Top Ten Tuesdays – Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is the greatest director of all time; that is a fact. No other director can equal both the critical and commercial success he had with the cultural impact and influence on other filmmakers. While he may not be my favourite director, he has a body of work so wide and varied that it is supremely difficult to pick a top ten. However, I have selected my ten favourite Hitchcock films below, and they likely represent the most famous of his works. There are still quite a few of his early films that I haven’t been able to see, but the list below is varied enough that it covers his early Hollywood period and his later peaks. I would have loved to include a couple of his early British thrillers but I feel like he improved upon those same ideas once he crossed the Atlantic. One note on the ranking – aside from the number 1 pick, the top 6 are entirely interchangeable – all equally beloved. As ever, let the debate rage on.

The 39 Steps

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Hitchcock’s first effective chase thriller featuring a wrongly accused man on the run came in 1935, and stars a wonderful Robert Donet trying to clear his name. Even though we’re staring at the 80th anniversary of this film, there are enough thrills, action, comedy, and of course suspense for modern viewers to enjoy. As a child of the 80s, returning to films from before 1960 can be a daunting decision as we expect to see laughable effects, wooden stage acting, and amateur technical abilities. This can be true depending on your sensibilities, but they don’t call Hitchcock ‘The Master’ for nothing. One of the finest technical maestros of his time, his professional touch is clear on every shot, and even though technology has advanced beyond imagination in the last 80 years, storytelling has not. The pay off is high and there are a number of notable scenes, even though the twists and plot which Hannay finds himself in seem a little silly now, what with people with photographic memories hiding military secrets, along with all the misplaced identity stuff.

Rebecca

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Welcome to Hollywood, Mr Hitchcock. His first film made in the States was a major success, winning the Best Picture and Best Cinematography Oscars, and being nominated for a host more. With a central acting trio of Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson, it is a brilliant, brooding portrayal of romance, betrayal, guilt, loss, and obsession. As strong as the cast is, Hitch’s touch is everywhere, creating a sensation of unease and stretching out some of the more haunting scenes to nerve-wracking degrees. The film would be one of several successful adaptations of a piece of Du Maurier fiction helmed by Hitchcock.

Lifeboat

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After Rebecca, Hitchcock had a string of war era films which covered the thriller, romance, and comedy genres, some of which touched upon the war effort, themes of war, or propaganda. In Lifeboat, the most overt handling with the ongoing war was given, the plot dealing with the survivors of a U-boat attack stranded in a lifeboat in the ocean. It was Hitchcock’s first effort at telling a story with a limited setting – essentially the entire film takes place on the small boat, but any problems one would expect for such a film are turned into successes. There’s certainly a lot to be said for what can be created when surrounded by barriers, self-imposed or otherwise. The crew contains a mixture of races, sexes, and countries all acting as a metaphor for the Allies versus the Axis, The film offers no easy answers, builds up the enemy in a respectable manner and shows the supposedly good guys engaging in paranoia,confusion, and indecision, eventually engaging in murderous acts. The ending, as with much of the film, is a grey area and while the evil is shown to be evil, what can be done with people like that?

Rope

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Expanding brilliantly upon the technical limitation versus technical innovation ideas presented in Lifeboat, Hitchcock’s Rope looks and feels like a one-take theatre production. The action takes place entirely within the apartment of two young suave, egotistic students who plan, plot, and execute the perfect murder and try to get away with it, all shot with long takes to give the appearance of no cuts taking place. At this point in time Hitchcock was already a major force and it is a brave and shocking move to see him take such a novel and experimental approach to his latest film. Based on the play of the same name, the movie does feel like you are sitting just below the stage watching the action, but Hitchcock makes sure that your eye follows exactly what he wants it to. From a casting perspective the two villains are convincing in both their callousness, guilt, superiority, but it is Jimmy Stewart who steals the show. Stewart is unlike his usually jolly heroic self, deftly moving between a superior intellectual, detective, and av man wracked with residual guilt for possibly giving the murderers the idea. Also unusual for a Hitchcock thriller is the fact that we know who the killer is and what their motive is from the outset, and the tension comes from us watching Stewart gradually break down the case in front of the killers, and in front of the family of the departed. For a brilliant comic remake of the plot, check out the excellent British comedy Psychoville who pay homage to the film in a particularly gripping and hilarious episode.

