The Phantom of the Opera and A Quiet Place Part II

By Matt Brunson

Need some Halloween viewing suggestions? Here are 13 movies presently available for Amazon Prime subscribers to watch for free.

The Phantom of the Opera

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925). One of the landmarks of silent cinema, this adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel was also the film that firmly cemented Lon Chaney’s standing as a superstar as well as set the stage for Universal Pictures to continue producing definitive horror classics throughout the 1930s and 1940s. If it wasn’t quite the match of the fright fests that were being made over in Europe during this decade (Nosferatu, Haxan), it was certainly one of the most epic American undertakings this side of D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille, with the Paris Opera and surrounding streets beautifully recreated on the studio lot and populated with that literal cast of thousands. There have been over a dozen screen versions of the story, but not one of the subsequent actors to essay the role of the Phantom — among them Robert Englund and Gerard Butler — came close to matching Chaney’s brilliant portrayal. (Best among the runners-up was Claude Rains in the 1943 interpretation, largely playing up the tragic rather than horrific dimensions of the character.) Chaney, who also created his own makeup, is mesmerizing as Erik, the disfigured underground dweller who won’t let anything stand in the way of his love for a singer named Christine (Mary Philbin). The picture suffers whenever Chaney’s not around, but his string of remarkable sequences — including his unmasking at the organ and his entrance at the costume ball — make up for any shortcomings.

The Most Dangerous Game

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932). Fans of the 1933 classic King Kong might feel a sense of déjà vu while watching The Most Dangerous Game. This adaptation of Richard Connell’s excellent short story was made by the same duo responsible for Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack), features several of the same actors (including “Scream Queen” Fay Wray), and even shares many of the same sets (that log over the ravine looks awfully familiar, yes?). A stark gem whose pre-Code sensibilities limited its stateside re-release potential over the ensuing decades (and over in England, where it was titled The Hounds of Zaroff, the censors snipped some offending footage), this stars Joel McCrea as Bob Rainsford, a celebrated big-game hunter who’s the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Making it to a nearby island, he becomes the guest of Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who lives with his brutish manservants (Noble Johnson and Steve Clemento) in a castle that’s presently housing two other stranded travelers: the lovely Eve (Wray) and her drunken brother Martin (Robert Armstrong, King Kong‘s Carl Denham). A hunter himself, Zaroff swaps stories with Bob before finally making it known that his boredom with traditional big game means that he now only hunts humans — and that the men are his next targets (Eve, of course, will be his “reward”). The film initially teases its viewers as much as Zaroff does his guests (we finally see what’s in his basement, and it ain’t pretty) before storming full-barrel into the hunt, a potent half-hour (the full film only runs 63 minutes) packed with all manner of close calls and great escapes.

The Vampire Bat

THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933). Melvyn Douglas was just coming off The Old Dark House, Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray had just finished co-starring in Doctor X (and would soon be back together again in Mystery of the Wax Museum), and Dwight Frye had recently appeared in the back-to-back smashes Dracula and Frankenstein. Therefore, Poverty Row studio Majestic Pictures had quite the all-horror-star lineup when it debuted The Vampire Bat, a moderately entertaining yarn about a small European village gripped by fear. The locals are slowly being murdered and their corpses drained of blood, and the more superstitious citizens believe that a vampire is behind the grisliness. Nonsense, states the local law officer (Douglas), believing there’s a more logical explanation. Not so fast, counters the resident doctor (Atwill), explaining that some matters are beyond our realm of understanding. For now, all signs point to the village idiot, poor Herman Gleib (Frye), as being the assailant — a conclusion that satisfies the panicked townspeople. There’s a striking scene in this black-and-white picture in which the b&w villagers carry fiery red torches (for decades, this scene was only available with the torch in black-and-white). I’m not sure if the version shown on Amazon Prime is this one — if not, uh, I guess write your local Congressperson and complain.

The Devil Bat

THE DEVIL BAT (1940). One of the most recognizable of Bela Lugosi’s post-Dracula and pre-Ed Wood cheapies that the actor made even as his career had already begun its precipitous plunge, this finds him cast as Dr. Caruthers, believed by everyone in his small town to be a kindly scientist and, more importantly, a doctor who makes house calls. In truth, Caruthers is a madman seeking revenge against the families of the two men he believes cheated him out of the fortune they accumulated from his experiments. To this end, he uses electrical charges to turn a regular bat into an oversized monster that kills anyone who’s wearing Caruthers’ own specially concocted after-shave lotion (one that I imagine smells like Stetson’s Tom Brady fragrance). None of the locals can figure out exactly what’s going on, so it’s up to big-city reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien), with dim-witted photographer “One-Shot” McGuire (Donald Kerr) in tow, to show up, solve the mystery, and save the day. There’s very little to recommend this routine programmer, although it kills 68 minutes efficiently enough; if nothing else, the film does offer the enviable opportunity to hear Lugosi bellow to one of his inferiors, “Imbecile! Bombastic ignoramus!” Eagle-eyed viewers might recognize O’Brien as the same actor who played Ralph, the pothead whose addiction lands him in an insane asylum for life, in the 1936 camp classic Reefer Madness. It should be noted, though, that O’Brien’s talents extended far beyond merely acting in low-budget efforts: At various points, he was also a director, singer, songwriter, stuntman, and Emmy Award-winning writer of The Red Skelton Hour.

The Magnetic Monster

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953). What sounds like a ludicrous exercise in 1950s sci-fi actually turns out to be a fairly involving thriller … even if there really isn’t a monster in the traditional sense. Fantasy flick mainstay Richard Carlson (Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space) is in his element as Dr. Jeffrey Stewart, a member of the government’s OSI branch. OSI stands for Office of Scientific Investigation, and the set-up amusingly brings to mind an early version of the investigative outfit seen weekly in The X-Files. Instead of Fox Mulder or Dana Scully, though, Dr. Stewart’s partner is Dr. Dan Forbes (Invasion of the Body Snatchers‘ King Donovan), and together they set off to discover why various items in the vicinity are suddenly becoming magnetized. Their sleuthing eventually leads them to a dying scientist (Leonard Mudie) and his creation, a radioactive isotope that continues to grow as it devours energy and, if not stopped, might soon knock the earth out of its orbit. The climax is primarily comprised of footage lifted from the 1930 German film Gold, but narratively, it’s a seamless blend with the script concocted by notable horror veteran Curt Siodmak (The Wolf Man, I Walked with a Zombie). And, yes, that’s an impossibly young Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke, Sssssss) in a few scenes as the co-pilot of an endangered airplane.

Tales of Terror

TALES OF TERROR (1962). Written by Richard Matheson, this entry in the Edgar Allan Poe-Vincent Price-Roger Corman cycle finds Price starring in all three segments of an entertaining anthology piece. “Morella” centers on a nobleman (Price) who’s haunted by the memory of his late wife Morella (Leona Gage); these recollections are amplified by the sudden appearance of his estranged daughter (Maggie Pierce), whose birth two decades earlier led to Morella’s untimely demise. The second sequence, “The Black Cat,” also incorporates elements from Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” as a drunken lout with the great name of Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre) becomes friends with the famous wine taster Fortunato Luchresi (Price), only to learn that Fortunato is having an affair with his wife (Joyce Jameson). And “The Case of M. Valdemar” concerns itself with a dying man (Price) who agrees to let an opportunistic hypnotist (Basil Rathbone) put him under a spell at the moment of death. “Morella” is easily the weakest of the trio: Between its musty castle setting, Price in tormented mode, and even a fiery climax, it’s basically an abbreviation of the sort of tale seen to better advantage in full-length Poe features like House of Usher and The Tomb of Ligeia. “The Black Cat” is far superior, a humorous tale that benefits from some unique technical tricks, a nifty twist ending, and especially a wonderful performance by Lorre. “The Case of M. Valdemar” contains its own share of strong elements, particularly an imaginative (if farfetched) premise and effective turns by a sympathetic Price and an oily Rathbone.

Night of the Living Dead

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). George Romero’s first film out of the gate not only redefined the zombie field but also served as the opening shot in a decade-long siege of gritty, low-budget horror flicks that often chose rural America as their setting (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.). Here’s one of those happy examples when limited resources actually enhance the final product, as the ultra-low budget — evidenced by natural settings, black-and-white film stock, and a shooting style that frequently borrows from the documentary playbook — is largely responsible for turning this into one of the best horror films of all time. This gripping yarn about a small band of humans protecting themselves from the zombie hordes has enjoyed quite the journey, going from drive-in fodder to cult classic to critical darling to an acknowledged landmark of American cinema. Intentional or not, the film’s sociopolitical content remains as potent as ever, with the climax serving as a particularly profound statement (then and now) on racism in these United States. This was followed by a decades-spanning string of sequels: 1978’s fellow classic Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s underrated Day of the Dead, and a trio of fairly decent Zombies-come-lately in the 2000s.

The House Where Evil Dwells

THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982). One of those movies that most people only saw because it played endlessly on HBO back in the day, The House Where Evil Dwells is an interesting misfire in which a married couple (Edward Albert and Susan George) and their young daughter (Amy Barrett) move to Japan, where their best friend (Doug McClure) has secured for them a traditional Japanese home. The abode’s reputation as a haunted house proves to be accurate, with a trio of evil spirits (cuckolded husband, cheating wife, and boy-toy lover) making life miserable for the new residents. Director Kevin Connor initially establishes a flavorful mood, but it gets frittered away thanks to some increasingly silly sequences and the general doltishness of the lead characters. (As a personal aside, I briefly toiled under Connor when he came to Kenya to direct the 1984 TV miniseries Master of the Game, based on the Sidney Sheldon bestseller and starring Ian Charleson and Donald Pleasence. I — along with other International School of Kenya students — worked as an extra on the production; Connor was startled that my teenage film-buff self actually recognized his name from such previous credits as The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth’s Core. Read the whole story here.)

Open Water

OPEN WATER (2003). There’s no supernatural element at work in Open Water, just a deep, dark sea that contains as many hidden horrors as one of those haunted houses that dot the city streets come Halloween. Shot in a grainy, you-are-there style and running a compact 80 minutes, this centers on yuppie couple Susan (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel (Daniel Travis) as they schedule a quickie beach vacation in between the demands of their high-stress jobs. The R&R itinerary includes a scuba-diving excursion, but this popular maritime activity takes a decidedly devastating turn when they resurface after 30 minutes to discover that, due to crew incompetence, their guide boat (packed with 18 other tourists) has already headed back to shore. As the minutes turn into hours and day turns into night, the couple’s mood switches from deep concern to outright panic, with the time in between reserved for mutual comforting, medical musings (will drinking this salt water help or hurt?), and a brief bout of finger-pointing. All the while, the natural inhabitants of the sea continue to make occasional appearances, none more petrifying than those creatures with the dead eyes and very pointy teeth (played by real sharks; no CGI fakery here). Will Susan and Daniel be rescued in time, or will they end up as shark entrees? It’s the lack of inevitability that makes the movie such an uneasy watch, with writer-director Chris Kentis effectively stripping away all the protections of the modern world until nothing is left except two individuals stranded in the middle of a beautiful yet deadly expanse that neither seeks nor provides favors.

Let the Right One In

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008). Chilling in more ways than one, this Swedish import uses its frozen environment to great advantage. The art-house counterpart to the same year’s Twilight, this similarly shows the effect that a vampire can have on the social life of a school-age loner; here, the central kid is Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a 12-year-old boy who has no friends and who’s the constant target of the school bully and his sycophants. One night while hanging around his apartment complex, he meets his new neighbor: Eli (Lina Leandersson), a mysterious 12-year-old girl. Eli tells Oskar right off the bat that they can’t be friends; what she doesn’t tell him is that it’s because she’s a vampire. But Eli is every bit as lonely as Oskar, so the two end up spending ample time together. Meanwhile, her empty stomach continues to rumble, and the other neighbors are looking mighty tasty. There have been pitiable movie vampires before, yet it’s possible that little Eli is the most tragic of all. With no backstory on hand, we have no idea what led to her present situation, but it’s poignant when she tells Oskar, “I’m 12. But I’ve been 12 for a long time.” It’s Eli’s friendship with Oskar that redeems her, and helmer Tomas Alfredson, working from an astute screenplay by John Ajvide Linqvist (adapting his own novel), emphasizes this connection with a lovely directorial touch: During the gory climax, he focuses not on Eli’s blood-splattered mouth but on her twinkling eyes, ones that wrinkle slightly as she stares approvingly at the best friend a vampire ever had.


