October 8, 2021

Films From Beyond’s 1st Annual F.R.I.G.H.T. Awards

The 2021 Films From Beyond F.R.I.G.H.T. Awards
It’s that time of year again, when monsters of all shapes, sizes and descriptions claw, bite, slash, stomp, strangle and create general mayhem in Halloween marathons on innumerable channels.

Here at Films From Beyond, we believe in a variety of approaches to horror, as long as they’re done the B movie way: creatively and imaginatively, with a modicum of resources that precludes self-indulgently throwing everything but the kitchen sink into a mega-budget box office rip-off.

Speaking of different approaches, it’s one thing to generate scares from very ambulatory vampires, werewolves or axe-wielding maniacs, and quite another to chill audiences with small, inanimate objects that spend most of the time collecting dust on some dark, forgotten shelf.

And we’re not talking dolls, puppets or ventriloquists' dummies. Those benighted things are right up there with clowns in the supposedly-cheery-but-downright-creepy-and-often-terrifying category. Just ask any fan of Dead of Night (1945), The Twilight Zone, Charles Band’s Full Moon productions, and/or the Annabelle series. They’ve become a horror genre unto themselves, and deserve their own post (or two).

Nope, we’re talking about assorted curios, bric-a-brac and gewgaws, no bigger than a bread box, that bide their time in cobwebbed attics, dank basements and dark closets, waiting for the unwary to help them unleash their evil into the world.

All the items profiled here are smaller than a bread box.
The Devil's bread box, straight from Hell's Kitchen (apologies to Gordon Ramsay).

To honor those intrepid filmmakers of yesteryear who took a chance and made effective horror movies about small inanimate objects, we’re instituting our first annual F.R.I.G.H.T. awards: the most Frightening Relics, Items, Gadgets, Heirlooms and Talismans in vintage B horror movies.

Winner: Mummified Animal Part Category. The Monkey’s Paw (1933)

W.W. Jacob’s short story, first published in 1902, is not only the definitive cautionary tale to be careful what you wish for, but it's also a masterful exercise in getting the reader’s own imagination working overtime to send shivers down the spine.

The story has been adapted many times on the stage, radio, film and TV. I hadn’t seen any of the film adaptations until I attended the Monster Bash convention in Mars, PA in 2019 (see my review of the convention here). One of the highlights of their film program was the 1933 RKO version, starring Ivan Simpson, Louise Carter, and C. Aubrey Smith. The film was considered lost until 2016, when a French-dubbed version surfaced. Thanks to film historian Tom Weaver, who secured a copy, Monster Bash was the first time the film had been shown anywhere since the discovery.

The film gets steadily darker and gloomier as the wishes play out, and, in an imaginative bit of business, with each unfortunate wish, one of the paw’s fingers curls up.

Lobby card, The Monkey's Paw, 1933
"I hope that's our GrubbyHub delivery!"

Poster, 13 Ghosts, 1960
Winner: Ghastly Ghost Goggles Category: 13 Ghosts (1960)

Producer-director William Castle was well into the gimmicky-showman phase of his career when 13 Ghosts debuted. Previously, he'd had buzzers installed in select theater seats for when The Tingler appeared onscreen, and a skeleton on a cable flew over theatergoers’ heads at special screenings of House on Haunted Hill.

In 13 Ghosts, Cyrus Zorba (Donald Woods), a paleontologist who is having trouble making ends meet for his family, learns that he has inherited a creaky old house from his enigmatic uncle, Dr. Plato Zorba. The catch: the place comes with a collection of ghosts, which Zorba rounded up from all around the world.

They can only be seen with a special pair of goggles that the old man invented… and thus the gimmick, which Castle dubbed “Illusion-O.” In the film’s initial theatrical run, when Cyrus put on the strange goggles to view the ghosts haunting his house, a sub-title cued audiences to use the special ghost viewers that they were issued. According to Castle biographer John. W. Law,

“Eastmancolor was used to develop the process for including the ghosts in the film. While the feature was shot in black and white, the ghosts appeared in red and were shot on a blue background, so when the viewers put on the blue and red tinted glasses the ghosts appeared.” [John W. Law, Scare Tactic: The Life and Films of William Castle. Writers Club Press, 2000, p. 82]

Beyond Illusion-O, the film’s charm came from interspersing the creepier ghostly manifestations with a bit of comic relief.

Poster - The Mask, 1961
Winner: Ancient Hallucinogenic Ceremonial Mask Category: The Mask (1961)

A long time ago in a small, midwestern town far, far away, a local fast food joint advertised free 3D glasses with every purchase, to use for an upcoming TV broadcast of an obscure 3D horror movie. Yes, one of the scrawny nerds who dutifully made a purchase in anticipation of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was me.

While the 3D effect with cheap cardboard glasses and an old console TV was disappointing, I nevertheless became a big fan of The Mask (not to be confused with Jim Carrey’s 1994 fantasy-comedy). According to IMDb, The Mask was groundbreaking: the first Canadian horror film, the first Canadian 3D film, and the first to be widely distributed in the U.S.  It tells the tale of a respected psychiatrist, Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens), who is treating a disturbed young archaeologist. The man insists that an ancient ceremonial mask he has been examining has taken over his mind and is urging him to kill. The patient commits suicide, but not before mailing the mask to Barnes, who in turn finds himself falling under the spell of the accursed thing.

