Category: 31 Nights, 31 Frights

31 Nights, 31 Frights: House on Haunted Hill

Carol Ohmart

William Castle, though not a great filmmaker by any means, was a consummate showman. Many of his films relied on some sort of gimmick to augment the movie experience. In the case of House on Haunted Hill, a trick called “Emergo” was used, nothing more than a skeleton floating above the audience during the climax. It was hardly needed. As cheesy and laughable as the climax is, this remains one of Castle’s better cinema scares.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder in 'Bram Stoker's Dracula'

More like Oliver Stone’s Dracula, so infused is it with his frenetic cinematic stylings. This umpteenth adaptation of the horror classic hews closer to Bram Stoker’s novel than any previous version, though that’s not to say it doesn’t take its liberties. It is also a madhouse of editing and camera trickery. Yet that’s precisely its appeal. Eschewing computer technology in favor of practical, in-camera effects, Director Francis Ford Coppola demonstrates what good old-fashioned ingenuity can create when one is restricted by the tools he can use.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: The Others

Nicole Kidman in 'The Others'

Such a rare, rare treat it is that a truly chilling ghost story can be found that eschews lurid and fatuous shocks in favor of unexpected frights and unnerving ambience. Set in post-World War II Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, the film follows war-abandoned mother Grace Stewart and her two children, who apparently suffer from a photosensitive disease called xeroderma pigmentosum that precludes them from exposure to sunlight.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: Monster House

The kids of 'Monster House'

The perfect Halloween family film. Frightening enough to scare the kids, funny enough to amuse the adults and clever enough to entertain everyone. The motion capture technique does a fine job of emulating natural human movement, but the characters are rendered as cartoon caricatures so the effect is less creepy than in the pioneer motion capture animated movie The Polar Express.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: The Old Dark House

Gloria Stuart

James Whale creates a fantastic blueprint for all future haunted house movies. Though it crackles with his offbeat humor, it is more nuanced than in his overpraised Bride of Frankenstein. Ernest Thesiger is more shrewd here as Horace Femm, the browbeaten brother of the eccentric Femm family, and Eva Moore is wonderfully odious as pious sister Rebecca Femm.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: The Phantom of the Opera

Lon Chaney as the Phantom

Though not technically part of the Universal monster movie canon, this release became the catalyst for the studio to launch its long-running classic horror series. Already a legend by the time this movie was made, Lon Chaney decisively dominates this silent horror gem. Well-known from The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a maestro of make-up, he was allowed here to create the fiendish Phantom’s ghoulish appearance, and the result is staggering.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: Van Helsing

By most accounts, including mine, Van Helsing is a terrible movie. Overlong, cacophonous, and riddled with cut-rate CGI, as well as chaotic editing and cinematography. Yet it’s also kind of fun. The performances are over-the-top ridiculous. Richard Roxburgh is clearly having a ball as the cartoonish Count Dracula.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: Young Frankenstein

Never before or since has Mel Brooks nailed a parody so precisely as Young Frankenstein. Forget the vulgar Blazing Saddles and the meandering History of the World Part I, Brooks and star Gene Wilder really did their homework on this one. Primarily using the Universal classic Son of Frankenstein as a template, they’ve mined every deliciously ridiculous moment from the monster series.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

'Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man'

Arguably the best of the monster mash-ups. It begins with the awakening of presumed-dead wolf man, Larry Talbot, and follows him to a London asylum, from whence he then travels across Europe to the fictional town of Vasalia (which has inexplicably become Frankenstein’s home) to find a cure for his lycanthropy.

31 Nights, 31 Frights: The Wolf Man

A more direct monster movie than Frankenstein. What it lacks in complexity, however, it makes up for in performances, especially Claud Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Maria Ouspenskaya, and no less than Dracula himself, chameleon Bela Lugosi as Bela, the cursed gypsy fortune teller who passes his burden onto Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Lawrence Talbot. Chaney, for his part, delivers an inadvertently creepy performance as the foredoomed aristocrat.