My wife and I really get into this month of October and we've already decked out the house in Halloween fashion. Though we have a graveyard on display out front, we tend to shy away from the blood and gore you may see at other doors. The same thing transfers into our movie collection. Our favorite scary films will most likely make your hair stand on end then have your stomach turning. For all those Vintage Horror fans out there, you may be saddened by my lack of interest in your genre, but I dare you to take a look at my top ten and see if you still get entertained.
What also makes this month even better is that some of my favorite spooky films are some of my favorite comedies. As you can see from the list below, I prefer a mixture of fright and light humor.
#1: Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
With Dracula and Frankenstein united and transported to the states, Dracula plans to revive the monster who is growing weaker with time. The solution to this problem is a new brain, but not one that would cause even more trouble. They need a brain that would be manageable and dim-witted. That's where Wilbur comes in. What they don't know is that Wilbur has been nothing but trouble to any one he encounters, especially his best friend Chick. With mysterious woman, eerie music and a full cast of whose who in the horror world, this film proves to be frighteningly entertaining.
This was my all-time favorite movie as a kid, I must have watched it a hundred times. This movie has it all; Frankenstein, Dracula and the Werewolf. What also makes it a favorite among horror fans, is that it stars the original actors who are inseparably connected to there famous roles. When Boris Karloff was asked to join the cast as his iconic depiction of the mindless monster, he turned it down failing to see how comedy and horror could exist in the same picture. After he saw the success of the film, he quickly joined the duo in Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949). One scene I could never watch fully, till my teens, was when Lon Chaney Jr. turns into the Wolf Man with Wilbur nearby.
Chick Young: "I know there's no such person as Dracula. You know there's no such person as Dracula."
Wilbur Grey: "But does Dracula know it?"
#2: Arsenic & Old Lace (1944)
Mortimer is the most eligible bachelor in town and hates marriage to the extent of writing a book on it. All this changes when he falls for the ministers daughter next door, Elaine. Keeping this event a secret is the worst of his troubles, when he discovers a dark tradition kept by his aunts, Abby & Martha. Unknown to the community, and their own family, they have been silently executing lonely aged men who come to them seeking a place to stay. To Mortimer's shock, his aunts feel that they are in the right and reveal their past to him as if they were giving him a simple recipe. Things become even more complicated when his brother and nemesis, Jonathan, moves in suddenly and threatens Mortimer's life once again. A confused new bride, a plastic surgeon sidekick, and an oddball Teddy Roosevelt, add to this already comically spooky film.
Made by one of the greatest directors of all-time, Frank Capra, Arsenic & Old Lace is as iconic with Halloween as It's A Wonderful Life (1946) is with Christmas. As weird as it may seem, my family considers this film to be romantic. In fact, a proposal has occurred while it was playing. Cary Grant gives one of his best performances here, mixing in his comedy with his serious, yet still suave, characteristics. This isn't just an oddball comedy, it is spectacularly spooky.
Mortimer Brewster: "When you say 'others,' do you mean others? More than one others?"
#3: Scared Stiff (1953)
Larry has gotten in deep with the gangster mob, Shorty, by running around with his girl. With some coaxing, Myron is sent out to talk Shorty out of killing his friend. There is only one problem with this, Myron has no spine, but in his attempt to get away he gets pulled right back in. In a random turn of events, someone is murdered and Larry thinks he's the killer. After an escape from the hotel, the two end up on a cruise ship headed for Havana with a beautiful lady, Mary. The trip isn't all roses though, as they head towards Mary's inheritance, an island that claims to be haunted. The night holds a special treat for all of them as they battle unknown ghosts, zombies and each others nerves.
This may be more comedy than spooks, but it scared the heck out of me when I was a kid. This is, without a doubt, my favorite Martin & Lewis movie and is quoted often among my family. It was this film that converted my wife to black & whites.
Myron Mertz: "Yes, you see when I was a little boy I was awful, and when my mother called me she'd have to say: 'Myron, MYRON!' So it's Myron Myron."
#4: Midnight Lace (1960)
Kit and Anthony are a newlywed couple who are enjoying a business trip in England. But when Kit is singled out in the heavy fog by an eerie voice that wants to kill her, she begins to loose her sanity. Just when things begin to return to normal, the phone rings again and she is reminded of her date with destiny. The Scotland Yard finds it not only hard to follow the predator, but they can't even prove that he actually exists, so they begin to doubt her. Each encounter with her stalker proves even deadlier, when she is suddenly pushed in front of a bus. In an attempt to catch the villain, her husband comes up with a plan to catch him in the act with the police close by. When the police don't come, she finds herself alone with the killer.
Not only is this film surprisingly unknown, it is also highly expensive to purchase online. I was greatly relieved to find it available on YouTube, so I could show the film to my wife. She squirmed the whole time. Doris Day's performance here came four years after her intense portrayal in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). I feel her acting here was even more intense and that the chemistry with Rex was even better. One thing that you may not have noticed before, is that the suspenseful music in this film is the same exact score, written by Frank Skinner, in Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
Killer: "Careful, Mrs. Preston. I wouldn't want you to get hurt. Not yet."
