If you are a fan of classic horror films and you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, then you have ample opportunity to sample your favorite titles on the big screen, surrounded by an appreciative audience. Sure, you probably own most of the films on Blu-ray disc, but there’s nothing like seeing a movie in a theatre – especially a scary movie. Listed below are most of the major horror film festivals taking place in and around Los Angeles this October. For more screenings, check out the film listings at our sister site, Hollywood Gothique.
American Cinematheque’s Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon
Location: The Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90403 Date: October 25, starting at 7:30pm More Info: Click here Description: The American Cinematheque celebrates Halloween 2014 with its 9th annual Dust-To-Dawn Horrorthon, featuring seven films running one after the other: CREEPSHOW, GARGOYLES, THE THING (1982), THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS, THE DEADLY SPAWN, BASKET CASE, and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (a.k.a. DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D.) Guests will spend the entire evening and much of the next morning within the Aero Theatre. There will be trailers, short subjects, free food, prizes and give-aways, plus coffee (courtesy of Pete’s Coffee) to help keep your eyelids open. Horrorthon ticket prices (includes all-night snacks and coffee):
Arclight Beach Cities Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Beach Cities, 831 S. Nash Street, El Segundo, CA 90245
Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Beach Cities offers a month of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Psycho, Edward Scissorhands, and The Bride of Frankenstein.
The full schedule is below:
Gremlins on October 12 at 7:30pm
The Silence of the Lambs on October 13 at 7:30pm
An American Werewolf in London on October 14 at 7:30pm
Little Shop of Horrors on October 19 at 7:30pm
John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 21 at 7:30pm
Beetlejuice on October 26 at 7:30pm
Psycho on October 27 at 7:30pm
Edward Scissorhands on October 28 at 7:30pm
Arclight Hollywood Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Hollywood, 6360 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood CA Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here Description: Starting on Wednesday, October 1, Arclight Cinemas celebrates Halloween in Los Angeles with a month-long series of horror movies at their Hollywood location, including such classic and cult titles as The Exorcist, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Shaun of the Dead, Let the Right One In, and An American Werewolf in London.
Arclight Cinemas’s other locations will offer a different selection of horror titles for Halloween 2014.
Complete schedule for Arclight Hollywood is:
Beetlejuice on October 12 at 3:30pm
Shaun of the Dead on October 10 at midnight
Videodrome on October 13 at 8pm
Poltergeist on October 17 at midnight
From Dusk Till Dawn on October 18 at midnight
Gremlins on October 19 at 3:30pm
Let The Right One In on October 20 at 8pm
John Carpenter’s The Thing on October 24 at midnight
An American Werewolf In London on October 25 at midnight
The Shining on October 26 at 3pm
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 29 at 8pm
The Evil Dead on October 31 at 11:30pm
Arclight Pasadena Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Pasadena, 336 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91101 Link out: Click here Description: The Arclight Pasadena presents a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Ju-On: The Grudge, Dracula, Night of the Creeps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Fright Night.
The complete schedule is below:
Fright Night (1985) on October 9 at 7:45pm
Buffy the Vampire Slayer on October 12 at 7:30pm
Alien (the director’s cut) on October 13 at 8pm
The Shining on October 14 at 7:30pm
Psycho on October 19 at 8pm
Edward Scissorhands on October 20 at 7:30pm
Ju-0n: The Grudge on October 21 at 7:45pm
The Exorcist on October 26 at 8pm
The Silence of the Lambs on October 27 at 7:45pm
Night of the Creeps on October 28 at 7:30pm
Videodrome on October 30 at 8pm
Arclight Sherman Oaks Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: The Arclight Sherman Oaks, 15301 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403 Arclight Presents Calendar: Click here Description: Starting on October 5, the Arclight Sherman Oaks offers a month-long series of horror films for Halloween 2014, including Carrie, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Monster Squad.
A Nightmare on Elm Street on October 12 at 7:45pm
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on October 13 at 7:45pm
The Creature from the Black Lagoon on October 14 at 7:45pm
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride on October 19 at 7:45pm
The Fearless Vampire Killers on October 20 at 7:45pm
The Shining on October 21 at 7:45pm
American Psycho on October 22 at 7:45pm
The Bride of Frankenstein on October 26 at 7:45pm
Rosemary’s Baby on October 27 at 7:45pm
The Monster Squad on October 28 at 7:45pm
Cinefamily’s Heavy Midnights: The Witching Hour
Location: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036 Link out: Click here Description: Saturdays in October, the Cinefamily’s weekly Heavy Midnights series is transformed into The Witching Hour, offering a trio of wicked midnight screenings: The Witches, Troll, and Teen Witch.
The latter two are minor cult items at best, but The Witches is a brilliant piece of cinema. Taking a break from his usual art house work, director Nicolas Roeg brought Roald Dahl’s wickedly amusing children’s story to the screen with the help of some great makeup and effects by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Anjelica Huston stars as the Grand High Witch, who has hatched a plot to dispose of all the children in England by turning them into mice. She opposed by a young orphan and his sweet (but knowledgeable) grandmother. Though nominally a “kids” film, The Witches is amusing and scary, though not too disturbing for young viewers. Recommended.
The schedule is:
The Witches on October 11
Troll on October 18
Teen Witch on October 25
All screenings are on Saturdays at midnight.
Haunted Screenings at LACMA
Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036 Link out: Click here Description: As part of Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in conjunction with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, presents a series of Halloween horror movie screenings during the month of October, including Nosferatu, Faust, and Edward Scissorhands.
In a neat big of programming, several evenings will feature double bills or original films and their remakes, illustrating the continuing influence of German Expressionist Cinema from the 1920s, the style of which is still apparent in such later work as Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow.
Screenings take place at LACMA’s Bing Theatre. Tickets are $3 for LACMA members, $5 for general public.
The complete schedule of horror-related screenings is below:
October 10, 2014 | 7:30pm
Nosferatu the Vampyre
October 10, 2014 | 9:00pm
An American Werewolf in London
October 11, 2014 | 7:30pm
October 17, 2014 | 7:30pm
October 17, 2014 | 9:30pm
October 24, 2014 | 7:30pm
October 25, 2014 | 5:00pm
October 25, 2014 | 7:30pm
Old Town Music Hall Halloween Horror Screenings
Location: Old Town Music Hall, Richmond Street, El Segundo, CA 90245 Link out: Click here Description: The Old Town Music Hall launches its month-long Old Town Music Haunt with THE INVISIBLE MAN, the 1932 black-and-white classic and based on the H.G. Wells novel, and starring Claude Rains. The special effects still hold up today, and director James Whale’s sly sense of humor keeps the film from feeling dates. Co-starring Gloria Stuart (Titanic).
In celebration of the Halloween season, Old Town Music Hall will be screening horror classics every weekend in October, all of them from Universal Studios, the company that specialized in old-school Gothic chillers in the 1930 and 1940s. The theater will be all decked out with spooky decor, so have fun!
The complete schedule includes:
Frankenstein (1931) on October 10, 11 & 12
The Mummy (1932) on October 17, 18 & 19
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on October 24, 25 & 26 (with live musical accompaniment on the Old Town Music Hall’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) on October 31, November 1 & 2
Screenings are on Friday at 8:15pm; Saturday at 2:30pm and 8:15pm; and Sunday 2:30pm. Every show begins with music played on the pipe organ, an audience sing along, and a comedy short. There is a 15-minute intermission, followed by the feature film.
Tickets are $10.00 ($8.00 for seniors 62+) Tickets go on sale at the door thirty minutes before show time. No advance sales.
Location: The Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036 More info: Click here Description: The Cinefamily and SpectraVision presents a two-month festival of horror, science fiction, and cult films, including several west coast premieres and some in-person guests. Titles include Kevin Smith’s TUSK; DEAD SNOW 2; THE GOLEM; METROPOLIS; and GREMLINS.
SpectreFest promises “a hand-picked look at the latest and greatest in progressive genre films and forward-thinking music from around the world.” According to the official website, the festival is “a collaboration between Cinefamily and SpectreVision (the new production company founded/partnered by Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller).”
The complete schedule is below:
Thurs, 10/9, 7:30pm: Dead Snow & Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead (L.A. premiere, cast members in person!)
Fri, 10/10, 7:30pm: The Creeping Garden (L.A. premiere!)
Thurs, 10/16, 7:30pm ($18/$10 for members): Show & Tell w/ Clive Barker & Nightbreed: Director’s Cut
Thurs, 10/23, 7:30pm: Metropolis (w/ live score by Chrome Canyon!)
Sat 10/25, 5:00pm: Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Spooktacular!
Wed, 10/29, 7:30pm ($15/free for members): Tales From Beyond The Pale: LIVE!
Thurs, 10/30, 7:30pm: Gremlins (30th Anniversary screening!) & “The History of PG-13″ Panel
Fri, 10/31: special Halloween night event
Unless otherwise noted, tickets are free for members and $12 for non-members.
Street Food Cinema Screenings
Locations: various Link out: Click here Description: Street Food Cinema, which screens movies in outdoor venues around Los Angeles, offers a series of classic horror films for Halloween 2014, featuring live music, food, and special guests. Titles include Gremlins, The Exoricst, and The Shining. Guests include Zach Galligan and Linda Blair.
The schedule of screenings is:
October 11: Gremlins with Zach Galligan at Victory Park, Pasadena
October 18: The Conjuring at Syd Kronenthal Park, Culver City
October 18: The Exorcist at Eagle Rock Recreation Center, Los Angeles (benfiting Linda Blair’s World Heart Foundation)
October 25: The Shining at Exposition Park, Los Angeles
General Admission prices are $6 for children and $12 for adults. Reserved seating is $11 for children and $17 for adults. Children under 5 are free. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door; entrance priority is given to advance ticket holders.
Doors open at 5:30pm. Live music begins at 6:30pm. Movie screens at approximately 8pm.
Street Food Cinema is Fido Friendly. Bring a blanket, snuggle up, and get scared!
Fox Searchlight Pictures HITCHCOCK in limited engagements on November 23, 2012, then expands onto more screens on November 30. The docudrama focuses on director Alfred Hitchcock during the making of his 1960 horror classic PSYCHO.
Directed by Sacha Bervasi. Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin, based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” (which originally appeared as a cover story in Cinefantastique Magazine back in 1986).
Rated PG-13. U.S.
