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Horror cinema was at it’s spooky peak in the 1930s~ the era gave birth to some of the most iconic figures of the genre as well as highlighted some of the most beautiful & beloved heroines to ever light up the scream, oops I mean screen!!!!
We all love the corrupted, diabolical, fiendish and menacing men of the 30s who dominated the horror screen- the spectres of evil, the anti-heroes who put those heroines in harms way, women in peril, –Boris, & Bela, Chaney and March… From Frankenstein, to Dracula, from The Black Cat (1934), or wicked Wax Museums to that fella who kept changing his mind…Jekyll or was it Hyde? From the Mummy to that guy you could see right through, thank you Mr. Rains!
Last year I featured Scream Queens of 40s Classic Horror! This Halloween 🎃 – I felt like paying homage to the lovely ladies of 30s Classic Horror, who squealed up a storm on those stormy dreadful nights, shadowed by sinister figures, besieged by beasts, and taunted with terror in those fabulous frisson-filled fright flicks… but lest not forget that after the screaming stops, those gals show some grand gumption! And… In an era when censorship & conservative framework tried to set the stage for these dark tales, quite often what smoldered underneath the finely veiled surface was a boiling pot of sensuality and provocative suggestion that I find more appealing than most contemporary forays into Modern horror- the lost art of the classical horror genre will always remain Queen… !
Let’s drink a toast to that notion!
The Scream Queens, Sirens & Heroines of 1930s Classic Horror are here for you to run your eyes over! Let’s give ’em a really big hand, just not a hairy one okay? From A-Z
A British beauty with red hair who according to Gregory Mank in his Women in Horror Films, the 1930s, left England for Hollywood and an MGM contract. She is the consummate gutsy heroine, the anti-damsel Irena Borotyn In Tod Browning’s campy Mark of the Vampire (1935) co-starring with Bela Lugosi as Count Mora (His birthday is coming up on October 20th!) Lionel Atwill and the always cheeky Lionel Barrymore… Later in 1958, she would co-star with Boris Karloff in the ever-atmospheric The Haunted Strangler.
Mark of the Vampire is a moody graveyard chiller scripted by Bernard Schubert & Guy Endore (The Raven, Mad Love (1935) & The Devil Doll (1936) and the terrific noir thriller Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) with sexy Steve Cochran & one of my favs Ruth Roman!)
The film is Tod Browning’s retake of his silent Lon Chaney Sr. classic London After Midnight (1927).
The story goes like this: Sir Karell Borotin (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, left drained of his blood, and Professor Zelin (Lionel Barrymore) believes it’s the work of vampires. Lionel Atwill once again plays well as the inquiring but skeptical police Inspector Neumann.
Once Sir Karell’s daughter Irena ( our heroine Elizabeth Allan) is assailed, left with strange bite marks on her neck, the case becomes active again. Neumann consults Professor Zelin the leading expert on Vampires. This horror whodunit includes frightened locals who believe that Count Mora (Bela in iconic cape and saturnine mannerism) and his creepy daughter Luna (Carroll Borland) who trails after him through crypt and foggy woods, are behind the strange going’s on. But is all that it seems?
Directed by the ever-interesting director Maurice Elvey (Mr. Wu 1919, The Sign of Four, 1923, The Clairvoyant 1935, The Man in the Mirror 1936, The Obsessed 1952) Elizabeth Allan stars as Daisy Bunting the beautiful but mesmerized by the strange yet sensual and seemingly tragic brooding figure- boarder Ivor Novello as Michel Angeloff in The Phantom Fiend! A remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s first film about Jack the Ripper… The Lodger (1927) starring Novello once again.
There is a murderer loose in London who writes the police before he strikes with a sword cane, he signs his name X. It happens that his latest crime occurs on the same night that the Drayton Diamond is stolen. Robert Montgomery as charming as ever, is Nick Revel the jewel thief responsible for the diamond heist, but he’s not a crazed murderer. The co-incidence of the two crimes has put him in a fix as he’s now unable to unload the gem until the police solve the murders.
