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!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Frankenstein '80 (1972)

This movie should work, but it doesn't.  The plot is a modern update of the Frankenstein story where the good doctor is a pathologist at a hospital.  He has created his monster, Mosaic, out of various body parts but there's one catch...Mosaic keeps rejecting the transplanted organs.  I love the premise but the execution of it is terrible.  First of all, I don't mean to be unkind but it's a butt-ugly cast.  I've been to Italy and there's tons of gorgeous people there.  Apparently all the beautiful people in Italy failed to show up for the casting call!

Since this film is dubbed into English there is a chance that the acting is better than it appears.  The English dub is very wooden and stiff.  It's just not good at all.  In addition to wooden dialogue there are some improbably scenes such as the prostitute who seems oblivious that she's just invited a homicidal monster to her apartment where she is raped and killed.  The transplant scene is laugh out loud funny.  Who knew you could transplant a kidney in 60 seconds or less!
Honestly, there was little I liked about this movie.  The nudity and gore come off as gratuitous and add absolutely nothing to this mess of a movie.  Avoid this one at all costs even if it's free on Archive.org!
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, August 23, 2010

She Beast (1966)

Italian horror films are not always great.  Case in point is She Beast.  The basic plot is a young couple who are driving alongside a lake and have an accident where the car plunges into the water.  The man swims ashore but the young lady becomes possessed by the spirit of an 18th Century witch who is seeking revenge on those who killed her many years ago.  [Seriously!]  Scream Queen Barbara Steele plays Veronica, the young woman in question.  I like her work in other pictures but here she has very little material to work with.  Her talent is wasted.  John Karlsen is entertaining as Count von Helsing who is the descendant of you know who.  Whoever played the witch is uncredited but I must say that it's one of the worst make-up jobs I've seen in quite a while.  It is actually unintentionally funny instead of horrifying.  [Where is Jack Pierce when you need him?]
Most of the prints of this film found on the net and in cheap horror collections are terrible.  However, Dark Sky Films did a nice re-release of this picture in widescreen format with restored sound.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Teenage Zombies (1959)

What do you get when you cross Let It to Beaver with Scooby Doo and throw in a communist plot to take over America and a few zombies for good measure?  Why, Teenage Zombies, of course!  Director Jerry Warren is known as the schlock king who churned out low budget horror films with clever titles during the 50's and 60's.  I know it's hard to believe but Warren makes Ed Wood look like Steven Spielberg!  
Every scene in Teenage Zombies is done as a master shot with no close ups whatsoever.  The sets are simple and the acting is worse than a Jr. High School play.  This film made it into the 2004 documentary The 50 Worst Films Ever Made, and deservedly so.  However, this one may also fall into the "so bad it's good" category.  While Teenage Zombies is no Plan 9 From Outerspace, I found it to be very entertaining in a campy kind of way.  While watching the film, I got the impression that the director was in on the joke and knew just how bad this film was.  There are many places in Teenage Zombies that make you laugh out loud because it's horrifyingly terrible.
Teenage Zombies can be seen in its entirety on YouTube as well as other sites.  A simple Google or Bing search will yield several options.  If you have a weird sense of humor and appreciate really bad cinema then this one might fit the bill quite nicely.
RATING: Bad [As in "so bad it's good"]
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Crazies (1973)

Pittsburgh filmmaker George Romero is known as the father of all things zombie.  However, he also had other cinematic ambitions in mind as well.  Enter The Crazies which is a science fiction tale about the military's attempt to combat a manmade virus called Trixie that causes those infected to go insane.  The script for this film is excellent and is definitely anti-military.  The top brass make several colossal blunders along the way including killing the scientist who discovers the cure and passing over the person who has a natural immunity to the disease.  It's not surprising that this film was made the year that American troops were withdrawing from the Vietnam War.  It captures the feel of the time period perfectly.

The only negative things I can say about The Crazies are that the characters shout at each other a bit too much for my taste.  It seems to me the same tension can be created with less yelling.  The other negative thing is that the guys in this cast are butt-ugly.  [Seriously!]  Leading man Will MacMillan has a unibrow and the the other guys, even by Seventies standards, are lacking in the looks department.  I used to live in Pittsburgh and I can safely say that there are good looking men who live there.  Surely Romero could have found some "lookers" who could also act!  [The ladies are fine in the looks department.]
The Crazies was remade in 2010 with George Romero serving as executive producer.  Although I don't say this often, the remake is actually better than the original.  It follows the story line of the original film quite faithfully but adds a few twists that I think work quite well.  The remake also sends the tension and suspense through the roof with excellent special effects!  Both version of the Crazies can be rented through Netflix.  Take a look at both and let me know what you think.  This one is a must-see if you're a fan of Romero's zombie films.  Don't miss it.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Vampire Bat (1933)

Is he the village idiot or a blood sucking vampire?  You decide!  The Vampire Bat starts out really strong but feels like it loses steam long the way.  The set up is good and the acting is very good but the movie feels like it needs a different ending.  For instance, a vampire we've never seen throughout the entire film suddenly shows up in the last few scenes of the movie.  There has been no evidence of this character's presence anywhere up until this point.  It's kind of random and feels out of place.
The cast includes Lionel Atwill [the infamous Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein] who is excellent as Dr. Otto von Niemann.  Fay Wray is also very good as Ruth Berlin.  She is best known for her role as Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933).  My two favorite performances are from veteran character actors Dwight Frye and Maude Ebume.  Frye is delightful as the "village idiot" and is probably best known for his portrayals of Renfield in Dracula (1931) and Fritz in Frankenstein (1931).  He has a strong and commanding presence in every scene he's in.  Maude Ebume  brings the comic relief as hypochondriac Aunt Gussie.  She's a total gem in this film.
I would be tempted to give this a Very Good rating.  However, because the movie gets weaker as it goes along I decided to give it a Good rating.  This movie reaches for something really great but never quite gets there.  This one is available to download for free at Archive.org.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

It's hard for any film franchise to remain fresh and innovative after four movies.  The creators of the X Men were smart in starting it's "Origins" series.  Nightmare on Elm Street lost it's moxie after Wes Craven left the director's chair.  So, how does Frankie hold up as he lurches his way into film number four?  Not too bad.  We all thought he was killed by a hot volcanic sulfur pit at the end of Son of Frankenstein (1939).  However, you can't keep a good monster down!
Lon Chaney Jr, hot off the successful The Wolfman (1941), takes over for Boris Karloff as the Monster.  He's fine but Karloff is superior in every way.  Bela Lugosi reprises his role as Ygor, the Monster's faithful friend.  It feels like Lugosi has less good material to work with here.  He was better in Son of Frankenstein but gives a very good performance in Ghost nonetheless.
Adding to the Frankenstein family this time around is Cedrick Hardwicke who does a nice job as Ludwig Frankenstein who is the brother of Wolf who was seen in the last film.  [Who knew Wolf had a brother who is also a doctor.  It feels like we're stretching things a bit here.]
Sorely missed from this film is Rowland V. Lee's direction from the last film with its moody, expressionistic sets.  Erie C. Kenton does an adequate job here as director but brings nothing special to the table.  Jack Pierce is doing make-up again, although he seems a little bit off the mark on this one.
All in all, it's a fine film but expectations are high after three excellent feature films.  This one is well worth seeing but is definitely the lesser of the four movies.  The Universal Legacy Series DVD's is the best way to see this and all the Frankenstein movies.  The sound and clarity of the picture are worth the prices.  You can also rent it through Netflix.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

"Don't dream it, be it."  This is the mantra of The Rocky Horror Picture Show which is the Queen Mother of all camp horror movies.  First seen on stage and then adapted into a movie, RHPS is the perfect blend of horror, comedy, camp and musical numbers.  This is the movie for everyone who felt "different" while they were growing up.  It's a celebration of life, love and "absolute pleasure."
The original play was written by Richard O'Brien who plays Riff-Raff in the movie version.  Jim Sharman wrote the screenplay and also directed the film.  RHPS had a very limited budget but this actually works to its advantage.  The sets are simple but effective and this puts the focus on the actors which is a good thing.  Sharman had an extremely talented cast to work with including Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter [sheer perfection], Susan Sarandon as Janet, and Barry Bostwick as Brad.  Throw in Meatloaf for good measure and movie magic is born.
The set up is simple: A young couple's car breaks down on an dark, stormy night.  They  seek shelter and "hospitality" at the house of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.  The rest goes downhill from there [or uphill depending upon your perspective.]
I've seen this film in all its incarnations: the musical revival on Broadway, a local community theater production, on the big screen with a theater full of fans, on a flat screen TV and on my ipod.  It works in every format.  However, the best way to see RHPS is in a movie theater with a live audience and a shadow cast.  It's absolute mayhem!  [Those experiencing this camp classic for the first time might want to watch it on TV first and then head to a midnight showing.]  Thankfully, I live in Asheville, NC where RHPS is shown once a month at the Carolina Cinema.  I always dress up and bring the usual props with me.  Don't miss this one.  It simply doesn't get any better than this!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

I love this movie for so many reasons.  First of all, I lived in Pittsburgh when this movie was filmed.  A friend of mine was a zombie extra.  I also saw Dawn of the Dead at the Monroeville Mall were it was filmed.  [It was a quick walk to the car that night to say the least!]
Secondly, this may be the most intelligent zombie film ever made.  For me, the mall becomes a symbol of materialistic culture and how we try to isolate ourselves from the horrors of the world by acquiring more stuff.  There is also an underlying sense that humans, when faced with the most unspeakable of circumstance, still can't figure out how to work together and devolve into our most base instincts.  This is brutal stuff to say the least!
Dawn of the Dead is George Romero's sequel to the classic Night of the Living Dead (1968).  That's a long time for a sequel but this one packs a powerful punch.  Sure, by today's standards the special effects look a bit cheesy.  However, Tom Savini's work in this film was ground breaking at the time and he would go on to become not only a special effects wizard but also an actor (From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996] and a director [the remake of Night of the Living Dead in 1990].
This film is intentionally humorous at times and unflinchingly bleak at others.  It takes hold of the viewer early on in the first scene and never lets go.  A very good remake of Dawn of the Dead was done in 2004 with Zack Snyder directing [300, Watchmen].  Snyder ups the gore to epic proportions but loses some of Romero's social commentary in the progess.  He also ups the action by using fast running viral zombies instead of Romero's lumbering dead.  Both films have their merits but it shouldn't surprise you that I prefer the original over the remake.
Dawn of the Dead can be viewed in parts on YouTube but I think this one needs to be seen on a bigger screen.  Classic zombie horror!
Rating: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist is one of my all time favorite horror movies.  Why?  First of all, William Peter Blatty's script is intelligent and well written.  The characters and believable and complex.  Many of today's horror movies pale in comparison, especially those of the torture porn variety with characters we don't care about who are only meat for the grinder.  Instead of dumbing down, the Exorcist challenges the viewer to go on a journey that starts out slow and mysterious and then builds to a feverish pitch.  Not much "happens" for a while so if you're a little ADHD you might not like this film.
Secondly, Linda Blair is absolutely amazing in the role of demon possessed Regan.  Personally, I don't think the actress was ever the same again after this film.  She channels something dark and evil here that no amount of CGI could ever replace.  [Make sure you see the restored version which contains an additional 11 minutes of scenes, most of which are hers.  I believe they were omitted because they were considered to be too shocking at the time.]  The rest of the cast is stellar as well including Jason Miller in his iconic portrayal of Father Karas.  Well known actors Ellen Burstyn  and Max von Sydow also add lots of emotional depth to the film.
Lastly, William Friekin's direction of The Exorcist is wonderful.  This movie could have easily been a very cheesy B-movie, but Friedkin keeps it creepy and disturbing.  He shows us a few images that I don't think have ever been duplicated on screen.  The scene with Regan and the crucifix still shocks me every time I see it.  Friedkin was hired by Blatty to do this film after he saw Friedkin's work in The French Connection (1971). He was the perfect choice.
A brief word on sequels.  Most critics agree that Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) is a terrible film.  I concur.  However, Exorcist III (1990) is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated horror films of all time.  It is just as good as the first and deserves to be seen by fans of horror everywhere.  Blatty both wrote the script and directed Exorcist III.  It's another well-made, intelligent horror film.  Put it on your list.
The Exorcist can be seen in parts on YouTube.  However, this is an insult to the original.  Rent this baby ASAP and don't see it alone!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Omega Man (1971)

In 1954 Richard Matheson wrote the science fiction classic "I Am Legend."  The book was made into a movie in 1964 entitled The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price.  Last Man is a wonderful film and a must-see for horror fans.  [See its review elsewhere on the site.]
Nearly 20 years later Hollywood decided it was time for a remake.  So they upped the polyester, threw in a few big afros, turned the vampires into hippy albinos and cast Charlton Heston in the lead role.  The results?  Just O.K.   Price brought a sense of vulnerability and deep emotion to the main character.  In 2007, Will Smith would bring the muscle and charisma of a kick ass action hero.  Heston seems a bit lost in this film.  He may have been sexy in 1971 but that physique doesn't cut it in 2010.  They way he moves on the screen seems a bit awkward as he lurches from place to place.  It's hard to believe he could kill anything, let alone "The Family" of monk hooded mutants that keep attacking him. [I'm not sure what they're supposed to be!]

Anthony Zerbe, however, is quite good as Jonathan Matthias, the Charles Manson of the albino gang.  He scared the crap out of me as a little kid and does a nice job of bringing a sense of crazy to the film.  The rest of the mutants don't add to the scare factor at all.  In fact, they look like adults at a Halloween party who've had a few too many drinks and then decide to trash the neighborhood.
My advice is to stick with the original.  It's the best of the three.  I'm still waiting for a remake that is worthy of the original source material.  Maybe we'll see one in another 20 years?  This film is not available to view legally online.  However, it can be rented or watched instantly on Netflix.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.