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, July 28, 2014

The Day of the Triffids (1962)

And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills.  [Everybody sing!]  For the record, Janette Scott screamed like a helpless school girl every time she saw a Triffid!  She always waited for her man to kill it for her!  Oh well!  Rocky Horror Picture Show aside, The Day of the Triffids is a delightful B-movie.

Let’s start with the Triffids.  These are not the singing carnivorous houseplant in Little Shop of Horrors (1986), nor are they the terrifying pods that transform human beings into mindless duplicates in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).  Instead they resemble something Sid and Marty Croft would have created for H.R. Pufnstuf or Land of the Lost. [Bonus points if you get these two references.]  They are campy and crazy and that’s the way I like my movie monsters.  Hugh Skillen is credited in the film with “triffid effects.” Not surprisingly, this was the only film in which he did this kind of work.

Next we turn to the plot which begins with a classic Sci-Fi premise:  Most of the earth’s population was blinded by watching a spectacular meteor shower.  To make matters worse, the meteors carried spores with them that quickly grew into man-eating plants that are able to travel across the countryside in search of human prey.  YES!  It sounds crazy when you read it in print but it works.

The rest of the movie follows two story lines: The first is recovering from eye surgery so he escapes being blinded.  The second is a husband and wife research team who are on an island when all this happens.  They set their sights on finding a way to defeat the triffids.

If it feels like you’re watching two separate movies, there is a reason for this.  Director Steve Sekely’s [Revenge of the Zombies] original cut of the film, which followed the story of the sailor, was so terrible that the studio brought in an uncredited Freddie Francis [Dune, The Elephant Man] to save it.  He shot the second story line and interwove it into the first.

Francis’s work is definitely superior to Sekley’s.  His contains Janette Scott [Paranoiac] and Kieron Moore [Dr. Bloods Coffin] as Karen and Tom Goodwin.  Their scenes together have a lot of emotional depth to them, except for the hysterical screaming, and are the best part of the movie.  Sekely’s scenes contain Howard Keel who starred in numerous musicals as the charismatic leading man.  In Day of the Triffids, however, he is a bit flat and wooden and does not do the role justice.  His character also keeps traveling from city to city which makes no sense whatsoever.  It’s no wonder the studio wanted to bring in a new director.

Yet, in spite of this flaw, the film works surprisingly well and I found it thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.  Day of the Triffids is not really scary but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.  There is a reasonable print of it that can be watch on YouTube.  However, be warned, the DVD prints that are available are of poor quality so don’t spend the money to buy it.  The reviews on Amazon are not pretty.  Here’s hoping they will, one day, take the time to restore this gem to its former glory.  Don’t miss it!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Lost World (1925)

The Lost World is not only a great adventure story, it’s a technical marvel as well.  The stars of this show are definitely the men who made the dinosaurs come alive in this adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel.  The two main players in this special effects extravaganza are Marcel Delgado and Willis H. O’Brein, both uncredited.  Remarkably, this was Delgado’s first picture.  He vastly improved the techniques used in model building to make them appear as life-like as possible.  Delgado would later wow audiences with King Kong (1933), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and Fantastic Voyage (1966).

O’Brien was the special effects person who helped to bring the dinosaurs to life.  He would work again with Delgado on King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949).  Most notably he worked with a young apprentice on Mighty Joe Young by the name of Ray Harryhausen [Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts] who would become a legend in the special effects world himself.

Credit also has to be given to cinematographer Arthur Edeson [Frankenstein, The Invisible Man] who was one of the best in the business and director Harry O. Hoyt who has numerous writing and directing credits to his name.  Hoyt was able to get a more natural acting style from his actors instead of the big gestured, melodramatic approach that was favored in many silent films of the era. Among the standouts in terms of acting were Lewis Stone whole played a big game hunter, Lloyd Hughes who played a young ambitious reporter, and Bessie Love his love interest who tried her best not to be the “helpless hysterical girl” that was so prevalent in early movies.

If you’ve never watched many silent movies, this is a great place to start.  It is very accessible to modern audiences and is the perfect example of how inventive and visionary some of these early films were.  A definite must-see.

RATING: Excellent.
 

