More than any holiday Halloween lends itself to marathon movie watching sessions. It's not just the close association of horror films with the holiday, though that certainly helps. It's placement in the calendar year helps as well. The weather has cooled off, and as the 31st approaches there's a real frost in the air without it being annoying. Night falls earlier, leaving you less time out doors. Both these things leave one more prone to crashing on the couch, under a blanket with their feet up and a movie on.
This time of year casual fan starts to look for horror fare that they can fill load up on the DVR or Netflix queue. Even for the most shallow of genre fans, by the time Wrong Turn 4 makes its third appearance in a 24 hour cycle, viewers will be desperate for something new. It's also nice to have a theme if you're putting together a double or triple bill. As most horror fans would agree, there's no shortage of subgenres to choose from. Whether one's in the mood for simple slasher, a giant monster rampaging through the city, or a classic ghost story, thousands of titles exist that will scratch that itch.
With that in mind, throughout we'll put together some double (or even triple if we're really feeling like putting an ass print on the sofa) features within horror. What I'm hoping to do is put together some titles that might not be the first ones we reach for as horror fans, but whose importance and influence within the genre help broaden one's appreciation for horror as a whole. For starters, let's look at a pair of classic black & white tales that mine “Haunted/Cursed House” territory.
The Old Dark House Five weary travelers escape a pulverizing storm only to meet the bizarre hospitality of the eccentric Fenn household. Led by the nerve-addled Horace Fenn, his deaf, pious sister Rebecca and their mute, drunken butler Morgan (Karloff channeling The Monster in human form), the house holds secrets that will become uncovered by the night. James Whale helmed this film in between his two Frankenstein masterpieces and the camp humor injected into Bride first makes an appearance here. Ernest Thesiger's delivery of the line “Have a potato” stops a dinner conversation in its tracks in hilarious fashion and gave a glimpse at how he would play the outlandish, effeminate Dr. Pretorious in Bride.
Brember Wills third act appearance as the crazed, pyromanic Saul Femm prevents The Old Dark House from devolving into total camp. As the psychotic, locked up elder brother he adds a sense of danger and uncertainty even with his brief screen time. Also, as far as establishing setting and mood, few films from this period do a better job. A driving thunderstorm rages for all but the final few moments with gusts of wind driving windows open and sheets of rain hailing down and soaking the players. It's the perfect set up for a creeper.
Where can you see it? A restored print of the film was released on DVD but if you're in a rush to watch it, there's a decent rip of the film on Youtube which you can view here. The picture is a little soft, but there's not too many compression artifacts even when streamed to a larger panel.
The Haunting A half century after its release many still hail this black and white creeper as the greatest haunted house story of all time. Not to be confused with the abominable late 90's remake (and really, if anyone can't distinguish between the two, it may be time to pull an Old Yeller on that person as an act of mercy), Robert Wise's adaptation of Shirley Hill's The Haunting of Hill House demonstrates how the greatest horrors exist within our own imagination. A team of paranormal investigators set about to determine the authenticity of malevolent spirits in a home long rumored to be haunted. The house has a history of violence and murder and many believe evil spirits still roam the halls. The wonderful use of sound and shadow still create tense moments that still raise the small hairs on your forearm. Simple efects such as a doorknob turning on its own, or heavy footsteps echoing through the cavernous halls still resonate for those that appreciate the way a film can subtly prey on one's nerves.
The Haunting is available on DVD and if you're an Amazon Prime member you can stream it for free to your computer or compatible device. A good sound system or at the very least decent headphones a re a must have accessory for maximum effect.