Like 13 Ghosts, the film’s mundane black and white world is periodically interrupted by spooky 3D sequences. When a sepulchral voice commands Barnes to “Put the mask on NOW!”, that’s the viewer’s cue to don the 3D glasses.

The 3D sequences are as weird and nightmarish as can be, as if H.P. Lovecraft, Salvador Dali and Tim Burton got together to design a bad LSD trip. According to lore, producer-director Julian Roffman initially hired renowned visual effects artist Slavko Vorkapich to design the scenes, but his concepts proved too expensive, so Hoffman did most of the work himself.

See my full review here.

Poster - Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, 1965
Winner: Stacked Deck of Infernal Tarot Cards Category: Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965)

The titular Doctor Shreck (the name means “terror” in German), played by Peter Cushing, joins five bored strangers in a train compartment. To pass the time, the Doctor offers to tell the mens’ fortunes using his deck of Tarot cards, which he calls his “house of horrors.”

The Death card pops up each time Shreck does a reading (which in actual Tarot practice is not necessarily a bad thing). The unfortunate travelers’ fates include meet-ups with werewolves, vampires, sentient killer vines, voodoo practitioners and disembodied hands.

This was the first anthology horror film produced under Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg’s Amicus Productions banner. The contributions of Hammer veterans Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and director Freddie Francis, along with a solid performance by an up-and-coming American actor, Donald Sutherland, went a long way to making the film a success. Many highly entertaining anthologies followed, including The House that Dripped Blood, Asylum, Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, among others.

At the time of its release, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors was generally well-received on both sides of the Atlantic. The Times (London) called it an “[Un]critical pleasure. The writer, Mr. Milton Subotsky, has hit on a convenient formula. None of it is very original but at least each of the episodes is short enough not to pall. Mr. Freddie Francis directs with efficiency, which once or twice rises to real inspiration.” In the U.S., Variety found it “A usefully chilly package which will offer audiences mild shudders and quite a lot of amusement.” [ Bruce C. Hallenbeck, British Cult Cinema: The Amicus Anthology. Hemlock Books, 2014, p. 63]

That might seem like faint praise, but considering the establishment media’s disdain for all things horror at the time, they were practically rave reviews.

Poster - The Skull, 1965
Winner: Cursed Skull of a Notorious Evil-doer Category: The Skull (1965)

Messrs. Cushing, Lee and Francis also teamed up for Amicus’ The Skull, with Milton Subotsky contributing a script based on a story by Robert Bloch.

Dr. Christopher Maitland (Cushing), an avid collector of occult objects, is offered the skull of the infamous Marquis de Sade by a sketchy dealer (Patrick Wymark). He at first resists temptation, and is told by the skull’s previous owner, rival collector Sir Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee) that the thing is possessed by evil, and in turn can possess its owner.

Obsessed with the skull, Maitland goes to the dealer’s flat to buy it, but finds the man dead. As he tries to steal away with the skull he encounters a caretaker, a struggle ensues, and the man is accidentally killed. Maitland starts having nightmares, including one in which he is condemned in a surreal courtroom and forced to play Russian Roulette. In the meantime, the malignant skull grins evilly on a shelf in its new home.

Essayist Steven Thornton credits director Freddie Francis and Peter Cushing for making The Skull such an effective exercise in atmospheric evil:

“The contribution of Freddie Francis should not go without recognition. In its final reels, the shots from the skull’s point of view, filmed through an enlarged cranial mock-up, are what most viewers remember. Subtler, but just as impressive, are the mood-building tableaux of Cushing eyeing the skull distrustfully and of the gale of wind that opens doors and turns picture frames askew. … [W]hat other director could have extracted as much menace from an ordinary bookshelf loaded with ominous bric-a-brac?…

Peter Cushing … was right at home with such emotionally involving material. The change of expression when Maitland begins to feel the skull’s influence or when he observes the cross hanging from his wife’s neck are techniques right out of the actor’s playbook. … In addition, Cushing had to play his character sympathetically while still maintaining the touch of conceit that put Maitland on the pathway to Hell. This was unquestionably a demanding role, one that few genre actors of the period could have pulled off as convincingly.” [Steven Thorton, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head: The Skull” In Midnight Marquee Actors Series: Peter Cushing, Anthony Ambrogio, ed., Luminary Press, 2004, p.121]


  1. The Mask is a pretty nifty little movie. Definitely worth seeing.

    1. Yes, those 3D sequences are highly entertaining!

  2. I don't know if I should be ashamed to admit this or not, but I have actually seen (and enjoyed) all these films except the last and the first, which sounds like a real find. I had no idea there was any film adaptation made of The Monkey's Paw, but I shall have to check this one out. I also got a kick out of The Mask and its (maybe LSD-inspired?) fantasy sequences. 13 Ghosts is of course prime William Castle, and Dr. Terror's House of Horrors has the advantage of both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the cast. I shall also have to check out The Skull, which sounds like another gruesome treat and also has Cushing, who is always superb.

    1. Screening the 1933 version of The Monkey's Paw was a real feather-in-the-cap for the Monster Bash organizers and Mr. Weaver. It's been remade as recently as 2013, but as you might expect, that version took more liberties with the original story in order to pad it out to feature length. Even though it's not among the best Cushing-Lee collaborations (Lee has a relatively small role), The Skull is definitely worth looking up, especially this time of year.