Sunday, November 13, 2016

Top 10 Horror Movies of 1960

I have been wanting to dig deeper into more classic horror for a while now, and what better way than to watch a bunch of horror movies from each year? So I thought to myself, "what would be the best place to start on a journey like this? And how shall I chronicle my findings in a way that will keep a solid record of my excursions?" And this is what I came to. I loooooove making lists, and once I've seen all the movies I want from a year, I see no reason why I shouldn't list them immediately after, with a few notable honorable mentions at the end.

1960 is possibly the best year for the horror genre, at least based on the top grouping of films that came from it. So I doubt I'll be turning any heads with this list, because I'll basically just be repeating what everyone already knows about what movies stand out the most. But whatever, I enjoy making lists too much to care if nobody reads what I'm writing. The show must go on!

I know that's a massive intro, but I have a few additional notes to get out of the way before I proceed. The definition of horror is a fairly loose one, and this particular era makes that definition even foggier. Sci-fi and horror bleed together, and thrillers and violent dramas also blurred those lines. So I'm going by what movies fit the vague bill as horror in my eyes, and more importantly, how well they work within the genre. This is a list of the best "horror movies", not just the best "movies that are also partly horror". So movies I like better than others might be lower due to how well they work as horror films, not just how much I like them regardless of genre. Hopefully that was clear, because I'm not proofreading this. So let's begin.


10. Eyes Without A Face

I've seen this one put really high on a ton of horror lists for years and honestly, as much as I enjoy it, I still don't see it as the absolute masterpiece that everyone praises it for being. That being said, it was an effectively creepy movie that relied more on building tension and development of characters than more conventional horror movies tend to do, and it's one of the few films in this list that truly deserves a place in the Criterion Collection. And yes, I know it *is* I n the Criterion Collection, I'm just saying it was a well deserved inclusion. This isn't as unsettling as some others on this list, but as a whole it is a very complete and fantastically made movie. Because of it only being widely available through Criterion, I would have a hard time recommending this to anyone who might be apprehensive towards shelling out $20+ on a movie they haven't seen, but it is a good dramatic horror film that deserves to be seen with the high picture quality of that release, so it would be a solid purchase if this kind of film is your thing.


9. 13 Ghosts

William Castle made some of the most entertaining movies of the late '50s and early '60s, famously offering moviegoers unique and gimmicky experiences with many of his films. Though I sadly cannot go back in time to witness these events in person, the lively and exaggerated nature of his movies paint an adequate picture of just how much fun they must have been to watch in theaters. Castle himself introduces the film, presenting a special set of glasses with blue and red lenses and instructs the audience to put the glasses on during select scenes throughout the movie to allow you to see the ghosts in the picture. As much as I tend to dislike 3D, there's a creatively goofy nature to this particular glasses-based gimmick that was fun to watch even without the special lenses. The story and characters are nothing special, but the mood and visuals are both funny and interesting, making this a truly unforgettable and wholly enjoyable experience. I watched it on youtube, and at roughly 80 minutes, it's easy to find time to check it out. It can be bought in a William Castle collection with 4 other movies for less than 10 bucks.


8. The Little Shop Of Horrors

Roger Corman is one of my favorite horror directors (don't worry, that list is in the making as well), and while this is by no means a serious effort of his, it does feature enough horror elements to give it a position on this list. But much like 13 Ghosts, it's the silliness and lighthearted nature of the movie that makes it so much fun to watch. Famously shot in roughly 2-and-a-half days (though it was reported to later have several re-shoots), instead of just letting the subject alone provide entertainment, Corman thought to include truly great and funny moments, one of which involving a young and hilariously over-the-top Jack Nicholson in one of his earliest roles. The 1986 musical brought even more life to the story, but this is already an extremely rambunctious horror comedy that didn't need that extra shot of crazy -- though the musical is overall a much better movie. This is a cheesy cult gem that ages poorly in all the best ways. It's also extremely easy to get your hands on, seeing as how it's included on virtually every public domain horror collection known to man, so there's no excuse not to give it a look.


