Psycho (1960)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock [Other horror films: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), The Birds (1963)]

In some ways, Psycho is remembered far more for just a couple of scenes as opposed to the movie as a whole. In the hour-and-fifty minute run-time, there’s only a couple a sequences that really bring the goods, which isn’t to say that this classic isn’t worth seeing, but there are portions of the film that have a far more procedural feeling, which, while enjoyable, isn’t always what I look for.

Obviously, being a fan of both the classics and of slashers, Psycho is a film I’ve seen before plenty of times, and I always loved much of it. The way Janet Leigh’s character is utilized is just ballsy and impressive, and though nowadays most people watching can tell where the movie’s going (I think certain movies out there, such as The Usual Suspects, have sort of hard-wired us to look for twists), it still carries a little shock and a lot of enjoyment.

And there’s the suspense, which Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t known for for nothing. It’s hard to pin-point a favorite moment of suspense, but early on, when Crane sees her boss walk in front of her car, and do a double-take, a troubled look on his face, with the music popping up – that’s just a fantastic scene. And then there’s the police officer (Mort Mills), who is suspicious from the get-go (not that Leigh’s character doesn’t give good cause).

Some parts of the film can be almost difficult to watch because of the awkwardness. Marion Crane had obviously not done much wrong before, because she can’t lie convincingly worth shit to anyone (a car salesman is bad enough, but her performance with the cop was just embarrassing to witness). She got better once it hit her the mistake she made, but – spoilers – that doesn’t really matter, as she doesn’t live that much longer.

Janet Leigh is pretty fantastic here, though, despite the fact that she’s not really the star of the film past the half-way point. Anthony Perkins (who looks so damn young here) gives a fantastic performance – not a single complaint. Great lines (“We all go a little mad sometimes” and “…wouldn’t even hurt a fly”), and a great presence despite his slight frame. Martin Balsam (12 Angry Men and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) I also enjoyed, despite him not really appearing much. I never loved John Gavin or Vera Miles (The Strange and Deadly Occurrence), but I have no complaints against them.

Once Crane’s character is killed in that shower scene (which is, for good reason, one of the most recognizable scenes in not just all of horror, but all of cinema), the movie enters a somewhat methodical route, with evidence being hidden and a private investigator searching for Crane’s whereabouts. It takes a little time to get back to kills, which isn’t really a problem (as that next kill, on the stairways, is great), but that section of the film was never that fantastic to me.

Make no mistake, Psycho is a great film, and certainly a great example of a proto-slasher and suspenseful thriller done right. And I love it. But The Birds is better.

8.5/10

This is one of the films covered beautifully by Fight Evil’s podcast. If you want to hear Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this classic, all you have to do is listen below.

Village of the Damned (1960)

Directed by Wolf Rilla [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a classic that I’ve never loved. Now to be honest, “never” entails a whole of now two full viewings, but that aside, the story isn’t really my cup of tea. It’s not the movie’s fault – I also didn’t much care for The Gamma People (1956) for similar reasons. That said, I maybe enjoyed the film a bit more this time around, but it’s still not a movie that I’d consider a go-to for the 1960’s.

The first twenty minutes are all on point, though, when a mysterious blackout occurs affecting everyone in a small village (and by blackout, I mean everyone blacks out, not that there’s some concerns of an electrical nature) and in a sequence reminiscence of the 1994 The Stand mini-series, we see multiple downed people which was pretty ominous. Once they come to, all of the women who were able were pregnant, and here’s where my interest waned.

I don’t know what the state of abortions were in the United Kingdom in 1960. I know that in 1967, abortions became legal, so if they had just been more progressively-minded, there may not have been a problem here at all. Surely the women who hadn’t even have had sex would have probably taken care of the problem, and many of the other women too, who had husbands that thought they were cheating on them, would have also terminated the pregnancies.

Regardless, it was a backwards time then, and the children are born, and they’re all Aryan. There are some interesting conversations about other places in the world where this has happened, along with the aftermath, but a group of emotionless kids with psychic powers isn’t really my idea of a fun time.

It’s not something that anyone in the cast (George Sanders, Michael Gwynn, or Barbara Shelley) could have fixed, because they all did fine (especially Sanders and Martin Stephens, who played one of the kids, and who was also in The Innocents), and I even found the ending to be decent (although not altogether surprising), but it’s a well-made movie with a  story I don’t love, and that’s something that I can’t lie about.

Village of the Damned is a decent movie. It looks nice, there are some good actors in it, and there are occasionally some decent scenes here. It’s also not all that long, even if you are not having the best time with it. For classic horror, it’s a lesser movie for me, but it’s still around average prolly.

