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!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Knightriders (1981)

Knightriders is not a horror film, but the legendary George Romero [Night of the Living Dead, Creepshow] wrote and directed it so that’s why it’s here.  Think of Nightriders as a Renaissance fair gone bad.  It’s all about knights on motorcycles who joust and fight for paying spectators until someone gets hurt.  Leading this family of Camelot misfits is none other than Ed Harris [Gravity, The Abyss] in one of his earlier roles.  He is this group’s King Arthur, who goes by the name of Billy, and seeks to maintain harmony and order within the community.  But Billy has a dark side which makes things interesting.

Billy’s nemesis and threat to the throne is  Morgan, played wonderfully by special effects guru Tom Savini [Dawn of the Dead].  This movie proves that Savini is not only good at guts and gore, he’s a fine actor as well.  The two of them duke it out among a cast of merry misfits who try to make a living doing what they love.

Romero’s script is smart and while it taps into universal themes, it still feels fresh and original.  His direction is spot on as well and the action scenes are quite effective.  Look for a fun cameo from Stephen King who was working with Romero on the script for Creepshow while Knightriders was being filmed.  It’s great to see Romero make good use of this serendipitous occasion.

The only negative thing I can say about Knightriders is that with a run time of 146 minutes, it’s way too long for the story it tells and should have been edited down to 120 minutes or less.  If you like action films with lots of drama, then Knightriders will be an enjoyable movie to watch.  If you’re a Romero fan and you haven’t seen this one yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?  I believe it showcases the talents of a creative and visionary director and stands as one of Romero’s best films.

RATING:  Very Good.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rodan (1956)

In 1954, visionary director Ishiro Honda wowed audiences with Gojira, his tale of the horrors of the atomic bomb. It was just as much a political critique as it was a horror film.  This same year the American version was released [Godzilla] and the Japanese have been fighting scores of monsters ever since!  Ca-ching!

The next monster to terrorize the Japanese countryside was Rodan, which is actually two mutant pterosaurs along with their two offspring.  The story begins in a mining village where workers keep disappearing in one of the mine’s deepest shafts.  Investigators are sent in and they discover a few giant prehistoric bugs who have quite an appetite. After this, the Pterosaurs appear and begin to unleash their reign of terror.

The script is good, especially the ending scenes which are truly heartbreaking. But what is missing is the deep social and political commentary that made Gojira a masterpiece.
Rodan follows a simple formula that many horror films before and after it follow:  Monster appears.  Monster kills.  Humans are no match for the monster at first, but find a way to destroy it in the end.

My biggest complaint are the pterosaurs which pale in comparison to the look of the original Godzilla monster.  Granted, Godzilla was a guy in a suit but this gave the monster an organic feel.  The Rodans look a bit cheesy to me and the repetitive use of the same shot over and over again, gets on your nerves pretty quick.

I know this film is beloved by many but it doesn’t do a lot for me.  I’m a huge fan of Gojira [The Blu Ray edition is gorgeous] but Rodan leaves me feeling a bit disappointed.


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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Firestarter (1984)

Those of us who grew up in the 80’s were treated to a number of Stephen King adaptations including Firestarter.  While it’s not the best of the bunch [Carrie takes that title] it is a well acted and enjoyable film.  Drew Barrymore does a wonderful job as Charlie, an 8 year old girl with pyrokinetic powers.  Barrymore is perfect for the role and is the emotional heart of the film.  Her evil counterpart John Rainbird, is played to perfection by George C. Scott.  He can go from sweet to sinister with the slightest change of facial expressions.

This dynamic duo is helped out by a wonderful cast of actors including Martin Sheen [The West Wing], David Keith [An Officer and a Gentleman] and small role appearances by Heather Locklear [Melrose Place], Art Carney [The Honeymooners], Louise Fletcher [Flowers in the Attic] and Antonio Fargas [Starsky & Hutch]. 