Anthony Hopkins … Alfred Hitchcock
Helen Mirren … Alma Reville
Scarlett Johansson … Janet Leigh
Danny Huston … Whitfield Cook
Toni Collette … Peggy
Michael Stuhlbarg … Lew Wasserman
Michael Wincott … Ed Gein
Jessica Biel … Vera Miles
James D’Arcy … Anthony Perkins
Richard Portnow … Barney Balaban
Kurtwood Smith … Geoffrey Shurlock
Ralph Macchio … Joseph Stefano
Kai Lennox … Hilton Green
Tara Summers … Rita Riggs
Wallace Langham … Saul Bass
Paul Schackman … Bernard Herrmann
Currie Graham … PR Flack
Spencer Garrett … George Tomasini
Theatrical Engagements: November 23, 2012
Boston Commons 19, Boston, MA
Kendall Square Cinema, Cambridge, MA
Georgetown 14, Washington DC
Bethesda Row Cinema 8, Bethesda, MD
E-Street Cinema 8, Washington DC
NEW YORK, NY
AMC Lincoln Square 13, New York, NY
Union Square Stadium 14, New York, NY
Varsity Theatre 12, Toronto, ON
River East 21, Chicago, IL
Evanston 18, Evanston, IL
Century Centre Cinema 7, Chicago, IL
LOS ANGELES, CA
Century City 15, Los Angeles, CA
Arclight 15/ Hollywood & Cinema, Hollywood, CA
Camelview 5 Theatre, Scottsdale, AZ
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Metreon 16, San Francisco, CA
Kabuki 8 Theatre, San Francisco, CA
November 30, 2012
Tara Cinemas 4, Atlanta, GA
Uptown 8, Birmingham, MI
NEW YORK, NY
AMC Empire 25, New York, NY
AMC Kips Bay, New York, NY
Chelsea Cinemas 9, New York, NY
First & 62nd Cinemas 7, New York, NY
Jacob Burns Film Center 3, Pleasantville, NY
Bam Rose Cinemas 4, Brooklyn, NY
Ritz 5 (Art), Philadelphia, PA
Rave Ritz Center, Voorhees, NJ
Renaissance Place 5, Highland Park, IL
Keystone Art 7, Indianapolis, IN
Angelika Film Center 8, Dallas, TX
Angelia Film Center & Café 5, Plano, TX
River Oaks 3, Houston, TX
Uptown-ART, Minneapolis, MN
ST. LOUIS, MO
Plaza Frontenac, St. Louis, MO
SAN DIEGO, CA
Hillcrest 5 Art Cinema, San Diego, CA
Arclight 14/ La Jolla, San Diego, CA
Mayan 3 Art Cinema, Denver, CO
Pacific Place 11 Theatre, Seattle, WA
Lincoln Square 16, Bellevue, WA
Guild 45th Twin Art Cinema, Seattle, WA
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
California 3 Art Theatre, Berkeley, CA
Guild Cinema, Menlo Park, CA
All kinds of news prompt all kinds of discussion from this week’s panel: the rumored casting of Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock in a film about the making of PSYCHO gets theofantastique.com‘s John W. Morehead, CFQ’s Steve Biodrowski, and Dan Persons musing about what behind-the-scenes events could be dramatized in a film that aren’t already well-known; while elsewhere there’s a debate about the relative quality of THE LITTLE MERMAID as compared to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Plus, John gives his impression of the Science Fiction episode of PIONEERS OF TELEVISION; Steve gives a rundown of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD; while Dan unleashes his animeniac on DURARARA!! and SUMMER WARS.
One of the proudest moments in the history of Cinefantastique was the October 1986 publication of a double issue (Volume 16, Number 5) devoted to the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. The exhaustive and richly illustrated article was written by Stephen Rebello, who went on to publish an expanded version in book form, under the title of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of PSYCHO. This June, Open Road Media published a new kindle edition of the book. As part of their promotional efforts, they arranged for horror film buff and thriller novelist Kevin O’Brien (Vicious) to interview the PSYCHO expert about Hitchcock’s horror classic, which will no doubt be playing on countless television sets this Halloween weekend (not to mention a few revival houses around the country). With the horror holiday looming, Open Road Media offered us an opportunity to present the unabridged interview of one horror expert by another.
Kevin O’Brien: I first heard about Psycho in the early 1960s, when I was just a kid. My oldest sister was afraid of taking a shower if no one else was in the house because of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. So—I just had to find out more about this movie and see it. When did you first find out about Psycho? And do you remember what it was like when you saw it for the first time? Did you have any idea of what you were in for? Stephen Rebello: Well, Kevin, if your sister was one of the many who wouldn’t shower after seeing Psycho, Hitchcock would have advised: “Have her dry cleaned.” As for me, growing up in southeastern Massachusetts, I remember reading in the Boston newspapers these little “teasers” about how the famous director and TV personality Alfred Hitchcock was making this secretive, very different kind of movie. Not the kind of thing he usually did—a full-out shocker-type film. One of these items mentioned that Hitchcock had posted guards at the studio soundstage doors to keep out the prying eyes and ears of the curious. He swore the cast to secrecy about the plot. Well, my young imagination went into overdrive imagining what Hitchcock might be up to.
By the summer of 1960, though, I became obsessed when I saw for the first time the Psycho movie trailer. It played at the most mysterious movie theater around—a slightly eerie, faded, grand, and expansive old movie palace called the Durfee in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts. If Norma Desmond had been a movie theater, this would have been it. Hitchcock taking us on a tour of this motel and scary old house made his movie seem strange, spooky, and grown up as hell; so did the constant TV and radio ads, also narrated by the grand old man himself. And the posters in the lobby, with that cracked, shattered yellow title lettering, Janet Leigh wearing a bra and slip, Anthony Perkins looking tense, a shirtless John Gavin and that tagline: A new—and altogether different—screen excitement. To me, it all spelled: hot stuff.
I wasn’t alone. Kids in my school were talking a lot about Psycho and, once the Legion of Decency forbid any good Catholic from seeing it, everyone wanted to see it. I lied, schemed, and cheated my way into the theater that first day. The place was packed and once Janet Leigh drove up to Bates Motel in the rain, you could feel dread building in this audience of mostly tough, working class, largely immigrant people. Once Leigh flushed the motel bathroom toilet—a first in an American movie!—then, disrobed and stepped into the shower, the theater sounded exactly like a kids’ horror movie matinee, even though it was filled with grownups, authority figures, friends of my parents, even one of my teachers.
They yelled like banshees. As the rest of the film went on, the audience talked to the screen and shouted out warnings to the characters. I saw one of my schoolteachers run up the aisle looking gray and nauseous. People were stunned after the shower murder, though. It was that staggering. And when Martin Balsam as the detective climbed the stairs of the Bates house and when Vera Miles tapped Mrs. Bates’s shoulder in the basement, the place went berserk. I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since in a movie theater. The audience wasn’t self-conscious, faux-hip, or knowing. Nothing then was meta or ironic. The response was primal. Even though I was too young to understand half of Psycho the first time I saw it, it shook me. O’Brien:Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho is based on the Ed Gein case. Can you tell us about Ed Gein and his crimes? Rebello: As you have in some of your wonderful books, Robert Bloch took inspiration from the crimes of a real-life, deeply disturbing, and dangerous psychopath. Mr. Bloch, a disciple of H.P. Lovecraft, lived in Wisconsin in 1957, just miles from where police that year discovered almost unimaginable horrors at the dilapidated farm and house of Ed Gein, an unmarried, middle-aged loner who was known as an odd duck by pretty much everyone in his community. The police found the nude, headless, recently slaughtered body of a woman hanging by her heels in a shed. A human heart was in a coffee can on the stove. This unfortunate woman wasn’t Gein’s only female victim, as the search revealed. Gein’s various activities included dressing himself with female human remains, grave-robbing, cannibalism, necrophilia and, very likely, maternal incest. Mind you, this was a guy hired by his neighbors to babysit their little darlings. The case became a national sensation, even though many of the police findings were too sensational and twisted to be reported by the press in those days. Although Bloch claimed that even he didn’t know the grisly details, somehow his creation “Norman Bates” was uncannily like Gein in many ways. So, Gein—who appeared to be a meek, bland, slightly effeminate mama’s boy when he was actually the stuff of nightmares—inadvertently became one of Bloch’s inspirations for writing Psycho. O’Brien: How did Hitchcock stumble upon the book, Psycho, and why was he interested in making a “horror” movie? Rebello: Hitchcock had been making films since the 1920s and, by the forties, was pretty much acknowledged as the master architect of motion picture thrillers. By the fifties, he was beginning to feel particularly pigeon-holed in the suspense genre and was always relentlessly pursuing material that was different, unique, attention-getting. He drove his associates and agents insane trying to find things that would ignite his imagination. By 1959, several of his most successful films had been very expensive to make. He didn’t like that. The final straw was when he had lavished time, love, money, and preproduction on a film to star Audrey Hepburn and Laurence Harvey that he had to cancel for various reasons. That was a terrible blow, and that project could have been one of the great Hitchcock films. In a state of agitated frustration, the novel Psycho came to his attention because of an intriguing New York Times review by the respected novelist and critic Anthony Boucher. The book, generally, won strong reviews. Hitchcock had noticed how low-budget, non-star horror movies were making a killing by attracting the younger audiences he was after. Psycho fit in with his idea of trying something bolder, more contemporary, and with economy of scale. He began talking about horror movies with his associates and asking, “What if someone good were to make a horror movie?” But he was one of the few who saw merit in Psycho; many of his associates warned him against making Psycho. They thought it was beneath him. O’Brien: In the book, Mary Crain (Marion in the movie) isn’t stabbed in that fatal shower. And Norman Bates is not nearly as handsome and charming as Tony Perkins. Can you explain some of these alterations and any other differences between the book and the movie?
Rebello: But she is killed in the shower in the novel. In fact, Hitchcock told many people that he was most attracted by Bloch’s notion of a murder coming out of the blue in an everyday, confined setting—the shower, where we feel relaxed and complacent but where we’re utterly vulnerable. Hitchcock was thrilled with the idea of shocking audiences by casting a major star as the heroine and killing her off so early in the picture. That violated every Hollywood rule. Bloch’s heroine has her head cut off in the shower, not exactly the kind of thing that even Hitchcock could have gotten away with, even if he had been tempted. Bates in the novel is middle-aged, pudgy, alcoholic, brooding, unattractive, repugnant. He also has extensive conversations with his mother, which would have been fatal and a cheat on film. Casting Anthony Perkins was a lucky masterstroke; he’s as charming, attractive, sad, perverse, and lethal as earlier Hitchcock killers like the one Joseph Cotten played in Shadow of a Doubt and Robert Walker played in Strangers on a Train. Perkins had already worked with top directors like William Wyler, Anthony Mann, and Stanley Kramer, and Paramount had spent lots of money promoting him as a successor to the late James Dean or comparing him to the young James Stewart or Henry Fonda. Although he had become a teen idol and even made some hit records, things hadn’t quite clicked and, at the time, Perkins felt typecast and owed Paramount a movie. Hitchcock could hire him inexpensively. It was a perfect storm. O’Brien: How did screenwriter Joseph Stefano get involved in the movie? Rebello: Hitchcock had thrown away an earlier draft by James Cavanaugh, a talented young TV writer known for scripts for the series Suspense and Playhouse 90; what got him the Psycho adaptation assignment was his teleplay for the famous 1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents entry Arthur,in which Hitchcock himself directed Laurence Harvey as a murderous young chicken farmer. No one liked Cavanaugh’s adaptation of Psycho, though, and Hitchcock’s powerful and much-feared agent Lew Wasserman made the case for Joseph Stefano. Hitchcock was amused by Stefano—a talented, offbeat former dancer, singer, and songwriter who regaled and fascinated Hitchcock with intimate revelations from his psychotherapy sessions. They made quite a pair.