7/10

Peeping Tom (1960)

Directed by Michael Powell [Other horror films: N/A]

Often considered a proto-slasher, Peeping Tom is a horror classic that I’ve wanted to see for a really long time, but I have to admit to being disappointed after having finally accomplished that goal.

It’s not as though the movie’s bad, though. Peeping Tom is a very solid psychoanalytic look into a crazed killer, from the killer’s perspective (think movies like The Couch or The Strangler, both of which came out a few years later). I just didn’t find much of the movie enjoyable, and more so, found the stilted and almost inhuman conversations more awkward than anything.

While the film got terribly skewered upon it’s original release, from a modern-day standpoint, it’s hard to see almost anything in Peeping Tom that comes across as too obscene or ghastly. In fact, there’s almost no on-screen murders, and while there’s passing nudity, again, we’re talking very tame, muted stuff. What some critics saw in this movie back then, I don’t know, but I don’t see it now.

German actor Karlheinz Böhm did fantastic as the main character, a seemingly-mild but quite demented, socially-awkward killer. There’s a decent amount of character building in regards to his father and what made him into the man he is, but I definitely get the sense that more was left unsaid than what was discovered. His love interest, played by Anna Massey, was good also, but I didn’t fully understand her character (why she was so insistent on staying around Mark even after she discovered his homicidal activities was beyond me), and her blind mother, played by Maxine Audley, confused me more.

One thing I’ll say as far as surprises go, I honestly didn’t know until I started the movie up that Peeping Tom was in color, and not only that, but it looked pretty good. I’ve sometimes heard this compared to Psycho, and I guess I just mentally imagined this as a black-and-white film, but no, it’s in gorgeous color, which was nice. I just wish there was more in it worth seeing in color.

For what Peeping Tom is, I think the movie’s decent, and to a certain extent, I can understand it’s inclusion in many proto-slasher lists, but I honestly didn’t enjoy the movie near as much as I was hoping for, and given all that I’ve heard about it, I was hoping for a bit more violence and less awkward conversations. Still worth a watch, if only because it’s one of the more-commonly referenced British horror films, but it’s not one I can imagine keeping in my rotation.

6/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

House of Usher (1960)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

This Roger Corman movie is one I’ve been wanting to see for some time now, and now that I finally have, I’m somewhat underwhelmed. Oh, House of Usher is solid enough, and possesses both great performances and an enjoyable atmosphere, not to mention a fantastic conclusion, but still, I couldn’t help but expect more from it.

Even with the slight disappointment, though, there’s no doubt that Vincent Price brings a hell of a lot to this film. His character, paranoid and somewhat of a bastard, is great, and his performance is up there with the best of his material (House on Haunted Hill and Theater of Blood among them). The delivery of his lines is fantastic, and he just works wonderfully here.

The others are decent, and somewhat amusingly, my second-favorite performance here is not Mark Damon nor Myrna Fahey, but the butler, played by Harry Ellerbe. His loyalty to the dying House of Usher, despite all of the decay that he’s witnessing first-hand, was quite admirable, and I enjoyed him throughout. Fahey was good also, though I felt she didn’t really reach her stride until the finale. Truthfully, while Mark Damon was okay, I think he was the least stellar of the cast.

Also worth mentioning is the beautiful setting, being a desolate, decrepit mansion in the middle of a foggy swamp. With a cast as small as House of Usher had, this location brought more character to the movie, and the fact that it was in color, though gloomy still, was a nice touch. Related, the coloring here was solid, and it really shows in the psychedelic dream sequence, one of the moments that stands out a bit more.

The finale is fantastic, what with the mad search for a woman buried alive, only to discover that the woman has escaped her coffin and went mad, her bleeding fingers leading a trail to a great confrontation. Of course, this truly is the end of the House of Usher, and that’s probably for the best, given Price’s very apparent unstable mind-set.

House of Usher is a classic, and I don’t have a problem saying that. I just wish that I liked it a bit more than I already do. Perhaps I was overselling it to myself before seeing it, but still, the movie is certainly above average, and boasts a very good atmosphere and, of course, Vincent Price near his best.

7.5/10

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

A somewhat classic movie, The Little Shop of Horrors is a rather black comedic horror film that is probably more enjoyable than it should be, though it’s not altogether amazing.

