Ghosts, aliens, psychopaths, and a few touches of comedy—what to watch on Halloween. Boo.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Dir. James Whale (based on a novel by Mary Shelley) I have only been able to watch this film twice. What could be more terrifying than finding your creator has abandoned you? That every chance for friendship and companionship has been stripped away? That you are too grotesque to be loved? And, that the one creature made especially for you cannot stand the sight of you?
Invaders from Mars (1953) Dir. William Cameron Menzies The source of many childhood nightmares, this film taught me an important lesson: often the greatest dangers to our humanity and lives are hidden. Oh, yes, and DON’T WALK ON SAND.
The Bad Seed (1956) Dir. Mervyn LeRoy (based on a play by Maxwell Anderson and novel by Wlliam March) A devoted mother begins to suspect that her sweet, loving, angelic-looking daughter is a cold-blooded killer. How can pure evil exist in such an exquisite skin?
“Side Show” (1961) Dir. Seymour Robbie This was an episode in a short-lived TV series entitled, Way Out, hosted by Roald Dahl. Some of the episodes have been released on DVD, but, sadly, not this one about a man who becomes infatuated with a woman kept alive by electricity, “who was really very beautiful before she lost her head.” What can I say? Love can be dangerous….
10 Rillington Place (1971) Dir. Richard Fleischer This fact-based film about the British serial killer, John Christie, kept me up for days. Richard Attenborough is chillingly and deceptively meek as Christie, and John Hurt is sad and broken as Timothy Evans, the husband of one of Christie’s victims, who was falsely convicted and executed for his wife’s murder. This film was terrifying on many levels, because Christie was able to lure some of his victims to his lair by promising them cures for various illnesses, or safe abortions. How many of us, I wondered, if desperate enough, could become prey, too? How many of us, if heartbroken and depleted enough, would confess to a crime we didn’t commit?
The Stepford Wives (1975) Dir. Bryan Forbes (based on a novel by Ira Levin) Levin’s cautionary tale for feminists seems dated, but its fundamental awareness of the deep anger some men feel over a perceived loss of control, and their desire to get it back, remains relevant, and very scary.
The Vanishing (1988) Dir. by George Sluizer (based on a novella by Tim Krabbe) A young man and woman, very much in love, are on trip. She disappears, and years later he’s contacted by her abductor. The original version, in Dutch, violates both the young man’s and audience’s expectations with a truly horrific and unforgettable ending.
Topper (1937) Dir. Norman Z. McLeod Cary Grant Cary Grant Cary Grant…. Need I say more?
The Uninvited (1944) Dir. Lewis Allen A composer, a coastal house with a history, a beautiful girl, and “Stella by Starlight” Sigh…
The Time of Their Lives (1946) Dir. Charles Barton Atypical Abbott and Costello comedy: Lou Costello and Marjorie Reynolds are mistakenly branded as traitors during the Revolutionary War, and their spirits are bound to the estate where they were killed. Bud Abbott, a descendant of the man who cursed them, tries to help them. A perfect blend of laughs and chills.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz An impossible romance between a widow and the ghost of a sea captain, set to a score by the brilliant Bernard Herrmann
The Innocents (1961) Dir. Jack Clayton Still the best adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, with a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote.
The Haunting (1963) Dir. Robert Wise Adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Despite changes to the nature of Eleanor’s awakening sexuality, this film is very close in spirit to the book. The mirrors alone are terrifying.
The Shining (1980) Dir. Stanley Kubrick Adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. A visual treat—an isolated, haunted hotel in the dead of winter, blood pouring out of an elevator, Jack Nicholson going insane, and that hedge maze….
The Others (2001) Alejandro Amenábar Toward the end of World War II, a mother of two children waits in a mansion for her husband to return from battle and begins to sense the arrival of a spectral presence. Imaginative story, sensitively realized.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001) Guillermo del Toro Near the end of the Spanish Civil War, a ghost appears to a boy in a orphanage and makes a dire prediction. Frightening and sad.