Friday, January 20, 2012

Ten Horror Films That Shaped My Youth

Not too long ago I was asked what movies were most responsible for me becoming a horror fan. It's a tough assignment to try to come up with a list of films that shaped my youth and made me the stark raving mad fan I am these days.  But I wracked my brain and this is what I've come up with. Not precisely my favorites, and there are no films on this list made after 1982… they are the movies I watched as a kid and into my early teens – before I became an utterly obsessive horror fan.

Frankenstein (1931): While Dracula would seem a more appropriate introduction to Universal Horror for a vampire-loving geek like me, it was not my first taste of classic horror. Frankenstein remains, for me, the movie for which all other horror is judged. I first read the magnum opus novel by Mary Shelley as a youngster – and when the movie was placed in front of me, I blossomed into the crazed, give-me-all-I-can-get horror fan you now have. The mere idea of patching together body parts from various sources to make a complete man is well…sick. When James Whale brought the book to life, it managed to hit my every nerve – shocking me into submission and titillating me to the point of no return. I had such compassion for the monster, and still feel that this film is the reason I always seem to identify with the monster/killer rather than the hapless victim. Call me crass, I don’t mind.

Theater of Blood (1973): On Saturday afternoons at my house when I was a pre-teen, it was all about Vincent Price (and Godzilla…more later!). House of Usher, The Abominable Mr. Phibes, The Pit & The Pendulum, The Fly, House on Haunted Hill…..I could go on and on. But the film that made the biggest impression on me was Theater of Blood. Why, I don’t know – except the defining moment for me was when Edward Lionheart (Price) makes Mr. Merridew eat his own poodles. Gah! That is burned on my brain for all of eternity. The movie is quite campy, to say the least, but I still think it is one of my favorite Price films. On a side note, when I was in 7th grade, my school showed this film on the last day of school. Can you imagine? Maybe that contributes to my admiration.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971) – Somewhere in my past, I was scarred for life by this movie. My grandfather introduced me to it, and like the Wizard of OZ, it had elements that, for a kid, were absolutely terrifying. That damn boat ride to hell with its psychedelic lunacy and Gene Wilder’s maddening poetic rant! Damn! I was freaked out (yet slightly happy) when that gum-chomping Violet chick turned into a blueberry, alarmed when Augustus went into the pipe, psyched when bratty Mike TV was made mini, and thrilled when Veruca (and her dad!) were deemed bad eggs. I think this film is possibly the reason why I never wanted children. In reality, those kids were more frightening than any other element of the film. And that includes the wacky Oompa-Loompas!

Xtro (1982): Here’s a bizarre association for you. When I was a silly young teenager, my parents went out for the evening and left me alone to fend for myself. No, it wasn’t the first time I was alone and watched a horror film (When A Stranger Calls has that distinction) but for some reason, I have vivid memories of this 1982 British sci-fi trash. I made tacos for myself – you know, the kind in the box (Ortega if memory serves) – and proceeded to eat my tacos while watching a woman give birth to a grown man on her kitchen floor. I can’t say it scared me, but I was slightly disturbed to say the least. I think it has left me with two lasting advantages : I can eat absolutely anything while watching a horror movie, and I can still easily watch any horror movie utterly alone without anxiety.

Godzilla (Gorjia, 1954): I am a major Godzilla fan. I recall all those lovely Saturday afternoons watching Godzilla first wreak havoc on Japan, then defeat various other monsters that came to call – such as Mothra, Ghidorah, Hedorah… the list went on. Godzilla was a force of nature that came into existence in 1954, just after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He at first was a true monster, roaring his way through the streets of Toyko killing everyone in his sight. In later films the prehistoric-looking Godzilla was deemed a hero, and those were my favorites – him saving the day from other outcasts set to demolish the city. I love that he can swim or pound around on the city streets, breathe fire, and his secret intelligence never fooled me. He was one smart cookie.
Oh, and can we please just not mention that 2000 remake of disastrous proportions? Thank you.

Night of the Living Dead (1968): I’m from western Pennsylvania. Specifically George Romero land. I live north of Pittsburgh, and hence grew up watching the twenty year Saturday night tradition that was Chiller Theater. Every Saturday night at 11:30 Bill Cardille would host two horror flicks, with time in between the films for campy skits. My point (and I do have one) is that the first film I recall seeing on Chiller Theater was Night of the Living Dead. With good reason, as Bill Cardille has a small role in the horror classic. I certainly wasn’t old enough at this point to be watching zombies eating human flesh, but I’m not sure I knew just what was going on. Quite frankly, this could be the first actual horror movie I was privy to. To see the iconic images of Barbra’s brother taunting her “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!”, Karen killing her mom with a garden trowel, and several ghouls eating intestines… well, let’s just say I was hooked. Could be why I’m so messed up in the first place. Thanks, Chilly Billy!