O’Brien: I hear Anthony Perkins was Hitchcock’s first choice for Norman Bates. What about the other roles? I hear Eva Marie Saint, Shirley Jones, Carolyn Jones, Stuart Whitman, and Brian Keith were in the running for other major roles. Could you tell us some more about the casting—and who else was in the running? Rebello: Perkins was pretty much “locked” for Norman Bates, but there were brief discussions about Dean Stockwell, Roddy McDowall, Laurence Harvey, and others. Hitchcock wanted the biggest star possible for the female leading role. Hitchcock associates and top talent agents suggested such stars, appropriate or not, as Lana Turner, Deborah Kerr, Eva Marie Saint, Maureen O’Sullivan, and more. For the heroine’s sister, there was talk of Shirley Jones, Dolores Hart, and Diane Varsi, and for Sam, Marion’s boyfriend, Robert Loggia, Stuart Whitman, Brian Keith, Richard Basehart, and Leslie Nielsen were among those in the running. O’Brien: I spotted the Psycho house in an Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, “The Unlocked Window.” How did they come up with that creepy house, and was it in any other films/TV shows? Rebello: After many discussions with Hitchcock about what he did and didn’t want, art directors Robert Clatworthy and Joseph Hurley designed the house and built it on the Universal backlot, clearly referencing Victorian architecture as typified by Edward Hopper’s haunting 1925 painting House by the Railroad. The art directors appropriated architectural pieces from other standing sets on the Universal backlot, including the house from Harvey. Originally, they built only the front and side of the house because those were all Hitchcock needed to shoot. After Psycho, the house got altered but remained as a standing set and can be seen in several episodes of the Boris Karloff–hosted anthology TV series Thriller,in the Western shows Wagon Train and Laramie,in such feature films as Invitation to a Gunfighter, and, yes, in the Psycho-esque “An Unlocked Window,”among many, many other TV episodes and films. O’Brien: Why did Hitchcock use his TV show crew to shoot the film (instead of his usual cinematographer, Robert Burks)? And why did he shoot it in black and white? Rebello: After becoming so well known in the fifties for his big-star, big-budget Technicolor films, Hitchcock tackled Psycho as something of an “experiment” but also a throwback. He loved referring to it as his “30-day picture” and, just as he did in his early filmmaking days in England, he wanted to try new things while keeping the budget low, at around $800,000. One way of accomplishing this was to work with his trusted TV crewmembers, who were accustomed to working fast and with great skill. In those days, the decision to film in color versus black and white could be as much an artistic decision as a financial one. Black and white was as ideal for Psycho as it was for such other movies of the sixties as The Apartment, Anatomy of a Murder, To Kill a Mockingbird, Days of Wine and Roses, Hud, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, Cape Fear, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Haunting, In Cold Blood,and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. O’Brien: Is it true that Janet Leigh gave John Gavin “a helping hand” during their love scene?
Rebello: That’s what the gifted, very classy, and discreet Janet Leigh said, blushing as she did. Hitchcock and the charming, thoroughly professional Janet Leigh got along beautifully, but somehow he wasn’t especially happy with what he was getting out of John Gavin. He wanted passion, sexuality, heat, and he seemed to feel Mr. Gavin was self-conscious and uncomfortable. Hitchcock apparently took Ms. Leigh aside and asked her to take . . . matters . . . into her own hands. Mr. Gavin responded. What a pair of troupers. O’Brien: Rumors have flown that title designer, Saul Bass, filmed the shower scene. Can you put those rumors to rest? Rebello: Well, Kevin, those rumors flew but they’ve long since crash-landed. There is no underestimating Mr. Bass’s extraordinary gifts as an artist, but too many key people who were on the set have vehemently denied his assertions. I doubt anyone takes the claim seriously anymore—if they ever did. Saul Bass’s contributions to the movie—his visual concepts for the shower sequence and the Arbogast murder on the stairs, the test footage of the shower sequence that he shot using a nude stand-in—are indelible. Let’s remember that Saul Bass provided Hitchcock with a powerful and evocative roadmap for how to film and edit the shower sequence in an era in which extreme violence and nudity could only be suggested but not shown. But let’s also remember that Hitchcock, Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano, especially Janet Leigh, film editor George Tomasini, and composer Bernard Herrmann are the stars and authors of that now-iconic scene. O’Brien: Any interesting stories about filming the famous shower scene? Rebello: Here are some things that did and didn’t happen during the filming of the shower scene. It was not shot by a Japanese crew. Not a frame of it was filmed in color. Janet Leigh shot the scene virtually nude, which was very brave and completely unheard-of for American movie stars in those days. Hitchcock also hired a nude model to shoot the entire sequence just in case Janet Leigh’s modesty made her guard her body and ruin the shot. That model, Marli Renfro, is definitely visible in the overhead shots. Hitchcock in his elegant dark blue suit and tie would often be seen chatting about wine, travel, and dirty jokes while Marli Renfro sat next to him, completely naked. Male crewmembers on the closed set hung from the rafters to get a better view of Janet Leigh; such a frank, bold scene was unheard of at the time. It was quite an engineering feat to make certain Ms. Leigh had sufficient warm water for the entire length of filming. So, no, Hitchcock did not douse her with cold water to elicit her screams—a silly rumor that undercuts what a skilled actress Janet Leigh was.
Anthony Perkins was not used in the scene in any way; he was already in rehearsals for a Frank Loesser musical on Broadway. Hitchcock wanted to spare Perkins any discomfort or embarrassment and, besides, Perkins had such a distinctive body type that he would have been recognized immediately by audiences. “Mother” was played in the scene by stuntwoman Margo Epper, whose face was blacked-out with makeup to conceal her identity. The sound of the knife stabbing flesh was accomplished by stabbing a casaba melon and also a slab of meat. O’Brien: Is it true that Hitchcock didn’t want music to accompany the shower scene? Can you tell us about Bernard Herrmann’s contribution to the film? Rebello: Hitchcock was out to break a lot of new ground this time. That included his wanting Psycho to look, feel, and sound unlike his elegant suspense movies like The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest, or Vertigo, with their romantic, haunting symphonic scores by Bernard Herrmann. Hitchcock dictated precise notes for sound effects and music for his films; for Psycho, he was after a downbeat, cool, strange jazz score perhaps similar to those director Otto Preminger had from Elmer Bernstein for The Man with the Golden Arm and from Duke Ellington on Anatomy of a Murder. He smelled change in the air, the coming of a new, franker, more violent era, and he wanted the film to be modern, to appeal to a new audience. For the shower murder, he was adamant that audiences would hear only the sound of the water, the heroine’s screams and the sounds of the knife ravaging her body. Tough, savage stuff. He resisted Herrmann’s idea of an all-string score and screaming violins but, once he heard the great composer’s work for the shower scene, he apologized—in his own way, that is—by admitting of his no-music dictate, “Improper suggestion, my boy, improper suggestion.” O’Brien: I’ve seen a few seconds of Janet Leigh actually taking off her bra during that scene in which Tony Perkins spies on her through a peephole. But this didn’t make the US version of the film (check the special features of the DVD). How much trouble did Hitchcock encounter with the censors? Rebello: Hitchcock had been challenging and tweaking the hypocrisy of censorship from the beginnings of his career. He threw down the gauntlet with Psycho, deliberately upping the ante with suggestive situations, exposed flesh, provocative themes, imagery, and subtext. When Paramount submitted the screenplay to the censors for review, as all major films had to in those days, their decision came back that Hitchcock was skating on extremely thin ice. They demanded less frank dialogue and lots of changes, for instance, in the way he proposed to film such things as the opening sequence with Janet Leigh and John Gavin shacked up in the hotel during her lunch break, the shower sequence, and more. The censors were especially infuriated about suggestions of incest between Bates and his mother. Hitchcock mostly ignored their restrictions and made the film he wanted to make, with some concessions. On the whole, he played the game brilliantly—deliberately inserting things in the script that he knew he wouldn’t get away with but that would distract the censors from things he was willing to fight for. When the censorship board demanded that he recut the shower scene, for instance, he didn’t touch a foot of the film; they didn’t notice. In the end, the censors weren’t a match for him. But make no mistake—this was a major battle. They could have stopped the movie from being released. Hitchcock didn’t get away with everything, though. He wanted Janet Leigh bra-less in the film’s opening, her breasts brushing John Gavin’s bare chest. O’Brien: Is it true that Hitchcock didn’t have much confidence in Psycho when he viewed the finished product for the first time? Rebello: The early cast and crew private screening did not go particularly well, although that’s hardly unusual in Hollywood. The film apparently played flat, unexciting; it lacked tension. Hitchcock secretly always held the view that if the film really didn’t work, he’d edit it to an hour and show it on television. A later screening for close associates—this time edited more tightly and accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s score—played much better.
Many people today don’t realize that even more effort and planning went into the scene of the private detective being killed than the heroine’s. It was the stabbing of the detective that brought the early audience right out of their seats with terror. As you know, Kevin, Hitchcock didn’t hold any sneak preview screenings for the public, and there weren’t even advance screenings for the press. Some say that Hitchcock wanted to keep the film’s revelations a complete surprise. Others argue that Hitchcock was unconvinced that Psycho was up to his usual standard and that he wanted to do preemptive damage control. To anyone who questioned him, he’d just shrug it off and say, “It’s only a movie.” Even his personal production assistant tried to calm down people on the set who were worried that Hitchcock was going too far: “Don’t worry. He’s already planning the next movie in his head.” O’Brien: “No one will be admitted into the theater after the start of the film.” Can you explain this mandate and other marketing strategies Hitchcock used? Rebello: In those days, the price of a movie ticket bought you not only a feature film, but also newsreels, short subjects, previews of coming attractions, and a second feature film. People would drift in and out of theaters as their interests and schedules permitted. That’s how the old expression originated: “This is where I came in.” Psycho helped change all that. Hitchcock was a master showman and, taking a cue from the publicity campaign for the superb French film Les Diaboliques, he created the aura of an “event” around Psycho.
