Book review: ‘Fright Favorites’ is a classic horror film treat

It took only one flip through “Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond” to see we were going to be good friends.

While I love deep-dive books about film history, they often sit on the shelf after the initial reading waiting to be pulled out again for special occasions and projects. The informative “Fright Favorites,” however, is a book you’ll want to keep within easy reach.

It is the latest in the Turner Classic Movies Library series that has reimagined the coffee-table book in a compact size (roughly 7.5 by 8 inches) that’s easy to hold and read, or just flip through to look at the gorgeous photography.

Noted film historian and author David J. Skal grew up during the monster movie craze of the 1950s, becoming part of the first generation of “monster kids.”

So he dedicates “Fright Favorites” to “monster kids of all ages everywhere” as he takes us through horror movies not as a comprehensive history, but rather as a “diverse sampler of chilling, thrilling, and often laugh-provoking classic movies especially well suited to mark the thirty-one days of October.”

Horror movie historian – and fan – David J. Skal is the author of “Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween.” (Photo by Jonathan Eaton)

Skal succinctly explains how our celebration of Halloween has changed over the past century-plus from Hollywood’s early affection for cute and whimsical pinups of starlets posing with broomsticks, cats, pumpkins and witch hats, to what has become a growing cinematic season and part of a multibillion-dollar annual industry.

He credits John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” with contributing to “the explosive growth of Halloween as the second-biggest retail holiday in America after Christmas,” and helping fuel the urban mythology of Halloween.

“The ‘Halloween’ phenomenon reconnected the holiday to its primary, if forgotten, cultural purpose: a ceremonial acknowledgment of mortality and the never-ending cycles of life, death, and the mysteries that follow. Before John Carpenter reinvigorated the holiday with ritual human sacrifice, did anyone still make a conscious connection between a jack-o’-lantern and a grinning skull?” Skal writes.

TCM and ‘Women Make Film’: an astonishing trip through movie history

It’s only 3 minutes into the documentary “Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema,” and I’m hooked from the first movie clip.

Though a word isn’t spoken in it, much is communicated. A small circular light pierces the dark screen as a young man in World War II Germany is looking for his love. Another light appears, and the circles meet, like “two moons.” The two young lovers, tears in their eyes, finally see each other, but then hastily shut off their lights in fear of approaching soldiers.

The scene is from “We Were Young,” a 1961 film by Bulgarian director Binka Zhelyazkova and it’s so captivating I wrote down the title and circled it multiple times as a reminder that I must see this film.

A screenshot of a striking scene from “We Were Young” in which a young woman and man  have just a moment to silently gaze at each other on a street in World War II Germany.

I’ve since watched the two-minute clip multiple times and remain entranced.

There are countless moments like that throughout the 14-part film by Mark Cousins, the filmmaker, author and former film critic who previously made the epic 2011 documentary “The Story of Film: An Odyssey.”

Like that extensive documentary, “Women Make Film” is well worth your time especially as it’s presented in a three-month immersive programming initiative by Turner Classic Movies focusing on female filmmakers.

TCM will present a new 60-minute episode of the documentary at 8 p.m. each Tuesday starting Sept. 1, followed that evening by seven movies directed by women. It continues weekly to Dec. 1.

Continue reading “TCM and ‘Women Make Film’: an astonishing trip through movie history”

25 favorite films I wouldn’t have seen without Turner Classic Movies

A magical cottage where people see others with their hearts, not their eyes. Death taking the form of a mortal to see why people fear it so much – and discovering love. Society women dealing with gossip, infidelity and friendships. Soapy melodramas where barriers block love and success.

These are the plots to some of my favorite films – and they are all films I was introduced to by Turner Classic Movies. There are hundreds of others I  saw for the first – and perhaps only – time on TCM. I thought about this remarkable fact watching fan tributes to TCM for the network’s 25th birthday.

It made me realize a gift TCM gives to so many of us is the chance to watch  films we would never see otherwise. It’s not the only place I’ve seen classics, of course. My horror and B-movie education came from dad who let me stay up late to watch films with him (that’s why there is only one horror film on the list) and the Sunday afternoon movie with mom (which is where I’m sure I fell in love with “Picnic”). But the bulk of classic movies in my life came to me for the first time from TCM.

For my tribute to TCM, I thought of 25 films the network gifted to me. I could have listed 100 just off the top of my head, but 25 seemed appropriate for this special anniversary. They are listed in alphabetical order and I’ve included a brief description. I’ll take time later to celebrate each film separately. I hope this might inspire you to watch some of these movies and make your own list to share.

