Welcome, children of the night! This Blog is for fans of vintage horror films as well as those who are just beginning to discover the joy of these classic movies. I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Martin (1978)

Visionary director George Romero gave birth to the modern zombie in his 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead.  Almost every zombie film that has been created since begins with his template and goes from there.  Then in 1978, the same year Dawn of the Dead was released, he set his sights on vampires.  The result is Martin, one of Romero’s lesser known and under-appreciated films.  The story centers on teenage Martin who is either a true vampire or a serial killer with a taste for blood.  The brilliance of Romero’s script is that he leaves it completely up in the air for his audience to decide.  Young Martin drugs his victims and then drinks their blood through an incision on their body.  Everyone dies and no one is “turned” into another vampire.  Gone are the capes, the fangs, the bats, and the fog.  In their place are mystery, hunger, curiosity and murder.

John Amplas [Day of the Dead, Creepshow] is great as Marin.  He’s in every scene and nails the character completely.  He holds his secrets close, only letting us see bits and  pieces of himself along the way.  We watch him evolve as both a killer and as a sexual being.  Like a train wreck, you can’t take your eyes off of him and wonder what he’s going to do next.

Lincoln Maazel, Martin’s Uncle, is a modern day Van Helsing.  He’s the only character in the movie that has an old-world, gothic feel to him.  He’s the cross carrying Nosferatu slayer who everyone looks at as if he’s a bit crazed…but maybe he’s the only sane one in the film.  Hmmmm.

The pace of Martin is a bit slow but that’s not a problem for me.  Romero takes his time telling the story and those who stick with it will be rewarded.  The blood effects by Tom Savini [Dawn of the Dead] work well and if you watch closely you’ll also spot Savini in a cameo performance in the film.  Romero also makes an appearance as Father Howard.

The biggest surprise for me is how good Martin looks in spite of its minuscule budget.  Romero does a lot with a little and he is to be commended for it.  Don’t miss this one.  Martin is Romero at his creative best and gives us a vampire story that’s inventive and compelling.

RATING: Excellent.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Changeling (1980)

The Changeling is one of those forgotten gems of paranormal horror.  It’s a bit of a slow burner at first but patience has its rewards as the story unfolds in interesting ways.  George C. Scott [ The Exorcist III, Firestarter] is symphonic composer John Russel, who moved to Seattle after his wife and child were killed in a freak automobile accident.  He moves into an old hose that hasn’t been lived in for twelve years and, surprise, strange things start to happen.

Scott is excellent in this role which shouldn’t surprise to anyone.  He is center stage in every scene of this film and handles the material like the pro he is. While the other actors also give fine performances, this is definitely his show and his show only!

Director Peter Medak [Species II] and cinematographer John Coquillon [Witchfinder General, Curse of the Crimson Altar] do a great job of establishing an eerie mood and keeping the suspension simmering throughout the film.  While some of the special effects are subtle and good, the stuff toward the end of the film is a tad bit hokey for me.  It’s typical 1980’s stuff so…it is what it is.

If you like paranormal horror and smartly written supernatural stories, then The Changeling is definitely your kind of movie.  It doesn’t quite rate a classic in my book, but it comes awfully close.

RATING: Very Good.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thriller: The Return of Andrew Bentley (1961)

Season 2, Episode 12

When you start with a script by Richard Matheson [I Am Legend], you know it’s going to be really great.  Such is the case with this very serious and dark episode of Thriller.  The story begins with Uncle Amos, a practitioner of the dark arts, who kills himself after securing his nephew Ellis’ promise to guard his tomb against nefarious forces.

Terence de Marney [Monster of Terror] is fantastic as Amos.  Even his physical appearance is a little bit crazed.  John Newland [Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Dr. Kildare], who also directed this episode, plays Eliis who is a bit aristocratic and snobbish.  Newland gets every aspect of this character right.

