The Best Horror Movies of the Past 50 years! Part 1! The Sixties!

If you’ve ever wondered what the most influential horror films of the past 50 years are, ponder no more!

As we are in 2014 right now, I thought I would go back 50 years, no earlier, to bring you what I think is the definitive list of the best horror movies ever made. Now, I don’t claim to have got it right (if there is even such a thing), so let me qualify that. Here are the movies I think have influenced filmmakers more than any other? Don;t agree? Let me know! I’m always looking to expand the list!

And you find this list interesting or helpful, let me know that too! It’s always nice to think you are more than one hand clapping.

PART 1

THE SIXTIES… GOTHIC GORE TO GUT-MUNCHING GHOULS! 

 

Gothic horror reigned supreme at the start of the Sixties!

Gothic horror reigned supreme at the start of the Sixties!

 

As this list promises to be a big one, let’s tackle it decade by decade. Starting with the decade that saw the most change of all, the Supernatural Sixties! We see the swing from Gothic horror to modern survival horror taking place here. But along the way are some great horror movies that are not to be missed!

Masque of the Red Death (1964)

We begin the journey of horror over the past 50 years with a classic Gothic horror tale. It seems appropriate to note just how much storytelling in horror movies was to change over the decade, going from an old-fashioned ghost story to something far more sophisticated and modern, as the audience’s demand to be shocked grew. The Late Fifties were notable for the emergence of British horror studio Hammer as an international force. Their ability to churn out cheap productions of classic horror stories, with added blood and nudity, was a crowd pleaser. Most of the time they used only an old British stately home and some horses. But the Americans soon started making adaptations of their own master of the macabre. And, of course, these were bigger if not better. Roger Corman’s Edge Allen Poe adaptation is one of the best, full of sex, death and menace with a truly great ending that rises above the rather exploitational subject-matter of a wicked price having his way with just about everyone he gets his hands on.

Hush Hush… Sweet Charlotte 1964

A hysterical Southern Gothic tale that boasts some terrific actors (Better Davis, Jospeh Cotton), but which owes much to Tennessee Williams. Almost not a horror movie at all but a sensationalistic thriller. But the atmosphere of dread and tension that hangs over Davis as the tormented and possibly insane Southern belle pushes this into the realm of horror.

Kwaidan 1964

The most expensive film ever made by Japan. This portmanteau film retells several medieval Japanese ghost stories. Among them, “Snow Woman” is the best. Sometimes criticized for being too slow. But each shot is like watching a beautiful Japanese painting. Japanese horror has always been obsessed by the past. At this point, they were still drawing on tales of peasant life for inspiration.

Onibaba 1964

Which brings us to Onibaba (translation: The Hole). This is a must-see World Cinema classic and that rare thing: a horror film that is appreciated by movie critics. Dripping with atmosphere. Two women lure wandering samurai to their deaths using a deep hole in a cornfield. The ending is full of great grotesque irony.

Repulsion 1965

Surreal, bizarre, claustrophobic thriller from Roman Polanski that veers into horror by the sheer intensity of its imagery. Beautiful, young Catherine Deneuve is left alone too much in her apartment, until she starts to go crazy. An exercise in understated menace.

Dracula Prince of Darkness 1965

Sequel to the original Hammer classic. This one sees Christopher Lee not even speaking as the evil Count. It has all the hallmarks of classic Hammer horror: buxom vampire brides, blood so crimson it almost glows, hysterical music. An example of how Gothic horror allowed audiences in the Sixties to experience images that would have been unthinkable in the ‘Fifties.

Dance of the Vampires aka The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

Roman Polanski’s comedy horror film is so beautifully shot you could be mistaken for thinking it’s the greater Hammer film ever made. In fact, it’s a quite funny slapstick affair concerning two inept vampire hunters. It also has its genuinely creepy moments.

Kuroneko 1968

Another “feudal” Japanese horror movie. Modern horror hit “The Grudge” owes a debt to this retelling of a classic ghost story involving two women who are killed by pesky bandits and return as cat demons. Some great cinematography makes this a classic of Oriental cinema.

The Devil Rides Out 1968

Another Hammer classic, this time featuring Christopher Lee as the good guy. Devil-worshipping in the English countryside this time, based on the old-schol adventure yarn by Dennis Wheatley. Features a terrific “devil”, although the story is a bit staid compared to a lot of other Hammer productions.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Capitalizing on the Satanism craze of the Swinging Sixties, Ira Levin’s updating of the devil worshipping story to modern-day Manhattan was a huge hit that prefigured the coming of Stephen King a decade or so later. For the first time, the supernatural is found not in an old castle in Transylvania, but in an upscale apartment building. Features the great John Cassavetes and a startling ending that has may have become the paranoid nightmare of pregnant women everywhere. It’s no coincidence that this very realistic supernatural horror came out at the same tie as our next movie…

Night of the Living Dead 1968

And so the Sixties ends with the movie that redefined the horror genre. Many articles have been written on how this is a socio-political tale. The filmmakers have since denied this. According to director George A Romero, the lead actor was originally intended to be a white guy, but at the last minute, he wasn’t available, so they substituted a black actor instead.  What a difference! This movie turns many horror clichés on their head. The hero is not the white, lantern-jawed, all-American hero, but a black man (who is probably the only sane guy in the picture). There is no real explanation for the zombies; the dead simply rise from their graves. And they don’t carry the heroine off into the sunset. They eat you. In fact, they eat your guts. Science, often the salvation of the A-Bomb-inspired B-movies of the Fifties, can’t save us either. In fact, nothing can save us. The divided society falls, just as the folks who try to protect themselves in an isolated farmhouse are killed one by one. Romero has since said that Richard Matheson’s novel “I Am Legend” (filmed as both The Omega Man and I Am Legend) inspired the movie. But the real inspiration is the end of the Sixties themselves. The Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and the end of the Hippie dream of free love and peace, had all conspired to create an atmosphere of cynicism. The world is not what it was promised to be. Society is fractured. Tension are rife. The survivors cannot agree on anything.  In the end, only ignorance survives – symbolized by the gun-happy rednecks who shoot both the living and the dead at the end of the picture. Still powerfully unsettling today, right down to the last frame, Night of the Living Dead would break new taboos, and pave the way for the more extreme horror of the 70s, and even the “video nasty” era of the 80s…

 

Vietnam, Woodstock, and the Civil Rights movements all had a profound effect upon Sixties horror!

Vietnam, Woodstock, and the Civil Rights movements all had a profound effect upon Sixties horror!

 

Next time…

THE SEVENTIES… SLASHERS, SATANISTS, AND A VERY BIG SHARK!

 

 

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How to Write Loglines – an actually useful guide

Want to know how to write effective loglines for movies and books? Read on!

INTRODUCTION

There has been so much written on the subject of writing loglines that I thought it was about time I added my tupppence (or two cents, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are on) to the debate.

Let’s start with the basics:

1. WHAT IS A “LOGLINE”?

A logline can apply to both novels and screenplays for movies. They are generally short, punchy descriptions of the plot (i.e. the thing your story is about). Editors, agents, producers and assorted other people often ask for a logline when they are deciding whether to buy or represent your work.

Interestingly, neither Robert McKee in his lauded book “Story” nor William Goldman in his seminal essay “Adventures in the Screen Trade” mention what a logline is. Yet I would argue that is one of the most essential tools the screenwriter or novelist has at his or her disposal. In fact, it is an essential skill to master.

One thing a logline is not is that thing you see on movie posters. This is in fact a “tagline”. Tagllines are very short (usually one sentence, or sometimes less!) statements used to entice someone into watching a movie.

An example of a tagline:

“In space, no-one can hear you scream” (Alien)

While this is a great tagline, note that it tells us nothing about what is going on (other than it’s in space, and you’re likely to scream).

A logline is more sophisticated and tells us more about the story.

For example:

“A psychopath escapes from an asylum and slashes his way through a quiet suburban neighbourhood until he is defeated by a bookish young woman” (Halloween).

Okay, so it’s not poetry. But you get the picture.

