The Pit and the Pendulum: You Need Vincent Price Each October

pitpendulum3

Happy October! I’m resurrecting horror movie articles from my old blog and revamping them. This article is reworked from a 2013 post.

Although Peter Cushing is my favorite horror movie actor—because Peter Cushing is my favorite actor, period—I bow to the popular wisdom that no performer better fits Halloween season thaN Mr. Vincent Price, whose elegance of evil combined with the reassurance of an old friend is the right flavor of fun n’ fright that marks the best of October.

When I first wrote about The Pit and the Pendulum, it was for the release of the first Vincent Price Blu-ray set. We’ve since had a second one, making it easier to indulge in the glories of Price during Halloween.

Continue reading “The Pit and the Pendulum: You Need Vincent Price Each October”

Hammer Country Concludes

4b995923e7f69e42f18609d7277c9770
John Carson in The Plague of the Zombies

The end of another October crammed with articles about horror films from Britain’s great beast of the genre, Hammer Film Productions. Like last year, I did a Hammer horror-post-a week for Black Gate. This month’s selections:

As I did last October, I mixed up the periods and the qualities of the movies and saved the best for the last slot: The Plague of the Zombies is underseen for such a great film in this horror subgenre. Thankfully, there’s a North American Blu-ray coming from Shout! Factory in January. Two of the films are from Terence Fisher, Hammer’s great horror practitioner, but The Phantom of the Opera and The Man Who Could Cheat Death are among his weakest. Apologies for that, Terence, but I did two of your best last year. Hands of the Ripper is, hands down, (sorry) my favorite of Hammer’s 1970s output. I think I’ve watched it every October since I bought the Blu-ray.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll do Hammer October again next year. I still haven’t run out of titles, but I may do the Hammer Frankenstein movies as an article series once I finish my John Carpenter retrospective, and that will more than fill up the Hammer bill for the year.

The Listener and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood

algernon-henry-blackwood

As we close in on the end of the Great Month of October, it would be remiss of me not to pay further homage to my favorite author of the weird tale, Algernon Blackwood. He has made possible a good deal of my fiction, such as my Gothic horror story “The Shredded Tapestry.” That piece wouldn’t exist without two of his John Silence stories, “Ancient Sorceries” and “Secret Worship.”

Earlier this month, I looked at Blackwood’s fourth collection of stories, The Lost Valley. Today, I’m rolling back a few years. Blackwood’s second original collection of (mostly) supernatural tales, The Listener and Others, was published in 1907, following the success of The Empty House and Other Stories the previous year. The Listener is best known for the novella “The Willows,” often cited as Blackwood’s masterpiece. The collection also contains a first-rate non-supernatural suspense story and a running theme about characters suffering from the oppression of the everyday and longing to escape from it into Nature (always with a capital “N”)—a theme as close to Blackwood’s heart as anything in his life. The often nameless protagonists are trapped in a modern psychical emptiness that feels surprisingly like the early twenty-first century rather than the early twentieth.

Continue reading “The Listener and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood”

This Is Not the The Black Cat Movie You’re Looking For

Black-Cat-1941-Crematorium

Happy October! I’m resurrecting horror movie articles from my old blog and revamping them. This article is reworked from a 2013 post.

One of my favorite discoveries in my college library was the volume Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931–1946 by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas, and John Brunas. The 1990 book was one of the first to look at the entire canon of Universal’s horror and mystery pictures from their Golden Age and treat them as something more than the “kiddie TV entertainment” they were once relegated to. I grew up watching these movies on weekend afternoons, but until Weaver et. al I knew little about the behind-the-scenes tales of their making.

Continue reading “This Is Not the The Black Cat Movie You’re Looking For”

Pass Those Runes, Please: Night of the Demon

Night-of-the-Demon-UK-Poster

Happy October! I’m resurrecting horror movie articles from my old blog and revamping them. This article is reworked from a 2008 post.

British Horror doesn’t begin with Hammer Film Productions, as much as it might seem to. The same year Hammer released their Gothic breakthrough, The Curse of Frankenstein, another influential UK horror film reached screens and helped ignite the British terror flood: Night of the Demon (released in the US in a edited version as Curse of the Demon).

Continue reading “Pass Those Runes, Please: Night of the Demon”

The Lost Valley and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood

NPG x2992; Algernon Henry Blackwood by Howard Coster

My favorite author of the “weird tale,” and by extension supernatural horror in general, is Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood was enormously popular as an author of ghost stories—or so they were classified—in the early decades of the twentieth century, and his legacy has stretched on through the many authors who learned their sense of the supernatural and the transcendental through his work. He was a direct influence on my Gothic horror story “The Shredded Tapestry.” With the possibly exception of M. R. James, Blackwood is the author most suited toward quiet reading on October nights.

Most readers came across Blackwood’s work in anthologies of ghost stories or in “Best of” collections like Penguin’s Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Tales. Small presses have brought out editions of Blackwood’s original collections as they were first published. The Complete John Silence Stories contains the full text of John Silence—Physician Extraordinary (1908), and there are also small press editions of Incredible Adventures (1914) and the volume I’m looking at here, The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910), the fourth of Blackwood’s original collections. Since most of Blackwood’s work is in public domain, you can find ebooks containing almost all his short stories—with more or less adequate formatting—including the ones I’ll discuss below.

Continue reading “The Lost Valley and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood”

The Good Intentions and Failures of Exorcist II: The Heretic

exorcist-II-heretic-linda-blair

Happy October! I’m resurrecting horror movie articles from my old blog and revamping them. This article is reworked from a 2013 post.

John Boorman has directed a number of classics, including three personal favorites of mine, Point Blank (1967), Deliverance (1972), and Excalibur (1981). But lying like an oily stain in the middle of his career is the 1977 box-office disaster and audience-loathed sequel, Exorcist II: The Heretic.

It’s not universally loathed. Martin Scorsese has expressed admiration for the film: “I like the first Exorcist, because of the Catholic guilt I have, and because it scared the hell out of me; but The Heretic surpasses it. Maybe Boorman failed to execute the material, but the movie still deserved better than it got.” Genre critic and historian Kim Newman acknowledges the film isn’t a success but that it does manage to be interesting.

I lead toward Newman’s perspective. Exorcist II: The Heretic contains fascinating ideas, wonderful visual moments, and an excellent score. It’s also weirdly off-kilter, unevenly acted and scripted, and edited on a bad glue-sniffing trip. It’s no surprise audiences in 1977 laughed it off the screen.

Continue reading “The Good Intentions and Failures of Exorcist II: The Heretic”