March is a good month for hit movies on DVD and On Demand:

• HER 3-4 rated R
Joachim Phoenix plays a lonely man who in the near future obtains software that enables him to create a woman he can contact and talk with over his computer. Eventually the needs of Samantha and his own develop into a heart warming love story.

• 12 Years a Slave 3-4 rated R
Based on a true story of a free Black man living in upstate Saratoga who, just before the Civil War, is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. It shows the horror and hardships of Slavery and what this poor man must endure. Nominated for Academy Award ‘Best Picture’

The exciting sequel to the Blockbuster Hunger Games, it has Katniss and Peeta returning home only to find she must return to the Capitol where rebellion and unrest has Panem and the 12 Districts seething. This time President Snow has a much more diabolical edition of the Hunger Games.

Just about anything the Coen Brothers direct is very special. They are true geniuses of Hollywood today. Llewyn Davis is a musician very much at the crossroads of his life, barely eking out a living playing in Greenwich Village Art houses and Coffee shops. He is at wit’s end. Tired of living off the generosity of his friends, he sets out for Chicago to audition for a music mogul.

• AMERICAN HUSTLE 3-18 rated R
Nominated for Best Picture, this is a fictional film that deals with financial scandals and brilliant con men. I can’t tell you much more without spoiling the plot. Just know that it’s a very good film with unbelievable performances from an all-star cast.

• SAVING MR. BANKS 3-18 rated PG-13
Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) is determined to make a film that his daughters beg him to make of their favorite book, Mary Poppins. The only problem is, he doesn’t own the rights. So he arranges for British author P.I. Travers to come to Hollywood. She is hesitant at first, fearing what Disney might do to her beloved book, but as sales begin to wane, she grudgingly decides to visit Walt and see what he has in mind. The rest is History. Emma Thompson and the ever-reliable Hanks are both superb.

Netflix streaming has films that are worthy, but you might have missed:

• Prozac Nation (2001) rated R
Christina Ricci, came into her own with this film. It depicts a highly stressed college student living at home with an unsupportive Mother. Someone recommends Prozac. Uh oh….

• That Guy Who Was In That Thing (2013) N/R
Anyone studying acting and trying to break into the wealth and glamour of Hollywood should watch this documentary. It shows 16 famous faces we’ve all seen who have yet to make it big. As the song goes, “It ain’t easy.”

• Cottage Country Canada 2013 rated R
If you like your comedies very dark and enjoy very bad things, this is for you. Be warned: it is gruesome—but also very funny. A young couple planning their wedding escape to their family-owned country cottage by the lake. Unfortunately, the guy’s hippie, good-for- nothing brother and his foreign girlfriend, (hilariously played by British comic Lucy Punch), have also mistakenly booked the place.

• The Spider Australia 2007 N/R
This is not what you think. It’s not exactly a horror film, but it will surprise you. It is an award-winning short film about an Australian couple on holiday, a certain chain of events ensues that will jolt you awake and cause you to pay attention.

A History Of the Horror Film, Part 1

People being entertained by horror is nothing new; it probably goes back to caveman times, when they drew scary beasts on cave walls.

It’s not so easy to define horror because much depends on the threshold of the person viewing it. What is scary to one person might be funny or ridiculous to someone else.

Of course, the early forms of horror were basically stage plays, novels and short stories. When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1818, horror had already been around in books for some time—Dante’s Inferno, to mention just one.

When the film industry began in the 1890s, filmmakers looked for whatever would thrill the audience. The very first horror thriller was a short film produced in 1900 in which a speeding train appeared to come charging directly at the audience. Needless to say, the people ran screaming from their wooden chairs for the quickest exit.

Horror films then as now, provided an audience with thrills and scares without ever putting anybody in any real danger.

Edison made the first Frankenstein film as early as 1910. Today’s audiences would think the monster was more comical-looking than scary. He had wild hair and crossed eyes—but he caused members of those early audiences to faint from sheer fright.

The earliest horror films were what we would call Gothic in nature. Mood was sometimes very effectively created by lightning, dark mansions and fog-shrouded woods. Interestingly enough, early horror films were forced to create an atmosphere out of budgetary constraints. Early German silent films that appear so artistic and moody, such as The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari and Nosferatu, were made by German filmmakers emerging from war-torn Germany. The German economy was in shambles following World War I and, although the film makers had next-to-nothing to spend on their pictures, people flocked to see films that promised to take their minds off their troubles. The background story for Caligari is an interesting bit of film history. When it was made in 1919, post-WW 1 Germany had strict laws forbidding the use of too much electricity, lumber and other building materials.

The film producers instructed the art department to draw walls, walkways and windows. They created shadows that suggested structures that didn’t exist—thus giving birth to the expressionistic style in film. To see these films even now, you have to marvel at the twisted walkways, buildings, and skewed cityscapes.

The star of the film, a white faced, dark eyed hypnotist, was Conrad Veidt, who, many years later, would portray Major Strasser in the classic Casablanca (1942).

Nosferatu (1922) was one of the first versions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was the first vampire picture and was completely unauthorized by Bram Stoker’s estate. So the name was changed from Dracula to Nosferatu. The setting was changed from Transylvania to Bremen. Max Schreck, a little known German bit player was the first Dracula.

Today his image is just as frightening and weird as it appeared back then—the emaciated, balding, pointy headed figure, with sunken cheekbones and long exaggerated fingers that made people at the time think that this actor might indeed be a vampire. Max Schreck wasn’t, of course. He went on to appear in a few more German films, then suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.

Next Month: Early monster films.