For 11 months of the year, horror movies live a skulking, marginalized existence, despised, like carnival freaks, by the studios for whom they turn a profit, the same studios whose PR departments guiltily slip them by critics. Then ... October! All Hallow's Eve! Samhain! Trick or treat! — and however briefly, ancient rituals of sex and death are flagrantly practiced in the open. During this year's monthlong celebration of officially sanctioned bloodlust, lucky Angelenos have their options.
Here are some of the more obscure but worthy blood rites to attend in October.
A Monstrous Centennial: Universal's Legacy of Horror (Samuel Goldwyn, Linwood Dunn and Oscars Outdoors theaters)
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences' abridged, canonical overview of horror output from the studio classically associated with the genre takes place in conjunction with "A Centennial Exhibition" of unholy Universal artifacts in the Grand Lobby of the Academy's Beverly Hills offices (a collection that doesn't quite live up to Forrest J. Ackerman's incomparable in-home "Ackermansion" collection of horror and sci-fi memorabilia, which ended after he died in 2008).
The program’s timeline is bracketed by the 1925 Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney, and John Landis’ great, melancholy An American Werewolf in London of 1981. The sudden, inexplicable eruption of chaos in 1963’s The Birds has lost none of its awful, assaultive power; along with highbrow-approved Hitchcock, there are tributes to less widely recognized Masters of Suspense, like ’50s sci-fi trailblazer Jack Arnold (Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3-D, Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man) and of course actor-as-auteur case study Don Knotts, star of 1966’s The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
More info at oscars.org.
Halloween Horror at American Cinematheque (Aero & Egyptian Theatres)
Not to be outdone, the American Cinematheque has prepared its own blood-spattered calendar. The Aero offers a newly restored print of 1931’s Dracula, helmed by the director of Chaney’s greatest silents, Tod Browning, and starring Bela Lugosi as the Hungarian fangsman who needs only smooch his lips and ironically arch his brow to have the repressed Victorian ladies lining up. One can also contrast Lugosi to Max Schreck’s verminous vampire in 1922’s Nosferatu, or Christopher Lee's interpretation, terribly English in rigid high-court-judge carriage, introduced by U.K. cottage horror studio Hammer Films in Terence Fisher's 1958 The Horror of Dracula. The exhuming of the Universal vaults continues, meanwhile, with a quartet of Tom Tyler/Lon Chaney Jr. The Mummy films from the 1940s, playing, aptly, at the Egyptian Theatre, while the Aero screens a double-feature tribute to the truly great horror business of the World War II years, Val Lewton's RKO B-unit, with Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943).
Those in mourning for Tony Scott may revisit the vampyros lesbos of The Hunger (1983), though another of the Aero's director-themed mini-retrospectives, of Robert Mulligan, is the better bet.
In films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of '42, Mulligan showed a sensitivity to vulnerable-child psychology rivaling Francois Truffaut's — and were he French, Mulligan certainly would be recognized as a master. The Other (1972) applies the director's keen attention to emotional and social detail — the life-worn setting is a Connecticut farm in the Depression era — to a rural spook story, with Uta Hagan's character attempting to handle bipolar identical-twin grandchildren Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, in a quietly lacerating film whose theme of Manichean split identity shows pure good as the mirror reflection of pure evil, and both as a kind of madness. (Also playing is 1974's The Nickel Ride, Mulligan's excellent downbeat downtown L.A. blue-collar crime thriller.)
The seventh annual Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon is the centerpiece of the American Cinematheque's Halloween programming, beginning Oct. 27 at the Aero. Time-tested queasy crowd-pleasers like Hellraiser and John Carpenter's Christine taint a screen along with semi-unknowns like 1974 zombie pic The Living Dead of Manchester Morgue, aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, in which Spaniard Jorge Grau makes ironic use of the iconic pastoral English countryside. (Presumably programmed to play when everyone has passed out is 1978's The Manitou, an Exorcist knock-off replacing Catholic clergy with Native American medicine men, starring a too-old Tony Curtis and climaxing in a hysterical blowout of late-night basic cable–style psychedelia.)
More info at americancinemathequecalendar.com.
Nightmare City: A Video Nasties Celebration (Cinefamily at Silent Movie Theatre)
"Video nasties" were movies censored in the United Kingdom during the Thatcher era in an attempt to stop the porno-violence flooding the then-brand-new home video marketplace (see box in listings for more). Culled from this lineup, Cinefamily's staggering lineup of 30 nightly midnight movies throughout October includes a whole Home Depot's worth of ways to compromise the human body: The Toolbox Murders and Driller Killer go back-to-back, after gore FX celebrity Tom Savini's lovingly rendered, garden-shears vivisections of teenage campers in 1981's The Burning, the cornerstone upon which young Bob and Harvey Weinstein built an Oscar-buying empire.
As is to be expected of a series curated in part by the taste-blind lasso of censorship, the quality of the fare varies greatly. For example, no one would accuse Evilspeak (1981) of being a work of art — it's an ersatz Carrie built around the gimmick of a black mass being conducted, for incomprehensible reasons, on a primitive PC, and it climaxes with a levitating Clint Howard doing a Gallagher act on papier-mache heads with a broadsword.
Yet here it is, right along some little-screened paragon works by auteur talents: 1980's Inferno is the most extravagantly rococo of Dario Argento's cinematic follies, unforgettably featuring Irene Miracle locked in a tango with a bobbing corpse in an underwater ballroom. In 1981's The Funhouse, Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper foreshadows his most famous work's carnivalesque sequel in a self-reflexive film that more than stands on its own. After parodying the accumulated clichés of horror — the Psycho shower scene, the fun fair dark ride — Hooper whips off the Frankenstein rubber mask and reveals naked ape terror beneath, as the primal terror through which horror retains its ritual importance still lurks within old totems.
More info at cinefamily.org.
Shreikfest 2012 (Raleigh Studios)
Lest we think that the horror genre is entirely in its past tense, the 12th installment of this self-described "Horror/Sci-Fi Film Festival/Screenplay Competition" Oct. 4-7 brings together a program of new features and shorts from the world over, culminating in an awards presentation. The films are teasingly blurbed on the website. The House With 100 Eyes, is “a grim portrait of what happens when the making of a snuff film goes awry” — as if a snuff film going well wasn’t grim enough! Other entries include Malcolm McDowell in a locked-room thriller, and four short film programs that promise all manner of depravity gathered from sick minds the world over.
More info at shriekfest.com.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes