Horror thrives as the outlaw genre of filmmaking. For some reason it never gets the respect it is fully due. I’m not sure that it matters to the fans. But when I tell some of my friends I’m making horror movies, they usually say, “Why?”
Why indeed. So I wondered that myself. What is it that attracts me to this genre?
Part of the reason is the thrill of being frightened. Two movies come to mind from my childhood. Not from the Classic Universal Horror Film Catalogue, although “Frakenstiein” and “Dracula” certainly helped me love the genre.
I was 8 years old in 1968 when I saw “Wait Until Dark” with my mother. I’m sure other people were with us, but I don’t remember who. We must have been visiting her sister, my Aunt Betty, in Milford at the time because she lived a block away from the cinema.
“Wait Until Dark” was a very popular home invasion movie that, as most horror films do, reflected the outside world of drugs and the violence of the counter-culture movement of the 60’s. Kind of the underbelly of the love generation. America was blind to the shift that was coming and if they didn’t act soon it would be too late. There is a revolution in your front yard! Hollywood was going through the same revolution and changing of the guard.
If you are unaware of the story is about Susy, played by Audrey Hepburn, who is a blind woman married to a photographer. One day he accidentally brings home smuggled heroin in a doll and the bad guys come to her apartment to retrieve it, while her husband is away.
Alan Arkin plays Roat, the evil leader of the gang that he plays with glee and brings the movie to a such a terrifying climax that it was listed at number 10 in Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. I still remember everyone screaming in the audience. A magical moment.
“Horror Castle” as it was called in it’s US release, the original title being “The Virgin of Nuremberg” was an Italian Gothic Horror film that was released in 1964. Years later on a UHF channel I watched one day when I was home alone from school. I thought it was going to be another mundane ghost story in a castle until the protagonist Mary Hunter, played by Rossana Podesta, finds a blonde beauty in an Iron Madien with her eyes bloodied and dripping onto the floor. What the hell was this?
A little later another woman, a brunette beauty has her head placed in a cage with a starving rat, that devours a part of her face. This was way ahead of its time in 1964, and horrified my young mind. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The villain later exposed as man with no face, a precursor to Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes, because of Nazi torture. The movie connecting the dots between the horrors and tortures of the Catholic Inquisition to that of the Nazi’s. How much more has humanity really evolved?
Years later learning the social significance of these films was a bonus. But as a kid just having the hell scared out of me was more than enough to realize how potent this art form was.
And sometimes that is reason enough.