Yesterday the iconic filmmaker, George A Romero, passed away. Owen Hughes tries to explain why the mark left on the horror genre by the creator of the Living Dead trilogy and other cult classics will be around for a long, long time yet.
It’s October! The leaves on the trees are turning brown, it’s getting darker earlier in the evening and folks are rummaging through their DVD collections, looking for their favourite horror films to watch in time for Halloween. As such, every week this month will see us expand on our Decade In Film series with a spin off article focussing on five horror films from the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties and the noughties! The format will be much the same as our regular series, but with a slight twist.
Contributing to this series will be some names our readers will find familiar – and some not-so-familiar. Regular writer and podcaster Owen will be providing his thoughts, and we couldn’t very well go and make a horror related series without our resident expert Mike, now could we? Previous guest writers Andrew and Paul have been welcomed back with open arms and completing the line-up is newcomer Liam, sharing his eclectic taste with our humble little team. We five will each in turn pick our favourite horror film from the specified decade, in this case, the 1960’s.
The sixties gave horror a new edge. Young and ambitious directors like Roger Corman were able to make a name for themselves whilst Hammer Horror capitalised on their success in the late 50’s. Well established directors such as Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock could turn their hand to something more sinister. We even saw the rise of a new wave of film maker (Roman Polanski, George A Romero, etc) who would push the boundaries further than it had ever gone before. So, let’s begin with arguably the most iconic film of the decade and one of its earliest releases.
I first watched Psycho when I was nine years old with the babysitter. I hid behind the sofa for most of it. I’ve only just come back to it this year, such was the effect it had on me.
Hitchcock has crafted one of the greatest horror thrillers ever put on film. From a perfect cast through to the nerve shredding music, Psycho delivers on every level. Hitchcock doesn’t follow normal film conventions either. With a twist in the middle that is both as shocking as it is pure genius; Hitchcock unsettles the viewer from this point on. We are never sure what’s going to happen next and that’s just genius. Hitchcock’s direction is outstanding – near enough flawless – his ability to frighten the viewer without resorting to cheap scare tactics or gore is a master lesson in film making and makes Psycho one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen.
Along with the great direction is the superb cast, which is backed up by an outstanding screenplay from Joseph Stefano. Janet Leigh is excellent, but it’s Anthony Perkins portrayal of Norman Bates which is truly outstanding. One of the finest pieces of casting and acting I’ve seen in any film. Perkins’ ice cold delivery and dangerous glint in his eye is perfect; his Norman Bates is one of the most chilling characters ever put on film and that’s what makes Psycho my favourite horror film from the 60’s.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
The Innocents (1961)
The Innocents is chilling, psychologically disturbing adaptation of Henry James’ novel The Turn Of The Screw.
Starring, the always wonderful, Deborah Kerr as an eager new governess, Miss Giddens, employed by a wealthy but entirely selfish businessman to take over sole responsibility for the upbringing of his orphaned and unwanted niece and nephew.
Set on a country estate, run by a housekeeper and a few domestic servants, all seems idyllic, with the housekeeper, staff and governess getting along extremely well. The little boy, Miles, is away at school meaning the entire household revolves around the seemingly angelic girl, Flora. Things soon start to tumble out of control when Miles is dismissed from school for frightening classmates.
What follows is an increasingly rapid descent into chaos with Miss Giddens becoming convinced evil spirits are at work and a story of the children witnessing violent, sexually abusive former employees is built.
This is a superb, unforgettable film where all the terror is derived from the building of intense, suffocating atmosphere through clever direction, lighting and sound rather than any visual brutality. Kerr is at the very top of her game and it leaves you befuddled as to what was real, what was imagined, who was mad and who was bad.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
Carry on Screaming! (1966)
In true Failed Critics tradition, even in spin-off articles, we reveal just how much of an omni-shambles we can be. For example, this is the first article in a brand new series and we’ve started in a week where one of the writers is insanely busy.
However, we did manage to catch Paul for five seconds and squeeze a few words out of him as to why exactly this Carry On comedy about Dr Watt, stealing women and making them into mannequins, is his favourite horror of the 1960’s.