“The Best of Everything” (1959)
This is a favorite soapy melodrama and it’s on my desert island list. It swoops in and grabs me with that great music and the wealth of characters. I’m caught up in the lives of these people working their way up the big-city ladder (or down in some cases). I’m fascinated by the pool of secretaries in the publishing office (did they all really sit in rows of desks like that?). The cast is fantastic with Joan Crawford, Hope Lang, Diane Baker, Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan, for starters.

This is a beautiful still I own of Ronald Colman and Ann Harding from “Condemned.”

“Condemned” (1929)
This early talkie about a fugitive and a warden’s wife who fall in love on Devil’s Island is the definition of a film that wouldn’t get seen without TCM. The story is dated and the acting stagey, but I was transfixed by a very young Ronald Colman and Ann Harding. I already liked Colman from seeing “Random Harvest” on TCM, but this is where I became a devotee. This film was an introduction to Harding who has enchanted me ever since with her lovely etherealness. Since “Condemned,” I watch everything I can with them. Continue reading “25 favorite films I wouldn’t have seen without Turner Classic Movies”

TCM Big Screen Classics 2019: epics, musicals, anniversaries and ‘Oz’

The Turner Classic Movies Big Screen Classics film series returns in January with another full slate of classic films, starting with the wonderful “Wizard of Oz” on Jan. 27, 29 and 30.

Of the 14 films, 12 will be celebrating an anniversary, from a 25th (“The Shawshank Redemption”) all the way to an 80th (“The Wizard of Oz”). That means film buffs will surely have new home video releases and other merchandise to add to their collections.

TCM Big Screen loyalists should note there is not a set schedule as there has been in previous years. While all the films have showings on Sundays, the second day varies from Tuesday or Wednesday and the times are different. Also, five of the films are expected to be so popular, they are being shown over three days (Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday).

Tickets go on sale Dec. 7 via

Here’s the schedule.

Continue reading “TCM Big Screen Classics 2019: epics, musicals, anniversaries and ‘Oz’”

Watching ‘Christmas at the Movies’ on TCM

Jeremy Arnold’s “Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season” is written with the warmth of someone who cares as much about the subject as those who will read the book.

Each of the 30 films has a cast breakdown, a short essay on the movie, its “holiday moment” (a scene, a song, an image) and a wealth of photos. The book is compiled in a way that’s easy to return to again and again – especially to gaze at those fabulous glossy pictures. I especially love the compact size of the book (about 7 inches by 8 inches) that makes it convenient to carry in my purse and around the house.

At each film entry, you may get the overwhelming feeling that you have to watch the movie. Don’t fight it – in December, TCM is airing 14 of the films from the book as part of its holiday programming.

Here are those times, along with a link to where you can buy the movies through the TCM store. (The films are included if you can buy them through TCM, even if there isn’t a TCM airing.) Also included is the time for the traditional network airing of two of the films and TCM Big Screen Classics event.

Tune into TCM on Dec. 1 and 2 to hear Jeremy Arnold and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz discuss holiday films. If you don’t have the book yet, you can buy it through TCM  here.

Here is the schedule:

Continue reading “Watching ‘Christmas at the Movies’ on TCM”

Chaney, Lee, Karloff, Price: TCM sets wonderfully horrific lineup for October

Horror fans rejoice! Turner Classic Movies has once again packed a horrific lineup for October programming including a creature of the month, a night devoted to ghostly encounters and 200 years of Frankenstein.

Plus, there’s  not one star of the month but four as TCM showcases four greats of the horror genre. Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price will each have a Wednesday night devoted to them in October. The series starts at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 with Chaney and includes five of his silent films.

The misunderstood Mummy is the designated creature of the month, earning a slot every Sunday night starting at 8 p.m. The schedule includes some cool Universal films in the “Kharis” series on Oct. 7 and a trio of mummy films with a sense of humor on Oct. 14.

The Bowery Boys even get in on the action with a night of horror films starting at 8 p.m. Oct. 30.

Here’s a look at the schedule broken down by topics with some descriptions:

The Mummy

Oct. 7

8 p.m. “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940). Depending on your point of view, this may or may not be a sequel to the Universal original. It is the first in a series with a mummy named Kharis. Continue reading “Chaney, Lee, Karloff, Price: TCM sets wonderfully horrific lineup for October”