7. The Brides Of Dracula

It's rare for me to love a sequel as much as the original, and with the absence of Christopher Lee (who played Dracula in the predecessor, Horror Of Dracula) it truly came as a shock to me that this one is every bit as good as the '58 film, but it really was. This was ultimately the movie that solidified Peter Cushing as one of my all-time favorite actors, showing that he could make the absence of such a screen presence as Lee feel like a footnote, never once allowing the movie to feel like it was lacking anything whatsoever. With a new vampire to contend with, he once again nails the Van Helsing role with charm and physicality, and Terence Fisher proves yet again that he can manage a sequel that builds off of the original without treading water. The gothic set design and liberal use of blood (both gold standards of classic Hammer productions) are put on full display, and with more screen time, Cushing is given more time to shine. One of the best horror sequels I've seen, and definitely worth a rent -- or even purchase. I'm not sure how easy it is to find this one outside of a bundle, but if you enjoy Hammer films, a copy can be found in one of their more reasonably priced collections, which also features Curse Of The Werewolf and a few other goodies.


6. The Virgin Spring

Very recently I posted a favorite films of 1960 list that featured this movie in the top slot. If it's my favorite movie of 1960, why isn't it #1 on this list? Well, it's because this isn't entirely a horror movie. Sure it features horror elements and a story that could easily be construed or rewritten as horror (see: The Last House On The Left. Seriously, it's the exact same plot), but this is much more a religious drama than it is horror. So we're at the difficult crossroads that pits my personal favorites against what would be considered a true horror movie. Obviously, I feel it qualifies enough for this list, but that line is blurred more here than anywhere else on the list hence it's relatively low position here. As for the film itself? This is an absolute masterpiece. If you want the full write-up, just visit the link here, where I go more into what makes it so great. Is it worth a purchase? Absolutely. If you're a fan of Bergman at all, buy the Criterion release. But it will set you back $20+.


5. House Of Usher

If you thought Roger Corman was only capable of pulling off drive-in B-movies with goofy monsters and you'd love to see him make something a little weightier, this should be the first movie on your list. One of roughly a half dozen Vincent Price movies he made based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe, Corman took a total 180 from what he was mostly known for up to this point by directing one of the greatest gothic horror films of all-time. Released within months of The Little Shop Of Horrors, this dark and eerie chiller was just dripping in atmosphere, relying heavily on macabre set design and nuanced performances by its leads. Vincent Price gives one of his best performances ever here, as a quiet but intimidating presence. This is nothing like anything I'd seen from Corman before this, and over the next several years he built off the foundation he laid here, only ever fully recreating the dark tone of this film once or twice, but never truly surpassing it. Physical copies of this one are sadly pretty hard to come by, but if you somehow come across one in a secondhand store for less than $10, I'd say it's definitely worth buying on the spot. Just don't go in expecting it to be as fun(ny) as most other Corman or Price movies. This is Poe, after all.


4. Jigoku

The third movie on this list that's been picked up by the Criterion Collection, Jigoku is one I only finally got around to just now, and wow... I mean, seriously, this movie creeped me out so much I had to put on cartoons after just to calm my nerves. Japan has been responsible for several of the most chilling horror movies ever made (Kwaidan and Kuroneko being the first to spring to mind), and Jigoku easily fits in the ranks as one of the most disturbing. The fact this movie was even released in 1960 is a small miracle, as it features some of the most grotesque and jaw-dropping imagery I've ever seen in a movie, and believe me when I say I've seen my fair share of nasty sh*t. It takes a little while to really get going, but the excellent visual design and forboding set-up provided by the first hour are more than worth sitting through to get to the last 30-40 minutes, which can't even be described with words. It truly must be seen to be believed, but trust me when I say this is NOT a movie you can put on in the backgroundfor light entertainment. If you aren't hooked by the time the third act approaches, you will be -- even if you wish you could look away. This is easily the most terrifying film depiction of Hell that I've ever seen, and even thinking about it gives me the chills. You can find this one for anywhere between $15-25, and while I definitely recommend it to fans of more extreme stuff, I couldn't offer this one up to casual horror fans. It's still great, though, and check out this badass poster. That has got to be one of the greatest movie posters ever.


