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!

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Black Cat (1934)

The Black Cat is adapted from the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, although the cat in this film is way underutilized and is incidental rather than taking center stage.  I expected the cat to make a grand entrance toward the end of the film but puss was no where to be found.  That being said, The Black Cat is a nice little thriller starring Bela Lugosi as Dr Vitus Werdegast and Boris Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig.
These two are great together in this picture.  Lugosi is kind of the good guy in this picture who ends up seeking refuge at Karloff's house along with newlywed couple Joan and Peter Alison.  Although Lugosi would play a scientist many times in his career, this is one of his best incarnations in that role.  Werdegast is complex, engaging and showcases Lugosi's abilities as an actor.  I really enjoyed him in this role.
Karloff, however, is the really stand out of the two.  With excellent makeup by Jack Pierce and an equally well designed wardrobe, Karloff is ominous and menacing as Poelzig.  He's a lean, mean satanic machine and inhabits the role completely.  His castle is also a study in modern Expressionistic architecture with every piece of furniture, wall, window and staircase done to perfection.  
The honeymooning couple includes Julie Bishop as Joan and David Manners [Dracula, The Mummy] as Peter.  Both are good in their roles and are a nice contrast to the nefarious Karloff and Lugosi.
Surprisingly, IMDB states that this film was banned in Italy, Denmark and Austria, while other countries required cuts of the more gruesome sequences.  The cut I saw of it came from Netflix and I didn't see anything in it that seemed out of place for the time period it was made.  Perhaps there's another version of it out there somewhere.  Let me know if you have the scoop on this one!
The Black Cat is a fine 1930's horror film that may not be as strong as the iconic Dracula and Frankenstein but it's definitely one that should not be missed.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)

I can't believe I never saw this film before.  Weighing in at only 61 minutes, Murders in the Rue Morgue delivers a knock out punch from start to finish.  First there's the amazing cinematography by Karl Freund [Metropolis, The Golem, Dracula] that is moody and atmospheric with beautifully painted backdrops and great lighting.  Director Robert Florey also moves things along at a nice pace so that the movie never gets dull.
The second great thing about Murders in the Rue Morgue is Bela Lugosi as Dr. Mirakle.  While Sidney Fox got top billing as rival scientist Camille L'Espanaye, it's Lugosi who dominates ever scene he is in.  This is definitely one of his finest performances from the 1930's and his character leaps off the screen with enough craziness and creepiness to keep you glued to your seat.  While the world's greatest unibrow is a bit overkill in the makeup department, somehow Lugosi makes this work for him.  Combined with wild hair and those glaring eyes, Dr. Mirakle reminds us all why Lugosi is such an icon in the horror genre.  [Surprisingly Jack Pierce did the make up.  Not his best effort.] My favorite scene is when he dispatches a young lady toward the end of the film.  It made me squirm a bit so I can only imagine how it affected audiences in his day.  A powerful performance indeed! 
The plot gets its start in the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name.  In the movie version, Dr. Mirakle kidnaps young women and injects them with ape blood in order to show the world how connected these two species are.  [Don't ask questions, just go with it!]  The only annoying part of this film is the constant switching back and forth between stock footage of an ape and a guy in an ape costume.  Personally, they should have stuck with the ape costume.  Most of the scenes the costumed ape is in are shot a little dark and obscured which makes the costume more believable.  I think Freund and Florey could have pulled this one off without any shots of the real thing.
As a side note, Noble Johnson [King Kong, The Mummy] appears as "Janos the Black One, " Lugosi's assistant.  Noble was an African-American movie actor and producer who got his start in the Silent Film era.  This is quite a feat considering the times he lived in.
Do not miss this film.  I think it stands as some of Lugosi's finest work and is a well crafted film.  I rented this one form Netflix.  The print was O.K. but nothing outstanding.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tormented (1960)

The theme of this film has been done may times over with better acting and better scripts.  Tormented is just O.K. and that's not really good enough.  Richard Carlson [Creature From the Black Lagoon] stars as Tom Steward who lets his former flame fall to her death.  He then finds himself haunted by her spirit who tries to ruin his relationship with his current fiance.  [Sounds like an episode of Gossip Girl to me!]  Carlson is SO much better in Creature From the Black Lagoon.  His deadpan delivery worked well while playing a scientist but not as a jazz musician.  Puh-lease.  
Furthermore, child actress Susan Gordon [Attack of the Puppet People] plays the daughter of Tom Steward's fiance with shrill precociousness.   Her performance left me wishing that she was the one met her demise so that we didn't have to listen to her speak anymore! [Did I really say that out loud?]  The rest of the cast is forgettable as well.
Now for the icing on this not so tasty cake.  The musical score is cliche [they stole part of it from House on Haunted Hill] and the special effect are, well, not so special.  We've heard and seen it all before and done better.  Tormented also fails to create a sense of tension and suspense throughout the film which is vital to supernatural horror.  Personally I could have cared less what happened to anyone in this film.  Skip this one altogether.
Rating: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bride of the Monster (1955)

