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, January 28, 2011

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)

In addition to Nosferatu (1922), Häxan is one of the most moving films of the silent era.  Shot in a documentary style with reenactments to illustrate it's points, Häxan is a profoundly moving and sometimes disturbing chronicle of witchcraft during the Middle Ages.  This Danish film is lovingly restored in The Criterion Collection which I rented through Netflix.  The clarity of this film is amazing for one produced so early.  It is a visual delight.  Chapter One gets off to a slow start but stick with it and you will be rewarded when Chapter Two kicks in.  The visuals alone are quite striking, mixing black humor with creative costuming.  To be honest, I've never seen anything quite like it.  It truly is a unique cinematic experience.
Häxan is a marvelous study in human nature.  It explores how we react to things we fear as well as how we treat people who are perceived as different than us.  Be it Jews, gays, or in this case, witches, the story is basically the same.  I'm surprised I never heard of this film until I came a across a reference to it in a book entitled "Horror!  333 Films to Scare You to Death."  The fact that this film is largely unknown is a tragedy.  Do not miss it!  Even if you're not a fan of silent films, this one is quite special and I'm glad someone took the time to lovingly restore and preserve it for future generations to enjoy.  It is a brutally honest look at human nature that will make you squirm in your seat more than your average slasher flick.  The DVD also includes the hipster version that was done by William S. Burroughs in 1968.  It has its own merits and might be the best choice for those who have no patience for subtitles!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Astro-Zombies (1968)

The Astro-Zombies is a total WTF, red hot mess.  The movie includes long, boring completely unnecessary laboratory scenes, a bongo player with a topless painted lady dancing exotically, a space being with a K-mart purchased mask who is on a killing spree, and so much more (or less as the case may be).  Why veteran character actor John Carradine is in this one is beyond me.  He was obviously desperate for a paycheck!
This is the kind of film only the late 60's/early 70's could birth.  The screenplay is completely all over the place and vacillates from Sci-Fi to a slasher flick to a crime caper to a mad scientist story.  Total trash.  The fact that Ted V. Mikels has 23 films credited to his name is a mystery to me.  He is also listed as the executive producer of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1973) which is also a total piece of dookie.  The most frightening thing, however is that this film spawned two sequels: Mark of the Astro-Zombies (2002) and Astro Zombies: M3 - Cloned (2010).  Good Lord deliver us!
I watched Astro-Zombies because of the lure of "zombie" in the title.  As P.T. Barnum stated "There's a sucker born every minute."  There is a lot of talk about zombies, but very little zombie action that I saw, gut-munching, Haitian voodoo or otherwise.  Do not watched this movie.  You've been warned!
RATING: Bad. (As in really bad.)
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is a visually stunning film.  Shot in a German Expressionistic style of forced perspectives, weird angles and skewed shapes, Cabinet delivers the goods and would later inspire such filmmakers as Rowland V. Lee [Son of Frankenstein ] all the way to Tim Burton [Nightmare Before Christmas].  It is a visual delight from start to finish.
However, this is not the only reason to enjoy Cabinet.  It may very well be the first zombie film ever created.  The central characters include Dr. Caligari and his "somnambulist" Cesare, who has been under Caligari's control for 23 years.  A somnambulist is a sleepwalker and Caligari can get him to do whatever he likes.  The relationship is not unlike that which we see in White Zombie (1932) where Bela Lugosi mind controls the slaves on his Haitian plantation.  While Cesare is not the gut-munching Romero type zombie, one could argue this character is ground zero in the zombie mythos.
The final reason to enjoy Cabinet is the performances of Werner Krauss as Caligari and Conrad Veidt as Cesare.  Krauss absolutely looks the part of the "mad scientist" and has a creepy aura about him.  It's hard to believe he was 35 when he made this film.  Kudos to the makeup department!  Veidt is perfect as Cesare.  His slow movements and piercing eyes embody the character with a sense of dread that is fun to watch.  For a modern visual comparison, think of Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands.
For some horror fans, silent films seem rather boring.  It's true their pacing is slower.  But give this one a chance.  Be patient and enjoy the wonderful rewards this film has to offer.  You can download this one free from Archive.org but the print is pretty dark.  My suggestion is to view one of the restored versions that have been made since 2000.
Rating: Excellent.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org