“Making fun of Hammer, it’s the original horror comedy. Odd-job, Fennela Fielding and the famous….. “Frying Tonight” line from the wonderful Kenneth Williams. It was actually creepy too, the people taken and turned into mannequins.“
So there you have it. We promise to plan ahead a bit better for next week’s article!
by Paul Field (@pafster)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Rosemary’s Baby is a marvellous exploration of the psychological horror-come-thriller genre. Classier than a lot of its contemporaries and imitators have often tried to replicate the feeling of dread that Roman Polanski instilled without coming close. Especially not the appalling TV movie Whatever Happened To Rosemary’s Baby?.
Rosemary and her husband, Guy, an out-of-work-actor, move into an apartment in New York. Soon after, Guy gets close to an over-friendly elderly couple next door and mysteriously his career begins to turn around conspicuously as his rival suffers a tragic accident. With Guy’s ascent, he becomes increasingly aloof leaving Rosemary feeling alone in her big and empty apartment. She’s convinced that this is the perfect time to have a baby and after a bit of Satanic rape, Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt and Lucifer’s your.. relative.
If you’ve ever had that sudden feeling that everybody is out to get you, then Roman Polanski’s horror will truly resonate. Moving to a new place can be a stressful time for anyone, but when your new neighbours force chocolate mousse on you, well that’s just not cricket. Even worse when it seems like they want to steal your unborn baby.
There isn’t a single bad performance from any of the cast. Not least of all Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as the unnervingly pushy couple next door. Mia Farrow is utterly fantastic, portraying a woman teetering on the edge of insanity, not knowing if she’s paranoid or if they really are out to get her.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Before Shaun fought the dead, Zombieland had its rules and the Pet Sematary was zombifying cats, there was George A. Romero. The man who, with this walking dead frightener from 1968, invented the zombie film.
OK, so maybe “invented” is kind of a strong word for a genre that had been around decades before this. But what Romero did, was redefine zombies. Before Night of the Dead, the undead weren’t the undead. Being a zombie usually meant to be under the influence of a voodoo curse, with 1932’s “White Zombie” being the genre’s defining film up to this point and the shift to the walking dead was George’s key to success.
On the outskirts of Everytown, Pennsylvania, Barbara and her brother are attacked in a graveyard by a walking corpse. Rescuing his sister, Johnny doesn’t make it and Barbara flees for her life.
Forced to take refuge in a nearby farmhouse where she meets fellow survivor Ben and forms an uneasy alliance with a handful of survivors hiding in the basement. The group fight to survive the cannibalistic horde outside and the insanity inside.
Not without its flaws, “Night of the Living Dead” is far from perfect. But no-one can say that this gory scarer isn’t deserving of its cult classic status. It’s inspired generations of film makers and is the foundation for its own sub-genre of horror film. Spawning four sequels, two remakes and countless imitations. George A. Romero is indeed the father of the modern zombie film. And while this may not be the best of them, it’s certainly the most important.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to comment below if you agree or disagree with our choices and we’ll be back soon with a look at our top five horror films of the seventies!
A series where the Failed Critics look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema, choosing their favourite films from each year of that decade.
I am fully prepared to get a bit of stick for this one. I know how popular Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein are, but I just couldn’t fit them into the list. Similarly, whilst researching this article, I found a few films to watch specifically in preparation for writing this piece and none of those could break the top five either. A rather surreal coming of age / life retrospective Japanese film called Pastoral: To Die In The Country narrowly missed out, whereas Phase IV, about some scientists observing super-intelligent ants in the desert that are threatening to overthrow humanity, did not miss out by such a close margin. I also gave John Carpenter’s Dark Star another go having turned it off half way through on a previous attempt. I made it to the end this time but wish I’d switched it off at the midway point. Needless to say, the following five films just could not be topped, no matter how hard I tried.
I’m slightly cheating by including this in my Decade In Film: 1974 list. Technically this low-budget Italian zombie horror, set in deepest darkest Cumbria (yes, not technically where Manchester is located, I know, I know, but don’t tell director Jorge Grau that) wasn’t released in the UK or the US until 1975. However, in its original limited theatrical run in its home country, it just scraped into 1974 by the rotten peeling skin of its blood drenched teeth.
If the title doesn’t sound familiar to you, then maybe you know of it by one of the fifteen other names it goes by? Let Sleeping Corpses Lie? Do Not Profane the Sleep of the Dead? Don’t Open the Window? Zombi 3? Or even the rather playful sounding Weekend with the Dead? Whatever you know it by, it is but one of the many dubbed Italian/European zombie movies that flooded out of the continent in the 70’s-80’s, like a ghost galleon full of flesh eaters ready to commit a cinematic zombie-holocaust. Some of which were better than others; specifically, this little English countryside graveyard b-movie.
