24 Hours Of Horror With Edgar Wright
More 24 Hours Of
It’s become a Halloween tradition around The A.V. Club to ask a horror-movie aficionado to program a 24-hour horror-film marathon that readers can re-create at home. This year, we turned to Edgar Wright, one of the minds behind the classic TV series Spaced (where he worked with co-creators Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson); director of Hot Fuzz!, the zombie comedy Shaun Of The Dead (both co-written with Pegg and co-starring Nick Frost), and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World; and most recently, the executive producer of Joe Cornish’s alien-assault movie Attack The Block. Anyone who’s seen Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, or “Don’t,” Wright’s contribution to the trailers featured in Grindhouse, knows that he has a deep knowledge of and affection for horror, and the 15 films he selected—organized around Shakespeare’s seven ages of man—did not disappoint. As always, we encourage you to try this festival at home and post your experiences in the comments section.
6 p.m. The Brood (1979)
Edgar Wright: I had this crazy idea, which mostly works, and then there’s one film that completely doesn’t work, and I sort of just lobbed it in. I was trying to think, “Wouldn’t it be good to do a 24-hour marathon that was based on the seven ages of man?” [Laughs.] So I thought “That’s pretty much 15 films in 24 hours, that leaves about two per age, and then you’ve a bonus round at the end.” That’s my idea. So the seven ages of man, as laid out by Shakespeare in As You Like It: the infant, the whining schoolboy, the lover (or teenager), the soldier (and I’m going to interpret that as soldier/young professional), the justice (or the man/adult), the age shifts (becoming old), and the end of this strange eventful history (death). And then I’m going to add eternal life as the bonus at the end.
My first one, which is a film I think is fantastic, is David Cronenberg’s The Brood. So we’re in our infant stage at the moment. Not to give too much away to people who haven’t seen the movie, but it does climax in a mass birthing scene of sorts. I always think The Brood is an underrated Cronenberg film, because even though he had some famous early hits, there’s a certain portion of critics who didn’t sit up and take notice until Videodrome. The Brood is my favorite Cronenberg film, even though I love a lot of the others. I think it’s the first one of his films where his visuals start to match his ideas. And the concept is really strong, and the metaphor is really strong. And it still really is a bleak and shocking watch by today’s standards. I’ve seen it on video a bunch of times, but when I was in Toronto making Scott Pilgrim, I showed it at the Bloor Cinema. And it was really powerful on the big screen. It really still works. I actually met David Cronenberg and tried to discuss it with him a little bit, and it seemed like the actual subject matter was too painful for him to talk about still.
AVC: I think it was inspired by his divorce.
EW: That’s right. He said it was his horror version of Kramer Vs. Kramer. They’re both from 1979, so they’d make a great double bill. One of the scenes in it that is still extremely distressing is when the… Again, I don’t want to ruin it if you haven’t seen it. It’s a good one to watch completely blind. But there’s a scene where the midget envoys—they’re the externalizations of rage—go to attack a primary-school teacher while she’s in a full class. It’s like one of those things that people said about Jaws, “All bets are off when the dog dies.” In The Brood, when you see a scene with a busy school, you’re waiting for class to finish and the teacher to be on her own before she gets killed, because you think that’s how it usually goes down. They’re going to go and kill this teacher, so the end-of-school bell will ring, and then the teacher will be isolated and on her own, and then she’ll get killed. But no! She gets hammered to death in front of the school kids in a busy class. The scene always scared me as a kid, but watching it recently, I thought about it as a director and wondered, “How do you get the performances out of those kids?” They look so terrified in that scene. The reaction shots of the kids witnessing the murder are pretty intense.
I always remember Leonard Maltin gave The Brood a “bomb” rating, and the only thing he really mentions is the scene in the school, saying, “Midget clones beat grandparents and lovely young schoolteacher to death with mallets.” That’s pretty much the only thing he mentioned in his review, and for me, that was a solid recommendation to see it.
AVC: Didn’t the review end with something like “What a wonderful world we live in”?
EW: Yeah, that’s right. I seem to remember. I think that’s why I’ve done well on Doug Loves Movies sometimes, because I actually remember some specific quotes in his reviews. Usually the more vicious he is about something, the more I can remember exactly what he said. But that’s my No. 1, and I think that’s genuinely a really great film. It’s weird, it’s the film in Cronenberg’s oeuvre that gets left out a lot, and I think it’s the first classic that he made.
AVC: I’m a big fan of Shivers.
EW: I think Shivers is such a great concept, though maybe the budget was not so great, and his skills have not completely flowered yet, in terms of what he’s able to do. But it’s an amazing idea, Shivers. I’m usually anti-remakes, for the most part, but in a strange way, I’d like to see a contemporary version of that, because I think the idea is so interesting. Literal sex-crazed people is interesting. But The Brood always does it for me, because I love the literalization of the metaphor. I love that there people who are so angry, they develop welts, and then there are people who are so angry that they can give birth to the id. The malevolent midget id.
AVC: Babies made of anger.
EW: Anger-babies. I think we’d all like them to secretly do our bidding.
7:30 p.m. Don’t Look Now (1973)
EW: So the next one is one of my favorite films of all time, Don’t Look Now. It’s more of a supernatural tale. It is a horror movie, but not by today’s standards, in that it doesn’t really unfold with murder and carnage every 20 minutes. It’s actually topped and tailed by its most shocking sequences. Certainly the opening sequence, with the death of Donald Sutherland’s and Julie Christie’s daughter—that’s not too much of a spoiler, because it’s in the first five minutes—is very distressing to watch. And the performances of the grieving Christie and Sutherland are so powerful. I remember watching it when I was really young and it was on TV. Maybe because I grew up in Britain, the opening almost seemed like one of those absolutely nightmarish PSAs that you would see. There were some extremely dour ones in the UK that implored you “Don’t play near ponds. Don’t throw your ball into the pond. Do not go near the dark water.” Once you’ve seen it a couple of times, you can start to see the allusions, too, the bad omens and the flashes forward to significant images and colors, and all that amazing cross-cutting that Nicolas Roeg does. It’s such an incredible sequence.
I really feel both in Walkabout and Don’t Look Now, Nicolas Roeg does that great trick of having a potted version of the rest of the film in the first five minutes. It’s a prologue that basically encompasses the entire theme, and prefigures the ending in a number of ways. I think there’s just absolutely brilliant editing throughout as well. Not many supernatural films stand up to Don’t Look Now, because back in the day, you might have two Oscar nominees and the hottest director around making a genre film. It’s immediately in a different pedigree to what you get most of the time now. I could just watch it again and again.
AVC: It’s completely puzzling, too. It lends itself to repeat viewings.
EW: Oh yeah. But once you’ve seen it more than once, the genius of that opening really starts to unfold. It all makes total sense. I love those aspects. Even in our comedies, we try to do stuff like that, where we have foreshadowing, sometimes with colors, sometimes with symbols, things that are leading to later twists. That’s having grown up on things like Deep Red and Don’t Look Now. I love those elements. I love how Don’t Look Now shows you omens of the ending, and how Deep Red has these little visual clues that are like tarot cards.
9:30 p.m. The Innocents (1961)
AVC: One unimpeachable classic and one underrated film from a great director. So that brings us to 9:30 p.m., and we’re on to another stage of man at this point.
EW: I’m only going a little bit older. I’m cheating a little bit. I’m calling those two, Brood and Don’t Look Now, the infant stage. So now we’re going to schoolchildren, which is next. We’re still keeping it classy for the moment—it’ll get weirder later. I’m going for Jack Clayton’s The Innocents next. It’s a beautiful, beautiful film. I’d seen it on TV when I was young, and seen it in the cinema when I was a teenager. But I just watched it again recently, too. I had a little double bill at home of Black Narcissus and The Innocents, a Deborah Kerr double.
It’s not particularly explicit, but The Innocents is still deeply creepy. It’s based on Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw. It’s really beautifully shot in black-and-white Cinemascope by Freddie Francis. It’s a 20th Century Fox film, back when you’d see a genre film, have the studio logo at the start, and feel like “Oh, this is a proper movie.” That doesn’t mean so much now, necessarily, but back then, when you’d see the black-and-white 20th Century Fox logo in 2.35 [the classic theatrical aspect ratio], it’s like, “Oh, this is going to be good.” And it is.
A lot of films have been inspired by The Innocents, particularly The Others, with Nicole Kidman. It’s a really poetic film, almost dreamlike. I’ll admit I’ve never read The Turn Of The Screw, and I really should—but what I love about the film is that the kids, Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens, are particularly spooky. Because they are not bad kids, but they may have been corrupted by evil. Deborah Kerr is a nanny put in charge of these children in a lush but lonely country manor where her predecessor died in mysterious circumstances. The riddle of the film is how much the kids, if at all, are possessed by spirits haunting the place.
What’s truly spooky about it, especially for a film with child actors made in 1961, is that it hints at some very dark sexual goings-on. Part of it is the time and what you couldn’t say in 1961. You had to choose your words carefully, which ends up leaving a lot more to the imagination, and it seeming even more perverse. The Innocents inspired one of the first film prequels later. Michael Winner’s The Nightcomers with Marlon Brando, which is almost the Phantom Menace of its day, in that the trailers for The Nightcomers said, “If you wondered what happened before The Innocents, now finally all is revealed!” But it’s like, “No, we don’t need to see what happened before.” Because the explicit sadomasochistic sex in The Nightcomers is not as creepy as hearing the carefully chosen dialogue in the original.
AVC: No doubt Michael Winner handled it with the utmost respect, too.