Elizabeth Allan is the lovely Jane Frensham, Sir Christopher Marche’s (Ralph Forbes) fiancé and Police Commissioner Sir Herbert Frensham’s daughter. Sir Christopher is arrested for the X murders, and Nick and Jane band together, fall madly in love, and try to figure out a way to help the police find the real killer!
Heather Angel is a British actress who started out on stage at the Old Vic theatre but left for Hollywood and became known for the Bulldog Drummond series. While not appearing in lead roles, she did land parts in successful films such as Kitty Foyle, Pride and Prejudice (1940), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943), and Lifeboat (1944). IMDb notes -Angel tested for the part of Melanie in Gone with the Wind (1939), the role was given to Olivia de Havilland.
Heather Angel possessed a sublime beauty and truly deserved to be a leading lady rather than relegated to supporting roles and guilty but pleasurable B movie status.
The L.A Times noted about her death in 1986 at age 77 “Fox and Universal ignored her classic training and used her in such low-budget features as “Charlie Chans Greatest Case and “Springtime for Henry.”
Her performances in Berkeley Square and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were critically acclaimed… More gruesome than the story-lines involving her roles in Edwin Drood, Hound of the Baskervilles or Lifeboat put together is the fact that she witnessed her husband, stage and film directer Robert B. Sinclair’s vicious stabbing murder by an intruder in their California home in 1970.
Heather Angel is Beryl Stapleton in this lost (found negatives and soundtracks were found and donated to the British Film Institute archives) adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes thriller Originally serialized in The Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902.
In this first filmed talkie of Doyle’s more horror-oriented story, it calls for the great detective to investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville and solve the strange killing that takes place on the moors, feared that there is a supernatural force, a monstrous dog like a fiend that is menacing the Baskerville family ripping the throats from its victims. The remaining heir Sir Henry is now threatened by the curse.
Mystery of Edwin Drood (played by David Manners) is a dark and nightmarish Gothic tale of mad obsession, drug addiction, and heartless murder! Heather Angel plays the beautiful and kindly young student at a Victorian finishing school, Rosa Bud engaged to John Jasper’s nephew Edwin Drood. The opium-chasing, choir master John Jasper (Claude Rains) becomes driven to mad fixation over Rosa, who is quite aware of his intense gaze, she becomes frightened and repulsed by him.
The brooding & malevolent Rains frequents a bizarre opium den run by a menacing crone (Zeffie Tilbury), a creepy & outre moody whisper in the melody of this Gothic horror/suspense tale!
Valerie Hobson plays twin sister Helena Landless, the hapless Neville’s sister. (We’ll get to one of my favorites, the exquisite Valerie Hobson in just a bit…) When Neville and Helena arrive at the school, both Edwin and he vies for Rosa’s affection. When Edwin vanishes, naturally Neville is the one suspected in his mysterious disappearance.
Though I’ll always be distracted by Baclanova’s icy performance as the vicious Cleopatra in Tod Browning’s masterpiece Freaks which blew the doors off social morays and became a cultural profane cult film, Baclanova started out as a singer with the Moscow Art Theater. Appearing in several silent films, she eventually co-starred as Duchess Josiana with Conrad Veidt as the tragic Gwynplaine, in another off-beat artistic masterpiece based on the Victor Hugo story The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Tod Browning produced & directed this eternally disturbing & joyful portrait of behind-the-scenes melodrama and at times the Gothic violence of carnival life… based on the story ‘Spurs’ by Tod Robbins. It’s also been known as Nature’s Mistress and The Monster Show.
It was essential for Browning to attain realism. He hired actual circus freaks to bring to life this quirky Grand Guignol, a beautifully grotesque & macabre tale of greed, betrayal, and loyalty.
Cleopatra (Baclanova) and Hercules (Henry Victor) plan to swindle the owner of the circus Hans, (Harry Earles starring with wife Frieda as Daisy) out of his ‘small’ fortune by poisoning him on their wedding night. The close family of side show performers exact poetic yet monstrous revenge! The film also features many memorable circus folks. Siamese conjoined twins Daisy & Violet Hilton, also saluted in American Horror Story (Sarah Paulson another incredible actress, doing a dual role) Schlitze the pinhead, and more!
