Tag Archives: Phantom Dark Dave

Fright Club: Dolls in Horror

Hard to believe we’ve been doing this so long and have never gotten into creepy doll horror! Well, with help from our friend Phantom Dark Dave, we do just that. Here is our salute to creepy-ass dolls!

Our focus is on the best movies with creepy dolls (rather than the creepiest dolls themselves), and we have a bunch to cover! Dave brings his list, we have ours, and of course, there are also-rans and left-overs. Take a listen!

5. Dead Silence (2007)

Somewhere between their career-defining Saw and their even leggier Insidious and Conjuring franchises, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell dropped a plastic-headed thud with this ventriloquism horror.

It’s kind of a shame because although the story meanders in and out of consciousness, the actual dolls are creepy as hell.

Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts) had all 100 of her “children” buried with her. So why does Buddy keep showing up? And why does Donnie Wahlberg insist on this weird Columbo impression?

No matter. We somehow end up crossing a moat into a gloomy old haunted house filled to bursting with ventriloquist dummies of every shape and description. Dead Silence pays tribute to their own Jigsaw doll as well as that creepy clown in Poltergeist while predicting Goosebumps and Toy Story 4 scares.

Are all those movies better than this one? Yes, but it gets points anyway.


4. Pin (1988)

Who wants something weird? Because, man, does Pin deliver on weird.

Leon and Ursula have always felt close to their dad’s anatomically correct anatomical dummy. Sure, he uses it for doctor’s office stuff (and his nurse uses it as she sees fit!), but to the kids, he’s kind of a member of the family.

He means an awful lot to lonely recluse Leon (David Hewlett), who’s no hit with the ladies. It doesn’t help matters that Ursula (Cynthia Preston) is his favorite lady. I wonder what kind of advice Pin might have? He’s got a real knack with Dad’s nurse…

The point is, people die, people have sex with medical dolls, and Terry O’Quinn (The Stepfather) is again really not showing any natural paternal instincts.

3. Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Writer Gary Dauberman, who’s penned every installment (as well as It, which seriously amplifies his credibility), takes on directing duties for the first time with the third film in the standalone franchise.

From that opening gag by the cemetery, the movie brings the high-spirited, popcorn-munching goods. It is fun, with generous writing that does not ask us to root against any of the kids, and performances that are far superior to the content. Plus a couple of real laughs, mostly thanks to a randomly hilarious pizza delivery guy.

2. Magic (1978)

Anthony Hopkins has made more horror movies than you realize, and no matter how much you may assume that a ventriloquist horror will be dumb, Magic is actually pretty creepy.

It helps that Hopkins is so effortlessly creepy. It also helps that the film was penned by William Goldman (Marathon Man, The Stepford Wives, All the President’s Men) and directed by Richard Attenborough (Gandhi).

It’s still goofy as all hell. Burgess Meredith sees to that. But Hopkins is fully on board, Ann-Margret was still a dream, and there is just something not right about Fats.

1. Child’s Play (1988)

Let’s be honest, it could probably have been any of the films in the original series, but Chucky had to be on this list. Hell, he had to be #1.

We went with Tom Holland’s original because that’s what it was—original. Brad Dourif and writer Don Mancini evolved the character over the next half dozen installments, but the original benefits from newness as well as Holland’s focus on the peril of little Andy (Alex Vincent). With a maniacal doll on one side and an unrelenting cop (Chris Sarandon) on the other, this kid’s in big trouble.

Still, it all begins and ends with that freckle-faced devil.

Fright Club: Best Horror of the 1950s

When we first started this podcast, one hundred thirtysomething episodes ago, we devoted specific shows to the best horror movies by the decade. We started with the Sixties, but we got called on that at one point by a listener who wanted to know what we thought were the best horror movies of the Fifties.

We have finally responded to that (hopefully) very patient listener, and enlisted the help of our old friend Phantom Dark Dave. Together, we wander through the cold war movies that scared a generation.

5. Godzilla (1954)

Is Godzilla the best film on this list? No. But, more than any other film in the genre, it spoke directly to global anxieties, became a phenomenal success, and changed the face of horror.

As Japan struggled to re-emerge from the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, director Ishiro Honda unleashed that dreaded kaiju—followed quickly by a tidal wave of creature features focused on scientists whose ungodly work creates global cataclysm.

Far more pointed and insightful than its American bastardization or any of the sequels or reboots to follow, the 1954 Japanese original mirrored the desperate, helpless impotence of a global population in the face of very real, apocalyptic danger. Sure, that danger breathed fire and came in a rubber suit, but history shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Director Dono Siegel was the first filmmaker to bring Jack Finney’s Cold War nightmare to the screen. He wouldn’t be the last, maybe not even the best, but what he did with this eerie alien tale tapped into a societal anxiety and quickly became one of the most influential and terrifying films of its time.

Doc Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) is just home from a short trip when he’s inundated by patients swearing their loved ones are not their loved ones at all. Sure, they look the same and have all the same skills and memories, but there’s no warmth, no passion.

With this, the fear that our very nation could be overtaken by an outside force – Russians, say, for terrifyingly immediate sake of argument – working its way through not by force, but by quietly taking over each and every person in one town, then spreading from town to town to town.

It’s the kind of insidious evil that fuels contagion horror, infestation horror, even demonic horror. But Invasion of the Body Snatchers spoke to a society’s deepest fears and became a touchstone for all SciFi to follow it.

3. Dracula (Horror of Dracula) (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but it’s Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher (what?!) uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still, the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!

2. The Bad Seed (1956)

The minute delicate Christine’s (Nancy Kelly) husband leaves for his 4-week assignment in DC, their way-too-perfect daughter begins to betray some scary behavior. The creepy handyman Leroy (Henry Jones) has her figured out – he knows she’s not as perfect as she pretends.

You may be tempted to abandon the film in its first reel, feeling as if you know where the it’s going. You’ll be right, but there are two big reasons to stick it out. One is that Bad Seed did it first, and did it well, considering the conservative cinematic limitations of the Fifties.

Second, because director Mervyn LeRoy’s approach – not a single vile act appears onscreen – gives the picture an air of restraint and dignity while employing the perversity of individual imaginations to ramp up the creepiness.

Enough can’t be said about Patty McCormack. There’s surprising nuance in her manipulations, and the Oscar-nominated 9-year-old handles the role with both grace and menace.

1. Diabolique (1955)

Pierre Boileau’s novel was such hot property that even Alfred Hitchcock pined to make it into a film. But Henri-Georges Clouzot got hold if it first. His psychological thriller with horror-ific undertones is crafty, spooky, jumpy and wonderful.

And it wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the weirdly lived-in relationship among Nicole (Simone Signoret) – a hard-edged boarding school teacher – and the married couple that runs the school. Christina (Vera Clouzot) is a fragile heiress; her husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) is the abusive, blowhard school headmaster. Michel and Nicole are sleeping together, Christine knows, both women are friends, both realize he’s a bastard. Wonder if there’s something they can do about it.

What unravels is a mystery with a supernatural flavor that never fails to surprise and entrance. All the performances are wonderful, the black and white cinematography creates a spectral atmosphere, and that bathtub scene can still make you jump.

Fright Club: Best Hammer Horror

With more than 200 films to their credit, there are almost too many directions you can take when whittling down the best in Hammer horror. Ingrid Pitt could have her own countdown, and fans of the sultrier side of Hammer may be disappointed with this countdown. Fans of Terence Fisher should be pleased, though, but there are still many other films in their repertoire worthy of note, which is why Phantom Dark Dave joins us with his own list!

5. The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Terence Fisher directed many—most—of Hammer’s best films. The Devil Rides Out was his last good movie.

We open on Christopher Lee, tall and brooding, his hair slicked back and his goatee dark. He is the picture of Luciferian evil. But he’s the good guy, which is just one of the ways the film toys with you.

Lee is the wealthy, occult-intrigued de Richleau, and he’s trying—God help him!—to save the life of his young friend whose very soul is in the hands of the evil Mocata. (Rocky Horror’s Charles Gray, which, let’s be honest, may be why we love this movie. The man has no neck! It’s just a jump to the left! We digress.)

There’s a black mass followed by a white mass followed by a black mass. What more do you want from a Hammer film?

Well, if you want loads of extreme close-ups of Charles Gray’s evil looking eyes, then you are in luck!

4. Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

It turns out, we have kind of a thing for Terence Fisher. Did not even know that until we started working on this list.

In this late-life sequel in Hammer’s Frankenstein franchise, the idea of the female equivalent gets upended in sometimes fascinating ways. The film’s prelude, as a little boy sneaks to watch his drunken father’s execution, sets the stage for a surprisingly touching yet moralistically ambiguous film. Hooray!

Yes, Hammer dried this well up, returning to the Frankenstein tale for sequels and re-toolings throughout the sixties and into the seventies. One constant – Cushing – never fails the picture. Committed to his evil doctor – whom he based on the real-life British Dr. Knox he would later portray in earnest in 1960’s Flesh and the Fiends – Cushing excels where the films around him fail.

This time, it’s the human soul (as well, of course, as the idea of the ideal woman) that preoccupies the doctor and the film. It’s a topic that generates surprisingly little traction in the world’s many Frankenstein efforts, and though this one is hardly flawless, it’s still consistently intriguing.

3. Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Beginning in the late 1950s, Britain’s Hammer studios begin making lurid period horror, banking on the awesome duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Their first collaboration was longtime Hammer director Terence Fisher’s take on the Shelley text, Curse of Frankenstein.

All bubbling potions and bunsen burners, Cushing’s laboratory (don’t forget to pronounce that middle ‘o’) is as fine a home to unholy alchemy as any. Jovially laissez-faire in matters of a moral nature, his sinister acts in the name of science are well played.

Cushing’s mad doctor is, at heart, a spoiled child. His behavior is outrageous, repugnant, but fascinating.

Christopher Lee made a fantastic Dracula – all elegance, height and menace. As Frankenstein’s monster, he’s rotty flesh, dead eye and sutures. Nasty! But the film’s real moment of genius was in making the doctor such a nonplussed agent of evil.

2. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

The great, sultry, unseemly Oliver Reed makes his big screen debut in this one as Leon, the stricken ward of Spanish wealth with a hairy, toothy secret. So, that is awesome, but it is hardly the most interesting thing about this Terence Fisher movie.

Set in 18th Century Spain, the film opens on a cruel nobleman’s imprisonment of a beggar, who rots in a dungeon for decades, his only reminder of humanity the jailer and his lovely mute daughter. Naturally, that daughter is nearly raped by the nobleman, tossed into prison, and subsequently raped by the beggar. The territory is about as dark as Hammer gets, and it raises a lot of questions. Like, why is his offspring a werewolf?

Never explained, but a wealthy man takes pity on the dying girl’s offspring, raises him up and protects him from his own darker self. This is where Oliver Reed shines, because very few actors were ever more convincing when it came to the idea that they had unsettling impulses.

Fisher’s real fascination here is just that duality of man, and with Hammer flourish and Reed’s overacting, he makes a big splash in investigating it.

1. Horror of Dracula (1958)

In 1958, Hammer Films began its long and fabulous love affair with the cloaked one, introducing the irrefutably awesome Christopher Lee as the Count.

Their tale varies a bit from Stoker’s, but the main players are mostly accounted for. Peter Cushing steps in early and often as Van Helsing, bringing his inimitable brand of prissy kick-ass, but it’s Lee who carries the film.

Six foot 5 and sporting that elegant yet sinister baritone, Lee cuts by far the most intimidating figure of the lot as Dracula. Director Terence Fisher (what?!) uses that to the film’s advantage by developing a far more vicious, brutal vampire than what we’d seen previously.

Still, the film is about seduction, though, which gives Lee’s brute force an unseemly thrill. Unlike so many victims in other vampire tales, it’s not just that Melissa Stribling’s Mina is helpless to stop Dracula’s penetration. She’s in league. She wants it.

Ribald stuff for 1958!