The Birds

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A return to horror for Hitchcock after the success of his 1960 stabathon, The Birds remains an enigmatic and potent film which still unnerves and begs questioning. Like Psycho, The Birds follows a woman with a mysterious past stopping off on a journey and having that past, or some part of it, catch up to her. Loosely based on another Du Maurier story, we follow Tippi Hedren embarking on a playful flirtatious visit to Rod Taylor. Before long the visit becomes darker as Hedren’s character (Melanie) is viciously attacked by a seagull. As Melanie continues to become involved with Taylor’s family – mother Jessica Tandy and sister Veronica Cartwright – the bird attacks escalate in scale, frequency and ferocity. Is it all somehow linked to Melanie’s appearance in the town? The film certainly poses these questions directly, offers no answers, and continues to give critics and fans headaches decades on – feminist criticism is an area which this films lends itself to wonderfully, with the added bonus of what we know of Hitchcock himself giving extra dimensions. Hedren is wonderful in her debut, the cold blonde Hitchcock was so enamoured with, Taylor is the castrated hero, and everyone else involved do what is expected of them. The build up to any action can be excruciatingly slow, but once the fun starts it rarely lets up. The effects are outstanding, the bird work breathtaking, and there are many iconic, eerie moments – the birds on the park, the school attack, the attic attack, and the final shot are all noteworthy.

Rear Window

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Jimmy Stewart returns again, a character similar to the one he plays in Rope, this time with the intellect largely replaced by casual paranoia, voyeurism, and boredom. Voyeurism is the name of the game here, with Hitchcock once again controlling exactly what we should and should not see, what we need to, and what we don’t. Stewart plays a photographer is who wheelchair bound in his apartment with nothing to do all day but spy on his neighbours and put up with visits from a superb Thelma Ritter and a breathtaking Grace Kelly. Waking one night after he hears a woman screaming, Stewart begins to suspect one of his neighbours of murder – the man begins acting unusually and his wife has mysteriously vanished. Bringing us along for the ride we are left to try to work out if we agree with Stewart’s assumption based on the evidence, or if we feel he is clutching at straws – both Kelly and Ritter play along too, an interested, interesting comic duo who both spur on and try to restrain Stewart’s antics. Ritter in particular, one of the finest, most underrated actresses of all time, gives a stonking performance and Kelly does not get much to do until the later stages of the film aside from being playful with Stewart. Watching the events unfold we can’t help but become wrapped up in them, make assumptions on each of the people we see, and as the film races towards its tension-filled conclusion we feel as if we are going to be caught out too. One of the best examples of how to create and build tension, and with a superb pay-off, Rear Window is an effortless masterpiece.

Dial M For Murder

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This has always felt to me like a cross between Rear Window and Rope, with the blending of those plot ideas, and with a number of similar characters popping up. We have Grace Kelly giving arguably her best performance as the wrongly accused murderer, herself the target of murder trying desperately to clear her own name. Stealing the film though is John Williams, as the almost camp detective who unravels the case in a near comic fashion. Hitchcock was at his peak from the early 50s to the early 60s, with Dial M For Murder being an essentially perfect film – thrilling, entertaining, a decent winding plot well told, acted, and directed. Hitchcock’s best thrillers often verge on the convoluted, with red herrings and maguffins thrown in to confuse, confound, distract, and engage – we fall prey to these during the course of the movie even as we watch and hope that Kelly will somehow find a way out of her mess.

Vertigo

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I’ve always said that there are only a handful of movies that truly deserve to be called the best ever – those which are entertaining for the widest possible audience, groundbreaking, influential, special – The Seven Samurai, The Godfather, A New Hope, and this are the four films I keep coming back to when anyone asks what the best film ever is. Vertigo may be the least entertaining of those four, and it isn’t my favourite Hitchcock, but it may be the most influential and the one which deserves most critical discussion and dissection. Vertigo is a maze, a marvel, a majestic movie which drags you down and spits you out in the most gut-churning and puzzling ways.

The film open with a rooftop chase scene where a cop – Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) witnesses the death of another policeman, which gives him vertigo and acrophobia. Later, we see that he has retired, and is at a loose end, living with his ex-girlfriend. When an old friend, Gavin, asks him to follow his wife Madeline whom he believes has been possessed and is a danger to herself. Scotty and Madeline begin their own tangled web until she apparently kills herself by jumping from a Church bell-tower. When a woman who looks just like Madeline turns up a few days after the tragedy, things get even more interesting.

