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!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Night Monster (1942)

I have to go against the majority of critics’ opinions on this film, including Alfred Hitchcock, and say that Night Monster is predictable, boring stuff.  Yes, it’s well acted and decently filmed [great fog!], but it left me saying “Who cares?”  The biggest letdown is that Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi receive top billing.  However, both play minor roles with Atwill disappearing from the second half of the film altogether and Lugosi being reduced to playing the butler….again!  It’s a waste of two talented actors.

Director Ford Beebe [Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe] knows what he’s doing.  He gets strong performances from all of his actors.  They put tons of energy into each and every line, but are given very little to work with.  There is lots of pseudo-science and passionate speeches but they amount to very little in the end.

The story takes place in the spacious Ingston Manor.  A groups of doctors have been invited to this old mansion by its owner who is crippled.  One by one the doctors end up dead and there is talk of a “monster” whose very presence silences the frogs and crickets…but who cares!  There are no interesting plot twists.  It’s strictly by the book.  When the “monster” is revealed it’s exactly who you think it would be!

I imagine 1940’s audiences would have enjoyed Night Monster but it’s not very compelling in 2014.  If you’re a Lugosi or Atwill fan, you time is better spent elsewhere!

RATING: Fair.

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


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inferno (1980)

“What the crap is going on?” I said repeatedly as I watched Dario Argento’s stunning film Inferno.  He wouldn’t have it any other way!  Argento works in color in the same way Hitchcock worked in black and white.  Every scene is illuminated to perfection in primary color textures of blue, red and the occasional yellow.  It’s dark, surreal and moody.  When they come together to form the regular color spectrum, even this seems strange as if you can’t trust it in this dream-like world.  I wish more modern filmmakers took as much care as Argento does in framing each and every shot.  It’s beautiful to behold.

Argento wrote and directed Inferno.  He also provided the voice-over as the narrator.  Romano Albani is the cinematographer in this visual feast.  He also worked with Argento on Phenomena (1985) which is one of my favorite Argento films as well.  He also did Troll (1986) which shows his wide ranges as a cinematographer.  As far as I’m concerned, they work magic together.

Surprisingly, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer provides the music which varies from progressive rock to discordant symphony.  His musical textures are as quirky as the visuals so they go perfectly together.

I could spend time telling you about the plot but Inferno is one of those films that needs to be experienced without any preconceived notions of what it’s about.  Inferno is definitely an underrated and under appreciated film from one of the most unique and visionary filmmakers in horror.  Don’t miss it.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Friday, April 4, 2014

Man Made Monster (1941)

1941 was a big year for Lon Chaney Jr as he gave the iconic performance of his life in The Wolf Man, directed by George Waggner.  This same year, Chaney and Waggner would team up again for the low budget thriller Man Made Monster.  While it does not reach the cinematic heights of The Wolf Man, Man Made Monster is a solid thriller that borrows heavily from 1931’s Frankenstein.

The story begins on a dark stormy night [Don’t they all?].  A bus crashes into an electrical line, killing everyone on board but Chaney.  He then falls into the hands of two scientists who are curious as to how he survived.  The one and only Lionel Atwill [Mystery of the Wax Museum, Son of Frankenstein] gives a delightful performance as “mad scientist” Dr. Rigas.  He is perfect for the role and portrays his character with lots of manic energy and delusional tendencies.  The cast also includes Anne Nagel [Black Friday] as June Lawrence, the wife of doctor number two who is much saner than Dr. Rigas.  She brings lots of heart and warmth to the story.

My only complaint about Man Made Monster is the special effect they use when Chaney is full electrified and goes on a murderous rampage.  [He looks like a glow worm!] I would have gone for a much simpler presentation like electricity shooting through his fingers but, hey, no one asked me to direct the film!

Man Made Monster is hardly the epic adventure The Wolf Man was but it proves the point that small budget films can still look good and tell an interesting story.  Man Made Monster can be purchased as part of the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive which is a collection of 5 lesser known Universal films from the 1940’s.  The picture and sound are great and I’m glad to see Universal take the time to restore some of its lesser known horror films.

RATING: Good.

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


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Black Cat (1941)

Henrietta Winslow is a crazy cat lady if there ever was one.  She even has a crematorium for her deceased cats whose ashes she places in urns that cover the walls of her kitty mausoleum.  It’s actually hard to know who’s crazier in this film: The old lady or her two domestic servants: Abigail the stern housekeeper and Eduardo the crusty gardener.

The story begins with Henrietta’s relatives who are circling her like vultures, hoping they will inherit her riches when she dies.  The plot thickens when the old lady is murdered and her greedy family learn they will not inherit a penny until Abigail and all the cats are deceased.  This is the set up for everything that follows!  Director Albert S. Rogell knows how to make the most of this classic murder mystery.  He gets wonderful performances from his actors and is able to keep things interesting throughout the film.  The script tries to balance “old dark house” suspense elements with comedic moments and success more than it missed the mark.  I’m certain 1940’s audiences would have loved this family-friendly thriller.

The cast is great through and through.  It includes the likes of legendary actor Basil Rathbone [Son of Frankenstein, The Comedy of Terrors], the always radiant Anne Gwynne [Flash Gordon, House of Frankenstein], Alan Ladd and Bela Lugosi [Dracula, Son of Frankenstein].  Lugosi has a fun bit part as Eduardo but it leaves you wanting a more expanded role for the character.  The comedic elements are delivered by Hugh Herbert and Broderick Crawford who get the job done with the best of them.

