Chaney, Sr..

My mom has a motionette figure of this phantom that she’s had for years.  It used to give me nightmares.  That fact alone may have pushed this one up to number five.  Now, is this technically a horror film?  Eh.  You give me a deformed man living in an opera house in Paris stalking a young singer and holding her captive while trying to murder her lover, then you have just handed me a scary movie.  Especially in 1925 when action and love stories reigned supreme in silent movies.

Chaney1925Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, had ever come close to the gruesome makeup design in Phantom of the Opera.  Lon Chaney was given the opportunity to create his own makeup design after his work in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923.  So with some false teeth, wires, pins and heavy makeup, Chaney created iconic Phantom.  The man looked like a living deformed skeleton and it is reported (although easily fabricated) that there were several instances of fainting in the audience when the face was revealed from under The Phantom’s mask.  The best part of all is that the horrific reveal was kept a secret from the public until the film premiere.  Think of the hype that the Cloverfield monster generated before the premiere, and now think of how it would have been if there were no internet.  There, that’s how The Phantom of the Opera release happened.  This just happened to be a much better movie.  The huge success of this film almost single-handedly built the Universal Horror Empire.

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#4. “As if men don’t desire strangers! As if… oh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! You understand, boy? Go on; go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with MY food… or my son! Or do I have to tell her because you don’t have the guts? Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?”-Psycho (1960):

Sex and horror movies, they go together like…me and a nap.  Why’s that?  Outside of maybe time on the toilet, when are you the most vulnerable?  So it’s only natural that a killer comes a calling when you’re naked.  In the shower.  In a hotel.  In the middle of nowhere.

Throw in the force of a controlling mother with her sexually repressed son, and you get the creepiest hotel ever.  This Hitchcock thriller offered up the threat of the human mind.  Yeah, sure-practically every noir film dealt with the twists and turns of the human mind, but a killer with a split personality that snaps when he meets a woman that part of him wants and the other part fears?  Brilliant.  Opens up a whole new realm of horrors dealing not with monsters or aliens but a Mama’s Boy smothered to the point of insanity.

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#3.  “They are not men, Madame.  They are dead bodies!”-White Zombie (1932):

They don’t feed on flesh.  They don’t have any natural instincts.  They don’t have a union.

This flick was really a starting point for zombies as we see them.  Similar films prior to this have typically relied upon a ghost or spirits being raised from the dead.  This movie was the one most accepted as a pioneer in corpses being raised from the dead.  Brought about via special poison and dark arts telepathy, these corpses are controlled by one man.  He just so happens to operate a sugar mill…free labor!  The big differentiating factor in these zombies from modern zombies is that these can come back from being undead and be their old selves again.

This is a prime example of zombies that can be controlled for personal gain.  We see a rich man fall in love with an engaged woman after meeting her once.  Well, honestly, what says “I love you” more than turning your object of affection into an undead slave?

RB#2.  “Hail Satan!”-Rosemary’s Baby (1968):

You’re just lying in bed trying to sleep one off and suddenly, you’re getting raped by the devil.  It happens.

There’s God and there’s Satan.  It’s good and evil, light and dark, Jedi and Sith.  Somehow we humans just muddle along among the gray area. Then along comes Rosemary’s Baby; the first movie to show us Satan as not only flesh but as an infant-typically deemed as the essence of innocence.

Without heavily relying upon gore and violence (although the rape scene is incredibly horrific) this brought on a whole new list of fears to the general public: neighborhood cults, devil spawn, child abduction by doctors and little old ladies distributing chocolate mousse as a date-rape drug.

#1. A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life and seeking human victims.”-Night of the Living Dead (1968):

night-of-the-living-dead-1968-movie-poster1

Basically the “So You’re Living In The Zombie Apocalypse” preparation guide.  THE ZOMBIE MOVIE.

Now, it’s true-this all started because of Russo and Romero wanted to do something similar to Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” but this hokey low-budget wonder caused a cultural phenomenon.  Whereas Matheson dealt with the scenario where everybody had been turned into monsters, Russo and Romero started at the beginning of humanity’s end during all its stages of panic and chaos.

In my eyes, it stands as the first truly scary movie.  You have to figure, before this there were never any movies about a catastrophe this horrifying in a setting that could be your rural or suburban town.  Sure, we had alien invasions and shady people but this isn’t campy acting and cheap theatrics.  This is terrifying imagery of former humans acting on the carnal instinct of hunger.  It’s not like people in the 60s saw a lot of children eating corpses. The moviegoer also has to deal with evil triumphing over good with the deaths of every main character regardless of race, sex and education.  To put anything else in the Number 1 spot would be a crime against humanity.

Filed under: Movies, Review, dvd, ten of terror

2 Responses to “TEN OF TERROR: Top 10 Retro Horror Flicks”

  1. Gavin Stone Says:
    October 26th, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I love War Of The Worlds

  2. Auburn Says:
    October 26th, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    Then you, Sir, have amazing taste.

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