Convoluted even by Hitchcock’s standards, the plot jumps from place to place with dizzying speed, twisting the viewer up in knots until the final act – even then when we learn the truth, Jimmy Stewart still has to figure it out for himself. Stewart plays another character apart from what he was typically known for – he is obsessed, frightened, violent, timid, while Kim Novak takes the crown as Hitchcock’s perfect mystery blond. Throw in a spellbinding Herrmann score, a fancy title sequence, a bizarre and horrific nightmare sequence, and of course the famous Vertigo effect, and we have a film which broke new technical and storytelling ground, as well as being gripping entertainment. This is The Master’s finest film, one where everything you need to know and ask about the man is covered, and one which will continue to enchant and confound until the oceans turn to ash.

Pyscho

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Probably still Hitchcock’s most famous film, Psycho is the first modern horror film, shocking audiences in 1960 just when a new generation born out of the Second World War were beginning to ask questions about themselves and the world. Redefining horror forever, Psycho still has the power to chill seasoned horror veterans like myself over 50 years later. Starring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Jennifer Leigh as Marion Crane in a famous misdirect, and Vera Miles as Lila, the film was a stark contrast to most of Hitchcock’s globe-trotting, high budget recent works. Filmed in a handful of sets, with a low-budget (the studio refused to finance the film believing the book it was based on to be too violent for film), and in black and white – all of which add to the creep factor. Hitchcock, a master of both the set and of light and shadow, clearly relishes the return to black and white, and unleashes all manner of slithering horrors on us. Before I had seen a single Hitchcock film, I was aware of Psycho – my mum always used to speak of how she had seen it in her youth and how it had terrified her. By the age of ten I knew that Hitchcock made it, I knew the name Norman Bates, I knew Herrmann’s stabbing score, and I kind of knew the plot – without having seen a single frame of the film.

When I did see it a few years later, naturally I was enthralled. There are a number of outstanding moments, the shower scene, that jump scare at the top of the stairs, the unveiling of Norma, but it is the leading trio of performances, particularly that of Perkins, along with Hitchcock’s directing as he continues to crank up the tension, which makes this memorable. The coda where we witness the interview of Bates is the main action which has led to the unending critical debate of the movie, as it opens up and makes plain all the bubbling sub-text of the previous 90 minutes, but it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it is explaining the nature of evil or the reasons behind the crimes to us. Though the film is tame by today’s standards in terms of visceral power, like any number of more ancient horror movies it retains an atmosphere and ability to unsettle more than modern horror movies do.

North By Northwest

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Ah ha, my number one. In 1962 a little film called Dr No appeared on the big screen, but three years before it redefined or created the modern action movie, Hitchcock had already directed the archetype – there is quite a case for arguing that North By Northwest is the best non-Bond Bond movie ever. Hitchcock’s biggest movie, his most entertaining, his most action packed, and with one of the best scripts ever written, this is the film I urge anyone who hasn’t yet seen a Hitchcock film to watch. Although there is tension, much of that is replaced by sheer exuberance, fun, comedy, and chases.

The script takes all the elements of the wrongly accused man on the run plots which Hitchcock had previously made, and mashes them all together in one huge, mystifying, exhilarating film which encapsulates all the ludicrous points from those previous films and takes it all ten notches higher. Cary Grant is flawless as Roger Thornhill, a man kidnapped for no good reason by a group of elegant, eloquent thugs who believe him to be someone else. One brief drunken ride later and Grant finds himself being pursued by cops, criminals, spies, mothers, flirtatious women as he romps all over the US both trying to save himself, get the girl, and pretend to be the very people who each person chasing him believes he is. We have fist-fights, gun fights, train intrigue, plane chases, daring escapes, and a finale on the side of Mount Rushmore.

There is so much I love about this movie that crappy blog posts can never do it justice. It’s so energetic, rousing, witty, it makes you wish that you were wrapped up in your own spy mystery – outrunning certain death has never looked so fun. I haven’t even mentioned Eva Marie Saint, Martin Landau, or James Mason – each giving award worthy performances, or the music, or quoted any of the endlessly quotable dialogue…. just do yo’self a favour and watch it now. NOW!

What is your favourite Hitchcock film – is it covered above? Let us know in the comments!

