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I am currently working on a comedy mystery novel set in a world somewhat like ours. I can draw with either my right or my left hand, and I love to paint. I administer the blog for The Original Tree Worshippers of Rock County--rocksherlockotw.blogspot.com--a Sherlockian group I co-founded that meets in Janesville, Wisconsin, and am a founding member of The Cherry Street Irregulars, writers who gather (in groups of two or more) with laptops to create, critique, and support one another.
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2011/10/29

An Irregular Guide to the Horror Film

by Resa Haile



Around Halloween, it can be fun to have your own mini-Horror Fest, featuring some old favorites, along with movies you haven’t seen before.

Among horror fans, there is a wide range of taste. Some of the newer horror films have been dubbed “torture porn,” as they seem more concerned with vicarious enjoyment of the extended and graphic suffering of the characters than with thrills and chills. Horror, like many genre terms, is fairly elastic, encompassing psychological terror (Rosemary’s Baby, The Innocents); the horror comedy (Theatre of Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer—the series); the ghost story (The Haunting, The Uninvited); the slasher flick (Halloween, Scream); the monster movie (The Creature from the Black Lagoon, An American Werewolf in London); and more.

While some horror fans may love them all, many fans of old horror movies are not going to warm to torture porn, and many may even have a problem with the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies. Conversely, fans of more graphic horror films may find the old Universal horror films to be “creaky.”

One snowy night last winter, I settled down to watch the old Universal version of Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi, and featuring a score by avant-garde composer Philip Glass. The modern score added something to the atmosphere of the movie, as did the howling wind outside. Many people would not be able to watch this version of Dracula seriously—they would find the black-and-white cinematography off-putting, the style of acting artificial, the special effects not special enough. Yet all of these things add to the atmosphere if you allow them to cast their spell. Lugosi in Dracula has the role of his lifetime, “living” in his spooky old castle (there appear to be armadillos in the castle, or are they supposed to be rats?), not drinking…wine, listening to the music of the “children of the night.” The movie also contains the memorable, and often-parodied, web sequence.

The sequel, Dracula’s Daughter (1936), begins moments after the ending of Dracula and features Gloria Holden as the Countess Zaleska, trying to escape her family’s curse. It is also a memorable old-school horror film, even without being graced by a new Philip Glass score.

The original version of Cat People (1942) is probably the most famous film to feature French import Simone Simon. She has the lead role as Irena, a woman who believes if she has intimate relations with her husband, she will turn into a panther. One of the truest examples of psychological horror, since it is never clear whether her affliction is what she believes it to be or if she suffers from a delusion.

The sequel, Curse of the Cat People (1944), has little to do with the original story, and is not really a horror movie at all (although it is very charming). In the remake of Cat People (1982), starring the German actress Nastassja Kinski, there is no such ambiguity about the heroine’s affliction. I also found this to be a very interesting movie. (It may be of interest to trivia buffs that Klaus Kinski, Nastassja’s father, starred in the remake of the silent vampire film, Nosferatu.)

In the film Fright Night (1985), Roddy McDowall had one of his best roles as Peter Vincent, a former horror star whose glory days are past. The character’s name is a tip of the hat to horror movie legends Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. Cushing is particularly to the point since, as the tireless Professor Van Helsing, he chased and killed Christopher Lee’s Dracula in many a Hammer horror film.

In Fright Night, the hero, Charlie (William Ragsdale), believes a vampire has moved in next door to him. His friends, who think he is having mental problems, convince him to enlist the aid of Peter Vincent, now the host of a local late-night horror show, Fright Night. Peter agrees—for a price—to help them convince Charlie that he is wrong. The moment when Vincent realizes Charlie is not wrong is one of my favorites in the movies.

There is a sequel, Fright Night II (1988), which also has much to recommend it. Charlie’s insistence to his college girlfriend about the greatness of Bram Stoker’s most famous book, and the results of that argument are priceless. In the sequel, as often seems to happen, the ick factor gets an upgrade.

So, as you light the jack o’ lantern, lock the doors securely, and microwave the popcorn (or perhaps use JiffyPop, as Drew Barrymore did in Scream—er, well, maybe not…), turn the lights down low, get settled in, and just remember:

It’s only a movie.

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