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, November 17, 2014

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

In 1967 Fantastic Voyage won two Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.  It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Effects.  Do how does it measure up to all these accolades?  Very well.  Fantastic Voyage is a visual feast of great beauty, excitement and imagination. The story involves the journey of the Proteus, a miniaturized sub that is injected into the body of a diplomat who was nearly assassinated.  Their mission: to remove a blood clot and get the heck out of there before their sub returns to normal size.

Fantastic Voyage has everything going for it, beginning with a smartly written and believable script which is based on a novel by Isaac Asimov.  Director Richard Fleisher [20,000 Leagues Ubder the Sea, Soylent Green] and Cinematographer Ernest Laszio [Logan’s Run, Attack of the Puppet People] know how to bring this epic story to life with grand sweeping gestures as well as small moments of tension and conflict between individual actors.

However, the star of this show is most definitely the visual effects.  Everything about the way this film looks once the Proteus enters the diplomat’s body is cinematic perfection.  I can’t recall any earlier film that looks this stunning.  The colors, shapes, lighting and textures used to represent this miniature world are a total home run.  The voiceover at the beginning of the film says, “You’re going to see things no one has ever seen before.”    I totally agree.  What a grand adventure this is!

As far as acting goes, the cast is solid through and through.  The two most well-know acts in this ensemble are the radiant Raquel Welch [One Million Years B.C.] and horror legend Donald Pleasence [Halloween, Prince of Darkness].  While his character Dr. Michaels is not Dr. Loomis hunting down Michael Meyers, they same intensity is there.

If you like Sci-Fi then Fantastic Voyage is a must-see.  A wonderful film both then and now.  My only complaint is that they take nearly 40 minutes to enter into the body of the diplomat.  I would have shortened this part of the film a bit because that’s where the action really get going!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Thursday, November 13, 2014

They Came From Within (1975) a.k.a. Shivers

Shivers is David Cronenberg’s first full feature film and it’s quite a doozy.  The opening credits begin with an eerily calm TV commercial for a suburban high rise complex.  Once the credits are finished rolling we are greeted with a brutal murder/suicide.  The audience knows from the very beginning to expect anything!

Cronenberg [Videodrome, The Brood] wrote and directed this creepy tale about a scientist who ends up infecting residents of the high rise with a parasite that begins spreading like wildfire. Those infected become sex-crazed fiends who attack the nearest warm body. [John Waters would approve!] Cronenberg jumps back and forth between scenes of ordinary life and moments of sheer terror.  It’s quite a roller coaster ride and is quite effective, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat for the duration of the film.

Kudos to special effects creator Joe Blasco [The Addams Family] for bringing the parasites to life.  He does so in a way that is convincing, effective and squirm-worthy.

The acting is solid but no one performance stand out as great.  This is because the parasites are the star of this demented horror show!  There is, however, a wonderful cameo role for Italian scream queen Barbara Steele.  Her infection scene is a delightfully horrifying moment in the film.

Not much more needs to be said.  Cronenberg is not everyone’s cup of tea but no one can deny he is a unique and visionary filmmaker. 

RATING: Very Good.

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


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Fly (1958)

The 1950’s was NOT a kind era to women in horror!  Most of the time their job was to scream hysterically, faint and wait to be rescued by a man!  The Fly may be one of the exceptions to this rule.  And while Patricia Owens’ character Helene does faint once, she is smart, brave, and a take charge kind of woman.

The story begins with the murder of her scientist husband Andre who is crushed beyond recognition.  Helene becomes the prime suspect in his murder and much of the rest of the film goes back in time to see how the two of them arrived at this point in their relationship.  Both David Hedison [Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea] and Patricia Owens  are fantastic as the married couple.  They manage to pull off many scenes where Hedison’s upper body is completely hidden from view, covered by a cloth.  They make it work where other actors could have failed.

The Fly also benefits from a strong performance by horror legend Vincent Price who appears in all the scenes after Andre’s death.  It doesn’t matter what kind of dialogue they give Price to utter.  He always makes it sound important and convincing.  I’m a huge fan of his and love pretty much every film he did!

As far as the technical aspects go, it’s a brilliant move to keep much of Andre hidden until the “big reveal.”  Like much of Hitchcock’s work, director Kurt Neumann [Secret of the Blue Room] knows that what we don’t see can be much more frightening than what we do see.  He uses this philosophy to great effect in The Fly. 

My absolute favorite scene is toward the end of the film when Price finds something caught in a spider’s web.  I don’t spoil the fun but it’s by far the creepiest scene in the movie.

The Fly spawned a sequel starring Vincent Price [Return of the Fly] which doesn’t quite live up to the original.  Then in 1986, director David Cronenberg gave us a very dark and sinister version of the movie [The Fly] that is even better than the original.  This was followed by Fly II which was the weakest of al the films.  Let’s face it, there’s only so much one can milk out of this story!  The cash cow simply ran dry.

If you’ve never seen The Fly, I consider it a must-see of 1950’s horror.  Don’t miss it!

RATING: Excellent.

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


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.

RATING: Good.

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)