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 3, 2017

Alien 3 (1992)

I usually don't review films made after 1990, but Aliens 3 is an exception since it's the follow up to the much beloved Alien and Aliens. Unfortunately, after such a high benchmark for excellent filmmaking, there is no where to go but downhill..and downhill it went with great speed and velocity! Alien 3 is the film critics love to hate. Even director David Fincher was infamously quoted as saying, "No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me."  That being said, it's not the worst movie ever made, but its not the greatest either.

Fincher points to a lot of reasons why Aliens 3 didn't work including his naivety as a young director, a studio that didn't care about its quality as long at it opened and was under budget, and severe cuts that were made to the original release that trimmed it from 144 to 114 minutes. There are a number of excellent critiques regarding the hows and whys of the failures of Aliens 3. I suggest you seek them out if you're interested.

Here are my observations as to why this movie wasn't as amazing as the previous two.

1). The screenplay. Why they decided to kill off everyone from the second film except for Ripley is a mystery to me. It made the saving of the little girl in Aliens a wasted effort. I also missed having Bishop around (played by the always excellent Lance Henriksen) whose animated remains appeared all too briefly in Aliens 3.

They also gave Sigourney Weaver very little to work with. Gone is the kickass, self-confident female from the first two films. In her place is a Ripley that is hesitant, fearful and just plain tired!

The rest of the cast is full of less than memorable characters with the exception of Dillon, played by Charles S. Dutton, who is one of the few characters who is given any depth. It felt like every time we were just getting to know someone better, they were food for the alien.

2). The creature. Damn to hell all bad GCI. Unlike the creature in the first two films, who was largely done by remote control and puppetry, this "new and improved" alien looks fake, fake, fake. It's just not the meaning character we know and love.

3). The cinematography. This is the brownest looking movie outside of the silent films of the 1920's. The darker tones of the first two Alien movies work much better. This just looks too bland and monochromatic.

I have seen both versions of Aliens 3 and I, like Fincher, prefer the longer 2003 Special "Assembly Cut" Edition. It provides information that's important to the storyline and the movie is better with these scenes added to it.

So that's my take. It's not as god-awful as move reviewers will tell you it is, but it's hardly the iconic films that Alien and Aliens are. After watching the breath-taking Prometheus (2012) which Ridley Scott wrote and directed as a prequel to Alien, I am reminded just how poorly Aliens 3 missed the mark.

RATING: Fine.

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Aliens (1986)

Wow! It's hard to believe it took this many years to produce a sequel to the brilliant Alien (1979). This time out they upped the budget from 11 million to 18.5. They also jettisoned Ridley Scott [Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, Kingdom of Heaven] and brought in James Cameron [The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar] to direct. The urban legend is that Sigourney Weaver refused to reprise the character until she read Cameron's script. The rest, they say, is history.

So how does it stack up to the original? Both films are excellent but they are also quite different from each another. Alien is quiet, brooding, beautiful and intense. Aliens is a guns blazing action adventure with stunning special effects.  Scott and Cameron definitely know how to make big, epic films and these two are pretty much a virtual tie in terms of excellent filmmaking. It all depends upon whether you like to brood or blow things up. I'm a brooder so I prefer the original over the sequel!

In addition to a totally kick ass performance from Sigourney Weaver, the cast of Aliens is loaded with stars including Bill Paxton, Paul Reiser and my personal favorite Lance Henricksen who plays the android, Bishop, like no one else can. Everyone in this cast gives a stellar performance. Personally, I could have done without the screaming little girl who looked like a reject from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I would have fed her to the creatures early in the film but, hey, that's just me. Some find her character adorable. I thought she was annoying.

The second film takes place 57 years after the first. Weaver's character Ripley has been in cryo-sleep all this time after having defeated the alien and saved the cat! Now she is discovered, thawed out, and ready for action. Weaver joins a group of marines for a search/rescue/destroy mission back on the planet she first encountered the creatures. She goes, kicks some booty, and that's all you really need to know.