The 31 Days Of Halloween (For Kids)- Part 2

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The Abominable Dr Phibes: This is a nice bridge between the Monster movies of the pre- 60s era and the more intense stuff of the 70s onwards. Price is at his hammy best, chewing up the dialogue and relishing the inventive plot. It’s all about the kills and atmosphere here so older kids will appreciate the varying, often funny death scenes based on the biblical plagues. Some of it may be a bit too shocking for younger kids so make sure you are there if it gets too much. Classic Halloween Scene: The locust kill is hard to beat.

The Birds: Hitchcock’s thriller may not pack the punch that it used to for adults but thanks some great ideas, strong performances, and inspired set pieces it can still work for an early Halloween viewing. The kids will love it and it may make them think twice about chasing a flock of pigeons in the park. Classic Halloween Scene: Tippi Hedren goes into the attic when every person watching knows she shouldn’t.

The Blob: You could really go for either the 50s or 80s version as both are harmless products of their time, yet the story of some giant, unstoppable thing killing everything in its path retains its power to absorb the viewer. Both have aged horribly but therefore they make for interesting and humourous viewing for adults, but kids will be able to look past the funny hair as they wonder who will get eaten next. Obviously the modern version has the darker content with gore, swearing, and a more threatening nature. The 50s one though has Steve McQueen. Classic Halloween Scene: I’ll go for the kitchen sink scene in the 80s remake.

Bride Of Frankenstein: James Whales most famous masterpiece is one which has kept audiences scared for 7 decades now, thanks to its creaky old atmosphere and timeless creations. Although obviously watered down with each passing decade, this is still a good introduction to scary movies for kids who will learn that the evil which lurks in the shadows can sometimes come stumbling out to get you. Classic Halloween Scene: When we first learn that The Monster has survived the fire from the first films and begins another rampage, killing two characters in quick succession.

The Black Cat: Keeping with the oldies you can choose either the 30s original or 40s follow-up; both feature Legosi, and both are greats of the genre, although the 40s version of Poe’s story focuses more on humour while the original’s psychological and Satanic slant has ensured that it still has power today. Pairing Karloff and Legosi for the first time, your kids will be introduced to the first horror superstars and will get sucked in by the dark tale of rituals and creepy castles. Classic Halloween Scene: The basement ritual.

The Black Cat

The Fly: I wouldn’t advice letting your kids anywhere near Cronenberg’s vision- they’ll get to it eventually on their own time. For now you can let them learn everything they need to know about Science here (don’t mess with it). The story of a man splicing himself with a fly to create both a fly-man and a man-fly sounds utterly ridiculous but there are moments of brilliance here which make you forget all about the plot and watch the characters fight for survival. Classic Halloween Scene: For any spider haters out there, one scene here will stay in your head for weeks.

The Fog: One of the great campfire spook stories, The Fog is still sadly underrated. Carpenter creates a wonderful atmosphere here which suits the season perfectly; even better if you’re near the sea or if there is fog around. Classic Halloween Scene: The introduction with the wizened old sailor sets the tone for the rest of the show, and should set the tone for your night.

Ghost: Settle down, the kids won’t even remember the pottery scene, they’ll be too busy talking about and recovering from the scenes where the things come to claim the souls of the recently departed; the effects may be dated but the sounds, screams, and general idea remain terrifying. The girls and boys will both get wrapped up in the plot, whether it be the romance from beyond the grave or the revenge plot, while parents will revel in the genuine performances from all concerned. Classic Halloween Scene: When the spirits come for Willie.

Ghostbusters 2: The first film may have the more obvious jump scares, but the sequel has Vigo The Carpathian who is creepy just by being a static painting. Classic Halloween Scene: The Titanic returns.

House On Haunted Hill: Gimmick king William Castle teams up with Vincent Price to deliver a camp horror classic. In many ways the plot mirror’s Castle’s own style with Price’s weirdo millionaire offering obscene incentives to gain an audience. The story is a nice twist on the ‘stay overnight in a haunted house’ archetype and there are enough old fashioned scares to please the family. Classic Halloween Scene: The skeleton coming out of the acid- for your Halloween party buy your own skeleton and try a bit of Castle gimmickry yourself.

House On Haunted HIll

The Invisible Man: One of the best Universal Horror films, albeit one which has not had the same impact/amount of remakes as the more famous Monster films. Claude Rains ‘stars’ as a deranged scientist who goes on a rampage after discovering the key to invisibility. Strong effects and a creepy atmosphere ensure this is still strong watching today. Classic Halloween Scene: When the Doctor takes of his clothes and first reveals his gift to the locals. Ooh-er.

