MAMA: CFQ Spotlight Podcast 4:03

Either She's Confronting a Hostile Spectral Force or Just Been Told She Can't Have McDonald's for Dinner: Isabelle Nélisse meets MAMA.
Either She's Confronting a Hostile Force from Beyond the Grave or She's Just Been Told She Can't Have McDonald's for Dinner: Isabelle Nélisse meets MAMA.

Screw the armed guards in the schools, let’s get some firepower into the home, ’cause there’s definitely some malignant stuff going on there. In MAMA, a young couple (Jessica Chastain and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are saddled with a pair of literally feral children and have to contend with the challenges not only of raising a pair of kids accustomed to ambulating on all fours, but also of dealing with the malevolent, spectral force that’s followed them home. Mama don’t go for Fruit Roll-Ups.
Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons saw the latest in executive producer Guillermo del Toro’s attempts to resurrect the classic, moody horror films of the seventies, and come away with an appreciation for the film’s stylistic visuals and creepy atmosphere, but not so much that they can’t make generous sport of the film’s plot glitches. And boy, are there plot glitches.
Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.

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The Innocents: Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast #4

innocents-title-still
The fourth installment of the Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast focuses its attention on the 1961 classic THE INNOCENTS. This ambiguous and haunting ghost story was produced and directed by Jack Clayton, based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw and William Archibald’s stage adaptation, The Innocents. Oscar-winner Freddie Francis supplied the atmospheric black-and-white photography, and Oscar-nominee Deborah Kerr starred as governess Miss Giddens, put in charge of two apparently innocent children who may – or may not – be in league with ghosts. Lawrence French, Arbogast (of Arbogast on Film), and Steve Biodrowski struggle to penetrate the miasma of secrets surrounding this intriguing film, one of the great achievements in the horror genre.
Consider this the first installment in this year’s 50th Anniversary Celebration of the Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Films of 1961. As we did in 2010, Cinefantastique will offer periodic posts and/or podcasts throughout the year, looking back at the great genre achievements of five decades ago.


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The Innocents  with Deborah Kerr Miss Giddens gets a glimpse of the ghostly Quint (Peter Wyngarde) Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) explores the haunts of Bly Miss Jessell (Clytie Jessop) manifests by the lake Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) holds Miles (Martin Stephens)

Hollywood's Scariest Haunted Houses

Yes, the housing bubble has burst; home sales are down. The news sounds bad, but there is a silver lining: namely, it’s a buyer’s market! With the world’s latest haunted house movie,  THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, opening today, what better time for interested shoppers to investigate the possibility of purchasing their very own haunted house? With that in mind, Cinefantastique Online offers this catalogue of the finest spooky manses, decaying domiciles, awful apartments, murderous mansions, and cob-webbed castles ever imagined by demented writers and constructed by the Hollywood art department for your haunting pleasure. You want the Top Ten Haunted Houses? We have more than twice that many listings. These properties may not have always appeared in the best movies, but each has its own particular selling points.
A word of explanation: Ghosts and haunted houses are considered to be synonymous, and they do often go hand in hand; however, there is a distinction to be made. Most viewers understand that RING, although a ghost story, is about a cursed videotape, not a haunted house; however, a number of reference sources list THE SIXTH SENSE among haunted house movies – even though the ghosts are not limited to a particular location. All of the houses in our listings feature localized phenomena; the ghosts, ghoulies, and long-leggedly beasties that go bump in the night may make an occasional excursion to the outside world, but they are permanent residents whose ethereal existence seems somehow tied to their haunted homesteads.


CASTLES

Looking for something suitably grand and top-of-the-line? Castles tend to be more the province of vampires and/or evil aristocracy in the Gothic tradition, but there are a few that feature genuine ghosts.
Blackwood Castle in DANSE MACABRE (a.k.a. CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964).
Lord Blackwood has listed his English family estate with us (a fine old Gothic ruin that perfectly embodies the archetype of a haunted house); however, it is not for sale or even, precisely speaking, for rent. Interested parties, however, are invited to spend the night, alone, free of charge – free, that is, except for a wager that you will not live to see the sunrise. Unlike the Allardyce House and the Belasco House (see below), Blackwood Castleis not haunted because of anything intrinsic to its nature; rather, it is merely been the scene of much murder and mayhem that results in the death of the body but not of the spirit, resulting in an impressive haunting. The castle features numerous amenities and selling points:

  • Crypt (conveniently located in the cellar)
  • Hypnotic painting (subject appears to be alive, eventually manifests in person)
  • At least seven ghosts (as of last count). These are vampiric in nature, requiring the blood of the living in order to sustain themselves. They vary in appearance from perfectly normal to hideously corpse-like; in some cases, they are so beautiful and alluring that you might not mind never leaving.
  • Pets: at least one black cat on premises
  • Selling points: Visited (or at least glimpsed) by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Known fatalities: 8

Buyer beware: Survival rate of previous guests who have accepted Lord Blackwood’s wager is zero.
Asking price: not for sale. Market value difficult to determine due to Lord Blackwood understandable reluctance to have the property appraised (the last attempt ended in disaster). Since the value derives from the ghosts, who could easily be dispatched bywithholding the annual victim, we would estimate its value to haunt-seekers at $4-million.

* * *

Noble Johnson as one of the undead inhabitants of Windward Castle
Noble Johnson as one of the undead (or is he?)inhabitants of Windward Castle

Castillo Maldito in THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940).
This crumbling Cuban Castle, located on a small island off the coast, is reportedly haunted by several phantoms – and a zombie! Some of these selling points may be a bit exaggerated; we have not been able to authenticate all phenomena as genuine, but then, that was typical of the many spooky mansions constructed during this era. Seen in films like THE BAT WHISPERS (1930), THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), and THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939, these dilapidated dwellings feature creaking floor boards, whistling winds, secret panels, and hidden chambers – not to mention oddball residents as scary as any ghost. We avoid listing these properties in our catalogue, because most of them turn out not to be haunted. Yet Castle Maldito is an exception.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Hidden treasure
  • One authenticated (or at least not debunked) ghost. Although superficially similar to the decaying family mansion in CAT AND THE CANARY (which also starred Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard), Castle Maldito leaves at least one ghost unexplained at the end. This gives the castle claim to being Hollywood’s first truly haunted house. This historical importance does not come cheap.

Asking price: $1.5-million.


COUNTRY HOMES AND MANSIONS

Perhaps the most likely place to find a ghost is an an old mansion or country house. Haunting is especially prevalant in England, where the houses are older and have had more opportunity to aquire ghosts, but there are a few good ones in America, too.

The Allardyce House in BURNT OFFERINGS (1976).
This large Victorian mansion in the California countryside looks like a bit of a dump at first – run down, with paint chipped and boards peeling – but if you give it a chance, it’s  a real fixer-upper that requires amazingly little effort on the part of its (human) renters. This is one of those rare haunted houses that seems to be malevolent in its own right: there are no signs of surviving personalities; the house itself is the haunt.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • The house comes equipped with a pool, but swimmers are advised to beware of unexpected waves.
  • Self-reparing home. Just move in, and in no time at all the house will almost literally grow on you, shedding its old shingles like a snake shedding its skin, to reveal the glossy appearance hiding beneath the old facade.
  • Known fatalies: 3

Buyer Beware:

  • The upper chimney may not be stable, so keep your eyes open for falling bricks.
  • The upper window (to Mrs. Allardyces’ room) probably needs to be replaced.
  • The rent is reasonable, but there are strings attached, such as having to leave food outside an upper room for old Mrs. Allardyce, an apparent (and unseen) agoraphobic who insists on remaining at home, even when strangers have rented the place.

