Expert offerings celebrate the terror in scary movies

Thousands of online movies may be available at our fingertips, but picking flicks for a Halloween week fright fest can be a bloody challenge. As Oct. 31 approaches, a few UC Berkeley authorities share their own spooky faves.

Gary Handman

The director of the Media Resources Center, with one of the largest and most respected collections of film and audio recordings in the country, Handman also teaches courses in the Department of Film and Media. He says he was bitten early by the scary movie bug.

Poster from the movie Freaks

Gary Handman's scary-movie picks include the 1932 classic "Freaks."

“I would go to the seedy Meralta Theater in my home town of Culver City every single weekend to pay my 50 cents for thrills and chills and Milk Duds, plus the wonderfully hokey schtick that attended such films: blow-up skeletons that floated across the theater; “Tingler” shocks under the seat; and life insurance policies against death by shock handed out at the door,” he said.

He admits to preferring the “staunchly Old School” horror films. “Just as Sean Connery will also be the only 007,” he said, “Béla Lugosi (aka Count Dracula) will remain the champ of bloodsuckers in my bloody heart.”

For his Top 10 Halloween movie list below, Handman tapped films from 1930 to 1976 and from around the globe. (Note that the Media Resources Center is available to UC Berkeley faculty, students and staff, but permission to use the center is not generally granted for viewing popular or widely accessible titles, including those available elsewhere.) His choices, listed below, include short summaries from the center’s catalog, which is handy for descriptions of other recommendations too.

  • “Eyes Without a Face” (1959). A distinguished surgeon kidnaps young women, intending to graft their features onto his daughter’s disfigured face.
  • “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1920). A somnambulist commits murders under a hypnotist’s influence in this German expressionist horror classic.
  • “Carrie” (1976). Carrie White is a shy young girl who doesn’t make friends easily…Carrie is – gifted, and you really don’t want to get her angry.
  • “Cat People” (1942). Irena Dubrovna, a beautiful and mysterious Serbian-born fashion artist living in New York City, falls in love with and marries average-Joe American Oliver Reed. Their marriage suffers, though, as Irena believes that she is the victim of an ancient curse – whenever emotionally aroused, she turns into a panther and kills.
  • “Dead of Night” (1945). An architect is caught up in an endless series of recurring dreams, during which he is told other people’s supernatural experiences and finally murders the psychiatrist trying to help him.
  • “Freaks” (1932). The side-show freaks have created their own community within the carnival. When the beautiful trapeze artist marries one of the freaks for his money, and then plots to kill him, the enraged freaks take gruesome revenge on their betrayers, transforming the aerialist into the most hideous sideshow attraction of all.
  • “Psycho” (1960). A woman disappears after spending the night in an isolated motel adjoining an eerie Victorian mansion inhabited by a disturbed young man and his mother.
  • “The Black Cat” (1934). A bus crash on a lonely Austrian road compels American honeymooners to spend the night at the house of Herr Poelzig, a sinister-looking man who is engaged in an intense death feud with Dr. Werdegast, whom the couple met on the Orient Express. When they try to leave, they discover they are being held captive.
  • “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). When an evil doctor meets a lonely Frankenstein, he decides to build him a mate.
  • “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). A simple, peaceful countryside is being terrorized by killer zombies with only one thing on their minds –the devouring of human flesh. A small stronghold of survivors must hold the zombies at bay outside an old, abandoned house for any future hope of humanity.

Handman was driven to add some bonus picks, including “Beast with Five Fingers” (1947), “Mad Love” (1935) and “London After Midnight” (1927).

More information about the Media Resources Center’s holdings of horror films is available online.

Poster from Eyes WEithout a Face

"Eyes Without a Face" (1959) features a diabolical facial surgeon.

Carol J. Clover

Clover, a UC Berkeley professor emerita of Scandinavian and comparative literature, wrote “Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film” (1992) after a friend dared her to go see “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” slasher film. In the book, Clover took an academic walk through the “psychosexual wilderness” of the American horror film from the 1970s to the mid-80s.

“What makes horror ‘crucial enough to pass along’ is, for critics since Freud, what has made ghost stories and fairy tales crucial enough to pass along: its engagement of repressed fears and desires and its reenactment of the residual conflict surrounding those feelings,” Clover wrote.

Here, in no particular order, are Clover’s suggestions, which include two of Handman’s picks.

  • “Eyes Without a Face” (1959)
  • “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
  • “The Shining” (1980)
  • “Deliverance” (1972)
  • “Cujo” (1983)
  • “Nosferatu” (1921)
  • “Peeping Tom” (1960)
  • “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957)
  • “Psycho” (1960)
  • “Videodrome” (1982)

Dan O’Neill

An associate professor of Japanese literature, Dan Cuong O’Neill is teaching a course this fall on the Japanese horror film and also is finishing a book, “Ghostly Remains: Affect and the Afterlife of Reading in Modern Japan.”

Poster from Audition

"Audition" (Japan, 2000) is on faculty member Dan Cuong O'Neill's scary-movie list.

While he says Japanese horror films aren’t unique, they do quite effectively twist the conventions of the horror genre set by Hollywood. And he said he observed one often unnerving distinction: “They are not bound by the compulsion to make narrative sense. This gives them the freedom to experiment with narrative structures, to instill fright with long shots and ambient sound without relying too much on the explosive power of the spectacle.”

In compiling his must-see recommendations, O’Neill included choices from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, and from around the globe.

  • “Audition” (Japan, 2000)
  • “Cure” (Japan, 1997)
  • “A Tale of Two Sisters” (South Korea, 2003)
  • “Dumplings” (East Asia, 2004)
  • “29 Days Later” (United Kingdom, 2002)
  • “The Shining” (U.S., 1980)
  • “The Exorcist” (U.S., 1973)
  • “The Grudge” (Japan, 2003)
  • “The Ring” (Japan, 1998)
  • “The Thing” (U.S., 1982)
  • “Halloween” (U.S., 1978)
  • “The Orphanage” (Spain, 2007)

O’Neill added another film — lucky No. 13, “Alien” (U.S., 1979).

And for a local bonus, Wes Craven’s “Swamp Thing” (1982) is scheduled to show at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 31 at the Pacific Film Archive Theater, 2575 Bancroft Way at Bowditch Street. More information is online.