Costume and candy commercials are dancing across our TV screens once again, so that must mean Halloween isn’t too far behind. Now one of the fun parts about Halloween (apart from being another excuse to eat chocolate–like Valentine’s Day but less nauseating) is the old monster movies that the local TV stations drag out. There are a lot out there, so how do you know which ones you absolutely must watch? That is where I come in.
- The Phantom of the Opera (either 1925 or 1943): Yes, I will always mention these two versions because they are my favorite adaptions of one of my favorite books. Granted, I would rank the 1925 version a little higher because it’s closer to the book, but I understand that modern audiences might find it a little tiresome to sit through a silent movie–and might find the overdramatic gestures laughable (but, hey, they didn’t have sound; they had to convey everything through gestures!). But the black and white did a lot for the atmosphere. That’s not to say that the technicolor 1943 version is bad, oh, no. In contrast, the color brought the story to life in an exciting new way.
- Dracula (1931): Considered by many to be the definitive adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, this is also on the list of must-see Halloween movies. It practically screams Halloween. One of the things I’ve noticed about it, something I think really adds to the atmosphere, is that a lot of the cinematography feels as though it belongs in a silent film. The way the lights and darks play against each other add an element of eeriness that were originally used in silent films. Simply put, everything about this film is just amazing, and it also possesses what I think is one of the greatest lines in cinematic history: “They’re all crazy except you an’ me, and sometimes I have me doubts about you.” Not to mention that although it doesn’t follow the book exactly, the script writing is so outstanding that I can’t find it in me to complain about the divergences–and that is quite an achievement, let me tell you!
- Frankenstein (1931): This was another of Universal’s triumphs and offers some great insights into the moral dilemmas involving life and death, dilemmas that are especially timely today with the issues involving cloning. However, one of the things I didn’t like about this version was stunted mental and speech capacities of Frankenstein’s monster; in the book he was quite intelligent and gave sound, logical arguments. He was a reasoning being, which always drives me bonkers whenever I read the book because I’m spending most of my time trying to figure out the nature of his soul. But I digress–this movie is quite enjoyable, so I definitely recommend it. You might also be interested in its sequel Bride of Frankenstein, which extends and further develops the themes introduced in the first movie. Oh, and the monster gains speech in that one, too.
- The Mummy (1932): I don’t rank this one as highly as the others because of all the inaccuracies about the beliefs of ancient Egyptians (they were my favorite culture to study in high school, so I absorbed a lot of information about them), but I include it for one simple reason: the Jacuzzi of Death. It’s perhaps the strangest plot device in the history of movies, but it also provides a legitimate reason to laugh in a movie that is otherwise quietly ominous.
- La Belle et la Bete (1946): We cross over into foreign language territory with this French film inspired by the fairy tale of the same name. But don’t let the need for subtitles deter you from watching this classic–the entire movie feels like a fairy tale; there’s a certain magic that permeates the atmosphere and makes the story something extraordinary. And this is another instance where the black-and-white film captures the spirit of the story so perfectly that you can’t imagine the effect being any better in color.
- The Trouble with Harry (1955): Known for his sinister stories, Alfred Hitchcock presents us with a more comic tale about several people in a small town who each believe themselves to have had some role in a visitor’s death, and they go to great lengths to ensure no one finds the body. For a potentially morbid storyline, it’s absolutely hilarious and will definitely provide a lighter tone to your Halloween movie lineup.