Asking price: not for sale. Market value varies, most recently appraised at $750,000.

* * *

The Belasco House in THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1974).
This is one of the premiere properties in our catalogue, the so called “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.” Lovingly designed by original owner Emeric Belasco in 1919, this extensive mansion features ornate quarters, spacious living areas, and its own chapel.
Amenities and Selling Points:

  • Unlike most of the houses in our catalogue, this English mansion was deliberately constructed to be a “haunted house”: it features an innner sanctum sheathed in lead to create a sort of battery containing psychic energy.
  • This power source fuels a wide range of psychic phenomena, both mental and physical: ectoplasm, shaking tables, self-igniting fireplaces.
  • Guests may also enjoy the amorous attention of an unseen visitor at no extra cost.
  • Number of ghosts: one (but appears to be more)
  • Confirmed fatalies: 40
  • Pets: There is a sort of house mascot in the form of a black cat, who gives new meaning to the phrase “bad kitty!”

Buyer Beware:

  • Those with repressed sexual desires and/or a naive faith in their own ability to exorcise the house are advised to say away.
  • Watch out for spinal and/or leg injuries.

Asking price: $9-million

* * *

Bly House in THE INNOCENTS (1960).
This excellent English country mansion is one of the jewels in our crown, a beautiful property with high turrets, large rooms, a lake, and expansive grounds (although the surrounding terrain is a bit treacherous, especially if you have tipped one too many at the local pub). As with Blackwood Castle, there is nothing inherent in the structure of Bly that makes it haunted; it simply happens to be inhabited by ghosts.
Amenities and Selling Points:

  • Number of ghosts: 2, Quint and Miss Jessel. These are a rather quiet, incommunicative, and diffident pair, given to appearing at unexpected moments, more for the sake of causing mental unease than for actually doing anything overtly malevolent. However, presence can be quite disconcerting when they make the effort, with shadows and voices combining for a nightmarish effect in the wee hours of the morning.

Buyer Beware:

  • Several residents have claimed not to see any ghosts at all in Bly.
  • Please be advised that we do not recommend this property for families with children, who seem to be peculiarly susceptible to the influence of Quint and Jessel.
  • If you require servants, try to hire a governess who is (1) can swim and (2) is not a neurotic spinster given to doing more harm than good while trying to defend her charges against a supernatural conspiracy.

Asking price: $3-million

* * *

The Dutch Colonial House in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979 & 2005).
This lovely home on Ocean Avenue on the South Shore of Long Beach, New York is one of the most famous properties in our catalogue, but it no longer attracts the attention of most serious shoppers. It was quite popular back in 1979, but since then the value has dropped precipitously, thanks to scurilous rumors that it may not actually be haunted; in fact, there are some who say that the whole thing was made up. Nevertheless, the property’s lovely facade, with upper front windows that suggest menacing eyes, is quite an attractive selling point for buyers who require only that their house look haunted.
Asking price: $500,000.

* * *

Fort Marmorus in THE BLACK CAT(1934).
Or more precisely, the house built by Satanic architect Hjalmar Poelzig upon the remains of the fort. Unlike most of the houses listed in our catalogue, this one has a distinctly modern look – bright, with clean lines and wide open spaces; fortunately, there are some dark corridors, for tradition’s sake. Whether or not the house is, strictly speaking, haunted, is another matter. Rather like our other Poe-inspired property, the House of Usher (see below), Poelzig’s manor seems embued with psychic influences, in this case the result of the many hundreds of souls who perished on the battlefield during the first world war; the skeptical may consider this to be “supernatural baloney,” but some visitors have succumbed to the uneasy atmosphere, turning temporarily “mediumistic” under its palpable influence.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Located conveniently close to a cemetery (see picture)
  • Numerous glass cases displaying the preserved bodies of former wives.
  • Dynamite in basement for easy self-destruct
  • Confirmed fatalies: 100s – or even thousands – if one counts those who died on the surrounding battliefields.

Buyer Beware:

  • Even the phone is dead.
  • While this house may not be for everyone, it is an unusual find for just the right purchaser, one who doesn’t require howling banshees and clanking chains, but prefers a more subtle shade of psychic influence.

Asking price: $1-million.

* * *

Gull Cottage in THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947).
Other realtors may hesitate to show this house, for fear of its haunted reputation, but we are more than eager to go the extra mile on your behalf, assuming that you will not be intimidate by the ghost of a brusque British sea captain. The cottage is a quaint, comfy abode witha nautical theme to its decor, and the view of the ocean is beautiful. Quiet, serene, and beautiful, it is a perfect seaside home for a widow raising a child. If not for an unfortunate accident with a gas lamp, it would not be haunted at all; fortunately, Captain Gregg is one of the most interesting and accommodating of ghosts – if you can get on his good side. If you are concerned about the propriety of living under the same room with a man to whom you are not married, just remember: he’s a ghost, so he doesn’t have a body.
Amenities:

  • Number of ghosts: 1 (or 2)
  • Captain Gregg is very effective at removing unwanted guests

Asking price: $1-million

* * *

The Haunted Mansion in THE HAUNTED MANSION (2003).
This is another property we are eager to unload. The house itself looks great, and its name is certainly promising, but the ghosts inside just don’t cut it. They try their best, but they’ve got no real spirit. They’re less like phantoms from the beyond than like…recycled gags from a theme park attraction.
Asking price: $300,000

* * *

Hill House in THE HAUNTING (1963). Built by Hugh Crain for his young wife (who died on the way to seeing it) this certainly the jewel in our crown, our most prized and coveted listing. Why? Because of all the haunted houss in this catalogue, this is the one that appears to be self-haunting. Many have died there, and indeed some may have remained in spirit form, but Hill House appears to have been born bad – a malign place before the first resident ever set foot in it – and those who perished within are more victim than ghosts. In short, there is little chance that whatever walks there will be exorcised as long as the house itself remains standing, which it has done for 80 years and might do for 80 more. It is an expert if eccentric piece of architecture, with no right angles; although the tiny variations are individually imperceptible to the eye, they add up to a virtual maze, wherein one can never be sure what lurks beyond each new door. The construction is superb: walls are upright; bricks meet neatly; floors are firm. Current owner has considered reconverting the building into a nightclub, but no plans are in the works.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • The avid psychic investigator will be pleased to find that the house offers a distinctive “cold spot” (the heart of the haunting).
  • Musical instruments do not quite play themselves but they do resonate with ambient tones.
  • Doors close by themselves when not watched; when they are watched, these closed doors bend inward as if pressed by some sinister unseen force from outside.
  • Loud pouding noises at night
  • Confirmed fatalities: 5
  • Number of ghosts: the haunt does not manifest surviving, invididual personalities

Buyer Beware:

  • Staircase in need of repair.
  • Treacherous driveway
  • Look out for the writing on the walls
  • If you feel a hand holding yours in the night, for god’s sake, turn on a light to confirm whether it is indeed your fellow investigator, frightened into silence, or…something else.

Asking price: $10-million

* * *

The House of Usher in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960).
This ancient family mansion might not appeal to the average avid haunt fan, but it would be the perfect purchase for a buyer with the proper aesthetic appreciation. The problem is that it is not, technically, a haunted house; rather, it seems to be imbued witha miasma of intangible atmosphere. Even Hill House, by the end, appears to contain at least one genuine ghost, but the House of Usher really is its own monster – a vessel for the accumulated decadence of the family that has inhabited it for so long. This manifests in the occasional balustrade giving way (was the wood rotted, or was the housetrying to dispose of an unwanted guest?) and in the general decline of the two surviving family members, one of whom suffers from catalepsy.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Family crypt conveniently located in basement
  • Confirmed fatalies: the entire Usher family
  • Number of ghosts: none (unless you count their appearance in a dream)
  • The house is the monster

Buyer Beware:

  • The house is in need of some repair; in particular, that big crack running through the outside wall needs to be fixed before the entire structure splits in two and sinks into the tarn.
  • If you bury someone in the crypt, make sure the door is locked – so they can’t get out!

Asking price: $1-million.

* * *

The Old Country House in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970).
We have just about given up on this one. The previous retailer assured us that this house was some kind of karmic balance adjuster, dishing out just deserts to its inhabitants according to what they deserved. But on further investigation, we discovered that the house – despite its notorious name – had little or no blood on its…er, hand? (No – well how about no blood on its window panes?) The victims either died in other locations (like a wax museum), were felled by problems that pre-dated their residency, or brought into the house outside objects that were the real culprit (like a mysterious vampire’s cloak). It’s not a bad piece of property, but haunted?
Confirmed fatalities: 5 (not counting those who died outside the house)
Asking price: We’d like to unload it for $250,000.

* * *

The Remote Country House in THE OTHERS (2001).
This graceful estate on the isle of Jersey is somewhat in the style of Bly House. In the manner of haunted houses, it is big and dark and beautiful. It features the traditional fog-bound atmosphere, but with an interesting distinction: the fog seems to be literally impenetrable, as if the house were shrouded from the outside world, cut off in some kind of limbo land all its own.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A piano plays itself in an empty room.
  • A figure that initially presents as an innocent child turns out to be a hideous hag
  • Confirmed fatalities: 3 (not counting a husband who died overseas in the war)
  • Number of ghosts: 3, 6, or 7 (depending on the occasion)

Buyer Beware: Residents may expect to experience different phenomena, depending on their point of view.
Asking price: $1.5-million.

* * *

The Winward House in THE UNINVITED (1944). Like Gull Cottage, this is a lovely seaside residence located conveniently close to the ocean. It does not provide the outward appearance of being haunted; consequently, it has no trouble aquiring residents unprepared for the phenomena within. Up until 1944, most old dark houses turned out not to be haunted after all; following the comedic THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), this is probably the first Hollywood movie to present a genuine haunted house seriously. This lends the property, with its muted thrills and subtle suggestions of horror, an almost inestimable historical value.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Cold spots
  • Flowers that wilt in the blink of an eye
  • The melancholy sobbing of an unseen woman
  • Confirmed fatalities: 3
  • Number of ghosts: 2

Buyer Beware: that seaside cliff is treacherous!
Asking price: $5-million.


HOTELS

Perhaps you are not looking for a permanent residence but only a place for a pleasantly haunted stay? Or maybe you are looking to get into the haunt business yourself – purchase a property and rent it out to others? Here are some prime properties that should interest you.
The Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING (1980).
This is another one of the great haunted properties, one that dwarfs most of the competition. Built on the remains of an old Indian burial ground, the Overlook features high ceilings and brighlty lit rooms that are virtually the opposite of traditional haunted house decor, and yet the atmosphere is all the more effective because of it. The isolated location adds to the allure, and residents may rest assured that it is inhabited by enough ghosts to fill a dozen other haunted houses. Of particular note are the mysterious woman in Room 237 and the mysterious set of playful twins in the corridor. There is also a lovely band playing old-fashioned dance music, a helpful butler, and – best of all – a bartender named Lloyd who likes to offer drinks on the house. It is hard to say whether the Overlook was born bad or became bad as the result of the people who died there; it’s a sort of chicken-or-the-egg question. However, it got that way, it is safe to say that this Hotel is one of the most haunted places on the planet.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A hedge maze. If you have some time on your hands, you might try your skills and finding your way in and out, but try to pick a day without snow.
  • A convenient elevator service for those not frightened by the sight of enough blood to fill a dozen Dario Argento movies
  • Long corridors great for riding your big wheel
  • Confirmed fatalies: 6 (but obviously many more, judging from the number of ghosts)
  • Number of ghosts: too numerous to count
  • Your money’s no good here – which means more than enough free phantom booze to intoxicate a recovering alcoholic

Buyer Beware: The location is extremely isolated in the snowy winter season, so take care that nothing happens to the battery in the snow mobile.
Asking price: $8-million.

* * *

Seven Doors Hotel in THE BEYOND (1981).
Outwardly, this Louisiana hotel is no match for the Overlook, but it does have one unbeatable thing going for it: it’s built on one of the Seven Gateways to Hell! This puts the hotel in that special category of properties that will always be haunted, regardless of who died there. Yes, the ghosts of the dead are restless within its walls, but that gateway is responsible for a far more apocalyptic form of supernatural mayhem.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Confirmed fatalities: 3(not counting those who died elsewhere)
  • Number of ghosts: Only a few are identifiable, but there appear to be many more – perhaps infinite
  • The gateway to hell not only revives dead souls and reanimates bodies into zombies; it also bends the very fabric of reality, teleporting unsuspecting victims literally to Hell and Gone – also known as the Sea of Eternal Darkness. You don’t get amenities like that in the Overlook!

Asking price: $5-million.


SUBURBS AND APARTMENT LIVING

City ghosts were once an anomaly; spirits used to keep to isolated locations: mansions and castles or at least houses set well apart from the neighbors. In the modern era, however (perhaps due to the population explosion), phantoms have been forced to seek residence in more highly populated areas. This is a great advantage to haunt enthusiasts who would like to purchase a ghost-invested property without givng up the benefits of city life.
The Freeling House in POLTERGEIST (1982).
This is definitely one for bargain hunters – we are slashing prices way, way, way down! It turns out that it wasn’t really the house that was haunted; it was the damn television that acted as a portal to the afterlife, allowing all manner of spirits to enter the land of the living. Now the TV’s gone, and so are the ghost.
Asking price: $250,000

* * *

The House in HOUSE (1986).
This is a model that was quite popular in its day, but the market value has fallen more than average for this kind of property. Buyers want something new, or they want the classics. These mid-level haunted houses are all right for brief visits, but no one much wants to live there, especially when the haunting seemed so specific to the previous owner, rather than a part of the house’s nature.
Asking price: $250,000

* * *

The Rundown Apartment House in DARK WATER (2001 & 2005).
One of the small, dingy rooms in this building would be a terrible place for a divorced mother to raise her child – even if the place were not haunted. Unfortunately, a little girl died there a while back, and though not outright malevolent, she is downright scary in her supernatural quest to secure a surrogate mommy.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • Confirmed fatalities: 2
  • Number of ghosts: 2

Buyer Beware:

  • Watch out for leaky faucets, bathtubs, etc.
  • Don’t let your kids play on the roof, and especially don’t let them climb up on the water tank!

