I wrote this newsletter in September, and I expect it will still be September when you read it. And yet, this blog post seems very much like October. All the classic movies I’m recommending this week were made to scare you out of your pants. And most succeeded.
Festivals & Series
All three of these festivals will run from October 6 to Sunday, October 16.
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
The Bay Area’s own silent movie museum and cinema is finally presenting regular screenings. Most Saturday evenings they will play two shorts and a feature, always with live music. Going along with the October vibe, they’re playing a feature this week called Devil’s Island. I never saw it, but according to the Niles website, “A ruthless slumlord (Ralph Lewis) is confronted by the damage he’s done to humankind with a visit to hell.”
Monster Triple Feature On 16mm!, Balboa, 7:00pm
A triple bill of 1950s cheap horror films. The movies: The Monster of Piedras Blancas, The Giant Gila Monster, and Robot Monster. Don’t go to be scared. Go to laugh with derision.
A The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), various theaters, Saturday. Check theaters and times.
You spend more time scared for the monster than of it in James Whales’ masterpiece. Boris Karloff plays the nameless creature as a child in a too-large body, the ultimate outcast torn between his need for love and his anger at the society that rejects him. With Colin Clive as the mad scientist, Ernest Thesiger as a delightfully over-the-top madder scientist, and Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley and the monster’s mate (although, technically speaking, Valerie Hobson plays the real Bride of Frankenstein). On a double bill with The Mummy (the 1932 original).
A Night of the Living Dead, New Parkway, Saturday, 10:00pm
This is fear without compromise. The slow, nearly unstoppable ghouls were shockingly gruesome in 1968 (sequels and imitations renamed them zombies). Decades later, the shock is gone, but the dread and fear remain, made less spectacular but more emotionally gripping by the black and white photography. Night of the Living Dead is scary, effective, occasionally funny, and at times quite gross. It can be viewed as a satire of capitalism, a commentary on American racial issues, or simply one of the scariest horror films ever made. Read my essay. I hope it’s not the colorized version.
A- Tremors (1990), Lark Drive-In, Saturday, 7:20pm
Few horror movies depend so much on wit, and so little on gore. The very small population of a tiny desert town starts shrinking fast when giant predators come up from the ground and drag their human meals under the sand. Likely meals contain good ol’ boys, eccentric gun nuts, an annoying kid, and, of course, a beautiful woman and a visiting scientist. Only this time, the beautiful woman is the visiting scientist. The movie has its gruesome moments (it is a horror film), but it mostly balances on that fine line between comedy and suspense. I love the fact that the monsters are never explained.
B+ The Shining (1980), New Parkway, Thursday, 9:00pm
For once, the cliché is true: Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, is much better than the movie. Stanley Kubrick, brilliant as he was, missed the main point of the book – that the protagonist loves his family, and is a good man struggling with his inner demons. Without that, it’s little more than a sequence of scares (all good scares, but just scares). Kubrick added some surprising and effective touches, but overall, he turned a brilliant novel into a simply very good horror flick. Read my longer article.