It’s been a real scream writing these posts on the many wonderful, fun, campy, and sometimes scary horror films Turner Classic Movies has been showing during the month of October.  Halloween is just one day away and TCM will be running a classic horror movie marathon starting at 6:00 AM and going all day until early Friday morning.

The Curse Of Frankenstein, Dracula Prince Of Darkness, and Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (all Hammer Productions) are well worth recording during the day and watching while handing out candy to the throngs of children ringing your doorbell.  In addition to these fine films, there are two more must see movies, both starring the incomparable Vincent Price.

Pit And The Pendulum (trailer here) is a macabre masterpiece based on an Edgar Allan Poe story and helmed by famed grindhouse horror film director Roger Corman.   The story follows Francis Barnard (John Kerr) as he travels to Spain to investigate the sudden and unexpected death of his sister Elizabeth Barnard Medina (Barbara Steele).  The explanation offered by her husband Nicholas Medina (Vincent Price) is insufficient for Barnard and he soon gets to the bottom of the matter, discovering Elizabeth has died of extreme fright; from this point on the story gets dark and twisty (like any good Roger Corman film should) as Barnard learns of the sinister world Medina experienced while growing up the son of a torturer of the Spanish Inquisition.  To say this film is dark would be a major understatement, but it is absolutely worth watching for any classic horror fan.

The other film I am recommending is The Abominable Dr. Phibes (trailer here), it’s a favorite of mine to the point of being an obsession.  I first saw this movie in October 1979, I was nearing my ninth birthday and suffering terribly from a loose tooth, I simply could not sleep; after what seemed like hours of poking my tooth with my tongue I got out of bed and stumbled sleepily into our family room where I stood before the TV changing channels until I found something I wanted to watch.  I have no recollection of what that may have been, but, what came on after was the weekly late late horror film special featuring The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) is traveling when he discovers his wife Victoria has fallen ill and been rushed to a hospital for surgery, he hurries to be by her side and suffers a catastrophic automobile accident; Phibes is presumed dead but is in fact simply disfigured, his injuries delay him and his wife dies on the operating table.  Enraged by what he considers the incompetence of his beloved wife’s doctors Phibes resolves to avenge her death.

I was mesmerized (and still am!) watching Dr. Phibes and his assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) murder one person after the other in the most splendid and creative ways (boils, bats, bees, etc.), all while staying at least one step ahead of some very confused police officers.  The Abominable Dr. Phibes could simply be written off as another campy seventies horror film (reportedly Vincent Price would often break out laughing during filming requiring his makeup to be redone) if it weren’t for the excellent acting, and the unbelievably disturbing alternate reality created for the titular character; he lives in a world occupied by clockwork musicians, a stunningly beautiful, completely lethal and apparently mute accomplice and his dead wife Victoria who he has preserved and still talks to as if she were alive.  Phibes is only able to speak by means of a Victorian era steampunk looking contraption he created using his understanding of sound vibrations (he is, after all, a doctor of both theology and music).   In the end Phibes gets close to his goal of destroying everyone he blames for Victoria’s death and lives to fright another day.  The deaths are grisly, the revenge is sweet, the acting is great, the scenery or sets or whatever the accurate technical term is are genuinely, brilliantly artistic making this film a superb example of dark comedy and, as I mentioned above, a personal obsession.

Oh, and if you are wondering about the tooth, desperate times call for desperate measures; after the movie was over I grabbed a piece of my mom’s embroidery thread, tied one end to the tooth and the other end to a door knob and kicked the door (I think I saw this method used on The Flintstones cartoon series) and yes, the tooth came out.  

In the event you don’t have access to Turner Classic Movies, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (link) can be viewed on YouTube.

Thursday October 31

6:00 AM The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)

7:30 AM The Mummy (1959)

9:00 AM Horror Castle (1963)

10:30 AM Castle Of The Living Dead (1964)

12:15 PM Dracula, Prince Of Darkness (1965)

1:45 PM The Devil’s Bride (1968)

3:45 PM Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1969)

5:30 PM Horror Express (1972)

8:00 PM Pit And The Pendulum (1961)

9:30 PM The Haunted Palace (1963)

11:15 PM The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)

Friday November 1

1:00 AM The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

– John Morton