Frankenstein to Star Wars - Best 'Genre' by Decade - 60's

Greetings, film fans! Please remember that this list doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive; we’re offering some of our takes, and we invite you to chime in with some of yours.

For me, the 60s genre film has one entry that towers above the rest for cultural importance. Granted, films like The Birds and Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby are brilliant classics. However, George Romero forged an entirely new subgenre on a limited budget and its boundless impact. On another note, in the interest of time and space, we’re going to try avoid repeating certain themes (we love the Japanese giant monster flicks, and there were a TON in the ‘60s, but we’re going to let the bulk of them slide for now).

The big winner?

Night of the Living Dead (1968): George A. Romero introduced himself to the horror world with this black-and-white spear of icy darkness. Redefining horror and revolutionizing zombie films (which originally relied on the Haitian motifs), Night of the Living Dead begins simply and builds to a horrifying climax. Entire passages have been stolen outright for later films, but you still see the originality in what Romero is attempting to accomplish. The movie is an exercise in taboo-busting, notably the graphic cannibalization scenes and the trowel-powered murder of a mother by her undead child. Moments of cultural fission erupt throughout, as the overhead shots of armed volunteers clearing zombie-infested fields evoked images of news footage from Vietnam (remember, 1968 was the year of the surprising Tet Offensive). Romero would go on to do four more living dead films: Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead.

Point of cultural clarification: Romero and his Night co-writer John Russo “share” the brand launched by the film. The two disagreed over how to pursue sequels, so each has gone on to do their own zombie work. Romero’s works simply use “the Dead” in the titles, whereas Russo’s employ “Living Dead”. Therefore, the first Return of the Living Dead came from Russo, but is not part of the Romero canon.

And the rest?

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Is there really anything more to be said about this film that hasn’t already been said? A landmark in all ways, 2001 demonstrated that, in a time of rubber suits and bug-eyed aliens, science fiction on the screen could be used to tell an epic story with depth. Even though some viewers find the ending sequences impenetrable, this is an amazing feat of filmmaking. In total, the film was nominated for four Oscars, receiving one for Visual Effects.

The Birds (1963): Two words: Alfred Hitchcock. The man who basically defined suspense throughout the decade used a creepy story by Daphne DuMaurier (and scripted by Evan Hunter a.k.a. Ed McBain) to crank up this firecracker of avian terror. The cast is filled with familiar names (Jessica Tandy, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, even a very young Morgan Brittany) and the direction is spectacular. It's enough to put you off pet shops.

The Haunting (1963): Not to be confused with the recent bad remake, the Robert Wise-directed ultimate haunted house party came from Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Featuring some all-time chilling scenes, all of which are based in pure psychological fear, the film also boasts an awesome cast in Claire Bloom, Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn and Richard Johnson. Whatever walks in Hill House may walk alone; see this movie, and you won't want to sleep that way. (You should read the novel as well; it’s good for you.)

Planet of the Apes (1968): Though perhaps more revered today for Charlton Heston’s marvelously over-the-top line readings, Planet of the Apes is another classic with one of the greatest, and most imitated, twist endings on film. Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (who also wrote The Bridger Over the River Kwai), Apes tells the stories of astronauts marooned on an planet where highly-evolved apes rule. Of course, you know the rest. The film received two Oscar nominations and an Honorary Oscar: Outstanding Achievement in Make-Up for John Chambers.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964): Edgar Allan Poe was the first scary author I read as a child. Roger Corman also found the inspiration from the poor, doomed writer to make some of the best movies of his career. Teaming up with the always fantastic Vincent Price as Prospero, Corman crafted this colorful allegory into a fine picture.

Psycho (1960): Alfred Hitchcock. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates. Janet Leigh in the shower. What else really needs to be said? Perhaps horror's finest scene in the 1960s (maybe ever)? The screenplay by Joseph Stefano came from Robert Bloch's novel, itself said to have been based on the true-life case of serial killer Ed Gein (also an inspiration for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Three on a Meathook, among others).

The Raven (1963): Another Roger Corman go-round with Poe material, and this time Richard Matheson writes the screenplay. Even with that high-class pedigree, Corman has actors Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff in his corner. And he makes a comedy! But what a comedy. The Raven stands out as an incredibly fun movie, highlighted by a wizard's duel that really only has a rival in the Merlin-Mad Madame Mim showdown from Disney's The Sword in the Stone (yeah, there are some good wizard-vs.-wizard bits in the LOTR and Potter films, but come on!).

Rosemary's Baby (1968): Stephen King noted in Danse Macabre that this was one of the few films that is so close to the book it was based on, that you almost don't need to read it. We tend to agree with him; Roman Polanski's adaptation of Ira Levin's corker is amazingly accurate. Mia Farrow is believably naive as Rosemary, a young woman who is pregnant . . . with something. This film is so creepy that even Anton LaVey has a cameo (seriously). Not to be viewed by Lamaze classes.

Alphaville (1965): Apart from lending the performers of “Forever Young” their name, Alphaville marked an important excursion into science-fiction by French “New Wave” director Jean-Luc Godard. A “genre-bender”, Alphaville uses elements of both traditional sci-fi and film noir. Actor Eddie Constantine, well-known abroad for playing agent Lemmy Caution in a number of films, was employed to play Caution as Alphaville’s lead. Caution has a multi-level mission in the film, eventually pitting him against Alpha-60, the artificial intelligence that controls Alphaville. It’s an extremely interesting take, offering notions that have inspired homage from subsequent films (like Dark City).

And now, it’s to you. What else will you vote for? Quartermass and the Pit?. The Time Machine? Let’s hear it.


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