Ed Wood.  You either love him or hate him.  I fall into the category of "love him" simply because he tried so damn hard.  His love for cinema may have exceeded his ability as a filmmaker, but this never stopped Wood from pursuing what he loved to do.  Be it the daring Glen or Glenda (1953) or the "so bad it's good" Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958), Wood cannot be accused of being either dull or going through the motions.  He gave it his all and I love him for it.  
Bride of the Monster was Wood's only financially successful film upon release.  It also stars one of his favorite horror icons, Bela Lugosi, whom we worked with on a number of films.  While this is hardly Lugosi's finest performance, it's not his worst either.  Unlike his crazy dialogue and over the top acting in Glen or Glenda, [Pull the string!  Pull the string!] we see glimpses of the Lugosi that made him great.  Yes, he's in poor physical health due to his struggles with addiction but he still has a few moments where he really shines like he did in the "old days."  Wrestler Tor Johnson also appears as Lobo.  [He also appeared as a zombie in Plan 9.]  He's really bad here and that's the kindest thing I can say about him.  The rest of the cast is pretty horrible as well.  Bless their hearts!
In Bride of the Monster you will see glimpses of Frankenstein, 1950's fears of atomic energy, zombie mind control and a ridiculous giant squid that has to be seen to be believed.  There is even a nod to White Zombie (1932) as Lugosi clasps his hands in the same manner toward the end of the film in order to keep his atomic bride under his spell.
Don't judge this film too harshly.  Bride of the Monster actually contains moments of competent directing and cinematography.  Granted these moment are brief but Wood gave it his all in a film that many critics consider to be his finest effort.
Rating: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Amityville Horror (1979)

While attending High School I can remember a number of my friends carrying around a paperback copy of The Amityville Horror from which the movie was made.  It was talked about in the halls and during lunch as to whether the events in the book, and subsequent movie, were "real."  Most of us concluded that it was a true story, although a bit exaggerated for dramatic effect.  As far as I was concerned, if I had heard a voice that told me to "get out" I would have packed my bags and left immediately.  I remember seeing the movie in the theater and it gave me the creeps.  It was a good old fashioned scare, made even more scarier by its claim of being based on a true story.
Well, here we are many years later.  Sequels and remakes have been released.  How does the original film hold up?  Well, I think it holds up quite nicely as a classic piece of late 70's horror in the vein of Carrie (1976) and Halloween (1978).  The Amityville Horror is the story of the Lutz family who bought a house where Ronald DeFeo had previously shot and killed six of his family members.  The Lutz family lived there for only 28 days before fleeing the house, claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal activity.
Margot Kidder is perfect as Kathy Lutz. Her big, expressive eyes convey every emotion from wonder and excitement to absolute terror.  Rod Steiger does a nice job as Father Delaney who seems to be in over his head with the demonic.  The best performance is James Brolin as George Lutz.  We watch him slowly loose his grip on reality in a way that is extremely convincing and not over the top.  He keeps the tension and sense of dread mounting until it explodes toward the end of the film.
The special effects are simple but they work.  The cinematography is really nice and the soundtrack really adds a great deal to the film.  Kudos as well to director Stuart Rosenberg [Cool Hand Luke, Voyage of the Damned] who keeps things moving at a nice pace.  Well done.  You can't go wrong with The Amityville Horror.  It's a powerful tale of the supernatural.  Don't miss it.  It's a total classic.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Dr Phibes is the story of a "mad doctor" who ventures to Egypt to find the Pharoah's Tomb where the River of Life flows.  In going there, he hopes to bring back to life his beloved wife Victoria.  Along the way he dispatches all of those who would stand in his way with the gleeful vengeance of Jigsaw in the Saw movies. [Death by scorpions, a loaded telephone and so much more.] 
Vincent Price is wonderful in the challenging role of Phibes.  He doesn't speak a single word in the entire film except for voiceovers.  He makes it work in a way that only he can.  I think it's one of the strongest and most interesting performances of his career.  Robert Quarry is also excellent as Darrus Biederback who, like Phibes, is also eager to find the River of Life.  
The cinematography and sets in Dr Phibes are delightful and imaginative.  Bright colors abound, especially in the scenes where Price and his nemesis Biederbeck are involved.  Set pieces have bold, geometric lines and are a feast for the eyes.  These scenes are in sharp contrast to those that happen at Scotland Yard, where the colors become more monochromatic and the set pieces are plain and ordinary.  Exceptional work as far as I'm concerned.
Although the story is as old as time, somehow it feels fresh here.  This is an unusual horror film that only the late 60's and early 70's could produce.  I've never considered this time period to be a strong era for horror but this one really stands out for me.  Dr Phibes is the sequel to The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971).  I must confess that I haven't seen the original but it's now on my Netflix list since it can't be watched instantly.
Once I see that one I can do a comparison of the two. So for now, Dr Phibes Rises Again is a fine film on its own. [If you're a fan of the original Star wars, keep your eyes peeled for a cameo appearance by Peter Cushing who also did The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) and many others.]
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bowery at Midnight (1942)

