"Sunday Morning" film critic David Edelstein explores the recent flood of restored, re-released horror movies as well as the latest uncanny tales to chill your bones:
My friends know there's nothing I'd rather talk about than horror movies, which is why so few of them return my phone calls. But it's October, when everyone finds their inner horror geek, and this year there's a flood of restored, re-released classics. It's like manna from …. hell!
Consider the cheerfully perverse takeoff on the horror genre, "The Old Dark House," from 1932. It was James Whale's first film after "Frankenstein," reuniting him with Boris Karloff. But it dropped out of circulation and then no one could find any prints. It was considered lost, until a director friend of Whales' discovered a ravaged print in a studio vault. I saw it when it was re-released in the 1970s, or half-saw it. It was a mess.
Now it's been restored, so you can savor Whales' spectacularly goofy mix of German Expressionism and English camp. The movie is based on a J.B. Priestley novel "Benighted," and it's one of the best portraits ever of a certain strain of aristocratic in-breeding, with a cast of ghouls and eccentrics unlike any ever assembled.
This is the family Femm, presided over by that camp cadaver Ernest Thesiger (later in "Bride of Frankenstein"), and Eva Moore as his screeching-harpy sister in a household that clings to upper-class rituals when everything is collapsing around them.
It's a mere 72 minutes, all of them cherce.
- "The Old Dark House" (Cohen Film Collection)
To watch a trailer for the restored "The Old Dark House" click on the video player below:
Here's what I realized seeing it again side-by-side with another newly-restored modern classic: Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" is the nightmarish 1970s American version of the same story: Unlucky young travelers, an inbred family presided over by a withered ghoul, in a compound where insanity runs rampant.
It's a great, sick family comedy.
A deluxe 40th anniversary edition (with four, count 'em, commentaries and a mad assortment of interviews and extras) is a veritable feast.
If you're coming to it fresh, you might be surprised by how little actual gore there is. It's mostly suggested, which in this case is so much creepier.
To watch a trailer for the restored "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" click on the video player below:
. And so, alas, , whose boundary-bursting masterpiece "Night of the Living Dead" has also been newly-restored, and is even in theaters again. This cannibal plague movie was made in Pittsburgh for almost nothing, started small at drive-ins and grindhouses, and seeped into the culture like ( ) blood into a rug.
Romero piped in all the social and racial tensions of the late '60s: Authority has collapsed, rifle-toting militias roam the countryside, the nuclear family is imploding. Brother comes incestuously after sister. A little girl feasts on her mommy's flesh.
It's still shocking. And the blood shines like oil in lustrous black-and-white.
To watch a trailer for the restored "Night of the Living Dead" click on the video player below:
Now let's jump to some recent horror movies for your delectation.
The best one -- one of the best films of 2017, period -- is Jordan Peele's smashing directorial debut, "Get Out." It's the satirical horror movie we've been waiting for, a mash-up of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "The Stepford Wives" that's more fun than either, and more illuminating, too -- a black man's brilliant, paranoid riff on white liberals as soul-suckers.
It's terrific filmmaking. Peele's "Boo!" moments make you jump, and then laugh at yourself for jumping … then steel yourself to jump again.
- "Get Out" (Official site)
To watch a trailer for "Get Out" click on the video player below:
Let me guardedly recommend another recent film that makes people extremely uncomfortable: the French female cannibal movie "Raw," directed by Julia Ducournau.
It's set in a veterinary school, where a young vegetarian discovers her inner flesh-eater, and begins to realize, after she eats her older sister's finger (but her sister isn't that freaked out) that it runs in the family.
What's best about this movie is the way that it exaggerates – catastrophizes, as great horror does -- a young woman's sexual awakening in ways that are beautiful and disgusting and, well, all too human.
- "Raw" (Official site)
To watch a red band trailer for "Raw" click on the video player below:
Finally a horror movie in theaters right now and quite popular: "Happy Death Day." I'd be shocked to read a review of it that didn't say, "It's 'Groundhog Day' meets 'Scream'!"
(There! I've said it myself.)
Jessica Rothe plays the sorority girl-heroine, casually contemptuous of everyone, but humanized by being stabbed, strangled, or blown up at the end of every day -- and then waking up with another chance to discover who her stalker is under that pig-baby mask with its one little tooth. A big problem is, who doesn't want to kill her?
The movie is no big deal, but it's fun, more of a rom-com than a slasher movie, with little in the way of splatter. Rothe is a lively comedian, and the more days go by, the more the movie achieves a screwball frenzy.
It's a female-empowerment comedy for an age of sexual harassment: The heroine has to seize the day -- and a humongous knife.
- "Happy Death Day" (Official site)
To watch a trailer for "Happy Death Day" click on the video player below: