As we continue toward No. 1, many of the trios of selections are rather eclectic. I have managed some themes and to group a few like movies together. But, in the meat of the countdown, it seems like the selections are random. I assure they are not.
44. Phantom of the Opera
This one has a special place in my heart. I saw this, on a date, when I was 12, silent, with a full orchestra. Make no mistake – this is a horror film. Featuring the man of 1,000 faces, the incomparable Lon Chaney, this is not some musical, this is not a Gerard Butler vehicle – this is a horror film. The Phantom is not a sympathetic character. He is a disfigured, monstrous kidnapper. And Lon Chaney is phenomenal in the role.
Lon Chaney was a genius and this was his signature role. He played Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923, he appeared in the lost film London After Midnight, and he was to be Dracula but died before filming could begin. His make-up techniques alone revolutionized filmmaking. He flawlessly made the transition from silent films to “talkies.” He was horror’s first superstar.
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr., the man who brought Dracula to the big screen six years later, this is the only version of the Phantom of the Opera that matters. Herbert Lom (Pink Panther) starred in a serviceable remake from Hammer Studios in 1962. I am thoroughly disturbed by members of younger generations who don’t know this film exists and merely know the Gerard Butler musical and recent travelling theater productions. The Phantom’s reveal is one of the most iconic moments in cinema history. This film is the true dawn of Universal Horror.
43. The Birds
Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette (The Bob Newhart Show), Jessica Tandy, Veronica Cartwright (Alien) and Tippi Hedren (Marni) star in this Alfred Hitchcock classic as flocks of birds inexplicably start attacking the townsfolk on the west coast of California. No explanation for the birds’ strange behavior is ever offered. The panic seems real throughout the movie. The sense of forboding is palpable and the anxiety builds as the main characters try to escape the vicious bird attacks.
Filmed primarily in Bodega Bay, California, the small town setting adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere Hitchcock creates. The special effects don’t particularly hold up very well under the scrutiny of HD viewing or else this movie might be a little higher up the list.
Hedren is wonderful in this film and much has been documented about the filming and her relationship with Hitchcock. She turns is a great performance. The great Rod Taylor is pretty good too.
42. Sleepy Hollow
An all-star cast featuring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lee, Michael Gambon, Christopher Walken, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gough, and Ian McDiarmid tell the classic tale of the Headless Horseman – with a few Tim Burton twists of course.
Ichabod Crane, a New York City policeman, goes to the burg of Sleepy Hollow to solve the mystery of the Headless Horseman (Walken). Stylized and stylish, this is an interesting take on Washington Irving’s original story. Murder, mayhem, witchery and a subdued Johnny Depp make for a fun movie.
Christina Ricci is excellent as a young woman embroiled in the machinations of the one who controls the Horseman. This film also marked the resurgence of Christopher Lee who used this as a launching pad for the latter part of his career.