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, November 30, 2010

13 Frightened Girls (1963)

William Castle in living color!  13 Frightened Girls is really NOT a horror film so be forewarned.  It can be best described as Patty Duke meets Scooby Doo: a mixture of comedy and mystery/suspense that doesn't do a great job of either.  The plot is predictable and offers no surprises.  It's supposed to be campy but it's sense of humor doesn't translate very well to modern viewers.
On a positive note, 13 Frightened Girls is well acted and well filmed.  Relatively unknown actress Kathy Dunn does a nice job as Candace "Candy" Hull; a teenage super sleuth with a heart of gold.  There are also solid performances from Hugh Marlowe  [The Day the Earth Stood Still, All About Eve] who plays Candy's father, as well as veteran TV actor Murray Hamilton [The mayor in Jaws, Father Ryan in The Amityville Horror] who plays a real secret agent whom Candy is way too fond of [The "ick" factor is high here.]
If you like your mysteries super sweet, then 13 Frightened Girls is for you.  If not, skip this one and opt for one of Castle's masterpieces: House on Haunted Hill or The Tingler.  Where is Vincent Price when you need him?
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, November 29, 2010

13 Ghosts (1960)

William Castle definitely knew how to entertain his audience.  Thirteen Ghosts introduced what he called "Illusion-O" which was a special pair of glasses that each audience member was given as they entered the theater.  If they believe in ghosts they were supposed to look through the red part of the viewer.  If they didn't believe in ghosts they were supposed to look through the blue part of the viewer.  Corny?  Yes.  Effective?  Absolutely.  I didn't see it with the glasses, however,  it's easy to imagine using them as the plot unfolds.
While Thirteen Ghosts is not William Castle's best effort, I think it works rather well.  The plot is a classic haunted house story where the Zorba family inherits their uncle's house, only to discover that it is haunted.  While the ghost effects are less than spectacular, the film is well acted which helps give the film a higher rating in my book.  Donald Woods [True Grit] plays the quintessential early 1960's Dad and Rosemary DeCamp [Petticoat Junction, That Girl] fill in nicely as the Mom.  Child star Charles Herbert [The Fly, The Donna Reed Show] is great as the "I see dead people" kid and Martin Milner [Adam-12, Emergency!, Swiss Family Robinson] is quite good as lawyer Ben Rush.  Personally the star of the show is Margaret Hamilton [The evil witch in The Wizard of Oz] whose creepy character is a total rock star in every scene.  Love it!
A gory remake of Castle's film was done in 2001 under the title of Thir13en Ghosts starring TV's Tony Shalhoub [Monk], Embeth Davitz [Army of Darkness] and Matthew Lillard [Scream].  It was panned by critics but I must admit that I liked it and consider it a worthy adaptation of the source material.  It's hardly a masterpiece but there are some really great effects in it and it's far creepier and scarier than the original.  See them both and decide for yourself.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zotz! (1962)

Let me be perfectly clear, Zotz! by legendary director and producer William Castle is NOT a horror film.  It is a comedy with supernatural touches.  Think of it as an episode of Bewitched minus the laugh track and you have an idea of what kind of film this is.  The soundtrack is very Leave It To Beaver which adds to the light-heartedness of the film.  I watched this one because it was paired with The Tingler on a William Castle DVD.  It wasn't what I expected at all.
However, this does not mean it's a bad film.  In fact, it's quite good.  Zotz! is classic Castle who makes a tight budget work for him quite effectively.  The script is solid even if the basic premise is a bit of a stretch.  The acting is excellent thanks to the talents of Tom Poston [The Bob Newhart Show, Mork & Mindy, and many other TV shows], Julia Meade [Pillow Talk], and Jim Backus [Gilligan's Island, Mr Magoo].  Tom Poston is wonderful as Prof Jonathan Jones who discovers an ancient coin with hidden powers.  As he tries to tell others about it, some think he's crazy, others try to kidnap him in order to steal his power.  The rest of the cast works very well together and keeps things lively and light.  This is a classic period piece and I found it quite enjoyable.  If you like William Castle's films, this one is a keeper.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Tingler (1959)

Vincent Price and William Castle is a marriage made in heaven as far as I'm concerned.  They struck gold with House on Haunted Hill (1959) and followed it up later that year with The Tingler.  Director William Castle knew how to entertain people on a budget.  The Tingler is no exception.  The script is tailor-made for the theater with audience interaction in the form of buzzers under some of the seats that corresponded with various parts of the film.  It was Rocky Horror before there was a Rocky Horror, and Castle was determined to transcend the wall between what is happening on the screen and what is happening in the theater.  He succeeded admirably.
Vincent Price is also the reason for his success.  His performance in The Tingler is classic Prince who has a gift for making even ridiculous dialogue seem believable.  He is spot on as Dr. Warren Chapin, a pathologist who is convinced that there is a creature that lives inside every one of us that is the cause of fear.  Our screams keep it from growing out of control.  [I know it sounds crazy but, somehow, Price makes it work.]  The Tingler itself falls into the "so bad it's good" monster category.  Like The Blob (1958) before it, The Tingler is cheesy but that's what makes it so good.
Don't miss this 1950's classic.  It's fun from start to finish.  I rented the DVD from the William Castle Collection through Netflix and the picture and sound were terrific.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Blob (1958)

The Blob is simply the perfect 1950's B-grade horror movie starring movie legend Steve McQueen as Steve Andrews the "misunderstood" teen who stumbles upon a horrific discovery.  The plot thickens because the adults completely ignore his cries for help and don't really pay attention until the Blob has grown to gargantuan proportions and takes over the downtown movie theater.  McQueen is perfect as the main character, although at 28 years old he's a bit ancient to be playing a teenager.  It's very Luke Perry in Beverly Hills 90210!  
Steve's main squeeze in this Sci-Fi thriller is Aneta Corsaut who plays Jane Martin.  Boy, can that girl scream!  Furthermore, she is always dressed to perfection, even when sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night!  [You go, girl!]  The rest of the cast is solid as well with everyone contributing to the overall success of the film.
The star of this show, however, is the Blob which defies description.  If I may, one can liken it to a pulsing, flowing mass of thick purple Karo syrup.  It's so bad that it transcends itself into something wonderful.  I cannot help but think that the teenage audience who first saw it squealed with delight as the Blob oozed onto the big screen.  Perfection!
A gory remake of The Blob was done in 1988 with Kevin Dillon in the starring role.  I haven't seen it in ages but I remember I liked it.  If anyone has seen the remake recently, please comment on it.  The Blob is a definite must-see.  It's not really scary but it's a whole lot of fun!  [As a side note a young Burt Bacharach composed the theme song for the film!]
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dead Men Walk (1943)

Dead Men Walk stars George Zucco [The Mad Monster] as identical twin brothers, Lloyd and Elwyn Clayton.  One is good, the other is bad.   The good one murders the evil one because he is, well, evil.  The evil one comes back from the dead to get his revenge.  Yawn!  Zucco does a good job of portraying the brothers but the story is really lacking in originality and suspense.  Furthermore, the evil brother is supposed to be a "vampire" but is much more akin to Boris Karloff in The Ghoul (1933) than Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931).  There are no fangs, no blood drinking and no flying bats or other creatures of the night.  It's just a guy who returns from the dead and starts killing people.
I got sucked into this movie with the promise of Dwight Frye [Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Vampire Bat] who stars as the evil brother's faithful manservant.  Unfortunately, Fry's acting talents are wasted here.  They give him very little material to work with and he does the best he can.  Overall, this film is nothing special.  To paraphrase Little Nell from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, "It's O.K."  I found this one in a cheap horror anthology and am glad I didn't spend a lot of money on it!  You can find the full version of this film on YouTube.
Rating: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, November 8, 2010

White Zombie (1932)

As far as I'm concerned, this is the mother of all zombie movies, at least the Caribbean voodoo kind.  White Zombie set the standard for countless other films who followed its formula until George Romero changed everything with Night of the Living Dead.  White Zombie's zombies look really great.  Director Victor Halperin and make up legend Jack Pierce created ominously wonderful, mind-controlled zombie slaves who are under the spell of Murder Legendre, played by Bela Lugosi.  I've heard others say that this was one of Lugosi's favorite performances.  Personally, I think he was better in Dracula (1931) and Son of Frankenstein (1939).  Although Lugosi has delightfully ominous eyes, he is supposed to be French Creole yet he speaks with a Hungarian accent.  It's a bit of a disconnect for me.  
The basic plot involves Madeleine and Neil who are coaxed by a friend to get married on his Haitian plantation.  Their friend secretly has a crush on Madeleine and enlists the help of Lengendre to turn her into a zombie.  The plot unfolds from there in a way that if fairly predictable, offering no surprises.  I know that many critics rave about this film, but I've watched it twice and still have the same opinion.  It's just O.K.  If you're a zombie fan, this one is a must-see simply to have an appreciation for where it all began.  However, don't expect White Zombie to keep you on the edge of your seat.  Enjoy it for what it is and then move on to better films in the zombie genre.  You can view this one on YouTube.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

SHOCK! AFTER SHOCK!  The sexual transformation of a man into a woman will actually take place before your very eyes!  So reads the tagline for Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.  Just knowing this film actually exists brings a smile to my face.  I expected this to be an exploitation film but, to my surprise, it's quite good and puts an original spin on the Jekyll and Hyde story.  Hammer Studios is one of the undisputed kings of horror and this film does not disappoint.  The sets, costumes and screenplay are all excellent and deliver what you would expect from a Hammer Horror film.   
Ralph Bates is quite good as the ambitious Dr, Jekyll who is searching for the elixir of life, the secret of eternal youth.  His transformation into Sister Hyde is great with perfectly cast Martine Beswick who is a feminine dead ringer for Bates.  She shows us nearly every inch of her feminine curves and plays her role with great zeal and menace.  Character actor Gerald Sim [Frenzy, A Brides Too Far, Patriot Games] plays Bates' skeptical counterpart Dr. Robertson which is a nod to John S. Robertson who directed the original 1920 Jecklyy/Hyde silent film.  
The only complaint  I have about this film is that even at a run time of only 94 minutes for the US version, it seems a bit long and drags in a few places.  With a little bit of editing this could be one tight little thriller.  You can watch Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde instantly on Netflix.  It's far better than the title might suggest.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Freaks (1932)

What does one do after creating the iconic masterpiece Dracula (1931)?  Well, one makes another masterpiece.  Most of Tod Browning's resume is from the silent movie era.  However, Dracula and Freaks are probably his best known films and showcase his ability as a director.  Freaks is not so much horror as it is a thriller.  The plot is truly original and the storytelling is very strong.  Browning decided to use actual circus performers in this film and this only makes the viewing experience more powerful.  I'm sure that 1930's audiences gasped as they saw the cast of characters walk across the screen.  It is truly something to behold.
The set up for the film involves a love triangle between little people Hans and Frieda and Hans' wandering eye for Cleopatra, a trapeze artist.  This film is ensemble acting at its finest.  Noone steals the show but everyone contributes to the overall success and mood of the film.  My favorite scenes are most definitely when the side show performers seek their revenge.  These moments are ominous and creepy and raise the suspense level considerably.
A Google search will locate a copy of this film to watch online.  However, I recommend renting Freaks because the restored version is really beautiful and clear.  The computer screen just doesn't cut it with this one!  If you love vintage horror films then Freaks is a must-see.  Don't miss it!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920)

Taking into consideration that this was filmed in 1920, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is astonishing to watch.  In terms of character development, scene composition and editing, this set a high benchmark for other films to follow.  Although it is not the first horror film to be created, it most definitely paved the way for others to follow in its footsteps.  
The film is an adaptation of a story by Robert Louis Stevenson as well as the play written by Thomas Russell Sullivan.  John S. Robertson's direction is marvelous as he is able to convey a great deal of emotion and storytelling without anyone saying a word.  He really captures some great performances from his actors, most notably John Barrymore [grandfather of Drew Barrymore] in the dual roles of Jekyll and Hyde.  The scene of his first transformation is tame by modern CGI standards but shocked the you know what out of his audience in 1920.  Without any cut-aways, Barrymore's face actually appears to begin transforming simply by the manipulation of his facial muscles, the angle of the camera on his face, the movement of his hair and the change in his body posture.  Bravo!  Eventually the prosthetics and full makeup come along but the transformation is wonderfully noticeable before any of this is applied.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde explores the theme of the dark side of human nature in a way that would inspire numerous horror films to follow such as The Invisible Man (1933) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).  If you have any interest in films of the Silent Era, this one is not to be missed.  The full movie can be seen on YouTube or is included in many inexpensive vintage horror anthologies.  
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Ghost Ship (1943)

Don't be deceived by the title.  There are no spooks on this sailing vessel.  The Ghost Ship is a straight up thriller filled with murder and mystery.  I'm definitely a Val Lewton fan and this one delivers the goods.  The Ghost Ship has a nicely written screenplay with a few twists and turns.  Furthermore, it is filmed impeccably thanks to Mark Robson's direction and Mr. Lewton's skills as a producer.  His films always look amazing to me and remind me of Hitchcock in their use of light and shadows.  The action sequences are also nicely done and and greatly add to the enjoyment of this film.
The plot is set into motion when third officer Tom Merriam [played nicely by Russel Wade] goes aboard a ship that is captained by Will Stone.  Everything seems fine and good until Merriam begins to suspect that something is not quite right with the good captain. [Cue ominous music!]  Richard Dix is excellent as the captain.  He was one of RKO's leading men from 1929 to 1943 and definitely plays the captain right on the edge between clarity and insanity.
If you need lots of gore and violence to keep you entertained, then this film might seem boring to you.  However, if you like a well told, old fashioned thriller, then The Ghost Ship is right up your alley.  A "remake" was done in 2002 simply titled Ghost Ship but it bears absolutely no resemblance to the original film.  One reviewer called the remake "ghost shit" which pretty much describes how I feel about it as well.  Stick with the original on this one!
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.