Director Mark L. Lester does a good job of keeping things moving along and is able to capture some wonderful performances from his actors.  Firestarter is also greatly helped by Mike Edmonson [The Avengers, Iron Man] it’s pyrotechnical and special effects foreman.  By 80’s standards all the fire scenes are first rate and they hold up well 30 years later.

The two weakest elements in Firestarter are the wind effect that is used every time Charlie starts a fire with her mental powers and the Tangerine Dream soundtrack.  The first is just plain cheesy and looks like they are holding a blow dryer up to Barrymore’s face.  The second is too tepid and Tangerine Dream's ambient synths fail to pack the musical punch this film needed in its most dramatic moments.

Firestarter has its critics, especially those who have read the book.  But books and movies are two completely different entities and should be judged on their own merits.  I’ve watched Firestarter several times over the years and found it enjoyable from start to finish.  Don’t miss it!

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Vintage Zombie Fun for October 2014

If you’re looking for a good zombie film to watch during the month of October and you can peel yourself away from new episodes of The Walking Dead, I recommend the following which are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  There are no voodoo zombies on this list.  Everything zombie begins with George Romero! [They are in no particular order.]

Straight Up Zombie Movies

  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • Dawn of the Dead: Dario Argento’s Cut (1979)
  • Day of the Dead (1985)
  • Zombi 2 (1979)
  • Night of the Comet (1984)
  • City of the Living Dead (1980)

Zombie Horror/Humor

  • Sugar Hill (1974)
  • Night of the Creeps (1986)
  • The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blacula (1972)

In the 1970’s a film genre was born that is often referred to as Blaxploitation.  These films were originally made for an urban black audience but gained a wider appeal across racial lines.  Blaxploitation films were the first to regularly feature soundtracks of funk and soul music as well as primarily black casts.  Eventually someone got the bright idea of combining Blaxploitation and horror.  The result is Blacula as well as another favorite of mine Sugar Hill (1974) which is reviewed elsewhere on my blog. 

Yet Blacula also manages to rise above its Blaxploitation roots to become a true horror film.  The biggest reason for this is William Marshall [The Boston Strangler, Scream Blacula Scream] , a versatile actor whose training included Shakespeare, Broadway and Grand Opera.  While Blacula was in the pre-production stage, Marshall convinced the producers to ditch the jive-talking vampire known as Andrew Brown and replace him with Mamuwalde, an ancient African prince who was turned into a vampire by Dracula himself.  The result is a vampire that is every bit as good as Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. [Trivia: Marshall also played King of Cartoons in the TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse.]

Set in Los Angeles, Mamuwalde arrives in America after two way-too-stereotypical gay antiques dealers buy Dracula’s estate including the coffin Mamuwalde resides in.  When the coffin is opened the fun begins!  Marshall is truly fantastic as Mamuwalde and gets everything right.  He is supported by an equally strong cast including his love interest Tina, played elegantly by Vonetta McGee [Repo Man, The Eiger Sanction].  The other standout is Thalmus Rasulala [New Jack City, General Hospital] as Dr. Gordon Thomas.  He is the perfect counterpoint to the bloodsucking Mamuwalde.  This film was also the acting debut of Denise Nicholas who would go on to star in two hit TV series: Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night.

Everyone is in the capable hands of director William Crain who went on to direct a number of episodes for TV shows such as The Mod Squad, Starksy and Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard.  Crain does a lot with the film’s modest budget of $500,00 and makes it feel like a much bigger movie.

The Soundtrack is also slamming with tunes by The Hues Corporation [known for Rock the Boat], Gene Page and The 21st Century Ltd.  The Hues Corporation also make an appearance in the film as the house band of a local night club.

The only negative thing I can say about Blacula is that some of the other vampires are given a quick Halloween costume makeover for their parts instead of treating them to the wonderful detail found in Mamuwalde.  I suspect this has to do with budgetary limitations but it’s the one thing that stand out as sub-par.

