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, December 16, 2011

Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)

I so wanted this one to be a good film.  It has a number of things going for it:  The story line is interesting as dead crewmen from sunken ships come back to life to guard the treasure that is still buried on the sea floor.  Who will try to get the treasure next?  Will the zombies claim another victim?  It sounds great but it never quite gets there and the ending is ridiculously bad as the treasure is returned to the sea and a zombie sea captain "vaporizes" leaving a pile of clothing.  WTF?
Most of the acting is decent enough in Mora Tau.  However, Marjorie Eaton is terrible as Grandmother Peters.  This role really needs to sizzle for this movie to work but Eaton is as stiff and wooden as the zombies onscreen.
The really bad news comes in the form of the "underwater" scenes which look like they were filmed by Ed Wood on a studio lot. Baaaaaaad.  Furthermore, the zombies aren't menacing in the least and no one really explains how they got to be that way.  The unspoken explanation has something to do with voodoo but then this theme is not explored in the movie at all.  They just leave you hanging.
With a little more work this could have actually been a decent little zombie flick along the likes of Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie (1943) but it never quite gets there.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Sometimes television gets it right.  Scream queen Karen Black stars in four different roles in Trilogy of Terror.  It's presented in a Creepshow or Tales From the Darkside format.  None of the stories are interconnected except for the presence of the actress.  
Trilogy starts things off right with a screenplay by Richard Matheson [I Am Legend, The Night Stalker, among others]. Matheson has had a long and successful writing career both as a novelist and as a screenwriter.  His ability to tell a good story really shines through here.  Matheson is paired with director Dan Curtis [Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker] who had a long career in television directing and producing.  [He recently passed away in 2006.]  This is a winning formula.
Karen Black is definitely the star here.  She shines in every role and her considerable acting skills bring depth and intrigue to the characters she brings to life on screen.  In the first vignette "Julie," Black plays a college professor who is stalked and black mailed by a student.  The twist in this one came as a surprise to me.  I didn't see it coming which is a good thing.
The second vignette "Millicent and Therese" was the weakest of the three.  It's the story of two sisters who are polar opposites.  I saw the direction this one was headed from the very beginning.  Perhaps it would work for some folks but it pulled no surprises for me.
By far the last vignette "Ameila" is the best.  A cult classic.  It's so simply constructed but Black delivers the screams and terror to great effect.  The story line involves a Zuni warrior doll who comes to life.  It's quite intense, even though very little blood is shown.  I especially appreciate how effectively Curtis shoots the doll.  There is no CGI here.  Just great camera work combined with marvelous acting that make the doll come alive.  The final scene of this vignette is simply brilliant. 
Don't miss this enjoyable thriller.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

I simply don't know why this film gets a rating of 6.4 out of 10 on IMDB.  Let's Scare Jessica to Death has a great title going for it but nothing much beyond that.  It is quite slow in its pacing and feels long even though the film is listed with a run time of 89 minutes.
There are a number of great early 70's horror films.  This is not one of them.  The acting is uneven and poor at times.  The way that Jessica runs in terror through the field makes one wonder if she has any muscles in her legs at all.  I know it was the Seventies but, come honey, you can run with a little more determination than that!
I just found this film rather dull and hardly suspenseful at all.  The basic story centers around Jessica who just got out of a mental hospital and is desperately trying to hold onto her sanity.  While the movie is nicely moody and atmospheric at times, this is about all it has going for it.
The vampire angle is a bit interesting but, again, they don't do much with it.  I have to disagree with the majority of people on this one and say "Ho-hum."  If you want a nicely crafted horror movie from the early 1970's try Black Christmas (1974) or Deranged (1974).
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Surprisingly, Curse of the Werewolf [COTW] was the only werewolf movie made by Hammer Studios.  While the beginning of the movie is a bit of a slow burner, it does offer a fresh and intriguing explanation as to how the first werewolf came into being.  Stay with it because the pace does pick up after a while.  The legendary Oliver Reed takes on the role of the werewolf, playing Leon Corledo, an unfortunate soul whose mother died at childbirth after being raped by a mad beggar.  Reed does a very good job with the character.  However, I prefer Lon Chaney Jr's performance in the 1941 classic The Wolf Man over Reed's any day.  There are a few places in COTW where Reed simply looks like a human in a wolf suit.  He is missing something in his movements that  Chaney definitely got right in the original film.
COTW has all the trappings of a Hammer production with great sets, beautiful color and capable directing by Terence Fisher who did his best work as a director with this Studio.  While the make-up magic of Jack Pierce is missing, the werewolf in this film does have an interesting look that makes sense considering the werewolf's origins.  Definitely give this one a try.  It's well worth your time.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Brides of Dracula (1960)