Aliens is NOT an intellectual film. It's a joy ride.  \If you want the intellectual side to this story go see the brilliant and beautiful Prometheus (2012) that came out this summer and was directed by Ridley Scott. It's the "prequel" to Alien and is a brooding, intense work of art. Aliens needs to be approached like an Indiana Jones film. Root for the good guys. Enjoy seeing things get blown up. Ooh and aah at the special effects. And watch Sigourney Weaver as she gives a strong performance in one of the best roles of her career.

Recently I bought the Alien Quadrilogy (Blu-Ray Edition) that contains a Director's Cut of the film. James Cameron tells the audience at the beginning of the film that the original version was too long for the producing studio so it demanded several cuts to tighten the plot. Cameron restores these cuts to the film and says it is his preferred way to see the Aliens. I really loved the extra material and didn't feel like it was too long in the least. It adds a little more depth to the film without sacrificing the pacing of the action. See this version if you can get your hands on a copy of it.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Alien (1979)

Alien is as close to a perfect film as you can get. Director Ridley Scott is a master at telling big stories with immaculately conceived visuals and lots of mood and emotion [Black Hawk Down, American Gangster, Kingdom of Heaven]. Alien is certainly no exception to this rule.  It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, especially when they arrive on the alien planet. The "chest-popping" scene is a classic in American horror and there are other moments that are just as powerful. Scott also got very strong performances from an amazing cast and gave birth to a strong female heroine with Sigourney Weaver. Other great performances in the cast include Tom Skerritt and John Hurt.

There is lots to love in Alien. The story is well conceived and continues to slowly amp up the tension until the conclusion of the film. Furthermore, Alien is a relatively quiet film with lots of silence behind the actors voices instead of a continuous musical track. This works extremely well with this film and I found myself completely drawn into the story, listening intently for signs that the creature was moving in for the kill.

I absolutely love the creature in all of its forms. It's a modern horror icon that few can match. Kudos to the special and visual effects crew for giving us truly frightening and unforgettable images that hold up very well over time. I could go on but I think you get my point.  SEE THIS MOVIE! It's one of the best of the best that appeals to lovers of both Sci-Fi and Horror.

I recently bought the Alien Quadrilogy Blu-Ray set which includes a "Director's Cut" of the film. (The Blu-Ray version is gorgeous, by the way!) Here is what Ridley Scott has to say about it: "The traditional definition of the term 'director's cut' suggests the restoration of a director's original vision, free of any creative limitations. It suggests that the filmmaker has finally overcome the interference of heavy-handed studio executives, and that the film has been restored to its original, untampered form. Such is not the case with Alien: The Director's Cut. It's a completely different beast."

You might be interested to know that Scott still considers the original his preferred version of the film. The Director's Cut was originally longer but Scott ended up parring it down to slightly under the original running time. Here's what he said about the editing process "Upon viewing the proposed expanded version of the film, I felt that the cut was simply too long and the pacing completely thrown off. After all, I cut those scenes out for a reason back in 1979. However, in the interest of giving the fans a new experience with Alien, I figured there had to be an appropriate middle ground. I chose to go in and recut that proposed long version into a more streamlined and polished alternate version of the film. For marketing purposes, this version is being called 'The Director's Cut'." As far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong with either version of the movie.

[As a side note, Alien only leaves me with two unanswered questions: 1) Why are they smoking cigarettes on a spaceship? and 2) who the hell brings a cat on space mission?  Discuss…]

RATING: Excellent.

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lady Frankenstein (1971)

Only the late 60's and early 70's could give birth to this wild reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story. Rosalba Neri is delightful as the daughter of Baron Frankenstein who returns home after having become a "surgeon" and is determined to assist her father in his research. She is a force to be reckoned with: smart, sexy, ambitious and just a little bit crazy. Perfect! The film starts out as a woman's liberation tale but gets stranger as the plot develops which is a good thing. The basic moral of the story is if you bring the dead back to life, you die. If you have sex, you die. If you bring the dead back to life and have sex with them...well, I think you can figure out the rest for yourself.
The Frankenstein monster is a bit more like Michael Meyers in Hallloween (1978) than Boris Karloff's iconic performance in the original Frankenstein (1931). There is no sympathy for the monster here. He is a not so lean, mean killing machine. This movie is so much better than I thought it would be. I found it thoroughly entertaining and am glad I stumbled upon it. Warning to the timid:  There is a little bit of T&A in this film.  But since you're a fan of horror, I hardly think this will shock you.  
The one unintentionally funny thing for me in Lady Frankenstein is the mob with torches and pitchforks. Does every village have one of these? Where do they keep their torches when they're not using them? How do they keep them lit while they go about their vigilante justice? Inquiring minds want to know.
RATING: Very Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Diary of a Madman (1963)