Like so many good zombie movies, its real message is buried underneath the living dead that occupy the screen. An anarchic anti-establishment theme is predominantly the main focus, as a couple of kids on their way to the Lake District run into trouble. Accused of being murderers, just like every other good-for-nothin’ hippy cult like they’ve got in that there ‘merica, our protagonists fail to convince the authorities of their innocence as, quite frankly, the idea that the atrocities are actually being committed by walking corpses instead does indeed sound preposterous. Tonally it’s rebellious and youthful, whilst stressing the point that not all young kids are hoodlums. So just back off, dude! Never trust the man, man!
It begs, borrows and steals from a variety of other genre movies from the era, most notably the 1968 originator of the (then modern) zombie-movie, Night of the Living Dead. From the outbreak being caused by radiation, to the one building under attack in the middle of the countryside with no signs of escape – even to the fact that there’s a single zombie shuffling his way over to a woman in a graveyard – it owes a lot to George A Romero and is not ashamed of this. Yet it still manages to achieve a unique identity of its own on the whole. The gore (as these films are so often judged on) is top notch and very effective despite the obviously low budget. It may not scare your regular z-fan, but it definitely has something interesting to say and a lot to admire, even for the most experienced of dead-heads.
Francis Ford Coppola’s first of two releases in 1974 coming out just weeks ahead of the other (that happens to be arguably his most celebrated movie – but I’ll come to that in a little while). The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a secretive, paranoid, surveillance.. erm, guy? A spy, if you will. He becomes riddled with guilt and suspicion when he begins to suspect that the people he’s spying on may be murdered, depending on the outcome of the work he’s been hired to do.
It’s quite a slow burning character driven drama, rather than a typical goofy espionage thriller of the era. There’s not a single belly-dancer to be seduced or secret criminal lair with its midget butler in sight. Whilst Hackman is very good, as you would expect, a lot of his role requires a steady calmness with twinges of desperation. It’s a convincing portrayal of a (perhaps) hypocritical but moralistic devout Catholic, and it’s through his performance as much as it is the writing that you understand why he doesn’t share his personal life with others. Not just because of the nature of his work, but it’s also down to his borderline schizophrenia; he’s obsessed with the notion that people just like him will be listening to and monitoring everything he says and does. And as well we all know, just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they’re not after you.
In that regard, whilst the supporting cast (John Cazale, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Teri Garr etc) are all excellent, it’s the character of ‘Harry’ who quite rightly dominates everything. He’s such a strong character to base the film around that the other members of the cast are sadly reduced to mere distractions.
There’s a tendency for The Conversation to get a bit trippy. Personally, the dream sequences weren’t my cup of tea, although it’s important to recognise their role in developing Harry. You could argue that the constant looping of the audio of the recorded conversation is necessary, but no less annoying when played for the 30th time. But there is no arguing that this Oscar nominated film is one of the best of the seventies.
“Loach: What happened to your nose, Gittes? Somebody slammed a bedroom window on it?
Jake Gittes: Nope. Your wife got excited. She crossed her legs a little too quick. You understand what I mean, pal?”
Whilst investigating a seemingly routine adultery case, our P.I. finds himself embroiled in a case much larger than anything he could have expected. And I’m sorry, but if the thought of Jack Nicholson playing a private detective in a neo-noir thriller doesn’t at the very least even slightly raise your interest, then you might as well give up on watching movies altogether. That’s it. End of the line for you, pal.
Nominated for eleven different categories at that year’s Academy Awards ceremony, Roman Polanski’s mystery thriller is as revered by its peers as it is by critics and regular movie watchers alike. Criminally, it only picked up one of those awards, for its screenplay written by Robert Towne – who also happened to pen the screenplay for another Jack Nicholson film called The Last Detail, which featured in my 1973 list. The competition it was up against in 1974 was fierce, but in almost any other year, it would not be too difficult to have imagined it running away with every award going. From the classic crime-noir direction employed by Polanski with shadows and light in perfect harmony, to each and every spectacular performance (particularly Nicholson and Faye Dunaway) and even the costumes and cinematography. Every aspect of this movie is meticulously crafted into something extraordinary.
The plot is full of mystery and intrigue, which is in debt primarily to its wonderfully characteristic script. But the performances, the visual flair and snappy delivery of some tremendously witty lines of dialogue are all to be applauded. It’s packed to the rafters with homages and odes to the film noir genre, whilst itself being a gloriously entertaining genre-piece. The style, the look, it’s got it all. It seems unbelievable that there could be two better films than it released in the same year, but that just shows how tough these Decade In Film articles can be!
