Hello and welcome to the first of this month's Friday Frights, a weekly celebration of the horror genre.
This week I want to call out some nice, old-fashioned horrors. They're spooky and eerie and a bit genteel, but don't worry — I'll bring on the crazier stuff in future installments.
This sublime ghost story came out in the early 1980s and was buried in a glut of horror films, but it's got a considerable cult following. George C. Scott is John, a composer whose wife and daughter die in a roadside accident. Three months later, the still-grieving John is trying to move on with life; he takes a teaching position at a college and rents a gorgeous old mansion so he'll have the peace and quiet he needs to create. Unfortunately, peace and quiet are in short supply as he is wakened each morning by rhythmic banging noises and experiences other strange phenomenon. It's soon clear that the mansion is haunted by the ghost of a child, and the screenplay cleverly gives John a reason to stay in the haunted house, as he hopes to help the child to ease his grief and assuage his guilt at being unable to save his own child. But John uncovers some nasty, buried secrets and learns why the child's ghost is not at rest.
The Changeling's scares may bore some modern audiences, especially those used to jump cuts and gore shots. There's almost no blood, though there is a fairly upsetting scene of murder. What makes the movie work so well is its melancholy tone and its sympathetic characters, particularly John. Recommended, and it's the sort of movie you can watch with your folks.
The Monkey's Paw
This classic short story by W. W. Jacobs has been imitated countless times, but is premise never gets old. That's because it offers a dark take on the ultimate wish — to bring a loved one back from the dead. A nice old couple obtain the titular monkey's paw, which has the power to grant three wishes. The couple wish for cash, and get it — as an insurance settlement when their son dies in a horrific accident. The grief-stricken mother uses the paw for her second wish — for the son to be alive again. But will this wish be fulfilled in the way she hopes? Read it and let me know what you think.
Carnival of Souls
This low-budget wonder, made by film-makers who usually did educational and training films, opens with a carful of boys challenging a carful of girls to a drag race. The girls' car goes off a bridge and into a river, and a considerable time later, sole survivor Mary is found on the muddy river shore with no clear recollection of how she survive the accident. Mary almost immediately starts driving to a far town to take a job, and along the way finds herself haunted by a mysterious, cadaverous man and drawn to an abandoned lakeside pavilion. While the story of Carnival of Souls is slight and its ending has been stolen so many times that it will no longer be the jaw-dropper it no doubt was back in 1962, it's still remarkable in its use of sound and especially imagery, some of which is still being imitated in movies to this day. It may not surprise you, but it will definitely stay with you.
I hope these works get your October off to a good start!
Next Friday: Beautiful Horrors or, When Scary is Pretty