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, 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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Donovan's Brain (1953)

Curt Siodmak is a horror writing legend.  He is the genius behind Black Friday (1940), The Wolf Man (1941) and House of Frankenstein (1944) among others.  Siodmak also wrote the novel that inspired the screenplay for Donovan’s Brain.

The basic set up is a classic Sci-fi horror story about a scientist who keeps the brain of a dead millionaire after he was killed in a plane accident.  Where it goes from there is for you to enjoy!  Needless to say, things take a sinister turn.

While director Felix Feist is hardly a household name, he does a great job in the pacing of the film and builds suspense throughout Donovan’s Brain quite nicely.  He also gets terrific performances out of his lead actors.  Lew Ayres [Damien: Omen II and lots of TV credits] is perfect as Dr. Patrick Cory.  He has a commanding presence on screen and delivers his lines with confidence and strength. 

I also enjoyed Nancy Reagan [Yes! President Ronald Reagan’s wife!] who plays Dr. Cory’s wife, Janice.  What I especially like about the character is that this 1950’s woman is good for more than preparing dinner.  She is an invaluable and competent research assistant and Reagan nails the part perfectly.  Go, girl power!  I had never seen Nancy Reagan in a film before and I’m impressed with her performance here.

Enjoy this delightful piece of Sci-fi horror.  It is most definitely worth your time.

RATING: Very Good.

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

 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Damien: Omen II (1978)

Little Damien, the anti-Christ, is now an unruly teenager with raging hormones and a taste for unleashing the powers of darkness on anyone who poses a threat to him.  What’s a boy to do?  This sequel to the hugely successful horror classic The Omen (1976) hits more than it misses.  It’s a bit of a slow-burner but it has a few creative and surprising deaths along the way.

I’m not sure why but Richard Donner [Lethal Weapon, The Goonies], who did the original film, was replaced by Don Taylor [Remake of the Island of Dr Moreau, Escape from the Planet of the Apes].  Mike Hodges [Flash Gordon, Morons From Outer Space] is listed as an uncredited director which usually means the film was in trouble and they brought in another director to make things right. 

Damien definitely has a few nice special effects, including the use of the demonic crows, but the rest of the film is rather tepid with lots of brooding and consternating.  Jonathan Scott-Taylor does a nice job as Damien and doesn’t overplay the character.  In this film, he’s in the process of discovering his true identity and the writer handles this subtly and effectively. 

As the story begins, Damien now lives with his Uncle Richard and Aunt Ann in the suburbs of Chicago and attends a military boarding school.  He is surrounded by lots of people who pose a threat to his existence and they are eliminated, one by one.

That’s all you really need to know.  If you love lots of blood and guts, then this film is not for you.  If you enjoy a good thriller then Damien: Omen II might do quite nicely.

RATING: Excellent.

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

 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1974)

Before there was Friday the 13th or Halloween, the same year that Deranged and Black Friday were released, yet another early slasher flick was born: Silent Night, Bloody Night.  What was going on in 1974 that spawned two very dark Christmas stories virtually simultaneously?  Perhaps those Groovy 70's held their dark secrets after all, hidden beneath layers of polyester and bad hair styles!
Silent Night, Bloody Night is a somewhat forgotten gem.  It doesn't have near the production values as Black Christmas.  It's a bit slow paced at times.  However, there is a lot that is good about this film and almost great.  

First we have the serial killer cam, that follows the killer through the house as he stalks his prey.  Second, we have the element of surprise as the slow pace of the film lulls us into a false sense of security which is jarred by a sudden swing of an axe or shovel.  Third, the movie keeps us guessing who the killer is and we don't really learn the whole story until the end of the film.  Fourth, the soundtrack is good with Silent Night devolving into a haunting minor scale that suggests that not all is twinkling lights and holly in this film.  Fifth, the director chooses a "less is more" approach in terms of gore.  There's not a lot of blood on screen but your mind fills in all the messy details perfectly.  Finally, can there really be too many Christmas horror stories?  I think not!  It's a stressful, scary holiday to say the least.


