Here is a list of ten occult sci-fi flicks that you should watch at least once. Most hardcore cult or horror film fans have probably seen these already. Have you seen them all?
The Undead 1957
“Terror... that screams from the grave!”
(1). A woman is put into
a psychical trance and sent back through time into the body of one of her medieval
ancestors, who is condemned to die as a witch. She escapes and a real witch
named Livia (Allison Hayes), who works with the Devil, wants her dead so that
she can have her boyfriend. The unusual story also includes a good witch, an
imp, a singing gravedigger, and a time traveling psychic.
Produced and directed by Roger Corman, this is an unusual and fun B-movie that is a mix of horror, violence, reincarnation, time travel, comedy, and campy fun. There are amusing elements with involving the transformation into various animals, most notably a pair of very fake looking bats. The gravedigger is also fun with his songs, rhymes and witty dialogue, such as when he calls the graveyard his “flesh farm.” The atmosphere with devil and his dancing dead girls is great, with his constant laughing and very large pitchfork.
It is probably most notable for the appearance of actress Hayes and her very tight dress and heaving breasts. Hayes was a very well known B-movie actress of the 1950’s, specifically for her appearance in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. This production was shot over six days on a budget of $70,000, in an old supermarket that was converted into the sets
It has a cult following among horror, drive-in movies, low budget films, and fans of the cast and crew. If you like any of those, then you should check this out. If you enjoy this one, you may also like The Mole People, Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Leach Woman, The Deadly Mantis, and Premature Burial.
Curse of the Demon AKA Night of the Demon 1957
“Horror! Most terrifying story the screen has ever told!”
Psychologist Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) travels to England in order to
investigate and disprove the existence of Satanism and its use by the devil
cult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall Macginnis). Holden is supposed to meet
with another only to discover that he has mysteriously died. He joins up with the
dead professor’s niece (Peggy Cummins), and they investigate the details
regarding her uncle’s death and whether the paranormal elements are real.
This is a top class British produced psychological thriller with a great cast and script that focuses more on the mood and suggestion as opposed to graphic horror scenes. The three main actors are all excellent in their respective characters. Andrews plays the skeptical professor who only believes in logic and what can be seen and shown to him, refusing to believe that witchcraft is real. Macginnis is absolutely amazing as Karswell, playing the evil cult leader as a mostly calm and unassuming individual. He’s confident and wants Holden to know that the witchcraft is real, giving several demonstrations of his powers throughout the film. He rarely appears menacing and that is the brilliance of his portrayal of the bad guy. His character is supposed to be a representation of real life Satanist Aleister Crowley, including the pointy goatee
(4). Cummins is also
good in her role, playing the role of the believer trying to convince Holden
that something evil is going on and that he’s in danger.
There are two versions of this movie. The British release is called Night of the Demon and had a running time of 96 minutes, while the American version was released as Curse of the Demon and had a running time of 81 minutes. There were a lot of production issues between the director and producer, most notably whether or not to show the actual demon on screen. Most of the demon shots were done after the director was done with the production. In an interview from director Jacques Tourneur, he said that "The scenes in which you really see the demon were shot without me. All except one. I shot the sequence in the woods where Dana Andrews is chased by a sort of cloud. This technique should have been used for other sequences. The audience should never have completely seen the demon....They ruined the film by showing it [the demon] from the very beginning." In a different interview Tourneur explained, "I wanted, at the very end, when the train goes by, to include only four frames of the monster...but after I had finished [the film] and returned to the U.S., the English producer made that horrible thing [the monster]"
If you enjoy psychological horror, or films about demons and witchcraft, then you should definitely watch this one.
Manos, The Hands of Fate 1966
“It's Shocking! It's Beyond Your Imagination!”
(6). It’s shockingly
bad, the king of bad movies. It is considered to be the worst movie ever made,
making Plan 9 From Outer Space look
like an epic masterpiece. It has everything that will please fans of bad flicks:
terrible acting, bad lighting, bad and laughable dialogue, unbelievable
situations, and bad special effects. The story involves a family that gets lost
while on vacation and ends up staying at a house that contains a satanic cult,
featuring a Freddy Mercury lookalike cult leader, six wives, and an evil
henchman named Torgo who has big knees.
The film was shot on a budget of $19,000
(7). At times it feels
like you’re watching a silent film, with just the scored music playing
throughout. There are times when the actors are speaking without dialogue. The
editing is so choppy because it was filmed using a 16mm Bell & Howell
camera, which can only take 32 seconds worth of footage at a time (7). All audio was
dubbed later in a sound studio, with most of the voices being dubbed by just
two people (7). The lighting is so
bad that it attracted all of the bugs that you can see on camera. There is also
a scene where you can see the clapboard on the right hand side.
It was able to get distribution but didn’t do anything and was pretty much forgotten until its appearance on season four of Mystery Science Theater 3000. That episode containing Manos is considered one of the best of the series and brought back a new cult following to this wonderfully bad motion picture
So if you’re a fan of bad movies, then this one’s for you.
The Witches 1966
“A STRANGER IN A TOWN THAT HAS LOST ITS MIND ...IF SHE'S NOT CAREFUL, SHE MAY LOSE HER'S TOO!”
(9). Gwen Mayfield (Joan
Fontaine) is on a missionary trip in Africa when she encounters an event by
practitioners of voodoo and suffers a nervous breakdown. She returns to England
and takes a teaching position in a small town, only to discover a strange
series of events that indicate a coven of witches may inhabit the town.
This is British horror film that was produced by Hammer Films, who became well known for their horror pictures from the 1950’s to 1970’s. It is based upon the novel The Devil’s Own by Norah Lofts. It is more story driven and is a slow burn, as weird things slowly happen to the teacher in her new surroundings and she starts to put the pieces to the puzzle together. The final twenty minutes are the most memorable as we discover the truth of what is going on in this town. Fontaine delivers a strong performance in what would be her final appearance in a starring role. She is known for appearances in Rebecca, Suspicion, This Above All, and The Constant Nymph.
There is some strong African imagery that stands out in this. There is also a memorable stunt sequence involving Fontaine, which at the time was considered unusual for the star to have a stunt like that happen to them. It is also notable for featuring a female protagonist and a female antagonist, with the main male character portraying a weak powerless almost feminine role.
This is a fairly forgotten gem from Hammer studios, often passed over for the Dracula series and other productions. If you’re a fan of Hammer Films, horror, or witchcraft, then you should watch this. If you enjoy this, you may also like The Devil Rides Out, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, To The Devil a Daughter, and The Wicker Man.
Something Weird 1967
“A boiling, bizarre tale of a mad love that crashes through the supernatural!”
(10). A man disfigured
from a falling electrical line makes a deal with a witch to restore his looks;
in return he must agree to become the witch’s lover. Oh and he also has psychic
powers now. They travel from city to city like Kane from Kung Fu solving crimes. This mad production also includes a weird
mix of sex, murder, LSD, psychedelic lighting and effects, karate, séances,
federal agents, and a smooth jazz score. Add the mix of bad acting, overacting,
cheap costumes, and you have a great low budget movie.
This was directed by Hershell Gordon Lewis, who was known for low budget exploitative films such as Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, The Wizard of Gore, Color Me Blood Red, and The Gruesome Twosome. Just like this and most of his other productions, they are all usually “uneven, disgusting and offensive in places, amusing in others, with their principal virtue as a group of films probably their rough-hewn naivety”
(11). The budget was
estimated to be around $35,000 (10).
If you love exploitation, horror, gore, or cheap movies, then you should watch this. You may also enjoy The Wizard of Gore, I Drink Your Blood, and the Gruesome Twoesome.
The Dunwich Horror 1970
“The sound of whippoorwills is the song of the Death in Dunwich!”
(12). Wilbur Whateley
(Dean Stockwell) shows up at the Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massuchusetts
with the intention of using an old rare book called the Necronomicon, in order
to bring back demons referred to as the old ones. Professor Armitage (Ed
Begley) is the only person with the knowledge to stop him and save a woman
named Nancy (Sandra Dee) from being sacrificed.
This was based on an H.P. Lovecraft story by the same title. It falls somewhere in between being considered a serious thriller versus being a corny product of the seventies, “introducing the sexual mores and psychedelia of the period”
(13). There are a series
of scenes that are reminiscent of the time period, involving psychedelics,
hippies, and monsters
It is notable for featuring Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee, and a brief appearance from Talia Shire. Stockwell began as a child actor and has often been featured in films as a villain, but is probably best remembered for co-starring in the television series Quantum Leap. Dee was a teenage heartthrob in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, who married singer Bobby Darrin after they met while filming Portrait in Black.
It has a really cool opening animated title sequence that has various black images transforming against a blue background, mixed with a very good theme song. In fact, the score by Les Baxter is probably the most memorable part of the movie. It has been released previously on vinyl and CD.
Psychomania AKA The Death Wheelers 1973
“Seven Suicides - and they roared back as The Living Dead”
(14). A motorcycle gang
called the living dead all commit suicide, so that they can return back as one
of the living dead. The film is a rather hilarious combination of motorcycles, witchcraft,
and a splash of 1970’s hippieness.
The plot, script, and acting are nothing to write home about. The things that are memorable are the motorcycle scenes, the biker’s look, and the music. There are a decent amount of scenes involving the bikes, including a decent chase sequence. The bikers have a cool look, with the helmet and white visor that makes it look like a skull and crossbones. The soundtrack by John Cameron is pretty excellent, especially the opening title sequence with the gang riding around a Stonehenge type place. There is also an amusing burial scene of the gang leader placed in unusual positioning, while a hippie performs a song. The soundtrack was actually released on CD in 2003 by Trunk records.
If you like biker movies, or drive-in movies, then you should check this one out.
Race With the Devil 1975
“If you're going to race with the devil, you've got to be as fast as Hell!”
(15). Two couples take a
vacation together in a recreational vehicle on a trip to Colorado to do some
skiing and dirt bike riding. During one night of camping, they witness a
satanic cult sacrifice somebody. Trying to run away, they must fight the cult
members in order to survive.
This is a pretty good forgotten action, horror, thriller with a surprising ending, co-starring Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. The actors appeared in two other films together, The Hired hand and 92 in the Shade. Both give good performances in this. Oates is a somewhat underappreciated actor who has appeared in many pictures, including The Wild Bunch, Two-Lane Blacktop, Dillinger, Badlands, Cockfighter, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Fonda is probably best remembered for his role in Easy Rider.
It has drawn comparisons to other motion pictures that involve the rural population conducting in unusual and strange behaviors, such as Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Hills Have Eyes. If you like horror, witchcraft, or any of the films or cast listed, then you should check this one out.
The Devil’s Rain 1975
“Absolutely the most incredible ending of any motion picture”
(16). A pair of brothers
(William Shatner and Tom Skerritt) battles the satanic cult leader Corbis (Ernest
Borgnine) and his faceless followers, who want a book their family took from
him over three hundred years ago.
It’s like watching a combination of Bonanza and Star Trek, a mix of western, sci-fi, and horror. It is a fairly disappointing film that is mostly memorable for the cast involved, including Shatner, Skerritt, Borgnine, an appearance by John Travolta, and special consultation by the High Priest of the Church of Satan Anton Lavey. Has there ever been any actor more defined by one role than Shatner? Any scene with him that has dialogue feels like you are watching a Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is battling Satanists on some distant planet. We should accept the authenticity of all of the satanic ritualism in the film, seeing as Lavey was involved.
It still feels like a bad drive-in or television movie from the era. It has potential with some of the effects involving the evil followers and how they look. The final couple of minutes is pretty insane and may be considered memorable or lame, you decide.
If you like low budget drive-in type movies, or want to see any of these actors in a fairly below average film, then this is for you.
Satan’s Cheerleaders 1977
“Funnier than "The Omen"... scarier than "Silent Movie"
(17). A group of
cheerleaders are sought after by a witch and her group of Satanists who want to
sacrifice a virgin. Unbeknownst to the satanic group, one of the cheerleaders
ends up being a witch with greater powers then their own.
This is a light horror comedy spoof that is full of silly dialogue and situations, some minor nudity, and somewhat of a twist ending. It is mostly noteworthy for its appearances of aging former stars John Carradine, John Ireland, and Yvonne De Carlo and Charlie Chaplin’s son Sydney Chaplin. De Carlo is best remembered for playing Lily Munster on The Munsters.
This could kind of be seen as having an influence on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie and television series: it has a cheerleader with special powers, some darker elements, and comedy. If you enjoy spoofs, or horror-comedy, then you may enjoy this one.
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