He made himself the star and centerpiece of the movie’s advertising campaign. At the first-run engagements of Psycho, theater owners were instructed to hire uniformed guards to stand outside theaters to prevent audiences from trying to enter the movie house once the film had begun. Great publicity! Life-sized cardboard cutouts of Hitchcock stood in the lobby, and recorded messages from Hitchcock informed ticket-buyers of the reasons behind his unusual admissions policy and also hyped them to expect to be terrified and stunned. At one showing, audiences waiting to get in were wrapped around the block and, when it started to rain and they wouldn’t leave, Hitchcock was contacted by the theater manager and asked what to do. “Buy them umbrellas,” he said. Before the era of Facebook, Twitter, spoilers, and text messages, audiences loved being surprised and loved the chance to feel that they were part of the ritual that seeing Psycho turned out to be. O’Brien: What was the public and critical reaction to Psycho when it was first released? Rebello: American critics gave the film mixed to negative reviews—“a blot on an honorable career” as one called it. Hitchcock himself speculated that he’d put critics’ noses out of joint by refusing to invite them to the usual free advance screenings. Critics actually had to suffer the terrible indignity of having to pay to see the film along with the rest of us—the great, unwashed public. On the other hand, the public response to the movie was phenomenal. Audiences lined up around the block for the very first showings and the film was held over for weeks and weeks in many theaters. Psycho was a cultural phenomenon, the kind of movie that you’d hear people talking about at grocery stores, post offices, everywhere. Interestingly, when the movie turned out to cause a sensation, some of the same critics who panned it suddenly got religion and named it on their end-of-the-year “best lists.” The public “got” Psycho—or, as Hitchcock put it, “went Psycho”—long before the critics did. Over the years, of course, the movie has been acclaimed as a masterpiece. O’Brien: I couldn’t wait to see Psycho when it was set for its TV premiere on The CBS Friday Night Movies in September 1966. But something happened in Kenilworth, Illinois (one town away from where I lived at the time), that caused the TV premiere of Psycho to be canceled. Can you explain? Rebello: CBS pulled that network premiere after the September 18th murder of twenty-one-year-old Valerie Percy, who was brutally killed with a hammer and a knife by an unknown assailant in the family home she shared with her twin sister, her mother, and her father, then US Senator Charles H. Percy. You may remember that there was a big international investigation and a $50,000 reward but Ms. Percy’s murder remains an unsolved crime to this day. The film was rescheduled, but pulled again after the tragic fire on the Apollo space mission. In the end, the movie never had a network TV showing. Hitchcock took considerable heat from the press about his “responsibility” in contributing to what some called “the American cult of violence.” When a young man on death row said that he killed his most recent victim after seeing Psycho, Hitchcock said, “He had killed two other women before, so when the press called and asked if I had any comment, I said, “Yes. I want to know the names of the movies he saw before he killed the other two, or did he kill the first one after drinking a glass of milk?” O’Brien: Finally, can you tell us why you think Psycho continues to scare us and influence so many other thrillers—fifty years later? Rebello:Psycho continues to scare audiences and inspire filmmakers because the story works, the characters resonate, the dialogue is full of dark little gems, the imagery is stunning, and the mood, subtext—the film’s dark underneath—is troubling, primal, and universal. As directed by Hitchcock, it’s a one-of-a-kind collision of sexy soap opera, crime thriller, old dark house Gothic, black comedy, tragedy, and psychosexual mind warp.
For some, it is a perfectly enjoyable, enthralling, well-made “movie-movie,” yet it also works on deeper subconscious levels in subversive and masterful ways. No wonder we’re still enjoying Psycho, analyzing it, having nightmares about it, quoting it, parodying it, being influenced by it. And here I’ve gotten the privilege of talking with you about it, Kevin, while, later today, I go back to my involvement in preparations for a major feature film set against the making of Psycho that will begin production early next year. Somewhere, Hitchcock is having the last laugh at all those who warned him not to make Psycho. It wasn’t “only a movie,” was it? O’Brien: Thank you for your time, Stephen! It’s a thrill and an honor to talk with you. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho is one of my all-time favorite film books. Rebello: The thrill and honor are also mine, Kevin. Next time, I get to interview you, and we can start with one of my favorites, Vicious.
I come from a generation of fantastic film fans who wanted a greater depth of knowledge about the films we loved. This moved beyond knowing who the actors and even the directors were. We knew about the special effects technicians, the make up artists, the matte painters, the model makers, stop-motion animators, and even who composed the scores. Some of my favorites included Bernard Herrmann, James Bernard, Jerry Goldsmith, and of course John Williams. A few moments reflection on the movie going experience, especially in regards to the horror genre, reveals how important music is. Some of the more noteworthy examples are the shower scene in PSYCHO, the main theme for JAWS, and the memorable music for John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Unfortunately, while the images of horror have been the focus of much critical and academic discussion, little attention has been paid to the music. Addressing this deficit, Neil Lerner has edited the book Music in the Horror Film: Listening to Fear (Routledge, 2010). Lerner is Professor of Music at Davidson College, where he teaches courses in music as well as film and media studies. His work on film music has been published in numerous journals, essay collections, and encyclopedias. Lerner discusses horror film music in this special interview for Cinefantastique Online. John Morehead: Neil, thank you for being willing to discuss your book here. Can you begin by sharing a little of your background in music, and why, on a personal level, you chose horror as the genre of film for analysis in terms of music’s significance and impact?
Neil Lerner: First of all, I want to you thank you and Cinefantastique for your interest in this work. As a longtime fan of Cinefantastique, it’s a great honor to get to discuss these things with you.
My professional background is as a musicologist, and my dissertation studied music in some U.S. government documentary films. At the time I started working on my dissertation, there were only a handful of music scholars who were taking film music seriously. So that’s partly why I went with these documentary film scores, by established concert hall composers like Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland: because they were in many ways safer to the academy. It was also a case where I was confident I could get to the relevant archival material, like score manuscripts and production papers, something that’s still not easy to do with Hollywood scores.
One question that I found myself drawn to throughout that research on documentary scores was whether or not a composer could do more experimental things in a score for a documentary than in a Hollywood fictional narrative. I actually found several instances where composers could push the compositional envelope in a documentary film score—like using extended dissonances, or writing fugues, things that didn’t happen too much in Hollywood’s mainstream scores—and that question of where and how modernist strategies enter into film music continues to interest me.
Finally, I’ve always been a fan of horror films, but I started studying film more seriously in college, which, believe it or not, was at Transylvania University. I had one particularly brilliant professor there who took great pleasure in talking about vampire films in his film courses, and his intellectual curiosity was contagious. In many ways, then, I’ve been on a crash course with this topic. John Morehead: Can you sketch how music developed in terms of its inclusion in the horror film? Viewers take its presence for granted in contemporary cinema, but may forget that there was a process of development as it was included in film, and in horror as well, beyond the jump from silent films to sound. Neil Lerner: I think studying music in horror films brings with it the same challenges as in other genres in that transitional period between “silent” and sound film: composers had multiple strategies for dealing with different kinds of dramatic situations; it’s often difficult or impossible to reconstruct with certainty what early musicians did (in cases of live accompaniment); and it’s too easy to over-generalize based on just a few examples. There’s still a good deal of basic research to be done in trying to map out just what was done in horror films in the 1920s, but we have some important clues in a book like Ernö Rapée’s Encyclopedia of Music for Pictures (1925), which lists all kinds of categories and topics that musicians accompanying film could have used. That book doesn’t have notated music, but rather it has lists of possible pieces that would fit each topic, giving us now an idea of what music was considered appropriate (at least according to Rapée) for different genres. If you look up “horror” in the Rapée, it directs you to the topics of “gruesome” and “outcry,” which themselves then direct out to other categories like “dwarfs, ghosts, spooks, and mysteriosos” (for “gruesome”) or to “dramatic” in the case of “outcry.” It ends up suggesting quite a wide spectrum of music that was available to someone accompanying a scary scene, but certain basic ideas tend to surface over and over again in these pieces, and these are things that aren’t unique to music for horror film, but rather things that fall in a much longer tradition of ways that composers could create a sense of fear or dread: extended unresolved dissonances, surprising bursts of sound, unfamiliar timbres, etc.
I do think Robert Spadoni’s recent book on horror film and the transition into the sound era makes a strong case for the significance of the sound track and how it could make films more horrific. The success of horror films coming out of Hollywood (starting in 1931) really does overlap in interesting ways with the coming of synchronized, recorded sound to the cinematic experience.
John Morehead: Your book begins appropriately with a consideration of the organ in CARNIVAL OF SOULS in a chapter by Julie Brown, with a comparison of the same instrument in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Was this the first major instrument to be used in horror films, and how significant is it in associations with the genre today? Neil Lerner: I don’t know if we can say that it was the first major instrument of horror films, just because I’m not certain we know enough yet about music in horror film in the 1920s, but Julie Brown’s work makes a compelling case for why the organ would recur so much in horror films. Namely, the instrument’s connections with certain kinds of religious spaces as well as its associations with funerals are all rich things to explore in a genre (horror) that probes at our sublimated anxieties. The tradition of the baroque organ is one where its huge sound was supposed to overpower its listener through sheer volume and acoustic weight, in ways that Robert Walser has compared with heavy metal music (and how heavy metal music works in horror films, when it starts to appear, etc., is another topic that needs work).
The film that I researched for the book, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931), makes the organ a central icon connected with Henry Jekyll, adding a musical dimension that doesn’t occur in Stevenson’s novella. I believe it’s there to provide a quick and efficient clue to Jekyll’s character: he has a certain level of wealth and high culture sophistication in that he plays Bach organ works for pleasure at his home, and it also suggests something of Jekyll’s piety and goodness (towards the end of the film he cries out to God).
Yet there’s another component to Jekyll’s organ playing that I explore in my essay, and that’s the possibility that Rouben Mamoulian’s conception of Jekyll & Hyde might set the entire narrative up as a dream occurring in the midst of Jekyll’s organ playing. The film opens with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, a piece that recurs in the middle of the film—with some of the middle of the organ piece—and then the film closes with the final measures of the organ work. I know it’s a fairly radical way to read the film, but I found some other clues in the literary references that I believe at least complicate some of our assumptions about that film and how it works. John Morehead: Of course, PSYCHO is perhaps the horror film most associated with striking music, as in the infamous shower scene. In the interesting chapter on this film, Ross Fenimore connects the film’s “aural fragments” of imagined and real voices with the musical “screams” of Marion’s (Janet Leigh) death as she is stabbed in the shower. Most viewers are familiar with the significance of Bernard Herrmann’s score to the film, but may not have connected this as part of a bigger aural whole that paints a picture of terror. How do these elements come together under the direction of Hitchcock? Neil Lerner: I agree with you that the shower scene music from PSYCHO has become an iconic example of horror music, but I’d extend it even further, to say that it’s become one of the most iconic examples of all film music. Ross Fenimore’s essay raises some important questions about the music and to whom it might be connected (to Marion? to Norman? to Mother? to someone else?), which becomes really interesting when you start to factor in the film’s trickery in regards to connecting voices to characters.
