Night of the Living Dead is a cult classic of 60s horror
Friday Fright Fest,  Jeff Merchant,  Our Writers

Friday Fright Fest | The Swinging Slashing 60s

We’re jumping back into the time machine folks and this time we’re heading back to the world of 60s Horror. The 60s had some of the most enduring horror films of all time, as well as a whole bunch of hippies and free love! The time machine has enough energy for five films today so let’s not waste any energy, or else we’ll be stuck here.

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#5. Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)

From out of the arctic comes a gigantic flying, fire-breathing turtle that sets its sights on destroying Tokyo. An ancient gigantic prehistoric flying turtle is awakened from its centuries of slumber and embarks on the expected destructive rampage. Can an elite team of top scientists from all over the world figure out a way to stop Gamera before it’s too late?

Gamera: The Giant Monster is one of the best films from the 60s
You can watch Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965) here

Director Noriaki Yuasa, working from a neat script by Nisan Takahashi, relates the cool premise at a steady pace, maintaining a serious tone throughout while staging the funky and exciting mondo-destructo set pieces with real aplomb. The scenes with Gamera attacking Tokyo are not only very thrilling but also surprisingly harsh and grim.

The cast plays the material with admirable sincerity, with praiseworthy work from Eiiji Funakoshi as pragmatic zoologist Dr Eiiji Hidaka, the fetching Harumi Kiritachi as Hidaka’s faithful assistant Kyoko Yamamoto, Junichiro Yamashita as eager reporter Aoyagi, Jun Hamamura as the wise Professor Murase, and Yoshiro Uchida as lonely turtle-loving misfit kid Toshio Sakurai.

The special effects are pretty good and convincing; Gamera makes for an impressively huge, deadly, and fearsome fire-breathing beast. Nubuo Munekawa’s crisp widescreen black and white cinematography does the trick. Tadashi Yamauchi’s robust and rousing score likewise hits the spirited spot. Moreover, we even get a nice theme about the perils of hero worship with a subplot about Toshio idolizing Gamera to a dangerous degree. A fun flick for sure.

#4. Masque of the Red Death (1964)

A European prince terrorizes the local peasantry while using his castle as a refuge against the “Red Death” plague that stalks the land.

The Masque of the Red Death (Warner-Pathe, 1964). British Quad (30" | Lot  #54303 | Heritage Auctions
You can watch Masque of the Red Death (1964) here

Death himself, cloaked in red, delivers a plague to a village under the rule of the cruel, corrupt Prince Prospero, played by Vincent Price, in one of his finest roles. Prospero is offended by two villagers who ridicule the way he treats their people and decides to imprison them keeping them in a dungeon alive. This is temporary thanks to the pleading of the father’s red-headed daughter, Francesca played by a women who defined the 1960s Jane Asher.

Prospero fancies Francesca, who is quite homely at first, wishing to corrupt her innocence and purity. Gino, played by David Weston, is Francesca’s beloved while Nigel Green plays Ludovico, her father. Both are to partake in a devious game plotted by Prospero where one will die. The game in question is known as a “poisoned dagger deal” where each will choose from a group of blades cutting themselves until one meet’s their untimely doom.

Ultimately, the film is about Prospero’s devilish reign over everyone, as he seems to hold the power over who lives and dies. Or, does he? What Prospero doesn’t know is that Red Death has his own plans. Everything that has occurred, up to this point, from the plague to the capture of Francesca is part of a plan devised by Death to show Prospero his fate.

A universal theme of “good versus evil” is employed skillfully by director Roger Corman in arguably his finest film using Satanism as the source of evil and love as the source of good. Prospero and the woman of his castle Juliana, played by Hazel Court, are “dueling” for Satan’s affections. Corman often uses dream-like surrealism to show their desire for the vile one’s favor. Juliana even takes the mark of the upside-down cross, burnt to her chest, to hopefully become Beelzebub’s bride.

We watch as Prospero shows no pity on villagers who wish to lodge in his castle and even certain aristocrats who just wish to barrier themselves from the Red Plague ravaging the countryside. We also see the wealthy denizens as they scrap for their host’s truffles and humiliate themselves often for Prospero’s sheer amusement. One sequence shows them mimicking animals at Prospero’s command.

Prospero relishes misery, specifically from God-fearing Christians, and he often uses people he deems of a lower value as entertainment for his visitors. An excellent example is two miniature people, Hop Toad, played by Skip Martin, and Esmeralda, played by Verina Breenlaw whose voice is dubbed by an older woman which is common in movies of this time, who perform recitals for them. When Esmeralda accidentally tips over a glass of wine on slimy aristocrat, Alfredo, Patrick Magee who portrays him as a devious toad, she is slapped by him rashly.

In a moment of pure vengeful delight, Corman shows good triumph over evil when Hop Toad gets the better of Alfredo tricking him into a gorilla suit during a masquerade ball Prospero was putting together. But, the film is about fate and death. We all shall meet that point and time and Prospero’s about to meet Death face-to-face. The ending where Prospero can not control the horror that will come to him is quite satisfying.

Corman used sets from the film “Becket” while making this film in England and provides us with a lavish look, magnificent colour, highlighting the wonderful surreal nightmarish sequences within this movie. Death is photographed inside an eerie fog and the film’s final sequence highlights Corman’s rendering of a great story adapted from Poe’s magnificent macabre tale. Here we hear a collection of “deliverers” talk in jest and sadness of their unfortunate duties of taking souls as they wander to their demise.

Price as the evil prince and the way Corman films the depravity provides a template for that finale where everyone who inflicts their cruelty must meet their cruel fate.

#3. Jigoku (1960)

A group of sinners involved in interconnected tales of murder, revenge, deceit and adultery all meet at the Gates of Hell.

