Hello, my little zombie snacks. It’s been a while, but Granny is back with five films that made me a horror aficionado. My love of horror began with the Creature Double Features offered every Saturday at neighborhood movie theatre These were the days of food fights with kids sitting in the balcony, and ushers threatening to beat us with their flashlights if we didn’t behave ourselves.
One of the first films that truly frightened me was a film called Them. It was a 1954 black and white science fiction film about radioactive ants that were terrorizing a New Mexico town. It was the first of nuclear monster films that came out during the Cold War. The film was directed by Gordon Douglas and starred James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon, and James Arness.
The story begins with two state police officers finding a little girl alone and in shock. Her family was missing, but it isn’t long before the ants make themselves known. The adults (police and soldiers) were helpless against these creatures.
Tension rises when it is discovered that two young queen ants are ready to lay eggs. If you’ve ever had to deal with an ant invasion in your kitchen, then you know firsthand, just how hard it is to kill these little buggers. Luckily, by the time the radioactive ants make their way to the LA storm drains to start a new colony, Sgt. Ben Peterson (James Whitmore) and FBI Agent Robert Graham (James Arness) were able to save two young boys and destroy the nest. That film was so scary that there was no food fight during the cartoon break.
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD
Growing up when the dream of space travel was sparked by TV series like Flash Gordon, watching any movie that featured an alien was the number one draw to a Saturday matinee. The Thing from Another World had us scrambling under our seats.
This 1951 film, directed by Christian Nyby and starring Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, and Douglas Spencer. James Arness played the part of the alien. The Thing from Another World is based on a novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell aka Don A Stuart.
The film begins with scientists finding a body inside a flying saucer that had crashed into the frozen Arctic ice. The body is frozen in a block of ice, but a misplaced electric blanket forces the people inside the research outpost to defend themselves against this huge humanoid vegetable. The Thing may have had the genetic makeup of a carrot, but it was a killer with a thirst for human blood. Since that film, there have been several remakes: The Thing (1982) and The Thing (2011), but it was the original film that frustrated my mom when my siblings and I immediately swore off veggies.
THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
My love for dead things in books and film began with The Curse of Frankenstein. I remember exactly where I was when I first watched this little 1957 British horror film by Hammer Film Productions. My mother and grandmother had taken my siblings and me to Atlantic City for a vacation. While there, Mom made the mistake of taking us to see The Curse of Frankenstein.
The film, directed by Terence Fisher, starred Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, and Christopher Lee. The story is delivered by Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) to a priest as he awaits execution for the murder of his maid. Everyone knows the eternal story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, so I won’t bore you with the plot. I will tell you that Hammer Films did raise the bar on the way horror films were presented. Having two top notch actors, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee together in any of the Hammer Films was a guarantee that you were truly going to get the stuffing frightened out of you.
This was the last time my mother took my siblings and I to a movie. Some of the scenes were a bit too gory, which caused our little bags of popcorn to go flying in all directions, and my brother to scamper under the seat. There have been many takes on the Frankenstein story, including a kinder version of the monster in the Penny Dreadful television series with Rory Kinnear playing the educated and kindly creature, but The Curse of Frankenstein will always be my favorite
There have been so many versions of Dracula, but it is the 1931 version at that neighborhood theater that scared me to death. Where Frankenstein’s monster might elicit sympathy from me, Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was a dark and manipulating creature.
The film was directed by Tod Browning, who also directed another favorite of mine, Freaks. Dracula, which is based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, starred Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, and Frances Dade.
We all know the story about Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania and how he uses poor Renfield (Dwight Frye) to get himself and his coffin safely into England…but it was Bela Lugosi who made that film a success. To this day, for me at least, none of the other Dracula movies made even come close to Lugosi’s character. Bela didn’t need to speak in the scenes to scare me. His eyes said it all. “I am death.”
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
My love of zombies began at a Drive-in theater in 1968. I was with a carload of friends. We expected to be scared, but we weren’t prepared for the gore. The funny thing is…this was the film that inspired me to write.
Night of the Living Dead was an independent horror film that was written, directed, photographed, and edited by George A. Romero. The film starred Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Marilyn Eastman, Karl Hardman, Judith Ridley, and Keith Wayne. It was shot outside of Pittsburgh, PA and begins with siblings Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) as they make the mistake of paying their respects at the local cemetery. Johnny is killed right off, but Barbara takes shelter in a farmhouse where she meets, Ben.
Duane Jones was an unknown stage actor, but he was the hero of the film. A black actor playing the part of the hero was quite unheard of at the time. In real life Duane Jones was a former university professor. All I know is that my friends and I were all cheering for Ben to survive the zombies. Unfortunately, this was not era of The Walking Dead, and there were no survivors. There are hints that the zombie virus was started by something brought back from space…which brings me to my last favorite film.
Alien that made us realize that space may not be as friendly as we would hope it to be. The poster for the movie hinted at the horror we were to be offered “In space no one can hear you scream.” We were not disappointed.
Alien, a 1979 science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon. It stars Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Bolaji Badejo as the Alien. The movie begins with a commercial space tug called the Nostromo, and its crew as they make their way back to Earth.
After answering a distress call, the seven-member crew, which included a science officer with a dark secret, encounter one of the most frightening creatures ever to be imagined. The Alien Xenomorph was not a vegetable that could be electrocuted into a side dish like The Thing…no, this creature was closer to the insect population in its life cycle.
After a crew member is attacked by something from the large egg life structures that were located at the source of the distress signal, all expectations that this would be your run-of-the-mill horror film went right out of the window after the creature in its nymph stage rips itself out of Kane’s (John Hurt) chest and goes into hiding where it sheds it’s exoskeleton and grows huge. If this isn’t scary enough, this creature could also spew acid.
The heroine of the film was Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. This was Weaver’s first leading role in a motion picture. Ripley not only survived the creature, but she had to fight off Ash (Ian Holm) an android with orders to bring this creature back to Earth, alive. Sigourney Weaver was able to play her kick-ass militant Ripley in three following sequels. Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection.
That’s all for now, my little zombie snacks. Have a fabulous Halloween.