Film and cultural historian David J. Skal is well known for his research and writings on the history of the horror genre, and in his new book from Turner Classic Movies, Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond, he once again puts his considerable knowledge on display.
Hollywood and Halloween have been inextricably tied together since the early decades of the 20th century, Skal notes in his introduction. The first mention of the holiday came as early as 1914 in a brief scene in the silent film, The Three of Us. In 1920, the holiday was featured more prevalently in the film Do the Dead Talk? which dealt with the subject of the seances and spiritualism that had taken many social circles by storm.
Of course, no one could ever forget early Disney short films like The Skeleton Dance or Donald Duck facing down his nephews and a real witch in Trick Or Treat.
The spooky, the surreal, and the all-out terrifying have been fodder for filmmakers from those very earliest days, and Skal picks out some of his own Fright Favorites providing background and production trivia on each film as well as suggestions for companion films for each entry.
With the introduction complete, Skal begins with two of the greatest silent horror films ever made: F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu and Rupert Julian/Edward Sedgwick’s The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney. The author dives deep into the history of both films and sets the tone for the rest of the book providing history that is never dry or boring.
Most people know that Nosferatu was based on Dracula and that Stoker’s estate sued Murnau for copyright infringement. The film was only saved because they “forgot” about a couple of prints that existed after Murnau was ordered to destroy the negatives. What you might not know is that the film’s production designer and producer was Albin Grau, a famed German occultist who filled the film with hermetic, alchemical, and Enochian symbology.
The Phantom of the Opera, meanwhile, had its own tests and trials. When it was presented to audiences in early 1925, it was almost universally panned and in an unprecedented move, the studio ordered major reshoots, replacing director Rupert Julian–who repeatedly clashed with the film’s star Lon Chaney–with Edward Sedgwick, adding comic relief and subplots to “fill out” the film.
The changes drastically altered the overall tone of Phantom, but it also guaranteed its success. When it opened later that same year, audiences and critics alike raved about the film, cementing its place in horror history.
These are just two very brief examples of the kind of information you’ll find in Skal’s book, and believe me when I tell you there is so much more included about Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera that I simply don’t have time to cover.
I’ll fully list the titles included in the book below, but I must say that Fright Favorites is almost a perfect list of films that could easily serve as a haunted advent calendar to count down to Halloween. The author’s choices might not all be the scariest, but they are certainly a representative sample of some of the best genre filmmaking of the last century. Covering Skal’s 31 movie in 31 days might just be what we need in a year that’s presented one setback after another for most of us.
And yes, you get bonus points if you watch the film and its “you might also like” companion.
Fright Favorites is available in bookstores and online. The hardcover version retails for $23 and you can order yours by CLICKING HERE. Check out the full list of movies covered in depth in the book below and let us know which are your favorites and what you would add!
- Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
- The Phantom of the Opera
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- The Mummy
- Mystery of the Wax Museum
- The Wolf Man
- Cat People
- Creature from the Black Lagoon
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers
- The Curse of Frankenstein
- Horror of Dracula
- House on Haunted Hill
- Black Sunday
- The Pit and the Pendulum
- The Birds
- The Haunting
- Night of the Living Dead
- Rosemary’s Baby
- The Exorcist
- Young Frankenstein
- The Shining
- The Thing
- A Nightmare on Elm Street
- Hocus Pocus
- Get Out