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!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The War of the Worlds (1953)

The War of the Worlds is classic 1950's Sci-fi based on the novel by H. G. Wells.  It's a "cast of thousands" end of the world drama with lots of those cheesy 1950's special effects we know and love.  Byron Haskin [Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Treasure Island] directed this film.  He spent his early years in Hollywood designing special effects so he's the perfect director for this movie.  He also had the one and only Cecil B. DeMille (uncredited) as well as George Pal [director of The Time Machine and Atlantis, the Lost Continent] as his producers.  It's hard to go wrong with that. 

The set up is simple: A mysterious asteroid crashes in a remote area outside of town…but it's no ordinary meteor since it holds a Martian spaceship.  You probably know where it goes from there! 

The cast is fine but only Les Tremayne [Bonanza, Perry Mason] stands out as Major General Mann.  He has a commanding presence on screen that is hard to ignore.  The two romantic leads are another story altogether.  Gene Barry is Dr. Layton Forrester.  He's the main scientist who is trying to figure out how to defeat the Martians.  His performance is a little lethargic at times.  This is due to his eyes which are often expressionless.  His main squeeze is 1950's femme fatale Ann Robinson who plays Sylvia Van Burren.  Unfortunately, they give her far too little to do in the movie except scream hysterically and fall into the arms of her man for protection.  She also cooks breakfast in an abandoned farm house like any good 1950's housewife would do!  Sigh.

A little extra treat is the one and only Sir Cedric Hardwicke [The Ghoul, The Invisible Man Returns, The Ghost of Frankenstein] who does the voice-over commentary in the film.  He gives it the gravitas one would expect from such a horror icon.  A really good reboot of The War of the Worlds was done in 2005 starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning.  This modern remake ups the special effects and increases the drama and suspense tenfold.  Don't miss this classic film!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ghoulies 2 (1988)

Some movies do NOT need a sequel.  Such is the case with Ghoulies.  For me the original film worked because of its creative, slimy puppet creatures and its dark, spooky atmosphere.  [See my review elsewhere on the site.]  Yes, the acting was a bit over the top but this gave Ghoulies the feel of a Road Runner cartoon which served it well.

Alas, I cannot give the same praise for Ghoulies 2.  First of all, the plot has holes and inconsistencies all over it.  Secondly, the setting of a haunted house in an amusement park should have worked well but it doesn't.  Too much of it is brightly lit which diminishes the atmosphere and makes the puppet creatures look less believable than in the first film.  Thirdly, the acting is simply God-awful and some of the lines of cringe-worthy dialogue only make it worse. 

Finally, the most frightening thing about Ghoulies 2 is that it spawned another film...Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College (1991).  I watched the first 10 minutes of it and it was dreadful. It's sad that the brilliance of the first film was never duplicated.

RATING: Bad.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Dead Zone (1983)

What would you do if you had the power to see the future?  If it looked ominous, would you try to change it?  This is the theme that The Dead Zone explores in a way that is both simple and profound.  The film is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name which was written in 1979.  It was King's first book to reach number one of the bestseller list.

The Dead Zone's success is attributed to a great performance by iconic actor Christopher Walken [Sleepy Hollow, The Prophecy] who plays Johnny Smith, you're average guy who awakens from a coma to discover he has psychic abilities.  Walked is in the capable hands of director David Cronenberg [Videodrome, Scanners] who shows remarkable restraint with The Dead Zone.  While I love the crazy images he often brings to the screen, he handles with film with a subtle but powerful tough.  It's a bit of a slow burner in terms of action, but the film keeps building suspense until the final scene.

Other notable performances include Martin Sheen who plays the slightly crazed, power hungry politician Greg Stillson to perfection.  Has sSheen ever made a film he wasn't good in?  None come to mind!  Brooke Adams is sweet and radiant as Walker's spurned love interest, Sarah.  She brings a warmth to the role that gives the film lots of heart and helps to bring our Walken's tender side. [Yes, he has one!]  There are also fine performances from a bevy of classic character actors including Tom Skerritt, Anthony Zerbe and Colleen Dewhurst.

The Dead Zone is one of those Sunday afternoon movies that you simply can't stop watching.  It draws you in and keeps your interest form start to finish.  If you like lots of action, you might get a little bored but if you ponder the questions this film asks, your viewing experience will be greatly rewarded.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Monday, March 9, 2015

Critters 2 (1988)

I would argue that Critters 2 is even better than the original.  This time out new director Mick Garris [Hocus Pocus, Masters of Horror] ups the energy, humor and sense of adventure.  It’s a shoot ‘em up good time when the space bounty hunters revisit the Earth to make sure the Critters are gone for good.  [Ot at least until the next sequel!]

Scott Grimes is back to reprise his role as Brad, but it’s clear he’s matured as an actor and does a great job with the role.  Broadway legend Terrence Mann, whom I forgot to mention in my review of the original film, is back as Ug and has the same commanding presence on screen.  Same goes for Don Keith Opper who plays the “town drunk turned bounty hunter.”  He does a great job on both films.

A welcomed addition is Herta Ware [Cocoon, Practical Magic, Species] who plays Brad’s grandma, Nana.    She lights up the screen with her soft, magnetic presence.  You can’t take your eyes off of her.  Really great!

