Not solely an article about music in horror movies although I do mention it from time to time, but a look at early films that maybe led us to where we are now in the horror genre on screen. From silent flickering images that are now considered iconic pieces of cinema to modern day classics with some demons, vampires, werewolves, and devil worship in between. Welcome to the ever evolving, blood-spattered and sometimes cerebral world of.
THE HORROR MOVIE.
So, I do not profess to be an expert, or indeed to know anymore than anyone else about horror films old and new, but here is my take, or nonsensical ramblings and muddled views of the genre. From early days to contemporary examples.
The horror film, picture, movie, motion picture or flick has always been attractive to audiences, in England we were lucky to have Hammer Films, Tigon, Tyburn, and Amicus to name a handful of studios that specialised in the macabre and the scary and from America there were the productions from AIP who also fed our appetite for any number of unspeakable monsters, creatures, spirits, and phantoms. Plus, the classic black and white images of the Universal horrors were always present or so it seemed and were an inspiration for most of what was produced from the 1950’s onwards within the genre.
All, of the studios mentioned and the images that they created are by contemporary standards tame and rather more watchable for entertainment values than things such as one of the latest offerings Fear Street which is a blood-soaked gore filled series that is now enjoying success on Netflix a series which I thought was maybe just a bit too much because of the axe wielding, limb dismembering, body hacking scenes that it displays. But let us forget about the slashing, the copious amounts of bodies being hacked to pieces and the endless madness of the modern horror and go back a little way and to countries other than America and England.
But before we do lets refer to the manual of Some of the do’s and don’ts of if you ever find yourself in a haunted house, dark and dank cellar, Deserted Path, or a shady and desolate wood. Right if the sign says do not go in Don’t! just walk away go home get in the car and head for the hills, (as long as they have not got eyes then you will be fine). If you walk up to the door of an abode and it opens on its own, what do you do? Repeat after me “Walk away “ from the place, no, no, don’t go in, oh dear you’re in now, the door creaks and shuts behind you, what do you do?
Go upstairs where you can hear a funny noise? No wrong answer guys you at least try and go back out the door, or maybe through a window even if its closed, ok you are now on the stairs, you hear children’s laughter from down the long dark corridor, again No guys where are you going? OOH look a ladder leading into an even darker attic, and those kids are really having fun listen to them laughing now come on people, surely this is a sign that you should really be leaving.
But nope, you just carry on getting deeper into the house and further away from the front door. You climb halfway up the ladder and hear a moaning from the darkest area of the attic, Run, no, no, our intrepid and incredibly stupid intruder goes up the ladder into the attic. (this will not end well but hey its fine). Oh gosh look a torch turn it on but don’t shine it in your own face ok too late, (that made the audience jump). The moaning gets louder so go back down the ladder and shut the loft hatch now please… No, ok you just carry on. What,s that in the corner, what are you doing? Stay back,,, no oh well don’t say I didn’t warn you. Camera then pans down the ladder and back along corridor and a piercing scream is heard from the attic. Told ya, did you listen well obviously not. I know I am poking fun here, but you know in horror movies the people are pretty stupid don’t you think, it’s like when a vampire hunter goes armed to the teeth (forgive pun) to kill an evil blood sucking vampire, when do they go yep at night Duh…….What they should do is go early morning that way you can get to the vampire stake the sucker (Sorry), and be home in time for Homes under the Hammer (other film studios are available). So, if the people in horror movies were not so stupid, I suppose the genre would be incredibly boring and predictable, but it’s a bit of fun, as in fun that we like to be scared by, even if we do know what’s coming next.
The horror film is not the exclusive property of the UK and the United States studios that I already mentioned, there are so many other entries into this genre produced by other countries. We know that Italy had a thriving horror film industry thanks to the likes of Mario Bava etc.
But in France horror movies began life early as in the films produced by filmmaker George Melies, silent movies such as The Haunted Castle from 1896 and The Astronomers Dream from 1898. I think more than any country France produced horror movies in the early days of cinema, and although many have been successful it has always been said by French filmmakers that the Horror film is near impossible to fund and of course because of the funding issue in recent years French directors and producers have been reluctant to become involved with the genre for fear of losing any investment that they may put into a production.
However, France have produced some memorable and scary films, Le Viol du Vampire from 1968 for example, which was an erotic Vampire movie directed by Jean Rollin. The actual story does not make a lot of sense, and maybe because it is subtitled that made it even more difficult for non-French audiences, it was however Rollin’s directorial debut, and he would go on to create many more Vampire themed films.