Bowery at Midnight is not so much a horror film as it is a crime drama with a few small horror elements thrown in it.  That being said, it's not a bad film.  Bela Lugosi is good as Professor Frederick Brenner, a criminology professor who has a side hobby as the owner of a soup kitchen with nefarious intent.  This role is a little different for him and while it's not his best performance, it is a role he is well suited to play.  Director Wallace Fox also worked with Lugosi in The Corpse Vanishes which is the weaker of the two films.  Fox is a competent filmmaker.  However, Bowery at Midnight is nothing special in terms of either plot or cinematography.  It's just O.K.

I was also lured into watching this film with the promise of zombies.  Yes, zombies do appear in the film but are totally underutilized and not really central to the plot.  They have very little screen time which was a big disappointment to me.  You've been warned.
If you're a Lugosi Fan, this one is a must see because it is a solid effort.  If you're not, but are still a fan of horror, then I suggest you first check out Lugosi in Dracula (1931) or Son of Frankenstein (1939).  These two films are Lugosi at his best.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Phantasm (1979)

Phantasm is a perfect 70's horror film.  Everything about it works.  After the opening scene, the plot keeps you guessing continuously.  The screenplay by Writer/Director Don Coscarelli is highly original, inventive and takes the viewer on a wild ride.  The main funeral home set is marvelously well done and is as iconic as that house on Elm Street we all know and love.
The heart of the film is the relationship between two brothers, Jody and Michael.  Jody, the elder brother, is played by Bill Thornbury with warmth and just enough toughness to be the protector of his kid brother.  Michael is perfectly played by A. Michael Baldwin [Phantasm I-IV, Eight is Enough] who creates a teenager character we really care about rather than another body to be disposed of by things that go bump in the night.  A major shout out also goes to Angus Scrimm for embodying The Tall Man.  He is one of the creepiest guys I've seen on film other than Michael Berryman [The Hills Have Eyes].  He totally rocks the house!
I won't say more about this film because I don't want to spoil your enjoyment of it if you haven't seen Phantasm yet.  It simply doesn't get much better than this.  If all horror films were this well written we would be most fortunate, indeed.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Raven (1963)

Can you really go wrong with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre as rival magicians?  No way!  Think of it as Harry Potter 25: The Senior Years.  Add to that cast a young Jack Nicholson and Hazel Court [The Curse of Frankenstein, Masque of the Red Death] as Price's thought to be departed wife, and you have a winning combination in the capable hands of producer/director Roger Corman.  Forget the fact that the screen play for The Raven has very little to do with the Edgar Allan Poe poem, this is simply campy horror at it's 1960's finest.  
If you've seen similar films such as 1962's Tales of Terror, which has the same director and much of the same cast, you know what you're in for.  Granted the humor is a bit dated but it's still fun to watch.  As I have said before, without the considerable acting skills of Vincent Price, movies such as this wouldn't be nearly as good.  Price can sell just about anything and he, along with Karloff, steal the show in The Raven.  My favorite scene comes near the end of the film where Price and Karloff have a spell casting "duel to the death" which is easily the funniest scene in the movie.  I love watching Karloff do comedy.  It such a surprise and I wish he had done more.  Price, as alway, is at his most sincere and campy best.  These kinds of roles were simply made for him.
The sets are rich and well textures with lots of Gothic flourishes, especially in the castle scene.  The special effects are fine for their time and the costumes add to the fairy tale quality of this film.  Although The Raven is not particularly scary, it is a fun ride nonetheless.  I streamed this one on Netflix and it looked crisp and clear with great sound.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920)

