RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM|
Steve Fredrick, in his vampire cape, is a fan of the classic, stylized horror of old Hollywood films, while Hawai'i International Film Festival's Film and Education Coordinator Anderson Le appreciates the masters of suspense. Neither were too scared to ham it up at Oahu Cemetery.
Our views of terror may have
changed, but the popularity
of horror movies shows that
we still love being scared witless
Steve Fredrick wants you to understand he's not some creepy, oddball character. Perhaps his movie collection of classic chillers of the 1930s and '40s is not what one might expect from a modest, well-mannered Honolulu library assistant. But when Fredrick, a former video editor, assembled a highlight reel from his personal lot of vintage films -- such as "Dracula" with Bela Lugosi, "The Raven" featuring Boris Karloff and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" -- several years ago, he discovered that he was not alone in his appreciation for well-preserved scaries and horror spoofs.
Fredrick is donating his time to the McCully/Moiliili Public Library to hold a free one-hour screening today of "The Vampire Show: A Tribute to Bela Lugosi's 'Dracula,'" which includes original trailers from the '30s and '40s and a rare 1952 interview with Lugosi. It's an impressive anthology of unusual movie pieces, which took years to compile.
"I've been doing this since I was a teenager," says Fredrick. "The first piece I ever bought was a little 10-minute highlight reel of 'Abbott and Costello Meets Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.' I bought that in about 1970, and I still have it. I just loved that stuff as a kid, and then I put all of it away when I went to college, but I'm kind of a pack rat, so I held on to it."
Audiences have always relished a good, scary movie. From the spooky silent shorts of the 1920s and the imaginative sci-fi features of the 1950s, through the slasher and bedevilment flicks of subsequent decades, filmgoers have exhibited a confounding attraction to the macabre and frightening. Though our views of what is truly terrifying have changed over the years, it seems we've always enjoyed being scared witless.
"If you take an old Hitchcock movie, especially from the '40s, he would take an hour and 15 minutes just developing the character and the plot line before anything horrific happened," says Fredrick.
In fact, when "Dracula" was released in 1931, it was viewed as a gothic romance more than a horror story. Fredrick said Lugosi was the first to portray a vampire as a European noble, rather than a one-dimensional grotesque monster.
"But I think with each passing decade, the thrill has to be intensified," Fredrick said. "The horror level has to be heightened. You have to find a new thrill all the time and get bigger, stronger, more violent or more outrageous.
"Now, a horror film is going to grab you in the first five minutes. Once that's over, the director takes the time to tell you who the character is and his relationship to the other characters. It works; it's just a flip-flop of what the old directors used to do."
Anderson Le agrees. As film and education coordinator for the Hawaii International Film Festival, Le knows movies. When films like "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" were produced, nothing like them had been seen before, yet many of the hallmarks of these films of the grotesque, he says, have stayed with us. "I think the silent movies of the '20s are very influential in the way we see films today. You see that imagery with that gothic feel in movies by Tim Burton, David Lynch or Alex Proyas. We see these motifs repeated in these types of films."
THE FOCUS AND intensity of such movies may have changed over the years, though our physiological response to a great horror story has remained the same. When we are pulled into a truly scary film, our bodies react as if we are in danger -- there is a quickening of the pulse, a tension of the muscles and shallowness of breath -- and as the experience subsides, many of us find it enjoyable.
"You get that thrill of the adrenaline rush," Le says, "especially in the theaters, where it's a shared experience. It's an outlet to vent frustrations and release a lot of tension and anger that we've built up. It's like those campfire stories kids told as Cub Scouts. Scary stories have always compelled us."
WITH THE PROLIFERATION of the horror genre has come an endless stream of slasher flicks and blood-and-gore fests. Yet, as Le explains, the outrageous special effects often employed in these pictures should be used simply to complement a film's sense of suspense. A movie that makes an audience scream in terror with a minimum of gruesome visuals is the mark of a truly masterful storyteller.
"The ones that really freak me out are bloodless," he said. "It's all about the suspense. Prolonging that tension is what makes (a director) so skillful. In 'Alien,' for example, you don't really see the alien until the very end. So when you finally see it, it's a lot more frightening; it's a cat-and-mouse kind of thing."
When asked to name the scariest movie in this year's batch of HIFF entries, he immediately tags one film with the honor. "It's gotta be 'The Grudge,' no doubt about it," he says, without missing a beat. The Takashi Shimizu feature combines the tried-and-true horror elements of murder and hauntings into one terrifying package.
"With serial killers it's a real type of horror, because there are sick people out there and that really frightens me, but I love Japanese 'obake' movies too, because growing up in Hawaii, you hear stories like that all the time," he says. "There's just something so real about them. I think everyone, in some way, shape or form, believes in the afterlife and ghosts."
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Bela Lugosi brought a human dimension to the vampire genre.
The scariest films
for your viewing horror
From the Golden Age of Hollywood
These movies are the vintage horror thrillers that, for one reason or another, scared the bejesus out of me when I was young. When viewing these films at night, I recommend turning down the lights, unplugging the phone and being totally alone in the room. I have listed them in chronological order.
1. Nosferatu (1922-German): Great mood, wonderful atmosphere and one of the creepiest monsters (played by Max Schreck) in movie history.
2. Phantom of the Opera (Universal, 1922): In the cellars of the Paris Opera House, the unmasking of the disfigured composer (Lon Chaney) is still shocking today.
3. Dracula (Universal, 1931): Meeting the continental count (Bela Lugosi) on the grand staircase of Castle Dracula is mesmerizing. Seductive evil at its best.
4. Frankenstein (Universal, 1931): Boris Karloff's portrayal of a confused creature in a world that does not understand him. Can we all relate?
5. The Mummy (Universal, 1932): After 3,000 years a mummified Egyptian priest (Boris Karloff) comes back to life in search of his long-lost love. Beautifully directed by cinematographer Karl Freund.
6. King Kong (RKO, 1933): The original "beauty and the beast" story. The build-up to meeting Kong in the jungle is one of the most suspenseful introductions of a movie monster in cinema history.
7. Bride of Frankenstein (Universal, 1935): Great camera work, a wonderful musical score and top performances by the entire cast. The best of the bunch.
8. Cat People (RKO, 1942): Val Lewton produced this story about a woman who thinks she is turning into a panther. You'll never look at your house cat the same way again.
9. The Body Snatcher (RKO, 1945): In Val Lewton's adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story, Boris Karloff is at his most sinister. He plays a grave robber for hire. Great atmosphere.
10. The Thing (RKO, 1951): Isolated terror set in a lonely Arctic outpost. A top-notch Howard Hawks production.
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The top 10 for a thrilling Halloween
On Halloween night, HIFF will be presenting the Japanese box-office smash "The Grudge (Ju-on)," which is also one of the scariest ghost (obake) films to grace the silver screens in years. This film is so scary that Dreamworks picked up the rights, a la "The Ring," and is filming a remake. I'm in the school, however, of the original being far superior than the remake, especially if it's "American/Hollywood."
To accentuate your Halloween movie-viewing activities, I was asked by the Star-Bulletin to conjure up my own "Halloween Movie Top 10." You may notice that I had two guidelines in creating the list: American horror films made before 1990 and Asian horror cinema rules! All of the films (except for one title) are available at video stores like Tower Video or online at Amazon.com and my personal favorite, Netflix.com.
To build suspense, I'm counting down to the scariest:
10. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Germany, 1920, dir: Robert Weine): German expressionism at its finest, "Caligari" is one of the most influential films in modern-genre cinema. Imagery and style by such masters as Tim Burton, David Lynch and Alex Proyas ("The Crow," "Dark City") seem to be pulled directly from this groundbreaking film. Sure, it's silent, and everyone looks like groupies of new-wave band the Cure, but its evocative imagery, set design and dream-weaving story structure will haunt you forever.
9. "Mulholland Drive (USA, 2001, dir: David Lynch): Atmospheric and fateful, this is Lynch's apex of dreamlike cinema, which happens to be one whacked-out nightmare of a starving actress (Naomi Watts in a star-making performance) and her journey in the almost alien territory that we all know as Hollywood. With an MC Escher-like story structure, the film transcends the boundaries of space and time. Secret code words, dwarves, ominous cowboys, a cryptic hobo who lives behind a Dumpster and clandestine jazz clubs riddle this haunting film, and the ending will leave you unsettled.
8. "Kwaidan" (Japan, 1964, dir: Masaki Kobayashi): The Japanese ghost/obake story is heralded as some of the scariest tales ever, and this film contains four of them. The stories comprise the classic themes of obake tales: women wronged in the mortal world who come back to haunt their ex-companions, journeymen who encounter specters on a deserted roads and blind men with a special connection with the other side. Many critics herald "Kwaidan" as one of the greatest Japanese films ever.
7. "The Last House on the Left" (USA, 1972, dir: Wes Craven): Directed by a young Craven, "Last House" is a revenge tale of a family that hunts down a group of hicks after they discover that they have brutally murdered their daughter. Ultralow-budget and very graphic, the film is part of the American horror film lexicon of the '70s: an outlet to critique the atrocities of the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, etc. "Last House" is raw, obscene and truly shocking.
6. "A Tale of Two Sisters" (South Korea, 2003, dir: Kim Ji-woon): Korean gothic horror at its bloody finest. Sisters Su-mi and Su-yeon return home after recovering from an illness but fear their stepmother, Eun-joo. Su-yeon feels a presence in her room, and Su-mi sees a ghost of her late mother, who hung herself in Su-yeon's closet. One day, Su-mi can't find her sister and witnesses her stepmother dragging a large garbage bag down the stairs, leaving a bloody trail. Scaring Korean audiences this summer, the film will be available on DVD at Asian film-specialty stores like Dragon Gate Bookstore in Chinatown and on the Web at HKFlix.com.
5. "The Eye" (Thailand, 2002, dir: Danny Pang): From Thai writer-director duo the Pang Brothers comes a scary yarn of a blind girl who receives a successful eye transplant, allowing her to see again. However, she soon sees the world for what it really is: riddled with tormented ghosts. She tracks down her donor, delving into a small town's dark secret. The film is worth watching just for a chilling scene in which the main character is stuck in an elevator with a disfigured ghost. The tension will make you scream!
4. "Suspiria" (Italy, 1977, dir: Dario Argento): One of the most famous films of "giallo," the stylish, hyperviolent, nudity-heavy cult films made in Europe, "Suspiria" is an overly stylized, surreal film that will haunt every fiber of your body. A young American dancer travels to Europe to join a famous ballet school, only to discover the school is more than meets the eye: It is a sinister, underground society of evil! The murders and rituals in this film are disturbing and very European. Some people consider this and other giallo films as trash cinema. On the contrary, it's cult, yes, but very operatic.
3. "Alien" (USA/UK, 1979, dir: Ridley Scott): The film's slogan is pure genius: "In space, no one can hear you scream." Bogeyman as alien and spacecraft as a house of horrors, this ultrastylish, seminal sci-fi/horror film has never been surpassed. HR Giger's alien designs present an amalgam of the organic and the mechanical. The film's final 15 minutes will leave you breathless. Catch the upcoming director's cut re-release in theaters. This film needs to be experienced on the big screen!
2. "The Sixth Sense" (USA, 2000, dir: M. Night Shyamalan): "I see dead people." M. Night Shyamalan is a film god!
1. "Ringu" (1997, Japan, dir: Hideo Nakata): The tale of a cursed videotape, a chain of mysterious deaths and a little girl trapped in a well, this film is the pinnacle of horror. The film introduced the mastery of Japanese horror to the rest of the world. Accept no substitutes! Forgo the U.S. version and stick with the original. "Ringu" is a cultural phenomenon. Before the film, there was a successful book series, a TV series (which aired in Hawaii on NGN in the early '90s) and two successful film sequels. As indicative of the other films on this list, the last 15 minutes absolutely scares you to death. Sadako is a name that will forever echo in your psyche. This is the type of film that makes you afraid to be alone at home, at any time of the day.
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