Horror Noir

I love Horror Noir. You know, the old, classic black and white horror movies. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf-Man.

I remember once Roger Ebert talking about the sacrilege of colorizing black and white movies. Remember that? *shudder*

(I don’t mean the interview with Ebert, but that horrible heresy of wanting to make black and white movies more palatable to modern audiences by colorizing them. *shudder*)

And, no, the irony is not lost on me that the three movie posters I’ve posted are in color. 🙂

Ebert had said that black and white movies were more like dreams than color movies because we live in a colorized world. I agree. And I think it’s that dream-like aspect of black and white horror movies that, in my mind, makes them more compelling than color.

The shadows; the blacks, whites and grays; the movement from light into darkness, like the slippage from dream into nightmare.

Just recently, thanks to my beloved local library, I watched three black and white horror movies directed by a man named John Brahm. If you’re saying, who?, don’t feel bad. I said the same thing.

John Brahm was a German born director who came to America in the 1930s. He worked within the studio system in place at the time, but among the films he did while at 20th Century Fox, three of them (the three I saw) were really well-done horror films. Films I had never heard of.

They were The Undying Monster (1942), a story about a werewolf curse haunting a brother and sister, The Lodger (1944), a truly excellent movie about Jack the Ripper, and Hangover Square (1945), which is also set in Victorian London, amid the fog and gas lights, and is about a brilliant composer, who, whenever he hears discordant sounds, goes on a murderous rampage.

The last two films, The Lodger and Hangover Square, starred an actor by the name of Laird Cregar. Yes, I also went, who? Laird Cregar was becoming one of Hollywood’s top “heavies” back in the 40s. He was also physically big, usually weighing close to 300 pounds. However, he was also a brilliant actor as his roles in the two films mentioned attests.

However, Cregar came to a tragic end. Only 28 at the time of his death, he had grown tired of playing heavy-set villains. For his role in Hangover Square , desiring to give his character a more romantic look, he lost 100 pounds on a crash diet. He became obsessed with becoming a “beautiful man”. The strain on his body to lose the weight caused him to have a heart attack and die. And it is a shame that he died so young because, based on his performances in the movies I saw, he had the potential to have become a real star.

As for the director, John Brahm, he went on to work in television, directing many Twilight Zone episodes, including the classic, “Time Enough at Last”.

You know the one. About the bookworm, played by Burgess Meredith, who finally gets all the time in the world to read his beloved books.

With a nasty little Twilight Zone twist, of course.

So, anyway, if you’re a fan of Horror Noir, that is, movies about werewolf cursed families living in huge, foreboding mansions on the edge of dark cliffs; brilliant but psychologically tormented composers with an obsession with fire and murder; or a Jack the Ripper who not only had some big-time issues with beautiful women but a rather unnatural obsession with his dead brother, all set within a black and white drenched world of shadows and gas lights, I highly recommend all three films.

I have to say not only did I enjoy watching them, they primed my creative pump.

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7 Responses to Horror Noir

  1. These sound so interesting–I added them all to my Netflix queue!

  2. Ooh, those sounds interesting.

    Did you ever see any of those old German silents? I saw “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” in high school. WEIRD sets.

  3. jennareynolds says:

    I have to say I enjoyed these movies more than I thought I would. They’re more psychological horror than visceral, in-your-face horror, but that’s the kind of horror I like best. All those dark passions and primitive urges lurking beneath our civilized veneers. 🙂

    I have seen “Nosferatu” but I’ve not not yet see the Caligari movie. Will put that one on list.

  4. Amy says:

    I love old horror movies in black and white. I don’t like more modern horror movies. Give me the black and white classics any day. That’s why I love when Mel Brook’s did Young Frankenstien in black and white. Genius.

  5. Digital Dame says:

    Oh my this brings back some wonderful memories of these old movies! Lon Chaney, Jr., Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, all those old Roger Corman flicks, etc! I’ll have to look into all the ones you suggested here.

  6. jennareynolds says:

    Same here, Amy. Psycho is probably the only “modern” horror movie I can stomach (the Anthony Perkins version) and even that was in black and white. But there aren’t too many of the current crop of horror movies that I can get into. I guess because, as I mentioned in my post, I’m more into the psychological brand of horror, where it’s all like a dreamscape instead of the blood-drenched, in-your-face, body parts slung all over the screen that passes for horror today.

    Actually, based on Digital Dame mentioning Roger Corman, I will say I do like some of the old Hammer horror movies from the late 50s and into the 60s. Especially the ones that stared Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

  7. What perfect timing with this post. I’ve been watching a bunch of Horror Noir on Youtube this weekend.

    Oh, and another thumbs up for Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

    That’s a great quote by Ebert regarding dreams, life, and film. Of course, I dream in color- but I know what he means. *Colorization* is evil.

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