EW: Well, Winner is coming up later. This is not the last time we’ll speak of Michael Winner today. Michael Winner’s like the Candyman: You say his name five times, and you have to watch a movie of his. And there’s one or two that I’ll stick up for, but The Nightcomers is not among them. It’s pretty damn awful. The line that I really love in The Innocents is a line where one of the housekeepers is trying to explain to Deborah Kerr the sexual goings-on of the now-dead valet Mr. Quint and the previous governess. And it’s a line that I didn’t understand when I first saw it as a youngster. It’s a hint that the children of the house may have witnessed some very adult encounters, as the couple apparently used rooms in the house “by daylight as though they were dark woods.” When I watched it a couple of months ago, this line gave me the shivers. It didn’t really have any resonance for me when I was a little kid. But now I’m thinking, “That sounds pretty bad.”
11:15 p.m. Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)
EW: In The Innocents, as the title describes, these people are in a corrosive situation, where they may be possessed, but they probably do not know any better. But in my next pick, the kids are out-and-out villainous. Who Can Kill A Child? from 1976, also known as Island Of The Damned. It’s a Spanish horror film by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, who only directed one other horror movie, also great. The other one is the earlier La Residencia, a.k.a. The House That Screamed. Who Can Kill A Child? was re-released on DVD a couple of years ago, and that was the first time I saw it. I think even the version that was shown in the UK and U.S. and Canada was cut to blazes. But the uncut version really stands up. It’s a really hard-hitting film.
It’s basically about this British couple on holiday in Spain who get a boat over to this smaller, rustic island and can find no adults anywhere on the island. It’s kind of like The Birds, only with young kids, where there’s little or no explanation for what’s going on, other than anyone under 10 is deeply evil and murderous. It’s an amazingly intense movie. What’s great about it is it’s all shot on location and all with natural light, so it hasn’t really dated. In fact, the cinematography is by [Pedro] Almodóvar’s regular DP, José Luis Alcaine. It’s 1976, but aside from some flared trousers in places, it feels very contemporary.
I couldn’t believe I’d never seen it before. I’m glad it’s getting a growing reputation, because both of this guy’s movies were shown in bad versions in double bills at drive-ins, and they’re both really beautifully made films. I had to wonder whether the treatment of them, or the dismissal of them, made him give up movies. I think he became a game-show producer. Have you seen this one?
AVC: No. It’s funny, I’ve been meaning to see it for years, because when we did this feature with Eli Roth, he brought it up as well.
EW: He was actually the one who put me on to it. Not to name-drop, but I actually watched it with him and Quentin Tarantino. He was the person who said, “Have you seen Who Can Kill A Child?” and I was like “No.” But I also know that the other one, La Residencia, is a favorite of Alfonso Cuarón and Guillermo Del Toro. Almodóvar too, apparently. They all love La Residencia. That’s a tough one to get hold of. I don’t think there’s a good DVD of that. I watched some crappy VHS version of it, basically. Who Can Kill A Child?, there’s an excellent DVD on Dark Sky, and it’s a really good movie. Really, really good. And it also doesn’t pussy out on the title. It builds up to that title. It asks that question, and it answers that question.
1 a.m. Carrie (1976)
AVC: Are we on to a new stage of man?
EW: We are. We’re now in the lovers stage, and my favorite horror movie of all time: Brian De Palma’s 1976 film Carrie. The reason I love Carrie so dearly is because I feel like it’s a horror film that absolutely anybody can watch and enjoy. Maybe enjoy is the wrong word, but I think everybody can relate to it. You sympathize with the main character so much, which is unusual for horror, which frequently has no characters to truly care about. Another great thing about Carrie is that it almost plays like horror’s Grease, in that everybody can watch Carrie and say, “Oh, I was that person,” or “I was that person.” You were either the bullied, the bullier, the person who stood by and did nothing, or the person who tried to help. It’s an amazing movie. I only recently read the book, and it gave me more appreciation for the adaptation by Lawrence Cohen, because in the book, they have a lot more of the city-wide rampage. Basically, the second half of the book is Carrie blowing the town to smithereens. But because of budget, the film wisely climaxes at the prom. My favorite moment in Carrie is the lead-up to the bucket of blood falling, where it totally becomes opera.
Brian De Palma is at his best when he becomes almost like a silent filmmaker, where the plot mechanics are all in action, and it can just play out like a horrible dance of death. And the section setting up the geography of the prom, and where the bucket of blood is, and where the rope is, and who’s holding it, and P.J. Soles swapping the ballots, and Tommy Ross and Carrie White walking up to the stage is glorious. All set to that Pino Donaggio cue called “Bucket Of Blood.” I love it. It’s just amazing. One of my favorite sequences in cinema. So brilliantly conceived and edited. The score is perfect. I love this movie. If I had made something like Carrie, I’d probably retire. It’s just absolute pop perfection.
