Horror Films are unsettling films designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears

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The Mummy Films:

Notable films with living (or walking) dead, "zombie" plots included Universal's and first-time director Karl Freund's classic The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff in the title role as the 3,700 year-old bandaged corpse of Im-ho-tep - it was Karloff's second Monster role success. Trading on Karloff's success in both The Mummy and Frankenstein, the British film The Ghoul (1933) starred Karloff as an Egyptologist who sought eternal life by being buried with a rare jewel. Dracula-great Bela Lugosi performed in White Zombie (1932), the first of the true zombie films. [Val Lewton's B-masterpiece production I Walked With a Zombie (1943) involved more zombies (see below).] Universal's sequel to their original Mummy film was The Mummy's Hand (1940) with Tom Tyler as the reborn mummy. Lon Chaney Jr. starred in the title role in numerous 1940s Mummy sequels from Universal:

  • The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

  • The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

  • The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Hammer Studios updated the Mummy films with its own entry The Mummy (1959) with Peter Cushing as the archaeologist who opens up a tomb, and Christopher Lee as the awakened ancient Egyptian.

Dracula Sequels at Mid-Century:

Dracula films and sequels, although more common, were less successful than many of the superb Frankenstein sequels. To capitalize on its earlier successes, Universal Studios (and other studios) churned out more Dracula sagas in the 30s and 40s, including Tod Browning's and MGM's Mark of the Vampire (1935) with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora and Carol Borland as his ghoulish-looking daughter Luna, and the first sequel (to the original Dracula) with hints of lesbianism - Dracula's Daughter (1936), starring Gloria Holden as Countess Marya Zaleska who arrived in London to claim her father's body and developed a taste for blood - mostly from female victims. In Robert Siodmak's Son of Dracula (1943) set in the American South, Lon Chaney, Jr. starred in the title role as the vampire. Increasingly regarded as a campy horror character, Bela Lugosi appeared in a financially-successful horror-comedy parody, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) as Dracula, and then after struggling with drug addiction, stooped to work with cult director Ed Wood on Glen or Glenda? (1953) and Bride of the Monster (1955).

Frankenstein Sequels and Other Horror-Star Hybrids at Mid-Century:

The witty Frankenstein sequel directed by James Whale titled Bride of Frankenstein (1935) outdid the original - it was a marvelous mixture of campy (and sophisticated) black humor, classic terror, and unforgettable images - including Elsa Lanchester (actor Charles Laughton's wife) in two roles: as the spectacular bride with a Nefertiti hairdo, and as Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. The best played-role was by Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, with its most memorable scene being the first sighting of the Monster by the Bride - with her accompanying shriek of terror.

Together, Lugosi and Karloff starred in three films together, the best being their first film - Edgar Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934) (based on an Edgar Allen Poe story). The two actors represented characters with antagonistic bad blood between them: Lugosi as ex-war prisoner Dr. Vitus Werdegast, and Karloff as a Satanic architect named Poelzig. Karloff and Lugosi followed their success by being paired in The Raven (1935).

Karloff's last film as Frankenstein's Monster (co-starring Bela Lugosi as Ygor and Basil Rathbone as Baron von Frankenstein) was in the third film of the series - Son of Frankenstein (1939). It was one of the best sequels before many inferior creations in the 1940s and 50s, such as The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the Monster, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) - the fifth film in the Frankenstein series. Additional campy entries included I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and I Was a Teen-age Werewolf (1957), one of the best 'teenage' monster films, with future star Michael Landon as the juvenile delinquent monster. (See more below).

Britain's Hammer Studios: The Dracula Cycle

The UK's Hammer Studios, as they did with Frankenstein (see below) and Mummy sequels in the 50s, reinvigorated the Bram Stoker Dracula novel in a collection of low-budget films by employing garish, sensual colors and bloody reds - and more overt, suggestive sexuality. The British production company remained faithful to the genre's material (the classics from Universal Studios) in tightly-produced, spectacular Technicolor sequels featuring a seductive, alluring and virile vampire. Talented director Terence Fisher (with Christopher Lee in one of his best appearances as the reclusive Count Dracula and Peter Cushing in a cat-and-mouse game as arch nemesis vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing) created the classic Horror of Dracula (1958) - the first of the Hammer horror films about Dracula. Following its success, Hammer Studios produced more Dracula films with the same characters:

  • Brides of Dracula (1960) (w/o Lee, but with David Peel as a blond vampire and Cushing returning as Van Helsing)

  • Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966), the sequel to the original Hammer film, with Christopher Lee reprising his role as the caped vampire and Andrew Keir as the vampire hunter

  • Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Christopher Lee's third film in the Hammer series as the blood-sucking vampire, directed by Freddie Francis

The next few films in Hammer's Dracula series with Lee were:

  • Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), d. Peter Sasdy, w/o Peter Cushing

  • Scars of Dracula (1970), d. Roy Ward Baker, noted for Lee's "climbing up the wall" sequence; the sixth film in the series, w/o Cushing

  • Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), d. Alan Gibson, a modern-day retelling of the story, with Lee and Cushing

  • The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), d. Alan Gibson, with Lee and Cushing

  • The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula (1973) (aka Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), d. Roy Ward Baker, with Cushing but w/o Christopher Lee; the last Dracula film for Hammer

These films were often viewed at America's drive-in theatres in the 70s. Adult-oriented vampire films from Hammer, designed to spice up the original horror concept with lesbian themes, sex, and nudity, included the screen version of Sheridan Le Fanu's Camilla titled The Vampire Lovers (1970) (a remake of director Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (1961)) - it starred Ingrid Pitt as a sexy, erotic and lesbian vampire. The film's erotic sequel, about a girls school harboring undead female vampires, was titled Lust for a Vampire (1971). In the 80s, the most talked-about vampire film was director Tony Scott's artsy The Hunger (1983) - the modern, visually-striking, "new-wave" sci-fi/horror film starred seductive Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in soft-focus lesbian encounters.

Britain's Hammer Studios: The Frankenstein Cycle

Hammer Studios in England had its first horror hit with the Frankenstein creature in director Terence Fisher's gory The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), with actor Peter Cushing in the starring role as the insane Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Christopher Lee in his first appearance as the monster. It was the first of many installments of Frankenstein sequels from the studio. The remaining films of the Hammer Frankenstein series were:

  • The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) - the sequel, and the best Hammer Frankenstein film, d. Terence Fisher; with Cushing as Dr. Victor 'Stein'

  • The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) - the third in the series, d. Freddie Francis; with Cushing as Baron Frankenstein and Kiwi Kingston as The Creature

  • Frankenstein Created Woman (1966) (aka Frankenstein Made Woman) - d. Terence Fisher; with Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, and former Playboy playmate/centerfold Susan Denberg as Christine Kieve - the reanimated woman

  • Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) - d. Terence Fisher; with Cushing (in his fifth appearance in the series) as Baron Frankenstein

  • The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) - d. Jimmy Sangster; with Ralph Bates as Victor Frankenstein

  • Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) - Terence Fisher's last directorial effort; with Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, and David Prowse (later famous for portraying Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977)) as the Monster

Hammer Studios went out of business in the mid-1970s, after a spate of soft-core, exploitative, sexually-oriented horror films, such as Countess Dracula (1970), The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971). (see above)

RKO Producer Val Lewton:

Russian-born Val Lewton, using a more subtle, suggestive, eerie approach in a number of atmospheric, sophisticated horror/suspense films, produced eleven low-budget films for RKO Studios in the 1940s, directed first by Jacques Tourneur, and then by Mark Robson and Robert Wise. Lewton's first psychological horror film, directed by Tourneur in his feature-film debut, was the suspenseful horror classic The Cat People (1942) - possibly the first horror film to never show its monster. [A secondary reason for keeping the horror undefined was due to the lack of budget for special effects.] Its heroine Irena (Simone Simon), suffering from an ancient Balkan curse, threatens to turn into a panther if her passionate sexual feelings are aroused. Through 1948, Tourneur also contributed the definitive voodoo/zombie film I Walked With a Zombie (1943) about re-awakened dead bodies in Haiti, and the mystery/horror film The Leopard Man (1943). Years later, Tourneur returned only once to the horror genre with his fourth true horror film Curse of the Demon (1957) (aka Night of the Demon), a film which demonstrated Lewton's influence. [Tourneur was most famous for the film noir classic, Out of the Past (1947).]