Anyone riveted to the television screen to watch Jessica Lange’s mind-blowing performance as Elsa Mars in American Horror Story’s: Freak Show (2014) will not only recognize her superb nod to Marlene Dietrich, but also much reverence paid toward Tod Browning’s classic and Baclanova’s cunning coldness.
( BTW as much as I adore Frances McDormand, Lange should have walked away with the Emmy this year! I’ve rarely seen a performance that balances like a tightrope walker, the subtle choreography between gut-wrenching pathos & ruthless sinister vitriol. Her rendition of Bowie’s song Life on Mars…will be a Film Score Freak feature this Halloween season! No, I can’t wait… here’s a peak! it fits the mood of this post…)
here she is as the evil Countess/duchess luring poor Gwynplain into her clutches The Man Who Laughs (1928).
It’s a psycho-sexual smorgasbord of cinematic thrills & filmic frissons! As women are in peril and perilous are some women!
RACHEL, RACHEL 1968 directed by Paul Newman.
Rachel Cameron: “I’m exactly in the middle of my life. This is my last… ascending summer. Everything else from now on is just rolling downhill into my grave.”
Joanne Woodward is the dowdy-looking emotional time bomb Rachel a 35-year-old school teacher who lives with her mother and needs to either break free or break down. Kate Harrington is fabulous as her mother, James Olson who was often cast as the male figure of desire in the 60s & early 70s psycho-sexual thrillers plays her lover Nick. The marvelous Estelle Parsons is her well-intentioned misguided friend Calla who has a budding lesbian attraction for her and Donald Moffat plays her dad.
I almost included this film with my compendium of cult films, though it is more melodrama than a crossing of noir, or psycho-sexual horror. The film works on the underlying premise that establishment culture has become like a sort of imprisonment to Rachel, reinforcing a repressive landscape and marginalizing the character of Rachel thus creating her own counter-culture reflecting the eroding of the American Dream and crumbling Idealism. (source American Cinema of the 1960s Themes and Variations Edited by Barry Keith Grant).
Rachel is the archetype of the repressed New England girl from a small town. Where everyone knows your business and it becomes impossible to breathe. One reviewer on IMDb called it “deep-level collective cultural phantoms” I particularly like that phrase. A suffocating lifestyle or stasis of life more aptly, Rachel is trapped by caring for her overbearing mother. and pulled to one side by the desire she has for Nick. Haunted by memories and collected damage over the years, she carries her emotional baggage til it is too heavy to bear.
A few very memorable scenes come to mind. Of course when Calla has the awkward revelation that she is in love with Rachel. But there is the bizarre church scene and several flashbacks that allude to her childhood trauma.
Will Rachel decide to free herself from the shackles of stifling conformity and become a liberated individual?
The film also co-stars the great Geraldine Fitzgerald as Rev. Wood.
Who was she? Sometimes she was a child skipping rope. Sometimes she was a woman with a passionate hunger. And one day the woman and the child came together…
who cares about a 35-year-old virgin?
In Istanbul, a jazz trumpeter Jimmy Logan (James Darren) finds the corpse of a beautiful woman named Wanda Reed (Maria Rohm–House of 1,000 Dolls 1967. The Blood of Fu Manchu 1968, Eugenie… Her Story into Perversion 1970, Count Dracula 1970) washed up on the beach.
Jimmy remembers her from the night before when he saw her at a party and then later as she was assaulted by the party’s host and two of his friends.
He winds up in Rio where he hooks up with Rita, played by Barbara McNair a singer who invites him to live with her and help him shake the nightmare off and stop thinking of Wanda.
Jimmy Logan: “She was beautiful, even though she was dead.”
Suddenly a woman appears who looks exactly like Wanda. Jimmy becomes obsessed and pursues her trying to get to the bottom of this mysterious woman.
The woman returns from the dead to take revenge on the group of wealthy sadists responsible for her death. The film also stars Margaret Lee, Dennis Price, and Klaus Kinski.