AVC: The only scene that ever sticks out to me as not working 100 percent is—
EW: Is where it’s sped up when they’re trying on tuxedos? When I look at that now, he’d obviously done stuff like that before in Greetings, the New Wave one. It almost looks like there was a line he didn’t like, and he just sped through it. I totally agree, it stands out from the rest of the movie. And it’s really short, but I’m thinking—and maybe someone can confirm this—that whatever the line is that gets sped through, Brian De Palma said, “All right, I like the start of this shot, and I like the end of it, but I fucking hate this bit in the middle. Let’s just speed it up.” Even the slight imperfections in Carrie are things about it that make me love it even more. This isn’t necessarily an imperfection, but I do love, not to give away the ending, the final scene, where Amy Irving is walking along the street to visit the grave, and when it cuts to the headstone, it goes from a sunny day to pitch-black night. And then the soundstage that she’s on is full black behind her. Normally, you would see that as a continuity error, but even that just totally works with the fucked-up dream-logic of the film.
I think there was something, just before they started making Carrie, there was a writers’ strike, and it gave Brian De Palma a full three months to just storyboard the movie. I think it shows, it’s just so perfectly paced. It’s like a Swiss watch, everything totally works. It’s my favorite film of his. I like a lot of his other films, but I think Carrie is the best Stephen King adaptation, favorite horror movie of mine, love it. It’s the perfect date movie as well.
AVC: In what way?
EW: I don’t want to sound sexist. I was going to say it is the horror film that most girls would enjoy, but I think that’s true. The great thing about the movie is that a lot of horror films are about a monster trying to destroy everybody. Here, you have a very sympathetic human being who really doesn’t want to hurt anybody. And although you want to see her reap revenge, you don’t want it to end as badly as it does. It’s my Titanic, in a way, in that every time I watch it, I want Tommy Ross and Carrie White just to have a nice night. I don’t want anything bad to happen. [Laughs.] Every time I watch it, I naïvely think, “Oh, maybe it’ll be okay this time.” You don’t think about those things if you don’t care about the characters. So as much as I enjoy the Grand Guignol climax, it’s a tragic end for her, and she’s an incredibly sweet character, you’re with her all the way. It’s unusual to be on the side of the character who has a destructive power in horror movies. In Carrie, there’s a person who has the ability to kill everybody in town, you’re completely on her side, and yet you don’t want her to exercise that power. It’s amazing.
AVC: Did you ever see the sequel?
EW: The Rage: Carrie 2? I never did. I never saw the remake TV movie, either.
AVC: I never saw the remake, but the sequel, surprisingly, for a movie that did not have to be made in any way, is surprisingly interesting. It’s worth checking out.
EW: I didn’t see that. I’ve seen a lot of the Carrie rip-offs. I remember—probably before I saw Carrie, I saw a film called Jennifer, which is almost shot-for-shot Carrie, where, if memory serves me correctly, she turns into a snake. 1978 horror film. “She’s got the power, and they haven’t got a prayer.” Two years after Carrie. And besides her also having telekinetic and psychic powers, there’s definitely a giant snake in it.
2:40 a.m. Long Weekend (1978)
EW: So we’re still in the lovers phase. I’m going to go with an Australian film called Long Weekend from 1978. And this is another film that until recently had been a little forgotten. Now, the young couple in this, unlike Carrie, are completely unsympathetic. One of the criticisms against the film—but also the central theme—is that the couple are horrible and deserve everything they get, but that’s part of the joy of the movie. It’s basically about a young couple on a weekend camping trip in the outback in Australia, and they show total disrespect to nature. They don’t help a dying whale. They run over animals. They start a bush fire. So they commit all these crimes against nature, and then nature fights back. The rest of the movie is… well, if you imagine the film Furry Vengeance, but extremely bleak and with a ’70s ending, and genuinely terrifying, then you’ve got Long Weekend. If you can imagine that.
There’ve been plenty of other films that have been terrible, or silly versions of the same thing. There’s that other one called Day Of The Animals, there’s plenty of comedy versions of man vs. nature, but Long Weekend is completely straight-faced, and there’s something really powerful about it. There are very few actors in it, so it’s basically a two-hander. The couple played by John Hargreaves and Briony Behets are the only actors in it for most of the movie. It was on British TV late at night when I saw it at the age of 12. I was absolutely gripped by it, and completely loved the downer ending. But what’s funny is that, until recently, Australian genre films were, I think, mostly dismissed by their home country, and that documentary Not Quite Hollywood went a long way to giving some props to Oz genre films other than Mad Max.
I remember when I went Australia to do press for Hot Fuzz, I’d always get asked, “So, what Australian films do you like?” I would say, “Picnic At Hanging Rock, and I love Mad Max, and I like this film called Long Weekend.” And nobody seemed to have heard of it, or even if they were aware of it, they would deny any knowledge of it. I found that kind of strange. I guess a similar thing used to happen in the UK, where genre films went through a phase in the ’80s and ’90s when they would be a dirty word. But this is a really good movie. It’s really beautifully shot, as well. There’s a decent DVD that came out a couple of years ago.
