My Top Ten Horror Movies – No 8 The Thing From Another World

Back in the dim and distant past, when we only had three TV channels, the highlight of BBC2’s Saturday night programming wasn’t a repeat of Dad’s Army, but the Midnight Movie. Nine times out of ten it would be a 1950’s gangster or war film but occasionally a little gem like this would turn up.

We didn’t get much science fiction on the telly back in the 1970s aside from Dr Who and other wobbly setted and woodenly acted home-grown shows like Blake’s 7, so seeing a proper Hollywood Sci-fi movie like The Thing that had what seemed like, quite sophisticated effects, even if it was made in 1951, was really quite exciting. Mind you I was only eleven at the time! I won’t bother describing the plot but here is a little summary that I found on You Tube.

The film owes a lot to producer Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravo only with a bunch of US Airman and scientists holed up in the Arctic station replacing John Wayne and Ricky Nelson holed up in a western jail and a blood sucking alien trying to get in instead of a bunch of hoodlums. Curious that, because John Carpenter’s Assault on Precint 13 was inspired by Rio Bravo and he went on to remake The Thing too.  It also owes a lot to American paranoia about the Communist Russians, but then it was a product of the Cold War.

I still love this film today; it’s a tautly paced thriller pitting men against not just a rampaging alien vampire plant, but also their environment. Added to that the atmospheric cinematography and Dimitri Tiomkin’s score construct a sense of imminent menace whenever the alien threatens to make an appearance. And yes it has a hopeful if not exactly happy ending

Hugo, George Melies, Son of Frankenstein and Allo Allo

Thinking about Horror movies reminded me seeing Martin Scorsese’s Hugo a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoyed the tale of the orphan who discovers that the toy stall holder (Ben Kingsley) is in fact cinema pioneer Georges Melies.

However I did think that Sacha Baron Cohen’s Station Inspector owed a lot to both Lionel Atwill’s Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein, even though it was a leg caliper he kept adjusting rather than the prosthetic arm that replaced the original ripped off by the monster,

and perhaps more unfortunately Allo Allo‘s Officer Crabtree.

Somehow even Hugo‘s 3D effects though were not as magical as Melies original movies like Le Voyage dans la Lune,

such a shame so many of them were recycled into army boot heels during the First World War.

My Horror Movie Top 10 – No.9 Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde

No Horror Top Ten would be complete without at least one glorious Technicolor Hammer Horror. In my opinion forget about kitchen sink drama and the odd worthy epic, Hammer Horrors and Carry Ons were the British films that put bums on seats in your local Odeon or ABC throughout the late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Hammer even got a Queen’s Award For Industry!

As the permissive era of the 1960s morphed into the 1970s, Hammer ramped up the sex and nudity content of films like The Vampire Lovers (1970).

Although pretty mild by contemporary standards these films hit the late night cinema circuit as I hit puberty and an early growth spurt that got me safely past cinema ushers. Roy Ward Baker directed The Vampire Lovers and the following year he returned with a Dr Jekyll remake with a twist. Rumour has it that screen writer Brian Clemans, who cut his teeth writing for quirky but stylish TV shows like The Avengers and Adam Adamant Lives! in the 1960s, conceived the title Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde as a joke, but given the new-found sexual ambiguity of a decade when homosexuality was at last legal and glam-rock musicians were experimenting with make up it was soon in production.

Clemens screenplay sees Jekyll (Ralph Bates) discovering that his hoped for elixir of life has the effect of turning a male fly into a female. Well it isn’t long before dear old Henry tries it on himself and turns into his “sister” Mrs Edwina Hyde (Martine Beswick, whose previous film credits include one of the scrapping gypsy girls in From Russia with Love). Naturally there are a few problems; it isn’t long before Hyde becomes the dominant of the two personalities, the elixir just happens to be made from the reproductive organs of female cadavers, the supply of cadavers pretty quickly runs out and Jekyll is forced to harvest his own by murdering Whitechapel’s prostitutes as Jack the Ripper.

The uncanny resemblance of Martine Beswick to Ralph Bates certainly aids the transformation scenes beautifully shot by Norman Warwick, with David Whitaker’s wonderful musical score.

Aside from the Ripper (who was busy in 1880s London) we also get a couple of James Bond movie style gags thrown in, a comedy turn by the brilliant Philip Madoc as the mortuary attendant and the grave robbing duo of Burke and Hare (who in reality never robbed a grave preferring to take the easy option of murder) somehow transplanted from 1820s Edinburgh. In fact the London of Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a Dickensian theme park complete with pea-soupers, gin palaces, ‘cockernee rossers’,  knife grinders and town criers. In fact about the only things missing are Sherlock Holmes and the Artful Dodger! However to anyone quibbling about historical accuracy, it’s worth remembering that you can’t actually change gender overnight by drinking a potion.

My Horror Movie Top Ten – The Abominable Dr Phibes

Anyone who has read my ‘About’ page will know that I love Horror movies of a certain vintage. These ten are probably my favourite ten Horror movies of all time. Yes they were all made between 1930 and 1971 and I am not for one moment going to apologise for that. These films are all part of my own personal cultural heritage as much as Black Sabbath, Van der Graaf Generator or Hawkwind, and in their own way these films have a certain fantastical innocence that I feel the horror movie lost with The Exorcist in the mid 70s, much as music did with punk at around the same time.

Choosing my Top Ten was quite difficult, but I think I have the right mixture of monsters, actors and directors; Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll, the Mummy, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Terence Fisher, James Whale, Jacques Tourneur, are all there along with hopefully one or two surprises.

,As a teenager in the 1970s, so I suppose it was inevitable that I should love the stylish British made Horror movies of companies like Hammer, Amicus, Tigon and American International. They were as much a part of the period as T.Rex, Loon Pants and Ziggy Stardust. Released in 1971  The Abominable Dr Phibes starred Vincent Price as the disfigured car crash survivor who bumps off the medical team he holds responsible for his wife’s death. For an added dash of macabre fun the murders are themed upon the Plagues of Egypt  (even if some like the Plague of Lice are replaced by a Plague of Bats because bats just work better than lice) . An idea that recurs in the later Price chiller Theatre of Blood when the much mocked actor Edward Lionheart (Price) murders his critics according to William Shakespeare.

Set in 1925 the film was noted for it’s very stylish art deco set design, which is perfectly complemented by Basil Kirchin’s musical score. The director, Robert Fuest, had in the 1960s worked as a production designer on TV shows like The Avengers and his love of visual styling was clearly evident in the way he lovingly shot production designer Brian Eatwell’s sumptuous colour coordinated sets.

Aside from the stunning visual imagery what I like about the film is Price’s exuberantly camp performance as the murdering concert organist, which he pulls off without having to talk to camera. There is also a fine support cast of familiar British faces like Terry Thomas, Hugh Griffiths, Peter Gilmore and an uncredited Caroline Munro as Phibes’s embalmed wife Victoria. Phibes is part Bond villain and part Phantom of the Opera, I can’t help but think what fun could be had pitting him against David Suchet’s Poirot.