Archive for April, 2012

horrorific titles, or definitive devilry, part i

April 8, 2012

There is no lack of movie collections boldly claiming to contain the classics of Grand Guignol Gothic and the best of those bleak & white ghost stories that haunt us from lavishly lost eras. A number of them are perfectly presentable – but are only ever going to appeal to people who are already familiar with, already in an Uncanny relationship with, the genre. More still are misleading. ‘The Best of Hammer’, whilst a fine collection of fearful English fops, ought rather to go by a cognomen that emphasises its merits as an overview of Hammer’s genre-work, a thriller, some horror, and some sci-fi, because it is definitely a selection of Hammer, a platter of productions, but only a very select few would consider them The Best of Hammer; instead, The Tapas of Hammer, before you seek out and feast on their more substantial bodies of work. Others, masquerading under the visage of Classic, but only like some cheap Phantom who has never learnt the organ, are just b-movie VHS transfers, where something demonic marionettes, strings and all, towards a couple of wholesome Ehmarican ceetazens, the Texan tutelary of a wholesome Christendom.

But all in common, we say, that they are wrong – how could this be considered a classic – what is exactly essential about this – what definitive devil is this? It is almost certain that some governing body needs be established to govern some established canon: the definitive Essential Horror Cinema. People ought to be screaming it from rooftops; and in about five minutes and a few-hundred words times, they will be silenced. And the canon will be left to scream for itself.

It must first be established how many movies can be considered. In one way, there is no limit to what may be considered; in another way, the canon must be limited to five. Five because any more and a movie collection becomes ever more expensive, and the viewing-time ever longer, ever longer, and five because it allows us to deal neatly with five essential eras of horror cinema. This then anticipates the next thing to be established:

Second, then, the structure of the collection. Each movie will be taken from a different decade – corresponding, and approximately simultaneous, with stylistic shifts. This reduces the risk of culling everything from the Universal back-lot or the expressing your enthusiasm solely for all-things German expressionist. And things begin – of course, they don’t begin, but they do here – things begin in the 1920s, shamble into the 1930s, drift through into the 1940s, sink delightfully into the 1950s, before haunting and finding a final resting place in those feelgood 1960s.

And Now the Screaming Starts!

1920s:

We skip the 1920s. Not because there is nothing to include, oh ignorant student, but because there is too much to consider and too much that is too painful to cull.

1930s:

We skip the 1930s for the same reason.

And so on with the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

And we have realised that we do not want to do this by year – we want, oh mindful reader, to do it by Monster! For what is the canon of horror in literature – but a mausoleum of ghosts, madmen, monsters and vampires – where Dracula and Frankenstein sit enthroned behind their very holy gates, and all do homage unto them. Yes! we must think of the children – of the night. What music they make, you ask? Off their tongues are rolling the very syllables of these demigods – no, Gods! for what worlds they have spawned – Frank En Stein Drac U La – the vampire and the living dead – these then must be the cornerstone of any essential Vault of Horror. And as we manufacture our little boyband in the laboratory, the girls and the ghouls all want to know – are you going to include my baby? And we will! One of each. There will be: a vampire, a Frankenstein and his monster, a zombie, a ghost and a demon. This then! This new 5ive, seated on stage atop their boyband stools, are our essentials of horror movies.

But you ask, oh ever-more-erudite disciple, oh how you ask, which vampire, which Frankenstein with which monster, which zombie, which ghost and which demon? Well this is easy, says I. Dracula, who is also called Nosferatu, who is also Count Alucard, who is also Baron Meinster. Okay, says I, this is less easy. And so to turn to their actors – who has most convincingly breathed life into their breathless and lifeless corpse? Thus it is that Dracula – you are to be played by Christopher Lee, we hope Bela Lugosi understands; Frankenstein – Colin Clive; and his creature – Karloff the Uncanny; those zombies – how would you, Bela, like to take the lead here instead?; you ghosts – why not haunt one of Robert Wise’s gothic manors; and you demons – how does Linda Blair sound for hosting?

And you, oh masterful lector, have all but second guessed the choices.  And, of course, you agree that it is a marvellous collection of movies – but it is a collection that everybody expects. This is, somewhat, the point. For those of us steeped in the fetid mire of the macabre, it is obvious that the best introduction to horror comes through:

White Zombie
Frankenstein (1931)
Dracula (1958)
The Haunting (1963)
The Exorcist

Yet the puritans are whining, as they always are. That Dracula is not the original, midnight schreck. Nor are those zombies Romero’s zombies. And what do you want, precisely, original or definitive, for certainly that is the original zombie movie but it is not the definitive, and that is not the original Frankenstein but it is definitely the definitive. Well, puritans, let me say: this is a collection of defining horror movies. Few, I would think, would say Night of the Living Dead is the best zombie movie – many would say Dawn of the Dead is. But it is wrong in a collection of any movies to include a movie that comes midway through a series. And it is important in this collection not only to give an idea of the most notable horror genres, but also the most notable horror actors; and Bela Lugosi, you will all agree, is one of the most notable actors of the genre; yet his Universal Dracula is not as essential as Clive’s Universal Frankenstein – and what did we say earlier about using multiple movies from one studio? – and Hammer’s Dracula includes for us both Lee and Peter Cushing, without whom the genre would, at the very least, be a substantially less dapper place.

A single concession under consideration would be to exchange The Exorcist – yes – for Witchfinder General. Witchfinder brings with it both the much-valued Vincent Price and its anticipation of the exploitation boom of the 1970s. But it, and the Tigon studio, brings also an aesthetic too similar to that of Hammer. And how people would complain were The Exorcist omitted. And rightly might they moan.

All things considered, it is as if five movies out of thousands were really not enough as a horror starter-pack. However, the aesthetics of the five-movie set are not to be dismissed lightly. Instead, some enterprising company would release a companion set. The companion set may well include the modern-age essential horror, but more interestingly than that would be my their chance to show-off and include some rather more obscure, though equally important, horror fare…

Our essentials collection is missing German expressionism, Italian exploitation, Southern Gothic, the spirits of the East. We must once again tackle our implacable foe, the myriad forms of outstanding horror, and drive him, yet again, steak-hearted and brained into the sunlight, dissect his unholy cadaver, read what we find written in the entrails, and announce – the five morsels of Essential Horror Cinema: Cult Collection…

(The End?)

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