MOVIE MEMORIES: Horror classics give us the shivers ahead of frightfully fun Hallowe’en

My latest ‘Movie Memories’ article for Lanarkshire Live may require you to take a break to hide behind the sofa as I examine a few of the finest spooktacular flicks in the spirit of Hallowe’en.

It’s Hallowe’en next Sunday – that creepy, magical time of year when children leave their homes disguised as witches, ghosts and skeletons, calling on neighbours and anticipating that their goody bags will be overflowing with treats.

My latest Lanarkshire Live column is a sneak peek at many memorable, chilling, macabre, and often funny, moments in cinema, including a Headless Horseman and a spooky haunted house.

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, first published in 1819, was one of the first examples of American fiction with enduring popularity, especially on Halloween.

The story concerns Ichabod Crane , the new schoolmaster in the small town of Sleepy Hollow , who falls in love with Katrina Van Tassel ; but a burly fellow named Brom Bones is also in love with the girl and isn’t giving up easily.

At a Hallowe’en party given by Katrina , Brom tells the story of the Headless Horseman and frightens the wits out of poor Ichabod who has to ride home late that night alone through Sleepy Hollow . His imagination runs wild and before long he sees the Horseman and runs for his life.

The year 1934 saw the release of the Comi-Color cartoon T he Headless Horseman , produced by animation pioneer Ub Iwerks, with a running time of eight minutes. It remains an imaginative and charming version of the popular legend.

On a more elaborate scale is the 1949 Walt Disney masterpiece The Legend of Sleepy Hollow , narrated by Bing Crosby.

The movie has some of the finest work ever done at the studio and is one of Disney’s most beguiling animated featurettes.

Naturally, the showiest part of the film is Ichabod’s ride home at night when he encounters the Headless Horseman , which is masterfully done. Clouds close in on the moon above; trees seem to close in on him; the wind blows the leaves about; and the frogs seem to be saying, “ Headless Horseman ”.

Then, suddenly, the Horseman appears as a black headless figure in a scarlet cape mounted on a formidable black stallion pawing the air in defiance. The film vividly creates the atmosphere and celebration of Hallowe’en.

Vincent Price is the “star of the show” in House on Haunted Hill, which William has labelled “one of the most strikingly enduring haunted house pictures of all time”

While Hammer was reinventing the gothic horror film in England, a totally different approach to the genre was being taken by the maverick American director and producer William Castle.

Castle was a veteran of the movie industry, and known as the supreme showman of the silver screen. In 1959, he produced one of the most strikingly enduring haunted house pictures of all time, House on Haunted Hill.

This is the quintessential movie for Hallowe’en. The film opens with a procession of funeral cars, in which five guests arrive for their ultimate test of spending a whole night in a spooky mansion to receive a $10,000 reward, where the doors are locked at midnight so no one can leave.

The star of the show is the elegant, sophisticated, king of gothic horror flicks Vincent Price who delivers one of his finest performances as the millionaire owner of the house.

William Castle recognised the potency of showmanship and promotional gimmicks to advertise his fabulous pictures, ensuring they had clout in the marketplace.

In selected theatres showcasing House on Haunted Hill , exhibitors rigged an elaborate pulley system near the theatre screen which allowed a plastic skeleton with red-lighted eye sockets to be flown over the audience at a corresponding scene later in the film.

Because the movie had an X certificate (no child under 16 to be present) in 1959, I saw the movie first in 1967 at the Odeon Cinema in Coatbridge, where it was a sensation and a full house event.

The flick’s ethereal, haunting power still gives me the same thrills and delights with every new viewing today.

Upon its initial release, House on Haunted Hill was an immediate success, eventually grossing $1.5 million from its modest budget of $200,000.

The film’s large box office returns were noticed by Alfred Hitchcock, inspiring him to create his own low-budget classic horror film, the seminal Psycho (1960).

William Castle was a huge fan of Hitchcock and made his 1961 film Homicidal as an homage to Psycho , thus completing a rather bizarre and fascinating circle.

Castle and Hitchcock established that a huge budget does not always make a great movie, and House on Haunted Hill remains one of the all-time creepy greats of cinema.

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