As far as the Critters go, they back and badder than ever.  They had a bigger budget to work with than they did in the first film and it shows.  Charles Chiodo and his enormous special effects crew up the ante in Critters 2 and really make the Critters pop.  There are great kill scenes and they even manage to make you a little sympathetic to these horrible little creatures when they meet their demise.

If you liked the first one, you SO need to see the sequel.  Great stuff.  Films such as this are what made 80’s horror so fun to watch.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Critters (1986)

Steal generously from Gremlins (1984), add a touch of late night Sci-Fi, stir in handful of humor, try to duplicate the family from Poltergeist (1982), cast an actress with clout (Dee Wallace), and hire the biggest effects department you can afford.  What you do have? Critters, of course.  Critters is one of those small budget horror film that actually works.  Yes, the acting is not the greatest but the real star of this show is the Critters themselves.

Critters are the Gremlins even meaner cousins who broke out of a space prison and have decided that Earth is their buffet table.  Kudos to Charles Chiodo [Killer Klowns From Outerspace] and his enormous crew for giving us such delightful monsters.  Yes, they’re vicious but, somehow, it also comes across as funny.  Furthermore, the bounty hunters who try to destroy these ruthless creatures are great as well.  Their faces are blank green canvases at first, but they can assume any physical identity they want to.  The film uses this to good effect.

Critters was Stephen Herek’s directorial debut.  He would then go on to direct the cult classic Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989).  He does a very good job for with his first film.  The only negative thing I can say is that he doesn’t get the most out of his actors.  Dee Wallace (The Hills Have Eyes, The Howling, E.T.] should have been fabulous, but she was just O.K.  Even the kid who is supposed to be the emotional heart of this film, falls flat.  Scott Grimes [Party of Five, ER] is a great actor but, for whatever reason, he cannot tap into the kind of emotional depth that others have done in similar films.  This might be due to the director, the script, the actor, or a combination of all three.  I’m not sure why but I know it doesn’t capture your heart like Elliott and Gertie did in E.T.

All things considered, this is a slightly campy, enjoyable film.  It’s not the best the 80’s has to offer but the Critters are so much fun to watch in action that the viewer cannot help but fall in love with this film.

RATING: Very Good.

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

 

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Man From Planet X (1951)

Depending upon whom you read, The Man From Planet X is one of the first, if not the first, science fiction film where aliens make contact with earth.  Director Edgar G. Ulmer (The Black Cat) works with half-a-shoestring budget of $50,000 and an so-so screenplay and comes up with a film that’s better than both!

The story begins when an astronomer discovers a mysterious planet he ingeniously calls “Planet X.”  [I bet it took him a long time to think up that one!]  Why a planet is hurling through space is anyone’s guess [It should have been a comet or asteroid] but you just have to go with it! 

Meanwhile a mysterious spaceship lands nearby that looks a bit like a Christmas tree ornament!  It’s barely big enough to house the alien inside, but, again, you just have to go with it!  When the alien is finally revealed, his large expressionless head looks like a piƱata stuffed into a space helmet.  Thankfully the two people who are credited as providing the special effects on this film have extremely short resumes. 

In spite of these drawbacks, the acting is quite good and the film is paced nicely as well.  The only familiar face in the cast is character actor William Schallert [True Blood] who plays the “always-sneaking-around and is probably up to no good” Dr. Mears.  The only female in the cast, Enid Elliott, played by Margaret Field, assumes the role of research assistant/perfect 1950’s housewife and does little more than talk excitedly and wait for the men to check things out!  Sigh!

The Man From Planet X is not a bad film.  For $50,000 it’s astonishing.  If the studio was only able to spend a little more on the alien and the spaceship, it could have been a very good movie.  As a final note, I streamed this movie in Netflix and the print was quite dark.  I’m sure there are other alternatives out there so be prepared!

RATING: Fair.

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


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973)

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is the last of the Hammer Horror Frankenstein films.  This time around it feels like they simply ran out of new ideas to enliven the sub-genre.  Yes, the setting is different: an insane asylum.  Yes, the monster is different: It looks like a big-lipped ape on steroids.  Yet, everything feels all too familiar and predictable.

Peter Cushing stars as Baron Victor Frankenstein who assumes the alias of Dr. Carl Victor.  Yawn.  Cushing is very thin in this film and has a very gaunt face.  However, he is still as intense as ever and carries the movie by his strong magnetic presence.  This version of Frankenstein would definitely be a lesser film without him.

The doctor's assistant, Simon, is capably played by Shane Bryant [Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, Lady Chatterley's Lover] but is almost too handsome for the role.  Considering what heinous crimes he's committing a little grittier look is definitely in order.

The special surprise is that the Monster is played by David Prowse who would go on to become a film legend as the looming Darth Vader in Star Wars IV, V and VI.  [Prowse wore the suit for the character in Star Wars while James Earl Jones supplied the voice.]  His sheer physical presence is impressive but Prowse was much better as Vader than he was as the Monster.

The usual details we've come to expect from Hammer Studios are all present in Frankenstein: gorgeous sets, nice cinematography, solid acting, and a good film score.  The problem is I just can't get too excited about it.  If you're going to remake Frankenstein [which has been done a thousand times over] you really have to bring something special to the table.  This incarnation of Frankenstein is tepid at best and, for this viewer, feels as warmed over as the Monster's corpse!

RATING: Good.

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