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Friday, October 17, 2008

Dirty Thirties Horrorthon

I am woefully behind on my Halloween viewing (perhaps it's because my daughter insisted we watch SLEEPING BEAUTY twice today!) but I thought I would point out a few dynamite selections that most modern viewers might overlook. If you're one of those people that refuse to watch a film in black and white I implore you to reconsider. The films below were produced in the early 1930's and have a variety of themes and images that are shocking and adult by today's standards. Before the Hays Office hit full tilt in their mission to sanitize the film going experience, there were some pretty wild movies produced.
I can't see how any discerning, hipster doofus could not find these films riveting and an experience that would trump IRON MAN anyday.

Naturally, the general populace will forever remember Bela Lugosi as DRACULA but for a Lugosiphile like myself, his subsequent performance in WHITE ZOMBIE towers above any other role. Murder Legendre is an evil twisted creature who uses the powers of voodoo to enslave men. In this role, Lugosi radiates a delicious menace that would eventually become diluted and campy years later in his Poverty Row outings like THE APE MAN. Beyond Lugosi's stunning turn in this low budget independent production, the film also possesses surprisingly creative cinematography and editing. Many of the other actors were Silent stars on the fade but their predisposition to broad acting enhances the oddness of the tale.
If you haven't viewed this horror classic, dreadful banged up prints abound but the best I have come across is the ROAN release. I have heard that Alpha Video pirated their release from ROAN, so either may suffice.

MANIAC will demand that you see it more than once just to confirm that what you just witnessed was not the result of a blow to the head. Trying to summarize the plot would not do the experience justice. The film is borderline surreal, a pastiche of bizarre situations, improbable dialogue, inexplicable violence, and some sweet footage from HAXAN and SIEGFRIED. Seek it out. Watch it with a friend so they can pinch you.

Speaking of HAXAN, this film will disturb your nighttime slumber with horrific visions of devils and demons prancing about the darkened forests of your unconscious. This Swedish silent film will dazzle the modern viewer with effects and makeup that are genuinely frightening. The full running time of the original release is a bit of slog, but the 60's re-release featuring narration by William S Burroughs is damn trippy and slimmed down to the most shocking bits anyhow. My Criterion disc is a real treasure and highly recommended. (Before anyone busts me - yes, this was originally released in 1922 but did not see a US release until 1929, so, hey, close enough.)

Following the success of DRACULA, director Tod Browning made the most controversial film of his career. FREAKS absolutely repulsed the censors and audiences of the 1930's but I find the tragic tale a very human portrayal of the genetically scrambled. Although most Freakshow attractions had only a handful of real,live freaks to draw in the suckers, Browning assembled an impressive cast of about a dozen actual people who worked the circuit. The director was quite familiar with freaks and circus life from his years on the road with a traveling carnival. The film is readily available on DVD.