Here goes. One each from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s!
Infamous at the time of its release for using real sideshow “freaks” as its cast, this film, which runs little over an hour, isn’t really a “horror” movie. It’s actually a drama about the relationships of a bunch of members of a circus sideshow. But fear not. It was essentially remade into horror when Ryan Murphy created American Horror Story: Freakshow. The amount of borrowing he did from this film is astounding. The film even revolves around how the freaks are perceived by larger society and a plot to swindle the show, leading to the freaks joining together to kill the threat to their existence!
There are also several Peppers, a bearded lady, adjoined twin girls, a half-man/half-woman, a legless guy, a totally limbless man, and most importantly, two little people. In fact, this is pretty much a tragic love story about the little pair. The only time the freaks are shown as “scary” is in the end. There’s a rainstorm at night, they all come crawling from under carnival wagons with weapons, and attack their enemy.
SCARED TO DEATH (1947)
If Scared to Death was marketed as a mystery, thriller, or serious horror film back in its day, it was totally mis-marketed. This movie rules if you recognize that it’s a horror comedy!
The premise is cool. Two doctors have a dead woman on a slab. They have to figure out how she died. She narrates the truth of what led up to her death. Unfortunately, this is handled with the screen going into wonky “hallucination” mode to bring us to the actual plot while a little trippy sci-fi/horror jingle plays. This happens every time we get tossed to and from her body on the slab, just so she can say one quick line each time, such as, “At last he had me under his power.” It actually turns laughable…which kind of works with the type of farce the movie becomes.
As for the plot, the dead woman was the wife of a guy whose dad was a doctor. They’re all in the dad’s house, along with a maid, a security cop, a reporter and his blonde bimbo wife…and Bela Lugosi as a hypnotist with a little man as his assistant. Plus, there’s a green mask that keeps peering in a window from outside.
Essentially everyone in the movie is suspicious and has a shady past (including the wife). But the mystery is virtually irrelevant. All that really matters is that the beefy cute security cop (former Olympic wrestler Nat Pendleton) is fricking hilarious.
And his lines only get better when the reporter arrives and plays off him perfectly. They are basically an unspoken Abbott & Costello comic duo.
After nonstop wonkiness, the absolutely absurd denouement even comes complete with a guy in drag. Scared to Death rules, but it really should have been called The Green Mask because the title gives away the whole point of the autopsy.
THE MAZE (1953)
My mom was obsessed with me seeing this film for decades but we were never able to get a copy at the video store at which I worked, nor was it ever on television. And now, it’s even ridiculously priced on DVD! But I finally checked it out on Amazon Prime…and so want the DVD now.
When a woman’s fiancé is suddenly called to the Scotland castle of his family before their wedding and doesn’t return, she and her aunt trip to the castle to find out what’s wrong. Things have gotten weird. He looks like he’s aged 20 years. He wants them out of the castle ASAP. He warns them never to even consider trying to go into the padlocked maze in the yard.
And when they go to bed at night, the castle’s servants lock them in their bedroom! And that’s when something drags itself through the halls, leaving behind a trail of slimy seaweed….
It’s all mystery and clue finding until the big climax, when niece and aunt finally sneak into the maze, following the splashing sound. Fuck that. I would have been out of that place the minute I found the book on monstrosities and deformities. Actually, I would have been out the minute my fiancé told me to get the fuck out….
CRAZY that this film hasn’t been remade.
KILL BABY, KILL (1966)
Kill Baby, Kill comes from Mario Bava, the king of gothic horror. And this one is no different. A coroner comes to a small town to perform an autopsy and gets major resistance from sometimes violent locals. Plus, there’s a witch, another witchy old lady mourning the death of her daughter, a creepy doll room, and…oh yeah…a girl ghost!
Overall, the film may feel very dated and won’t have the same effect it may have decades ago, but it’s incredibly atmospheric, there’s a freaky damn scene with a bald doll on a bed, and the little girl makes sudden spooky appearances. And I must say, the title is the worst and doesn’t do the film justice.