I don’t know, however, how much credit should go to Hitchcock’s direction. I mean no disrespect to Hitchcock here, but I think it’s important to remember that Hitchcock originally wanted that shower scene to have only natural sound effects (like shower and knife sounds) without music. Herrmann lobbied to put music into it, and Hitchcock acquiesced, but Herrmann probably paid a heavy price later with Hitchcock for upstaging his director with a better idea. Herrmann’s score here is just brilliant; he was a composer at the peak of his powers, creating music that continues to yield new readings and interpretations. It’s just so marvelously simple and effective in its blend of extended, unresolved dissonances (major sevenths and minor seconds), descending registral gestures (moving from high to low), and repetition. Plus there’s the effect of having the string instruments play the quick portamento, the sliding up on the string, which creates a terrible ripping or tearing effect; it fills in the blanks of what’s happening because visually, we never actually see the knife ripping through flesh, but aurally, we get a clear idea of what’s happening. John Morehead: As a long-time horror fan I should have been aware of this, but it was not until I read Music in the Horror Film, and Claire Sisco King’s chapter on music in THE EXORCIST, that I realized that the film includes an unconventional approach to musical scoring at the insistence of director William Friedkin. Why did he approach music in the film in this way, and how is this reflective of cultural anxieties of the time as well as the film’s narrative? Neil Lerner: It’s hard to try and get inside a director’s head, but Claire Sisco King does a fabulous job of collecting all sorts of evidence from the production of the film, thereby giving us clues to what might have been motivating him. I was struck at Friedkin’s resistance to thinking of THE EXORCIST as a horror film, because it reminded me of Rouben Mamoulian’s similar remarks about DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. I have a hunch both of these directors might have felt that horror as a genre was perhaps too undignified for the kinds of larger ideas they were addressing, and appropriately enough, both of them ended up transforming and complicating the genre in pretty important ways. Friedkin was motivated by a kind of documentary impulse in THE EXORCIST, and Claire Sisco King argues how this probably led to the unconventional musical choices he made. She then goes on to read the music in relation to the larger cultural anxiety of a widely perceived crisis of masculinity. I think her essay can help viewers to see THE EXORCIST in a new and different way—note the visual metaphors here, it’s just tough to escape them—but the underlying goal behind all of the essays in the book is the idea that by paying closer attention to the music, the ear can lead us to see these films in new ways. John Morehead: I was raised on the fantastic scores of folks like Bernard Hermann, James Horner, and a little later John Williams. But one of the others I enjoyed was director John Carpenter with his synthesizer music. Your book includes a chapter discussing Carpenter’s music in THE FOG, and I wonder how original and significant you see his electronic scoring in this and other films like HALLOWEEN and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK? Neil Lerner: I think there’s still a good deal of basic work that needs to be done on this question, but K. J. Donnelly’s essay makes a strong case for the potential returns in giving close attention to film scores that might be thought of as too simple or basic. A good deal of scholarship on film music has tended to focus on fully notated orchestral film scores, but of course there’s a much wider spectrum of musical strategies out there, like rock or jazz, and Donnelly has been an important scholarly pioneer in this regard.
The synthesizer timbres weren’t original to John Carpenter—several of the important Vietnam-era horror films, like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, have some prominent use of electronic instruments—but Carpenter does seem to have done something that worked well and proved influential with the synthesizer scoring in HALLOWEEN (1978). Plus I just think those early modular synths were incredibly cool, so I’m happy we got a picture of a Moog in the book. John Morehead: It is understandable that, since film is a visual medium, the image has been the primary focus of film analysis, but given the significance of sound and music to film, particularly to horror (not to mention science fiction and fantasy), why has musical analysis been largely ignored? And is this situation starting to change? Neil Lerner: My college film courses emphasized that film is a visual medium, and of course much of the writing about film does that also, but maybe because I was studying music while taking film classes I was more attenuated to what was happening in the soundtrack. I’ve always found it interesting that so much of the attention in film goes to the visual elements, but the experience of film (and now television and video games) is almost always tied together with a soundtrack. One might speculate that there’s a larger cultural bias against the acoustic, that there’s a hegemony of the visual; what we consider basic educational skills dwell largely if not exclusively on things that are visual, like reading, but where in our culture do we teach about the sonic and the musical? I believe most of us are self taught in regards to knowing how to interpret the music we encounter with a film or video game—if we’re raised watching these things, we figure it out from the context—and most people can interpret these musical codes with a great deal of nuance, even if they aren’t trained in music and have no idea how the music is doing what it does. It’s useful, therefore, to have music scholars devoted to studying music in screen media as a way of providing students and devotees with another tool in their own lifelong encounters with these things.
As a music historian, I’ve long heard the truism that concert hall music in the twentieth century, particularly the experimental, avant-garde styles, hit a kind of impasse where audiences became disinterested in it and where many of these musical languages then found their way into film genres like fantasy and horror. One of my goals with the book was to help to provide some examples of that, whether it be through the radical sound collage that Mamoulian created for the first transformation scene in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE or the later appropriations of Penderecki in THE EXORCIST or THE SHINING. There’s still a great deal of work to be done in tracking all of these musical languages, and that’s exciting for musicologists, film scholars, and folks who love movies.
1960. The beginning of a turbulent decade: civil rights, riots, sit-ins. On screen, however – at least as far as mainstream Hollywood is concerned, it is still business as usual, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handing out an unprecedented number of Oscar to the overblown historical epic, BEN-HUR. If you are searching cinema for hints of the societal tensions that will explode over the course of the next few years, you will have to look elsewhere, to genres that allow buried fears to surface in disguised forms. You have to look to cinefantastique.
What did 1960 have to offer in terms of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films? Essentially, the year was part of a transitional period. Science fiction, which had dominated genre film-making throughout most of the 1950s – with fears of communism disguised as enlarged insects, other-worldly creatures, and various atomic mutations and monsters – waned toward the end of the decade, replaced by a resurrected horror genre, which focused on visceral, bodily fears. While England’s Hammer Films, who had revived the Gothic tradition with new incarnations of Dracula and Frankenstein, continued their successful streak, filmmakers in America and Italy sought to cash in on their success. Japan – long a supplier of giant monsters – showed that they could scale their terrors down to size. Horror was becoming international in scope. But unlike the classic horror of yesteryear, the new films hit closer to home, with stories hinting that the bastions of normality, far from being impervious strongholds, might, in fact, be the source of horror.
PSYCHO and HOUSE OF USHER – even BLACK SUNDAY, to some extent – trace the etiology of terror back to the family, once a sacrosanct institution. Playing to the target teen audience, USHER’s depiction of horror is closely aligned with age: the white-haired Roderick (Vincent Price) stands between the film’s two young lovers. Though technically the brother of Madeline Usher, he exhibits all the signs of parental authority, and one of the illicit thrills of the film is seeing the old authority figure go down in flames along with his house.
Also, in 1960 it is hard to identify the “monster” by mere looks; now he – or she – may walk among us, unnoticed until it is too late. Norman Bates seems to be a nice, shy boy. PEEPING TOM’s Mark Lewis is likewise likable. The new Mr. Hyde, in Hammer Films’ version of the familiar tale, is a handsome bon vivant, not a deformed maniac. The bottom line is this: the safety zone is smaller, if it exists at all; watching the skies for alien invaders is pointless, when the attack is more likely to come from within one’s own neighborhood or household, perhaps even one’s own self.
Although 1960 saw horror exploding on screens around the world, science fiction and fantasy were not entirely absent; they continued, sometimes offering an optimistic counterpoint, sometimes including monsters menacing enough to populate a full-blown horror film. Producer George Pal took us into a future populated by subterranean Morlocks. Stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, who had switched from science fiction (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS) to fantasy (THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) sent Gulliver to Lilliput. The great Ingmar Bergman took time out from his more serious work to send Don Juan back to Earth from Hell.
Another sign of the times was the trend toward color photography. The low-budget black-and-white science fiction – which had once proliferated like pod people in a green house – withered away to almost nothing. Not every genre film had a hefty budget, but even modest productions like HOUSE OF USHER and DINOSAURUS made the effort to look lavish and glossy, thanks to widescreen and/or color – and if not more lavish, then at least more lurid, thanks to the occasional flash of blood, which registered with much greater impact when viewers could see the deep crimson dripping on the screen.
Exactly how many horror, fantasy, and science fiction films were released in 1960? That depends on how you define the genres, and whether you include foreign titles that might not have reached our shores until later. Below we do our best to round up the relevant titles. Read on to get a taste of what the genre had to offer fifty years ago…
-1960 SCIENCE FICTION FILMS-
THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN. The career of the talented Edgar G. Ulmer (1934’s THE BLACK CAT) seemed on a downhill slide with this low-budget effort, scripted by Jack Lewis, about a mad scientist who intends to use an invisibility formula to create an army of invisible zombies. ATOMIC WAR BRIDE. This 84-minute Yugoslavian film (known as Rat in its native land) is an alleged satire on the insanity of nuclear warfare. BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN (Nebo zovyot). Russian film about a race to land the first rocket ship on Mars. Directed by Mikhail Karzhukov and Sleksandr Kozyr, from a script Karzhukov co-wrote with Yevgeni Pomeschchikov and Aleksei Sazanov. Francis Ford Coppola (working under the pseudonym Thomas Colchart) re-edited the film and shot new footage for the U.S. release. BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER. Another film from director Edgar G. Ulmer, this one from a script by Arthur C. Pierce, about a test pilot who inadvertently rockets into a future time, when the ruler wants him to procreate because the male population has gone sterile. THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS. Phil Tucker, producer of the infamous ROBOT MONSTER, wrote and directed this dismal little ditty, a 69-minute stinker about aliens from outer space who possess the bodies of a man and a woman who died in a car accident. The disembodied aliens are visualized as simple white circles of animation floating across a black screen, an effect reprised at the end to suggest the defeated extraterrestrials will be back for more mayhem – a fate that, fortunately cinema audiences were spared. DINOSAURUS. This sci-fi effort from the team that gave us THE BLOB (1958) is built around a great premise for a cool action-thriller: an island resort is menaced by a pair of prehistoric reptiles accidentally dredged up from the harbor; the brontosaurus turns out to be friendly enough, but the Tyrannosaurus Rex is hungry! The isolated setting forces the characters to defend themselves without help from the army or even much in the way of firepower; they have to rely on whatever is available, leading to a clever confrontation between the Rex and a steam shovel at the climax. The script throws in a cave man as well, who is used mostly for comic relief. In general, the writing, directing, and acting are competent but not outstanding. The stop-motion miniature dinosaur effects may amuse fans for the technique, but only very young viewers will be convinced by them. All in all, this is a pleasant popcorn experience, but it is easy to imagine a better film being made from the central idea. NOTE: Producer Jack H. Harris had hoped that this would be his “forever movie,” the one that lasted in people’s imaginations, because it had more lavish production values than THE BLOB, and it was distributed by a major studio. Although the film turned a profit, it did not become a classic; meanwhile, memories of THE BLOB live on. THE HUMAN VAPOR. Director Ishiro Honda and special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya, the team behind such Toho productions as GODZILLA and RODAN, focus on a human-sized monster for a change: a librarian (Yoshio Tsuchiya) who gains the ability, courtesy of a scientific experiment, to turn himself into a vapor. Cross-breeding science fiction with cop-and-robbers, the script by Takeshi Kimura has the titular human vapor use his abilities to rob banks. The original Japanese titles literally translates at “First Gas Person.” THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH. Odd-ball effort from producer-director Roger Corman, starring Betsy Jones-Moreland, Antony Carbone, and Robert Towne (who wrote the script) as the last three people left alive on Earth, leading to the ultimate love triangle as the two men vie for the affections of the sole remaining woman. Although shot in color and widescreen, this little movie is a low-budget affair, too slowly paced (in spite of its 71-minute running time) to stand up even as a solid cult film; fortunately, it does have a few things going for it, such as the effective depiction of a depopulated world, realized on location in Puerto Rico with streets full of empty cars abandoned in the middle of the road. The ending even works up a little genuine interest, refusing to cop out with a happy resolution. THE LEECH WOMAN. This black-and-white B-movie from Universal Pictures is too cheap and shoddy to be really good, but like THE WASP WOMAN (see below), it offers some interesting insights on the 1960 male attitudes toward women and aging. It’s about some anthropologists who accompany an old crone back to her village in the jungle, where she reveals a secret that restores her youth; the catch is that the process requires a human victim to work. June Talbot (Coleen Gray) appropriates the secret for her own personal use, more than wiling to have men pay the price for extending her youthful appearance indefinitely. Although June is clearly the villain, the film offers her some measure of sympathy: her first victim is a two-timer who gets what he deserves, and the dialogue explicitly notes the double standards that apply to men and women as they grow older (men earn greater respect, while women are cast aside as worn out and useless). THE LOST WORLD. Irwin Allen’s remake of the 1925 silent classic substitutes live-action lizards for stop-motion dinosaurs. There is a decently sweaty atmosphere to the jungle scenes as Professor Challenger (Claude Rains) leads a team in search of surviving prehistoric reptiles. Michael Rennie (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), Jill St. John (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER), and David Hedison (THE FLY) fill out the cast, but the humans cannot make up for the fact that we don’t get to see convincing dinosaurs. Charles Bennet wrote the script, based on the fine adventure novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. MAN IN THE MOON. This British comedy, directed by Basil Deardon from a screenplay by Bryan Forbes and Michale Relph, stars Kenneth Moore as a man chosen to be the first to make a flight to the moon. The premise is that Moore’s character is a professional medical test subject who has proven to be highly resistant to disease, so scientists preparing a moon mission decide to use him as a guinea pig, sending him to the moon before any real astronauts go. SHIP OF MONSTERS. 