Under Lewton's production, Mark Robson directed the pre-Rosemary's Baby, noirish classic film of Satanic worship called The Seventh Victim (1943), Isle of the Dead (1945) with Karloff in a starring role, and Bedlam (1945). The most influential of Lewton's directors was Robert Wise, who created such classics as The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945) with Boris Karloff as a sinister, wily grave-robbing cabman. Later in his career, Wise also directed the superior ghost story The Haunting (1963) based on Shirley Jackson's classic novel The Haunting of Hill House - it remains one of the greatest of all haunted house films. [A film with a similar haunted house theme was The Legend of Hell House (1973), with Roddy McDowall and Pamela Franklin.] Three other horror/ghost stories were the British film anthology of five interwoven horror tales titled Dead of Night (1945) with a memorable ventriloquist dummy; one of the best love/ghost-supernatural films ever made The Uninvited (1944), with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey in an old house on the English coast; and director Jack Clayton's classic The Innocents (1961), adapted from Henry James' novel The Turn of the Screw, with Deborah Kerr as an English governess for an orphaned boy and girl in a creepy countryside estate.

The Cycle of 50s Horror Films:

Many of the films in the horror genre from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s were B-grade movies, inferior sequels, or atrocious low-budget gimmick films. In the atomic age of the 1950s, much was made of the modern effects of radioactivity exposure, toxic chemical spills, or other scientific accidents - such as the development of giant mutant monsters or carnivorous insects, including Gojira (1954, Japan, aka Godzilla). During that time, most of the monster horror films were cheaply made, drive-in, teenage-oriented, grade-Z films, such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957).

A few American-made monster/horror films of the time, however, effectively capitalized on terrorizing threats that included extraterrestrial powers or space invaders, such as the alien found in the Arctic in The Thing (From Another World) (1951), the unusual Gil-man monster in The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), mutant ants in the New Mexico desert in Them! (1954), or the aberrant or alien threat in Don Siegel's classic tale of Cold War paranoia - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The latter film, a tale cautioning against conformity, was a classic tale of zombie-like clones taking over the bodies of the residents of a small California town. [A remake by Philip Kaufman, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), set in San Francisco, featured a cameo appearance by the first film's star Kevin McCarthy.]

Director Jack Arnold's allegorical The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), from a screenplay by author Richard Matheson, showed the deadly mutations and after-effects of exposure to radioactivity - even a cat or a spider could become a frightening monster to a shrunken human. To counter the popularity of TV, film studios experimented with 3-D in films such as House of Wax (1953) (the hit film that launched the career of Vincent Price as "the King of Horror" in the role of sculptor Professor Henry Jarrod who vengefully turned the corpses of his enemies into wax figures), and The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954).

Two other late 50s films with sci-fi/horror features included: The Blob (1958) and the original The Fly (1958) (with Vincent Price as the brother of a scientist who accidentally was turned into a part house-fly). The latter film spawned many sequels in later generations (its two sequels: Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965); and another remake The Fly (1986) with its own sequel The Fly 2 (1989)). Charles Laughton's only directorial effort was for The Night of the Hunter (1955) about a homicidal yet charismatic preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) with 'love' and 'hate' tattooed on his hands.

Roger Corman's Films:

Producer/director Roger Corman, known for his low-budget, 'exploitation' films, helped to keep the horror genre alive when the larger Hollywood studios turned away. He created the low-budget, horror lampoon Bucket of Blood (1959), a pre-Little Shop of Horrors. In the next year, his quickly-made cheapie cult film The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) about a meat-eating house-plant named Audrey inspired an off-Broadway stage musical with the same title and another film in 1986 directed by Frank Oz.

Other more expensive, lavishly-Techni-colored Corman films followed from American International Pictures (AIP), including eight Gothic Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror tales (mostly starring a villainous Vincent Price) such as:

  • The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

  • The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

  • The Premature Burial (1962) - Corman's only Poe film without Price

  • Tales of Terror (1962) - a trio of short stories

  • the superb The Raven (1963) (with the first screen teaming of Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and Peter Lorre - and Jack Nicholson)

  • The Haunted Palace (1963)

  • the low-budget The Masque of the Red Death (1964) (re-made in 1989 with Corman as producer); one of the best in the series

  • The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

Horror Films in the 60s:

Horror films branched out in all different directions in the 1960s and after, especially as the Production Code disappeared and film censorship was on the decline. Directors began to frankly portray horror in ordinary circumstances and seemingly-innocent settings. While Roger Corman was producing and directing his cheaply and quickly-made horror films in the early 60s, Hammer Studios in England was making Dracula and Frankenstein sequels (see above). Hammer rounded out their horror sequels with director Terence Fisher's The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961).