Asking price: not for sale, but rent is cheap – even if not haunted, this place should be condemned.

* * *

The Saeki Residence in THE GRUDGE (2004).
Externally inauspicious, this is in fact one of the most intensely haunted properties in our catalogue, thanks to three malevolent  yūrei residing there: Kayako, Takeo, and Toshio. The death of the three familiy members (a murder-suicide perpetrated by father Takeo) left a curse on the property, resulting in an extremely high fatalities among subseqeunt residents, besting many of the more elaborate models; just about everyone who passes into its portal succumbs. Despite its conventional appearance, this haunted house engenders intense feelings of dread and apprehension at the mere thought of crossing its thresshold. The house has been seen in four Japanse JU-ON movies and two American GRUDGE films. Of these, THE GRUDGE implicity suggests that the curse falls only on people who have entered the Saeki House, raising the property’s importance to the haunting – and thus its value – over the Japanese predecessors.
Amenities & Selling Points:

  • A lovely staircase, perfect for making a memorable entrance (especially if you like crawling on your hands and knees)
  • Pets: one black ghost cat
  • Confirmed fatlities: 8 (not counting those who died elsewhere)
  • Number of ghosts: 3
  • Like the Seven Doors Hotel, the Saeki House can bend reality – in this case time, creating weird anomalies in which characters from the present can view the past and perhaps be viewed (or at least sensed) in return

Asking Price: $7-million

* * *

The Changeling (1980)The Victorian Mansion in THE CHANGELING (1981).
This lovely old structure perfectly conforms to everyone’s idea of what a haunted house should be: it’s big, imposing, old, and spooky, with more than enough room for plenty of ghosts. In point of fact it is not a particularly evil place, and the haunting is limited to the ghost of a single murdered child – a troubled but not particularly malevolent spirit of the type that cannot rest peacefully until justice has been rendered. Whatever the ghost’s intentions, the effect is suitably unnerving, creating an effective haunting that should please those who enjoy their ghosts that raise the hair on the back of their necks rather than jumping out and screeching “Boo!”
Asking price: $2-million.

The One You Might Have Saved

Barbra (Judith O'Dea) in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEADRiffing on an earlier essay at Arbogast on Film, Final Girl offers this opinion on why Barbra in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), is the one horror movie victim she would have saved if she had the chance. Barbra (Judith O’Dea) of course receives undue contempt from contemporary audiences because she is – realistically and quite believably – traumatized by the horrible events around her; instead of morphing into a monster-fighting icon of female empowerment (something that would not really happen until Sigourney Weaver played Ripley in ALIEN eleven years later), Barbra simply sinks into catatonia until she briefly flares up at the end – only to be devoured by her dead brother. Barbra sets the standard as the archetypal character who cannot handle what is happening (she foreshadows Veronica Cartwright in ALIEN and Bill Paxton in ALIENS), and her ultimate fate is less shocking than deeply disturbing – which is to say it packs a deep emotional resonance that provokes viewers to think, “Oh no!” instead of “Ain’t it cool!”
I have never had quite such a memorably profound reaction to the death of an on-screen character as Final Girl records, but many are victims I have seen who did not deserve their fate. Below I offer my list…
A Woman of the Streets in MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1932). Arlene Francis (who would later become famous as a panelist on the TV show WHAT’S MY LINE) plays this euphemistically-named character (obviously a prostitute). Practically crucified on a rack, Francis screams – and screams – and SCREAMS while Bela Lugosi’s Dr. Mirakle examines her blood, hoping it will help his experiments. The way she is trussed up vaguely suggests some kind of S&M dungeon device, and this may be the distant grand-daddy of Torture Porn. And as if it were not enough to kill the woman, Mirakle insults her as well, adopting a tone of moral outrage because her blood is “polluted” (presumably symbolic of her state as a fallen woman), which means it is not suitable for his work. What is most amazing, however, is that this quaint relic from an earlier era actually still packs a punch, thanks to Francis’s unnerving vocalizations – which provoke an almost instinctive protective reaction in the listener.
Josef in THE BODY SNATCHERS (1945). Lugosi gets payback for Francis in this film, playing a dim-bulb assistant who makes the mistake of thinking he can blackmail the murderous body snatcher played by Boris Karloff. Josef is not much of a character, but it is sad to see Lugosi, briefly the reigning king of horror thanks to DRACULA, killed off by Karloff, the star who dethroned him by playing the Monster in FRANKENSTEIN.
The Creature from the Black Lagoon in THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956). This is the one where meddling scientists operate on the Creature so that he can no longer breath underwater, forcing him to become a permanent land-walker. Some jerk commits a murder and tries to blame it on the innocent beast, who goes on a rampage, killing the real murderer. The Creature then heads to the ocean, lured by the sound of crashing waves, and the film leaves us in no doubt that he will drown to death attempting to return to the water that used to be his home. The humans in this film have much to answer for, and one wishes the Creature didn’t have to pay the price for their mistakes.
Dandelo in THE FLY (1958). Dandelo the cat becomes the unwitting victim of his master, scientist Andre Delambre (Al Hedison) who puts him in a matter transmitter. Dandelo disappears – but never rematerializes. All that is left is an echoing wale on the soundtrack. Poor Dandelo, I wish I could bring you back to our dimension; I have a little cat bed here, some cat toys, and a little catnip….
Miles in THE INNOCENTS (1961). Exorcising a malicious ghost proves to be a fatal experience for this young boy played by Martin Stephens. The tragedy of the downer ending hits you over the head like a sledgehammer. Did his governess (Deborah Kerr) save him from the evil influence, or did she unwittingly give him a heart attack by forcing him to confront the ghost? I don’t know if I could have handled the situation any better, but I would like to try.
The Monkey in PORTRAIT OF HELL (1969).This Japanese masterpiece tells the story of  Korean painter who can only paint what he sees. When his Japanese lord asks him to paint a divine vista, the artist insists on painting Hell instead. To aid in his endeavor, he asks his lord to stage a scene with a burning chariot; the lord complies – and puts the artist’s daughter in the chariot! As she burns to death, her pet monkey leaps from a nearby tree, joining her in the living funeral pyre. That’s right: in this film, no one comes to a good end – even the monkey dies! It’s such a gratuitous bit – an extra added sucker punch, just to make you feel even worse as you view the tragedy – that you want to point your fire extinguisher at the screen.
The Private Eye in FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET (1971).This Dario Argento thriller features a gay private detective in a supporting role. He brags that he has never solved a case but confidently insists that the odds must therefore now be in his favor. He does identify the murderer but only in time to become a victim himself. His demise by poison is poignant – as he realizes, at the moment of his death, that he was, for once, right. You really wish he had lived to enjoy his success instead of expiring ignominiously in a public restroom.
Dr. Martin in ASYLUM (1972). For me, actor Robert Powell will always be JESUS OF NAZARETH – that and the almost mystical father-figure in Ken Russell’s film version of TOMMY. The death of his well-meaning young psychiatrist at the end of this film is too horrible for words. Dr. Martin’s murder, I have to admit, is a pretty effective sick joke (the murderer strangles him with a stethoscope, then uses it to listen for the heartbeat that is no longer there). But the film had set him up as an idealist who objects – quite rightly – to the situation he finds in the asylum. When he dies, it is as if a small piece of hope dies with him.
Edward Lionheart in THEATRE OF BLOOD (1973). Vincent Price plays a hammy Shakespearean actor who kills the critics that trashed his performances. Although inspired by Price’s role in the DR. PHIBES films (in which the mad doctor triumphed), THEATRE reverts to a standard formula at the end, with Lionheart dying in a fire while the final critic walks away to live happily ever after. The injustice is infuriating: Lionheart should have survived and toasted the arrogant twit. (By the way, this is the only suggestion on my list that I mean literally: the film would be better if the script had been rewritten to make Lionheart triumphant.)
Sergeant Howie in THE WICKER MAN (1973). As he investigates the disappearance of a young girl on a Scottish Isle, Howie (Edward Woodward) is set up as a bit of a dullard and an unsympathetic prick to boot. The effect for me is that he comes across as a pathetic patsy – a victim less of the murderous pagans on the island than of the unsympathetic screenwriter (Anthony Shaffer) who created him. Howie, I never really liked you that much, but I can’t stand to see anyone forced to take a fall like that. If there were any C02 left in my fire extinguisher after saving the monkey in PORTRAIT OF HELL, I would use it on the flaming Wicker Man.
Jessica Bradford in BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). We do not actually see Jessica (Olivia Hussey) die in this film, but the movie ends with her character drugged unconscious while the idiot police department (having fingered the wrong man) leaves her alone in the house with the real killer. Director Bob Clark later said in an interview with Cinefantastique that Hussey’s character had earned the right to live, and I have to agree. I have a hypodermic of adrenalin here that should wake her from her drugged-out torpor, if only I could reach through the screen…
Carrie in CARRIE (1976). I would have saved Sissy Spacek’s psychic girl long before her death at the end of the movie. When the film builds up to the horrible prank at the prom, it is one of the few moments in a horror film when I found myself dreading what was about to happen – even though I knew it had to happen in order for the horror to break out (which was, after all, what I had paid to see). Unlike most films, in which one eagerly anticipates this kind of thing, so that the film will get to the “good stuff,” I did find myself involuntarily reaching out to the screen, wanting to stop Nancy Allen from pulling that rope and dumping pig’s blood all over poor Carrie White.
Officer Jim Kelly in ALLIGATOR (1980). Robert Forster plays Madison, a cop who lost a partner years ago. When he needs someone to help check the sewers where some bodies have been found, most of his chicken-shit colleagues make up lame excuses, but Kelly (Perry Lang) steps forward – even though he knows about Madison’s past. Kelly’s reward for his courage is to be eaten by the titular alligator, while the cowards back at the precinct live to see another day. If Madison couldn’t save Kelly, I don’t know what I could do. Maybe flip the alligator on his back and rub his tummy till he fell asleep? (They say this works, but it never did with my pet alligator – I’d probably just end up joining Kelly’s dismembered body parts in the monster reptile’s gullet.)
Godzilla in GODZILLA VS. DESTROYER (1995). The radioactive reptile has been responsible for more death and destruction than one could possibly tally, but the payback he receives in this one more than settles his karma: a full-blown nuclear meltdown reduces the beast to nothing but a pile of ash blowing in the wind. There is a certain grandeur about this attempt to create a convincingly “final” death for the long-lived monster, but his destruction looks really, really painful. If I could just find a few cadmium rods to slow down the chain reaction before it reached critical levels…
The rat in THE EYE (2002). A distant cousin of the monkey in PORTRAIT OF HELL, this rat serves a similar, though slightly vaguer purpose: it’s not enough for the humans to die, the filmmakers have to hammer home the relentless destruction by offing an innocent animal as well. Whatever the point, the rodent’s desperate but failed attempt to outrun the climactic conflagration by diving down a sewer pipe is a great piece of film-making – a perfect little exclamation point to the human destruction above ground. Poor rat, I wish I could adopt you and create a litte menagerie, including the monkey from PORTRAIT OF HELL and Dandelo the cat from THE FLY (I don’t think my facilities would accommodate Godzilla, however).
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The Innocents (1961) – Retrospective Review

