Creature Feature Round Up

In which we dig out some of those creaky old black-and-white horror movies you probably remember seeing on TV years ago and see if they stand the test of time.

Let’s start with a couple of good old-fashioned monster movies. Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954) is terrific fun, notable for some fine underwater sequences and for the even finer Julia Adams in a bathing suit. No wonder Ol' Fish Head got all hot and bothered!(). 

In contrast, The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932) may be iconic , but it’s rather scarce on any genuine scares or thrills, despite the ominous presence of Boris Karloff. It may be heresy to say it, but the blockbuster 1999 remake is actually a lot more fun (). 

The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julien, 1925) is a fine old silent movie, with the unmasking of the Phantom a memorable moment, complete with that famous Bach organ music. The poor fella gets a bit of a raw deal by the end, though - the fairly insipid centre of his attentions was hardly worth it. He’d have been better sticking to his organ (snigger)().

Godzooky. Truly horrific.
Elsewhere, Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1954) is the definitive Big Stompy Monster movie. Yes, it’s a man in a rubber suit, but it’s great value, with some nice model work and special effects, whilst its influence on monster movies from Jaws to Cloverfield is evident. The spectre of the atomic bombs does hang over it, giving some scenes more gravitas than you would normally expect in such movies(). It also spawned about six hundred sequels, featuring classic Stompy Monster Smackdowns such as King Kong Vs Godzilla, Mothra Vs Godzilla and Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla. The less said about the appearance of Godzooky in the 80s animated series, the better.

Warning! This trailer contains very excitable narration!

A triple-bill of Jacques Tourneur films now. I Walked with a Zombie (1943) is an atmospheric little tale in which a nurse get involved in voodoo when she arrives on a Caribbean island to care for a patient. Lacks the real chills and thrills needed to be a truly memorable horror movie, but still a short and worthwhile watch ().

Cat People (1942) sees a disturbed young woman haunted by a curse which affects her ability to forms relationships or feel emotions, lest she be transformed (either literally or metaphorically) into a wild animal, intent on killing. An atmospheric and influential horror film, which generates chills from effective lighting and sound design rather than cheap scares. It won’t scare you silly and has dated slightly, but is a quick watch with a couple of deliciously unsettling scenes along the way ().

In Night of the Demon (1957), a sceptical psychologist finds science can't explain everything when he investigates a devil-worshipping cult. Atmospheric direction, smart scripting and an ominous score builds a genuine sense of foreboding and provides some creepy moments, although perhaps it would have been wiser to omit the rather silly close-up shots of the demon itself ().

Freaks (Tod Browning, 1932) is hardly a conventional horror movie, but many might find it an uncomfortable viewing experience. Set in a circus, the flimsy plot sees two ‘normal’ lovers conspire to steal the fortune of 'midget' Hans. The various other circus perfomers, the 'freaks' of the title, discover the plot and take their revenge. Essentially, it’s an excuse to watch (marvel?) as the limbless Human Torso lights a cigarette, the legless Johnny Eck scampers about on his hands, the Siamese twins move in unison and others perform their 'tricks', begging the question “Are we any better than the folk who paid to watch such sideshows years ago?” Ultimately the film is no masterpiece, with middling acting and amateurish filming. Nevertheless, worth seeing as a curiosity and for a genuinely unsettling scene as the freaks chant, "Gooble gobble, gooble of us, one of us!" ().

We’ll finish with a real classic. Nosferatu (FW Murnau, 1922) was the first adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula and has not been bettered. A classic of the German Expressionism movement, with Max Schrek’s pitiful, rat-like vampyre a welcome alternative to the sexy, seductive bloodsuckers we’re used to these days. Iconic scenes abound, from the shadow climbing the staircase, Count Orlok rising from his coffin or the bedroom attack (spoofed by The Fast Show with their Monster, Monster sketches). The whole film is available free here, so there's no excuse not to watch it.().

So there we have it. Probably nothing to truly shock or scare the youth of today, weaned on a diet of mindless violence and gratuitous gore. Not to mention the stuff they see in the movies. But there’s a shambling charm to many of the above movies which makes them hard to resist. And aren’t those old posters cool?

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