Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Hallowe'en!

The Munsters' favourite holiday has come round again.
Here to help you celebrate are five recommended movies, in increasing order of scariness, to add the finishing touch to the day.

1. I Married A Witch (1942)
Rene Clair, French master behind Le Million, came to America in the forties and by some oversight was actually given worthwhile things to do. This could be the most delightful Hollywood comedy of the forties, with Veronica Lake in the role she was born to play: a Salem witch putting the hex on aspiring politician Fredric March. First class whimsy, with Lake at her most iconic and front-rank support from Cecil Kellaway, Susan Hayward and the great Robert Benchley.

............. Veronica Lake: What Hallowe'en was invented for

2. House of Frankenstein (1944)
A convenient quick fix of Universal monsters: in the space of one hour and eleven minutes mad scientist Boris Karloff and hunchback assistant J. Carrol Naish break out of a lunatic asylum, strangle George Zucco and steal his travelling Chamber of Horrors show, revive Dracula (John Carradine) and set him loose on a killing spree, discover the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange in the first of his Karloff-equalling three turns in the role) frozen in blocks of ice, thaw them out and set them loose on killing sprees. At the end Naish gets thrown out of a window and Karloff is sucked down in a bog. But I'm telling you the plot. Plus a surprise appearance by Sig Rumann, blustering foil to the Marx Brothers who enjoys the peculiar distinction of playing a senior medical expert called in to expose a patient with fake symptoms in no fewer than four totally separate and unconnected movies.

3. Night of the Demon (1957)
Genuinely spooky British horror film, made seconds before the Hammer revolution by the director of several of the best Val Lewton films. A most persuasively eerie atmosphere, a fine, literate script and Niall MacGinnis beating even Charles Gray to the title of cinema's best ever Satanist as Julian Karswell, leader of an English devil cult and expert on dancing witches ("They do dance; I've seen them!")

Paulette Goddard done up like a cat in a publicity photo with an at best tangential relationship to the films being discussed. I anticipate no complaints.

4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
The most enjoyable sequel to an acclaimed original which, nonetheless, only really works once. This, the first after a long lay-off and the odd diversion that was Halloween III: Season of the Witch plays far better, though saying that is the kind of heresy that can get you burned at the stake. Good ranting from Donald Pleasence and one of cinema's most convincing ever child performances from Danielle Harris, who later turned up fully grown in Urban Legend and that fucking awful Halloween remake.

5. Suspiria (1977)
Argento at his most hallucinatory: as always, great so long as you know what you're getting. A German ballet school staffed by witches is the excuse for hysterical violence on insanely saturated Technicolor stock, dream logic and just about passable dialogue and plotting. This has one of his better casts, including Jessica Harper from Stardust Memories as the Little Red Riding Hood heroine and Joan Bennett and Alida Valli, no less, as the witches, but it is the visuals and pounding score by Italian prog-rockers Goblin that are the heart of the show. Ideal for traumatising any young trick-or-treaters who come to your door in the mistaken belief that we live in America.