Whatever you do, SEE THIS FILM.  I also recommend watching Sugar Hill which will give you an inkling of what Blacula might have become if William Marshall had not been on board.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

If anyone could fill the legendary Claude Rains’ shoes, it is definitely Vincent Price, one of the true masters of horror.  The Invisible Man Returns was Price’s first horror film and he fills the role with both pathos and humor.  It’s a wonderful take on the character and his performance is easily the best of all the sequels.

The story begins when Geoffrey Radcliffe [Price] is scheduled to hang for a murder he did not commit.  After a visit from his friend Dr. Frank Griffin, Radcliffe mysteriously vanishes from prison.  Then the “invisible man” sets out to settle the score while Griffin tries to find an antidote to his friend’s invisibility.

In addition to Price’s first rate performance, John Sutton [The Bat, Return of the Fly] is great as the good doctor and Alan Napier [Alfred from Batman] steals the show as Willie Spears.  His scenes with Price are mischievous and delightful.

This talented cast is in the capable hands of director Joy May who gave Fritz Lang [Metropolis, M] his start in German cinema and fled to America after the Nazi takeover of Germany.  May brings an old world, classic look to The Invisible Man that works very well.  It feels intimately connected to the original which was made in 1933  Milton R. Krasner’s cinematography is first rate and the special effects by David S. Horsley [Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein] and John P. Fulton [Vertigo, Rear Window] hold up well with age.

The Invisible Man is classic horror at its best.  Don’t miss it,

RATING: Excellent.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

My first introduction to the “Master of Disaster,” Irwin Allen, was in 1974 when The Towering Inferno hit the big screen.  I was thirteen at the time and begged my Mom to let me see the film.  She previewed it.  My GRANDMOTHER previewed it.  Finally, the two of them told me that it was O.K. for me to go see it.  I remember my joy as I took my seat in the theater and watched all the amazing sights and sounds of this epic disaster movie.  I was instantly hooked and couldn’t wait for Allen’s next big epic to hit the screen.

Director/Writer Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is everything you could hope for in an epic adventure, 1960’s style.  Allen made it as big and as loud as he could, and we love him for it.  The dialogue is a bit bombastic at times.  The soundtrack
matches the dialogue with lots of horns and very little strings.  The underwater scenes are vibrant and energetic.  The cast is jam packed with some of the best stars of the day.  Who could ask for anything more?

Well, there are several chinks in this disaster movie’s armor.  The science is clearly fiction with icebergs breaking up and sinking, the Van Allen radiation belt catching fire  [Just Google it], attack subs diving at 3,000 feet when today’s subs can’t dive beyond 1300 feet!  But who cares?  This is one of those films where you just have to suspend your critical thinking and enjoy the ride.

The other chink in the armor is a few of the special effects, especially the octopus that attacks one of the divers and coils one of its tentacles around her.  While it’s hardly Ed Wood’s octopus from Bride of the Monster (1955), you can see it from there.  Later in the film a giant octopus attacks the sub with better results.  They used a live octopus for the scene and shot it in reverse since octopi are very shy creatures.

If you want names, you’ve got ‘em!  The cast includes Barbara Eden [I Dream of Genie] and Frankie Avlon [Beach Blanket Bingo] to attract the teenagers.  For the adults they included heavyweights Walter Pidgeon [Forbidden Planet] as the captain, Joan Fontaine  [Rebecca] as Dr. Hiller, and a small role for Peter Lorre [M, The Maltese Falcon] as Commander Emery.  Everyone in the cast is great.  There’s not a dud in the bunch!

Irwin Allen knew what he did best and it with great gusto. In the 1960’s, when Allen began making TV series, he was known as the most successful science fiction producer of the decade, spawning a TV series of the same name as the film that ran from 1964–68.  He also produced two of my childhood favorites: Lost in Space (1965–68) and Land of the Giants (1968–70).  Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is classic stuff. Don’t miss it!

RATING: Excellent.

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