The 1960s witnessed huge upheavals in society--Vietnam, the riots and revolutions of 1968, and the harsh battle for civil rights finally attaining critical mass. The movies reflected that turmoil, with the slow withering of Hollywood's business as usual, along with long-established boundaries of censorship and formula. Genre films benefited immeasurably from the newfound freedom, producing a cluster of films which rank among the true masterpieces of horror and science fiction. Mania has picked out 10 of them worthy of special mention.
Casino Royale notwithstanding, Goldfinger remains the pinnacle of the James Bond franchise. Exotic locales, fantastic gadgets (including the famous Aston Martin), a ruthless villain, and a sexy heroine who proves more than Bond's match all combine into a perfect summation of what the character is supposed to be. Perhaps most importantly, Goldfinger retains the essence of Ian Fleming's novels: Sean Connery's Bond fails as often as he succeeds, and you realize more than once just how close to death he really comes.
9. Fantastic Voyage
Though the concept is slightly contrived and some of the effects don't hold up, the story of a band of scientists shrunken to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of a dying diplomat remains terrific fun. In many ways, it could be another space opera, but director Richard Fleischer renders it unique by positing the alien landscapes as actual parts of the human body--which treats the scientists as invading viruses to be destroyed. (There's also the sight of Raquel Welch in skintight scuba gear, but that's just a bonus.)
8. Jason and the Argonauts
As too many CGI spectacles have learned to their detriment, the best effects aren't necessary the most realistic ones. Willis O'Brien's creations in King Kong endure because they have a soul, a lesson which O'Brien's protégé Ray Harryhausen applies in spades to Jason and the Argonauts. While it ostensibly concerns the exploits of the titular Greek hero and his crew, the real stars are the various monsters they face: harpies, living statues, and a septet of memorable skeletons rendered in Harryhausen's signature stop-motion style.
7. Rosemary's Baby
Few figures are tougher to properly execute onscreen than the Devil. Director Roman Polanski, however, understands evil better than anyone should, and his adaptation of Ira Levin's novel reminds us how eagerly humanity can serve such monstrosity. As Mia Farrow's Rosemary descends into a nightmare of paranoia and betrayal, we're never entirely sure whether her fears have merit or whether she's simply going mad. The harrowing finale proves worse than even our darkest suppositions could have imagined.
6. The Time Machine
George Pal possessed a special affinity for the works of H.G. Wells, and his 1960 adaptation of The Time Machine holds both the author's sense of wonder and a more grim assessment of humanity's future. Rod Taylor makes a suitably dashing Victorian hero, catapulted into the distant future through a device of his own making. Like Jason and the Argonauts, the film's effects lose none of their charm for being so dated, and the visuals used to convey Wells' central points (like a shelf full of books collapsing into dust) still hold a potent punch.
5. Night of the Living Dead
No one could have imagined what George A. Romero was unleashing when he cobbled together a Z-grade horror movie from the change in the cushions of his couch. But not only did he launch an entire genre in his tale of survivors trapped in a farmhouse by cannibalistic zombies, but he tapped into the angry, futile rage that signaled the 60s at their worst. The final twist speaks to a nation fundamentally losing its innocence, and the terrible realization that some things broken can never be fixed.
4. Dr. Strangelove
Stanley Kubrick presents the final word on the Cold War with an eerily plausible scenario so overwhelmingly horrible that our only recourse is to laugh. As a mad U.S. general launches an unprovoked attack on the Soviet Union--and the remainder of the government scrambles to avert Armageddon--Kubrick reveals the folly of trying to control such events, rendered in exquisite black humor with a punchline as hysterical as it is chilling.
3. Planet of the Apes
Planet of the Apes may be the perfect science fiction film: part grand adventure, part social satire and part unsettling morality fable. Its world where apes are the rulers and humans the wild beasts remains utterly convincing, aided by groundbreaking make-up effects from John Chambers and an often imitated, never equaled performance from Charlton Heston. The final shot may be the greatest in the history of film, courtesy of Twilight Zone guru Rod Serling, who (it has been noted) really knew how to stick the dismount.
For the first 30 minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, we're treated to an examination of guilt: what happens when you do something on a whim that ruins your life. The sudden, shocking end to that notion in the shower at the Bates Motel has become so well known that we forget how transgressive it is--the equivalent of killing off James Bond midway through the picture. But the truly demented part is the way Hitchcock hands us the killer as our new "hero." After all, Norman Bates (Tony Perkins) didn't kill Marion Crane (Janet Leigh); it was his horrible mother! To show us a brutal murderer is one thing; to make us sympathize with him--and even want him to succeed--is truly sick, a feat which none of the film's legions of imitators ever really understood.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick posits the evolution of man as an orchestrated experiment, conducted by beings beyond our ken and stretching back to the depths of prehistory. That he could get away with such a thesis speaks to the power of his imagination--as does his battle of wills between the passive, detached Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the sentient computer which seems destined to replace him. Beyond that, 2001 is testament to pure spectacle, and how a vision of the future can live on, even though it's now a decade in the past.
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