The cast of Silent Night, Bloody Night is mostly unknown to me except for Patrick O'Neal who starred in tons of films including The Stepford Wives and The Way We Were.  [There is also a small cameo by John Carradine as well.]  Yet, in spite of its lack of star power the cast is quite good and gets the job done rather well.  You can download this one for free from Archive.org.  However, the copy is rather grainy.  Still this actually adds to the enjoyment of the film.  I don't think there's a better copy out there.  I searched the internet and one is just as bad as the other.  If anyone else knows of a better print, please let me know.
If you like slasher flicks, then definitely put this one on your list.  Silent Night, Bloody Night is a Christmas present that's the perfect gift any time of the year.
RATING: Very Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Black Christmas (1974)

If you love the sight of lights twinkling on an evergreen tree and carols wafting through the air, then this movie is NOT for you.  If the season of Christmas drives you crazy with its endless barrage of over-sentimentality and consumerism, then sit back and enjoy!  Although Friday the 13th (1980) inspired two generations of Dead Teenager Movies, it stole everything that was good about it from Black Christmas.  The setting is a sorority house instead of a summer camp but nearly everything else is the same.
We see significant portions of the film through the perspective of the killer as the "slasher cam" walks us through the house.  The killer is not "unmasked" until very late in the movie.  [In Black Christmas we may see his hand or his eye but never the whole person.]  The movie intentionally leads us down the wrong path so that we think the killer is someone else.  Teenagers are dispatched in creative and violent ways.  I think you get my point.
Black Christmas tackles these elements very well.  It creates a great deal of suspense throughout the film and I found myself squirming in my seat a number of times as these sweet sorority girls are knocked off in horrific ways.  That's a high complement from me because I'm pretty "unsquirmable."  Black Christmas follows the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock who instinctively knew that what we don't see is far more frightening that what we do see.  Therefore, there is actually very little blood spilled on screen but your mind fills in all the gory details [and does a better job in the process].
The cast is great and includes Margot Kidder [The Amityville Horror, Superman], Olivia Hussey [Romeo and Juliet], Andrea Martin [SCTV, My Big Fat Greek Wedding] and John Saxon [A Nightmare on Elm Street, Enter the Dragon].  Everyone is excellent and there's not a weak link in the bunch.  Particularly enjoyable is Marian Waldman who plays Mrs. Mac, the alcoholic house mother who watches over the girls.  She provides some much needed comic relief in the midst of the bloodletting.
Black Christmas was remade in 2006 with Andrea Martin returning to play the house mother instead of a sorority girl.  I consider it to be as enjoyable as the original and, in some ways, it's better.  The remake includes the backstory of Billy the killer and does it rather effectively.  These "nostalgic" moments enhance the film and provide some of the most twisted and disturbing elements in it. [You'll never look at Christmas cookies the same way again!]  The remake is more violent but it's still well done.  My recommendation is to watch both of them.  Start with the original and then view the remake.  Let me know what you think.  I watch Black Christmas every holiday season with my adult kids.  It's our version of A Christmas Story and helps us to cope with the madness that is the holiday season.  [You might find it hard to believe but Bob Clark directed both of these films.  Thanks to him we have both Ralphie and Billy as our holiday mascots.  WOW!]
RATING: EXCELLENT.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Spectacularly bad.  Magnificently god-awful.  That pretty much describes Santa Claus Conquers the Martians which has been given a spot on the 100 worst films of all time. 

Here’s the thing:  First of all, this film was made for children, so let’s cut it some slack.  SCCM is a delicious slice of 1960’s children’s TV fair that has the sentimentality of Lassie and the humor of Dennis the Menace.  Scarface it is not!

Secondly, this film was made for a paltry $200,000 and includes scenes from the North Pole, outer space and the planet Mars.  It also has a sizable cast including Pia Zadora in her first film!  You gotta give them an A for effort!

Yes, the costumes are horrible and amateurish.  Yes, the script and acting are just as bad.  Yes, the sets look like they were made for a Jr High School play.  But, who cares?  Like Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), SCCM is exuberant, independent filmmaking that knows exactly what it is and celebrates it with gusto.  This is one of those films that falls into the “so-bad-it’s good” category.  If that’s your kind of thing [and it’s my kind of thing] then don’t miss this one. 

SCCM may be best viewed in December with a group of friends, Christmas cookies and spiked eggnog.  It will definitely be a part of my holiday celebration from tis time forth and forevermore!

RATING: Bad. [as in so-bad-it’s-good]

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