The Brides of Dracula [BOD] is the kind of film you expect from the legendary Hammer Studios: beautiful sets, rich cinematography, impeccable acting, and a nicely written script.  BOD has all of these and much more.  Originally intended as the sequel to Horror of Dracula (1958), Hammer found themselves without Cristopher Lee to reprise  the role.  The script then went through extensive rewrites eventually resulting in Dracula remaining dead and a new vampire, Baron Meinster, taking his place.  David Peel is very good as the young Baron with matinee looks and a dashing smile.  This works to his advantage in the beginning of the film.  However, it's simply challenging for him to look menacing since he's such a "pretty boy."  Peter Cushing reprises his role as Dr. Van Helsing.  He is wonderful as always and gives the role 110%.  I also really loved Martita Hunt as Baroness Meinster, the Baron's Mama.  Her wardrobe is fierce and she has an intensity about her that is delightful to watch.  I think she steals the show in every scene she's in.
Terence Fisher's direction in this film is wonderful and the cinematography is eye-poppingly beautiful.  My only complaint is that the fangs of the vampires make them look like they are wearing over-sized dentures.  They are simply too big for their mouths.  But this is easy to overlook considering what a nicely crafted film this is.
I wanted to give this one an "excellent" rating and probably would have done so if it weren't for the ending of the film.  It seems a bit anti-climactic and I would have chosen to do something different that had a little more punch.  Still, don't miss this one.  It's a great example of the kind of film that made Hammer Horror legendary.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Devil Commands (1941)

Ho-hum.  That's about all I can say about this 1940's supernatural tale where Dr. Julian Blair becomes obsessed with trying to communicate with his dead wife.  Boris Karloff plays the good doctor and does a solid job with the role.  However, I just couldn't get excited about this one.  There are no surprises and you know where it's headed every step of the way.
The directing is fine, the sets look good, the cinematography is pleasant.  All of this leads me to exclaim "So what?"  Maybe I was having an off night when I watched this but it's just O.K.  There are much better made 1940's horror films and far greater performances by Karloff.  I suggest you try those first.  This one is for Karloff fans only.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre [TCM] is without a doubt one of the most profoundly disturbing films I've ever seen.  It is also incredibly well made, referencing everything from the unrelenting terror of Night of the Living Dead (1968) to Hitchcock's famous shower scene from Psycho (1960). Tobe Hooper accomplishes something remarkable that modern torture porn never achieves: He shows us a portrait of humanity at its most depraved state and yet the film is relatively bloodless.  Yes, people swear they see Leatherface hang that poor girl on a meat hook but look closely...it's not there.  The mind fills in all the details!  Brilliant!  He does this again and again and again.
Like Romero before him, Hooper proves that low budget horror can be scary and disturbing as hell.  He accomplishes this unending sense of dread by creating a world that none of us would wish to inhabit.  The use of bones fashioned into household decorations and a mansion that is falling in on itself sets the stage.  He then fills this stage with four of the most unimaginably depraved individuals to ever grace the silver screen and then lets them play a cat and mouse game with a few unfortunate souls.
I saw a documentary on this movie and the actors who worked on it got plenty of bruises and cuts while making this film.  Hooper wanted realism and they took quite a beating to achieve it.  Hooper also let the actors improvise quite a bit on the set so much of what you see is fresh and raw.  They also filmed TCM in a Texas heat wave under horrible conditions.  This further helped the actors get into character and the results of their work is unforgettable.
I REALLY warn you that this one is not for those with a weak stomach or low tolerance for violence.  There really is no happy ending here.  Yes, there is a "survivor" but it's hard to imagine that she would end up anywhere other than a mental institution for the rest of her life.  TCM  is beautifully disturbing and leaves the audience with images they will never ever forget.  Just try to keep reassuring yourself "This is only a movie.  This is only a movie."
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Zombi 2, a.k.a. Zombie (1979)

Very few films make me wince.  Zombi 2 is one of them.  Italian director Lucio Fulci gives us a horror masterpiece that's both gory and imaginative.  Trying to cash in on the success of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead [which was entitled Zombi in Italy] the makers of this film simply called it Zombi 2.  In some ways it rests on the shoulders of Romero's shambling, slow-moving, flesh-eating zombies.  But it also goes "old school" and incorporates some of the Haitian voodoo elements so prevalent in early zombie films.  In the end it's really a hybrid of both.
The zombies in Fulci's film are truly works of art.  He once described them as "walking flower pots" which is a great description.  Many of their eyes are closed and the make up is in thick layers so that they look a bit like mummys but far more menacing.  Kudos to Gianetto De Rossi for giving us some of the most visually stunning zombies ever to grace the silver screen.  
This movie is true Italian horror with boob shots for no apparent reason and TONS of gore.  Fulci lets it flow with reckless abandon.  So much so that the film originally received an X rating.
The native drums on the soundtrack are a bit irritating.  I found myself wishing they would stop numerous times in the film.  However, the underlying soundtrack is good and sounds a bit like the atmospheric music Goblin did for Dawn of the Dead.
Yes, the acting is not always the greatest and tends to be a bit melodramatic for my tastes.  But no one can deny Fulci's talent and artistry as a director.  Zombi 2 is NOT for the faint of heart but it is one of the most memorable zombie films I've ever seen whose images will remain with me until they put me in the ground.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (DNOTS) was a made for TV slasher flick in the early 1980's.  Yes, that's what I said.  The plot is strictly by the book.  There are no surprises here.  A "slow boy" named Bubba is murdered by a group of vigilantes who kill him for something his is not guilty of doing.  Then he exacts his revenge from beyond the grave.  
DNOTS is greatly aided by the acting talents of veteran character actors Charles Durning and Larry Drake.  It would have been in serious trouble without them.  I just couldn't get too jazzed about this one.  It is nearly bloodless and the suspense level fof the film is a slow burn at best.  It's not a bad film.  It is well made and well acted.  It's just not that exciting.  I'm not sure why it got a 6.8 out of 20 on IMDB.  All I can say about it is ho-hum.
RATING:  Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Poltergeist 2 (1986)

Four years after the original blockbuster comes the sequel Poltergeist 2.  How is it?  Actually, quite good although it doesn't totally measure up to the first film.  [Steven Spielberg's absence is definitely noticed.]  The Freeling family with JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson as the loving parents are back with their tortured kids Carol Anne [Heather O'Rourke] and Robbie [Oliver Robins].  They have moved to a new house but they haven't escaped the entities that are hot on their trial.

The immortal Zelda Rubinstein is back as well as Tangina and there is an added shaman/psychic, Taylor, who is played wonderfully by  Will Sampson.  The addition of Native American spirituality works well here and serves the expanded story line quite effectively.  By far, my favorite addition is the "world's creepiest preacher EVER" played with menace by the skeletal actor Julian Beck.  I don't know where they found him but, WOW, he steals every scene he's in.
The special effects in P2 get a little crazy at times and feel a bit more like a John Carpenter film or something out of Hellraiser.  I don't know if that was necessary but it is awfully fun to look at.  Yet, it also left me with the feeling that sometimes less is more.
Poltergeist 2 has been judged rather harshly by some critics but I disagree.  Yes, the first film is better but P2 is a very enjoyable ride that takes the story from the first and moves it forward in an interesting direction.  Strong acting and eye-popping effects make it a great example of classic 80' horror.  Don't miss it.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Thriller: Rose's Last Summer (1960)

Season 1, Episode 5
A solid entry in the Thriller series.  Mary Astor [The Maltese Falcon] plays Rose French, an aging actress who has been out of work for quite some time and hopes to restart her career.  She is offered a job in California and, several days later, is found dead.  The plot eventually takes a surprising turn which I didn't see coming but after the "twist" is revealed fizzles a bit to a quite predictable ending.  Darn!  This one could have been great but it doesn't quite get there.  Again, it would have been a better film in the 30 minute range rather than 50 minutes.  Still, it was an enjoyable little thriller.  
Director Arthur Hiller, who also directed Episodes 1& 2, is definitely in his element with this kind of filmmaking.  He always gets solid performances out of his actors and has a nice sense of pacing of action and drama.   
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thriller: The Mark of the Hand (1960)

