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Hoyle's House of Horrors II

By James Hoyle
On October 29, 2015

Looking for a great film to make you cringe and think at the same time? Look no further than Stephen King's Misery
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    Another year has come and gone, and Halloween is once again upon us. While this time of year means parties and costumes and candy for many, for some it is an opportunity to watch some horror movies. While there are many horror films to choose from on Netflix and from other sources, the absolute glut of horror films out there can sometimes prove a bit overwhelming. To that end, I have compiled a list of five movies that I recommend watching this Halloween season. Note that these are in no particular order, and all tastes will try to be met. 

    1. The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920)

    Directed by: Robert Wiene

    Distributed by: Bebelsberg Studio

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is often considered one of the first feature length horror movies, if not one of the first. Made in Germany in the early 1920s, it tells the tale of a man named Francis, who encounters the crazed Doctor Caligari at a carnival demonstrating his control over a somnambulist named Cesare, a hypnotized man who can apparently see into the future.  When Francis’s friend turns up dead after Cesare prophesized it, Cesare becomes the primary suspect in the investigation. But did he act alone, or is the Doctor controlling him? Or is Francis merely imagining it all? From a story standpoint, the film sets up many horror tropes that are still in use to this day, from mad scientists, to crazed killers, to even a dark and foreboding atmosphere. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this this film however is the abstract art style, a style that Tim Burton has mimicked for profit since the very beginning. One look at Cesare, and the viewer can tell where Burton got the idea for all his dark-eyed, dark haired, pale protagonists. As a side note, Cesare is played by Conrad Veidt, who would later go on to play Major Strausser in the 1942 film Casablanca. So even though the film is silent, it is a pillar of the genre, and should be seen by anyone interested in the origins of the horror film. 

    2. Alien (1979)

    Directed by: Ridley Scott

    Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

    This film is often considered a classic in both the science fiction and the horror genre. However, for our purposes, we include it here as both an unorthodox slasher film as well as an example of atmosphere done right. Alien takes places in the far future, where the crew of the commercial ship Nostromo picks up a distress signal on a planet, when they investigate, one of the crew members inadvertently becomes the host of a hostile alien lifeform. When it is accidentally brought onboard and escapes into the bowels of the ship, Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) leads the crew in desperate game of cat and mouse where the stakes are life and death. And in space, no one can hear you scream. This film’s brilliant atmosphere stems from how tight the sets feel. This atmosphere is likely one of the reasons why this film was nominated for the Best Art Direction at the Oscars. The Nostromo is a tangled maze of claustrophobic air vents and hallways, and with the alien crawling around, death for the crew can come often and early from literally anywhere. The Alien itself (designed by the late H.R Giger) is a monstrosity that has to be seen in motion to truly be believed. Despite its unique look, it follows many of the tropes that horror films are known for. As mentioned before, it is a slasher style film as it contains a group splits up and the killers murders them off one by one. Couple this with one of the most capable female protagonists in film, and Alien becomes a masterwork that gets the highest recommendation. 

    3.  Gojira/Godzilla: King of Mosnters! (1954/1956)

    Directed by: Ishiro Honda/Terry O. Morse

    Distributed by: Toho/Embassy Pictures Corporation 

    For those interested in giant monsters, Godzilla is an absolute must-see. This film is also unique in that there are two versions out there, one in the original Japanese, and one that was dubbed two years after the initial release with some scenes remade with American actors. Raymond Burr was cast as a character named Steve Martin as well as a Narrator in the “Americanized” version, and while he does a great job, the original Japanese version is still recommended over it. The story goes that nuclear radiation has caused an ancient reptilian beast named Godzilla to awaken and wreak havoc upon Tokyo. The film, in addition to carrying a very stark message on the dangers of nuclear radiation, also serves as a warning against the dangers on worshipping knowledge for knowledges sake. It is also a tremendous amount of fun, with a man in a rubber monster suit destroying models of planes and cars. While the Japanese version is recommended, the American cut is also good if the Japanese version is unavailable. After all, some Godzilla is better than no Godzilla. 

    4. Misery (1990)

    Directed by: Rob Reiner 

    Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

    Stephen King, while a good writer in his own right, has had some of the worst film adaptions ever. Misery, thankfully, does not suffer from this issue. The story is that novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) breaks his leg in a car crash during a snow storm in Colorado. He is rescued and nursed back to health by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be his biggest fan. While things go well for him at first, when Annie discovers that Sheldon killed her favorite character in his latest book, she flies into a rage, forces him to burn his latest manuscript, locks him in his room, and demands that he rewrite the book to bring the character back. What happens next is not only a story of abuse and captivity, it is also a fascinating study into how obsession works and the dangers that come with fame. This film could have been awful. However, Kathy Bates’s performance makes the film, to the point where she won an Oscar for her role. While it can be difficult to watch in some places, it is still a wonderful movie that should be viewed by anyone that is interested in an adaption of a novel done right. 

    5. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

    Directed by: George A. Romero

    Distributed by: The Walter Reade Organization 

    This film is a testament to what a visionary can do with proper motivation. George Romero, with a self-raised budget of about $115,000, created a film that not only would make $30 million, but would also create the modern zombie film. All zombie works that followed it, from The Walking Dead to Resident Evil, owe something to this film. The premise is that the dead have come back to life through radiation and now desire nothing more than to feast upon the brains of the living. Apart from that, it is more or less the story of a group of people holding up in a house against overwhelming odds. It is also an interesting film when one considers the socio-political climate of its release. To start, the film stars a black protagonist. That would have made it rare for the time, but he also hits a white woman and tells the white man that he is in charge. It was also subversive of traditional American family values, as it shows a child zombie killing an adult. Romero produced all of this with such a meager budget. This film would receive a slew of first-rate sequels over the years, and each one of them would also deal in social commentary. Therefore, anyone interested in the changing dynamics of America or anyone that is interested in a good old-fashioned zombie movie needs to see this film. It is in the public domain and can be viewed for free, so there is no excuse to not see it. 

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