Films such as those directed by Rollin would be shown in small independent cinemas in the UK and often would be seen as exclusive picture houses that often were open to only members and it was not until probably the 1980’s that certain movies began to be screened in more mainstream cinemas as part of a series or festival.
In 1928 La chute de la Maison Usher, or The Fall of the House of Usher was released, and it must be said that this is quite unique because it is a rare case of French filmmakers utilising material that was based upon American culture. It was it seems filmed as a homage to Edgar Allan Poe. Based upon the short story that is still considered his best work, with the central character Roderick Usher burying his wife in the family tomb only to discover that he has buried her alive and because of a family curse that he was unaware of she returns to terrorise him.
The script or adaptation of the story for the movie was initially written by Spanish born Luis Bunuel, but he had artistic differences with the director of the movie, and it is still unclear. The following year Bunuel teamed up with Salvador Dali and they produced Un Chien Andalou or An Andalusian Dog. Although made by two Spanish artists, the story was filmed in La Havre and Paris and is considered a masterpiece of surreal cinema. It is a silent movie, but is an accomplished one and still manages to draw much attention even today, the opening scene for example shows a cutthroat razor slicing into an eyeball, why?
Well, I do not actually know, but it is a shocking opener that certainly fixes the audience’s gaze. Le Golem, was released in 1936, and was a re-make of the original German film Der Golem that was produced in 1920.
Both movies being the re-telling of a Jewish folk tale about a monster made of stone who sleeps during peaceful times but can be awakened by carving the Hebrew word meaning Truth on his forehead whenever the Jewish community is threatened.
Let us also not forget Carnival of Sinners or The Hand of The Devil which was a 1943 chiller, and Les Diaboliques from 1955 that was said to be the basis of Hitchcock’s famous Psycho. And the Georges Franju directed Les Yeux Sans Visage or Eyes without a Face from 1960.
French cinema had its own agenda when producing horror movies and also its own innovative and at times grotesque and shocking way of purveying the horror to audiences, producing horror movies may not have been something that was considered worthwhile in France, but they certainly set the levels in inventive storylines and stunning cinematography in many films that were produced there. With these early examples being just the tip of the iceberg as it were and even this handful influencing many productions that would follow.
From France to Italy, I have already mentioned Mario Bava, as being a driving force behind the genre in Italy. as both director and cinematographer and also often uncredited.
There was a certain style to Italian horrors, especially those filmed in black and white, they seemed to be more eerie in monochrome, and the directors and producers were never scared to push boundaries and introduce greater heights of violence and the mysterious into their movies.
One of the earliest silent horror movies to be produced in Italy was Cuore Di Mamma which was released in 1909, directed by Luigi Maggi it is a short but effective Horror/fantasy.
Maggi also made The Witches Ballad and The Devil on Two Sticks a year later which were both shorts, in 1912 however the director made a full feature entitled Satan, which was a four-chapter film including Satan vs the Creator, Satan vs the Saviour, The Green Demon/Satan during the Dark Ages and The Red Demon/Satan in modern times. He also directed The Maniac in the same year, which had an engrossing and tense storyline, which focuses upon a madman who escapes from an asylum taking his chess board and pieces with him, the escapee boards a train and finds a compartment where just passenger is sitting. He engages in conversation with the man in the compartment and soon they begin to play chess, the events take a sinister turn when the madman suggests that they should play for each other’s lives. It’s an interesting plot and a well-made movie that holds one’s attention throughout.
The director was also responsible for The Mask (Masque) of the Red Death in 1911. Set in the City of Naples, which is caught in the grips of a devastating plague with its population living in fear of the disease. The King leaves the city and its rising death toll for a castle some distance from Naples. It is here behind locked doors that the monarch and members of his court basically mock death, but death is not something that you can make fun of and it soon becomes apparent that Death with its shadowy appearance and carrying a long scythe is stalking the castle in search of victims and inflicting the plague upon all except a poor woman and her two little children, whose pleadings moved the King to take them along, and who, alone, prayed to be spared.
The style employed in many silent Italian productions often crossed over into horror films that came out of Cinecitta in the 1960.s and after. Slaughter of the Vampires (1962) is a good example, the low budget affair is still looked upon by many as one of Italy’s most notable horror films from the 1960’s. Directed by Roberto Mauri when released outside of Italy it was heavily edited and in the USA was entitled Curse of the Blood Ghouls. One of the films striking attributes was its score, which was written by composer Aldo Piga and was recently made available on a long-playing record. Piga is an underrated composer and in the same year scored Lette Di Sabbia which was totally different in its style, the composer employing a jazz big band sound as opposed to the dramatic and romantically laced sound he created for Slaughter of the Vampires which included a piano solo. From Italy to England and films before Hammer and their like. I suppose the most notorious horror at the time of its release would have been Dead of Night in 1945.
But let’s go back just little further shall we to 1901 and The Haunted Curiosity Shop, where the elderly proprietor is shocked and unsettled by the discovery of a skull. He is taken aback by his discovery and moves away from it but as he does the door to an old wardrobe flies open, and a hand begins to prod him and poke him with a sword. He turns to see who his attacker could be but as soon as he does the hand disappears at the same instant the skull flies to the other end of the room. He tries to grab the skull, but it then turns into the half form of a girl from the waist up, suspended in mid-air. As he is fixated by the image the other half of the girl, fully dressed from her waist down, walks across the room, and the two halves of the figure join, making the girl complete. In an amorous fashion the old man folds his arms around the girl’s waist with the intention of stealing a kiss, but the girl immediately changes into an old woman, who grins in evident delight at the old man’s disappointment. This angers the shop owner, and he throws her into the wardrobe and locks the door. Unseen by him, the woman has again become a girl. Through the doors, which are solid and closed, the form of the girl appears through the woodwork. Opening the door, the old man is then confronted by an Egyptian mummy.
Other weird and wonderful things occur but really this is tame compared with later scenarios in short films that were produced in the UK in this period from 1901 through until the late 1920’s. Some shorts produced which were of course silent as well at that time, were more laughable than frightening. It was not until the 1930’s and into the 1940’s that British horror movies began to become established, and a style also began to become evident. Many of these movies would arguably be the foundation on which Hammer and other Horror film producers in the 1960’s and 1970’s would build their now classic movies upon.
Dead of Night (1945) was a compilation of stories that were told in one movie, each tale being either horror or a cerebral psychotic episode, the films within in films as it were also started to become something of the norm in the 1960’s onwards with examples such as Vault of Horror etc standing out as entertaining pieces of horror/comedy themed cinema that often-parodied classic horror films.
Of course, music in horror movies has always featured large, and horror films most certainly needed a greater degree of musical accompaniment, even silent examples of the genre requiring some music even if it was just a lone piano player in the theatre pit often improvising as he or she went along.
So back to 1904 for another example of early British horror on celluloid, The Mistletoe Bough, was produced by Gaumont pictures, and released in the December of 1904, directed by Percy Stow, it is the first film version of the story which is thought to have originated in Italy during the 1800’s.
With a song also having the same title. This early gothic tale was filmed both on location at a castle in England and in the studio with purpose-built sets. The movie short has a duration of just nine minutes and has recently been restored by the BFI but sadly the ending of the film is missing, which I am told is something that occurs often with ends of reels from early films. The film tells the story of a game of hide and seek in a castle with a bride hiding in a chest but not being discovered for some thirty years. Stow who was born in 1876 was quite a prolific filmmaker, producing nearly three hundred shorts and movies in his career which began in 1901, with The Gluttons Nightmare. Now I am just scratching the surface with Euro Horrors, as there are so many worthy productions out there that really do deserve the title of classic. These are either early silent movies the majority of which were shorts, or productions from the golden age of horror which I suppose runs from the late 1930’s through to the late 1970’s in my humble opinion that is. Plus, the 1980’s and 1990’s also gave us so many great shockers, slashers, and demonic tales, which themselves were based upon long standing tales of horror. Horror movies never get boring even when done on a budget and maybe not that well produced, they still hold a certain level of entertainment for devotees of the genre and attract the attention of new fans who start out being curious and end up getting hooked.
I Think that horror does attract as does the unknown, we are all curious creatures and we all for some reason thrive on being scared, when we are told don’t look as a child what do we do? Yep, that’s right we look and end up sleeping with the light on and a baseball bat under the bed or a cricket bat if you are in the UK, stakes, Holy water, garlic, and anything else we might think will come in useful to battle the devil and all his works. But horror movies effect different people in different ways,
I think it was The Exorcist that had a profound effect upon me, but there again so did Bambi, (they shot his mum) and Watership Down (violent Bunnies are not good news and did that seagull really say that). I did not want to go see The Exorcist, but if I said no maybe I would be thought of as being a wimpy teenager. Well guess what I went to see it (well some of it) and yes, I was wimpy teenager, but I was not the only one and surprisingly most people exiting the cinema that night whilst furniture and other things began to fly around Regan’s room were Male. Yet I watched it recently on my own to Exorcise (forgive the pun) the demons the film had set in my mind, and thought it was a good movie as in interesting and looking at it now did think that maybe in certain areas it could have been done better. and no, I did not turn it off, but I did leave the lights on. (they are still on now but why are they flickering and what’s that banging in the attic). I know I make light of it now and I did sit through it but was I totally comfortable, no I was not, so I suppose I am still a wimpy teenager in a 60 somethings body. I kept on waiting for something to jump out of the screen or a section of the movie I had not seen be totally freaky, but I got through it (this time) and at the end was relieved. When the movie was on in cinemas some people ended up getting spiritual support and help from the church because it affected them so badly, I remember our local priest being angry at a film such as this being released and telling me that this is not something dreamt up by Hollywood this was real and it was happening now behind closed doors of homes, which made things even more unsettling. The church offered counselling and Vicars and Priests walked up and down outside cinemas giving out leaflets about the dangers of meddling with the dark side, no I am not joking.