4:10 a.m. Asylum (1972)
EW: If it’s 4:10 a.m., then people are getting a bit woozy. My next one is my joker in the pack, where it doesn’t really fit in with my stages of man. Well, in Shakespeare, stage number four is the soldier. If I may, I’m going to interpret that as “young professional” as well. I think that’s fair enough, because not everybody gets drafted anymore, and this is about a young man in a new job. I want to use the 1972 anthology film Asylum, which is one of the Amicus movies. The British studio Amicus Productions were rivals to Hammer Films. They mostly made anthology movies, all of which are really good fun: Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors, Tales From The Crypt, the 1972 version, which is great, Torture Garden, The House That Dripped Blood, The Vault Of Horror, From Beyond The Grave, and also The Monster Club, I think that’s one of theirs. But Asylum is my favorite one. It’s written by Robert Bloch, who wrote Psycho. It has an amazing cast in it, as well: Within the four tales and the framing story, we have Robert Powell, Charlotte Rampling, Britt Ekland, Herbert Lom, Peter Cushing. It’s an amazing cast. Patrick Magee is in this one, Sylvia Syms is in it. It’s just really good fun. One of the segments has Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland in the same story, which, if you wanted some kind of comparison between the thinking-man’s ’70s brunette sex-bomb of Charlotte Rampling and the non-thinking-man’s ’70s blonde bombshell of Britt Ekland, it’s quite a momentous occasion.
In the framing story, Robert Powell plays Dr. Martin, who is being interviewed for a job at an asylum for the incurably insane. The head of the asylum has recently been attacked and confined to a wheelchair by an inmate who was a former doctor that had a breakdown. If Robert Powell can guess which inmate is the now-crazy doctor, he’ll get the job. So this janitor takes Robert Powell around the asylum, he meets each of the inmates, and he has to figure out which one is the former head doctor. Which of course links into the anthology stories. And then there’s a twist at the end! There’s always a twist at the end of an Amicus anthology movie, but this is an especially wicked one.
The stories themselves are really good fun: There’s killer toy robots in there. There’s a tailor who fashions a special cloth that can bring people back from the dead. There’s a person who gets dismembered, wrapped up in brown paper, and then comes back to life, and you see the different wrapped-up parts coming back to life. And of course there’s Rampling, who has an imaginary evil friend in Britt Ekland. I love anthology films, and this one is particularity good—all of the stories are memorable, and the framing story is really good as well.
My favorite anthology films would be Asylum, From Beyond The Grave, Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors—that has a really diverse cast, because that has Chris Lee, Peter Cushing, and Donald Sutherland, as well as a bunch of British TV personalities, musical artists, and DJs. All splendidly random. Tales From The Crypt, the 1972 one, is really good too. Joan Collins is in it, that’s great.
AVC: They look like they could have provided the inspiration for “Don’t.”
EW: One of the inspirations, yeah. “Don’t” was a number of different things. Definitely, the Amicus anthology films, and also things like The Legend Of Hell House and many trailers for movies that don’t even bother to tell you the story. I think a lot of people would think that the trailer for Torso inspired “Don’t.” But I hadn’t seen that at the time. The one that really did inspire “Don’t” is the trailer for Corruption with Peter Cushing, which I did a piece about on Trailers From Hell. It’s a particularly great trailer, because it makes zero attempt to explain the plot, and just tells you how scary it’s going to be, that you shouldn’t go and see it alone, and in fact, women won’t be permitted to enter the film alone. [Laughs.] Women will not be admitted on their own! And you have to think, “I’m not sure any women want to see Corruption, full stop.”
5:40 a.m. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
AVC: This is what’s going to bring us into the next day. The sun’s coming up in the middle of this one.
EW: This is perfect for the sun coming up, because this is Dawn Of The Dead from 1978. Which at least fits the soldier section of the seven ages perfectly. This, obviously, is a big influence on me, and it should be a good one to watch at 5:40 a.m. I always feel it’s like a great desert-island movie. It’s more like a Robin Crusoe movie than a horror film. It’s got more of that element of survival. In Dawn Of The Dead, you only have a main cast of four, and unlike nearly every other zombie film, you don’t really want any of them to die—even the cocky one, Roger, who’s really asking for it at several points in the film. You really care when they’re in peril, because there are so few of them.
Me and Simon Pegg bonded when we first met over our love for Dawn Of The Dead. For a long time in the UK, the film had been unavailable. I can’t remember if it was banned, or there was some copyright issue, but I remember reading about Dawn Of The Dead in the late ’70s and not being able to see it on VHS until the early ’90s. It was one of those films where the anticipation of seeing this film I’d read so much about was actually met by the film itself. In fact, it even surpassed it.
