Recent Comments


    Scary, or Just Plain Weird, Films

    By Jan Wahl–

    This is the time of year when I remember movies that terrified me as a child, and movies that still completely freak me out as an adult. I’m not one of those who enjoys being scared silly, but I do love scary satires that are silly themselves. So, here are a few very spooky movies, then we’ll end up laughing with George Hamilton, Mel Brooks, and Gene Wilder.

    As a youngster, my mom decided that The Night of the Hunter would be appropriate since I was nagging her about a scary movie for Halloween. She figured it was suitable viewing because it was directed by the great Charles Laughton and starred Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish, along with her favorite, Shelley Winters.

    This movie freaked me out, and still does. Mitchum is a psychotic preacher who is after two children (!) for their father’s money.  Spoiler Alert! It is horrific darkness as the children run, Shelley is drowned in her car, and Gish sits in a rocking chair with a shotgun. Mitchum is so nuts, as he in in the original Cape Fear, that nightmares are made for him. 

    Nobody does gothic better than classic Hollywood. One of the best examples is 1944’s Jane Eyre. Do not waste your time with the remakes; this is the one to see. The novel was written by Charlotte Brontë under her pen name Currer Bell, since women didn’t have a prayer of being published. After a harsh childhood, young Jane finally ends up in a sinister mansion run by the brooding Mr. Rochester. In this perfect film adaption, Elizabeth Taylor steals the first third as Jane’s doomed friend. As time goes on, Jane (Joan Fontaine) finds that the angry landowner has a secret in the attic. It is something alive, bloody, and dangerous.  Orson Welles is so good as Rochester. I wonder how they dared to remake this movie? It still plays weird and scary.

    Leave it to our brave genius and gay icon Oscar Wilde to bring us a frightening tale that resonates with reality. In the 1945 film version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, a corrupt but gorgeous young man (Hurd Hatfield) has a special painting done that gradually reveals his inner ugliness. Co-starring Angela Lansbury and creepy George Sanders, the film remains a creepy classic. Also well-worth viewing is 1944’s Laura with stunning Gene Tierney and weird Vincent Price. It too features a memorable painting at its core. See these two and you’ll never look at portraits quite the same way again.

    Of course, there are the traditionally spooky movies this time of year: Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, Nosferatu, The Exorcist, the Poltergeist franchise, and The Shining, just to name a few. But it wouldn’t be me without focusing on the humor where we can find it. Some of my favorite scary movies are actually some of my favorite movies.

    Young Frankenstein is at the top of the mountain, worthy of watching every year at this time. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a crazy musical Little Shop of Horrors are fun to watch with a crowd.

    But please don’t miss a really fun George Hamilton movie that not enough people know about. From 1979, Love at First Bite has Dracula being evicted with his assistant Renfield (played by Arte Johnson) for a trip to New York. He warns the rioting townsfolk to “remember. When I leave here, it’ll be as exciting as Bucharest on a Monday night.” They send him away and he meets disco queen Susan Saint James. Boogie on, blood boy. Happy Halloween!

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian and film critic on various broadcast outlets. She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Off the Wahl
    Published on October 19, 2023