There were warnings about Ouiji boards, and I have to say I would never even look at one of those things. The Exorcist was one of the first of a new breed of films and its legacy is still being felt to this day with its influences being seen in contemporary movies and now TV shows, in the opinion of many it still ranks as the scariest film of all time. But is it? Well, you tell me, I suppose its scary if your scared of it or allow it as I did all those years ago get inside your head. But enough now, let’s move on and rapidly please, that knocking in the attic is getting louder (not to self-Leave old Xmas decs in attic buy new treat yourself).
Thinking, of The Exorcist I also got to recalling other Horror films that influenced me or friends, there are only really a handful, but boy did they make us think.
The Changeling is one, especially the scene with the ball, but ultimately it was sad, but still a little unsettling. The score by Howard Blake certainly aided the movie and is considered as one of his finest.
The Anglo-Spanish movie The Others was a bit jumpy, old house shadowy-rooms, weird servants you know what I mean I think and a storyline that involved children. Then there was The Nightcomers (1971), starring Stephanie Beecham and Marlon Brando which The Others I think might have been inspired by. The Nightcomers itself being an adaptation of some of the themes within The Innocents from 1961 which was I think more unnerving because it was shot in black and white.
Both The Nightcomers, and The Innocents being based upon the story by American author Henry James entitled The Turn of The Screw, the 1971 movie being a prequel and showing events leading up to the James story. The musical scores for all three movies were outstanding in their own unique way, the 1961 release being scored by George Auric who also worked on films such as The Lavender Hill Mob, Passport to Pimlico, and the already mentioned Dead of Night, which is quite an uncharacteristic style and sound for the composer, but one that worked. He also scored Beauty and the Beast in 1947.
The 1971 picture had an atmospheric soundtrack penned by American composer Jerry Fielding, fresh from his success two years earlier with The Wild Bunch and in the same year scoring Lawman with Fielding producing a moody and tense soundtrack. The most recent movie The Others being scored by its director, which in most cases does not seem to work, (don’t tell the directors this) but Alejandro Amenábar wrote a more than serviceable score for his movie.
These were all examples of shadowy and apprehensive horror a thinking man’s scary movie if you like, none resulting to gory scenes and gratuitous blood-letting or body parts being lopped off etc to terrorise or disgust the watching audience but relying upon getting inside the audiences heads and letting their own imagination scare the hell out of them, and let’s be honest we are all at some time a victim of our own imagination. This can also be said for movies such as The Haunting and the later movie The Legend of Hell House, which is another film that really freaked me out. There is a line in a more recent horror that is What’s your favourite Scary Movie? Well, I don’t know, but there are a few and would I say they are my favourites, how can something be your favourite if it scares the life out of you? Its, all back to that thing about we love to be scared whether its dodging behind the sofa to block out tame stuff as in the original Doctor Who series with Cybermen and Daleks (I quite liked the Daleks actually) or TV shows such as Adam Adamant, Children of the Stones, and their like, or more harrowing material like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, horror is horror and we do adore it.
There was in the mid seventies an abundance of TV movies that were produced in the States, which had a mysterious or horror theme, many of these were in my opinion essential viewing and TV movies such as the Dan Curtis directed The Norliss Tapes (1973) were so good, one movie that was shown a few times late on TV was about a woman who moved into a house and on the wall there was a painting, it was a witch being burnt, she then started to have dreams about the witch burning and it was her being burnt at the stake, for the life of me I can’t remember the title and I have not seen it since the 1970’s. So, if anyone knows what it is Please tell me, I can then get it on DVD or whatever and scare myself all over again. I could go on and on about the horror genre the films, the TV movies the TV series and even the books etc which are associated with it, but maybe I should stop here and one day pick up this thread again and see if I feel different about it. Until then, I am off to lock the doors, bolt the windows, turn on the electric fence, let the guard dogs out and watch The Waltons…..night night.