“Do They Ever Return to Possess the Living?”

That was the question asked in the advertising for this adaptation of Henry James’ classic novelette, The Turn of the Screw.It is a question that goes unanswered by the film itself, which true to the source material leaves the existence of ghosts unclear, forcing audiences to debate whether Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop) are really visitors from the grave or simply figments of the demented imagination of governess Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr). Imagine yourself as the young English governess, given sole responsibility for two young children growing up in an isolated country manor. Shortly after assuming this position (your first), you begin to see the ghosts of your unfortunate predecessor and her lover, a valet with an evil reputation. At first you seek to shield your young charges from the horror haunting the house, but soon you come to believe that your young charges are not only fully aware of the ghosts but actively in league with them. You cannot seek outside help without seeming mad, and your employer, the uncle of the orphaned children, wants under no circumstances to be bothered, leaving you to face the situation alone, and unguided. How can you stop the these visitors from the grave from claiming the “innocents” as their prey?
This unresolved mystery charges the events of THE INNOCENTS with a dreadful sense of uncertainty far more thrilling than the simple supernatural chills of a typical haunted house movie – another “turn of the screw,” as James would have said. At the same time, the ambiguous narrative serves up its share of suggestive shivers; its ghostly apparitions, achieved without special effects, convey a palpable sense of horror. Glimpsed at a distance or through windows, lurking in the shadows of night but sometimes revealing themselves by day, are utterly convincing and magnificently threatening without ever actually doing anything; their supernatural stillness, as much as anything else, sends shivers down the backbone, playing the vertebrae like a skeletal hand tapping on a xylophone.
Truman Capote`s screenplay plays upon the ambiguity of James` tale: are the two children really possessed by the ghosts of the dead, or is their governess merely imagining everything? Producer-director Jack Clayton keeps the film firmly grounded in reality, so that the intrusion of the supernatural strikes far more strongly.
The overt horror in THE INNOCENTS takes the form of Quint and Miss Jessel – tangible apparitions who appear as solid as a living beam, not like some gauzy ghost. Miss Jessel is the more reticent of the two, waling in the shadows at the end of a hallway, standing on the shore across a lake, or crying in a school room. Quint seems more aggressive. First glimpsed atop a tower, he is later seen peering through windows, his expressions paralleling those of Miles, as if the dead valet were the puppeteer pulling the strings of the young lad.

The ghost of Quint (Peter Wyngarde) oversees young Miles (Martin Stephens).