Frenzied, dream-like colorful excursion into the psycho-sexual mind of Jess Franco.
The coat that covered paradise, uncovered hell!
A Masterpiece of supernatural sex!
Driven by jealousy, Diane McBain plays Shayne the jilted leader of a female motorcycle gang whose sociopathic and ruthless nature instigates a sadistic reign of terror against her ex-lover Rodeo Cowboy Jeff Logan and his new bride Connie (Sherry Jackson)
Stars Jeremy Slate, Diane McBain, Sherry Jackson, Patty McCormack, and Harry Dean Stanton.
Patty McCormack not beating a little boy to death with her tap shoe.
THE SORCERERS 1967 directed and screenplay by Michael Reeves (Castle of the Living Dead 1964, Witchfinder General 1968).
Set in the atmosphere of the mod 60s of London —Boris Karloff is a subtly imposing looking more time-worn elderly Professor Marcus Monserrat scientist and hypnotist extraordinaire who has discovered the secret of mind control, and the ability to become empathic with the object of their desire.
Monserrat and his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey-stage actress who was a regular performer with the Old Vic Company from 1951-went on to play eccentric spinsters-) can literally share sensations, thoughts, and feelings of the subjects they wish to control.
Ian Ogilvy is the shady swinger Mike Roscoe who falls into their trap and allows them the excitement of experiencing what he does, virtually enjoying the self-indulgence of being young again. But as usual, power corrupts and greedy Estelle begins to crave devouring Roscoe and the pleasure it gives her. Roscoe begins to lose control of himself, mind, and body as the battle of wills ensues with the power-hungry old bird trying to experience ‘kicks’ vicariously through the unlucky chap. Co-stars Elizabeth Ercy and Susan George.
Boris Karloff, He Turns Them On…He Turns Them Off…to live…love…die or KILL!
When a mentally disturbed young man Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) tells a pretty girl that he’s a secret agent, she believes him and murder and mayhem ensue. Anthony Perkins’s character of Dennis Pitt is every bit more of an emotional enigma as the young man with a pathological imagination who is an outlier in society. Released from an institution he gets a regular job at a lumber yard. But he meets the All-American Cheerleader squeaky clean blonde apple pie Sue Ann Stepaneck (Tuesday Weld) who just might be even more disturbed than Dennis. He informs her that he’s working undercover for the CIA and enlists her in helping him on his case. Dennis cannot help but live in his fantasy world. She is a stone-cold sociopath with ulterior motives.
As she manipulates his vulnerabilities into committing acts of dangerous vandalism and eventually murder, she is in control of this Folie à deux
Co-stars Beverly Garland as Sue Ann’s Mama.
She’s such a sweet girl. He’s such a nice boy. They’ll scare the hell out of you.
Did you ever see two kids like Dennis and Sue Ann? We think not…
…Wait till you see what they did to his aunt – the night watchman – to her mother.
What brought a nice kid like Sue Ann to a shocking moment like this?
Powell had been known for his very barbed visual style.
The background story behind Mark Lewis’ madness/murder compulsion.
Mark Lewis-focus puller on Arthur Baden’s new film The Walls Are Closing In-he also moonlights as a photographer of racy pictures on the West End. He is smitten with 21-year-old Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) and they are carrying on a very civil and sweet courtship. Almost child-like which is probably what kept Helen safe from Mark’s darker side.
What Helen doesn’t know is that Mark has a blade hidden in the armature of his tripod, and stabs the object of his desire, filming their deaths, as a surrogate for his past abuse. When he was a young boy his father, a biologist researching the effects of fear on children, ‘the physiology of fear’ used to film Mark continuously like a mouse in a maze, throughout his childhood, subjecting him to various fear-inducing incidents as his experimentation.
Voyeurism and psycho-sexual compulsion drive this very startling horror/suspense film starring Karl Böhm, as Mark Lewis who works as a cameraman at a British film studio. His fetish is to kill women with his camera tripod while filming their death. It’s not hard to envision that the tripod is a surrogate for his phallus, and the act of stabbing them with it is his act of penetration. A mirror is fixed to the tripod so that the women can see the expression on their own faces right before death, to witness their own fear.