3. Peeping Tom

If anything, the next few entries will do nothing more successfully than prove how terrible I am at planning ahead. I did not have the fleshed-out idea to make this list until after I already posted my top 5 favorite movies of 1960 list, all but one being featured on that post. Yeah, my bad. So I'm not going to have much new to say about these next few movies that I didn't already cover roughly a week ago with that post. Directed by Michael Powell, Peeping Tom stands as one of the earliest influences on the slasher genre, hitting theaters before even Psycho, which is often considered the grandfather of the slasher movie. It's creepy and definitely worth watching, but finding a copy of this one is very expensive if you're living in the States or have a region 1 player, totalling currently at its lowest on Amazon in the vein of $40. As much as I love this movie and recommend people watch it, it's really not one I can see forking over that much for, unless you have some change to spare. As far as I'm aware, this one has no additional releases, so unless you have an all-region player, you won't be able to find this one to own unless you feel like spending way too much money. Look into renting it at the library or local video store if you can find it -- it's definitely worth the hassle.


2. Black Sunday

This and the next one were also featured on that 1960 favorite movies list, so again, I'm going to try to avoid repeating myself too much here. Mario Bava is one of my favorite horror directors (foreshadowing for my upcoming horror directors list!!!) and from all I've seen, this is easily his best movie. It's got amazing visuals and a creepy atmosphere like few other movies of its time. Again, if you want to read more about it, I made a little write-up about it just a few days ago. I linked it in my segment about The Virgin Spring. As for finding physical copies of this one, they are remarkably easy to get your hands on. There is a blu-ray and DVD release available in the U.S. that you can buy for about $10, sometimes even lower. Just be mindful of what copy you find, because picture quality is something you will want to take into consideration for this movie. Unlike Little Shop or 13 Ghosts, you'll want the best looking copy you can find if you decide to buy this one, so if you pick up the blu-ray, I would definitely say you won't feel cheated. Easily recommended to fans of Italian horror.


1. Psycho

And there it is, the movie everyone knew would have to land at #1. And to prove how much of a hipster I'm NOT, who am I to put it anywhere else? This movie is one I've watched many times over my life and still manages to surprise and impress me to this day. It's an undeniable classic with one of the greatest early examples of a psychological twist ending. It was so unprecedented at the time, they felt the need to throw a 5-minute explanation at the end to keep audiences from being too confused. Nowadays, films only do that when they're written by stupid people who think their audiences are as dumb as they are. Extremely controversial in its day for many reasons, Psycho was one of Hitchcock's only horror movies, at least by my standards. It's not hard at all to find copies of this one, and I can think of no reason why it shouldn't be a part of any movie collection. If you like classic movies, horror movies, or just want a collection that extends beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as I'm afraid most people wouldn't ever stray), throw $5-10 at this one and you won't be disappointed. I've seen it for sale at Walmart for less than 10 dollars. You've already run out of excuses not to buy it.


So there you have it, my top 10 horror movies of 1960. I know I tended to get a little more wrapped up in the sales pitch than in describing these movies, but I feel associating a dollar amount to the experience helps people ascertain the quality of a movie in a way they can feel impact their daily lives. I know a lot of people are content with streaming and downloading everything, and I totally get that, especially with movies you are totally unsure about. But buying physical copies and collecting weird DVDs is something I really enjoy and put a lot of value in as a huge movie fanatic, so I like seeing people buy stuff, especially if they're spending their money wisely -- not just on whatever hits the new release shelf. Go shopping for used movies, you never know what you might uncover. And maybe keep a few of these movies in mind if you're in the mood for something a little spooky.
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