“Well now, look, you boys don’t want to go messin’ around some old house. Those things is dangerous. You’re liable to get hurt. You don’t want to go fooling around other folks’ property. If some folks don’t like it, they don’t mind showing you.”
Tobe Hooper announced himself as a director to look out for in the 1970’s with this remarkably scary, intense, sickening and twisted original horror. The reputation it still holds today (in the UK especially) is that of one of the most notorious “video nasties”. A chainsaw wielding, mentally handicapped, leather-mask wearing, violent psychopath did not lend itself kindly to the rating systems of the 70’s and 80’s and thus grew a cult of die hard fans for what is unquestionably one of the most iconic and influential horror films ever made.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is completely and utterly horrendous – and not in a ‘it’s really bad’ way. No, when I say “horrendous”, I mean in a ‘truly scares you half to death’ way. One of the most important life lessons I think anybody could learn from Hooper’s horror is to never knock on a strangers door if you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere, where the locals have already warned you away, you’ve met a psycho hitch-hiking hill-billy already that day and you find some human teeth scattered around the front porch. I, for one, have followed this advice ever since seeing this movie and I’m still alive today. Let it never be said that this film is nothing if not educational.
There are plenty of scenes here to totally mess you up for a long time after seeing them for the first time, but without spoiling specific scenes, the worst moment that stayed with me for a while afterwards is most definitely the scene with the Grandpa. Just… Jesus. Wow. I’m sure anybody reading this who has already seen the movie will know exactly to which moment I am referring. The brutality of some scenes in the film towards a group of pretty much innocent kids, coupled with the almost nonchalant delivery of its violence via the nightmarish Sawyer family, is masterful and terrifying. The slamming of the metal shutters could send shivers down the spine of a polar bear. The sign of a great horror movie is in how long it lingers in your mind and subconscious after you’ve hit that “stop” button. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre does not leave your thoughts for days. It is just that good.
As good as every film in this list is, how many can claim to have had quite as significant a cultural impact as Francis Ford Coppola’s epic gangster series?
Continuing from where the previous film (and best of 1972) left off, Al Pacino reprises his role as Michael Corleone, now the head of the Family (upper case ‘F’). He tries to expand and protect their business, whilst also keeping his family (lower case ‘f’) together. With no Marlon Brando in the sequel to play the original Godfather, Vito Corleone, we instead get to see his back story and arrival in the US in the early 20th century, as played by Bobby (oooOOOH) De Niro (aaaaAAAHH).
The debate that has raged over the decades since their release is mainly over which of the Godfather films is the best. Very rarely does ‘The Internet’ agree on anything, but it’s almost a unanimous decision that both movies are exceptional. Looking to see which of the two is the most well regarded, however, can induce fits of nausea. Just edging it between the two in the popularity stakes (according to IMDb’s Top 250) is the first film, which sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? As good as De Niro is and as brilliantly as Pacino steps up to being the face of the film, it misses a certain something that Brando brings. Him not being there perhaps means there’s more room for the other actors to expand into; and maybe he outshone everyone else in the original a smidgen. He was unequivocally the star of the film. I know it’s slightly unfair as there’s just no possible way to have included him in Part II without it overshadowing everyone involved in this sequel, but I missed the ol’ broken jawed mob boss.
Other than that one tiny personal niggle, there is practically nothing separating the two in terms of quality. I certainly can’t fault it. The development of Michael and the rich tapestry woven for Vito is impossibly complex and executed to near perfection. The third and final film in the trilogy is an utter embarrassment, but these two original movies made fifteen years prior are two of the greatest achievements in cinematic history. From how beautiful the sets are, to how superb the music is; from how stunning the performances are, to how emotional the story is. Even, yes, the camera angles. They are unparalleled in the genre. Hell, they’re probably even unmatched by any film from the decade. Maybe even the century!
James reports back on the 6th annual UK Festival of Zombie Culture, including the world première of the HD restoration of Zombie Flesh Eaters.
There’s a heated discussion on what constitutes a zombie movie, and whether the zombies that run are proper zombies. And don’t even get James started on Danny Boyle’s view that 28 Days Later isn’t a zombie film.
Then in Triple Bill the critics choose their favourite zombie films of all time.