A copy of the film can be downloaded for free at Archive.org.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Death Race 2000 is slightly miraculous for several reasons: 1) It was filmed for a budget of only $300,000, yet it looks like a big blockbuster, 2) They were able to snag David Carradine [after he starred in the hit TV series Kung Fu] and Sylvester Stalone [right before became a mega star with Rocky] as a part of that small budget, 3) Director Paul Bartel used cinematographer Tak Fujimoto early in his career before he racked up an impressive resume including Silence of the Lambs and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and 4) Roger Corman was at his best as producer of the movie.

The stars aligned in the making of Death Race 2000 which can be described as a Sci-Fi comedy with a little gore thrown in the mix.  The plot is simple: It’s the year 2000 in America where it’s annual government sponsored entertainment extravaganza is a cross country race where competitors score points for killing pedestrians.  It’s sort of a Hunger Games on wheels, as it were, since the racers also end up getting killed off as well until only one remains standing.

David Carradine is Frankenstein who is a veteran of this race.  His costume, which is mostly black leather, is very effective and he plays the charter perfectly.  Sylvester Stalone is the slurred-tongued [No surprise there!] Machine Gun Joe Viterbo who is a larger than life Italian Stallion gangster [No surprise there either!].  He does what he does and does it well!  The rest of the cast is just as good and director Paul Bartel gets great performances from everyone.

Considering the often obscene amounts of money that Studios spend these days on blockbuster hits, they could learn a lesson from Death Race 2000.  More money does not a great movie make [Battlefield Earth comes to mind].  Long live independent cinema!  Definitely give this one a chance.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vampire Over London (1952) a.k.a. Mother Riley Meets the Vampire

IMDB is very unkind to this film, giving it a 3.0 rating.  It’s SO much better than that!  Vampire Over London stars Bela Lugosi in a slapstick horror comedy.  Yes, you heard me correctly!  Lugosi plays Von Housen who is also known as “The Vampire.”  He’s actually a madman trying to rule the world.  The vampire thing is just a ruse to throw people off.

In spite of the fact that Bela looks a bit thin and ill, he has a blast with this role and totally hams it up in a few scenes.  This is the last decent film he made before his addiction to morphine got the best of him. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for his films with Ed Wood because he gave it 110% in spite of his declining health.  If you’re a Lugosi fan, Vampire Over London is a must-see simply to watch the twinkle in Bela’s eyes as he tackles a comedic role.

His partner in crime is British actor Arthur Lucan who made a series of movies in drag, portraying a slightly-crazed old working class woman, Mother Riley.  This was the last of these films he did as this character and some Americans will miss the humor in it completely.  If you’re not a fan of British comedy, you just not going to get this.  I love classic British comedies such as Absolutely Fabulous and Are You Being served? so I’m at home with this kind of material.  It’s completely absurd and that’s the point!  There is also a lot of “insider” material that only Brits would understand.

As an interesting bit of trivia, I read in another review that Bela Lugosi had to make this film in England because he needed the money for his ticket back home. He went to Britain to revive his famous Dracula play, but was stuck there when it bombed and the actor couldn't scrape up enough cash to sail to America! This film helped him get back on his feet.

Give this one a chance!  It’s not Bela’s best film but I thought it was a whole lot of fun!

RATING: Very Good.

You can download a free copy of this film at archive.org.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't Look Now (1973)

Some movies hit you over the head with scare tactics and blood splatter galore.  This is not one of those films.  Don’t Look Now is a brooding supernatural thriller that makes the viewer feel slightly unsettled at every turn.  If you like lots of action, you’re doing to hate it.  If you like films that take their time developing characters and always have a little something unexpected up their sleeve, Don’t Look Now is definitely for you.

While I found the film to be a bit long for my taste, I was impressed with how it trapped you in a strange world and never let you go until the final credits rolled.  Don’t Look Now was filmed in Venice which is a city I adore.  But this Venice is both beautiful and menacing.  Something always feels a bit “off.”  You can’t put your finger on it, but you know it’s there!

Don’t Look Now is the story of John & Laura Baxter who lose their daughter in a drowning accident in the USA.  Then they head to Venice to escape this tragedy but it keeps following them around everywhere!  Donald Sutherland [Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Hunger Games] gives a great performance as John and brings lots of depth and complexity to the character.  Julie Christie [Fahrenheit 451, Doctor Zhivago] matches him at every turn.  They are quite good together.

