For film fans who are not entirely obsessed with the horror genre, October can be a long and lonely month indeed, since we’re seemingly expected to spend our every spare movie-viewing moment consuming horror movies as a kind of extended Halloween celebration. The trouble is, some of us just aren’t that nuts about horror movies — but there’s all of these “31 Days of Horror” and “October Horror Movie Challenge” threads, and nobody wants to be the killjoy who spoils the party. But remember this, fellow indifferent film fanatics: the nice thing about the horror genre is that it’s adaptable. Elements of the scary movie not only can be easily combined with those forms you’re more at home with, but have been. After the jump, we’ll take a look at a few of our favorite horror hybrid movies.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) DIRECTOR: Charles Barton STARS: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. STYLES: Horror/Comedy Universal had watched both its monster franchises and the comedies of Abbott and Costello cool at the box office when some smart guy decided to combine them — and ended up with a rare horror/comedy that’s both funny and scary. It also marked a new direction for the comedy team, who took on the Invisible Man, the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and “the killer, Boris Karloff” in future vehicles. Chief among the film’s present-day fans is Quentin Tarantino, who credited its early influence with teaching him that different tones could be juggled in the same film. “This was one of my favorite movies as a kid,” he proclaimed in 2006. “When it was supposed to be funny, it was really funny, and when it was supposed to be scary, it was really scary.”
From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) DIRECTOR: Robert Rodriguez STARS: George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis STYLES: Horror/Action Tarantino’s Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein influence can be most easily seen in the 1996 horror/action hybrid From Dusk Till Dawn, which Robert Rodriguez directed from Tarantino’s screenplay (written for chump change in his pre-Pulp Fiction days). For its first half, Dusk Till Dawn is a tense and fairly straight-forward action thriller, with Clooney and Tarantino playing a pair of escaped cons who kidnap a family (led by Keitel). Then they wander into the “Titty Twister” border strip club — and, seemingly, into a completely different movie, in which freakish zombie/vampire creatures must be staked and the survivors must stay alive until morning. The mish-mash is a bit incongruous, but it’s entertaining — and the picture gave Clooney his first opportunity to show what he could do on the big screen.
Alien (1979) DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott STARS: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt STYLES: Horror/Science Fiction This one’s almost too easy. “In space, no one can hear you scream” went the memorable tagline, and that’s this one’s genius premise in a nutshell: the members of a commercial towing spaceship crew are attacked by a bloodthirsty alien creature, and must kill it in order to survive. And there you have it — a sci-fi notion with a terrifying horror twist, thanks to the taut direction of Ridley Scott (shockingly, this was only his second feature). When star Sigourney Weaver returned to the character or Ripley seven years later for the sequel Aliens, director James Cameron changed the game again, making that follow-up a sci-fi/horror/action hybrid.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola STARS: Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves STYLES: Horror/Romance Yes, yes, you have to be willing to look past Keanu Reeves doing arguably the worst English accent in cinema history. But Coppola’s lush and expensive adaptation of (and attempt to reconnect with) Bram Stoker’s classic novel played up the Gothic romance angle that tended to get washed out of later film versions; the eroticism of Dracula (Oldman) and the object of his attraction (Ryder) gives the film a subtext that rises above mere blood-sucking. (And if you’re wondering: no, Twilight wasn’t even considered for this list.)
Young Frankenstein (1974) DIRECTOR: Mel Brooks STARS: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn STYLES: Horror/Spoof We think it’s fair to say that “spoof” is a genre, between Monty Python, Woody Allen, the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker boys, John Landis, and Edgar Wright (not to mention lesser lights like the Wayans brothers and those morons who made Date Movie and Epic Movie, and all that sludge). But the king of the brand is Mel Brooks, and he was at the very top of his game in 1974, when he released arguably the two finest parody films of all time: Blazing Saddles in February, followed by Young Frankenstein in December. Conceived by star Gene Wilder (who co-wrote the script with Brooks), Young Frankenstein is paradoxically both Brooks’ most disciplined film and his funniest. One of the main reasons for its success is that Brooks went to such great pains, down to the details, to make it look exactly like the Universal horror classics he was sending up — not only shooting in black and white, but renting the lab equipment props from the original 1931 Frankenstein.
Black Swan (2010) DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky STARS: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey STYLES: Horror/Psychological Drama Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 Oscar winner is equal parts backstage melodrama and psychological creeper, burrowing deep into a damaged psyche and turning up the creeps every step of the way. There’s a cheap trick or two, scare-wise, and a couple of goofy music cues, causing the picture to occasionally dance right up to the edge of silliness. But this is brutally effective stuff, and the filmmaker keeps the audience squirming with the little moments when psychological horror turns physical; Natalie Portman’s Nina is constantly tearing herself up, so the screen is filled with close-ups of snipping, cutting, ripping, tugging. Black Swan was pushed as an art-house thriller, but it had more genuine terror in it than most of last year’s conventional “horror movies.”
Phantom of the Paradise (1974) DIRECTOR: Brian DePalma STARS: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper STYLES: Horror/Musical We know, you thought we’d go with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but seriously, who isn’t tired of that movie? Instead, we’re picking Brian DePalma’s deliciously insane 1974 rock-horror hodgepodge, loosely inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, Faust, and Phil Spector. It met with low box office and indifferent reviews when it was originally released (a year before Rocky Horror, by the way), but one critic of note was impressed by the film: Pauline Kael, who called it “a one-of-a-kind entertainment, with a kinetic, breakneck wit.”
The Burrowers (2009) DIRECTOR: JT Petty STARS: Clancy Brown, William Maphother, Laura Leighton, Sean Patrick Thomas STYLES: Horror/Western You’d be surprised how few filmmakers have successfully merged the horror flick and the Western; most of the time, they come up with dogs like Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. But JT Petty’s 2009 meshing of monster movie and oater garnered positive buzz and good reviews when it screened at Toronto and Fantastic Fest, with Film.com’s Eric D. Snider calling it “an impressive mixture of the Western and horror genres, something that has rarely been done at all, let alone this well.
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) DIRECTOR: Jack Clayton STARS: Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, Pam Grier STYLES: Horror/Family I’ll own up to it: this Ray Bradbury adaptation scared the bejesus out of me when I first saw it at the tender age of eight — God knows if the spider sequence is, as a matter of fact, as scary as it is in my memory, but I’m sure as hell not gonna check to find out. I was allowed to see this terrifying picture for one reason, and one reason alone: it was produced and distributed by Walt Disney, and they make movies for kids, right? Right? Not so much — Something Wicked was one of several films that Disney produced in the late 1970s and early 1980s in an attempt to broaden their appeal to an older audience (the others included The Black Hole, Tron, Tex, The Devil and Max Devlin, and Trenchcoat). The mixed response to this experiment led to the formation of the subsidiary Touchstone Pictures in 1984, which produced films for older audiences, while the Disney name was kept for family pictures. Which, as I would like to reiterate, Something Wicket This Way Comes was not. (Great, now I’m gonna have spider nightmares tonight.)