by John Farr
John Farr goes flick-or-treating for Halloween’s most haunting flicks.
In a traveling circus, beautiful but treacherous trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) learns that fellow worker Hans (Harry Earles), a midget, has money, and plots to marry him, then bump him off to get it. She doesn’t count on the fact that Hans is part of a very tight circle of side-show performers, and that they always protect their own kind.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Reviled and in some places banned on release, Tod Browning’s horror classic is like nothing else you’ll ever see – bizarre, bold, and altogether brilliant. A standard soap opera premise is elevated by the conceit of “normal” people as villains, “freaks” as heroes. Browning gets the most out of his unusual cast, mostly non-actors, and creates an eerie, chill-inducing atmosphere throughout. Don’t miss that knockout climax.
The Haunting (1963)
Dr. John Markway (Richard Johnson), a professor of the paranormal, sets out to discover whether the infamous Hill House is truly haunted or not, with the help of several human guinea pigs. What happens to the group “in the night, in the dark” leaves no doubt as to the answer.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Among a stellar cast, Julie Harris stands out as a spellbinding spinster whom the ghosts of Hill House single out for special attention. A sexually ambiguous Claire Bloom also registers as the clairvoyant Regina. Veteran director Robert Wise masterfully orchestrates tools of the trade to create perhaps the quintessential filmed ghost story, applying a degree of restraint and subtlety generally absent from more modern horror entries. Remade but never equalled.
The Descent (2006)
Still reeling from a deadly car crash the year before, Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) travels to the U.S. with her friend Beth (Alex Reid) to participate in a spelunking expedition organized by her jocky pal Juno (Natalie Mendoza), with whom she has some post- traumatic personal issues. Along with three other female friends, the group descends into an uncharted cave system expecting a weekend of adventure. But tensions rise after a cave-in, when they discover that not only are they profoundly lost in the primordial darkness, but they are not alone.
WHY I LOVE IT:
Not the feeble-minded breasts-and-beasts horror flick that’s virtually defined the genre since the ’80s, Marshall’s “Descent” is smart, psychologically tense, and scary as hell. Yes, there’s a lot of gruesome goings-on in this claustrophobic hellhole, but part of the fun of watching it (if you’re into this kind of thing) is figuring out exactly what’s stalking the poor lasses. One or many? And is the cavern breathing or is that my imagination? Solid direction, imaginative editing, and eerie production design take “Descent” even further into nail-biting realms of pure terror.