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  • Carrie Specht

Fright Favorites Fridays in October on TCM

Although this October it's not as if anyone needs anything more of which to be scared, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will be airing some of the best classic, spine-tingling horror films to the home screen this Halloween season. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz will sit down with David J. Skal, critic and author (Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond), every Friday in October to present some of classic cinema's most spin tingling films over to cross the silver screen.

Skal is well-suited for this guest chair being a cultural historian known for his research and analysis of horror literature and films. His resume includes several praised books, including Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen (1990); The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror (1993); Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre (1995); V is for Vampire: The A to Z Guide to Everything Undead (1996); Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture (1998); Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween (2002); and Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice (2008). This is a mighty impressive background that will leave you in no doubt that the conversations with Mankiewicz will be full of context sand deep insight.


As per TCMs standard practices, the on-air festival is is divided into categories of subject and emphasis. The first Friday is themed,"Frightmare", which appropriately opens with the original 1931 production of Dracula (1931). This first sound adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel was released through Universal Pictures and stars Bela Lugosi as the definitive vampire. This would be the first of many horror films for which the studio would become famous, and inspire the collective of such creations to be dubbed, the "Universal Monster Movies". Other films of the night Include Cat People (1942), House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Haunting (1963).


"Back from the Grave" night features The Ghoul (1933), a British horror film starring Boris Karloff as an Egyptologist who rises from his tomb to wreak revenge on those who have violated his final resting place (of course). The cast includes two powerful character actors who both would later be knighted for their contributions to the craft of acting; Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Sir Ralph Richardson. This paired with George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), Mark of the Vampire (1935) and Black Sleep (1956).


The Friday dedicated to "Horror Anthologies" includes Dead of Night (1945), a five-part British collection best remembered for the episode where Michael Redgrave plays a ventriloquist dealing with an evil dummy; Twice-Told Tales (1963), a three-part American movie based on stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, with each episode starring the incomparable king of things that go bump in the night, Vincent Price; and Black Sabbath (1963), a three-part production from Italian horror specialist Mario Bava dramatizing stories by Chekhov, Tolstoy and Guy de Maupassant, with Boris Karloff introducing each episode.


The "Creature Features" evening focuses on the 1950s and Sci/Fi monsters. There's one of my all time favorites, 1951's The Thing from Another World. Howard Hawks, a man comfortable in any genre, produced this gripping film to which he made uncredited contributions to the writing and direction. Another of our terrifying beings is the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), a prehistoric "gill-man" from the Amazon River, The Blob (1958), which lands from outer-space, and one of Vincent Price's creepiest movies, 1959's The Tingler.


Of course, there must be a Friday dedicated to "Deals with the Devil". On this night you can expect to see Eye of the Devil (1966) in which vineyard owner David Niven, who like any dedicated farmer, resorts to pagan rituals to save the crops on his French estate. Deborah Kerr plays Niven's wife and Sharon Tate appears as a comely witch. Later in the evening, the famous and well-regarded 1973 version of The Wicker Man which includes in its cast a devilishly appealing Christopher Lee. The night is rounded out with The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959) and The Devil Rides Out (1968).


I appreciate the effort that TCM and Skal have taken to shape this year's schedule with a mix of the familiar favorites with lesser known films, and even films that are likely to be out right discoveries for many viewers. As a long time, dedicated subscriber, it provides me the comfort (or discomfort) I've come to expect for a exhilarating All Hallows Eve.