I won’t tell you how the story works itself out because that’s the fun of this Thriller episode.  The Return of Andrew Bentley is a bit darker than some of the other episodes that often have a sense of humor and playfulness to them.  This one is straight up horror and is very effective in establishing a mood of dread and sustaining it to the end.

I can’t recommend it enough.  It’s just another reason why Thriller may be the finest horror series to ever grace the small screen.

RATING: Excellent.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Mole People (1956)

Utterly ridiculous!  The Mole People suffers from many things.  First on the list is a preposterous screenplay that doesn’t have an ounce of believability in it!  There is simply no way an ancient Sumerian civilization could survive underground for a week much less 5,000 years.  To make matters worse their costumes look like something that was designed by either Ed Wood or a local High School drama department.

Then let’s talk about the Mole People who are the Sumerian’s slaves.  Good God!  They are not even so-bad-they’re-good.  They are just plain bad. The only time they really look menacing is in the early scenes when we only see a brief glimpse of a hand or a set of eyes peering though a hole in the cavern.  I do, however, like the effect of when the Mole People pull their victims through the earth.  It’s the only thing that actually works in this film.

To be honest, I feel sorry for the actors, especially John Agar [Tarantula] and Alan Napier [Alfred form Batman] who are trapped in this film and are forced to utter inane dialogue form start to finish.  The Mole People takes itself way too seriously and fails epically.  You can skip this one altogether.  While the cinematography and direction are good, filming crap is…filming crap!


For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tarantula (1955)

I know Leo G Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills…everybody sing!  Yet another Sci-Fi classic immortalized by the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this one is worth singing about!  Tarantula is a fine example of those fun “creature features” from the 1950’s that were adored by kiddies as well as their parents.  It’s simply good, clean family fun that gets it right at every turn.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s right up there with my favorite from this era Them! (1954).

Director Jack Arnold [Creature From the Black Lagoon, It Came From Outerspace] and producer William Alland [Creature From the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature] know their stuff and give the movie a nice look and pace.  A beautiful musical score by Henri Mancini [The Pink Panther] only enhances the action and helps to heighten the tension.

The basic story involves a not-so-mad scientist, played by the wonderful Leo G. Carroll [North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train], whose experiments with growth hormones have unintended consequences.  Along for the ride are his gorgeous new research assistant Stephanie and a colleague named Dr. Hastings.  Mara Corday [The Black Scorpion] smashes a few 1950’s stereotypes with this role.  She’s smart and is taken seriously in the lab.  She only screams slightly, never faints, and rescues her own damn self!  Way to go, sister!  John Agar [The Virginian] is also great as the “leading man” and gives a great performance through and through.

Tarantula is helped by a smart screenplay whose science sounds believable, as well as Bud Westmore’s make-up that would make the legendary Jack Pierce smile.  As an added bonus, watch the final scene carefully and you’ll spot a young Clint Eastwood as a military pilot.  While he has an air mask on, you simply can’t mistake those eyes for anyone else’s!

The giant tarantula that terrorizes everyone is…well…a tarantula that is clearly magnified to epic proportions.  The handlers of the arachnid in question used air jets to make it move in the direction they wanted over a  well-built miniature landscape.  The effect is pretty good for 1950’s standards.  An uncredited Wah Chang [The Time Machine, Planet of the Apes] also designed a tarantula puppet that is used for close-ups.  It is very well made which also helps the monster to look convincing.

You can’t go wrong with Tarantula.  It’s a joy to watch from start to finish. 

RATING: Excellent.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Locked in a prison of ice millions of years ago, a giant praying mantis is set free to terrorize America!  And that’s all you really need to know.  The Deadly Mantis is a delicious slice of 1950’s kiddie horror that was probably shown on a Saturday afternoon.  In spite of it’s overly serious tone in the beginning of the film, it’s actually a lot of fun. 