In way, however, the real horror of the film resides in the children. Are Miles and Flora innocent, or are they in league with the ghosts? Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin are excellent, their too perfectly precocious innocence suggesting that Miss Giddens’ fears may have some basis in reality after all. Stephens is given more opportunity to shine, but Franklin (who would go on to star in 1974’s THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) holds her own, delivering lovely lines of twisted dialogue such as “Oh, look – there’s a lovely spider, and it’s eating a butterfly!”
Deborah Kerr gives a superb performance, conveying Miss Giddens’ desperate desire to help while overtly suggesting a note of repressed hysteria, hinting that the ghosts may be externalizations of her own inner demons. Kerr brings this complex, redoubtable character to life in THE INNOCENTS with an added layer of her own. In the book, the governess was in her early twenties at most; her youth and inexperience could excuse this missteps she makes in her dire circumstances. Kerr, although youthful, was clearly older than the book’s character, yet she played the part with the naiveté of an inexperienced woman, while adding a range of affected mannerisms hinting at hidden neurosis. Consequently, she comes across as a spinster in the making, her repressed sexuality bubbling to the surface in her obvious attraction to her employer (whom she sees only once, during the job interview that opens the film) and in her reaction to learning that her predecessor engaged stormy nearly sado-masochistic relationship with the valet, a man clearly her social inferior (an unforgivable taboo for a Victorian woman).
Oscar-winner Freddie Francis delivers excellently black-and-white photography in beautiful widescreen Cinemascope. When Miss Giddens wanders the shadowy halls of Bly at night, candelabra in hand as she follows the whispered words of Quint and Jessel, the scene superficial resembles typical horror movie cliches, but it is handled with grand flair, including some clever camera effects to suggest that the moving candles truly are lighting the scene. In the days before film could rely on available light, Francis had special filters fashioned that created a spotlight-like effect, with the image bright in the center of the frame and tapering off to darkness toward the edges. The sequence is perhaps the closest the film comes to visualizing a cinematic equivalent of James’ prose, with the haunting effects serving equally well as evidence of the supernatural or the psychological.
Seen decades after its initial release, THE INNOCENTS is clearly a relic from a bygone era, before The Haunting (1963), The Legend of Hell House (1973), Poltergeist (1982), and the remake of The Haunting (1999) had moved the haunted house sub-genre toward ever more jarring effects. Yet THE INNOCENTS continues to trump all of their best efforts. As frightening as some of those films are, none of them sucker punch the audience with the devastating emotional wallop of Clayton’s masterpiece. The ending seems designed with almost deliberate sadism, building the climax to a breath-taking crescendo and then fading away to an eerie silence that perfectly captures the feel of the novel’s closing line: “We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.”

 DVD DETAILS

The 20th Century Fox DVD offers a two-sided disc, one with a widescreen transfer, the other with a full screen transfer. The audio is available in English stereo or Spanish mono, with options for English or Spanish subtitles. Bonus features (the same on both sides of the disc) are limited to the film’s theatrical trailer, plus some clips and recommendations for other Fox home video releases (LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE).
The film is divided into 28 chapters, with titles like “Tears of a Ghost.” The menu images culled from the black-and-white film have been colorized. Both transfers retain the photography’s beautiful contrast of light-and-shadow. The full screen version is not too bad an alternative if you do not have a widescreen television; much of it looks quite nice, but several shots do betray the loss of picture image around the sides. The widescreen transfer is of course preferable, preserving the widescreen compositions of the Cinemascope photography, particularly in shots like the one below, of Miss Giddens forcing Flora to confront the ghost of Miss Jessel (the two heads in the foreground, which are matted into the shot, not filmed live on location, are almost cropped off in the full screen version).

Miss Giddens (Deobrah Kerr) forces Flora (Pamela Franklin) to confront the ghost of Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop).

The trailer is a bit schizophrenic. It emphasizes THE INNOCENT’s  serious approach to the ghost story, citing the resptable credits of Kerr and Clayton,  but there seems to be a deliberate attempt to pump up the volume, including an echoing voice that asks the question quoted at the top of this review. The words are illustrated in eerie letters superimposed over a swirling, almost psychedelic vortex of black-and-white (an image not in the film, which was presumably achieved with paint in a tank). There is also an odd moment when the originally recorded soundtrack rather obviously drops out: the music and background effects disappear while the narrator reads the screenwriting credit for William Archibald and Truman Capote. (Presumably, the final screen credit changed, and the narration had to be re-recorded and awkwardly dropped in.)
Needless to say, this bare-bones presentation does not do justice to Jack Clayton’s classic.. One hopes that, someday, Fox will release a special edition disc loaded with bonus features.
THE INNOCENTS (1961). Produced and directed by Jack Clayton. Screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, basedon the play by Archibald and the novel The Turn of the Screwby Henry James, additional scenes and dialgoue by John Mortimer. Cast: Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Peter Wyngarde, Clytie Jessop.