The Golem: How He Came Into the World is the prequel to Henrick Galeen's The Golem (1913) that was filmed after the fact.  This time out German writer/director/actor Paul Wegener gives us the most successful take on the Golem legend.  The story begins among the Jews of Prague who are exiled in an edict from the Emperor.  Rabbi Loew uses dark magic to animate his clay Golem [played by Wegener] and protect the community.  [This is where the anti-Semitism comes in.]  The sets are breathtakingly creative, especially the Jewish Ghetto with its misshapen roof lines and asymmetrical house construction.  The main room of the rabbi's house, in particular, looks a bit like the structure on an inner ear.
The Golem is based on a legend found in Jewish mysticism.  I had never heard it before so I enjoyed being introduced to it.  The special effects used in the film are quite excellent for the period and while The Golem is not as menacing as The Phantom of the Opera (1925) the character is consistent with its clay origins.  While watching this film I saw the seeds of Frankenstein (1931) as well as a bit of King Kong (1933).  THe restored print is very good and the music on the 2002 version is quite effective in helping to tell the story.
While The Golem did not have the same emotional impact on me as Nosferatu (1922) or Häxan (1922) I appreciate its place in film history and consider it a must see film of the silent era.  To be honest, I've watched a number of modern horror films that did a lesser job in terms of creativity and storytelling.  Give this one a chance.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Man With Two Lives (1942)

For whatever reason, Man With Two Lives feels like it's been done before and done better.  It is totally predictable until the end of the film where the "surprise" ending is groan-worthy and very cliche.  This is not to say it's a bad film.  It's simply uninspired as it deals with the theme of the "transmigration of the soul," meaning, the soul keeps coming back and inhabiting other bodies over time.
I won't bore you with all the ho-hum details.  It involves a mad scientist, an executed criminal and a man engaged to be married who is killed in a car crash.  You can figure it out from there!  The acting is fine but really nothing special.  Edward Norris does a nice job as Philip Bennett.  It's just that he needs better material to work with.
If the subject matter interests you, I suggest you try The Man Who Changed His Mind (1936) starring Boris Karloff.  It's a better film.  You can download this one for free on Archive.org if you decide to explore this film further.  
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org

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

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Return of the Vampire (1944)

Blimey!  Just when you have a vampire staked and buried, two clueless gravediggers come along after a WWII bomb blast unearths his coffin, and remove the stake from his heart.  Such is the stuff of The Return of the Vampire which showcases Bela Lugosi in top form as Armand Tesla/Dr. Hugo Bruckner.  Director Lew Landers [The Raven, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin] gives us a wonderfully atmospheric film with great use of fog and shadows.  The outdoor shots, which were mostly done on the studio lot, remind me of those from earlier movies such as Frankenstein (1931).   They are lovely to look at.
Lugosi is definitely channeling his work from the original Dracua (1931) in this film.  His Hungarian accent serves him well and his presence is strong and commanding every time he appears on screen.  I love Lugosi in these kinds of roles and am sure you will enjoy his performance as well.  It's subtle but powerful nonetheless.
Lugosi's manservant, or should I say wolf-servant Andreas, is played by Matt Willis who gives us a Shakespearean wolf man instead of the tortured savagery of Lon Chaney Jr's The Wolfman (1941).  Personally, I prefer Lon Chaney's performance any day.  Willis' character just feels like a British actor in a wolf suit, instead of something more sinister.  
The other standout in this film is Frieda Inescort [Pride and Prejudice, The She Creature, The Alligator People] as Lady Jane Ainsley.  Her character is a strong, inquisitive woman with an impeccable British accent and a keen fashion sense.  Can you really ask for anything more of a 1940's woman?  A great character and a great performance.
There is so much to like about this film.  It is a perfect example of the best of 1940s horror.  It's enjoyable to watch from start to finish.  I rented this one through Netflix and while the currently available version is not flawless [it has little dots of light throughout the film], it is a decent print nonetheless.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Frankenstein's Daughter (1958)

This movie was almost good but it didn't quite make it!  The basic plot involves Dr. Oliver Frank who is the grandson of the original Dr. Frankenstein.  It seems insanity runs in the family and little Ollie tries to make him a woman in hip, modern L.A.  The characters are well developed and the acting is solid as well.  [Sounds good so far.]  Here's where it all falls apart:
1.  Monster #1 looks like the really ugly girl you took to the prom because she was so nice you couldn't say no.  When she burst onto the screen in the first few minutes of the film, I laughed my ass off.  It felt like a Saturday Night Live skit instead of a horror film.
2. Monster #2 looks like a six and a half foot disfigured butch dyke.  [I did a little digging and, indeed the monster was played by a man, Harry Wilson.]  If Monster #2 was supposed to be Frankenstein's daughter why didn't they cast a woman?  I found myself hoping William Castle would have taken over and directed this film.  Somehow, he would have made it work but, for me, the makeup department fell way short of the mark,
3.  Toward the end of the film we get a three song pool party, which was a vehicle to showcase The Page Cavanaugh Trio.  It provided the WTF moment of the film and seemed completely out of place.
Oh, the tragedy of it all.  With better monsters and the absence of the Beach Blanket Bingo scene, this could have been a decent little film.  Alas, it tanked long before Frankenstein's daughter met her demise as she burst into flames at the end of the film. [Hmmm...where have I seen that before?]
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.