I feel like Dawn Of The Dead is one of those films where it’s not always particularly brilliantly made, but there’s such ambition and so many ideas that it feels truly epic. I especially like any sequence where George Romero goes into montage mode and shows his commercial and documentary roots. Those sequences where you just observe the zombies trying to recall their former lives, overlaid with the TV newscaster’s somber hypothesis, are spellbinding. Even though the makeup is not state-of-the-art, certainly not compared to Day Of The Dead, it doesn’t really matter, because the tone of the whole adventure is so exciting, it all feels so vivid.
I feel like it’s one of those films that I’d kind of like to live in. It’s an end-of-the-world movie, but it kind of looks like it might be fun to be in Dawn Of The Dead for real. And I think that’s why that film inspired so many of those videogames. I really think it’s Romero more than anyone that inspired so many shoot-’em-ups, because there was that survival element mixed in with the genre.
The other thing I find really spooky about the movie is that while it’s famous for having a Goblin score, half of the score is actually needle-drop library music from the previous decade. Same thing with Night Of The Living Dead. I always thought one of the odd things about it was the library music used. It’s not an original score; it’s canned music from the ’40s and ’50s for a 1968 film. And in a similar way, here you get early-’70s electronica or orchestral cues that are from another era. It’s weird that some of the famous sounds in the movie are not Goblin, but needle-drops from DeWolfe and other libraries. George Romero just found these cheaper pieces, temped with them, and said “This kind of works, let’s keep it.” It creates a very strange mood in the movie. I found the film so spellbinding when I first saw it, then later started to analyze what was odd about it, and one of the things that created a very dreamlike feel is that strange sensation of watching 1978 Pittsburgh with library music from the ’50s and ’60s. [Laughs.]
7:45 a.m. The Omen (1976)
EW: I’m going to pick The Omen as the next movie. I have reasons for picking it as my adult film, even though most people would say it’s a film about a child. When I saw the remake of this movie, one of the things that stood out for me as not really working is that they did that modern Hollywood thing of casting way too young. Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles really wanting a kid didn’t have as much resonance as the more veteran Gregory Peck and Lee Remick wanting a kid. And that’s the setup of the whole movie. That’s why Gregory Peck lies and accepts this mysterious orphan he knows nothing of, is because he and Remick don’t have another chance to start a family. The whole movie hinges on that little white lie at the start, and spirals into the apocalyptic.
I truly love this movie, and while I think it’s maybe not as serious-minded as The Exorcist, that makes it all the more fun for me. The Omen seems to me like the perfect airport-novel movie. Something about it has a great pulpy paperback feel, and it works as a breathless page-turner. The film was a big moneymaker, too, one that I think really perfected the science of the contemporary setpiece. While there are show-stoppers in earlier horror films, The Omen really nails the pace of having a big horror setpiece every reel. It plays like a greatest-hits collection. There’s the nanny that hangs herself, then there’s David Warner’s infamous end, there’s Patrick Troughton’s demise, then there’s the bit at the safari, the one in the Italian cemetery. All setpieces in different locations, and all highly memorable. And even though it just hits you over the head with a horror brick, Jerry Goldsmith’s score is so wonderfully overwhelming, it just makes the whole film work for me.
When I saw this as a kid, I don’t think I had ever been so excited watching a horror movie, because it just totally gives the audience what they want. There are no pretensions for it to be anything other than just a ride. That said, as potentially silly as the subject matter becomes, the actors really ground it. Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Patrick Troughton, David Warner, and Billie Whitelaw all make it sing. They treat it with such gravitas. Whereas other films of late with the same subject matter kind of seem silly, because they haven’t got proper heavyweight thesps in them, like the ’70s horror smashes. I think, like Carrie, it’s another great pop-horror film.
9:40 a.m. The People Under The Stairs (1991)
AVC: We’re still on the mature man.
EW: I’m going for another mature couple, but a very different one, as far removed from Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as possible. I’m going to go for Everett McGill and Wendy Robie in Wes Craven’s People Under The Stairs. It’s another film that I feel is underrated. It is my favorite Wes Craven film. I think it’s really strong, and it’s a great little suburban Grimm’s fairy tale. I was never all that crazy about the Nightmare On Elm Street films, save for parts three and seven, maybe. I think I like the idea of the concept more than I like the movies. But this film stands out because of the tight structure, the single location, which he makes interesting for the whole film. I’m kind of a sucker for any film with hidden passageways and slides and booby traps. I remember seeing this at the cinema when it first came out, and thinking it was really good. Watching it again recently, I still think it’s a really solid film. You’ve seen this one, right?
AVC: Yes. I’m sure I’m going to think of a billion counter-examples as soon as I say this, but it’s the last time I remember really explicitly politically satirical horror film getting a mainstream release.
EW: Yeah, I think that’s fair to say.
AVC: Because the villains are Ronald and Nancy Reagan, more or less.