Top 20 Chick Flick Horror Movies

So, you’re a horror movie maniac. You just can’t get enough of ’em. You love the thrill of fear, the scream of terror, the sight of blood. But you have a problem: Your boxed set of BLIND DEAD movies does not enamor your girlfriend. Your Lucio Fulci collection does not send your paramour swooning with rapture. Your unrated torture porn DVDs do not arouse interest. The midnight movie screening of GRINDHOUSE does not inspire romantic fantasies. The latest French gore-fest does not excite erotic intrigue. If anything, the woman in your life is wondering whether you’re a latent serial killer whose interest in the female body does not extend beyond seeing it torn to pieces. You are faced with a dreadful dilemma: either continue to alienate your significant other or stuff those video nasties in the back of the closet along with the real pornography and suffer through endless nights of watching mind-numbingly boring chick flicks like BED OF ROSES (a fate that frightens you far more than anything in your horror collection). Well, lucky for you, we’re here to save the day. You see, there is a way to share your love of the horror genre with a psychologically stable female partner who is not interested in watching an endless stream of blood gushing across the screen. Believe it or not, there are “chick flick” horror movies. They may not be as intense and hardcore as some of your favorite splatter flicks, but they are quite good in their own right, with plenty of appeal to both men and women. Below, we will provide our list of the Top 20 Best Chick Flick Horror Movies.
NOTE:  We have more or less listed the films in order of their female appeal, which means that the top-ranked films may not be the most frightening. The first ten tend to emphasize romantic elements of the sort that might be found in a mainstream “chick flick.” The remaining ten simply feature strong female leads.
1. TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964). This adaptation of Edgar Alan Poe’s “Ligeia,” features Vincent Price as a man obsessed with the fear that his late wife will return from the grave to haunt him.  Although technically too old for role, which was written as a young romantic lead, Price is wonderful as the doomed widower; with a little assist from the makeup department, he conveys the necessary mystique. Lady Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd) meets and falls in love with him, inspiring him to overcome his fear and marry her. The story is told from Rowena’s point of view, as she is intrigued and enamored by this brooding, mysterious man, only to learn that the dark secret hanging over him will not easily be dispelled. Thanks to a strong performance by Shepherd, working from a great script by Robert Towne, Rowena emerges as one of cinema’s strongest leading ladies – willful and intelligent, she risks her life to drag her husband from the grip of the late Lady Ligeia. The horror element is very muted; the emphasis is on the doomed romance between the two lovers. A moody masterpiece, the film’s fear factor is mostly implied; director Roger Corman includes a few jump scares (the sudden snarl of a cat) and some hypnotic dream sequences, creating an almost surreal sense of dread the relies on Gothic atmopshere more than on-screen violence. In short, this Gothic Romance is the perfect date night rental: you can enjoy the “Gothic,” and she will enjoy the “Romance.”
2. I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). Producer Val Lewton famously called this movie “Jane Eyre in the West Indies.” He may have been joking, but the statement was accurate enough in its way. The story follows a nurse named Betsy (Frances Dee) who gets a job on a plantation tending the brain-dead wife of her employer Paul (Tom Conway). The wife may or may not be a zombie (the film is deliberately ambiguous on this point); either way, her presence is a living a reminder of ugly family secrets that Paul would rather forget. Betsy falls in love with him, of course, but she sublimates her desire by trying to cure Paul’s wife, taking her to a voodoo ceremony. The attempt backfires: the locals are terrified of the zombie woman and want to destroy her. Atypically for the horror genre, the characterization and performances outweigh the horror; Director Jacques Tourner presents the horror almost entirely in terms of atmosphere, creating a dream-like world in which science and the supernatural vie for acceptance, but ultimately, the voodoo element is a backdrop for the love story between Betsy and Paul, with her in the Jane Ayre role and him as the Byronic Rochester substitute. Best of all, the lovers actually get together and (presumably) live happily ever after.
3. THE GHOST AND MRS MUIR (1947). This classic is much more romantic-comedy than horror, but the early scenes – when Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney) moves into the old house and realizes it is haunted by the ghost of an old sea captain (Rex Harrison) are as effective as any genuine haunted-house movie. The ghost’s first appearance – a shadowy, out-of-focus silhouette – sends a shiver or two down the spine, and his later full-blown revelation -when Mrs. Muir lights and candle, revealing him standing next to her – is a genuine shock. After this, the film segues into a love story levened with humor, but Tierney and Harrison are absolutely wonderful, and the film will charm the woman in your life – and entertain you as well.
4. DRAGONWYCK (1946). This Gothic-Mystery-Romance features both Gene Tierney and Vincent Price; in many ways, it predates Price’s later TOMB OF LIGEIA, and it was filmed when he was still young enough to play a leading man. More important, this was before he had earned a reputation for screen villainy, so the horrible revelations about his character come as a complete surprise, instead of being telegraphed (as they are in LIGEIA). Price plays the wealthy Nicholas Van Ryn, who sweeps the lovely Miranda Wells (Tierney) off her feet and takes her as his bride to his ancestral estate of Dragonwyck. Miranda’s happiness is soon marred by strange noises in the night and other dark forebodings. Eventually we realize that Nicholas is interested in her only as a means of producing an heir to continue the family line, and if she fails in that duty, he may have to do away with her (as he did his previous wife) and find a replacement. It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a “horror” film, but it is steeped in Gothic atmosphere. Tierney, as always, is a captivating presence, and the romantic chemistry between her and Price is engaging, even if it eventually turns sour. If you like this film, you might also try REBECCA, the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, with Judith Anderson as the wonderfully wicked servant Mrs. Danvers. It’s another Gothic Melodrama – not an outright horror film, but filled with mystery and romance that plays well with both male and female viewers.
5. UGETSU (1953). Director Kenji Mizoguchi’s period piece, detailing the impact of civil war on two married couples, flirts with the horror genre in several scenes, ultimately turning into a ghost story. There are no overt shocks, but there are some wonderfully eerie moments when a husband realizes he is consorting with a ghost. The overall feeling is one of sorrow more than scares. The movie is ultimately about the price that women pay while their men try to achieve glory and honor during wartime. The result is a real tear-jerker that will have your girlfriend reaching for the tissue box and marveling at what a sensitive soul you are, while you enjoy the ghostly apparitions.
6. THE GORGON (1964). This is not the most effective Hammer horror film in terms of providing scares, but that is only because the emphasis is on romance. The film is a doomed love story about a young student named (Richard Pasco) who comes to a village where a monster is petrifying its victims. After a close encounter with the Gorgon, Paul is nursed back to health by Carla (Barbara Shelley) and falls in love with her. Carla, although she returns his affection, is bound by some dark power over her; eventually, we realize that during the full moon, she becomes the Gorgon. The dynamic acting duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are on hand as a doctor and a professor, each separately trying to solve the problem, but ultimately there is no hope for Carla or Paul. The film’s greatest achievement is that its horror effects are orchestrated for their emotional impact: this isn’t a movie that has you screaming in terror but weeping in sadness over the plight of the young lovers. The finale will have you and your lady-friend exchanging bodily fluids, but they will be tears of sadness.
7. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). This famous tale of the deformed mystery man lurking beneath the Paris Opera House is now considered a horror film, but in its day it was more of a mystery-thriller-romance. Erik the Phantom (Lon Chaney) delivers a series of frights (including the famous unmasking of his horrifying visage), but the story is really about his hopeless love for the young and beautiful opera singer Christine (Mary Philbin). The style of this old silent film is dated and stagy, but Chaney keeps it interesting; also, the sets and photography capture the right atmosphere – part horror and part fairy tale – creating the perfect setting for the this variation on “Beauty and the Beast,” with the monster evoking sympathy because of the tender emotions hiding behind his ugly countenance. There have been several remakes. The 1962 version is perhaps even more of a chick flick in that it de-emphasizes the horror element and purifies the Phantom (Herbert Lom)’s motives: he’s no longer interested in Christine sexually, only spiritually. The result yields few frights, but the film possesses a tender quality rare in the horror genre – which should increase its appeal to the distaff side of the audience.
8. DRACULA (1979). There has always been a certain sexual innuendo underlying the Dracula myth, with the mysterious, dark, foreign stranger sneaking into the bedrooms of virginal British ladies. Bela Lugosi played up the foreign mystique, and Christopher Lee emphasized the sexual aggression, but Frank Langella turned the Count into a romantic anti-hero, dashing and seductive, who not only lusts for women (their bodies and their blood) but loves Lucy(Kate Nelligan) for her spirit and intelligence. In 1992, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, tries to emphasize the romance even more, but director Francis Ford Coppola fumbles, turning the story into an overwrought teen romance better suited to an episode of JERRY SPRINGER (vampires – and the women who love them).
9. CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964). Allegedly based on the work of Edgar Alan Poe, this Italian Gothic horror story tells of Alan, a reporter who wagers he can spend a night alone in a haunted castle. He meets a variety of spooks, including a very alluring one named Elizabeth (played by Barbara Steele, the Queen of Horror). They fall in love, but being – literally – from two different worlds, they cannot stay together, or so it seems. As daylight draws near, the other ghosts come seeking the young man’s blood; Elizabeth tries to lead him to safety, but he dies on the verge of escape. The seemingly downbeat ending is actually a triumph of love over death. As the camera pans up to the sunlight, we hear the disembodied spirits of Alan and Elizabeth conversing, and we know that they are now together for eternity – the ultimate romantic fantasy. Steele also starred in a dual role as an innocent princess and a vampire-witch in the 1960 classic BLACK SUNDAY – a much more effective horror film that also has a strong romantic element, thanks to the chemistry between the princess and a young doctor (John Richardson) who seeks to save her from the vampire.
10. THE GIRL IN A SWING (1989). This small independent film, based on the novel by Richard Adams, is essentially a love story about a repressed British man (Rupert Frazer), who meets and marries a mysterious German girl named (Meg Tilly). In the great tradition of tragic romances, the marraige is doomed, but only gradually do hints of a haunting arise, related to some guilty secret of Karin’s. The relentless ghost is seldom seen, keeping the horror content to a minimum; instead, the film focuses on the tragedy of the relationship. Though far from a masterpiece, the film works in its own way, achieving its emotional effects with far less cheesy manipulation than LOVE STORY – and it has a ghost, too, so what more do you want?
11. BEDLAM (1946). Another Val Lewton production, this period piece tells of an arrogant woman (Anna Lee) who is unfairly confined to the infamous English asylum. Although the official star is Boris Karloff (FRANKENSTEIN) as the asylum’s evil overlord, Lee gives a great performance in what is truly the lead role: charting her character’s arc from selfishness to concern for the other patients, she emerges as one of the great female characters in the history of horror cinema.
12. THE INNOCENTS (1960). This excellent English ghost story, based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, stars Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, a governess put in charge of two children living in a secluded mansion. She gradually comes to believe that the house is haunted and that the children are in league with the ghosts. The film is deliberately ambiguous: are the ghosts real or is Miss Giddens imagining them? Either way, it is a wonderful portrait of a woman desperately dealing with a horrible situation without a hero to ride in and rescue her.
13. THE HAUNTING (1963). Another great ghost story, this one portrays an attempt to investigate the “Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.” Based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the story is told from the point of view of Nell (Julie Harris), a fragile young woman whose desperate need for love and acceptance lures her to succumb to Hill House. An effective scare-fest, this film is also a great character study that should appeal to female viewers. Men can enjoy the scares and the presence of Claire Bloom as Theo, whom the film none too subtly insinuates is a lesbian. The 1974 film THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE deals with a similar situation: a team of two men and two women attempt a sceintific investigation of a haunted house. The scares are a bit more overt, and the psychology less in depth, but the film retains some “chick flick” interest thanks to the performances of Pamela Franklyn and Gayle Hunnicutt, who help create characters that the women in the audience can identify with.
14. THE OTHERS (2001). Intentionally molded in the tradition of THE INNOCENTS, this ghost story features another strong female lead, in this case played by the talented Nicole Kidman. The scares are extremely effective, but what holds interest from beginning to end is the focus on Kidman’s Grace Stewart as she desperately tries to protect her children from the mysterious forces at work in their isolated house.
15. THE ORPHANAGE (2007). Belen Rueda stars as Laura, a woman whose son goes missing in their new house, possibly abducted by ghosts. As with the three previous entries on our list, this film orchestrates a series of unnerving spooky encounters while focusing on the drama of the woman trying to deal with them. There is also a strong maternal element that plays well with women. Although vulnerable, Laura is not a Scream Queen or a victim; she’s not even the traditional “Final Girl” who survives and triumphs. She’s a complex, damaged woman who keeps going even when pushed to extremes. The film was executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro, whose PAN’S LABYRINTH and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE may also appeal to women, because of their portrait of childhood innocence menaced by adult horrors, with empahsis on emotional content.
16. CARRIE (1976). Despite director Brian DePalma’s reputation as a cinematic misogynist, this hit horror film features two actresses (Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie) in strong roles, giving Oscar-nominated performances. This is more a high-school horror film than a chick flick, but it captures a sense of ordinary people living in a world we all recognize, and despite the horrible vengeance she ultimately unleashes on her tormentors, Carrie remains a sympathetic character that women – and men – can relate to.
17 RING 0: BIRTHDAY (2000). This prequel to 1998’s RING (the film that launches the recent J-Horror wave) covers some of the same territory as CARRIE. Set in a small acting troup, it tells the story of Sadako (Yukie Nakama), a young misfit with strange powers, who is tormented by her fellow thespians until she turns the tables. Presenting a far more sympathetic portrait of Sadako than seen in the other RING films, this is pretty much a bust as a horror film, but it is an interesting portrait of a sad, lonely, mixed up girl trying to fit in. In general, ghost movies from Japan and other Asian nations should find favor with female viewers: they tend to feature female characters as the protagonists, and the restless spirits are almost always women, their power in death redressing the imbalance they suffered during their lives under a patriarchal culture. Besides RING, check out PHONE, THE EYE, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, and SHUTTER.
18. ONIBABA (1964). This black-and-white Japanese horror classic has few traditional chick flick elements, but it focuses on two women in the lead roles. Like UGETSU, it portrays the suffering of women while their men are away at war; in this case a young woman and her mother-in-law make ends meet me murdering lone samurai and selling their armour. Toward the end there is a demonic appartion and possibly a curse, but much of the film’s appeal lies in watching the women dish out death to the men who fall into their trap.
19. ALIEN (1979). There is not much about this film that labels it as a chick flick, but it does feature Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ripley, the character who once and for all over-turned the cliche of women as helpless screaming victims in monster movies. That should be enough to get your girlfriend to sit through the chest-burster and other horrors on display.
20. DAY OF THE DEAD(1985). This last title is really pushing it, but we think you deserve something in return for making the effort to find common ground with your squeamish main squeeze. After sitting through all those Gothic Romances, subtle ghost stories, and psychological terror tales, you want some gruesome gore, right? Well, this film from writer-director George Romero is just the thing: it’s brimming with blood, but it also has a strong female character in the lead, Lori Cardilel as Sarah. Inverting the formula of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, in which Barbra (Judith O’Dea) was pretty much a useless space case, Romero makes Sarah the only one who can keep her shit together while humanity totters on the brink of extinction. That may not make it a chick flick, but it should offer at least a little redeeming value for making the love your life watch a man ripped in half by cannibalistic zombies.
If you are interested in the films on this list, most of them are reviewed more fully elsehwere on the website. You can access the reviews by clicking on the titles that contain hyperlinks.
NOTE: Yes, this article makes sexist assumptions about what constitutes a “chick flick,” and we know that some women do not like the term – an issue we addressed in this previous editorial.
UPDATE (04/27/08): We have received some suggestions for titles we overlooked:

  • Lucius Gore of Eplatter recommends SCREAM. I suppose the combination of humor and a strong “Final Girl” character would appeal to women more than a standard slasher movie.
  • Brian Collins of Horror Movie a Day recommends GINGER SNAPS.
  • Jeff Allard of  Dinner with Max Jenke believes that ALIENS has a greater female appeal than ALIEN, which makes sense, considering the maternal themes in the film. He also recommends ROSEMARY’S BABY – which is such an obvious choice that I am embarrassed to have overlooked it. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the Ira Levin novel is considered to be one of the greatest horror movies ever made (EXORCIST director William Friedkin puts it on his very short list here), and it’s all about a young married woman (Mia Farrow)undergoing her first pregnancy. Yes, we all know she is going to give birth to the spawn of Satan – or is she? The film actually delivers little-to-no evidence on this score except the professed belief of the Satanic cult (we’re supposed to trust them?). In a way, the movie plays out as a drama about a woman undergoing a trouble pregnancy, who is betrayed by her husband, and bedeviled by some kooky neighbors. In othe words, it is very much set in the real world, and features a situation that is completely relatable; even if the details are extreme, almost any woman could watch this movie and identify with what poor Rosemary is suffering.

UPDATE (01/28/09): Someone on an IMDB message board thread, linking to this article, suggested that THE DESCENT should have made the list.