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

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Werewolf of London (1935)

In the years that followed the groundbreaking and monster-defining films Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), Werewolf of London followed in their footsteps.  I know most people think of Lon Chaney Jr's magnificent performance in The Wolfman (1941) as the one that started it all.  However, I would argue that Werewolf of London laid the foundation for The Wolfman to build upon. 
Director Stuart Walker gives us a beautifully made film with a wonderful screenplay that is just as good as Dracula and Frankenstein.  In Werewolf of London, the trouble starts in Tibet where Dr. Glendon gets bitten by a mysterious creature while trying to find a rare flower.  As he returns to London, the juice of this flower turns out to be the only thing that keeps his "werewolfery" in check.  [I love the use of the term in the movie!]  Dr. Gordon is portrayed by Henry Hull [Boys Town] who definitely takes center stage and gives us a solid performance.  Chaney is better but Hull is a fine actor nonetheless.  His makeup is, surprisingly done by Jack Pierce who is uncredited in the film.  It's not up to his usual standards but he would go on to perfect it in The Wolfman.  Warner Oland [Charlie Chan movies] plays Dr. Glendon's nemesis, Dr. Yogami.  He plays off of Hull quite nicely.  A shout out also has to go to the two drunk old lady innkeepers who steal the show every time they appear on screen.
If you're a fan of the Wolfman character, then this one is a must see.  It's a gigantic step forward from 1925's silent film Wolf Blood and shows you how far cinema came in such a short time.  The copy I watched was from the Universal Legacy Series DVD set which I had the good fortune of coming across at a used bookstore.  It is lovingly restored and is the best way to see this film unless you can catch it at a local theater.
RATING: Excellent
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, January 24, 2011

House of Usher (1960)

Director/Producer Roger Corman and the legendary Vincent Price did a number of movies together where they brought Edgar Allan Poe's timeless stories to the silver screen.  House of Usher is one of those films.  It is moody, subdued and rises to the challenge of taking only four actors, one evil house and crafting an interesting and suspenseful film.  While House of Usher is not the strongest of the Corman/Price films, it is well made nonetheless.  It looks like the best of England's Hammer Horror films with  great period costumes and a beautifully designed set. 
House of Usher gives us Price with blonde hair and no mustache.  [Very unusual.]  It's the perfect look for this film.  There are no big theatrics in his performance this time out.  His portrayal of Roderick Usher is understated and finely nuanced.  Lesser actors could not have pulled it off but Price is the perfect choice for this role.  Mark Damon [Das Boot, The Neverending Story] is also very good as Philip Winthrop, the fiance of Madeline Usher who is bound and determined to take her out of the house.  He and Price have the most screen time and play well off of each other.  
House of Usher is a good, old-fashioned haunted house story.  I streamed it on Netflix and the print is quite good.  You can watch this one for free on livevideo.com.  However, I think it's worth the effort to rent it or stream a larger copy of it in order to enjoy the beautiful cinematography.  
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Here's the deal.  Cinematically, The Return of Dracula is well made.  Director Paul Landres, who has a lengthy TV resume, gives us a film that looks like Hitchcock or Val Lewton.  The black and white images are crisp and well it.  Just the way I like it.  However, the screenplay is oh so boring and totally predictable.  Pity, this could have been a really great film but it never reaches such lofty aspirations.
Czech born actor Francis Lederer plays the infamous Count Dracula.  Lederer, a stage actor who toured Central Europe with the likes of Peter Lorre, has a creepy presence but he brings nothing new or surprising that expands the Dracula mythos.  His performance reminds me of Lugosi in Dracula (1931) but not nearly as good.
In The Return of Dracula, the Count comes to America, disguised as good old cousin Bellac who moves in with the Mayberry family. [Seriously!]  The rest of the cast has that Andy Griffith Show or Leave It To Beaver feel.  They are totally oblivious that their eccentric cousin is a blood sucker.  Everyone plays their part well but it all adds up to nothing special.  I saw this one streaming on Netflix and the print is quite good.  If you're a big fan of vampire movies, you might enjoy this one.  However, if you're looking for something scary, this one does not fit the bill.  It's more thriller than horror.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Maniac (1934)