EW: Yeah. Ron and Nancy are suppressing the blacks, creaming money off the poor, and killing the homeless. It’s interesting. I can’t really think of anything more recently where it’s so brilliantly, savagely on the nose. I’m sure for some people, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but it has so much blatant fun skewering the Republicans, it’s infectious, I feel. You don’t get a lot of studio films where the satire is that thick and that obvious for all to see. Everett McGill, I remember, does a completely balls-out performance, especially when he gets into his S&M suit. And though it is very fantastical and fairy-tale-esque, I think it was based on a true story about these parents who locked their children in a basement for years. And of course there have been stories in the news more recently about real life monsters like Josef Fritzl, in Austria. The People Under The Stairs seems kind of far-fetched, with legions of children in dank basements with hidden doors and secret passages. Then you hear about one of those terrible cases like the Fritzl one, and you’re like, “Oh my God, it’s like nightmarish folklore come to horrible, horrible life.” Suddenly People Under the Stairs doesn’t seem quite as darkly fanciful anymore.
11 a.m. Daughters Of Darkness (1971)
EW: This is a film I saw only recently. I’d always meant to see it, and I’m kind of glad I waited until it was on Blu-ray, because it doesn’t, as far as I can see, get played in the theater so much anymore, and I’m sure if I had watched it on VHS back in the day, it probably would have dulled the impact. It’s a beautifully made film to go into our next stage of the elderly, the 1971 Belgian horror film Daughters Of Darkness directed by Harry Kümel.
AVC: That is a neat movie.
EW: It’s really good! I’d always seen stills of it, and it’s in Danny Peary’s Cult Movies. And then when they brought out that Blu-ray, I thought, “Oh, finally I get to see this.” It’s so beautifully shot. I can only assume it was the Let The Right One In of 1971. It’s really smart and artful. A gorgeous vampire film all around. I’m sure if I had been a teenage boy when I first saw this, I would have been completely overexcited at the promise of erotic vampire shenanigans. While there’s definitely plenty of this, what elevates it into another class is Delphine Seyrig, who plays Elizabeth Bathory. Her performance is just great. It’s basically about a young married couple on their honeymoon who check into this fancy out-of-season hotel on the Belgium coast. And then another couple checks in, a mysterious Hungarian countess and her young female “secretary.”
The scene where the seemingly ageless Bathory meets the concierge at the hotel and he remembers her from when he was a little boy at the hotel 40 years before is just genius. I don’t see that that director did a great deal else, which is a shame, because this one bridges that gap between the very arty Roman Polanski or Ingmar Bergman horror movies, and the more campy, sexy vampire films of the time. It’s a great movie. I know it was a big cult film in the ’70s, but it’s a shame that not enough people know about it now.
12:40 p.m. Seconds (1966)
EW: Still in the elderly stage. I’m going to go for a film about wanting eternal youth: John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, which is a great movie, extremely creepy, and also quite groundbreaking. John Randolph plays a man in late middle age who needs some pep in his life, and goes to a secret organization called The Company that can help wealthy people disappear and become somebody new. And thus he becomes Rock Hudson. I really love this movie. This is a great spooky morality tale. It’s also made at a point in the ’60s when John Frankenheimer’s visuals was getting quite avant-garde. James Wong Howe shot the film, and it’s probably one of the first instances of the now-oft-used body camera in a studio film, which is something a lot of people assume was first used in Mean Streets, also known as the Spike Lee shot where you attach the camera to the actor. I might be wrong, but certainly one of the earlier instances of this is in Seconds, in the opening sequence. It’s another one I feel doesn’t get as much play anymore, and it’s really, really strong, and has got a great dark twist.
2:15 p.m. Death Line (a.k.a. Raw Meat) (1973)
EW: The next one, which I talked about on Trailers From Hell, is Death Line, a.k.a. Raw Meat. Made in 1972 and directed by Gary Sherman. An American film—well, I think it’s an American director shooting in the UK, and it’s shot around the Russell Square tube station. It’s a really well-made movie in many places. But it’s barely 87 minutes long, and there are moments, especially toward the end of the movie, where it feels like they ran out of footage, because it really starts to pad out the running time with long shots of people running up and down corridors. That said, there’s a lot of great, great stuff in it, not least the performances of Donald Pleasence as Inspector Calhoun and Hugh Armstrong as the cannibal man.
Basically, it’s about this family of cannibals descended from Victorian railway workers who got trapped in the London Underground in a collapsed tunnel, and they’ve managed to exist over many years through incest and cannibalism. And now Hugh Armstrong is the final cannibal man in the line. His wife has just died, and he goes on a murderous rampage. He finds his way back into the London Underground and starts killing people in the Russell Square tube station. Donald Pleasence is the anti-hippie, right-wing cop on the case, and he has some hilarious Pinter-esque dialogue, straight out of The Caretaker or something. As the cannibal man, Hugh Armstrong can only say the phrases “Mind the doors,” which he howls very loudly. But he has an amazing scene where he’s trying to communicate with the female lead, Sharon Gurney, and he does this very emotive scene where he only says “Mind the doors” over and over. He goes from sympathetic to terrifying, and it’s a really good performance. It’s kind of a silly idea, but Hugh Armstrong’s performance of this conceit is just brilliant. He’s just great in the movie. A classic monster role.