Season 1, Episode 4
Poor little Tessa.  Is she a sociopathic killer or just a girl framed for a murder she didn't commit?  This is the question posed by The Mark of the Hand, capably directed by Paul Henreid [Casablanca, Alfred Hitchcock Presents] from a novel by American mystery writer Charlotte Armstrong.  The subject matter is one that has been covered many times before.  The best example being The Bad Seed [1956] which is one of my all time  favorites in the "disturbing children" category.  The problem with this episode is that the "twist" actually robs the film of its power.  It's always more interesting to go darker than lighter and The Mark of the Hand misses its chance to shock the audience.
That being said, there is still some good ensemble acting here, although no one gives a riveting persormance.  It's run time of 50 minutes could actually have been trimmed to half an hour show and the episode would not suffer at all.  This one is good.  It's just not as strong as some of the other entries in the Thriller TV series
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Top Ten Vintage Horror Flicks to Watch on Halloween Night

Here is my list for 2011.  Pair one of these with a modern classic like Trick R' Treat and you'll have a frightfully enjoyable Halloween.  They are in no particular order.


Bride of Frankenstein [1935]
Nosferatu [1922]
Freaks [1932]
Night of the Living Dead [1968]
The Wolf Man [1941]
The Exorcist [1973]
The Evil Dead [1981]
A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984]
The Birds [1963]
THe Rocky Horror Picture Show [1975]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vampyr (1932)

This 1932 classic is a darling of the critics.  Therefore I had high expectations when I sat down to view this film.  Some of those expectations were met, some were not.  Vampyre is an early "talkie" that feels more like a silent film because of its long periods of silence with no dialogue and the continual use of intertitles.  The good news is that Director Carl Dryer and cinematographer Rudolph Mate' are experts at their craft.  Vampyr has a dreamy, other-worldly feel that also employs advanced filming techniques that were seldom seen during that time period.  Instead of lots of still shots, the camera slowly sweeps across and scene and back with expert skill.  Shadow play, reverse film segments and superimposition also add a great deal to the look and feel of the film.
The bad news is that Vampyr is simply not scary at all.  For me, one needs more than expert filmmaking to hit it out of the ball park.  The vampires in both Nosferatu (1922) and Tod Browning's masterpiece Dracula (1931) are great examples from early horror films of how to do it right.  Both of these vamps are creepy and leave a lasting impression long after the film is over.  The vamps in Vampyr are simply human beings lurking on screen and in the shadows.  If the intertitles didn't inform you that they were vampires, you would have no earthly idea this was the case.
So, I'm going to disagree a bit with the critics.  Vampyr is a well made film but it lacks the horror elements that would have made it a truly great film.  Stick with Nosferatu or Dracula instead.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Psycho a Go-Go (1965)

Hip jazz, girls in shimmering mini skirts, a botched robbery and murder.  That just about sums up Psycho a Go-Go which is often unintentionally funny at times and quite entertaining.  This little thriller is hardly the pinnacle of 1960's cinema but it is decently made and well paced.  The plot is far form original and there are absolutely no surprises.  It begins with a diamond theft where the alarm goes off, the security come to the rescue and two of the three robbers escape.  The last one is first shot by the security guard and then finished off by one of his accomplices.  Furthermore, the bag this particular thief was carrying ends up in someone else's hands.  You know where it goes from there.
My favorite funny moment is when a precocious little girl who lives in a very white suburb opens her birthday present from her Dad.  She squeals with delight when she unwraps an African-American Christy Minstrels doll that begins to croon "Suwannee River" in an Alvin and the Chipmunks voice.  Priceless.
This one could have been a lot better if it upped the camp factor.  Alas, Psycho a Go-go takes itself far too seriously and suffers as a result.  It's a thriller that's not too thrilling.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Cat and the Canary (1927)

An old mansion on a dark, stormy night.  A creepy housekeeper.  The reading of the will twenty years after the death of millionaire Cyrus West.  Assorted relatives who would kill for their share of the inheritance.  A maniac on the loose from the insane asylum nearby.  Who could ask for anything more?  The Cat and the Canary may be the film that started it all.  In fact, James Whales credits it as his inspiration for The Old Dark House (1932).
The Cat and the Canary is excellent filmmaking.  If you've never watched many silent films before, this is a wonderful place to start.  Cinematographer Gilbert Warrenton and director Paul Leni give us a visual feast using lots of camera tricks that were innovative for their time.  Layered images, shadow play, rapidly changing perspectives and creative use of text between scenes makes this one a feast for the eyes.  I especially appreciate the "villain cam" toward the beginning of the film.  It gives the viewer the perspective of seeing through their eyes as they sneak around the house.  It is a trick that would later be used to great effect in classics such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).
The acting is great as well with a nice mixture of dramatic and comedic moments.  I'm certain that audiences loved this one when it was shown in movie theaters.  It has such broad appeal and is so well done.  Why haven't I heard of it before now?  It is just as good as classic silent horror films such as Phantom of the Opera and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
Silent films are definitely an acquired taste.  However, I really enjoy seeing where it all began.  It makes me appreciate how far we've come and how much these early films still influence the movies we make today.  You can download The Cat and the Canary off of Archive.org but I recommend renting the film through Netflix.  It deserves to be seen on a much bigger screen than your lap top.  Don't miss it.
RATING: Excellent.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Man Monster Party (1967)

If you were a kid in the 1960's and 1970's there is no way you escaped the genius of Rankin-Bass Productions.  What would Christmas be without Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or The Year Without a Santa Claus?  This is classic stop motion animation at its finest and I still enjoy watching these films many, many years later.
Mad Monster Party? is a complete gem.  The lead character, Dr. von Frankenstein is voiced by none other than Boris Karloff.  The good doctor has decided that it's time to retire as head of the Wordlwide Organization of Monsters.  He decides to share the news with his monster colleagues by throwing a big party.  The guest list includes every iconic horror monster from the Universal Studio archive including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein [voiced delightfully by Phyllis Diller], The Invisible Man, The Creature, The Mummy, and the Wolf Man among others.  It's a celebration of all things horror with dazzling old school animation, musical numbers and a sharp wit through and through.
Yes, this one is definitely for the kiddies.  But the young at heart will also admire its joyful spirit and artistic sensibility.  Mad Monster Party? is a good example of the amazing and innovate work Rankin-Bass were capable of producing.  Don't miss this one.
RATING: VERY GOOD.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

She-Wolf of London (1946)

As I sat down to watch She-Wolf, I was expecting the female version of Lon Chaney Jr's iconic Wolf Man with wonderful make up by Jack Pierce.  I was also lured by leading lady June Lockhart who played the mom on Lost In Space.  I loved her as a kid and figured this film was going to be a total home run...but it wasn't.  It was just O.K. 
The strong points are 1) Lockhart's acting.  It's not as tortured as Chaney but she gives a nice performance nonetheless.  2) Beautiful sets.  Somehow this film feels like it borrowed these sets from another movie but they are really nice.  3) Good cinematography and directing.  It is a well made film.
The weak point are 1) Jack Pierce is listed as the make up artist but his talents are totally wasted.  We never see the face of the She-Wolf anywhere in the film.  In some films less is more, but She-Wolf desperately needs an on-screen monster.  2) False advertising.  This film is billed as the next big thing from Universal Horror.  However, what the audience actually gets looks a lot more like a Val Lewton thriller than a Creature Feature.  3) The script is predictable every step of the way.  You know exactly where this film is headed and it does nothing to expand the mythos of the werewolf.
She-Wolf of London is a decent film.  I just can't get too excited about it.  We've seen it all before and it was done better.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

50's B-Movie horror is the stuff I was raised on as a kid watching Chiller Theater in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.  Attack of the Puppet People is the kind of film that would often be aired on this broadcast.  It's quite predictable, a tad creepy and sometimes unintentionally funny.  The story takes place in a doll factory with "creepy" inventor Mr. Franz running the show.  His voice channels a bit of Boris Karloff and you know from the start he's up to no good.  John Hoyt fits the bill nicely as the good doctor who has just hired a new office assistant, Sally, played by fashionista June Kennedy, who I swear jumps out of bed every morning with a perfectly intact hairdoo, flawless wardrobe and pearls around her graceful neck.  She's the quintessential 1950's "working girl."
The funny comes in when the doctor shows her some of his doll collection which includes dolls "from all walks of life."  He then proceeds to show her three dolls: a bride, a house wife and a nurse.  Ah, the 50's!
Director Bert I Gordon works a great deal with stories involving either giants or miniatures.  Attack of the Puppet People is a good example of a number of 50's films involving these visual tricks of scale including my all-time favorite Them! (1954).  He does a great job with this in an era before green/blue screens and CGI became standard fare.  The film looks good and is convincing enough to work.
Granted, Attack of the Puppet People pulls no surprises but it is a solid effort nonetheless.  If you like this kind of old-fashioned horror, you will definitely enjoy the film.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

You either get it or you don't.  Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is a camp classic filled with snappy one liners from the Princess of Darkness, tons of sight gags, and enough boob jokes to keep a room full of sixth grade boys thoroughly entertained.  Top it off with an 80's soundtrack and fashion sense and you get a total home run as far as I'm concerned.
The story begins when Late Night TV hostess Elvira gets a call that her Aunt Morgana has died and Elvira's in the will.  Hoping to score enough money to jump start an act in Vegas, Elvira sets out for Falwell, Massachusetts to claim her prize.  Cassandra Peterson is perfection as Elvira.  She is a force to be reckoned with and fills every scene she's in with manic energy and perfect comedic timing.  Her nemesis in Falwell is Chastity Pariah, played perfectly by the always delightful Edie McClurg [Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Diff'rent Strokes].  She is the perfect foil for Elvira and their chemistry together is fun to watch.  The rest of the cast is solid as well with characters that are well thought out and fully developed.
Director James Signorelli [Saturday Night Live] keeps the pace moving nicely and clearly knows how to make comedy work onscreen.  He also is successful in finding a good balance between horror and humor, although this film is definitely high on the humor with bits of horror thrown in for good measure, including clips from a number of cult classic horror films.
Granted, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark is not Gone With the Wind, but who wants to watch Scarlette pining away for a man she cannot have when you can watch Elvira light up the screen like the burning of Atlanta.  Pure 80's fun.  Not to be missed.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Halloween 2 (1981)

Sequels are always a mixed bag.  In a few rare cases they surpass the original [Bride of Frankenstein]; in many cases they pale in comparison [Lost Boys 2, anyone?].  So, how does Halloween 2 stack up to the original iconic slasher film?  Quite well.  Halloween 2 begins with a recap of the first film.  Then the familiar theme music is cued and the story continues as our heroine Laurie Strode is rushed to the hospital and Michael Meyers gets up and starts terrorizing the neighborhood after being shot in the chest 6 times.  Jamie Lee Curtis is still great as Laurie.  However, the actress is three years older even though the action takes place the same night.  She's now one of those Gossip Girl teens so we just have to go with it and enjoy the performance by itself without referencing the first film.  Donald Pleasence is back as Dr. Loomis and is equally as good this time out.  As far as I'm concerned it is his role of a lifetime and it's hard to imagine anyone else trying to fill his shoes.
Three noticeable changes that make this film slightly inferior to the original:  The haunting piano riff that dominates the original film score is replaced by a synthesizer playing the same theme [Oh, the 80's].  It's definitely inferior to the original.  The second change is the director from John Carpenter to Rick Rosenthal, although Carpenter did work on the screenplay for the film.  I just think Carpenter is better.  He captures something amazing in the original film that was never duplicated in any of the sequels.  This is not to say that Rosenthal's is bad.  In fact, it's really good but, let's face it, few can fill the shoes of John Carpenter.  The third change is the actor behind the mask.  Michael 2 is shorter and stalkier than the original and definitely moves differently than the original Michael.  Watch these two films back to back and see if you notice the difference.
All in all, this is a wonderful film that stands the test of time rather well.  It is a most worthy successor to the original.  As an extra bonus, Halloween 2 also includes a clip from Night of the Living Dead with those iconic words "They're coming to get you, Barbara."  Priceless.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Night Strangler (1973)

Sometimes TV gets it right.  Case in point, The Night Strangler which was the follow up movie to the successful The Night Stalker which also spawned the TV series of the same name.  I absolutely love Darren McGavin's portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a news reporter that is a combination of a 1940's film noir detective and 1970's modern man with a healthy side of great comedic timing.  Especially delightful are his conversations with his boss Tony Vincenzo, played brilliantly by Simon Oakland.  The two of them are absolutely perfect together.  Throw in cameos by John Carradine, Margaret Hamilton [The Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz], Wally Cox [The Hollywood Squares]  and Al Lewis [Grandpa Munster] and you have a recipe for success.
While the original film is great, The Night Strangler is even better.  The screenplay by Richard Matheson [I Am Legend] is solid through and through.  The scenes in Seattle's underground are spectacularly moody and atmospheric.  They are lit to perfection and the long periods of silence where Kolchak wanders through them searching for the killer are tense and foreboding.  The killer is also much better than the vampire in the first movie.
I guess you can tell I'm a Night Stalker fan.  It thrilled me as a kid and it still thrills me today.  This one is a keeper and reminds us horror fans that the early seventies weren't always awash in bell bottoms and psychedelic mushroom trips.  Sometimes they gave birth to smart and scary filmmaking on the small screen as well as the big one.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.