Halloween’s around the corner, and courtesy of my ancestors, it’s a very special holiday for my family. Many of the customs we observe today are based on the ancient festival of Samhain celebrated by ancestors on both sides of my family and my husband’s. Horror films are part of Halloween today and after much thought, I came up with five horror films that still haunt in various ways even after half a century. One actually dates to more than a century in the past.
First on my list is the 1960 film Black Sunday. The film was directed by Mario Bava, and the Italian title, La Maschera del Demonio translates to “The Mask of Satan.” It’s about a witch who returns to the land of the living, and when I saw this film as a young child, I freaked out. The scene where the lead female is murdered by her brother who affixes a mask with iron spikes to her face—that scene definitely stayed with me. I realize now little attention was given to film content when it came to the age of viewers back then—we pretty much could see any film we could talk an adult into taking us to.
As kids, we were definitely into scary films. It may be because ghost stories were such a part of our upbringing, and we heard many good tales from older women in our families. Another film I recall is the original 13 Ghosts—I also remember the quirky little cardboard and cellophane glasses we were given if we wanted to really get a good view of the ghosts in the film released in 1960.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) haunts me to this day—the idea of being buried alive is enough to keep any young girl awake at night. Vincent Price was absolutely brilliant in that film.
By 1968 film had come a long way and horror films were plentiful. I guess that’s why I missed seeing the original The Night of the Living Dead. I finally watched it with my daughter Rebecca a couple years ago, and I realized what a classic the film is. The character of Ben, played by Duane Jones, still haunts me because of the tragic irony in his death.
As I put this list together, I found myself wondering what the world’s first horror film was. According to several websites, The Haunted Castle (1896 or 1897) was the world’s first horror film. It’s about a bat who turns into a demon and haunts the castle after the new king has taken possession.
There have been other films that haunt—Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist where the possessed child’s head spins round like a top are two of my favorites. It’s hard to tell which modern films will continue to haunt as these classics have, but one of the most haunting is The Night of the Living Dead shot in bare bones style before the advent of sophisticated special effects filmmakers employ now. That film among all, possibly because of the death of the hero who didn’t deserve to die, stands atop the heap of horror filmmakers have been creating for more than a century.
Happy Samhain, and may the spirits be kind to you as we approach the night when the veil is sheerest between the living and the dead.
~~Featured Photo: Still shot from the trailer for the 1960 film Black Sunday. (via YouTube); channel HD Retro Trailers.
(Kay B. Day/Oct. 22, 2020)
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