3:45 p.m. The Sentinel (1977)
EW: The next one is still on death, and it features John Carradine looking about a million years old. It’s my Michael Winner film, 1977’s The Sentinel. I guess after The Exorcist and The Omen did so well, major studios were just green-lighting any successful horror novel with some pretty big budgets. I think this novel, written by Jeffery Konvitz, was written as a screenplay, turned into a novel, and then picked up to be made into a film. Firstly, I had always thought of this as something of a camp classic, because there are several unintentionally funny bits in the movie, but to be fair, there are some genuinely creepy things in it. And, as usual, Michael Winner knows no bounds in terms of taste.
One of the things that is rightly notorious about it is the end of the film. It’s about an apartment block which is a gateway to hell. Cristina Raines just bought an apartment in this place, and she is destined to become the new Sentinel, the gatekeeper who prevents the demons from hell from rising up. (Ghostbusters is something of a comedy remake of The Sentinel.) It’s infamous for the scene at the end when the denizens of hell come up, and Michael Winner cast circus freaks, people with disabilities and facial deformities, and at the time I think there was a lot of frowning about the fact that he’d done this. It’s definitely extremely un-PC, but there’s no getting around the fact that it makes the ending particularly memorable and strange.
There’s a very unintentionally funny lesbian scene with Beverly D’Angelo and Sylvia Miles, which is amazing. There’s also an amazing cast, even in the small parts: Christopher Walken is in it. You’ve got Eli Wallach. Ava Gardner, José Ferrer, Burgess Meredith. It’s got this ridiculously star-studded cast. Chris Sarandon is in it, and he has one line that I particularly like, where he says “We are part of the legion,” and he stretches out the word “legion” in a heroic fashion. I always liked it: He says, “We are part of the leeeeeeegiooooon!”
Me and Joe Cornish became slightly obsessed with this film. It’s a film we watched a lot and bonded over. For his 40th birthday, I got Michael Winner, who I’ve still never actually met, to sign him a Sentinel poster inscribed with our favorite line in the film: “Black-and-white cat, black-and-white cake.” Now that’s a birthday present.
5:15 p.m. The Manitou (1978)
EW: My seven ages of man are over, and so we go into a final film with the theme of reincarnation. And this is also where everything kind of collapses, and we’ve gone full circle from classy 24 hours ago into the unintentional, amazing, mind-blowing hilarity is the 1978 film The Manitou.
AVC: I know it only by reputation.
EW: It’s pretty amazing. It’s definitely worth a watch. I used to grow up on the Psychotronic Video Guide, Michael Weldon’s book, and it was one of those films where you read about the basic plot, or read a synopsis, and say, “Wow. I have to see this movie.” I’ll read the synopsis here:
A woman named Karen enters a hospital in San Francisco, suffering from a tumor on her neck. After a series of X-rays, the doctors begin to think a living creature, a fetus, is being born inside the tumor. Eerie and grisly occurrences begins when the tumorous growth begins to perceive himself under attack due to X-rays used to ascertain its nature and starts to stunt and malform its development. The growth is actually an old Indian shaman reincarnating himself through the young woman to exact his revenge on white men who invaded North America and exterminated its native peoples.
That’s the plot of The Manitou. The effects are not great, they are not on the same level as The Exorcist by any stretch. However, when the Indian shaman, whose name is Misquamacas, comes out of Susan Strasberg’s neck, which is a scene that actually happens… When he comes out of the tumor, they use a dwarf actor, and painted him almost black, and he’s slithering about in this black puddle on the hospital floor. No matter how laughable the rest of the film is, that is an image that is seared in my brain forever.
The Manitou is a completely trashy film, and I’m sure the novel by Graham Masterton, one of those pulpy post-Exorcist books, probably reads as really, really scary. Whenever I read about it as a kid, I’d just think, “That film sounds amazing.” When you actually see it, they don’t really have the effects or the visuals to pull it off. But there are moments in it that are very strange, and work in terms of, “That’s a memorable image, I’m not going to forget that one.” Tony Curtis is the star; he plays a charlatan psychic who doesn’t believe in himself and has to overcome his own demons to beat Misquamacas. And the ending of the film takes place in another dimension. Which is always nice.
So I thought at the end of this 24-hour journey, the fact that we end up in some kind of strange inner-space inside a San Francisco hospital would be a fitting end. And also, not to give too much away, the epilogue suggests the birth of a new evil fetus in a tumorous growth on the chest of a Japanese boy, which I thought was a good way to begin again. See? I actually thought about this wraparound structure!