TROLLHUNTER (2011). One of the better entries in the “found footage” series of faux documentaries, this Norwegian flick finds three student filmmakers hell-bent on interviewing Hans (Otto Jespersen), a reclusive hunter who’s suspected of illegally killing bears. But it turns out that Hans is a trollhunter, although the kids are going to have to see some proof of the existence of trolls before they swallow that tidbit. Hans invites them to tag along as he goes about his business, and it’s not long afterward — specifically, after being chased by a woodland creature as tall as the trees themselves — that these three realize they’ve stumbled across the (hidden) story of the century. Although armed with a sense of humor, the picture doesn’t skimp on the occasional thrills, particularly during a segment in which Hans and the students are pinned down in a cavern by a group of slumbering trolls. Yet what’s most entertaining about the film is the manner in which it draws from established fairy tales and religious lore to paint its monsters (the constant references to Christian blood, the splendid riff on “Three Billy Goats Gruff”), and what’s most interesting about it is how it depicts Hans as a working-class stiff who’s tired of a thankless job that offers lousy hours and no overtime pay. Between Hans’ recognizable career malaise, the key plot point involving power lines (a topic so touchy in Norway that even the New York Times has covered it), and a terrific gag centered around an actual interview with the country’s prime minister, Trollhunter demonstrates that even fake documentaries can mine real-life sources for suitable content.

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (2011). Even folks who generally shy away from gorefests should appreciate the dark humor, surprising plot pirouettes, and, most shockingly, developed characterizations in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. In time-honored tradition, a group of college kids heads to the mountains (in the South, natch) for a weekend getaway, only to cross paths with two shuffling backwoods hicks. They’re fearful of these good ole boys, not realizing that, despite their verbal inefficiency and apparent lack of hygiene, Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) wouldn’t even harm a fly. In fact, they even save one of the collegians, a blonde beauty named Allison (Katrina Bowden), after she almost drowns, taking her back to their dilapidated cabin so she can recuperate. The other kids, however, assume the worst (“I think I saw one of them eating her face!”), and the heightened miscommunication between the two factions eventually results in corpses canvassing the woods. T&DvE isn’t one of those dreadful spoofs that merely take random pot shots at contemporary films, hoping something sticks (e.g. Vampires Suck, Epic Movie, The Starving Games). Instead, writer-director Eli Craig (Sally Field’s son!) and cowriter Morgan Jurgenson obviously engaged in some late-night sessions of careful genre deconstruction, breaking down the foundation of the slasher film before rebuilding it with shrewdly added satiric elements in place. The actors are game (Labine stands out as the sensitive Dale), the laughs are plentiful, and the wood chipper stays busy.

A Quiet Place Part II

A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021). Although a superior sequel, A Quiet Place Part II isn’t actually superior to its 2018 predecessor, which had a sense of freshness and discovery about it (read the review here). Yet there’s still plenty to admire about this intelligent and engrossing follow-up, which moves the action outside the Abbott house and in the process uncovers new terrors confronting the surviving members of this loving family. Writer-director John Krasinski, whose character of Lee Abbott was killed in the first film, injects himself into this new picture, but it’s not an act of M. Night Shyamalan narcissism. Krasinski’s Lee appears in an exciting prologue that showcases the aliens’ arrival on Earth, and the movie then picks up where A Quiet Place ended. Mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt), with deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), excitable son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and newborn baby in tow, journeys out into the world, eventually running into former family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy). Emmett is reluctant to help, but his inner decency takes over and he proves to be a powerful ally. Meanwhile, the blind creatures who respond to sound are still blanketing the landscape, and a new threat arises with the introduction of murderous scavengers. The three-sided conflict (good guys, bad guys, and monsters) never fully materializes as in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but Krasinski expertly cuts between the dangers facing the various characters, and his actors (particularly Simmonds and Murphy) do a bang-up job.

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