Film: Sights of the Season

Halloween offers a host of scare-inducing options on DVD

Oct 24, 2007 at 2:06 pm
King Video

Max Shreck stars as Count Orloff in F.W. Murnau's 1922 classic of German silent cinema, Nosferatu.

Halloween shares an undisputed bond with cinema. The season is not complete without multiple viewings of the creatures that helped shape the season — the classic Universal monsters Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc., and their counterparts in the Hammer horror films from Britain, Romero's blank-faced cannibal zombies and more.

While these horror staples are excellent and beyond reproach, daring and vibrant alternatives found within the realms of classic and contemporary world cinema might provide an extra jolt to your Halloween movie marathon.

German cinema is a haven for vampires. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee might have permanent fangs in the vampire legacy for their starring roles in the Bram Stoker adaptations Dracula (1931) and The Horror of Dracula (1958), respectively, but actor Max Shreck beat them both to the punch with his iconic portrayal of the despicable vampire Count Orloff in F.W. Murnau's 1922 classic of German silent cinema, Nosferatu: Symphony of the Night. Tall, gaunt and bald with pointy ears, bulging eyes and extended talon-nails, Orloff is a rat-like nightmare who uses Murnau's expressionistic shadows to stalk his victims.

Similar shadows abound in German director Werner Herzog's Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night, his 1979 remake of Murnau's classic. Actor Klaus Kinski brings a unique spin to the Orloff role. The blonde firebrand transforms himself into a near spitting image of Max Shreck, but he also possesses a sad vulnerability and surprising sexiness, which are striking considering his repulsive appearance.

For more modern vampire fare, think Sweden.

Before current box office hit 30 Days of Night delivered its tale of bloodsuckers overtaking an Arctic town where nighttime lasts for a month, the 2006 film Frostbitten covered the exact same road. However, where 30 Days takes itself way too seriously, Frostbitten goes the opposite route, injecting a dark humor into the gory proceedings for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-meets-The Thing vibe.

The German expressionism that gave the world Nosferatu also produced a stellar Frankenstein substitute — Paul Wegener and Carl Boese's 1920 silent, Der Golem. The film follows the ancient Jewish legend of the Golem, a clay figure created by Rabbi Loew in the 16th century to defend Jews in the Prague ghetto against pogrom. Like the Universal monster, the Golem runs amuck and reigns chaos upon the city, complete with an encounter with a little girl. Wegener's evil-eyed, bulked-up portrayal of the creature, combined with cinematography by the great Karl Freund (Metropolis, Dracula), make this an absolute horror classic.

Those who prefer a bit of hair on their movie monsters take note — one of cinema's most famous werewolves hails from Spain. The lycanthropy suffering Count Waldemar Daninsky has wreaked havoc though a dozen odd films, beginning with 1967's The Mark of the Werewolf and continuing through 2003's Tomb of the Werewolf. Actor/director/screenwriter and all-around Euro-horror hero Paul Naschy has played the cursed count throughout the cycle and he keeps it real, aligning his beast with cinema's traditional depiction of the werewolf rather than the bulked-up, steroid-infused wolfies popularized in the Underworld films, the Brit-flick Dog Soldiers or the blasphemous and insulting Van Helsing. The Daninsky films also keep step with the Universal and Hammer Films werewolf classics by steeping their action in loads of Gothic atmosphere, in addition to fair amounts of camp and sex.

An altogether different, creepier atmosphere is behind the French zombie flick, They Came Back (2004). The film follows the events that befall a sleepy French town when its deceased residents mysteriously return to life. Unlike most contemporary zombie movies, though, these living dead aren't hungry for human flesh. They simply want their old lives back. As the townsfolk, scientists, government and law enforcement come to grips with the implications of the resurrection, the seemingly benign dead slowly re-integrate — a process stilted when startlingly odd behavior surfaces. This zombie film might lack the nihilism, dread and gore typically associated with the zombie genre, but its cerebral approach to the topic is refreshing.

A new approach to a classic horror sub-genre is perfectly exhibited in the 2006 box office buster from Korea, The Host. Like its grandfather, The Creature of the Black Lagoon, the film finds a humanoid "it" crawling out of the water (in this case, Korea's mighty Han River) and terrorizing everyone it encounters. But the major differences end there. The action is break-neck and the tension is tight throughout. The new creature is drastically updated, as well. Rather than being just a man in a rubber suit, this new monster is a fierce, computer-generated, multi-armed CGI behemoth with razor-sharp teeth that sprints, swims uber-fast and holds its prey captive until dinnertime.

The hope is that this minute selection provides an impetus to dive into the wide world of horror cinema. All of these films are readily available on DVD, so no reason exists not to spice up your Halloween with one or all. That is — unless you're scared. ©