The trio at the heart of this story is Margie Blaine, the editor of a Natural History Magazine; Dr. Ned Jackson, an authority on the evolution of animals; and Col. Joe Parkman, who invited the other two to join him at an Army base near the Arctic Circle where our adventure starts.  Alix Talton [The Man Who Knew Too Much] is great as Margie, who is a bit more useful than your typical 1950’s hysterically screaming movie female.  William Hopper [The Bad Seed] makes a convincing scientist does a great job at making the storyline seem believable.  Finally Craig Stevens [Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde] confidently commands the troops into battle and wins the girl in the end.  [Naturally!]  These three, along with the rest of the cast, do a great job of making the story come alive.

Now, how about the monster?  Well, the results are uneven.  When the Mantis is on the ground, it looks pretty good.  When it takes off in flight, it looks ridiculous.  Fred Knoth, who did the god-awful special effects in The Land Unknown (1957), has a more money to work with here and shows he can come up with some decent effects by 1950’s standards.  The best the creature looks is when it’s trapped in the Lincoln Tunnels in NYC.  The fog and subtle lighting help to make it look more menacing and powerful.  I made a n emotional connection with the Mantis in this scene and actually felt sorry for the big guy when he met his demise.

Kudos to director Nathan Juran [Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman] and Producer William Alland [Creature from the Black Lagoon] for making this film work as well as it does.  It definitely has its weak spots [use of stock footage as well as a few bad shots where the camera tricks are way too obvious] but the film itself manages to be greater than the sum of its parts.  It’s not the best monster movie out there, but it’s definitely a campy and enjoyable film.

RATING: Very Good.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Land Unknown (1957)

Universal originally intended The Land Unknown to be a big budget Sci-Fi extravaganza, filmed in color.  What it ended up becoming was a small budget, black and white B-movie with laugh-out-loud special effects. The plot is simple:  A crew exploring Antarctica discovers a giant crater that is home to a prehistoric world, including dinosaurs.  Where it goes from there is classic “lost world” stuff with no big surprises.

The Land Unknown is nearly impossible to rate because parts of it are very good, while other elements suffer from lack of money.  Let’s start with the good stuff:  Director Virgil W. Vogel [Tons of TV credits to his name] shot his film mostly indoors at Universal Studios and does a decent job of trying to make painted backdrops and artificial shrubbery come to life.  To the film’s credit, the backdrops are painted beautifully.  It’s the kind of stuff you just don’t see in movies anymore and it has its own special charm.

Vogel also had a great cast to work with including the electrifying Shirley Patterson [It! The Terror From Beyond Space] who plays an adventuresome scientist who, unfortunately, morphs into the stereotypical 1950’s woman who screams, faints and has to be rescued by her man.  Sigh!  I also enjoyed William Reynolds [The Thing That Couldn’t Die] who looks a bit like a young Marlon Brando and has a strong presence on screen.

I was also impressed with the soundtrack which is beautifully composed and gives this film lots of energy and emotion.  Not surprisingly, an uncredited Henri Mancini [The Pink Panther] was the man behind the music.  Perhaps he did this anonymously so that the Universal could pay him less than his usual fee.

Now the bad stuff:  OMG the dinosaurs are HORRENDOUS.  Let’s start with the classic “giant iguanas wrestling” that we’re supposed to believe are dinosaurs.  It’s classic 1950’s stuff but that doesn't mean we have to like it.  Then, bless their hearts, there’s the T-Rex that is a man in a poorly constructed rubber suit with lifeless arms and a way-too-upright posture to be a convincing a T-Rex.  The swimming Plesiosaurus is even worse and looks like a bad ride at the county fair.  I know they had a limited budget but, WOW, the dinosaurs absolutely kill this movie, and not in a good way!

So, if you like cheese, then The Land Unknown is right up your alley.  It’s a rip-roaring good time.  However, if you like serious horror you will probably mourn the fact that if this movie only had a few decent special effects it could have been a really good movie.

RATING:  Very Good - direction, acting and cinematography  Bad - special effects

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.