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You can watch Jigoku (1960) here

This is one unique viewing experience, that can get quite artistic and unusual to watch. But that’s just Japanese cinema for you. It’s simply just a very different culture, with also a different style of cinema. I admit that you perhaps have to be a bit into (old) Japanese cinema, to fully appreciate- and perhaps also understand this movie.

You could divide this movie in two parts. First, you have a dramatic movie, with supernatural and horror elements to it, while the last part of the movie is purely set in Hell, in which all of the movie its sinners have to pay for their sins. It’s Japanese Hell, so it’s not something you are accustomed to seeing when thinking of that place. It’s nightmarish and very visually orientated. It plays on fears and torturing pains, while the movie at all times remains a classy and artistic one to look at.

For a 60’s Horror movie, it feels and looks surprisingly modern. It also isn’t afraid to handle some daring themes and to feature some erotic moments. I can see how this movie inspired later genre movies and Japanese filmmakers. Its story gets told slowly, as is often the case with Japanese cinema. The story can get quite hard and confusing to follow but not nearly as confusing as some people try to make you believe. Seriously, as far as old fashioned Japanese movies go, this one is pretty much straightforward and understandable enough for western people, when you have subtitles available of course.

But above all things, this movie still manages to impress the most with its visuals. I liked the directing approach of this movie, which also provided the movie with some at times artistic shots, that you are more accustomed to seeing in a good ’70’s movie. The editing on the other hand can get quite dodgy if I have to say something negative about this movie. A great movie, for the lovers of old fashioned and daring Japanese cinema at least.

#2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A ragtag group of Pennsylvanians barricade themselves in an old farmhouse to remain safe from a horde of flesh-eating ghouls that are ravaging the East Coast of the United States.

You can watch Night of the Living Dead (1968) here

For an unknown reason, the dead are returning to life and eating the living. Our story has a group of people gathered inside a farmhouse where they not only have to battle the dead but also each other. George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is without question one of the greatest horror films ever made and it’s also quite possibly the greatest “B” movie ever made.

It’s rather amazing to see how well this film still holds up decades after its release and it’s even more amazing to see how well it holds up no matter how many times you watch it. The film is a reminder of what can be done with a low budget and some creativity and it remains one of the greatest shockers ever made.

Even though the gore level would be topped in DAWN OF THE DEAD and countless other movies, there’s just something so dark and sinister about Romero’s classic zombie flick. There’s no question that the black and white cinematography adds a layer of fear as you look out into those dark fields, see the dead slowly come towards you and it just shows that time is running out. The opening sequence is perfectly done because Romero shoots it at a frantic pace allowing the audience to be put right into the action. The same is true for the chaos at the end when all hell breaks loose.

Romero did a remarkable job managing to make the film almost seem like a documentary. The rawness of everything just makes it seem all the more real and there’s no question that some of the most famous moments in horror history can be found here. The most chilling aspect is seeing the world around these people collapse as they can’t figure out how to work together when facing death. To this day the scene in the basement between the mother and her child is one of the most haunting ever filmed.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD features some raw performances but I think they just help the film ever more. Duane Jones is perfect as Ben and I think Judith O’Dea is also extremely good in her role. The supporting players are just as effective and together you’ve certainly got a great group of characters to root for or against.

The film is about as great as you can get and it constantly gets better with time. Romero has now made a total of six films in this series and fans will debate whether this one or DAWN is better. To me, both are pretty flawless movies and the highest quality when it comes to zombie pictures.

#1. Psycho (1960)

A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.

You can watch Psycho (1960) here

If you don’t already know what this movie is about then you need to stop reading this right now and go watch the movie. I’ve seen Psycho dozens of times over the years from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray. I have also had the pleasurer of seeing it at least five times on the big screen and for my money, this is Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest film and one of the greatest movies ever made. I know VERTIGO, a brilliant movie, gets all the love and respect but for my money this here is his greatest film.

Where do you start with a movie like this? Everyone knows that the budget was slashed and it certainly helped the film because had this been in colour or had it been lavished with a big budget then it just wouldn’t have the same feel.

Psycho has some of the most historic moments in film history that everyone knows about. These moments are of course the shower sequence as well as the ending. Both certainly deserve to be mentioned whenever you discuss brilliant scenes but for my money, the greatest sequence in the movie is what happens before the shower sequence and it’s the discussion between Marion Crane played by Janet Leigh, and Norman Bates played to perfection by Anthony Perkins, as they discuss what is holding them back.

The performances between the two actors are just so flawless and this scene is important because it tells us everything we need to know going into the second half of the movie. In the first portion of the movie, we’re worried and care about the Crane character but that is turned on it’s head when a shocking reveal moves our sympathy immediately to shy, quite unassuming Norman who cares for his mother. The way Hitchcock pulls this off is rather remarkable but the shocks keep happening with one terrific twist after another leading up to the ending.

What’s always amazed me about this movie is how your initial viewing is nothing but pure shocks and gasps. On repeat viewings, even when you know all the secrets, you can enjoy it just as much as you watch the way a master filmmaker handles the material. You can watch for the clues and see all the winks that Hitchcock is giving the viewer. No matter how many times I watch this film I can simply sit back and enjoy it on so many levels. It’s a movie where you brain knows what’s going on but the film is just so great that you can enjoy everything and wish that the character’s fate changes somehow.

Everything from the performances to the score to the cinematography is flawless. This is without question one of the most impressive movies ever made. It’s certainly a ground-breaking picture that has its legendary director at the top of his game. Psycho has been copied countless times over the past fifty-five years but nothing has come close to its impact.

Close the World:txeN eht nepO

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