The Mummy: Keeping with the Universal theme, why not make it a double with Karl Freund’s dusty, creaking classic. Or you could go with the modern, action packed Brendan Fraser effort, though it is more of an adventure film than horror. Classic Halloween Scene: Imhotep’s awakening.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: I saw this at the cinema when it was first released, and quite a few families had to leave with their younger kids as it must have been too scary. In truth, I think it was the showing of Vincent at the start of the movie which freaked most out. The film itself pulls together everything festive about Halloween and Christmas and presents them with both childish wonder and Poe-esque darkness. The story, songs, and characters meld into an animation which kids of all ages should love. Classic Halloween Scene: When Oogie shows that he’s just a pile of bugs.

The Old Dark House: Few films have a more traditionally Halloween title, story and feel than James Whale’s early hit. The story of a group of travellers seeking shelter in a creepy mansion, the dark, rain covered, dreary setting, the mysterious residents, all create a superb, festive tone and the scares come thick and fast towards the end. Early jokes help to lighten the mood and make the film something of an oddity. Classic Halloween Scene: You just know that the deranged, locked up brother will escape

The Pit And The Pendulum: Arguably the best of the Corman/Poe productions, The Pit And The Pendulum has heaps of atmosphere, plenty of invention, and a top rate Price performance. Taking extreme liberties with the original tale, the film follows a man in search of his lost sister, a search which leads him to a foreboding mansion filled with torture devices, mystery, and strange characters. This one has plenty of shocks and a fair amount of genuine scares, so maybe keep the younger kids away. Classic Halloween Scene: When the ‘corpse’ of Elizabeth is first uncovered or the tense ending as the pendulum falls.

The Pit And The Pendulum

Stir Of Echoes: Continuing with the Richard Matheson stories, Stir Of Echoes is a supernatural thriller which stars Kevin Bacon as a man who gains the ability to experience visions of the past, and his son who is able to speak to the dead. This is a good one for older kids and while low on obvious jump scares, it has an interesting plot and is more like a detective story with ghost elements rather than an all out horror movie. Strong performances, ghostly visions, great script, and watching Bacon’s slow descent into madness all increase the chill factor. Classic Halloween Scene: When the son is talking to his mum about the babysitter and he goes a little odd.

The Thing From Another World: Carpenter’s remake is one of my favourite movies of all time and is the epitome of sci-fi/horror crossover. Due to it’s horrific nature though, it is not suitable for kids. For the same basic tale of paranoia, claustrophobia, and shadowy, alien evil, Howard Hawks’ original will do the job for kids at Halloween. The stark visuals, small cast, and threatening tone ensure this is still a classic. Classic Halloween Scene: When the team set The Thing on fire- great scare, awesome stunt work.

The Wolf Man: Lets return to The Universal Monsters once again and visit the hit werewolf tragedy. Although neither the first Werewolf film by Hollywood or Universal, this was the first of Chaney’s installments and is probably still the best. Again, Universal strike a perfect balance between focus on the Monster and the human side, all filmed in glorious B and W. Classic Halloween Scene: When Chaney attacks the Gravedigger, his first victim.

Wallace And Gromit- The Curse Of The Were Rabbit: After many succesful adventures (which are usually shown every Christmas in Britain) Wallace and Gromit enter the Halloween market with their take on werewolves, albeit changing to were-rabbits here. The film was a huge financial and critical success, picking up the Best Animated Film Oscar. Retaining the unique English charm of previous adventures, this is nevertheless accessible to all with its clever humour, fast pace, strong sight gags and set pieces, and strong voice cast. This is a gentle introduction to scares for the youngest children, but there is enough action and wit to please the whole family. Classic Halloween Scene: When the Reverend is attacked by the were-rabbit.

The Monster Squad: This is another one of those films whose VHS cover freaked me out when I was young. This is more of an action comedy with horror elements which succeeds due to yet another brilliant Shane Black script and because of the love for the genre it spins. It’s another quintessential 80s movie featuring a group of savvy kids on an adventure, this time battling famous monsters like Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man. This retains a cult following, but wasn’t a smash on Goonies/Gremlins/Stand By Me levels. It’s another strong introduction to horror for kids of all ages, with plenty of gentle scares and a lot of action and laughs. Classic Halloween Scene: Any scene with Dracula’s ‘Daughters’ has a high freak-out quota.