81-minute black-and-white Mexican film about women from Venus who coming looking for male breeding stock. When the hero refuses to comply, the Venusians unleash monsters. The ploy does not work, and they return home, defeated. THE SILENT STAR (Der Schweigende Stern). Based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem (SOLARIS), this German-Polish film from DEFA (East Germany’s state-run Deutsche Filmaktiengesellschaft) was intended as serious science fiction effort, with a high-class production values, including color, widescreen, and four-track stereo. However, when it reached American shores in 1962 as FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, the English-dubbed, re-edited version was unimpressive indeed, providing well-deserved fodder for an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Fortunately, the original version is now available on DVD and VOD. It’s still not great, but it is better. SPACE MEN (a.k.a. ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE). Italian film directed by Antonio Margheriti (CASTLE OF BLOOD), about a reporter, assigned to a beat aboard a space station, who must disable the photon generators of an errant space ship, the radiation from which is threatening Earth. THE TIME MACHINE. George Pal, who had produced THE WAR OF THE WORLDS in 1953, returns with another adaptation of H.G. Wells, and this time Pal steps into the director’s chair. The story has time traveler Rod Taylor heading to the future, when society has been divided into two segments: one weak and passive, living on the surface; the other strong and cannibalistic, living underground. Wells’ original was a sort of satiric imagination of the direction in which society might be evolving: it’s the bourgeoisie and proletariat taken to extremes; Pal substitutes the idea that things got this way because of nuclear war. This was quite a lavish production for its time; although some of the special effects trickery is visible at the seams, the work is colorful and engaging enough so that you want to forgive the flaws. Overall, this is an enjoyable effort, though not quite as astounding as WAR OF THE WORLDS. VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. Excellent, suspenseful science fiction film about the misadventures of a small English town, where the residents wake up after a mysterious bout of narcolepsy, and nine months later the women give birth to children with strange powers (including Martin Stephens of THE INNOCENTS). The always entertaining George Sanders plays the man who first tries to teach the children (who have a nasty habit of using their telepathic powers to bump off those who offend them) and later tries to destroy them, putting his own life at risk. VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET. Jerry Lewis stars in this film version of the Gore Vidal Broadway play (which had made its debut as a television drama). Lewis plays an alien who comes to Earth and falls in love. Unfortunately, along with love, come less pleasant emotions, which may not be worth the price. Vidal’s original was a satire about an alien who wanted to study the Civil War; when he arrives too late – in the 20th century – he decides to start a new war. THE WASP WOMAN. This little black-and-white movie, produced and directed by Roger Corman, casts the striking Susan Cabot as Janice, head of a large cosmetics firm, who resorts to wasp enzymes in order to arrest the aging process. The treatment works; unfortunately, it also morphs her into the titular Wasp Woman from time to time. It is hard to take this thread-bare production seriously; its monster is obviously a riff on THE FLY (1958), but the makeup and production values are no real competition for the earlier film. Still, THE WASP WOMAN retains a flash of interest. It’s a male, sexist depiction of how beautiful women handle aging, going to such desperate lengths that they turn themselves into monsters. ALSO OF NOTE: In order to get the running time up to the minimum length needed for a television sale, Jack Hill added a prologue sequence. (NOTE: THE WASP WOMAN was shot in 1959, and some sources list it as having been released in October of that year; others list the release date as February 12, 1960.) WORLD WAR II BREAKS OUT (Dai-sanji sekai taisen: Yonju-ichi jikan no kyofu). This Japanese film from writer-director Shigeaki Hidaka (with a directorial assist from William Ross) portrays the tragic consequences for Japan when a nuclear war erupts between the USA and the Soviet bloc.
-1960 FANTASY FILMS-
THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER. The men behind THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1957) – producer Charles H. Schneer, actor Kerwin Matthews, and (most importantly) special effects supervisor Ray Harryhausen – reteamed for this film version of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Although much of the Swiftian satire is lost in the screenplay by Arthur A. Ross and director Jack Sher, the film emerges as another colorful showcase for Harryhausen’s visual effects. Without much in the way of monsters to animate, Harryhausen focuses on the miniature and composite effects necessary to make Matthews look either larger or smaller than everyone else (depending on which of the three worlds he is in at the time). The result is an adequately entertaining fantasy for children. Swift fans will probably prefer the original novel. Harryhausen fans will probably prefer anything with more monsters. THE DEVIL’S EYE. Writer-director Ingmar Bergman’s fantasy-comedy is based around the folk saying that a woman’s virtue is like a stye in the Devil’s Eye. In this case, Satan (Stig Jarrel) sends Don Juan (Jarl Kulle) up from hell in order to seduce a virtuous vicar’s daughter (Bibi Andersson). Bergman’s comedies (such as SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) are not so much “funny” as they are light-hearted counterpoints to his more serious work. Unfortunately, this film has never been released on Region 1 DVD. FAUST. A German film version of Goethe’s play, starring Will Quadflieg as Dr. Faust and Gustaf Grundgens as Mephistopholes. Unavailable on Region 1 DVD, the color, 128-minute film has a decent rating on IMDB. GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON (La vendetta di Ercole [“The Vendetta of Hercules”]). This is one of many Italian beefcake epics from the era; many were simply muscle-men movies, but others included fantasy elements, often borrowed from Greek mythology. In this film, Goliath/Hercules (Mark Forest) battles giant bats, a three-headed dog, and a dragon. Broderick Crawford (from the 1941 version of THE BLACK CAT and, later, television’s HIGHWAY PATROL) provides a little American name value as King Eurystheus. LA TESTAMENT D’OPHEE. The last film from the highly regarded surrealistic filmmaker Jean Cocteau (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) portrays an 18th century poet who travels through time seeking divine inspiration. THE WILD BEAST OF CRETE. Inspired by Greek mythology, this Italian peplum film is about an evil ruler in Crete, who keeps the dangerous man-monster hybrid the Minotaur at bay by sacrificing island virgins. THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD. Dick Shawn and Diane Baker star in this comedy spin on THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, written by Jesse Lasky Jr. and directed by George Sherman.
-1960 HORROR FILMS-
13 GHOSTS. Gimmicky William Castle film, written by Robb White, for which audience members were given special tinted glasses that allowed them to see the ghosts on screen. ATOM AGE VAMPIRE. Italian rip-off of EYES WITHOUT A FACE (see below), with a mad doctor who is able to turn himself into a monster, so that he can abduct women in order to use their skin to restore the face of his disfigured daughter. THE AVENGER. Germanpsycho-thriller set in England, about a killer who decapitates his victims and sends the heads through the mail. Based on an Edgar Wallace novel. BLACK SUNDAY. Widely regarded by fans as a genre masterpiece, BLACK SUNDAY is a magnificent work of black-and-white horror, filled with wonderfully atmospheric effects and punctuated by moments of brutality quite grizzly for their time. Also known as “The Mask of Satan,” ”Mask of the Demon,” or “Revenge of the Vampire” (depending on the country of release), the film simultaneously harkins back to the Universal classics of the 1930s and emulates the then-contemporary verve and dynamism of Hammer Films productions like HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). The result is a unique piece of Gothic visual poetry that retains its power to thrill and entertain with all the tenacious vivacity of its centuries-dead vampire-witch, who refuses to lie quietly in her grave. This marks the official directorial debut of cinematographer Mario Bava, who would craft several excellent horror and science fiction films over the course of the next two decades. BLOOD AND ROSES. French director Roger Vadim’s adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla has its defenders, but the Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror faults it for “stilted performances…bathetic dialogue, and direction too prosaic to achieve the necessary intensity.” THE BRIDES OF DRACULA. This is Hammer Films’ first sequel to their 1958 classic, HORROR OF DRACULA. Made at the height of the studio’s success, BRIDES OF DRACULA features the familiar elements (beautiful color cinematography, lavish sets, solid writing, strong performances), making this a worthy heir to its predecessor. However, it is perhaps most notable for the obvious absence of the king of vampires, Count Dracula; instead, we get a blond, youthful vampire named Baron Meinster (David Peel). Directed with assurance by Terence Fisher, BRIDES is lavish and beautiful, filled with interesting ideas and memorable scenes. In the end, however, this sequel cannot surmount the absence of Count Dracula. Having dispatched the Vampire King in the previous film, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is the Gothic equivalent of the world’s heavyweight champ, and Baron Meinster is a comparative light-weight, making his defeat feel like a foregone conclusion from the very beginning. CIRCUS OF HORRORS. Anton Diffring gives a fine performance in this lurid film directed by Sidney Hayers, from a script by George Baxt about a crooked plastic surgeon who evades the police by assuming a new identity as the proprietor of a travelling circus – which soon becomes famous (or infamous) for a series of tragic accidents, which seem only to increase tickets sales. Besides the visceral kick of trapeze artists falling to their deaths, or lion tamers mauled by the big cats, the film gets its biggest charge from Diffring’s character – essentially a tempermental artist who fashions his female patients to suit his classical ideas of beauty, and then destroys them when no longer satisfied with his own results. Not exactly reputable, but fascinating to watch. Donald Pleasence (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) appears early on, as the previous circus owner, mauled to death in a drunken stupor by his favorite performing bear. CITYOF THE DEAD (a.k.a. HORROR HOTEL). This excellent spookfest – about student who gets more than she bargained for when she goes to a small New England town to do research on belief in witches – stops just short of being one of the all-time great horror films. It is drenched in black-and-white atmosphere, and things that should be wrong actually end up helping: the budget-dictated lack of exteriors location shooting, plus the English actors trying to sound American, combine to create a limbo-like feeling, as if the film is set in its own weird little universe. The only drawback is that director Moxie lays it on so thick that sometimes you have to giggle. Fortunately, he redeems the misstep with the wonderful finale – one of the greatest endings you will ever see in a horror film. CREATURES OF THE WALKING DEAD. A mostly forgotten Mexican horror film about a mad doctor’s great grandson, who inherits the family castle and revives his ancestor. THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS. Entertaining opening salvo in Mexico’s series of films about the vampiric son of the famous prophet. Nostradamus fils (Germain Robles) is as much super-villain as vampire, revealing his existence to a professor and challenging him to prevent a series of 13 murders that blood-sucker proposes to commit (all of this is to prove that the powers of darkness and the supernatural are far stronger than those of modern science). The clever concept is somewhat marred by bad dubbing in the U.S. versions, but the film is richly atmospheric, with nice Gothic sets benefiting from some fine photography, and Robles is impressive in the title role. Three sequels followed. THE CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE. Mexican horror film on the voodoo theme. DOCTOR BLOOD’S COFFIN. A surgeon exhume the body of his receptionist’s husband and attempts to implant a living heart. The wonderful Hazel Court is the receptionist – perhaps the only point of interest to this obscure flick. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Les Yeux sans Visage, 1960). This brilliant film from director Georges Franju is a compelling and clinically brilliant combination of French art film and shock horror. The plot reads like little more than conventional B-movie schlock: Doctor Genessier, driven by guilt for disfiguring his daughter in a car accident, is the archetypal mad scientist who will stop at nothing to restore her face – even murder. What raises the film to the level of a masterpiece is the thorough conviction with which the story is treated, at all levels: the performances, direction, photography, and art direction – all combine to create a world in which fragile, poetic beauty is periodically shattered by clinical horror. The juxtaposition of the contrasting imagery is, in some miraculous fashion, entirely seamless, all part and parcel of the same picture, never feeling gratuitously grafted on. The result is not merely frightening but also genuinely disturbing – and thoroughly engrossing from start to finish. This is the first “art” horror film, and it’s cross-over appeal between the art house and the grindhouse should not be overestimated. THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. Black-and-white British horror movie, written and directed by John Gilling (THE REPTILE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE GORGON), based on the true-life story of Burke and Hare. Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Knox, the surgeon-teacher who pays the grave robbers to provide corpses for his anatomy students. Donald Pleasence co-stars. THE HANDS OF ORLAC. Mel Ferrer stars in this film, one of several adaptations of the Maurice Renard novel about a pianist who loses his hands in an accident and has the hands of a murderer grafted on in their place. Christopher Lee co-stars. HOUSEOF USHER. With this thick slice of atmospheric horror, producer-director Roger Corman (mentioned only a few paragraphs ago in reference to THE WASP WOMAN) finally got a chance to prove that he could handle a relatively lavish and respectable film. Though still working on a small budget, Corman put together an excellent team that provided lots of bang for the buck, including cinematographer Floyd Crosby and production designer Daniel Haller. Based on Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the screenplay by Richard Matheson has a bit of trouble expanding the story to 80 minutes, but it manages to convey the gist of the original, while providing an excellent vehicle for star Vincent Price, who became this generation’s heir to the throne of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Corman and Price would go on to collaborate on numerous, even better Poe-based movies, but this is the Big Bang that started it all. HOUSE OF TERROR (La Casa Del Terror). Infamous patchwork Mexican film featuring comic star Tin Tan, which is known in the U.S. in a radically altered form as FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF. Lon Chaney Jr. is on hand as resurrected mummy who turns out to be a werewolf. Wow! THE INVISIBLE CREATURE. Innocuous variation on the familiar story of a scheming adulterous couple out to kill the man’s wife. This twist is that their plot is foiled by the titular invisible creature, a poltergeist. Also known as THE HOUSE IN MARSH ROAD.
JIGOKU. That’s Japanese for “Hell” – in the Buddhist sense. Nobuo Nakagawa, who had previously helmed GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (1959), directed and co-wrote this bizarre movie about damnation. Nakagawa is sort of the Japanese equivalent of Terence Fisher or Roger Corman, who were active in England and America, respectively, around the same time, and this is probably his most impressive effort. JIGOKU is divided into two sections. The first two-thirds focuses on a grad-school student led into temptation by his Mephistopholean friend, although in this case, temptation consists mostly of passively not doing the right thing, as opposed to actively performing evil actions. This portion of the film goes on a bit long, as we encounter numerous other characters performing actions that will send their souls into perdition; fortunately, it is redeemed by some eccentric stylistic flourishes: the tempter friend is never shown entering a scene; his arrival is heralded by off-screen sound effects (e.g., a train), and then the camera angle shifts to reveal his sudden presence. The film really takes off when everyone dies and goes to hell, at which point, Nakagawa more or less drops the usual tropes of narrative cinema in favor of aiming the horror straight out of the screen at the viewer. In what amounts to an early form of torture porn, we witnesses the various punishments inflicted on the damned (such as having limbs hacked off) for all eternity. Definitely a must-see. GHOST CAT OF OTAMA POND. Writer Yoshihiro Ishikawa, who had contributed to the script’s for Nakgawa’s GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA and BLACK CAT MANSION (1958), takes a place in the director’s chair for this Japanese horror effort, one of many “ghost cat” movies that were popular around this time. The fairly typical story is filled with intrigue and murder; as usual for this type of tale, the unjustly dead extract vengeance in the form of a cat. THE HAUNTED CASTLE. A German comedy in which the ghosts of a gang of thieves help a financially strapped Countess to overcome her money problems. THE HELL OF FRANKENSTEIN. Mexico’s stab at the Frankenstein story features a body snatcher who gains control of Frankenstein’s creation and uses it to carry out his revenge against those who imprisoned him. THE LAST VICTIM OF THE VAMPIRE. This is the second of two Italian vampires films starring Walter Brandi released in this year. The story has five show girls taking refuge in a castle, where Brandi plays both a friendly count and his vicious vampire ancestor. From available descriptions, it sounds as if the focus is less on horror than on the skin revealed by the showgirls. Also known as THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Roger Corman certainly deserves some recognition for being the only film-maker with three titles on this list. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a cult horror-comedy about a goofy guy who accidentally cross-breeds a carnivorous plant – which not only craves humans for food, but also talks. (“Feed me!”). Except for a couple of cops doing a dead-pan DRAGNET impersonation, the performances tend to be broad, and not everything works, but the film is so off-the-wall ithat you have to sort of like it anyway. Essentially, this is a remake of Corman’s earlier BUCKET OF BLOOD: both films, scripted by Charles B. Griffith, feature lonely losers who accidentally become murderers while seeking fame and success. Although LITTLE SHOP has gained greater fame because of its talking plant (leading to an off-Broadway musical that was turned into a 1986 movie), it is the lesser of the two films; its skid-row setting (indicative of the poverty row production values) offers some comic potential, but it is no match for the Beatnik coffee house of BUCKET. Still, you can’t totally knock a film that so joyfully embraces its own absurdity. THE MASTER OF HORROR. Argentinian anthology featuring episodes based on three Poe tales: “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN. Italian horror film, dedicated to Hammer director Terence Fisher, about a professor who drains blood from beautiful women so that he can inject it into his daughter. The victims are turned into statues, which attract the attention of an art student. MY FRIEND JEKYLL. Italian spoof, about a professor who transfers his personality into the body of a teacher at a girl’s school, where he tries to organize orgies with the students. PEEPING TOM. Michael Powell – a renowned director known for such wonderful films as STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (a.k.a. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, 1946) – more or less destroyed his career with this impressive study in voyeuristic horror. It’s about Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), a crazy camera operator who has a strange compulsion: he likes to kill beautiful women while recording their deaths on film. Steeped in Freudian psychology, the screenplay by Leo Marks has several parallels with Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (both feature likable young men who turn out to be serial killers), but Powell’s film is in some way the more disturbing of the two, perhaps because Mark is more self-aware than Norman, lacking a split personality to keep the likable side of himself separated from his murderous impulses. There is also something about the obvious seriousness of intent that gets under you skin: if you go to PEEPING TOM just looking for a thrill ride, you may be disappointed, but if you allow yourself to be drawn into its world, it will creep you out.
PSYCHO. This low-budget black-and-white shocker is one of the great achievements in the horror genre, although it eschews the monsters and supernatural trappings usually associated with the genre at that time, in favor of a psychologically based approach to terror. As producer Howard Hawks had done with THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, producer-director Alfred Hitchcock took the familiar horror movie clichés and reused them in a new, contemporary setting. Although a realistic tale (loosely—very loosely—inspired by actual events), the approach to filming is full-blown Gothic. The lonely road and the rain the drives a victim to seek shelter where there is only danger—this is the stuff of classic horror movies, as is the spooky house, a fine 20th Century stand-in for Dracula’s castle. And of course, the lurking menace hiding in the attic or the basement—what more could you ask of a horror movie? THE SNAKE WOMAN. Another film from the team behind DR. BLOOD’S COFFIN, about a mad doctor whose injections inadvertently turn his daughter into a cobra. THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY. Although loosely based on the real-life Thuggee cult, whose members killed travelers during the British occupation of India, this Hammer Film earns its place in the horror genre thanks to the fine effort by director Terence Fisher, working from a script by David Zelag Goodman. The story has Captain Harry Lewis (Guy Rolfe) eager to investigate the disappearances of numerous locals. Although the film does not apologize for colonialism, it is smart enough to cast a cynical eye on Lewis’s superiors in the army, whodismiss his concerns, claiming that the Indian populace have a tendency to wander off simply because don’t have the same ties to family and home that the superior English do. Lewis’s pursuit of the truth loses him his job and puts his own life at risk, leading to a confrontation with the cult of Kali, in the form of a high priest played by George Pastel (THE MUMMY). Here, the film enters horror territory, played out in the form of a battle between Lewis’s pet mongoose and the cult’s cobra. In a startling moment, the life-or-death struggle becomes more than two animals fighting, taking on a larger symbolic significance as the creatures embody the opposing forces of light and dark, good and evil. Although not as famous as other Hammer films, this ranks very highly. THE TELL-TALE HEART. A short but fairly well regarded British feature-length treatment of Poe’s story, with a screenplay co-written by Brian Clemens (THE AVENGERS). TERROR OF THE TONGS. Like THE STRANGERLS OF BOMBAY, this is not exactly a horror film; it’s more of a crime melodrama, but the association with Hammer Films, the British House of Horrors, drags it into the horror genre. It’s about a British sea captain (Geoffrey Toone), who runs afoul of the “Red Dragon Tong” while in Hong Kong. Christopher Lee (who deserves credit for being the only actor to show up three times on this list, with appearances in CITY OF THE DEAD, HANDS OF ORLAC, and TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL) plays the Tong’s evil leader, Chung King (yes, he wears slant-eyed makeup). This is not one of Hammer’s best efforts, but the captain’s pursuit of the Tong, no matter the odds against him, generates considerable interest. And the film features one of cinema’s most diabolical lines of dialogue when Chung King, preparing to torture our hero, asks him, “Have you ever had your bones scraped?” TORMENTED. Producer-director Bert I. Gordon, more known for sci-fi flicks like THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, tries his hand at a supernatural thriller, scripted by George Worthing Yates. Richard Carlson (THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) plays a jazz pianist, whose engagement to a wealthy heiress is jeopardized by his mistress – until said mistress conveniently falls from the top of a lighthouse. However, the spirit of the dead woman, whose body is never found, returns to torment her lover; the haunting is visualized with special effects of crawling hands and ghostly footprints. The film aims for a fatalistic tone by focusing on a protagonist who deserves – and eventually succumbs to – the terror being visited on him, but it doesn’t quite come off. The film was spoofed on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL. Bold and colorful, this imaginative and original take on the old Robert Louise Stevenson tale, smartly scripted by Wolf Mankowitz, is one of the best and most underrated efforts from Hammer Films. After the box office success of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1957 and HORROR OF DRACULA in 1958, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL sees Hammer pushing the boundaries of the horror genre, emphasizing the drama, characterization, and even philosophic undertones. Director Terence Fisher eschews the usual suspense set pieces in favor of lavish, widescreen production values that suggest an opulent costume drama rather than a tawdry terror tale; with a few exceptions, the horror on display is moral rather than visceral. Unfortunately, this sophisticated approach was not a success, and after another ambitious failure a year later (with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), Hammer horrors would retreat to more conventional territory. THE WITCH’S MIRROR. A fairly well regarded Mexican horror film about a witch who enables her murdered god-daughter to extract vengeance against the faithless husband who murdered her. WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES. An eccentric Mexican variation on the vampire theme, in which for some reason the undead can be disabled by particular sound waves, leading to a dubious conclusion in which the villain is defeated by someone playing a tune on a pipe organ. THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. Also known as THE VAMPIRE’S LOVER, this Italian production stars Walter Brandi in an attempt to cash in on the recent success of the Hammer Dracula films. It was followed later the same year by THE LAST VICTIM OF THE VAMPIRE (see above). THE VIRGIN SPRING. Director Ingmar Bergman’s film (one of the few he did not write himself) is not really horror, but its story, based on a legend of a father (Max Von Sydow) taking revenge for his daughter’s murder, earned a place in horror history when it served as the basis for Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which was subsequently remade in 2009.
