It’s October, so that means audiences seek out stories of horror both old and new. One common trope is the haunted place, typically a house but it can be any location where someone has died in an extremely violent or tragic manner. Here is a selection of films (and one tv series) that I think present hauntings in an exciting and sometimes very different way.
The Innocents (1961)
Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote, and John Mortimer
Directed by Jack Clayton
Based on the novella by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, this adaptation tells the story of Miss Giddens, a governess who has just arrived at a remote estate in the countryside to care for a wealthy bachelor’s orphaned niece and nephew. The children’s behavior is extremely questionable, and Giddens finds herself attempting to uncover what is driving them to such bizarre extremes. Eventually, she learns of dark events that took place before her arrival between members of the staff and the specters that remain as a result. There are some deep psychological levels to this story beyond the ghosts and this masterfully written, and directed film will linger with you for a long time after viewing it.
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Seven Days in May (1964)
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by John Frankenheimer
U.S. President Jordan Lyman has signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union which has led to the American public beginning to question if he should resign. Meanwhile, US Marine Colonel Casey works in the Pentagon and comes across evidence that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led by Air Force General Scott, are plotting a coup d’etat to remove Lyman. The overthrow of the government will be staged a military emergency exercise, but involve Scott commandeering the airwaves to announce Lyman being forced out of office. Casey has only a week to work with the President and find solid proof to show the American people. But at every turn, Scott and his people are there to stop them.
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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Written by George Axelrod
Directed by John Frankenheimer
A platoon of U.S. soldiers fighting in Korea is abducted by Soviets and taken across the border into China. Then months later they are returning to the States with Sgt. Raymond Shaw receiving the Medal of Honor for bravery under fire. However, the surviving members of his platoon are having strange nightmares of sitting among a ladies auxiliary meeting on flowers. The commanding officer, Captain Marco believes these dreams hide a secret about what really happened in Korea and truth behind Shaw’s heroism. Meanwhile, Shaw is pulled into the political ambitions of his mother, Eleanor and his stepfather, Senator Iselin. Shaw is also receiving strange phone calls that trigger weird behaviors. This rabbit hole will pull Marco and Shaw to ending neither of them can avoid.
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The Best Man (1964)
Written by Gore Vidal
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
The political convention of an unspecified party is underway in Los Angeles, and the party’s next nominee for president of the United States will be decided in twenty-four hours. The frontrunners are Bill Russell, former Secretary of State and noted intellectual wit against Senator Joe Cantwell, a Midwesterner from poor beginnings that is ultimately ruthless when it comes to his opponents. Russell has been seeing other women behind his wife’s back yet she shows up at the convention not so much to support him but because she wants to be the first lady one day. Meanwhile, Cantwell’s team uncovers information that Russell had a nervous breakdown years ago and spent some time in a psychiatric hospital. Cantwell plans to use these to torpedo Russell’s chances and secure the nomination. Between these two men is the current and ailing Commander-in-Chief Art Hockstader who appears an enigma, playing these two men against each other for own personal reasons.
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Advise & Consent (1962)
Written by Wendell Mayes
Directed by Otto Preminger
One morning the United States Senate wakes up to find the President has nominated Robert Leffingwell for Secretary of State. This is met with divisiveness in the President’s party which holds the majority in the Senate. The Majority Leader, Bob Munson is ready to vote yes to tow the party line to aid the President who has kept a terminal illness secret from the public and his party. Leffingwell is intended to preserve the President’s foreign policy legacy, something he shows no confidence in his vice president to carry out. Opposing Leffingwell is South Carolina Senator Seabright Cooley who appears to have a personal grudge against the nominee. In the same party but on a pro-demagogic peace wing is Senator Fred Van Ackerman who sees a chance to use the publicity around the hearings to boost his spotlight in the media. In the middle and attempting to navigate this complicated and controversial process is Senator Brigham Anderson, a junior member from Utah and, as his name suggests, very Mormon. Secrets are revealed, and the truth behind personal grudges and threats are more shocking than anticipated.
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The Shadow Year (2008)
By Jeffrey Ford
It’s the mid-1960s on Long Island, New York, and an unnamed preteen narrator is beginning a year of his life he will never forget. This is his last year in elementary school and he, his brother Jim, and little sister Mary become embroiled in a mystery that no one else in their neighborhood seems to take note of it. It starts with the disappearance of a local boy and then rumors of a peeping tom carousing the backyards at night. The narrator spies a strange white car driven by a man dressed all in white whose presence seems to correlate with the prowler. Then his sister Mary, an odd one who allows her imaginary friends to speak through her, begins to show the possibility of clairvoyance, knowing where neighbors are at precise moments when she should not be able to. This shadow year will linger for our protagonist and what he learns will haunt him decades later.
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A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (1966)
Written by Melvin Frank & Michael Pertwee
Based on the musical by Burt Shevelove, Larry Gelbart, and Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Richard Lester
Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) is a slave in ancient Rome who enjoys gambling and disobeying his masters of the House of Senex. His son of his masters, Hero (Michael Crawford) is in love with a woman he has spied only from his bedroom window at the brothel next door. Pseudolus sees this as an opportunity to gain his freedom and makes this the reward if he is able to get Hero’s dream girl for him. What follows is a farce of class and society filtered through the lens of the satires of Roman playwright Plautus and the vaudeville schtick of Jewish comedians. The whole production is directed by English filmmaker Richard Lester who was hot off of The Beatles’ Help! and British sex farce The Knack…and How to Get It. All of this makes for some very wild cinema.
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