Fright Club: Best of Vincent Price

Few figures in horror are more familiar, no matter your age, than Vincent Price. With more than 100 films to his credit, not to mention the Scooby Doo episodes and Thriller rap, the iconic voice and face of evil (and sometimes comedy) left an impression. Whether it’s his hapless scientist in The Fly (1958), the sole survivor of a zombie/vampire epidemic in 1964’s The Last Man on Earth, or his murderous supervillain in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Price put his voice, his height, his hair and pencil-thin mustache to evil use with a panache few could match.

With the help of Phantom Dark Dave, we take a look at the best Price had to offer.

5. Masque of the Red Death (1964)

One of many Poe adaptations director Roger Corman did with Price, this one sees the actor as a Satanic prince ruling over a plague-beset village. While he tries to turn one village innocent (Jane Asher) from her naïve ways, his lover Juliana (Hazel Court) decides she’s finally ready to wed Satan.

All this takes place at a party the prince is throwing – a closed-off house party of sorts, where guests are encouraged toward debauchery and kept safe (they believe) from the plague outside.

Price cuts a bemused presence of evil in this overly dramatic adaptation that throws some provocative notions and bold color into the Poe mix.

4. House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Price famously worked with B-movie maestro William Castle twice. While The Tingler succeeded in many ways – cinematic and historical – House on Haunted Hill became their most iconic and memorable collaboration.

Chock-full of cheese and floating heads, the film is best watched as a joyous bit of nostalgia. Price’s millionaire Frederick Loren hosts a party in a haunted house at the behest of his wife. Isn’t she amusing? Guests are locked in, and those who survive the night will take home $10k.

The bumps in the night are laughable by today’s standards, but the fact that this plot has been lifted so many times – even making its way into a Flintstones episode – speaks to the simple power of the tale.

3. House of Usher (1960)

Roger Corman made 8 films with Vincent Price, most of them adaptations of the work of Edgar Allen Poe. House of Usher is the strongest of the efforts, primarily because of Price’s presence.

Starkly blond and working his height to achieve a ghastly presence, Price’s Roderick Usher is a weirdo from the word go. The performance fits this tale of sibling trouble perfectly, as Corman – with the help of Price and Myrna Fahey as Roderick’s sister Madeline – mines something unseemly and yet well hidden in the family dynamic.

What is Roderick’s deal with his sister, really? Corman finds something symbolic and uthinkable in the Usher madness that Poe barely hinted, and though this House of Usher is never entirely out with it, it lays a queasying undercurrent that makes the film a success.

2. Theatre of Blood (1973)

Vincent Price made 101 films, but in a way, it feels like fewer. Maybe because so many of them were basically the same film: a decent man is believed to have died horribly; disfigured and insane, he returns to exact bloody vengeance in increasingly bizarre yet clearly outlined ways.

This could be House of Wax, any of the Dr. Phibes films, and Theatre of Blood. What makes the latter stand out is that, even as it reworks themes so terribly familiar to Vincent Price fans, it does it in a way that sends up Price’s image and still tells a clever tale.

Price’s Edward Lionheart believed himself to be the greatest actor in London. When the city’s eminent critics fail to give him the recognition he is due, he falls to his death. Or does he?

Using strategies that not only call back to Price’s earlier works but predict both Seven and some of the Saw franchise, the spurned actor comes calling to make his critics eat their words – and sometimes their dogs.

1. Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm) (1968)

Price’s one true horror film asks him to step outside his comfort zone a bit. Yes, he once again plays the evil villain – clearly the role the lanky, mustachioed tenor was born to play. But as Matthew Hopkins, self-appointed “witchfinder general” he gets to really tear into his work.

Hopkins, along with his evil henchman John Stearne (Robert Russell) travel the English countryside ridding villages of witches on the taxpayer’s dollar. Woe to those who think they can spurn a sexual advance – which makes you wonder just why righteous soldier Richard (Ian Ogilvy) leaves his bride-to-be alone with her uncle, the priest who’s losing favor in the village. Hell, he even gives the two witch hunters directions to her house. What kind of love is that?

Director Michael Reeves takes the movie in directions unlike those found in most of Price’s work. The film was released in the states as The Conqueror Work, a Poe phrase meant to connect it to Price’s slew of Poe-inspired films, but fans of that franchise would likely balk at the overt violence on display here.

It remains an effective work of horror, and Price’s most convincing performance.