The Monster Squad

The Halloween Tree: What better introduction into the world of horror, and of Halloween, than this festive animated treat. Although lacking the big budget style of Disney/Dreamworks/Pixar type films, the film relies heavily on its script, backed up by a decent voice cast featuring Spock and writer Ray Bradbury. The story is set at Halloween, features a quartet of friends Trick Or Treating, and discusses the origins of Halloween and its traditions. Kids will love the spooky costumes and settings and older viewers will appreciate the Scooby Doo nods. Classic Halloween Scene: Nimoy’s poetic description of the tree.

The Sixth Sense: It may be too wordy and dramatic for younger kids, but the series of stand out scares will surely live on long in their imagination. The same should apply for older kids who will appreciate the plot, the performances, and the twists. Classic Halloween Scene: Under the table.

Pan’s Labyrinth: Frequently described as a fairy tale for adults, I don’t see why kids can’t get in on the act; the film is gorgeous and depicts an all too realistic nightmarish world which their young minds will thrive upon, while the story will teach them that sometimes it is the people around us we should fear as well as the demons. Classic Halloween Scene: The Banquet table chase.

Twilight Zone: The Movie: Spielberg, Landis, Dante, and Miller get together to make this homage to Rod Sterling’s classic series. Featuring 3 remakes and 1 original story, the focus is more on horror than the original series was, but the twists and ironic lessons are still in place. Each sequence is stronger than the one before, but each has its own charms and chills. Classic Halloween Scene: Miller’s final segment is a great remake of the original and packs some big punches (as well as having the always excellent John Lithgow).

Salem’s Lot: Well, hello. This is probably the first film which led me on the depraved path to horror geekdom. It scarred me at the time, but they best way I could deal with it was by telling all of my friends and neighbours about it. Through this catharsis I realised that this horror stuff was pretty cool and my friends and I began to seek out more scares. For people of a certain age, this one will still have an impact. As far as realistic vampire movies go, there are few to beat this nasty one. Classic Halloween Scene: There are tonnes to choose from which darkened my dreams for many a night, but it’s difficult to top the first- Ralphie Glick comes-a-scratching at the window of his brother.

Salem’s Lot

The Gate: This frequently bizarre horror movie has plenty of 80s hallmarks- cool creature effects, heavy metal music, evil books, kids battling demons etc etc. A group of friends inadvertently raise a host of demons and subsequently have to do battle with them. This is a darker version of The Lost Boys but this cult hit is still waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation. Why don’t they make horror films with kids anymore?Classic Halloween Scene: When Al almost gets pulled under the bed by monstrous arms- bed scare scenes always get me good, dagnammit.

Night Of The Living Dead: Few horror films have had such a long-lasting impact as Romero’s original. This is a must for all horror nuts and acts as a good gateway into the genre for viewers of any age; it’s smart, it’s terrifying, it’s brilliant. For younger kids this will be too much, but from around the age of 10 this is ideal Halloween viewing. The bleak setting, the black and white colouring adding to the tone, the isolated group dynamic which the imaginative child will link to their present situation, it’s all good. Spice things up by adding zombie make-up to the group. Classic Halloween Scene: The entire opening, from first second until Barb reaches the house.

Silent Hill: Perhaps a bit too complex and horrifying for younger viewers, this should satisfy younger teens. There are some spectacular visuals on display, the night scenes are powerful, and there are plenty of big scares on offer. It’s just a pity the plot is quite messy. The dark depiction of the town should make your kids ventures outside at Halloween more interesting as they question the noises and shadows surrounding them. Classic Halloween Scene: Pyramid Head’s first appearance.

Psycho: Why not break your children by subjecting them to the movie which broke the genre? Hitchcock’s mutha-luvin, lady-hatin, stabby creepfest has enough big scares involving scary houses, knives, and weirdos that all viewers will find something to be freaked out about. It’s one of the original behind-the-sofa watches, and 60 years on the power is still potent. Classic Halloween Scene: The shot of ‘mother’ strutting out of one of the upstairs rooms to claim another victim.

Tideland: Terry Gilliam’s massively polarizing film remains essentially unknown outside of the critical circle. For such a demented movie it is criminal that it made barely half a million at the box office- there is surely an audience out there for another twisted fairy tale, so it makes an ideal experiment for kids at a Halloween party. It may not make a lot of sense to them, but as is expected from a Gilliam film, the visuals are like nothing you will have experienced before with an invention sorely lacking in films of most genres today. Classic Halloween Scene: Any scene with Noah’s decaying corpse is both ghastly and tragic.