 

 

2. WHY THE HELL DO I NEED A LOGLINE ANYWAY?

But Eric, you say, why should I distil my 100,000 word novel or my 120 pages screenplay, work of genius that it is, into a single sentence?

The answer: a logline is a selling tool.

Loglines allow you to “pitch” (i.e. tell) someone about your story in a very short space of time. And when you’re dealing with producers, agents and executives who can only spare you less than a minute, this becomes important.

Of course, if you’re happy just writing and never selling anything, loglines probably won’t apply to you. Good luck on your chosen career path. Some of us have to eat.

A good logline can make someone sit up in their seat and pay attention. It can entertain, move and arouse curiosity in the listener. And it can delay that moment when they start yawning or hang up.

 

3.  OKAY, SMARTYPANTS. WHAT IS A GOOD LOGLINE MADE UP OF?

Opinions abound on this.

In his excellent guide “Raindance Writers Lab: Write and Sell the Hot Script”, Elliott Grove suggests that you first come up with a “basic premise”. This, to me, is a logline: a 25 words or less summary of the plot.

A rule of thumb is, the shorter the logline, the higher the concept.

High concept is what sells in Hollywood (although other types of film also sell). What is a high concept? Basically, something that’s real easy to sell.

In “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (a book no screenwriter should be without)  the author says that a killer logline should include the following:

- Irony

- A compelling mental picture

- An idea of audience and cost

- A killer title

Let’s investigate:

Irony

What is Irony? In the film “Borat” , Sascha Baron Cohen in his alter ego of the Khazakstanian ambassador to the USA, interviews a real-life professor of comedy. When the Professor tries to explain a joke to him, Borat deliberately gets the wrong end of the stick repeatedly. This goes on for some time until it becomes very funny. Everyone but the Professor of comedy, who is paid to understand humour, gets the joke. That is irony.

An example of irony in a logline would be: “A lawyer is forced to tell the truth for 24 hours after his son makes a birthday wish ” (Liar Liar).

The other elements are all important. A title is essential to help your movie stand out from the crowd. A sense of scale and budget will help others to decide whether to invest (is it “The Blair Witch Project” or “Avatar”?) .

However, there are basic elements I think this definition leaves out.

The easiest way to analyse what makes a good logline is to look at one.

Here are two examples:

“A police chief with a phobia of the sea must kill a giant shark but faces opposition from the local mayor who demands that the beaches stay open” (Jaws).

“A naive farmboy on a distant planet learns that he is actually the son of a legendary warrior and sets out to rescue a princess from an evil galactic empire”. (Star Wars).

Here we can see irony at work. The police chief is afraid of the water but must fight a shark. The farmboy is naive but must somehow defeat a whole army.

But there is more than just irony in a logline. Looking at our examples, here are some common elements:

A PROTAGONIST in an IRONIC SITUATION must overcome an OBSTACLE to achieve a GOAL in an ARENA.

Tackling “Jaws” first:

“A police chief [PROTAGONIST] with a phobia of the sea [IRONY] must kill a giant shark [GOAL ] but faces opposition from the local mayor [OBSTACLE ] who demands that the beaches stay open [ARENA]“.

The ARENA is the environment the story takes place in. This could be a location (a distant planet), a particular organisation (for example, the mafia), or even within the family unit (see “Ordinary People” for an example).

Sometimes the ARENA will be implicit. Other times you will have to spell it out. But the logline should give a sense of this.

Note that the OBSTACLE may be the same as the ANTAGONIST, or it may not. In “Jaws”, you may think the antagonist is the shark. But in fact it is the local mayor who opposes Brody’s shark safety measures. Killing the shark is the GOAL.

In “Star Wars” the antagonist is Darth Vader (or Grand Moff Tarkin to be precise). But in fact the whole Empire is what poses the problem.

The point is, the OBSTACLE is a fluid concept, depending upon how you craft your logline. But I believe there is an optimum balance to be achieved for maximum effect.

Here is another example that shows the flexibility of the logline concept:

“A young man and woman from different ends of the social spectrum fall in love aboard an ill-fated ocean liner.” (Titanic)

Breaking it down:

“A young man and woman [PROTAGONIST] from different ends of the social spectrum [OBSTACLE] fall in love [GOAL] aboard an ill-fated ocean liner [ARENA and IRONY].”