I have seen some bad movies in my life and this is most definitely one of them.  Screenwriter Hildegarde Stadie, who is credited as a writer for 5 films, should have had her typewriter taken away from her permanently after her first effort.  Maniac was third on the list which goes to show you that practice does not necessarily make perfect.  
Maniac includes murder, insanity, nudity and the eating of a cat's eyeball.  Seriously!  Every scene is prefaced with scientific and/or criminal definitions of various forms of insanity with the hope that posting such things would add a sense of credibility to the film.  Yeah, right!  A plot summary for Maniac is unnecessary and nearly impossible.  Suffice it to say it's one red hot mess.  Maniac is listed among The 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide.   I couldn't agree with him more.
If you want to see 1930's horror at its best, stick with Frankenstein (1931) or Freaks (1932) and don't waste a single brain cell on this dreadful movie.  [Unless you have a passion for really bad cinema!]
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

You'll Find Out (1940)

Although You'll Find Out stars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, it is really a comedic vehicle for 1940's big band conductor and radio personality Kay Kyser.  If you enter into this film in the spirit of a Scooby-Doo mystery, then it can be quite enjoyable.  If you're looking for horror and things that go bump in the night, then you better look elsewhere.  
The funs starts when Kyser and his band are booked to play a birthday party in an old spooky mansion out in the middle of nowhere.  Along the way we encounter big musical numbers, attempted murder, fake seances and Bela Lugosi in the most ridiculous outfit I've ever seen.  A Gloria Swanson turban with a matching silver lame' robe?  Seriously?  It looks like something out of an Ed Wood movie.
The music is great.  The plot is fairly predictable.  The talents of Lugosi and Karloff are wasted.  However, Kyser comes out smelling like a rose which is the intent of this film as a piece of self-promotion.  Good for him!  This one was fun to watch and is actually a decently made film.  Just remember, it's NOT a horror film.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Psycho 2 (1983)

It's 22 years later, and Norman Bates is coming home.  So goes the tag line for the sequel to the 1960's Hitchcock classic Psycho.  I consider the original Psycho to be a perfect horror film, so anything that would follow is going to fall short of the mark.  Surprisingly, Psycho 2 is a really great film in its own right.  Returning is Anthony Perkins as Normal Bates, reprising his iconic role.  He fills his mother's shoes with just the right amount of crazy.  He doesn't need to say a thing.  It's the gleam in his eye that says Mama's back in town.  Or is she?  Also returning is Vera Miles as Lila Loomis, the sister of Marion Crane who was murdered in the infamous shower scene in the original film.  Joining the cast is Meg Tilly as Mary Loomis, the daughter of Lila.  
The acting is wonderful and the plot is full of twists and turns.  Psycho 2 is a great example of how a sequel should work.  It starts with plenty of references from the original and then ventures into unknown territory, expanding the mythology and building on the firm foundation of the original story.  Director Richard Franklin has the cajones to step into Hitchcock's shoes.  Thankfully, he doesn't try to duplicate the original but gives the material his own sense of pacing and storytelling that is perfect for 1980's audiences.  It still holds up well over 25 years later and doesn't seem dated at all.
I could go on but it's better for you to simply rent this baby and enjoy the film.  If all sequels were this good we would be most fortunate indeed!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Zombies on Broadway (1945)

