This is a guest essay from David Turpin. Read his previous Spooool.ie contributions here.
Hallowe’en is an ideal time for film viewing, particularly for those of us whose distaste for “sexy” adult Hallowe’en costumes rules out party-going. Only marginally less dismaying than the gradual encroachment of nurses in négligée and 1970s cops into the rightful territory of toilet-paper mummies and bed-sheet ghosts, however, is the way some people will fling on any old horror film and expect it to conjure the necessary spooky ambiance. Choosing the right viewing for Hallowe’en is actually a very delicate process.
Not all horror films are Hallowe’en films, and not all Hallowe’en films are necessarily horror films. My cold dead heart sinks to think of anybody putting on Saw V on this special night (or any other night for that matter); my bloodless flesh blanches paler still to think of people wasting their Hallowe’en night’s viewing on generic teenager/hardware implement interfaces (for the record, the only serial killer film it’s acceptable to watch on Hallowe’en is Hallowe’en). At the same time, it can be dangerous to venture outside the tried and true – Hallowe’en comes but once a year, after all, and who wants to squander it? So here are some suggestions of alternative Hallowe’en viewing options, some of which will hopefully generate the necessary frissons.
The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1934) and Dracula’s Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)
Universal Studios horror films of the 1930s are always a safe bet for Hallowe’en viewing. If you’ve tired of Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932), the more exotic end of the spectrum also holds treasures.
Bearing no relation to the Edgar Allen Poe story from which it takes its title, The Black Cat features both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, the latter in a rare heroic role. Karloff has the plum part here, playing a Satan-worshipping architect whose art deco mansion conceals all manner of dread secrets. Those seeking more glamour with their ghastliness might also appreciate Dracula’s Daughter (1936), the last Universal horror film produced under the supervision of Carl Laemmle, in which Gloria Holden yields to her bloodlust in a succession of floor length black gowns. Paradise.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (Roy Ward Baker, 1971)
Hammer Horror films can also make for satisfying Hallowe’en entertainment. Again, there’s a plethora to choose from, but those willing to venture outside the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing axis will be rewarded with gems such as Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, in which Dr. Jekyll’s mysterious serum transforms him into a diabolical (and busty) murderess.
Martine Beswick, whose roles for Hammer also include One Million Years B.C. and Prehistoric Women, seizes upon the role of Sister Hyde with barn-burning relish. The foggy Victorian atmosphere is well-conjured, and as well as putting a fresh spin on Stevenson’s classic, the script also finds room for Jack the Ripper and Burke and Hare.
Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)
Adapted from four ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn, which are themselves rooted in Japanese mythology, Masaki Kobayashi’s portmanteau fantasy offers three full hours of otherworldly enjoyment.
Eerie and ritualistic rather than outright horrifying, Kwaidan is one of the most visually striking supernatural films ever shot, with masterful use of colour coding across the four segments. The winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival, Kobayashi’s haunting epic went on to be a key influence on Francis Ford Coppola’s Kabuki-Gothic extravaganza Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige, 2000)
Based on the premise that F. W. Murnau cast an actual vampire in the lead role of Nosferatu (1922), Merhige’s film is essential viewing purely for Willem Dafoe’s performance as the undead “Max Schreck”. While the film is haphazardly structured and pays scant attention to fact (Murnau, who was gay, is reinvented as a womanising despot played by John Malkovich), Dafoe presents such a compelling monster – pitiful, comic, and at times genuinely frightening – that such concerns don’t matter.
After the remarkable experimental film Begotten (1990), Shadow of the Vampire represented a successful move into mainstream filmmaking for Merhige, although his follow up, the turgid serial killer yarn Suspect Zero (2004), appears to have put paid to his Hollywood career.
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (Guy Maddin, 2002)
Leave it to Winnipeg’s foremost cinematic visionary to transform Dracula into a diaphanous contemporary ballet film. Working with manipulated digital video, Maddin approximates the visual style of silent cinema, yet his interpretation – with Wei-Qiang Zhang taking the lead role – draws out the implicit racial themes of Stoker’s novel in a very modern fashion.
As always with Maddin, the result takes patience, and may simply be too arch for some tastes, but as an example of how to make an oft-told story fresh again, it takes some beating.
Lake Mungo (Joel Anderson, 2008)
This low-budget Australian feature achieves the impossible – it finds something new to do with the found footage and mock-documentary genres. Tracing a family’s grief as they deal with the death, and apparent ghostly return, of a teenage daughter, Lake Mungo has far more in common with Twin Peaks than The Blair Witch Project.
Tapping into the haunting emptiness of the Australian landscape, as well as the deceptive blankness of suburbia, the film is genuinely unnerving and unexpectedly moving – a contemporary supernatural classic that demands a wider audience.
David Turpin is a screenwriter and occasional academic, as well as a musician (under the name The Late David Turpin). His EP “We Belong Undead (Remixes)” will be released on October 31. His web-site is www.thelatedavidturpin.com.