A controversial English film by Michael Powell titled Peeping Tom (1960) was met with outrage for its chilling story of a murderous psychopathic photographer. In Harold (Herk) Harvey's cultish, low-budget, expressionistic, dream-like zombie film Carnival of Souls (1962), a young girl suffers ghoulish and nightmarish experiences in a bizarre land of specters after a near-fatal car accident. More suspenseful, atmospheric horror was displayed in the British film Burn Witch, Burn! (1962) (aka Night of the Eagle), written by horror screenwriters Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont - an exploration of modern witchcraft.

Director Robert Aldrich's modern gothic thriller starred two aging Hollywood actresses (Bette Davis with her tenth Oscar nomination and Joan Crawford) as sisters in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Aldrich and Bette Davis were re-teamed together in the Southern Gothic horror tale Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1965). Producer Roger Corman promoted young filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's early film - a low-budget thriller about an axe-murderer titled Dementia 13 (1963).

The first Amicus portmanteau film and one of the best British horror films of the 60s was Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1964) - an entertaining, five-story anthology with Peter Cushing as Dr. Schreck (meaning horror in German), a mysterious doctor who tells fortunes for five passengers on a train in a series of vignettes, and horror genre components including a severed hand, a vampire, a man-eating plant, a voodoo curse, and a werewolf.
Hitchcock's 60s Masterpieces:

Another suspense/thriller director Alfred Hitchcock, whose early silent film The Lodger (1926) explored horror's themes, brought out his most horrific film over 30 years later at the start of the decade. His film changed the face of all horror films ever since. Pure archetypal horror was now to be found in the dark shadows of the human soul itself - in a psychopathic Bates Motel operator and taxidermist (Anthony Perkins). The low-budget, television-influenced, B&W Psycho (1960) featured a classic shower scene in which the heroine (Janet Leigh) was savagely murdered, with Bernard Herrmann's violin-tinged memorable score. The scene still invokes sheer terror, and the film itself would come to influence all subsequent Hollywood horror films - especially the 'slasher' horror film subgenre.

Hitchcock's next horror masterpiece was Universal Studios' apocalyptic The Birds (1963) about the invasion of coastal town Bodega Bay by avian flocks. A spoiled heiress (Tippi Hedren), her potential boyfriend (Rod Taylor), his mother (Jessica Tandy), and a schoolteacher (Suzanne Pleshette) all suffered from the many bird attacks. The theme of Man vs. Nature running amok remained unresolved by the film's end.

Roman Polanski's Horror Films in the 60s:

Polish director Roman Polanski's first film in English, the potent and scary British production titled Repulsion (1965), depicted a young, sexually-disturbed beautician's (Catherine Deneuve) unstable descent into hallucinatory madness in a London apartment. After his public acceptance for the film, Polanski directed the offbeat ghoulish comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers (1966) starring his wife Sharon Tate (a victim of the gruesome Manson 'family' murders).

Polanski's greatest commercial hit was his adaptation of Ira Levin's best-selling book Rosemary's Baby (1968) that dared to show the struggle of a young pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) against witches and the forces of the devil (found among friendly senior citizens on Manhattan's Upper West Side, led by Oscar-winner Ruth Gordon), culminating in the young woman's delivery and mothering of the devil's child.

George Romero's Horror Contributions: A Quartet of Zombie Films

George Romero, now known as the Master of the 'zombie film,' debuted as director with the low-budget, black-and-white, intensely-claustrophobic, unrelenting B&W cult classic Night of the Living Dead (1968), a milestone film about newly dead, stumbling corpses/zombies that returned to life with ravenous hunger for human flesh. The amateurish, allegorical film made in just one month showed rotten human beings walking with outstretched arms and threatening a few trapped survivors who sought refuge in a Pennsylvania farm-shack. By film's end, the townsfolk discovered that zombies could be killed by shooting them in the head - although they mistakenly shoot Ben (Duane Jones) after his desperate fight for survival.

Romero's most notable horror films -- his calling card -- included his Dead trilogy (now a quartet) -- about flesh-eating zombies who walked slowly and stiffly (due to the effects of rigor mortis), in a 'cult of the dead':

  • Night of the Living Dead (1968) - this naturalistic, documentary-style film inaugurated an entire horror subgenre (zombie films with flesh-stalking cannibals), shot in stark and grainy black and white

  • Dawn of the Dead (1978) - with survivors who sought refuge in a shopping mall, with a further perverse critique of the mall culture and its mentality

  • Day of the Dead (1985) - about scientists and military officers who performed experiments on zombies in a bunker, until they revolted

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