#5: Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad (1949)
Ichabod is the new school teacher in town and quickly becomes known to the community. When a women gets involved, Crane becomes the enemy of her other love interest, Brom Bones. As Crane begins to prove himself as a worthy adversary, Brom resorts to superstitions to scare Ichabod away. His actions prove successful, as Crane cowers his way home through the hallow. There he encounters the villain described in Brom's story, the Headless Horsemen. In a mad attempt for the bridge, they encounter each other throughout the ride. If Crane passes the bridge then the horseman looses his power. But if he is stopped, then the rider will take his head as a prize.
Almost everyone has seen this classic tale from the work of Disney. With Bing Crosby as both the narrator & music talent, this film introduces a unique way of storytelling, combined with a catchy set of songs set to Halloween.
Narrator: "Don't try to figure out a plan. You can't reason with a headless man."
#6: Wait Until Dark (1967)
Susy is not your average woman. Through blindness she has learned each inch of her world through touch without the aid of light. When her husband Sam leaves for work, she soon becomes the victim of three men looking for a stash of drugs that was placed somewhere in her apartment. Assuming that she knows where the package is, the men start with a psychological threat in hopes that she will reveal the location. But when her other senses prove that they are not as they seem, she digs in for defense. Using the dark as her ally, she goes up against the worst of the three, Roat, in self defense.
In my youth, I played the part of Sam in this play. Though the play is scary in itself, watching this movie in the dark can be much much scarier. Audrey Hepburn did a fantastic job portraying a blind woman who not only faces the challenge of life with her disability, but the threat of a drug lord whose out to get her. The lunging scene still gets me.
Susy Hendrix: "Where is it? Where is it? OH GOD!"
#7: And Then There Were None (1945)
Ten seemingly random people find themselves invited to a remote island at the request of a Mister Owen. As they sit down for a pleasant evening in the parlor, a record player reveals each person by name, with their associated crimes that they've kept hidden. before they can recover from this shock, one of them is poisoned. Curious as to which one is the murderer, one by one they are killed by an unknown hand. All of this tension is added to the aiding lyrics of an old nursery rhyme, "Ten Little Indians," which reveals the killers next move with each verse.
This is the perfect 'who done it.' Is it the doctor, the lawyer, the butler, or the mysterious man who denies everything? What also makes this film a favorite of mine, is the talent of Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald & Richard Haydn. Though the acting made it a great film, the story written by the amazing Agatha Christie made it a classic.
Judge Francis J. Quinncannon: "Mr. Owen could only come to the island in one way. It's perfectly clear. Mr. Owen is one of us."
#8: Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Henry is a husband whose gambling habits have gotten him into trouble with the wrong crowd. Leona is his rich wife who has become psychologically bed ridden. Through time there marriage has turned into shambles and their love has been replaced with hatred. When his wife picks up the receiver at a random moment, she overhears a conversation plotting to kill someone that night. With the phone as her only connection to the outside world, she can't reach her husband and the police wont believe her. Tension builds, when suddenly she hears someone downstairs in their empty home and her fright paralyzes her to the bed.
The ending of this film will surprise you, that's for certain. I won't ruin it for you; you'll just have to watch it yourself. Burt Lancaster & Barbra Stanwyck may not have had the best chemistry, but that's what made this film work even better. This story was first presented in radio form and its growing popularity made for a perfect thriller movie.
Prologue: "In the tangled networks of a great city, the telephone is the unseen link between a million lives... it is the servant of our common needs ~~ the confidante of our inmost secrets... life and happiness wait upon its ring... and horror... and loneliness... and... death!"
#9: Charade (1963)
Regina is notified that her estranged husband has been found dead. At the funeral, a list of old WWII friends come to pay their chilling tribute. Unknown to his wife, her husband had stolen a lot of money during the war with these men, but it disappeared at his death. In her search for the killer and the money, she encounters a charming man who changes his identity constantly. As threats build and bodies begin to turn up, she is confused by whose the killer and whom she can trust.
What would you get if you put Wait Until Dark & Arsenic & Old Lace together in one movie. The answer could be Grant & Hepburn's, Charade. Both are professional thrillers and, at the same time, perfect for portraying a compromising love interest.
Inspector Grandpierre: "Three of them. All in their pyjamas? C'est ridicule! What is it, some new American fad?"
#10: The 39 Steps (1935)
Hannay suddenly finds himself accused of murdering a woman who was being chased by a spy ring. Just when he thinks he is done hiding, he soon finds himself in the hands of the enemy and hand-cuffed to a beautiful woman who doubts his story. Pushing along against all odds, he schemes a plan to get the police involved and solve the mystery himself. A part of his plan soon becomes more dangerous than they anticipated, as the evil organization and the police trail him at the same time.
I consider this early work of Hitchcock to be his best. It has all the elements of a thriller with a killer ending. This movie was mixed in with a bunch of his younger workings and it was in poor quality. Yet, since the beginning scene, I could tell there was something special about it. You have to see it for yourself.
Hannay: "What are the thirty-nine steps?"
There they are, my favorite vintage films to watch in October.