Unfortunately in the way, Psycho with its subversive themes propelled Hitchcock’s status to auteur, the controversial Peeping Tom ended Michael Powell’s career with all the reviled reviews.
Nothing, nothing nothing… has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week while sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom… Mr Michael Powell (Who once made such outstanding films as Black Narcissus and A Matter of Life and Death) produced and directed Peeping Tom and I think he ought to be ashamed of himself. The acting is good. The photography is fine. But what is the result? Sadism, sex and the exploitation of human degradation- Daily Express
Mark has had a very traumatic upbringing by his father who used his own son in experiments of the effects of fear and self-loathing. Well, they produced a son who is a sexual sadist who makes his female victims watch their own deaths-specifically the expression of terror on their faces right before death. Co-stars Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, and Brenda Bruce as Dora. Absolutely chilling for 1960. Bohm’s Mark Lewis almost elicits sympathy due to his childhood psycho-trauma. Much like Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and his fateful childhood.
The gist of why this film shook up the British film industry at a time when they were trying to tone it down was the idea of this gruesome ‘snuff’ filmmaker getting off on sublimating his own sexual impotence by finding victims to penetrate with his camera or gaze. The way Otto Heller sets up our participation as voyeurs make it doubly uncomfortable to watch the killings. For example. Mark takes a red-bloused prostitute up to her room. His camera with its several lensed eyes like an insect about to prey is concealed, the whirring is cloaked inside his duffel bag. See they even had kill bags back then. As she leads him upstairs he throws an empty box of Kodak film in the garbage. Not cigarettes, or a box of condoms, but still the very sexual instrument in his mode of arousal + fixtion+ object/spectacle +gaze =murder. Also turning their own destroyed images back on themselves is quite disturbing–It’s a kinky and interesting little detail. Otto Heller also added a wonderful detail to the film as Mark’s private ‘viewing room’ was bathed in a sanguinary red tone.
Director of Photography was Otto Heller, Art Director- Arthur Lawson, and Editor Noreen Ackland.
Anna Massey plays Helen Stephens, Maxine Audley is Helen’s mother Mrs Stephens who while blind senses that there is something off about Mark, Moira Shearer is Vivian, and Nigel Davenport is Sergeant Miller.
Can you see yourself in this picture? Can you imagine yourself facing the terror of a diabolical killer? Can you guess how you’d look? You’ll live that kind of excitement, suspense, and horror when you watch “Peeping Tom”.
A mad scientist Doctor Moran (George Coulouris) captures women and feeds them to his carnivorous tree with tentacle-like branches that only have a taste for the ladies preferably young ones, this in turn gives him a serum that helps bring the dead back to life.
Because the tree gets fed its nourishment, it provides the evil doctor with a liquid that restores life to the dead. So naturally the first woman you would want to be resuscitated would be a good housekeeper, right? No… She goes all Rochester’s crazy wife Bertha on the place, you know the violently insane first wife of Edward Rochester; moved to Thornfield and locked in the attic and eventually commits suicide after setting fire to Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre., that sort of way! and ruins everything…
It’s really just a silly B movie from the 50s that finds unique ways to destroy beautiful women by way of mad science or mad obsession.
The film also stars Robert MacKenzie, Norman Claridge, and Marpessa Dawn as a ‘native’ girl. Jimmy Vaughn as Tanga, Sarah Leighton as Susan Curtis, and Vera Day as Sally.
“No Beautiful Woman is Safe!
See the nerve-shattering Dance of Death!
See the Woman Eater ensnare the beauties of two continents!
See the hideous arms devour them in a death embrace?”
Your Everlovin’ MonsterGirl saying hope you stay on the good side of the camera and watch out for those strange large plants at Home Depot!
“For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome possession of me. If it was sad, the tone of mind which this induced was also sweet. Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced in it.”
― Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, ‘Carmilla’
Run, little girl! Innocence is in peril tonight!
The Light in the Window … The Lock on the Door … The Sounds in the Night! A Possession is Taking Place!
