Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Favorite Cheesy Horror Movies

I was the kid who spent Saturday afternoons (and sometimes nights) watching the local Horror Host (in Philadelphia it was Dr. Shock) as he lampooned cheap B-horror movies from the 30's, 40's, and 50's and 60's. It was during those shows that I got to see trailers for lurid 70's horror pictures that always promised more terror than the viewer could imagine. Now, here's the thing about horror movies - the only thing ever really changes is the special effects technology. The films are still still just as lurid (if not, more so) as ever; the acting rarely better than mediocre (with exceptions, of course) and production values are considerably less than that of the average summer tentpole movie. Still, there are many films that manage to be surprisingly entertaining, despite what might seem overwhelming odds. Here then are my choices, in no particular order) for my Favorite Cheesy Horror Movies of All Time:


The Abominable Dr. Phibes/Dr. Phibes Rises Again

These Vincent Price classics were part of my life-long love affair with horror movies as a kid, and I distinctly remember seeing both of these films at the drive-in. They had everything! Inventive murders; a disfigured madman; resurrection; eternal life; scorpions; locusts; bats; a body in a bottle; a golden unicorn and (my personal favorite) a frog mask with a mechanical clasp which slowly gets tighter and tighter, eventually crushing the poor victim’s head. Add a silent, but intensely fashionable assistant with the unlikely name of Vulnavia (Virginia North in the original; Valli Kemp in the sequel), and host of character actors including Robert Quarry, Joseph Cotton, Hugh Griffith and Terry Thomas (both of whom appear in both films, as different characters). I recently caught both films as part of some channel or other’s Halloween movie festival, and was happy to learn that they still help up, almost 40 years later.


It's Alive

Low budget genius Larry Cohen (The Stuff: Q; Phone Booth) made this badly acted and cheaply produced little horror movie about a mutant baby who goes on a murderous rampage. Pollution and pharmaceuticals are blamed in this very ‘70’s eco-activist movie. Outrageous and hilarious, the best thing about It’s Alive may have been its tagline: “There’s only one thing wrong with Davis baby… It’s alive!” And don’t you love how the trailer never, EVER let’s you forget the title of this movie?


Blood Feast/2000 Maniacs!/The Wizard of Gore

In the late sixties and early seventies, writer/director/cinematographer Herschel Gordon Lewis invented the Torture Porn genre. Long before Eli Roth was a twinkle in his father’s eye, Lewis was churning out drive-in horror that pushed the envelope of graphic violence and gore. Poorly written, directed and acted with production values that rival those of Ed Wood’s, Lewis’ movies paved the way for directors like Romero, Craven, Hooper and all those who came after. The VHS explosion of the ‘80’s allowed me to finally see the HGL movies I’d only read about… man, are they crap! My sister watched The Wizard of Gore with me and literally turned to me and said “What the hell…?” Pure, unadulterated trash, Lewis’ films still hold a certain fascinating charm unlike any others in the genre.



I couldn’t find a clip for this 1982 monster flick. Larry Cohen again, this time with an update of the 1946 cheesefest The Flying Serpent. A descendant of the Aztecs has resurrected the god Quetzelcoatl (ket-sul-co-ot-ul), a winged serpent with a taste for human flesh. C-Listers Michael Moriarity, Candy Clark, David Carradine and Richard Roundtree star in one of the last stop-motion monster movies ever made.



Produced by the LGBT premium cable channel Here!, 2004’s Hellbent was promoted as the first gay slasher movie ever made (unless you count 1980’s Cruising­ – a film still widely derided by the LGBT community). This ridiculous film is mostly an excuse to show attractive young men in as little clothing as possible, and features a slew of stereotypical characters and one of the most preposterous plot elements in any horror movie, gay or straight. But it’s still fun to watch Andrew Levitas (Psycho Beach Party) play gay again.



Writer James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead) wrote and directed this hilarious send-up of sci-fiction/horror/zombie movies that combines elements of Night of the Creeps; Night of the Living Dead; The Blob and any number of episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits.” Starring the adorable and underrated Nathan Fillion (Serenity; Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog); current box-office hottie Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri…) and host of veteran character actors, Slither is the funniest horror movie since Shaun of the Dead.


House on Haunted Hill (1999)

This movie really gets short shrift from critics and fans alike. The first movie from Dark Castle (the horror division of Rob Reiner’s Castle Rock, itself name for Stephen King’s fictional Maine town), House on Haunted Hill is spooky and fun ride, despite the presence of Chris Kattan and the very lame ending. This 1999 film is an update of the 1959 William “King of the Gimmicks” Castle shocker starring Vincent Price, its cast includes Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, X-Men’s Famke Janssen, Peter Gallagher, horror-icon Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) and young stars-in-the-making Ali Larter (NBC’s “Heroes”) and Taye Diggs (ABC’s “Private Practice”). Dark Castle has purchased the entire William Castle catalog and promises a remake of The Tingler, despite the epic failure of the 13 Ghosts remake in 2001.

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