Note that it is the young woman who is the protagonist. More on that in another post. But the story is always about ONE PERSON’s journey. Unless it’s an ensemble film. Which just goes to show that William Goldman was right when he said “Nobody knows anything”!

One more for the road:

“A loyal Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an insane Emperor and returns to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge” (Gladiator)

Here’s the breakdown:

“A loyal Roman general [PROTAGONIST] is betrayed [IRONY] and his family murdered by an insane Emperor and returns to Rome as a gladiator [OBSTACLE and ARENA (literally!)] to seek revenge [GOAL]“.

Note also that sometimes it is the Protagonist’s FLAW which provides the irony (such as the farmboy being naive in “Star Wars” or the police chief with a phobia off the sea in “Jaws”). Other times it is the entire situation which is ironic, such as the loyal Roman general who is enslaved and betrayed by his own Emperor. Again, it’s a flexible concept.

The important thing is not to get hung up on the details but to check all the boxes.

One last thing. It may be worth your while to develop the logline BEFORE you write the script, as this way you can build a story that has the strongest foundations possible.

IN SUMMARY

So there you have it:

PROTAGONIST + IRONIC SITUATION + OBSTACLE + GOAL + ARENA

Not necessarily that order!

Have fun with loglines. You will probably take quite a few goes to build the best logline for your story. But the rewards are worth it. A logline is the PRIMARY selling tool. Once you practice it, you will surprised at the results.

 

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Sneak preview of new horror novel “Project Nine”!

Today, I wanted to share with you something very special to me.

Here is the first look at the amazing cover for my new horror novel, “Project Nine”. The folks over at MyInkBooks have done a fantastic job putting this together. Suffice to say, a picture can say a thousand words!

But don’t be misled into thinking this is a straight-up horror yarn. I would never let you readers off the hook so easily! No, “Project Nine” is instead a horror/sci-fi/love story! Add a realistic police investigation and the evil machinations of a  ruthless politician… and you have a modern horror story with a distinctly classic feel.

The precise plot is under wraps for the moment, but I can say that if you like horror, this is the book for you! Even if the luscious young lady on the front cover doesn’t tempt you, how about this gushing review: “the narrative prose expounds a candor much in tune with all the greats in Literature”.

And as for how the novel got to be published, well that’s a story in itself!

But in case it sounds like I’m trying to sell you something… take a look below and see what you think.

FrontCover2

 

“Project Nine” is due to be published later this year.  I’ll be releasing more news as it arrives. Watch out for it!

 

 

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HP Lovecraft TV series wants you!

It’s the last 24 hours of the Kickstarter campaign to create a Lovecraftian series of short films. This is a truly great idea by the people behind the Lovecraft e-zine. It will star bona fide sci-fi/horror celebs like Doug Jones (Abe Sapien n Hellboy). And  if you donate enough you could even snap up a co-producer credit on IMDB.

There are plenty of ways to donate, from just a few dollars to much more, and the rewards you get are terrific, so check it out before it’s too late, and be part of history. It’s what HPL would have wanted!

 

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Whisperers in the Darkness

The Kickstarter campaign to create a new HP Lovecraft-themed TV show is down to the last 52 hours. So if you want a shot at funding them do it now. Starring Doug Jones (Abe Sapien from Hellboy) and many others… grab yourself an IMDB credit!

 

 

 

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Lovecraftian TV show… needs your help to happen!

This is so cool I can’t believe it. Only 3 days to go, and so far they’ve reached 64%. Co-producer credits are still up for grabs along with many other goodies. Will this be a testament to the memory of HP Lovecraft?

 

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May 30, 2014 · 3:34 pm

Urban Fantasy anthology update!

NEWSFLASH!

My short story “Blood of an Englishman” features in Twisted Boulevard, the new urban fantasy anthology from Elektrik Milkbath Press. This eclectic blend of short stories promises to have something for everyone.

You can buy it from amazon.com, or amazon.co.uk if you’re a Brit. 

Hmm. Moody cover.

 

 

 

 

 

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