A while ago I double featured Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) and The Night God Screamed (1971). I made it clear that I felt Let’s Scare Jessica to Death was the superior film but somehow they made good companion pieces. And since I’m a child of the 70s, those days of the double bill, musty theaters, milk duds, and groovy posters, I’ve decided to pair these particular films. And once again, I’ll emphasize now that I believe Lemora to be by far not only the superior film but one of the MOST uniquely beautiful horror/fantasy films I’ve ever seen.
Because the film hit a very bumpy road on its release, it wound up being passed around like an orphan from one distributor to another. Thus is the reason for several titles over the years. It has been called The Legendary Curse of Lemora and Lemora, Lady Dracula, the latter hoping to ride the wave of low-budget vampire films that have now also attained cult status such as Bob Kelljan’s authentically potent Count Yorga Vampire 1970 starring Robert Quarry, and the equally stylish Blacula 1972 and of course the Gothic vampire pageantry of Hammer Studios churning out stylish costume melodramas with a lesbian vampire sub-text like The Vampire Lovers 1970 and Lust For a Vampire 1971, Stephanie Rothman’s The Velvet Vampire 1971, and Vicente Aranda’s The Blood Spattered Bride 1972. The liner notes written by Richard Harland Smith of Video Watchdog & Chris Poggiali of Fangoria and Shock Cinema interviewed Richard Blackburn and Byrd Holland and point out that Blackburn’s film is “less exploitative” yet “not unerotic” while using the “fragility of innocence.”
From the Journal of Horror and Erotic Cinema-Edited Andy Black
Bev Zalock’s- Girl Power From The Crypt
“In a sense, horror more than any of the other exploitation genres, with its monsters of the imagination, feeds fantasy and configures fear in a very direct way. With its linking of sex and death, horror taps into the unconscious and is associated with surrealism and the fantastic in both literature and cinema. Desire becomes the primary mise-en-scene within the realm of the supernatural and, as David Pirie observes in his excellent book The Vampire Cinema’ there is a strong cultural connection between our perception of sex and the supernatural. Pirie cites an article by Susan Sontag written in 1967 entitled “The Pornographic Imagination” in which she locates the fantastical realm of the human imagination as the site in which the two are classically connected.” – from Susan Sontag’s piece–Styles of Radical Will 1966
In addition to these lesbian vampire narratives, you have Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos 1970 and auteur Jean Rollin’s distinctive style who like Hammer connected suggestions of the ‘pornographic imagination’ that Susan Sontag describes. Films that use the spectrum of surrealist imagery from the Gothic to the gory. What they share is a ferocious appetite for power and the desire for sexual freedom.
Directed and written by Richard Blackburn (Eating Raoul 1982 with cult idol Mary Woronov and co-written with director Paul Bartel) fresh out of UCLA film school, with his pal Robert Fern. Blackburn has said in interviews that there are things he would have done differently with a better budget and more time. He shot Lemora in a month. I think the crudely macabre tonality of Lemora is what makes films like these from the good old ’70s oneiric, quintessential, haunting, and flawless as is.
There is a discrepancy as to whether the running time of the film is either 85 minutes or 113 minutes (uncut). The remastered DVD through Synapse Films took the original 35mm negatives and brought this film back to its ‘never before seen clarity.’ The prints were presumed lost for over 30 years.
The hauntingly macabre and somber music is by Dan Neufeld who crafted electronica and claviers and what I think might be a Melatron to evoke the eerie essence of the story is absolutely brilliant. With crying strings that fortify distorted wails and moans. With music box tinkling, poignant yet eerie flutes, and piano, muted horns-noises that shimmer and reverberate on cue with the dialogue or surreal set piece- I wish Dan Neufeld had done more movie scores. The sound design, the dysmorphic groans-unearthly wails- they’re the sounds you’d imagine the ‘old ones’ make in a Lovecraftian tale. Even the crickets and chorus frogs of the swamp sound metamorphosized into frightening aberrations.
Continue reading “Lemora: a Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973) & Dream No Evil (1970) Journeys of: The Innocent/Absent Father Archetype & Curse of the Lamia or “Please don’t tresspass on my nightmare!””