Originally published on July 2, this article has been updated with subsequent entries.
PSYCHO, which opened on June 16, 1960, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, leading to numerous retrospectives on the Internet, including this week’s Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast 1:20. The accolades were well deserved, because five decades later, Alfred Hitchcock’s film still stands as one of the towering achievements in the horror genre; however, it is worth remembering that other great genre films were released the same year, including PEEPING TOM and HOUSE OF USHER (also covered in the podcast). In fact, 1960 was something of a banner year: although the number of titles released was relatively small (about half as many as last year, for example), many have endured as classics worthy of inclusion on any all-time best list: BLACK SUNDAY, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, CITY OF THE DEAD, EYES WITHOUT A FACE, JIGOKU, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.
With that in mind, it seems like a nice idea to launch a blog-a-thon celebration of 1960’s horror, fantasy, and science fiction films. We have invited our contributors to cast their minds back through the mists of time and summon forth their memories and impressions of these classic efforts, with an eye toward defining why these films have endured and why, fifty years later, they are still worth watching. As with our previous blog-a-thon (Favorite Nightmares from Elm Street), the posts will be serialized, meaning that each entry will contain, at the bottom, a linked list of all other posts in the series, making it easy for you to navigate back and forth.
Being Cinefantastique, we already have a head-start on the theme, with several reviews and retrospectives already in our archives. Unfortunately, our Serial Posts feature, which automatically links the series together, allows a post to belong to only one series; consequently, these pre-existing posts may not show up, if they were already assigned to some other series. In order to avoid any omissions, I am manually including links to relevant articles that already exist in our archives:
BLACK SUNDAY – retrospective article: Mario Bava’s classic black-and-white nightmare of vampirism and witchcraft, starring the Queen of Horror, Barbara Steele
BLOOD AND ROSES – retrospective look at director Roger Vadim’s adaptation of “Carmilla.”
THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL – review: under-rated but very inventive variation on Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale, from Hammer Films
Over the coming days and weeks, we will be adding more, so check back from time to time as we add entries on everything from DINOSAURUS to THE TIME MACHINE, from THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER to o THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, from BRIDES OF DRACULA to JIGOKU to TERROR OF THE TONGS .
All in all, 1960 was a very good year.
This week features a bold new experiment in podcasting, the likes of which have seldom if ever been seen in our lifetimes! At the end of this week’s Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast 1:20, we let the recorder run on just to see what happened. The result is the Cinefantastique Post-Mortem Podcast, a free-form chat among Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski, who hash over uber-geek details and issues too esoteric to be included in the regular podcast.
For this week’s debut, they follow up on the Cinefantastique Podcast 1:20, which delivered 50th anniversary tributes to a trio of classic horror films from 1960. The Post-Mortem Podcast delves into some of the myths and legends surrounding Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. Also on the menu: a discussion of whether the legacy of STAR WARS and JAWS can be held responsible for today’s summer blockbusters, an issue addressed in this previous Sense of Wonder editorial.
With no new horror, fantasy, and science fiction films opening nationwide this week, the Cinefantastique Podcast turns its eye on the 50th anniversary of a trio of terror from the year 1960: Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, Michael Powell’s PEEPING TOM, and Roger Corman’s HOUSE OF USHER. Relax and sit back in your time machine as Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski offer their retrospective analysis of these classic films. Also this week: an interview with Richard Clabaugh, director of EYEBORGS, due on home video on July 6. Plus the usual compilation of news, events, and upcoming releases.
Thanks to the enduring popularity and critical respect afforded to Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960), the character of Norman Bates has emerged as one of the premier icons of the horror genre. Norman is memorable because he appears, at first, to be shy and sympathetic – a lonely boy-man under his mother’s thumb. Even when he turns out to be a murderer, we still feel sorry for him, because he is the victim of a mental illness (split personality) that he cannot control; in fact, the murderous portion of his personality is so distinct that he seems almost to be possessed by the spirit of his dead mother – leaving the “normal” part of his Norman self untainted.
That is the concept created by screenwriter Joseph Stefano, based on the character in Robert Block’s novel PSYCHO (which in turn was loosely inspired by the real-life case of serial killer Ed Gein). However, much of the credit for the character’s success belongs to actor Anthony Perkins; in fact, the screen version of the character was written with him in mind. Initially, Stefano was not sure he could make the book’s character (a somewhat sinister reprobate) sympathetic, but director Alfred Hitchcock told him to forget about the novel’s presentation and imagine Perkins in the role.
Perkins brought his own contributions to the character (such as the nervous stutter). Much of his success in the role was due to confounded expectations: he seemed so likable and harmless that it was a genuine shock to learn the truth about Norman.
Unfortunately, those very qualities that initially made the revelation about Norman a surprise, soon became clichéd markers identifying on-screen psychos, and to a large extent Perkins’ later career was dominated by his identification with Norman. Not only did he reprise the role in three sequels; he also played variations on the character in films like PRETTY POISON and CRIMES OF PASSION (which ends with the Perkins character in drag, just like Norman).
Yet Perkins was never resentful of the character; if anything, he seemed pleased by the recognition it afforded, and he had the sense of humor to spoof his image. While hosting a televised performance at the Comedy Club, he drew laughs simply by lapsing into the familiar Bates mannerisms, pretending to mistake a blond woman in the audience for Janet Leigh, and his Saturday Night Live sketch “The Bates School of Motel Management” is a classic piece of comedy. Posing for a magazine cover to promote PSYCHO 3 (which he also directed), Perkins went so far as to wear pink trousers, as if deliberately mocking the dark image of his on-screen alter ego.
“I do have affection for Norman as a person,” Perkins said. “He does the best he can out of the diminished circumstances with which his personality stranded him, and […] Norman’s childhood was difficult and traumatic. Norman is, at heart, a benevolent soul, with a dark side, but Norman’s conscious mind is always on the positive things in life.” Perkins did not feel constricted by the recognition and fame he earned as Norman: “I think it’s identified me. I think that people who see me and think of me in terms of this role usually, as they’re talking to me, will also say, ‘Oh but I also liked you in this or that.’ So I think it’s better to be identified with one role and then jog someone’s memory into remember another role, than it is to see a celebrity or an actor coming at you down the street and saying, ‘Oh, there’s um…he was in…” [There’s that] empty feeling that the actor has about not really being remembered for anything except for being a face on the screen somewhere, so I prefer this.”
Perkins claimed that Norman was not only his most famous role: “I think it’s my favorite role as well. So many thousands of people have come up to me on the street and in hotel lobbies and in department stores and have shared their experiences of seeing the films with me. It’s always been with the greatest amount of pleasure that they’ve done so. They’ve told me stories about the dates they had with their future wives, and they’ve told me stories about sneaking out of the bathroom window and seeing it against their parents orders — and many stories like that, which have imprinted it into their minds. Always with a feeling of having been entertained and having been taken in by the story and having a good time. Of course, I enjoy that.”
Of reprising Norman Bates in three sequels, Perkins was upbeat, stating that the character was interesting enough to warrant revisiting: “I don’t want to use the quote again, but it’s never failed me, so I will: it is the Hamlet of horror roles, and you can never quite get enough of playing Norman Bates. It’s always interesting. And pursuant to that, when you read a script, when you read a PSYCHO script, a sequel, and you see dialogue that’s been written for Norman to say, if it’s right, it pops right of the page, and if it’s wrong, there’s something off about it. So he’s a character who has really emerged in a dimensional way. And of how many characters, how many screen characters can that be said? You know it’s a great compliment to the original concept by Hitchcock.”
Because of the classic status of the original film, the subsequent sequels tended to be held in somewhat low regard by critics, even though PSYCHO 2 proved to a commercial success. Some critics, including screenwriter Joseph Stefano, even suggested that PSYCHO 2 and PSCYHO 3 had taken a serious tragic figure and turned him into a campy character. Perkins, of course, disagreed:
“I think that Norman shows a progression in his personality. In the second PSYCHO picture we saw a Norman that was far more aware of his potential for violence than in the first film. In the third film, we saw a more saddened Norman who found himself revisiting not only the scenes but the temperatures of the first two films, so I think the development of the character keeps it from being a carbon copy of the original.”
As for the alleged camp, Perkins said, “I don’t think you can look at either of [those] two sequels […] and point to and correctly identify any elbows in the ribs or any camp humor in them.” As for any black humor, Perkins insisted that it had existed all the way back in the original. He recalled that, during the initial release of PSYCHO, audiences “laughed so hard that Hitchcock was so dismayed and wanted to take the film back and remix some of the dialogue scenes so that they would be heard. […] they laughed almost throughout the picture. Hitchcock claimed that it was the first time that an audience had gotten the jump on him – the first time he hadn’t been able to read his audience. Finally, he gave into it and used to call PSYCHO a comedy. Whether or not he originally thought of it as a comedy, I don’t’ now. But I was with him in Chicago and New York when it opened, and you could hear the words [because] they laughed so hard.”
Still, whatever humor and/or sympathy the character engendered, Perkins acknowledged that Norman would always retain his menacing quality: “That will always be the basis for any PSYCHO film. Norman hasn’t changed that much – he still has a bad side.”
The actor concluded, “Of course, Norman’s problems couldn’t be solved – that wouldn’t be fair. Norman’s case is a tragic one, and the pictures are tragedies. Therefore, the only way that you could really resolve Norman’s problems would be to kill him off.” RELATED ARTICLES: