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, July 30, 2010

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone in the same movie?  You bethca!  Son of Frankenstein is Universal Studio's follow up to its immensely popular Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Frankenstein (1931).  How does it rate?  While it's not as good as the first two movies, it is excellent in its own right.  Director James Whale is replaced by Rowland V. Lee who does a super job with the look and feel of the film.  While the sets are different from Frankenstein, they have a wonderful expressionistic feel to them, full of weird angles and forced perspectives.  It definitely adds a great deal to the experience of watching the film.
Basil Rathbone plays Wolf, the son of Dr. Henry Frankenstein.  [Henry met his demise at the end of Bride.]  Wolf comes to town to claim his inheritance and gets a bit more than he bargained for!  Rathbone's performance is a bit over the top and melodramatic, especially in the last half of the film, but it works rather well here.  
Without spoiling the plot, Boris Karloff is back as The Monster, although this time he has lost his ability to speak like he did in Bride.  Personally, I think it's more effective and Karloff does a superb job once again.  Bela Lugosi plays Ygor, a man who survived begin hanged, and who has now befriended The Monster.  Lugosi gives one of the finest performances of his career in this film, bested only by his portrayal of Dracula (1931).
The rest of the cast is excellent as well.  If you've ever seen Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein (1974) you'll laugh out loud every time Lionel Atwill makes an appearance on the screen as Inspector Krogh.  I love the use of his wooden arm which is unintentionally funny and quirky.  Josephine Hutchinson is great as Wolf's wife, Elsa.  She injects vulnerability and empathy into her character and is the perfect foil to Rathbone's Wolf.
Son of Frankenstein can be watched on You Tube.  However, I believe this needs to be seen in a better format in order to fully appreciate the film.  I have the Universal Legacy Frankenstein Collection which can also be rented through Netflix.  Enjoy this wonderful film which is a more than worthy sequel to its predecessors.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Rogue's Tavern (1936)

It was a dark and stormy night and a mad killer is on the loose.  Who is it?  That's the premise of Rogue's Tavern, a who dunnit murder mystery.  Is it the wolf that looks strangely like a German Shepherd?  The man in the wheelchair?  Or something far more sinister?  Really, it sounds more interesting than it is.  I found this movie boring at times and unintentionally funny.  The last scene made me laugh my ass off but I'm sure that wasn't the original intent of the film.
Rogue's Tavern is a not-so-good spooky house story.  If you like that kind of thing then head straight for House on Haunted Hill (1959) that does it much, much better in terms of storytelling as well as acting.  This one might have worked in 1936 but it just doesn't cut it in 2010.  I couldn't give it a Bad rating because it's not a red hot mess.  However, it's barely worth you time watching.  Waste your brain cells somewhere else!
RATING: Fair.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Indestructible Man (1956)

Indestructible Man is a nice little film noir thriller starring Lon Chaney Jr.  Chaney plays Charles "The Butcher" Benton who is executed for his crimes against humanity.  A mad scientist [Mu-ha-ha] brings him back to life in a manner similar to Frankenstein's monster.  The Butcher then goes around town seeking revenge on those who put him in jail in the first place.
Chaney only speaks in the first part of the film and then has the challenging task of conveying emotion without saying a word.  Boris Karloff did it better in Frankenstein (1931), infusing The Monster with a sense of empathy and tenderness as well as anger.  Chaney's character is simply pissed off throughout the film so the only emotion he shows is anger.  While Chaney does a good job with this limited emotion, the audience never sympathizes with the character.  Therefore, when he dies at the end of the film [He's not quiet as indestructible as the film's title leads us to believe] we don't really care.
Indestructible Man is a better than average film, all things considered.  You can download a copy of it for free at Archive.org and the print is very clear.  However, toward the end of the film there is a little blank space for some unknown reason.  Be patient with it and the film will resume. [It's free so you can't really complain about this.]
RATING: Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Voodoo Man (1944)

This fun Forties thriller is the stuff that belongs on midnight horror TV shows.  Bela Lugosi turns in a fine performance as Dr. Richard Marlowe who is trying to bring his zombie wife back to life by transferring the life force of another woman into her body.  These are not Romero's flesh munching zombies but catatonic women in Grecian costumes.  [Just go with it!]  Veteran character actor John Carradine turns in a quirky performance as Toby, Dr. Marlowe's manservant.  He's such a delight to watch on screen as he takes a minor role and brings it center stage.  Good stuff.
The rest of the cast is solid as well.  The only complaint I have about the film are the voodoo sequences where the high priest does his evil chants in order to work his magic.    These sections are terribly hokey as the priest utters a series of nonsensical syllables that sound like he's making them up off the top of his head.  A dialect coach is desperately needed in this film that could have made these scenes in the film much more powerful.  It is for this reason only that I had to give it a Good rating instead of a Very Good Rating.
Voodoo Man is available as a download on Archive.org and the print and sound are decent although not stellar.  Don't miss this fun little film.
RATING: Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rear Window (1954)

It's not easy to make a film where most of the action takes place in one room with one or two actors as the focal point.  Rear Window is one of those films and Alfred Hitchcock hits it completely out of the ballpark.  This tense thriller stars the incomparable James Stewart as Jeff Jeffries, a photographer who is confined to a wheelchair while recovering from a broken leg.  To help pass the time, he uses his telescopic camera lens to eavesdrop on the lives of his neighbors by looking through the apartment complex windows.  The plot thickens when he believes one of his neighbors has committed murder.  Stewart is amazing in this role.  Lesser actors would have failed to make this character work but Stewart keeps the movie suspenseful and interesting.
Grace Kelly also stars as Stewart's love interest, Lisa.  Like all of Hitchcock's women, Kelly is impeccably dressed and coiffed to perfection.  She is flawless both in appearance and performance.
I have great respect and admiration for this film.  I saw it on TV recently in HD and it was absolutely gorgeous.  As far as I know, this film is not available to view online legally.  However, this one should be seen in the best format possible.  Don't miss it!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Ghoul (1933)

Boris Karloff made 14 films between Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  WOW!  Among them was The Ghoul, a film that completely disappeared from sight for many yearts until a badly degraded nitrate print surfaced in Prague with Hungarian subtitles.  This print is the basis for the copy available at Archive.org.  Finally, an excellent print was discovered in the archives of the British Film Institute which is the basis for the DVD release.  It is the best way to see this picture. [You can rent it through Netflix.]
Karloff plays Professor Henry Morlant, a dying Egyptologist, who requests that he be buried with a sacred jewel bandaged to his hand so that he can obtain eternal life.  His grave is robbed and he rises from the dead to seek revenge.  Karloff is creepy and wonderful in every scene he's in.  He is MIA in the middle of the film and I found myself waiting for him to appear again.  Personally, I would have changed the script so that we could see more of this iconic horror actor.  
If his faithful servant Laing looks familiar, he should be.  Laing is played by none other than Ernest Thesiger who would go on to portray Dr. Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein.  He is just as compelling here as he is in Bride.
This film was directed by T. Hayes Hunter who did an adequate job with the film.  However, I can't help but wonder what this film would have looked like if it were in James Whale's capable hands.  It would have most definitely become a horror classic. Still, even without Whale, it's pretty good and well worth watching.
RATING: Very Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Monster Walks (1932)

It's a dark stormy night and a killer ape is one the loose in the family mansion.  This is almost all you really need to know about The Monster Walks.  Throw in a squabble over who will get the family inheritance and the plot is complete.  This film is not so good.  The acting is stiff and the soundtrack is mostly nonexistent.  The plot has no surprises and gives away everything early in the film.  [Yawn.]  To make matters worse, the only African American in the cast is given a role to play that is written in a horribly racist way.  It might have been fine in 1932, but definitely not in 2010.  It made me squirm in my seat, but not in a good way!
After the fertile soil of 1931 that gave us  both Dracula and Frankenstein, The Monster Walks is their inbred cousin.  Thankfully, it's only an hour long but there are far better ways to spend your time.  I couldn't give it a Bad rating because it's not a red hot mess.  However, it's rather forgettable to say the least.
RATING: Fair.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Strangler (1964)

Looking for a nice little thriller?  The Strangler fits the bill nicely!  It reminds me of a very good episode of CSI or Law & Order: SVU.  Veteran character Victor Buono [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane; Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte] is excellent as Leo Kroll, a lab technician who has mother issues.  [Echoes of Psycho, indeed!]  The character is based on the Boston Strangler as well as profiles of other serial killers.  The film came out nearly three months after the Boston Strangler claimed his final victim which is creepy to say the least.
Ellen Corby [Grandma in The Waltons] stars as Leo's mother, Mrs. Kroll.  She is perfect in the role and channels a bit of Norman Bate's mama as she tells Leo that nobody can love him like she does.  [Ick!]  The cinematography is quite good and the copy that is available for download at Archive.org is really nice.  [You can also watch this film in parts on YouTube.]  The music score is also excellent and sets the mood for the film.
While The Strangler breaks no new ground and pulls no surprises it is a well acted nicely conceived film.  It's not as good as Psycho [What other film is?] but it is much better than I expected it to be.  Don't miss it.
RATING: Very Good
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Ghost (1963)

Italian scream queen Barbara Steele plays Margaret Hitchcock who murders her husband with the help of her lover, Dr. Livingstone.  The celebration is short lived, however, because Margaret begins to be haunted by her dead husband.  It's a story as old as time and done rather decently here.  The plot even has a few surprises along the way which makes it quite enjoyable to watch.  Ms. Steele has a commanding presence throughout the film like she does in Nightmare Castle (1965).  I love her eyes which are extremely expressive.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.
The Ghost is a nice, little ghost story that is worth your time.  Don't expect any huge special effects.  Simply enjoy this old-fashioned exploration of the supernatural which also delves into the dark side of human nature.  This film can be watched on blip.tv.  It is also found in a number of inexpensive horror collections.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971)

What do you get when you cross a homicidal maniac with a boy that's not quite right?  The Incredible Two Headed Transplant, of course.  Veteran actor Bruce Dern stars as Dr. Roger Girard, an eccentric [mad?] scientist who is conducting experiments in head transplantation.  Specifically, his early experiments involve grafting two heads onto one animal body. [Just go with it!  Trying to apply logic to this picture is a futile effort.]  Through a twist of fate, the good doctor has the opportunity to expand his experiments and try the process on a human being.  The result is supposed to be horrifying but is actually unintentionally funny.  Dead bodies may begin piling up on screen but the viewer can't help but chuckle instead of cringe with horror.
The acting for the most part is actually good.  In addition to Dern's solid performance, Casey Casem [American Top 40 in the 80's] joins the cast.  I never knew he could act but he does a decent job here.  After looking at his bio on IMDB I also discovered that he was the voice of Shaggy from Scooby Doo which was my favorite cartoon growing up.  But I digress. 
Good acting cannot save a weak plot and a terrible not-so-special effect.  With a little tweaking this could have been a fairly decent Frankenstein story told from a modern perspective.  However, The Incredible Two Headed Transplant doesn't rise to this great of a height and comes up short in the end.  The movie is not absolutely dreadful but not really good either.  If you dare, the video can be viewed directly on the IMDB site or Hulu.com.  In both cases you have to register to view the film since it is intended for "mature" audiences.  For the life of me, I don't know why.  It seems pretty tame to me.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Frankenstein (1931) was a hit so what do you do?  You make a sequel, of course!  In some cases, it's a bad idea [Exorcist 2, anyone?].  In this instance it's cinematic gold. Many film critics are of the opinion that Bride of Frankenstein bests the original.  I say that they are equal in greatness but different in feel.  Frankenstein is more menacing in terms of tone and plot development.  Bride uses more humor and ups the philosophical banter by introducing a second mad scientist, the incredible Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius.  His scenes with Dr. Frankenstein [Colin Clive] are perfection.  He pretty much steal every scene which is no easy task.
Boris Karloff is back as the monster only this time he speaks.  It has been said that Karloff disagreed with the decision to give the Monster a voice.  However, I think it works well here and Karloff pulls it off brilliantly.  [Would you expect anything less?]  Elsa Lancaster is wonderful as the Bride [She also plays Mary Shelley at the beginning of the film].  While she is only in the film for about two minutes, her scenes are unforgettable.  Kudos to legendary makeup artist Jack Pierce for giving us another iconic movie monster in the form of the Bride!
Bride of Frankenstein is director James Whale at his best.  From script, to cinematography to sets, everything works brilliantly.  He also captures what is arguably on of Karloff's greatest performances.  A joy to watch from start to finish.  Bride of Frankenstein can be watched on You Tube.  However, I believe this needs to be seen in a better format in order to fully appreciate the film.  I have the Universal Legacy Frankenstein Collection which can also be rented through Netflix.  Enjoy!
Rating: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

Everyone wants a piece of Esmeralda, including Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Nortre Dame.  Directed by Wallace Worsley and produced by Universal Pictures, this is epic storytelling on a grand scale.  There is literally a cast of thousands and Lon Chaney Sr. leads the way in yet another remarkable performance as Quasimodo.  His make up was so masterful for its time that many film patrons believed that the actor playing the title character truly appeared in real life as he did on film.  Thanks to great editing it appears as if Chaney does all his own stunts.  However, stuntman Joe Bonomo did many of the scenes where the Hunchback was climbing down the face of Notre Dame [Impressive, indeed.]  There is no CGI here.  Just incredible strength and agility on display.
Veteran silent film actress Patsy Ruth Miler plays Esmeralda with great emotional vulnerability.  She starred in over 70 films during the Silent Era as well as a few talkies.  Her ability to convey emotion without words is impressive as her many loves fight for her attention and her heart.
This is classic filmmaking at its best.  It's not so much a horror film as it is a love story.  Still, I found it to be very enjoyable although a bit too long for modern audiences.  However, in it's defense it tells a big story and big stories take time.  This one is a must just to see Chaney's performance alone.  An impressive effort indeed.  There have been many remakes of this film but this is the one that started it all.  I still think it's the best.
RATING: Very Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cat People (1942)

Meow!  Cat People is a beautiful film by legendary producer Val Lewton.  For those unfamiliar with Lewton's work, he produced a series of nine wonderful horror films on shoestring budgets for RKO Pictures in the 1940's.  There is a great documentary on Lewton that came out in 2008 which is narrated by Martin Scorsese.  It is definitely a must see and will give you a greater appreciation for Lewton's influence on future filmmakers.  In fact, Boris Karloff once said about working with Lewton that "he rescued me and restored me soul."  High praise, indeed!
Cat People is the film that started it all and, single-handedly, pulled the struggling RKO Pictures into the black.  It is moody, atmospheric and reminds me of the best of Alfred Hitchcock.  Each scene is shot and lit with great care, making it look like a more expensive movie than it is.  Furthermore, because Lewton had little or no budget for special effects he took the approach that it's what you don't see that if far more terrifying [Think of Hitchcock's Psycho].  With Cat People hits a total home run in this regard.
Simone Simon is the feline bombshell Irena Dubrovna Reed.  She is fantastic in the part and keeps the tension and suspense going throughout the film.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.  Cat People was remade in 1982 starring Nastassja Kinski.  However, it bears little resemblance to the original.  It is a decent film in it's own right and should be judged on its own merits without comparing it to Lewton's film.
Cat People is a first class thriller.  Don't miss it.  You can find it on YouTube in parts and as a rental on Netflix.  I own The Val Lewton Horror Collection which contains all nine of his horror films.  The digital remastering of this edition is absolutely beautiful and well worth the price.
Rating: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.