Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

Horror movies in the '70s sucked: A minority opinion.

As far as I'm concerned, there was something very wrong with horror movies between the late '60s and late '70s. I think it was the violence; too graphic to be convincing with the cheesy pre-CGI special (as in "special needs) effects and whatever type of low-quality film all the movies were using at the time (or maybe that was the colorization process).

I blame the annulment of the Hayes Code. Under the Hayes Code, "objectionable" content was severely restricted enough that horror movies were either campy exploitation pictures (like The House on Haunted Hill or The Screaming Skull) or survived on the power of suggestion (as in Psycho or The Haunting). When the Hayes Code was repealed in 1967 and the MPAA ratings set in place, the latter type of film benefited (as in The Exorcist). The former type, however, suffered. Most directors weren't able to effectively utilize their new freedom. Anybody who's seen Satan's School for Girls, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things or Silent Night, Bloody Night should have some idea of what I'm talking about. The special effects are laughable and the violence just doesn't work. I think it's the editing. Under the Hayes Code, the formula was to show the source of the violence (say, the raised knife coming down at Janet Leigh), and then its result (Bosco syrup blood streaking the wall of the shower). By the late '60s, we were allowed to see the knife penetrating the flesh between the catalyst and reaction shots, but something was off. It took years for most directors to get it right.

British horror films are the worst offenders. The House That Dripped Blood, The Legend of Hell House, From Beyond The Grave -- these movies are fun to watch and they are fun to laugh at, but what was meant to be scary just isn't anymore. Are we more enlightened? No longer frightened by the simple things that go bump in the night? Too American to understand? No. If the problem were among these, The Others (a movie about unsettling noises in a spooky house directed by a Spaniard who had never worked in Hollywood before) wouldn't have grossed $96 million in its theater run. I suspect that the problem comes from the fact that if you're going to establish John Pertwee as a reluctant vampire, the thing to do is have him go out in the night, kill somebody, and then awaken exhausted the next morning with blood around his mouth and an aversion to sunlight. Instead they gave him plastic fangs that froze his mouth into a permanent smile, and made him look about in bewilderment as he is inexplicably unable to keep his feet on the ground (which happens in The House That Dripped Blood). Don't even get me started on The Abominable Dr. Phibes -- A undead moustache-twirling villain who wears a Vincent Price mask and plays pipe organ with a group of clockwork musicians? Puh-leez. If not for the soundtrack, it could pass for a particularly lame screwball comedy.

Anyway, this brings me to the reason I'm posting in the first place -- The Satanic Rites of Dracula, which I just finished watching. Professor Larimer Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) hunts down Dracula (Christopher Lee) in 1974. In the meantime we get to see Joanna Lumley in one of her less-Fabulous screen roles, a little nudity, fight scenes that don't work because they didn't know how to cut the film together convincingly, and a naked woman. Whoops, I already mentioned her (not that I care -- I have Internet access, fercryinoutloud).

I actually kind of liked it. If you're looking for a campy modern-day vampire story, you could do a lot worse. It's your typical Dracula-is-a-cult-leader-who-is-trying-to-infect-the-world's-population-with-a-mutated-strain-of-the-Bubonic-Plague story, and it plays well -- mostly because the violence is of the people-getting-bitten variety (in a vampire movie of all places) and the special effects (present in small number) are actually very good. I just wish they hadn't taken Dracula and Van Helsing (or rather, a Van Helsing character) out of their original context just for the sake of having a vampire and his adversary. This was a permissible transgression in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I didn't like very much), but this movie would've worked better if different names had been used. Aside from that and the whole early '70s Britishness* of the movie I'd recommend it.

* Actually a real word. Really.
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