Being a Roger Corman movie, it would shock no one that the film is really campy at times, and the humor is, more often than not, over-the-top. This is evident in multiple scenes, such as the ones starring the dentist, or any scene with Myrtle Vail (also in A Bucket of Blood, from 1959). Hell, even the carnivorous plant is over-the-top, with his constant clamoring to be fed and his silly voice.

Performance-wise, Jonathan Haze does decent as the main character, and Jackie Joseph as his love interest, but there are more interesting and amusing faces here. Mel Welles, who played a foreign florist shop owner, cracked me up with most of his lines (he also appeared in one of Corman’s earlier movies, Attack of the Crab Monsters). Also, there are two faces that I just love to see, being a young Dick Miller (following his starring role in the aforementioned A Bucket of Blood, also directed by Corman) and a younger Jack Nicholson (this is his sixth credit, and fourth movie). Also, if you’re into the JFK assassination, the name Karyn Kupcinet may mean something to you, and she appeared in this movie also as an annoying teenager.

If you can stand a goofy plot, The Little Shop of Horrors may be worth looking into. There’s not really any gore of note (this isn’t H.G. Lewis), but there are some body parts being fed to a carnivorous plant, so occasionally the film comes across as more graphic than you might expect for the age. I don’t find The Little Shop of Horrors an amazing movie, but I’ve seen it quite a handful of times, and have been consistently entertained.

7/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

The City of the Dead (1960)

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey [Other horror films: Circus of Fear (1966), The House That Would Not Die (1970), A Taste of Evil (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Home for the Holidays (1972), The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974), No Place to Hide (1981), I, Desire (1982), The Cradle Will Fall (1983)]

You want a movie with some atmosphere? The City of the Dead’s got it, in spades.

Using a Psycho-esque character switch that came as quite a surprise, The City of the Dead had a bit of bang for it’s buck. The plot is interesting enough, what with a young student going to study Satanism by traveling to the small town of Whitewood and taking a room at The Raven’s Inn, only to discover she bit off more than she can chew, but when something happens to our focal character, there’s a time-skip, and more horror ensues.

Of course, the idea of a small New England town being almost entirely dedicated to the dark side of Satanism (because of course, while this movie makes no mention of it, there’s plenty of perfectly good Satanists, more ratio-wise, I would bet, than Christians) was unique, and while I thought that many of the townspeople were being pretty obvious about their ill-intent, I guess that doesn’t bother those who wander into the town.

The cast here is superb. Related, this is a British production, but everyone spoke in American accents, so one might be fooled into thinking this an American-made picture. And speaking of which, while the original title is The City of the Dead, when released in the U.S.A., the title was changed to Horror Hotel (which, in my view, is quite a worse name), so there’s your random fact for the day.

Onto the cast, it’s Christopher Lee who stands out the most as a professor of Satanic studies, and one who takes his research seriously (his argument with a science professor, played by Dennis Lotis, was somewhat interesting). Playing the interested student was Venetia Stevenson, who was quite good, and seemed a lot more self-possessed than many women in the genre at the time. Taking off to the town of Whitewood alone was a nice touch, though it didn’t end as well as she may have hoped. Lotis wasn’t in much else, but he does well here as Stevenson’s concerned brother, as does Tom Naylor, playing her fiancée.

Actually, that brings to mind one thing that rather annoyed me. After a long absence of communication to either her brother or fiancée, Stevenson’s character is presumed missing. Obviously, both men are concerned. And both go up to Whitewood to investigate. But do they share a ride and work together to discover her whereabouts? Of course not. It’s not clear why one or the other didn’t bring up ‘Hey, I’m going to Whitewood, want to tag along,’ but I’m guessing it has to do with foolish ideas of manliness. Either way, the fact that both went up separately just bothered me to no end.

The other two cast-members worth mentioning are Betta St. John and Norman MacOwan. St. John was sort of an interesting individual, as she took the role of the main female character after Stevenson exited stage right, and she worked well with Lotis’ character, all things considered. MacOwan played an elderly priest with no congregation (get better employment, brah, cause you suck at your current job), and he did decent, though the whole ‘Christianity is superior to other valid religions without good reason’ gets really old, not that this is the only movie in the horror genre that makes that antiqued claim. Still, MacOwan was pretty fun.

It’s true that the ending of this one is pretty much the most generic thing about the movie, but it still works out reasonably well, and the fact that the final scenes take place in an old graveyard certainly help with the atmosphere the movie worked so well with (the hotel scenes with Stevenson in the first half were solid enough, and this brings it into overdrive). Overall, I wouldn’t say that The City of the Dead is a perfect movie, but for fans of beautifully-done black-and-white 60’s horror, this one would very likely be well-received.

8/10