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!

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.

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.