Gordon Douglas, who would go on to direct the horror classic Them! (1954), gives us a little gem of a film in Zombies on Broadway.  This horror/comedy star Bela Lugosi as Dr. Renault who has developed a potion that turns people into zombies.  These zombies are the West Indies type, however, they begin to exhibit a few characteristics that would show up in modern post-Romero Zombies: hands raised as they shuffle, big glossy eyes and an immunity to feeling pain.  Lugosi is very good as Renault.  However, we have seen him in this same kind of role time and time again.  Sure, he does it well, but you'd like to see him bring something new to the table every now and then.  [His role as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein comes to mind.]
The story of Zombies on Broadway starts when a soon to open night club called The Zombie Hut claims they will produce a real live zombie for their grand opening.  Skeptics abound and so the club owner is forced to send two clueless press agents [the comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney) to fetch him the real thing.  Although much of the plot is predictable, it is an enjoyable ride nonetheless.  I really like the look of the zombies, especially Darby Jones [I Walked With a Zombie] as Kolaaga.  He totally rocks the house and gives off a really nice zombie vibe!
The cinematography is really nice and the film looks great.  It reminds me of many of Val Lewton's films of the same era.  The black and white is crisp and clear and each scene is composed with great care for maximum effect.  This one is definitely a keeper and is a good example of classic 1940s horror.  Don't miss it.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Yes, lightning can strike twice in the same place.  Creepshow 2 is a worthy successor to the original film and another wonderful homage to the 1950's E.C. horror comics.  With stories by Stephen King and a screenplay by George Romero the fun continues under the capable direction of Michael Gornick [Director of photography for the original Dawn of the Dead] who fills Romero's directing shoes nicely.
This time around there are three stories.  The first is the delightful Old Chief Wood'nhead, about an old couple run a general store in a run down town.  Veteran Actors George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour play Ray and Martha Spruce with great warmth and affection.  They set the perfect stage for everything that is to follow. [I won't spoil the story for you by giving you too many details.]
The second segment is The Raft that is classic teenage sex and death stuff.  Nothing special but not bad either.  It's classic 80's fare so if that's your thing, you won't be disappointed.
The final segment is The Hitchhiker about a woman who is enjoying the services a a male escort.  While driving home after a night of pleasure she hits a hitchhiker who was standing on the side of the road.  She drives away from the murder scene and the terror/fun begins because the hitchhiker won't stay dead. The line "Thanks for the ride, lady!" echoes "I want my cake" from the first film.  Classic.
The artwork isn't as good this time around but the stories are equally as good.  If you liked the first, you will definitely enjoy the second.  As a final bit of trivia special effects master Tom Savini makes an appearance as "The Creep" in the opening prologue.  You gotta love it.

P.S.  Creepshow 3 was released in 2006.  It pales in comparison to the first two.  It's short on humor and long on horror and misses the playfulness that I loved about the first two.
Rating: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

The Comedy of Terrors is a joy to watch from start to finish.  Who knew that Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone could be so funny?  Jacques Tourner, who directed the Val Lewton classics Cat People (1942) and I Walked With a Zombie (1943), shows us he is also great at capturing the fine comedic performances of this stellar cast. 
Top of the list is Vincent Price who always had a knack for camp but really turns up the volume in this film.  He plays Waldo Trumbull, an undertaker who  doesn't have any "customers" and so he drums by business by knocking people off.  Although he is more well known for films such as House on Haunted Hill (1959) and House of Wax (1953), I would argue that Comedy of Terrors is one of the finest performances of his career.
In true Laurel and Hardy fashion, Peter Lorre is Waldo's "faithful handyman" Felix.  He manages to pull off quite a few laughs himself and is the perfect foil for Prices antics and sarcasm throughout the film.  The big surprises come from an aging Boris Karloff who shows us a side of him we've never seen before.  He is wonderful as Hinchley, Waldo's aging Father-in-law.  Basil Rathbone is also hilarious as Mr. Black, the man who just won't stay dead.  Both of them definitely should have done more comedy in their careers.
Finally, I must mention the radiant Joyce Jameson who plays Waldo's vocally challenged wife, Amaryllis.  She really sparkles in this film and every song she butchers made me giggle every time.  Kudos also go to Rhubarb the Cat for her tour do force performance as Cleopatra.
Don't miss this one!  Comedy of Terrors is one of those lesser known gems that deserves a wider audience.  Bravo!  You can watch this one instantly on Netflix.
Rating: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tales of Terror (1962)

