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Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees's Blog
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Fantasy Box Set #5: Halloween Movies
The oh so welcome news that The Innocents (1961) is at last coming to DVD has turned my thoughts to other great spooky flicks...which are never that far from my mind anyway. Between that long-awaited release and the exquisitely eerie Val Lewton horror films rumored to be on their way, it should be a terrific Halloween--but naturally there are equally worthy titles also in need of DVD release to make the spooky holiday complete. Here, then, are the five titles I long to see under the Halloween tree this October...all black-and-white, of course.
1. Mad Love, 1935. Peter Lorre’s American film debut, in which he is every bit as creepy as in M--but in a different way. This expressionistic film, directed by Karl Freund (Fritz Lang’s former cameraman) and boasting Gregg Toland’s cinematography, features Lorre as a brilliant surgeon obsessed with theatrical diva Frances Drake. When her pianist husband (Colin Clive of Frankenstein) is involved in a train wreck that crushes his hands, she begs for Lorre’s help--and he responds by grafting the hands of a murderer onto her husband’s arms. An unforgettable performance by Lorre and haunting lighting and imagery make this one of the best classic horror films I know.
2. I Married a Witch, 1942. A lighter entry, since Halloween always needs some laughs along with the shivers. This charming supernatural romantic comedy, based on the novel The Passionate Witch by Thorne (Topper) Smith, features sultry Veronica Lake as a witch who returns to Earth centuries after her death to get revenge on the descendant of the man who had her executed (Fredric March)--only to fall in love with him. Cecil Kellaway is terrific as her tippling yet dangerous father, and there’s some genuine suspense along with the comedy. Lots of fun all round.
3. Phantom Lady, 1944. A Halloween film collection wouldn’t be complete without a psychopath, and this engrossing mystery stands apart from other psycho-killer films due to its outstanding visual style, courtesy of famed noir director Robert Siodmak (The Killers). It stars the gorgeous Ella Raines as a loyal secretary trying to clear her boss of murder by tracking down the mysterious, unknown woman who alone can provide his alibi. The “drumming” scene with Elisha Cook, Jr., is justly famous; it’s so swollen with sexual implications that you’ll want a shower afterward (or a cigarette). The final showdown between heroine and killer is riveting. Since Phantom Lady has come to be acclaimed as one of the seminal film noirs, the question is: why isn’t it out on DVD?
4. The Uninvited, 1944. Classic haunted-house stories are rare these days, and this one, made in the days before gore and special effects ambushed plot and character, is excellent. A composer (Ray Milland) and his sister (Ruth Hussey) move into the standard house-with-oddly-low-rent and meet the mysterious young beauty (Gail Russell) who thinks that the house may be inhabited by her dead mother. A very limited reliance on special effects keeps this from being dated, and the effective atmosphere, strong performances, and solid plot make it a must for Halloween viewing.
5. The Night Walker, 1964. You can’t have a Halloween movie night without William Castle, and this lesser-known film is one of his most suspenseful ones--in part perhaps because the camp factor is relatively low. Barbara Stanwyck is the heroine who is subject to disturbing dreams, which grow worse after the disastrous death of her husband. But is she really dreaming? Stanwyck appears alongside real-life former husband Robert Taylor (who hasn’t aged nearly as well as she). You may figure out the plot early on, but the way it plays out is still gripping and packs some effective shocks.
Coming soon: Fantasy Box Set #6...