Guest Blog: Horror Movie Picks from a Long-Time Fan
I’m Dan Fox, long-time member of the Raleigh TCM Club, life-long classic movie fan of all genres, obsessive physical media movie collector—starting with laser discs and now into my 4K Blu-ray phase—and original movie lobby card collector.
I mostly grew up in Augusta, Georgia, where, I suppose, like in most other towns in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, there were no suburban movie theaters other than drive-ins. The three indoor movie theaters in Augusta were all located downtown, and they were situated close to each other on Broad Street. As a child, probably starting at age eight or so, every Saturday afternoon, unless it was raining, I walked about a mile to the bus stop and took the city bus from our suburban home to the downtown area to see a movie—sometimes alone, sometimes with friends.
My earliest memory of seeing a horror movie was, I believe, at age seven when my father, a tall, fairly muscular (he built himself up with Charles Atlas exercises), mild mannered, very loving, very religious man, who was not a big-time movie buff, totally surprised me when he told me that it was about time that I saw my first horror movie on TV. I figured if Dad said it was okay, it HAD to be okay. We watched Boris Karloff in Frankenstein on the local late night “Chiller Theater” show. It delighted me, but also freaked me out.
That was the beginning of my fascination with horror movies, science fiction, and psychological thrillers. You may become a bit jealous when you hear about some of the horror movies that I saw first run, on the big screen, usually at the Imperial Theater, next to the Snappy’s Hamburgers joint. By the way, the Imperial Theater is still being used occasionally for special entertainment events.
I was never what they call a “gore hound” with an interest in slasher movies or explicit violence. In my mind, implied violence and an artistic atmosphere of terror was better, although if brief, and the depiction of some explicit violence was absolutely necessary in order to tell the story, and not just exploitive, I could handle it.
When it came to the competing movie monster camps of Universal Monster fans versus Hammer Horror monster movie remake fans, I firmly stood in the colorful, often lurid, Hammer Productions camp with their lush and thrilling sound tracks and lovely historical, period piece settings.
The most thrilling first run movie highlights of my childhood were as follows:
- Any movies that were part of the Roger Corman-directed Poe cycle starring Vincent Price. However, the excellent Premature Burial (1962) featured Ray Milland because Vincent was not available for that one.
- Black Sunday (1960) – An Italian movie starring the mesmerizing Barbara Steele, a British actress who was also featured in The Pit and the Pendulum. Black Sunday was directed by Mario Bava, who was also involved with the production of my favorite Peplum movie—Hercules with Steve Reeves. The very first scene of Black Sunday was terrifically violent and as a kid, I could not believe that I had been allowed to watch it.
- The Mummy (1959) from Hammer Studios – My friends and I had seen the frightening trailer long before the movie was actually shown in Augusta. We didn’t know the reason for the delay, but we impatiently waited months and months for its arrival. You should have heard the kids screaming and my heart thumping when Christopher Lee, playing the resurrected mummy, broke through the metal grate covering the high window and, with murderous intent, lumbered into Peter Cushing’s archaeologist father’s basement room in the psychiatric hospital accompanied by thunderous dramatic music.
- Psycho (1960) – This was the first time that I had seen a line of customers that extended from the ticket booth for nearly a block down the sidewalk—on a Saturday afternoon—or that I had been required to enter the theater before a film started because no one could enter after the start of the movie.
- The House on Haunted Hill (1959) – When onscreen the skeleton of Vincent Price emerged from the acid pit, we saw up high up in our theater a skeleton costume dangling from a wire hanger, with a lit light bulb inside it, moving across the theater on a cable—from the back of the balcony near the projection booth across the audience to the top of the movie screen. As the skeleton moved just beyond the balcony, some kid on the front row of the balcony threw a full box of popcorn at it, knocked the costume half off the hanger—which caused the box to open up and shower the kids, screaming with delight, sitting below in the main auditorium, with popcorn. This promotional gimmick, devised by the cigar smoking director, William Castle, was called “Emergo.”
- The Tingler (1959) – This movie featured another of William’s Castle’s promotional gimmicks, this time called “Percepto,” wherein battery powered vibration devices, which simulated a mild electrical shock, were secretly installed under some of the theater seats and turned on when, onscreen, the Tingler creature is loose in an art theater auditorium which was featuring a silent movie. The Tingler then crawls onto a female patron’s leg and she screams. At that point, our theater’s lights went out, it was totally dark, and you could hear Vincent Price saying, “The Tingler is loose in THIS theater. Scream, scream for your life!” And we did! After the movie, a friend of mine who had taken a seat near the front of the auditorium complained to me that he had been shocked during that part of the film. I insisted that he must have been mistaken—that no theater owner would agree to implement that kind of risky suggestion from the distributors.
- The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – I saw this Hammer classic, their first venture into horror, at the Crest Theater (which has since been closed down) at Wrightsville Beach with two younger female first cousins. They spent most of the movie on the theater floor, horrified, hiding behind the seats.
As a side note, I was thrilled to see from a seat on the front row, Vincent Price, late in his career, on the NC State campus performing in his one man tribute to Oscar Wilde.
It was extremely difficult to wean my alphabetical list of recommended horror movies down to a single post because I have so many more horror movie favorites. If I was forced to choose my top five horror movies, in priority-ranked order, it would be as follows: