Thursday, January 20, 2022

Fantastic at 50: Classic Movie Actresses

Earlier this month I celebrated my 50th birthday, one of those milestone events that feels important even if the pandemic kept me from doing much to mark the occasion. Several years ago, when I was 42, I wrote a post about 42 year old classic movie actresses and the films they made at that age, so this seems like a good time to revisit the idea and think about stars who enjoyed significant moments in their careers when they were 50. Of course, being 50 in 2022 is quite a bit different from being 50 in 1952, and Hollywood actresses in the studio era faced tremendous age discrimination. The women who managed long careers did so through versatility, perseverance, talent, and sheer determination. Here are a few of my favorite classic movie actresses and the films they made in their 50th year.

Katharine Hepburn, born in 1907, made the great romantic comedy Desk Set in 1957, one of her many pictures with costar Spencer Tracy. It's a funny, sweet story that highlights middle aged romance and women with careers, and it's actually one of my favorite movies that the pair made together. Of course, Hepburn would go on to even more great roles and Oscar nominations after 50, including three Best Actress wins.

Hepburn's Desk Set costar, Joan Blondell, was a year older, but she also enjoyed a long career. In 1956 the 50 year old star appeared as part of the ensemble cast in The Opposite Sex, a remake of the 1939 hit, The Women. Although she's best remembered today for her dozens of Pre-Code and other 1930s films, Blondell went right on acting until her death in 1979.

Bette Davis, born in 1908, was mostly doing television work in 1958, with a couple of guest spots on different series over the course of her 50th year. Even top stars like Davis and Crawford found big film roles harder to come by as they aged, especially if they wanted to avoid playing supporting characters like mothers to younger leading ladies. Davis, however, would eventually lean into horror roles and make the most of her lifelong ability to transform herself into extreme characters. Like Blondell, she would continue acting right up until her death in 1989.

Gloria Swanson was 51 by the time Sunset Blvd. appeared in theaters in 1950, but the actress really was 50 years old when she played the 50 year old Norma Desmond. It's a role that digs into the crisis of aging for a Hollywood actress, and it's not exactly flattering. Still, Swanson is brilliant in the film, and it's a shame the movie didn't inspire a revival for the star. Her leading man, William Holden, was still enjoying big movie roles well into his 50s, but Swanson, who earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Sunset Blvd., moved on to television appearances and semi-retirement.

Of course, some actresses fared better after 50 than others, with comic character actresses being some of the best at maintaining their careers. Long-legged Charlotte Greenwood made Down Argentine Way (1940), Mary Wickes appeared in Cimmaron (1960), Marjorie Main made seven films in 1940, and her friend Spring Byington took on ten roles in her 50th year in 1936. They had never been famous for their glamorous youth and beauty, and they trooped along through the decades in supporting roles that allowed them to keep working long after the starlet types had been forced into retirement.

When I look at modern actresses who are turning 50 this year, I see Cameron Diaz, Rebecca Romijn, Toni Collette, Jennifer Garner, and Gwyneth Paltrow, all of whom are still working and even thriving with their careers. I doubt they'll have to resort to hagsploitation roles like Davis and Crawford, and it's encouraging to think that we see 50 differently now than we did during the classic movie era. Personally, I'm feeling pretty good about being 50, and I plan to celebrate with several special blog posts in the weeks ahead.

If you're turning 50 this year, too, happy birthday, and remember, Jessica Tandy won an Oscar at 80, so you're definitely not too old to accomplish something big!

Monday, January 10, 2022

2021 Movie Log in Review

It's that time again, when I post my my movie log in review for the previous year and reflect on another year's worth of movie watching. 2021 continued to be dominated by the pandemic, which affected my movie viewing in several ways. I saw exactly one new release in an actual theater in 2021, and that was the disappointing Marvel offering, The Eternals. Alabama has done almost nothing to curb Covid cases, and theaters just haven't felt safe or worth the risk. Vaccinations did allow me to return to my lifetime learners and retirement community residents for film programs in the summer and fall, and I really enjoyed being with them again. With my family still at home for much of the year, newer movies remained a more popular group choice in the evenings, and I had less time to squeeze in classics that I hadn't seen before. We also watched a lot of British murder mysteries and Disney+ TV series.

Here's the list for 2021 - let's hope that we'll eventually see some normalcy again in 2022!

January (15)

The Return of the King (2003)

The Enchanted Cottage (1945)

Valley Girl (2020)

Dragonslayer (1981)

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

The New Mutants (2020)

Fisherman's Friends (2019)

Judy (2019)

Never Too Late (2020)

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Max Reload and the Nether Blasters (2020)

Evil Under the Sun (1981)

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)

House (1977)

The History of Future Folk (2012)


Yojimbo (1961)

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)

Space Sweepers (2020)

Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1997)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

Justice League Dark: Apokalips War (2020)


March (2)

Legally Blonde (2001)

Stagecoach (1939)


April (6)

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

Mystery Men (1999)

Dark Shadows (2012)

The Reluctant Debutante (1958)


May (7)

Scooby Doo (2002)

In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

Summer Stock (1950)

The Harvey Girls (1946)

Separate Tables (1958)

Rachel and the Stranger (1948)

Bathing Beauty (1944)


June (11)

Streets of Fire (1984)

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

42nd Street (1933)

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Dangerous When Wet (1953)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

In the Heights (2021)

Luca (2021)

Suicide Squad (2018)

Roxanne (1987)

Hidalgo (2004)


July (16)

Demolition Man (1993)

The Mummy (1999)

Black Widow (2021)

The Avengers (2012)

Pygmalion (1938)

My Fair Lady (1964)

Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)

She's All That (1999)

Victor/Victoria (1982)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Opposite Sex (1956)

Miss Congeniality (2000)

Ocean's 8 (2018)

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Jungle Cruise (2021)

The Truman Show (1994)


August (7)

Ivanhoe (1954)

The Birdcage (1996)

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2020)

The Green Knight (2021)

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park II: The Lost World (1997)

Cruella (2021)


September (4)

Cinderella (2021)

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

The 39 Steps (1935)

The Haunting (1963)


October (11)

They Drive by Night (1940)

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

The Duff (2015)

The Haunted Hotel (2021)

Death on the Nile (2004)

Good News (1947)

House on Haunted Hill (1959) - Again!

Carnival of Souls (1963)

The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)

Monster House (2006)

Horror of Dracula (1958)


November (7)

The Sparks Brothers (2020)

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Free Guy (2021)

The Harder They Fall (2021)

The Eternals (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) - 2x this month

December (16)

Love Hard (2021)

The Big Sleep (1946)

Single All the Way (2021)

Mixtape (2021)

My Man Godfrey (1936)

A Castle for Christmas (2021)

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Matrix Resurrections (2021)

Encanto (2021)

Scrooged (1988)

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins II (1990)

Love and Monsters (2020)

White Christmas (1954) 

Total film count for 2021: 111

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

LEGO Green Man

Here's another one of those moments where my literary, cinematic, and LEGO obsessions collide. In August I watched The Green Knight (2021), a modern revision of the iconic chivalric romance, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a story I've loved since I first read it as a student and then taught many times during my years as a college English instructor. I've had the story on my mind again ever since I watched the film, which inspired me to build this LEGO version of the Green Man for an upcoming show with my local LUG (LEGO User Group), TNVLC.

The Green Knight of the story is the most famous incarnation of the Green Man, a mythological figure who represents the natural world and is usually shown as a man's face surrounded by or even made out of vegetation. You'll find him everywhere in the UK, even in churches, but he appears in many different cultures going back as far as the 2nd Century. Here's an article about the Green Man on Historic UK if you want to read more. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Five Favorite Films: Christmas Movies

Every Christmas brings new holiday movies, especially with streaming services like Netflix cooking up batches of them like trays of cinematic sugar cookies, but the classics are those we return to year after year. They become beloved traditions in many families, and ours is no different. I know there's plenty of debate about what makes a "classic" or even what counts as a Christmas movie, but here are five favorites that my family revisits every year, along with lots of suggestions for other seasonal stories you might try.

White Christmas (1954)

This musical delight starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney is THE family Christmas movie at our house. We usually watch it for the first time right after Thanksgiving, and we often make three or four viewings by the New Year. Everything about White Christmas is perfect Yuletide cheer, but at our house it's all about Danny Kaye, one of our favorite classic movie stars. "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing" has nothing to do with Christmas but is so catchy and fun that I hum it for days after every viewing. Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes also help to make this movie the top pick on our nice list. If you're looking for more classic Christmas comedy, follow this one up with Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and Bachelor Mother (1939).

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Here's another favorite that the whole family has to watch at least once, often on Christmas Eve. I'm a huge fan of A Christmas Carol in general - both the original story and its many adaptations - but this is my favorite of the lot. Gonzo makes a fabulous Charles Dickens, with Rizzo as his audience and sidekick, and Michael Caine is clearly having a ball as the miserly Scrooge. In spite of the Muppets in most of the roles, this film is surprisingly faithful to its source material and has some of the best Ghosts of Christmas in any production, especially the luminous and childlike Ghost of Christmas Past. I remember seeing this movie in the theater back in 1992, and I have loved it ever since. Make sure you watch the extended version with the restored scene featuring the song, "When Love is Gone," which was cut from the original theatrical release. The Muppets made several other Christmas specials, but for sheer delight follow this one up with Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977).

Scrooged (1988)

Bill Murray offered his own take on Scrooge a few years before the Muppet version, and this 80s tale of Christmas redemption holds up really well. The Ghosts played by David Johansen and Carol Kane always crack us up, and "Niagara Falls!" has become part of our family's extensive movie quote language. Richard Donner directs a fantastic cast that also includes Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Robert Mitchum, John Forsythe, Buddy Hackett, and Alfre Woodard. It's by no means the first Christmas Carol adaptation you should watch, and it's not really for kids, but we come back to it every year and enjoy it all over again. For a behind-the-scenes story about Dickens' enduring tale, try The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017), which shows Dickens being haunted by his characters as he tries to write the book.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Speaking of highly quotable 80s Christmas movies, who can forget "You'll shoot your eye out" and "It's a major award!" This one rose on our family list over the years as our kid got older and fell in love with its wacky, nostalgic look at childhood yearning and misery. Now we watch it every holiday season and wait for our favorite scenes, most of which feature Ralphie's elaborate fantasies. "It was... soap poisoning!" Darren McGavin is a cranky delight as Ralphie's dad, and Melinda Dillon is wonderful as the long-suffering mother, but Peter Billingsley carries the picture as few child actors could. Be wary of showing it to little ones if you don't want to explain the "fudge" scenes, but for just about anyone else this is a surefire hit. They made a sequel to this picture in 2012, but I've never seen it, and on IMDB it only has a 3.3 rating.

Die Hard (1988)

Yes, I know, some people insist that Die Hard isn't a Christmas movie, but it's a great choice for those who need an antidote to the sugary sweetness of most holiday fare. As the rest of this list proves, we're fans of somewhat perverse or at least comedic takes on Christmas, and this Bruce Willis action comedy delivers the quotable lines, humor, and Gen X sensibility that appeal to us at the holidays. It's lighter than The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) and slightly more realistic than Gremlins (1984), both of which also tend to make our annual viewing schedule. Alan Rickman makes a brilliant film debut as Hans Gruber, and Bonnie Bedelia is excellent as the hero's almost ex-wife. If you want to explore the debate and pop culture surrounding Die Hard as a Christmas movie, check out the new Netflix film, Love Hard (2021), a rom com that takes its name from this picture and that much more romantic holiday hit, Love, Actually (2003).

This list only scratches the surface of the holiday movie genre, and there are dozens of films out there to suit different tastes and moods. What are your five favorite holiday films? Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Five Favorite Films: Marvel Movies

Recently I've seen both of the newest MCU movies, Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) and The Eternals (2021), and that inspired me to reflect on the MCU pictures as a group and my favorites among them. There are already more than 25 movies to choose from, not including the Disney Plus television series or the many upcoming releases slated for the next year, so there's a lot to consider when trying to pick just five favorites. My list isn't based on box office returns, critical reviews, or other fans' priorities; it's my top picks for the Marvel movies I enjoy watching the most and revisit the most frequently. Here are my five favorite films (so far!) from the MCU.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

As a classic movie fan I'm a sucker for the 1940s setting of this first Captain America adventure, but it's the heart of this picture that brings me back again and again. Chris Evans is perfectly cast as an old-fashioned good guy with a steady moral compass, and I simply adore Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter (I'm still bitter about the cancellation of Agent Carter). Sebastian Stan begins a long but engrossing character arc as Steve's friend, Bucky, and it's refreshing to go back to this first outing and see him before his dark period in the Winter Soldier role.

Ant-Man (2015)

Even though Edgar Wright left the project and was replaced by Peyton Reed as the director, Wright's distinctive sense of humor is still readily apparent in this smaller scale Marvel hero origin story. The zippy comedy, heist movie tropes, and casting all make this one a hit for me, and I also love its soft center theme of fathers who love their daughters. Paul Rudd, recently crowned the 2021 Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine, deserves a lot of credit for merging the comedic and dramatic demands of his role as Scott Lang. The supporting cast of loser ex-con buddies is so much fun that it's great to see them reunited in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), and I hope we'll see them again in the upcoming Quantumania sequel.

Doctor Strange (2016)

Here's another pick that has a lot to do with my personal preferences as a fan; I love the supernatural side of both DC and Marvel comics, and I really enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch's work in general, so Cumberbatch joining the MCU as the Sorcerer Supreme is a real treat. The What If...? Disney Plus series has shown us that Stephen Strange's journey could have taken a much darker route, but in the main timeline story we see him develop as a character and overcome his hubris, despair, and frustration. Benedict Wong is a scene stealer as Wong, and I really enjoyed seeing him return for Shang-Chi. I also appreciate the fact that Dr. Strange saves the day not by fighting and punching but basically by annoying his opponent until Dormammu finally gives up. In a universe full of muscle gods, a hero who thinks his way through a problem deserves special attention.

Thor: Ragnarok

Speaking of muscle gods, here's Chris Hemsworth back in the fray as Thor in the third and by far the best of the Thor stories to date. A hilarious script and direction by the brilliant Taika Waititi make all the difference in this picture, although it also has a fantastic cast, great action scenes, moments of grand dramatic gravitas, and some truly inspired use of Led Zeppelin. Jeff Goldblum runs away with his scenes, giving regular scene stealer Tom Hiddleston a run for his money, and Tessa Thompson is brilliant as Valkyrie. Cate Blanchett radiates gleeful malevolence as Hela, an Asgardian so dangerous and twisted she makes Loki look like a saint. If I were ranking these five films by preference rather than release date, Thor: Ragnarok would be my top pick. It's just that much fun.

Black Panther (2018)

It's not just respect for the tragically short career of Chadwick Boseman that makes me include this movie in my five favorites; it's a gorgeous, riveting action picture with a fabulous cast and a fascinating glimpse of Afrofuturism that sets it apart from all of the earlier Marvel movies. Boseman is pitch perfect as T'Challa, but the movie provides such good roles for women, too, especially Danai Gurira as Okoye and Letitia Wright as Shuri. The MCU has come a long way from Black Widow as the only girl in the boys' club, but Black Panther does a particularly good job of showcasing different female characters, with different talents, attitudes, and relationships, and even though I will miss T'Challa I'm excited to see where Wakanda Forever will take the remaining characters.

Final note: 

I thoroughly enjoyed Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and it might well displace one of these older movies in my top five over the next few months, but it's too early to say how many times I'll feel drawn to rewatch it. 2022 will bring us a lot of sequels featuring heroes we've already met, so we'll see if those stories can beat the appeal of the previous installments!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Killing Bill: Female Vengeance in THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (1962)

Long before Uma Thurman's relentless Bride swore to kill Bill in the Quentin Tarantino movies, Jan in the Pan killed her own treacherous Bill in the low-budget horror classic, The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). Despite its B-horror status and sleazy male gaze, The Brain That Wouldn't Die turns out to be a surprisingly effective iteration of the women's revenge plot, in which the wronged female protagonist metes out bloody justice to those who harmed her. It also raises more serious issues than its cheap production and shock value climax might lead viewers to expect, chiefly the very real problems of women's agency and bodily autonomy in a dangerously patriarchal society.

The women's revenge narrative often hinges on rape as an obvious expression of masculine violence and misogyny, although mutilation and other forms of physical harm are also depicted. Hannie Caulder (1971), a Western that partly inspired Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, is one significant example of the first, while Gloria Grahame's disfigured moll in The Big Heat (1953) provides an example of the second. In The Brain That Wouldn't Die, Jan (Virginia Leith) is actually deprived of her entire body by her fiance's mad obsession. After he causes a car crash by driving recklessly toward his remote medical laboratory, Bill (Jason Evers) retrieves Jan's head from the wreckage and keeps it alive with his unethical experimental treatments. Jan has previously been shown as a woman who lives very much in her body; she can't wait to marry Bill and have children, and she demonstrates her physical desire for him very clearly. The loss of her body deprives her of these expected pleasures while also revealing to her the true nature of the man she planned to marry. Bill's scheme to acquire a new body for Jan offers her no comfort, since she realizes that he intends to murder an innocent woman to get it, and she feels very strongly that the transplanted body would be an unnatural horror.

Before the crash, Jan is fully alive and eager to marry.

We often talk about women's consent in sexual terms, in both fiction and real life situations, but medical consent is another component of women's bodily experience, especially when we look at the frequency with which women were denied medical autonomy in the past (and still are today, especially where their reproductive care is concerned). Bill assumes/usurps the right to make medical decisions for Jan. He keeps her head alive against her will, even when she begs for death. He intends to put her head on a stolen body of his choosing - one selected for his own prurient enjoyment - despite her objections. When Jan protests, Bill tapes her mouth. He feels that his authority as a man/surgeon/fiance gives him the right to violate Jan's wishes again and again, not to mention those of Peggy (Marilyn Hanold), the artist's model whose body Bill has decided to claim for Jan. While Bill provides an extreme example, there is plenty of real life history behind it. Well into the 20th century husbands, fathers, and other male relatives made medical decisions for women without their consent and often even without their knowledge. Women were considered too fragile or emotional to be in charge of their own medical care, and many dying women weren't told about their prognosis by "caring" men. Rex Harrison, for example, knew that his lover and then wife Kay Kendall was dying of leukemia, but he and her doctor told her it was just an iron deficiency. That took place from 1957 to 1959, so Jan's plight in the 1962 film is by no means outdated.

Jan hates Bill for keeping her alive as a head in a pan.

Deprived of her body and her ability to make her own decisions, Jan seems like a helpless victim, and Bill certainly thinks he has all the power, but Jan realizes that the experimental chemicals give her an uncanny ability to communicate with one of Bill's previous victims, a mutated captive made of amputated limbs and grafted tissue. She and the nameless prisoner plot their revenge against Bill and his complicit assistant, which they eventually accomplish in appropriately bloody fashion. Jan's hysterical laughter, existence as a disembodied head, and yearning for revenge present her as a monster, which is how she sees herself, too, but it's worth noting that Jan's moral compass is never compromised. Bill, the real monster, lacks empathy and see other people as his playthings, but Jan is determined to save Peggy while also punishing Bill. In the last scene of the movie, the mutant carries Peggy to safety while Jan remains in the burning lab with Bill's corpse, content with death and the justice she has wrought. This finale is also in keeping with the women's revenge narrative, although Jan has much more reason than most of her fellow avenging angels for being satisfied with her own death as the conclusion. Unlike the protagonist of Promising Young Woman (2020), for example, Jan is really already dead, and her release is what she herself has wanted all along.

Bill plans to get a "perfect" body for Jan by killing Peggy.

When we look at it from Jan's point of view, The Brain That Wouldn't Die becomes a fascinating variation on the women's revenge story, one that addresses some very real horrors for women in a pervasively misogynist culture that denies women bodily autonomy and free will. Jan is not a monster, despite her extreme physical condition; she's a heroine who overcomes disability and an abusive relationship to assert her right to dictate the terms of her own existence. She stops a madman's sadistic, ego-driven rampage and prevents him from claiming more victims. She liberates Bill's tortured captive, saves Peggy from being murdered, and unknowingly gets revenge for all of the other women Bill tried to abduct. The movie might be best known today as an example of cheap "schlock" horror, but there's a lot more going on in the tortured mind of The Brain That Wouldn't Die than one might at first expect. We just have to see it from the perspective in the pan.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Five Favorite Directors: Classic Horror

Even people who don't care for classic horror movies have probably heard of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price, but behind every horror classic there's also a director asking for heavier fog, more menacing closeups, and louder screams. Alfred Hitchcock, although not primarily a horror director, might be the most familiar to modern viewers thanks to Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963), and more recent masters of the genre include George Romero, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven, but my personal favorites tend to be the earlier icons whose work influenced everyone after them. Most of the films from these directors are light on gore and heavy on atmosphere, which is how I like my creepy midnight thrills, and many worthy contenders aren't listed here only because I limit myself to five. These are the directors I most often turn to when I want something spooky to send a shiver down my cinematic spine.

Tod Browning

Browning is best remembered today for two horror classics, Dracula (1931) and Freaks (1932), but his directorial career started with silent shorts in 1915, and he helmed a number of notable silent horror pictures before his date with Dracula. Browning's movies with Lon Chaney, "the man of a thousand faces" and a master of silent horror, are especially good; try The Unholy Three (1925), The Unknown (1927), and West of Zanzibar (1928) for a sense of Browning's work before Dracula.

James Whale

Like Browning, James Whale is best remembered today for his iconic Universal monster movies, including Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Whale's work combines the usual elements of horror with a very dark sense of humor that sometimes tips right over into black comedy, especially with Claude Rains in the lead role for The Invisible Man. In between these more famous films Whale also directed The Old Dark House (1932), a wonderful spooky house picture with his usual flair for mixing giggles with screams.

Jacques Tourneur

As the son of French director Maurice Tourneur, Jacques Tourneur grew up in the movie making business in both France and the US; his career really took off when he teamed up with RKO horror boss Val Lewton for films like Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and The Leopard Man (1943). Later Tourneur would make memorable pictures in a number of genres, but he returned to horror for Night of the Demon (1957) and The Comedy of Terrors (1963). Cat People is justly celebrated today for its moody ambience and loaded subtext, but I'm also very fond of I Walked with a Zombie for its imaginative revision of Jane Eyre.

Robert Wise

Like Tourneur, Robert Wise enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Val Lewton early in his career, even though he later became more famous as the Oscar-winning director of musicals like West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). His work in horror remains an important part of his oeuvre and the genre as a whole, with early Lewton projects like The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and The Body Snatcher (1945) laying the foundation for the horror masterpiece, The Haunting (1963), which is so good that it alone justifies Wise's place in this list. Watch it with the lights out and the sound turned up, and you won't sleep a wink.

Roger Corman

Roger Corman directed more than 50 movies, many of them low-budget shockers and now cult classics, and Corman has lived long enough to see himself become a true Hollywood legend. As much as I enjoy a really ridiculous B-movie romp like Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), my favorite Corman horror films are the Poe adaptations he made with Vincent Price, some of them more faithful than others but all of them very entertaining. House of Usher (1960) kicked off the series, but two later entries, The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) are probably my top picks for being less campy and more evocative of Edgar Allan Poe's works than a picture like The Raven (1963), even though that one is also a lot of fun.

Looking for even more classic horror directors? Try F.W. Murnau, Mario Bava, Mark Robson, and Terence Fisher for additional thrills and chills. 

See also: "The Kiss That is the Kill: Sex and Death in Three Classic Vampire Movies"