I won’t give away any details because this one needs to be seen with no preconceived notions of what is going on.  Don’t Look Now is one of those films that is hardly ever mentioned when horror films are discussed, but it deserves a bigger audience.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Michael Rennie was ill the day the Earth stood still and he told us where we stand.  [Everybody sing!]  The Day the Earth Stood Still is a brilliant movie.  Released in the aftermath of WW II, it stood as a warning, and a promise, for the future of the earth.  Unfortunately, we’re just as stupid now as we were back then!  The amazing thing about this movie is that it sounds as fresh today as it did in 1951.  The “if you don’t understand it, kill it” philosophy is firmly entrenched in our world and, according to Klaatu [Michael Rennie] who came to evaluate us as a species, we are STILL a failed experiment. 

Michael Rennie [The Lost World] is perfect as the even-keeled Klaatu who gets down to business and is not distracted by much.  He is a powerful and constant presence in nearly ever scene of this movie. [This is where the 2008 remake fails since Keanu Reeves is more of a zen stoner than a man’s man.]

Joining Rennie is the radiant Patricia Neal [Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hud] who saves the world’s posterior by befriending Rennie and supporting him on his quest.  Joining these two is the sweet 1950’s kid Bobby, who is played nicely by Billy Gray who was also in the hit TV show Father Knows Best.  Oh, and there’s also a small role for Frances Bavier who played the iconic Aunt Bee a on The Andy Griffith Show!  Sweet!

From a technical aspect, The Day the Earth Stood Still looks great.  The Sci-Fi elements are good for their time and don’t come across as too hokey.  The robot is definitely iconic in its design and is different from others I’ve seen.  It works really well and the decision for it to remain silent was a good one.  It adds to the menace.  Furthermore you can’t go wrong with director Robert Wise [The Andromeda Strain, Star Trek: The Motion Picture] who gave us such iconic films as The Sound of Music and West Side Story.  The guy totally knows what he is doing and his direction in this film is smart and confident.

Everything about The Day the Earth Stood Still works well.  If you haven’t see it yet, what are you waiting for?  Forget about the 2008 sequel and savor the original.  It’s classic 1950’s Sci-Fi at its very best.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Munster's Revenge (1981)

It is well known that Fred Gwynne had mixed feelings about the success of his character Herman Munster.  It made it difficult for producers to see him as anything else, which is a shame!  Therefore, when producers asked him to do a reunion movie he asked for an astronomical amount of money…and he got it.

The Munster’s Revenge is a tepid substitute for the original series.  Gone are Butch Patrick and Pat Priest, who played Eddie and Marilyn in the original series.  I’m not sure how you can have a reunion without them!  Bless K.C. Martel [The Amityville Horror, E.T.] for taking on the role of Eddie.  They give him absolutely NO material to work with so it’s no surprise he pales in comparison to the original.  The smart bet would have been to write a script that had the grown-up Eddie and Marilyn in it.  It seems desperate to try and portray the rest of the cast as much younger than they actually were when they made this movie.  I call this the Beverly Hills 90210 effect!

Speaking of scripts, this one is a stinker.  Absent are all the clever banter and bad jokes that made the original so endearing.  There are time spans where nothing funny is being said or done.  It just doesn’t work as a serious drama!  Furthermore, the wax figures turned robots are absolutely ridiculous for 1981.  [FYI wax does not move!] It’s obvious they are actors in suits who seem incapable of standing still when they’re supposed to.  It’s thoroughly annoying.  Ugh!

The one bright spot in the movie is the scene where Fred Gywnne and Al Lewis (Herman and Grandpa) go undercover as waitresses.  It’s the only moment in the film where I bust out loud laughing.  Classic stuff.  Another plus was the addition of Bob Hastings as Cousin Phantom of the Opera.  He gives the role everything he’s got and even when the jokes run a bit thin he manages to pull off a great performance.

What can I say?  This one is definitely for the fans.  The Munsters will always be one of my favorite shows but The Munster’s Revenge fails to capture the brilliance and energy of the original TV series.

RATING: Good.

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