The copy of The Black Cat I own is part of the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive.  It’s a wonderful 2 disc collection of some of Universal’s lesser known horror/thrillers with remastered picture and sound.  The picture is crystal clear with only a few white riots here and there.  The sounds is very nice as well.  If you like Universal Horror, this collection is a must-have and is very affordable.

So, if you like murder/mysteries, definitely give this one a try.  It’s not epic filmmaking but it is a wonderfully done movie that is fun to watch from start to finish.

P.S.  DO NOT confuse this film with the 1934 classic of the same title that also stars Bela Lugosi, along with Boris Karloff.  It’s easily the stronger of the two films and should be seen by everyone.

RATING: Very Good

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


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

"They're coming to get you, Barbara!"  So goes the famous line from the mother of all modern zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead.  George Romero, who hails from my hometown of Pittsburgh, is the godfather of all that is zombie.  [My pastor performed his wedding.  How cool is that?]  Yes, there were zombie films before his but most of these involved living people whose minds are controlled through voodoo or some sort of black magic.  What separates George Romero's work from everything that came before it is a number of things: 1.) His zombies are always the dead come back to life, except in the remakes.  2.) Romero adds a subversive layer of social commentary and dark humor to his films.  The issue of racism runs all through Night of the Living Dead.  3.) He also ups the sense of terror and utter hopelessness in fighting "the machine" that is zombies.  [There are many scholarly commentaries on Romero's films that are available online if you want to read more.]

The basic plot of Night of the Living Dead is simple.  A sister [Barbara] and brother [Johnny] visit the grave of their father when they are attacked by zombies.  Johnny is killed but Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse where she meets up with others who are trying to survive.  The rest of the movie is a classic study in human nature and how life-threatening situations bring out the best in some of us and the worst in others.  Even though I've seen this film a million times, I still find the ending shocking and subversive.  It's a stroke of pure genius.  You don't see it coming.

Night of the Living Dead has been remade twice.  First in 1990 with special effects guru Tom Savini as director and George Romero doing the rewrite.  It is one of the best remakes of a horror film I've ever seen although the soundtrack is filled with cheesy synthesizers and the ending is reworked in a way that I think is less powerful than the original.  [You can view this in 9 parts on YouTube.]  The second remake is entitled Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) and totally rewrites the original story until it is virtually unrecognizable.  It is most definitely the worst of the three versions.

The best copy of this film I’ve seen is the Millennium Edition by Elite Entertainment.  It has the blessing of George Romero and was made from the original 35mm negatives. Skip the 30th Anniversary Edition [a recut version of the film] which everyone agrees is a piece of crap.  I would also stay away from the 40th Anniversary "No B.S." Edition which I paid too much for, only to discover that cheaper editions I’ve owned had a clearer picture.  Rats!  You can also download a nice copy from Archive.org and burn your own DVD. 

Night of the Living Dead is a must see in whatever form you can get your hands on.  I still think the original is one of the creepiest films of all time.  Love you, George!



RATING: Excellent.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Halloween (1978)

I cannot imagine Halloween without, uh, Halloween.  Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho may be the mother of all slasher films, but John Carpenter's Halloween is the one that reinvented the genre and wrote the playbook for many inferior slasher films that would follow.

Jamie Lee Curtis is perfection as the virginal Laurie Strode who gives us one of the iconic performances of the horror genre.  You find yourself rooting for her character every step of the way, wincing every time she stumbles and screaming "run" every time her nemesis Michel Meyers appears lurking in the background of the scene.  I also love  Donald Pleasence's portrayal of Dr. Loomis who has some ridiculous lines to deliver, but he does them with such sincerity and conviction that I find myself buying into it hook, line and sinker.

The soundtrack is one of the finest that is found in horror.  It's right up there with Psycho in my book with an instantly recognizable theme and moody synths that help maintain the sense of dread throughout the film.  Carpenter's direction is also a joy to watch.  Michael Meyers may not utter a single word throughout the film, but Carpenter somehow manages to make him a commanding present in every scene.  Nicely done!

Without the success of Halloween there may have never been a Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street or the Scream series.  Halloween got the ball rolling and it keeps on rolling to this very day with the likes of Jeepers Creepers, The Ring and [unfortunately] Saw.

My favorite print of Halloween is the 25th Anniversary edition by Anchor Bay.  This Divimax big resolution transfer bests every other one I’ve seen that’s out there.  The images are crystal clear and the colors look natural.  I found it for $3.00 at my local Book/CD/DVD store and there are reasonable used copies available online.

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thriller: Masquerade (1961)

Season 2, Episode 6

Yes!  Just put Elizabeth Montgomery [Bewitched], Tom Poston [Zotz!] and John Carradine [The Howling, The Sentinel] in an old spooky house on a stormy night and watch the comedy and mayhem fly.  The first two are comedic legends that can deliver one liners wit the best of them.  Carradine always brings the crazy and seems to be having a great time with his role as head of The Carter Family who own the guest house that Montgomery and Poston are staying in.

Donald S. Sanford [tons of TV credits] wrote a nearly flawless script and these pros make it come to life with wit and charm.  Director Herschel Daugherty [Alfred Hitchcock Presents] knows how to make the most of this talented cast and pulls with episode together with perfect timing every step of the way.

I don’t want to say much about this episode because the viewer simply needs to enjoy it with no pre-conceived notions going in.  This one is a total keeper.  Even Boris Karloff, who introduces the episode, has a twinkle in his eye and delivers a few zingers of his own.  A must-see.

RATING: Excellent.

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