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!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Top Ten Vintage Horror Flicks to Watch on Halloween Night

Top Ten Vintage Horror Films to Watch On Halloween Night 2010
[In no particular order]
1. Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
2. Halloween (1976)
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
4. Frankenstein (1931)
5. Psycho (1960)
6. Carrie (1976)
7. Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
8. The Exorcist (1973)
9. House of Wax (1953)
10. Dracula (1931)

What will you be watching besides the premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC, 10:00pm?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

If this film had begun without any opening credits, I would have sworn that Masque of the Red Death was the work of Hammer Studios.  Much to my surprise, this film was directed by Roger Corman whose films include the unbelievably bad Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961) which he produced.  [See the review elsewhere on my site.]  Masque is a beautifully shot and acted film, starring the incomparable Vincent Price.  Price plays Prince Prospero in this adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story.  His character is delightfully heartless and takes center stage in every scene he's in.  Hazel Court [The Curse of Frankenstein] is also great as Juliana, Prospero's wife and bride of Satan.  Furthermore, Jane Asher [Alfie] also does a nice job as Prospero's red-headed love interest.  
Every scene is crafted beautifully and the story unfolds nicely, reaching a wonderful dramatic climax at the end.  I love all the Red Death plague scenes and the conversations with Death/the Man in Red.  I also found the "dwarf's revenge" scene to be wonderfully disturbing and effective.  [Watch the film and see if you don't agree.]
There is nothing about this film I don't like.  I distinctly remember watching Masque as a teen and loved it then.  My opinion of it hasn't changed over the years.  You can watch this film instantly on Netflix or rent it anywhere.  It's a classic old-fashioned horror film in the best sense of this description.  It should be regarded as one of Roger Corman's finest efforts as a director.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

Take a literary classic such as Jane Eyre, change its location to the West Indies, add a few living dead and you have I Walked With a Zombie from legendary producer Val Lewton.  It's  actually hard to call this one a horror film.  Even calling it a thriller is a bit of a stretch.  However, as a drama it works rather well.
I Walked With a Zombie was directed by Jacques Tourneur who also did Cat People (1942).  This film may have had a limited budget, but it doesn't look like it.  Tourneur reminds me of Hitchcock in many ways, especially his effective use of light and shadow.  Furthermore, he has a knack of making his leading ladies look flawless.  Tourneur's job is also made easier by a nicely written screenplay by Curt Siodmak who also wrote such horror classics as The Wolfman and The Invisible Man Returns.
The star of this show is definitely Frances Dee [Little Women] who plays nurse Betsy Connell.  She is a self-confident, independent "career girl" who is also empathetic and empowered.  That's quite an accomplishment in 1940s cinema.  The rest of the cast does a fine job as well giving solid performances all around. 
As a side note, this may be the first time that we see a zombie shuffling [not quite a shamble!] with his hands in front of him.  He's not one of the gut munching zombies of George Romero, but he begins to point the way of things to come.  
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Thing (1982)

I had forgotten just how good John Carpenter's Sci-Fi/Horror remake was until I saw it again the other day on cable TV.  The Thing is a perfectly paced, well-crafted film with eye-popping effects that CGI can never really duplicate.  Rob Bottin's work on this film is truly remarkable.  The creatures he has created are creepy, unsettling and, at times, totally gross.  It's the kind of stuff that Clive Barker would go on to create in Hellraiser, but Bottin does it first.  Well known movie composer Ennio Morricone provides the moody soundtrack which goes well with Bottin's spectacular visuals.
The story takes place in Antarctica where a group of scientists uncover a mysterious spaceship that crash landed and was buried deep under layers of ice and snow.  The story takes off running when they realize that something survived the crash and it's not our friend!  Kurt Russell is great as R J MacReady.  He give us a Bruce Willis performance before there was a Bruce Willis.  The rest of the ensemble cast is great as well and includes veteran character actors such as Wilford Brimley [Cocoon] and Richard Dysart [LA Law].
If you enjoy Sci-Fi with a horror edge, then The Thing is the perfect film for you.  It is one of the finest remakes out there that actually manages to surpass the original.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Skin Game (1931)

Before there was Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963) , a young Alfred Hitchcock was developing his distinctive style of filmmaking.  The Skin Game is not a horror film, but I would classify it as a thriller.  As such, it's a nice little story about people behaving badly and trying to outwit one another.  
For those unfamiliar with the term, a "skin game" is a rigged gambling game, a swindle.  The plot centers on feuding families and land development which is a story that has been played out in every generation.  The acting style is a bit outdated for modern audiences, with overly annunciated speech at times, but I still found it to be an enjoyable film.  It is well acted and the script has a few nice twists and turns.  Furthermore, the length of the film is perfect for the material it presents.  
However, the star of this show is watching Hitchcock as a young filmmaker.  You can definitely see flashes of what he would become and I found myself appreciating his camera effects and scene composition.  Hitchcock also loved his ladies and he always films his actresses with great care.  They always look fabulous!
This Skin Game does not reach the heights of such classic 1931 films as Frankenstein and Dracula, but it does give us a taste of a director who would change the face of cinema forever.  A must see for Hitchcock fans.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Ape (1940)

I did not expect this film to be good.  Boy, was I pleasantly surprised.  The Ape is a short little thriller [57:28 long] starring Boris Karloff as Dr. Bernard Adrian.  In this movie the good doctor is seeking to cure a young woman's polio which is a noble goal.  The problem, however, is that he needs spinal fluid from another human to complete the formula.  How he procures this spinal fluid is what the movie is all about.  Karloff is quite good in this role and takes center stage in this film.  The rest of the cast is fine as well.
After watching The Ape I did a little research and discovered that the screenplay was adapted from a play by none other than Curt Siodmak.  If that name is not familiar to you then, perhaps, some of his other screenplays will ring a bell: The Invisible Man Returns (1940), The Wolfman (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) and  House of Frankenstein (1944).  I know good writing when I smell it!
While The Ape only offers one plot twist toward the end of the film, I found it engaging from start to finish.  It's just the right length.  The story would have suffered if Siodmak tried to stretch The Ape into a 90 minute film.  Nicely done.  
It's fair to say that The Ape is not earth-shattering or life-changing.  But it is a nice little gem from the 1940's that is often overlooked.  If you're a fan of Boris Karloff, then I consider The Ape a must see.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

One Body Too Many (1944)

What do you do when a thriller isn't thrilling?  A.) Turn it off after the first ten minutes because your gut tells you it's going to be bad.  B.) Keep mumbling to yourself, "Bela Lugosi is this film.  How bad can it be?" or C.) Watch it to the bitter end, hoping it will get better, but when the credits roll you realize you've just wasted 75 minutes of your life watching this terrible movie.  If you chose "A" then good for you!  Unfortunately, I ended up choosing all three, making my way through them in sequential order.
One Body Too Many is not a horribly made film.  It's simply dull and boring.  It might have gotten a rise and a chuckle out of 1940's audiences, but this one simply doesn't translate well to modern audiences.  My first gripe is that Bela Lugosi is the big star but he only logs in about 10 minutes of screen time.  It left me screaming "I want my money back!"  Jack Haley also stars in this film [Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz] as well as Jean Parker [Beth in Little Women] but I watched it because Bela freakin' Lugosi was in it.  Don't make the same mistake I did.
I won't bore you with the gory details.  Avoid this one like the plague.  If you want a great example of a thriller with a similar type of plot, my recommendation would be William Castle's brilliant House on Haunted Hill which is reviewed elsewhere on the site.  It's the perfect mix of horror and humor and shows you how good a film of this genre can be.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Mad Monster (1942)

After seeing The Mad Monster, I have an even greater appreciation for what Lon Chaney Jr accomplished in The Wolfman (1941).  Everything The Wolfman is, The Mad Monster isn't.  For starters there's Petro the "slow handyman," played, stereotypically, by Glenn Strange [Sam the bartender from Gunsmoke].  Strange brings nothing special to the character, especially when he dons the wolf suit.  He simply looks like a man walking around in a wolf costume.  His physical presence changes very little as he shifts back and forth from wolfman to handyman.  Chaney, on the other hand, gave us emotional depth and also managed to bring all the heavy make-up to life.  [Jack Pierce's work is sorely missed here as well.  No one did horror makeup better than him during the 30's and 40's.]
Secondly, the screenplay is horribly predictable, filled with every cliche that could be borrowed from other films that came before it.  There are absolutely no surprises here and I felt like I've seen this film a hundred times over.  Yawn!  At least Wolfman gave us a well developed story, with complex characters and a few twists and turns along the way.
To The Mad Monster's credit, the cinematography is decent and George Zucco's performance as the "mad doctor" is not bad at all.  It's one of the few things that holds this film together.  The musical score is also quite good, serving to establish the mood of the film.  After watching The Mad Monster, it is quite clear that this was made on a shoestring budget with the hope of cashing in on the popularity of The Wolfman which was released a year before it.  Thankfully, The Mad Monster can be downloaded for free at Archive.org.  That being said, there are better ways to waste and hour and fifteen minutes!  Watch Chaney's version instead!
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Creepshow (1982)

Horror movie perfection is achieved in this homage to 1950's E.C. horror comics.  Stephen King's screenplay strikes the right balance between horror and humor.  George Romero's direction [Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead] shows him at his creative best as he captures wonderful performances from the likes of Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Dansen and Adrienne Barbeau.  F/X master Tom Savini [who also makes a cameo as a garbage man at the end of the film] brings the guts and gore in a way that makes you laugh and wince simultaneously.  
Creepshow is a series of five short stories that segue from one to another by use of stunning comic book animation by Rick Catizone [Evil Dead 2].  Tales include a dead man returning from the grave to collect his birthday cake, a farmer who discovers a mysterious meteor, a vengeful husband who finds a creative way to murder his wife and her lover, a creature in a crate, and a germophobe's battle with cleanliness and cockroaches.  
Furthermore, Larry Fulton's art direction gives the viewer a feast for the eyes that holds up well twenty eight years later.  There is nothing about this film I don't like.  It's a total home run and is a must see for fans of horror everywhere.  Whatever you do, DO NOT watch this one on YouTube.  Give it the attention it deserves and rent the DVD.  It can also be watched instantly on Netflix as well.  
Rating: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fangs of the Living Dead (1969)

If you like movies that have a sense of camp [intended or otherwise], then Fangs of the Living Dead is right up your alley.  Don't listen to the naysayers, this film is a joy to watch from start to finish.  The opening credits include a torch song that sounds like it was lifted from a low budget James Bond film.  The giggles begin there and never let up through the vampire cat fight scene toward the end of the film.  [Joan Collins and Linda Evans would be proud!] 
The film's star is Anita Ekberg [La Dolce Vita, War and Peace] who won the 1956 Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer.  She is great as Sylvia, a blond bombshell who inherits a castle, which she later discovers is crawling with vampires, including her Uncle and his army of undead beauties. [I hate when that happens.]  The sets are well constructed, especially those that take place inside the mansion [the Gothic crypt is beautiful] and the music sets the mood perfectly with its classic B-movie horror sound effects.
There are three versions of Fangs that are available for your viewing pleasure.  The first is the American "public domain" print which can be seen on TV and cheap horror collections.  [It's not bad.]  The second is a longer European cut exported from Holland that is missing the gag ending. [A shame, indeed.]  The third can be found in places like Amazon and Netflix and is a restored widescreen version from Retromeida.  [I haven't see this version yet.]  Don't miss Fangs of the Living Dead.  It's Italian horror at its campy best.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Fangs of the living dead "trailer"
Uploaded by gregwallace. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Isle of the Dead (1945)

I have mixed emotions about Isle of the Dead.  On one hand, I have tremendous respect for producer Val Lewton and what he accomplished in filmmaking while working with a tight budget. The cinematography and lighting are done with great care and skill.  [All his films look gorgeous.]  Boris Karloff and the rest of the cast do a fine job in the acting department.  The movie has an overall eerie mood as well.
On the other hand, there is nothing about this film that really grabs you.  The pacing is rather slow and nothing much happens.  Karloff does the best he can with the material at hand, but it feels like there's not much to work with here.  This film is lacking some much needed tension and suspense.  Where is Hitchcock when you need him?
The basic plot takes place in Greece during the 1912 war.  A group of people are trapped by quarantine because of the plague and are unable to leave the island.  As death begins to make house calls, a superstitious peasant woman suspects one young girl of being a demon called a "vorvolaka."  The plot thickens, or doesn't, from there.
If you are unfamiliar with Lewton's work in the horror genre, Cat People (1942) is a better introduction.  That being said, you can do a lot worse than Isle of the Dead.  If all films were this well produced, we would be fortunate indeed! [You can rent this one through Netflix.  The restored version from the Val Lewton Collection is a must.]
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.