Is Magistrate Simon Cordier slowly losing his mind or is he being possessed by a darker, more sinister force? This is the question that is explored in Diary of a Madman. Vincent Price [The Fly, House of Wax] is wonderful as Cordier. Although Price can sometimes be guilty of over-the-top performances, his work in Diary is subtle and nuanced. This is definitely Price's show and everyone else is along for the ride.

The screenplay for Diary is from veteran writer Robert E. Kent [Zombies on Broadway, Twice-Told Tales] who adapted several of the short stories of French writer Guy de Maupassant. He gives Price plenty of great material to work with and the story is classic thriller material. Director Reginald Le Borg [The Mummy's Ghost, The Black Sleep] is no stranger to the director's chair and does an excellent job of bringing this story to life. The only bad choice in this film is this way the Horla (the evil entity in question) is portrayed. The green light bar over Price's eyes and the "voice in an echo chamber" come across as cheesy other than menacing. With a different choice, Diary would have been even more powerful and dramatic.

So, if you like thrillers and are a fan of Vincent Prince, then I highly recommend Diary of a Madman. It is one of Price's most overlooked and underappreciated films.  Don't miss it!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Curse of the Undead (1959)

A vampire western? You betcha! I know it sounds like a bad idea but somehow Curse of the Undead avoids all of the the vampire and Wild West cliches you see in most films. It gives us, instead, interesting characters you care about and actors who give dynamic performances in their roles. Why director and co-writer Edward Dein was not given more films to direct is a mystery to me. He handles his subject matter well both in print and onscreen. Curse of the Undead is also helped by a great symphonic soundtrack by Irving Gertz which adds tons of atmosphere to film.

Standout performances include Kathleen Crowley [tons of TV credits] as Dolores, who is the vampire's one true love.  She is tough when she needs to be but also vulnerable when the scene calls for it. Michael Pate [The Black Castle, Julius Caesar] leaves all the bad Bela Lugosi impressions behind him, in favor of a more human vampire. It works rather effectively here. Finally, Eric Fleming [Conquest of Space, Queen of Outer Space] gives the Preacher Dan a stoic grace presence without resorting to the pious clergyman you see so often in movies.

So, if you like vampire pictures you definitely need to give this one a try. It's not as well known as some of the others but you will be surprised and pleased by what you find in Curse of the Undead. You can find it easily on YouTube.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Gallery of Horror (1967)

One would think that a horror anthology with Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine in it would be a home run. Well, this one struck out at home plate! Galley of Horror presents five short stories that are unimaginative and horribly acted. The budget for this yawn-fest was a paltry $20,000 and it shows. Lon Chaney only appears in one of these stories and it's clear he did this just for a paycheck (However small it may have been). It's some of the poorest work I've ever seen from this much beloved actor.

John Carradine is the host for this anthology and also appears in several of the stories. His work is sub-par as well and he showed more spunk in the god-awful Ed Woodesque Vampire Men of the Lost Planet (1970) than he does here. The other actor with a major stick up his posterior is Roger Gentry who, unfortunately, appears in four of the five stories. I have rarely seen lines delivered with less enthusiasm than he does here. He is completely devoid of emotion and is stiff and wooden in every scene.

The director for Gallery of Horror is David L. Hewitt who is better known for his special effects than he is for his directing. He also worked on the screenplay which is never a good idea. M Night Shyamalan does this all the time with mixd results, and I think it's always good to have someone around who can tell you "no" when it is needed!

Not much more need to be said about this terrible film. The stories include witches, vampires, zombies and mad scientists but none of these is the least but menacing nor interesting. If you want a good horror anthology from this time period, try Tales of Terror (1962) starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. It's the perfect example of how a collection of horror stories should be done.

Gallery of Horror can be found on YouTube. Watch it if you dare, but you've been warned!

RATING: Bad.

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