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15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won’t Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

11. Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) Director: Gordon Flemying – and – 12. Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966) (Flemying)


More kid-friendly than the other British films listed here, Dr. Who and the Daleks (Kino Lorber) and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (Kino Lorber) are colorful widescreen adventures inspired by the BBC series, Doctor Who. Peter Cushing’s incarnation of the Doctor, very far from his Frankenstein or Dr. Knox, is a grandfatherly old sweetheart battling the Daleks, a race of snappy electronic dustbins who glide about making expository declamations and behaving rudely.

Dr. Who and the Daleks has the Doctor accompanied by two smart science-y granddaughters and the stumbling, bumbling boyfriend of one of them. They arrive on an eerie planet of gorgeous matte paintings. It’s been ruined by nuclear war and the natives are literal golden boys with heavy eyeshadow.

The sequel has the Doctor’s niece, granddaughter and a cop arriving in a future London that looks like 1950 if the Blitz had never ended. Both films offer grim scenarios that find happy endings through luck and pluck and after much death. These are definitely films aimed at children, yet young audiences weren’t always treated with kid gloves, as it were.

We can be sure that kids who saw these films never forgot them, even though they weren’t well-reviewed. Critic Kim Newman offers testimony in friendly personal commentaries shared with two modern Doctor Who writers, Robert Shearman and Mark Gatiss. These 2K Blu-ray scans come with making-of’s retained from previous UK discs.

13. Let’s Kill Uncle (1966) Director: William Castle – and – 14. Picture Mommy Dead (1966) Director: Bert I. Gordon


Speaking of strong stuff for youngsters: from the depths of 1966 come the homicidal relations of Let’s Kill Uncle (Kino Lorber) and Picture Mommy Dead (Kino Lorber), two bodaciously styled pieces of gothic pop art about traumatized juveniles. Both films are presented in bold, simple strokes, brightly colored designs and broadly played characters, and both have head-shaker endings. Nobody today would make films like this for the adolescent crowd, more’s the pity, and we’re sure that those lucky enough to be warped by these pictures never got over them.

William Castle‘s Let’s Kill Uncle opens on car crash footage lifted, if I’m any judge, from Robert Altman‘s Nightmare in Chicago (1964), another Universal property. Castle, who liked to cameo in his own films, presents himself as the corpse in the car wreck. Then we focus on a bratty little entitled liar (Pat Cardi) who becomes the “boy who cries wolf” when his war-hero uncle (Nigel Green) calmly announces his intention to kill the kid for his fortune.

Just as calmly, the boy’s bickering, snickering frenemy (Mary Badham of Robert Mulligan’s 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird) suggests the solution: “Let’s kill uncle first.” While responsible adults (Robert Pickering, Linda Lawson) stand around uselessly, the juveniles throw themselves through setpieces with sharks and tarantulas and arson on the remote island setting.

In a bonus interview, Cardi discusses differences between the film and Rohan O’Grady’s novel and also the script’s original ending, which he thinks the film should have kept. It does sound awesome, while the ending we have is a bit on the “family friendly” cop-out side and yet, when you think about it, not completely. In their commentary, historians Kat Ellinger and Mike McPadden discuss the film’s place in Castle’s output, where it fits very snugly.

More fodder for therapy can be found in Bert I. Gordon’s gorgeously designed Picture Mommy Dead, starring his daughter, Susan Gordon, as the moppet who suffers amnesia after witnessing her mother’s death by fire in the disturbing opening sequence. Literally everyone around her is unpleasant and duplicitous: daddy (Don Ameche), the late mommy (Zsa Zsa Gabor), the new wife (Martha Hyer), the facially scarred cousin (Maxwell Reed) and the contemptuous lawyer (Wendell Corey). Come to think of it, Let’s Kill Uncle also has a scarred character.

Robert Sherman’s script and dialogue are amazingly cynical, and the ending of this post- Psycho extravaganza is quite a piece of work. Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger spend their commentary raving about the picture. Like Let’s Kill Uncle, the film aims at nasty-but-fun cold-hearted entertainment–for young viewers! The uncle in that film even declares that he hopes the kids have learned something about the world, and well they might have.

15. They Came From Beyond Space (1967) Director: Freddie Francis

img-1303After meteorites crash in a Cornwall field, people’s minds get taken over by intelligent light waves and a hive of activity begins. At the halfway point, a “crimson plague” breaks out and everyone gets shut in their homes! Such is the world of They Came From Beyond Space (Kino Lorber).

The requisite Quatermass-like American scientist (Robert Hutton) wastes a lot of time trying to get past an electric fence and being shot at multiple times before he finally invents the magic gizmos he needs in a buddy’s kitchen and in the blink of an eye. Then it’s off to see the Wizard, or rather the Master of the Moon (Michael Gough), in the last five minutes. While taking over Earth, the aliens haven’t neglected the protocol of color-coded satin robes like fabulous pajamas.

Freddie Francis, best known as an Oscar-winning cinematographer, directed many horror films that at least look picturesque and sometimes much better than that. This nice-looking example offers pleasant rural locations and Dr. Who-type alien set designs. The photographer is Norman Warwick, whose finest hours would be the spectacular 1971 trifecta of The Last Valley (directed by James Clavell), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest) and Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (Roy Ward Baker). Talk about a very good year. They Came From Beyond Space doesn’t hit that delirium but it’s far from shabby.

Jennifer Jayne makes an intriguing scientist-heroine who spends most of the movie brainwashed into ruthlessness, a hazard of science in general and perhaps especially for women, since movies deliver the message that using their brains too much can make them lose feminine charm. (The woman scientist in Dr. Cyclops faces the same pitfall until the hunk exclaims, “I’m beginning to like that scientific mind!”) Also intriguing is Pakistani actor Zia Moyheddin as a hero, though he shows up only five minutes before Gough.

Like the Doctor Who movies, this British item is an Amicus production scripted by Milton Subotsky, here adapting Joseph Millard’s 1941 pulp novel The Gods Hate Kansas. As David Del Valle points out in his commentary with David DeCoteau, the story predates most of the movies and books that this film resembles, although he locates the primary origin in H.P. Lovecraft‘s The Colour Out of Space (1927).

This sparkling new 4K master will do something to rescue a film whose reputation is much worse than necessary. DeCoteau, a prolific director of direct-to-video exploitation, states that the film’s only problem is the script, which seems rather odd for him to say. I fault only the editing of a story whose repetitions and protractions make it run a reel longer than it should. Of course, that seems true of most movies, but if this picture were tighter, more people would surely like it.