Psycho (1960): No way in hell would this list be complete without a movie that reached right into my soul and tore a piece out, replacing it with screeching strings and a butcher knife. To me, a perfect slice of film making by Hitchcock, and also of acting excellence by Anthony Perkins. You can hear me wax poetic about the charming attributes of Norman Bates here on this blog more than often. I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw this movie, but I’m sure I shouldn’t have been watching it. I know I saw the sequel (which I love) at the drive-in but know it wasn’t a double feature (which incidentally would have kicked ass!)
The shocking death of Marion Crane in the first act proved to me that all bets were off in horror, and one could never know what to expect. So many other films have blatantly ripped this one off, but none of them could hope to achieve the landmark dread and apprehension that you get when you watch that door opening from behind the shower curtain while our heroine cleans herself up to die, an ominous shadow grows closer…

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death (1971): This film, along with Burnt Offerings (1976), were films I was “allowed” to watch as a relatively young girl, because I think my mom thought they were “movie of the week”-type of films.  Remember back in the day they used to have Monday Night Movies or what-have-you?  But both those films pack a punch, and I remember both well.  Jessica, to me, was slightly more eerie than the other, so it gets the nod here.  It reminds me of the old gothic novels of my mother’s I used to read – the ones about the big old house and the wispy female lead.  The whole time I’m watching the thing, I’m thinking ‘She’s crazy, right?’….and then, ‘Maybe she’s not’…  In any case, it’s a creepy ghost/vampire/? story – an atmospheric gem I’m still sweet on even now.

Hell Night (1981): I think this was one of the first movies I rented for a sleepover party when I was a young teen. Nowadays it makes me laugh, but I cannot dispute my fond memories of it and how cool I thought it was (!) Hell Night is a ridiculous romp into the land of thread-bare plots and really bad special effects. With Linda Blair’s boobs ‘a bouncing in nearly every reel, we watch as cheap thrills reign and the old haunted house story gets a stagnant re-telling. A tale of crazy families, mutant children, murder and suicide, and a frat part gone wrong, it reeks of camp – but that’s part of its charm, and I still throw it in the DVD player on occasion when I need a taste of nostalgia.  And hey, Garth Manor has yet to be duplicated in terms of awesomeness.

The Legend of Hell House (1973): Here’s an example of a film I saw before reading the actual source material. Richard Matheson always did know how to weave a story, and though I read the book long after seeing the movie, I think both are great.  Vivid memories of me curled up on the couch covered with an afghan while the foreboding strains of the title music filled the room come to mind when I think of this early shocker.  This movie has so much moody ambience, so much trepidation lurking around every corner of the Belasco mansion.  The forces working against our anxious group of investigators are downright scary. It scared me when I was a kid, and even today it still makes my eye twitch nervously when they discover Belasco – and his shortcomings.

**Once again,  if this post looks familiar it is because it was previously published on another site from which I have retrieved all my work.  It's not that I'm lazy, I just wanted to both share these writings as well as have a permanent record of them here on my blog.  Well...and I'm a little bit lazy :)


Spooky Vegan said...

Theatre of Blood YES!!! I only saw this movie within the last few years (I'm ashamed it took me this long to watch), but I absolutely love it!

Lovely list and I always adore taking a peek into what made/makes you such a fantastic horror fan! :)

Anonymous said...

nice one i realily love this post...
Evil News

Christine Hadden said...

Thanks Sarah! And oh yeah, Theater of Blood is a hoot. I love it too!
Dare I say: Price is priceless.

And thanks for reading, Vipin :)

Kaijinu said...

I do notice yer deep love for Let's Scare Jessica To Death, but I never knew your love for the G-Man! Awesome!

Kev D. said...

Interesting list. "Let's Scare Jessica to Death" is a nice touch.

I can't believe you ate tacos while watching that. Honestly, just hearing the story of you eating tacos while watching that has tainted tacos for me.

kindertrauma said...

Excellent post! I must have missed it the first time out -so I'm very glad you resurrected it here!

I too read "Legend of Hell House" long after being familiar with the movie and could not believe how effective I found it. It gave me some serious chills in the middle of the day.

And "Hell Night" just seems to get more enjoyable each time I watch it- such a fun mash-up of 80's slasher and classic old dark house horror!

Christine Hadden said...

Unk: Hell House (the book) scared the bejesus out of me, but not so much as when I read The Woman in Black. Nothing has given me more chills than that story. I stayed up late into the night and finished it and have always since remembered the feeling of dread when I tried to get back to sleep.
And Hell Night is such a hoot, one can't help but love it! :)