After watching The Innocents the other night, I was trying to figure out what my top five classic horror films would be. The list I came up with is not terribly surprising, and I feel like I must be leaving something out (no Vincent Price, how can this be?!), but here it is:
5. The Bride of Frankenstein
There’s no denying that The Bride of Frankenstein is a wonderfully campy monster movie in its own right, but what really puts this one on the list for me is the amazing double-casting in the prologue, with Elsa Lanchester as Mary Shelley.
4. Black Sunday
This one is pure absurdity from Mario Bava, but it features a lot of my favorite gothic tropes–spooky old castles, witches returning from the grave to wreak havoc, and double casting in which the gorgeous love interest in the present day mysteriously looks identical to some long-dead malevolent ancestor.
3. Night of the Demon (Curse of the Demon)
Pretty much everyone (including director Jacques Tourneur) seems to agree that this one is undermined a bit by its ending, but if you just pretend the last, like, five minutes of the film don’t exist, it’s very much a horror story of suggestion, rather than explicit scares. Plus, its shout-out in the Kate Bush song “Hounds of Love” will always endear it to me. (Close second is another Jacques Tourneur/Val Lewton production, I Walked With a Zombie.)
2. The Innocents
As I mentioned the other day, The Innocents is chilling and atmospheric and wonderfully English. The Victorian trappings of this Henry James adaptation are gorgeous, and Deborah Kerr is both sympathetic and creepy–though no one could possibly be as creepy as Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.
1. The Haunting
My absolute favorite, now and forever. Such a fantastic mix of wit and absolute terror. The Haunting is a resolutely slow movie, and it succeeds primarily by suggesting the source of its horror. In fact, Hill House may be one of the most unconventional haunted house I’ve encountered on film; while the movie relies on some familiar ghost tropes (cold spots, for instance), most of the really scary bits come from very unexpected places. I also love all four of the principal actors, but especially Julie Harris and Claire Bloom as Eleanor and Theodora, who have terrific chemistry. And of course, who can forget Mrs. Dudley’s immortal speech . . . “In the night. In the dark.”