Movie Maven Mausoleum
Films to Die For!
By Robert Herold
Author of The Eidola Project
Finding obscure and/or largely forgotten gems in our genre is a bloody-good treat. And, in addition to reading a great book, what better way is there to celebrate the season? (Or any season!)
Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon (1957)
The film opens with an admittedly goofy-looking monster. Don’t let that put you off! The director, Jacques Tourneur (of Cat People fame) did not want the creature in the film, but he was overruled by the studio. Night of the Demon is the British version of the film and is thirteen (lucky) minutes longer. Given this is one of my all-time favorites, I’d go with the longer version.
The movie concerns an egotistical warlock who is eliminating those who criticize him. Dana Andrews (who also starred in The Best Years of Our Lives and the noir-classic Laura) and Peggy Cummins (star of another noir classic, Gun Crazy) run afoul of the warlock, played by Niall MacGinnis.
The film has some wonderfully creepy moments, especially when MacGinnis is demonstrating his power during a little picnic he is hosting for the kiddies in the area. Check it out!
A Chinese Ghost Story I, II, & III (1987, 1990, 1991)
(Note: The first of the series was remade in 2011 by Wilson Yip (of Ip Man fame) I have not seen the remake, but most reviewers rate the original higher. I love the original, so I recommend you go with it.)
The first film is about a hapless but good-hearted tax-collector in Medieval China who is forced to stay in a haunted locale and falls in love with a beautiful ghost. Too bad for him, and anyone else who strays near the place, the ghost is under the control of a nasty tree witch. A wonderful story, great special effects for the time, humor, romance, and insane action—what more could one want? Number II in the series is more of a stand-alone film, whereas number III is a sequel. These are a bit difficult to find, but are worth the trouble!
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972)
Made toward the end of Hammer Studios’ heyday, this gem is largely forgotten. Too bad, because it’s a great film. Dashing Captain Kronos, accompanied by his faithful hunchback friend, Professor Grost, gallop all over the 18th Century English countryside in search of vampires. They’re in luck, or maybe not, depending on your perspective. There’s some nice variations on the familiar vampire theme. This would have made a marvelous television series. I’ve love to write it, if there are any producers out there!
Eyes of Fire (1983)
A precursor to the marvelous the film The Witch (2015), which you must see if you haven’t, Eyes of Fire is also a tale of witchcraft set in early rural America. A group of settlers stumble upon a haunted locale and are terrorized by dangerous spirits. A mysterious girl appears who may hold the key to their survival. The excellent story, acting, and production values make this a great film!
Few people saw this Danish film in America when it was first released. Fortunately, it is available on a ton of streaming services (many for free). This is one of the creepiest films I have ever seen. It gets under your skin like a parasite, making your flesh crawl, and then wiggles around in your brain for days afterward. Are you ready? Prepare for a little confusion, it’s meant to be so, as it is a horror mystery, but you will never be the same again. ‘Enjoy!
The Wicker Man (1973) – Original Film
You may be familiar with the 2006 remake, but I am recommending you go back to review the vastly superior original, starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. Cinefantastique Magazine at the time declared it “The Citizen Kane of horror films,” and I agree. It’s an eerie film with excellent acting and a great story. It involves a strait-laced religious policeman who is sent to a remote British isle to investigate a missing girl. Things are amiss in this seemingly idyllic town.
Dark City (1998)
The line between horror and SF is often blurry (consider Alien and its sequels), so you may have missed this gem from the 90’s. The director of The Crow, Alex Proyas, takes us on a noir nightmare with wonderful special effects and acting. The actors and production values are top-notch. The actors include Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland (in one of his best roles), Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt. It’s a heady mix of horror, mystery, and science fiction you’re sure to love!
A Portrait of Jennie (1948)
If your taste runs toward paranormal romance, I recommend The Portrait of Jennie. This well-acted film features many top actors from the time: Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Ethel Barrymore, and Lillian Gish. Cotton plays a down on his luck artist, whose career starts to change when he meets an enigmatic young woman.
Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)
You have probably seen the original film (if not, do so!), but you may have missed Werner Herzog’s outstanding remake. It is a stylized horror film with excellent acting and sets. Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani are wonderful in the lead roles, and the rats deserve a shout-out too! (I hope they got paid union-scale wages!)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Set the Way-back Machine ™ for one hundred years ago: Following the nightmare of deaths and dashed dreams of glory experienced by Germany because of World War One (to say nothing of the other countries involved) came the genius of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. From the expressionistic sets to wonderfully weird characters and expressionistic acting, the film still has remarkable power to unnerve you. Incidentally, Conrad Veit, who plays the somnambulist, was later considered for the role of Dracula (ultimately given to Bela Lugosi) and still later went on to chew up scenes as Major Strasser in Casablanca. Note: I strongly recommend seeing a version with the contemporary orchestral score by Rainer Viertelboeck. Since Caligari is a silent film, music is a key component, and this soundtrack adds to the creepiness!
The supernatural always had the allure of forbidden fruit, ever since my mother refused to allow me, as a boy, to watch creature features on late night TV. She caved in. (Well, not literally.)
As a child, fresh snow provided me the opportunity to walk out onto neighbors’ lawns halfway and then make paw prints with my fingers as far as I could stretch. I would retrace the paw and boot prints, then fetch the neighbor kids and point out that someone turned into a werewolf on their front lawn. (They were skeptical.)
I have pursued many interests over the years, but the supernatural always called to me. You could say I was haunted. Finally, following the siren’s call, I wrote The Eidola Project, based on a germ of an idea I had as a teenager. Ultimately, I hope my book gives you the creeps, and I mean that in the best way possible.
It’s 1885 and a drunk and rage-filled Nigel Pickford breaks up a phony medium’s séance. A strange twist of fate soon finds him part of a team investigating the afterlife.
The Eidola Project is an intrepid group of explorers dedicated to bringing the light of science to that which has been feared, misunderstood, and often manipulated by charlatans. They are a psychology professor, his assistant, an African-American physicist, a sideshow medium, and now a derelict, each possessing unique strengths and weaknesses.
Called to the brooding Hutchinson Estate to investigate rumored hauntings, they encounter deadly supernatural forces and a young woman driven to the brink of madness.
Will any of them survive?