I tend to get excited in October, so beware.
Coming up soon is the Ocean Beach Octoberfest where I get to play M.C. on the main stage once again. Besides announcing the live bands, I look forward to singing my special songs of love and longing during the contests, while lovely ladies blow up long balloons, hold up spilling steins, and gobble up hot, slimy sausages with (but without) relish. It all takes place down by the pier on October 10th and 11th — it’s the O.B. Oktoberfest’s 10th anniversary this year, and it may well be the wildest party this town’s ever seen. Get in line now.
But always and always, October is the home of the spirit of Halloween. When the Hose was but a wee spout, the afternoon of the month’s first day would find him in the second isle of Rasco’s Five and Dime in the Clairemont Quad (now Village), immersing himself in that year’s shipment of Halloween accessories. The varieties of orange and black dazzled his little eyes, the smell of latex rubber radiating from the great selection of grotesque masks was intoxicating, and the cellophane wrappings were windows into fantastic, precious new dimensions.
So, once again it’s Monster Month, and I’ve been asked by some lovely people for suggestions of really great terror flicks to play at their home parties or just to get further in the mood for this creepy national pastime. I’m delighted to share my own recommendations with you sweet people (especially the chicks) but bear in mind I have avoided splatter/torture-porn films that assume the viewer is a sadist just like the filmmakers themselves, and wherein throbbing, bleeding meat is a substitute for artfully created senses of dread and fear and horror. And be warned also that not a single one of these titles contains a scene of a person or persons running toward the camera in slow motion while there’s a gigantic explosion right behind them; i.e., this ain’t standard American fare, it’s the cream of the creepy crop. Alphabetically, they are:
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) This is what Halloween’s all about, boys and girls — a perfect blend of laughs and creeps. Bela Lugosi is Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. is the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange plays the Frankenstein Monster for the third time, never having looked better than he does here. The island castle is a stylish delight and the final 10 minutes are as perfectly thrilling as movies can get.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) Available only as part of the “Hammer Franchise” set (one of the best bargains in the history of DVD), I’ll call this the Greatest Monster Movie Ever Made. Dracula himself isn’t even in it; instead we get the thoroughly charming and depraved Baron Meinster (David Peel), his unnerving mother (Martita Hunt), a beautiful endangered heroine (Yvonne Monlaur), and the brave, dedicated, resourceful Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, in a performance that got him briefly considered for the role of Christ in King of Kings). This is a beautifully constructed adult fairy tale and the color photography is amazing (even in black and white it kicks ass!)
DRACULA (1931) The slowness, the stateliness somehow make it seem more real, to me. To those who deride Bela Lugosi’s performance as stagey or exaggerated, I reply incredulously, “But you don’t understand! This is a 500-year-old walking dead man!” Just pretend like you’ve never seen a vampire movie before — like the audiences for this film when it was first released.
FRANKENSTEIN (1931) What a year that was. The original revelation of Jack Pierce’s make-up masterpiece. Boris Karloff makes you believe he was actually constructed from sewn-together parts of dead bodies, in one of the greatest acting jobs in the history of film. Moves like an excited snake; eerie as Hell.
HOMICIDAL (1961) A ripoff of Psycho that even Time magazine said surpasses it. Nowadays it’s akin to blasphemy to make such a statement, but make it I will because it’s the truth. “What?! William Castle a better director than Alfred Hitchcock?!” Yep, he is here. The shocks are powder kegs strong enough to cause nightmares. Sure, it has its slow spots, but the thrills more than compensate. Subsequent viewings after you’ve had the mysteries solved and the scary stuff exposed are still strangely shuddery.
JACK THE RIPPER (1960) Available from Sinister Cinema in a beautiful print. For the American release of this made-in-England classic, distributor Joseph E. Levine obliterated Stanley Black’s serviceable music score and commissioned a new, jazzier soundtrack by the guys whose compositions included the theme to Leave It to Beaver. It was a good gamble and the new score was (and remains) an improvement. This is a scary film with a superb Jimmy Sangster script, fine period atmosphere, and excellent acting by a well-rehearsed cast. There’s a French-dubbed version on YouTube with the actor who plays Jack doing his own dubbing and two scenes with alternate, “European” takes that feature topless babes in action. Hubba hubba. Bear in mind that the American release version is creepy fun for the entire family.
STRAIT-JACKET (1964) William Castle is back and in top form again, aided by a great script by Robert (Psycho) Bloch and splendid acting by Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, and George Kennedy. An incredible amount of tension is at play here wrapped around some of the nastiest shocks ever put on film. Call it camp, call it sick… I call this tale of axe murders and familial ties Creepy as They Come.
I may play this whole batch at home as my own marathon. Then again I may just feel like putting on It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, because I will have overfeasted on terror by reading the morning paper or watching the evening news. This 25-minute masterpiece from 1965 isn’t scary at all but virtually bleeds the Halloween spirit. For some reason I actually cry each time Lucy picks up a sleeping Linus outside and carries him in to bed. And the greatest dance of all time is done here, in the party scene, by Pigpen.
However and wherever you seek your own thrills this month, may they be numerous enough to take you through to next October, and safe enough to ensure you get there in one piece. For now, boo and bye-bye.