THE SCARES OF '71
“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.”― Maxine Hong Kingston
AS the days click down to Halloween my desire to watch some good horror films intensifies. This year I decided to dig into horror films from 1971—the ones celebrating a half-century of scares and blood. ‘71 is an interesting year for the genre in that it does not showcase many classic, well-known films. Yes, there are strong films in the bunch…with some incredible directors (both horror stalwarts and dabblers) doing great work…but many of the films are waiting to be rediscovered or at least blown the cobwebs off of and thrown into a projector.
The three parts of of the world that produced such great films in this era are represented here: Britain’s mostly-period piece films from the legendary Hammer studios, the always macabre Italian Horror movement, and the US horror movie. That is not to say there are not other countries who are horrifying audiences with their own films…but the majority are coming from these three places.
For those interested in digging in with me, here are some films that are worth checking out (trailers attached to the titles) (this is definitely an incomplete list):
WILLARD (Director: Daniel Mann, US)
Ernest Borgnine, Sandra Locke and the Bride of Frankenstein herself Elsa Lanchester are part of an all-star cast that help tell the crazy, creepy story of the boy who has control over rats…using them for debaucherous and disastrous results. When the rats attack, it will make you squirm. And then, there is what happens after….
THE DEVILS (Ken Russell, UK)
The trailer to this film states: The Devils is not a film for everyone (great marketing) and the truth is: that is absolutely right. Taking place in the 17th century with a focus on paranoia, witchcraft, the religious establishment, evil and sadism…with the intense and truly horrifying Oliver Reed, The Devils is a classic dark, screwed up movie that WILL make you uncomfortable, maybe a little nauseous…and I say that, to all you horror movie fanatics, in the best possible way. This was Reed’s favorite film.
A BAY OF BLOOD (Mario Bava, Italy)
This is one of those films that is both loved and hated. Thought of as the film that helped define the slasher genre, with Bay of Blood Bava delivers a crude, scary, grotesque film. There is a well known scene among horror film aficionados that is not easily forgotten dealing with two lovers in bed, a killer and a giant pole.
OCTAMAN (Harry Essex, US/Mexico)
While the previous three films are definitely intense and not for the squeemish, Octaman is another story all together. A wonderful example of crap b-movie filmmaking, Octaman answers the question of what happens when the sea monster from Sigmond and the Sea Monster loses his mind and gos on attack. The monster costumes are amazingly low budget comedies along with the plot. Essex wrote the classic Universal film Creature from the Black Lagoon…and a decade and a half later hit the lagoon’s bottom with this number. But a fun watch nevertheless.
SEE NO EVIL (Richard Fleischer, US)
Legendary director Richard Fleischer brought to the screen one of the most tense rollercoaster rides of the year with a blind girl, played by a young Mia Farrow, stalked by a maniac. It is so scary that the trailer is composed of just a single scene from the film: Farrow running away from her pursuer, finding hardships at ever turn since she just cannot see where she is going…just alone in a cruel cruel world. This is an extremely well made freakout.
Web of the Spider (Antonio Margheriti, Italy)
What can I say except: Klaus Kinski starring in an Italian horror film? As Edgar Allan Poe? I AM IN. While this might not be the best haunted period-piece ever produced, I just love the film’s vibe…the ghostly, red velvety energy it emits. And I am a total sucker for the plot line around staying in a castle over night for a cash reward..especially when it occurs on Witch’s Eve. With blown-out color processing and dubbed haphazardly in English, this film presents an outer-worldly viewing that is nice to settle into on a dark and stormy night. Not too scary but a great watch.
BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (Piers Haggard, UK)
Are you a fan of the “folk horror” of Midsommer and Wickerman? This film is another of the genre with teenagers joining covens, attacking claws, and the appearance of fur on the bodies of villagers.
THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (Dario Argento, Italy)
More of an Italian “giallo” film (mystery) than a horror film, you cannot really leave off any film by Dario Argento from a list like this if it is there to be seen. This is only his second directed film, and the second of his “cat” trilogy…and it is an intense one with hints of what is to come from films like Suspiria and Deep Red.
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (Robert Fuest, UK)
There is nothing like a legend at work. Vincent Price was a bridge from the classic horror movie era to the modern one and in Dr. Phibes, he is pissed off, seeking revenge and ready to kill. This film is a classic example of his later-period films: full of camp, but also filled with skeletons, and creatures, and fake blood—almost Saturday Morning Cartoon fodder but of course much more evil. One of my favorite actors Joseph Cotton (who could not remember his lines and instead would make Price laugh on set ruining his make-up) and the always great Terry-Thomas are also along for the ride. Supposedly, Keith Moon watched this film just before he died….
Do not go gentle into that good night
By: Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
***I want to thank Ethan Miller for writing me after the last newsletter to defend Halloween 3 as a truly classic horror film. I am planning on rewatching it…on Halloween……...