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Scary, Spooky Movies

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"

 

A disembodied hand creeps its way downwards in the dim light, transfixing the horrified figure trembling at the foot of the stairs. As the hand gets nearer, the wide-eyed watcher becomes more and more crazed with fear. The tense atmosphere is heightened by the accompanying atmospheric music. There’s nowhere to go to escape, no way out, for the terrified onlooker. It may be only happening in the dark of the cinema, but to a young boy it’s a little scary, but exciting at the same time. The film, if it needs any introduction, is The Beast With Five Fingers, given its weirdness by the twitchy performance of Peter Lorre. It richly deserves its high standing as a masterpiece of the macabre.

The Beast is the first horror movie I recall seeing. It was with my parents, both avid moviegoers. It was on a Sunday afternoon double bill at one of the numerous cinemas that were dotted along a two-mile stretch of road in north London that my friends and I nicknamed Flicks Highway. Going to the movies in the Fifties was always something I looked forward to. I liked all kinds of films, but it was horror and science fiction stories that really grabbed my imagination. The only problem was that many of them were classified as unsuitable for anyone under 16. I was so disappointed when I wasn’t allowed to see them. So it was only some years later in the Sixties that I caught up with many of these out-of-bounds shockers, mostly thanks to the regular showings on television, the media that hit cinema attendances in the Fifties and then, rather perversely, filled its schedules with old films.

As a kid, even the titles promised awe and thrills. Who wouldn’t shudder at what might be lurking unseen in The Thing From Another World? What wonders lie hidden in the wings in House Of Wax in all its colourful 3-D glory? Would the scaly half-man-half-fish from The Creature From The Black Lagoon drag you into its watery world? Might the giant ants of Them! and the creepy-crawly big baddies of Tarantula threaten to trample you under foot? And surely The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms was as nasty a critter as ever raised its head out of the murky depths of the ocean?

I can appreciate now why I was protected from these films while growing up: for their time they were probably too graphic and nightmarish for tender minds. Now, of course, they seem rather tame and positively creaky, but they are still classics of their kind. Usually low budget and quickly made maybe, but worthy of recognition and fond remembrance all the same. Yes, we might laugh at them now, but that’s all part of the joy of recalling times past.

Other spooky movies I took a shine to from that Fifties golden age of black and white shock-horror productions were Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Earth vs The Flying Saucers and It Came From Outer Space. They just don’t make them like that any more!

In the early Sixties I enjoyed watching a diet of  Roger Corman classics based on the tingling tales of Edgar Allen Poe, along with B-movie schlock horror shockers from master of menace William Castle. Corman’s films from this period were gems of style and panache, helped along the way by the wonderful over-the-top acting of Vincent Price, indeed a magnificent Merchant of Menace. As teenagers, my friends and I enjoyed Price’s hammy performances, and I use the word hammy respectfully. There was no one quite like him when it came to portraying the sinister and the insane. We always looked forward to joining him in the dark for a feast of fright.

William Castle gave us the edge-of-your-seat thriller I Saw What You Did and the fun to watch, if somewhat predictable, Homicidal. It was Homicidal that caught you out with its two-minute freeze-frame gimmick, allowing those who felt afraid to witness the plot’s finale enough time to exit the theatre before the film resumed! I don’t recall anyone rushing to get to safety, but it was a piece of pure showmanship by Castle.

The decade got off to a great start on the horror front with Alfred’s Hitchcock’s ultra-definitive slasher picture Psycho, much copied over the years but in my opinion never bettered, indeed never matched. On its initial release in Britain I recall that you weren’t allowed into the cinema once the film had started. Hitchcock made that a stipulation. It was, undeniably, a masterstroke of marketing, but I was none too happy when I fell foul of this restriction, having dashed to the cinema only to miss the performance start by a few minutes. I was so keen to see the film that I was fidgety while waiting to return hours later for the next showing, but the wait was well worth it: Psycho lived up to all the hype, though it wasn’t an instant all-out hit. Surprisingly, it took some time for critics and the public to fully appreciate that it was in a class of its own.

Towards the end of the Sixties, another outstanding dose of shock-horror reared itshead in the form of Rosemary’s Baby, an unnerving New York-set chiller brilliantly directed by Roman Polanski. Eerily, it features the city’s Dakota building, home of Beatle John Lennon and, sadly, the spot where he was shot dead in 1980.

Today’s movies are more-expensively made, enhanced by computer technology and shown in glorious colour on vast screens with state of the art audio systems, but they’re not half as much fun as those black and white oldies. The End!

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.

 

 

 

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