Tales of Terror is an trilogy of Edgar Allan stories produced an directed by Roger Corman and starring the likes of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone.  It reminds me of other anthologies that would follow such as Tales From the Crypt and Creepshow.  It's not super scary but it's definitely a lot of fun and has a nice sense of humor served alongside the horror.  Furthermore, the look of the film is wonderful and has the feel of a Hammer Horror production.  You gotta love it!
The first story is a delightful telling of Poe's "Morella" and is creepy and atmospheric.  Price does a nice job as Locke whose estranged daughter pays him a visit, unaware that her dead mother is "sleeping" in the bedroom.  The crispy critter makeup on the Mom is really great and the uber-cobwebbed house is the perfect setting for this story.
The second vignette is Poe's "Black Cat" with a touch of "The Cask of Amontillado," one of my all-time favorite Poe stories.  Peter Lorre and Vincent Price perfect together with Lorre playing the part of Montressor, the lush, and Prince hamming it up as Fortunato Luchresi, the wine aficionado.  I know of few actors who can be this campy and believable at the same time.  I really love Prince in this role.
The final story is Poe's "The Case of M. Valdemar" and, once again, Poe hits it out of the ballpark as a man with a terminal illness who undergoes hypnosis to help ease his pain.  Basil Rathbone [Son of Frankenstein] is the perfect counterpart to Price as the good doctor who has fell than his patient's best interests in mind.
I watched this one instantly on Netflix and the picture and sound were perfect.  Tales of Terror is a good old-fashioned scary movie which reminds me why I fell in love with these kinds of films so many years ago.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

No, this is not a film about evangelicals trying to scare you into heaven.  Legend of Hell House is a British "haunted house" film starring Roddy MacDowall [Planet of the Apes].  The basic plot involves a physicist, his wife, a psychic medium and a "physical medium" who are paid to spend a week at the infamous "Hell House" in order to find concrete evidence regarding life after death.
The movie explores all the basic types of paranormal activity such as poltergeists, possession by spirits, and the like.  The acting is very good and the movie manages to be suspenseful without using a boatload of special effects.  This movie stands on the strength of the four actors which is no easy feat to pull off.  It has just enough small twists to keep it interesting and is a solid effort in the supernatural genre.  Recommended for a lazy Sunday afternoon where you can stream it on Netflix.  I just got Apple TV so now I can view these films directly on my TV instead of my laptop.  The quality of the picture and sound are very good.  Nicely done.

RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)

Netflix described this one as "the first installment of writer-director Amando de Ossorio's four-part horror masterpiece."  Seriously?  Did I miss something?  This was the most boring zombie film I've ever seen in my life.  It wasn't bad filmmaking.  It was simply uninteresting.  Give me Romero over this any day!
The basic plot involves the Templar knights who, in this film, hoped to obtain eternal life by drinking the blood of human sacrifices. Fast forward several hundred years to modern day Portugal where the Templars are brought back to life to terrorize the countryside.  It sounds interesting.  However these zombie knights evoked no emotional response in me whatsoever.  The main problem with the costumes is that you never see their eyes or mouth.  They have a blank, unexpressive, armored face.  It just doesn't work for me.
Tombs of the Blind Dead is a Spanish film dubbed into English.  Even if you're a die-hard zombie fan, you might want to consider skipping this one.  There are better ways to waste an afternoon or evening!
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.