Tideland

The Omega Man: We end the list with another Matheson tale. Based roughly on his classic I Am Legend, this sees Chartlon Heston battling groovy hooded freaks rather than the terrifying and pitiful vampires of the novel. Heston was obviously a huge star and is able to carry the film on his own, but once the love interest is introduced things get messy. I’m still waiting on the definitive version of the story, but for an action packed siege film this has plenty of nice scares and no gore or swearing, so is suitable for all ages. Classic Halloween Scene: The wine cellar attack.

As always, feel free to leave your comments: what did you think of my list- are some of the films too extreme for kids? Which films would you choose for Halloween family viewing, and which films haunted your youth?

Hally Happoween!

Best Picture – 1960

The Sixties, as a decade, saw the continuation of prominent historical epics, but also saw the emergence of important sub-genres including spaghetti westerns, psychological and violent horror movies, spy movies, and more elaborate and intelligent Sci-fi and comedies with greater special effects. Looking at the top 3 grossing movies of 1960 is interesting- 1 is a family/kids movie, 2 is an adults only horror, and 3 is a classic epic. There is definitely more variation than in previous decades. Several big names died this year, Clark Gable being the biggest, while a number of up and comers had their debuts including Jane Fonda, Peter O’Toole, and Robert Redford. A number of stellar foreign movies had a lasting impact when they appeared this year, pushing the boundaries of sex, philosophy, violence, and technique on screen.

Official Nominations: 1960 saw Billy Wilder team up once again successfully with Jack Lemmon to create The Apartment, a film noted for its controversial themes of adultery at the time. Then again, Wilder was never one to shy away from controversy or censorship, and remains one of the few directors who achieved both commercial and critical success repeatedly when dealing with taboo. The Apartment remained the last Black and White film to win Best Picture until 2012.
While hardly a stellar year for Best Film nominations, Wilder faced stiff enough competition from wandering Stalwart John Wayne (The Alamo) as well as a trio of big hitting dramas. While these other films did well enough with the other categories, The Apartment won the big one- the USA was in the mood for humour, and Wilder delivered again, even without Monroe. The Apartment, while not a great favourite of mine, gets my pick too – the dialogue has the usual snap and wit we would expect, the performances are all top notch, and we are left with some eternal one-liners.
Brooks’s Elmer Gantry was just as taboo as what Wilder was doing, featuring a sexually aggressive conman who sells the more fiery side of religion to frightened townspeople, although unlike the book, the movie presents us with a lighter character, but quite a dark ending. Cardiff’s Sons and Lovers is a by the numbers take on D. H. Lawrence’s novel, while The Sundowners is an interesting tale about marriage, fatherhood, and freedom, yet has that old Hollywood sheen which means I am not too affected by it.

My Nominations: None of my nominations for Best Picture 1960 were nominated in your reality. Thanks to the power of The Spac Hole, history has righted itself, and those truly worthy have won their place on the list. Each of the films listed below were laregely successful and were winners in other categories but The Spac Hole and the creatures which traverse it reached far eyelessly to discover the truth. When all realities converge and smash together in an unknown point in The Spac Hole, the below films came out on top:
Village Of The Damned: In an unexpectedly strong year for intelligent horror films, Village Of The Damned earns its place thanks to a great idea executed tightly and some chilling performances and sequences.
Spartacus: Kubrick’s epic comes as close as any to being the definitive epic, just as he would come as close as anyone to making the definitive Sci-Fi and Horror later in his career.
Peeping Tom: Not getting the positive recognition it deserved until much later, this was seen as a much more depraved version of Psycho and subsequently was forgotten until later generations discovered its grisly power.
The Magnificent Seven: Just about the most entertaining Western ever made with a terrific cast on top form, full of pathos, action, humour, and heart this is an oft overlooked gem.
Psycho: Hitchcock near single handledly redesigned a genre, setting up a number of stereotypes which echo in any horror movie made today. The genius lies in the fact that when watching Psycho now, nothing seems like a stereotype or cliche even when we have seen it a hundred times in a hundred different movies. Truly chilling yet with a strong plot and characterisation this was one of the first movies to show that this dirty litle genre could be as respectable as any other.

My Winner: Psycho.

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