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!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Omen (1976)

A horror classic.  I absolutely love this film which is the story of an American ambassador and his wife who find out their adopted son is the antichrist.  Don't you just hate when that happens!  Director Richard Donner [The Goonies, Superman] lets the tension build slowly throughout the film until it reaches a frenzy in the final scene.  Nicely done.  The screenplay is intelligent, well-written and doesn't descend into the kind of religious mumbo jumbo many films of this type do.  We discover what's going on the same time the characters in the movie do and this serves The Omen very well.
The cast includes screen legend Gregory Peck [Cape Fear, The Boys From Brazil] as Robert Thorn and Lee Remick [Anatomy of a Murder, Days of Wine and Roses] as Katharine Thorn.  They are great together as the terrorized couple who gradually discover that their precious baby boy is not exactly that precious.   I also enjoyed veteran character actor David Warner's performance [Titanic, Avatar] as Keith Jennings, Robert's companion in discovering Damien Thorn's true identity.  Also a shout out to Harvey Stephens who plays little Damien.  His look at the end of the film is haunting, disturbing and priceless.
The soundtrack is effective as well.  I like to call it "Satan's Show Choir."  It's what Glee would sound like if Lucifer were their teacher.  It really adds a lot to the emotional feel of the movie.  If by some chance you missed this one, put it on your list immediately.  I wish all horrors films were made this well.  It's one of the best of the 1970's.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dial M For Murder (1954)

Maybe it's just me but I think this film by the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock is overrated.  It's very British and contains LOTS of dialogue and slow moments.  There is very little action and, as far as I'm concerned, very little suspense as well.
This film is all about committing the perfect murder which the lead character discovers is much harder than it looks.  The cast is great with Ray Milland as Tony Wendice and Grace Kelly [Rear Window] as his wife Margot Wendice, the woman whom he unsuccessfully tries to have murdered.  Both have a commanding presence on screen and like all of Hitchcock's other woman, Grace Kelly looks absolutely fabulous and is illuminated and filmed to perfection.  Robert Cummings is also excellent as Mark Halliday, Ms. Wendice's other love interest.
Furthermore, Dial M For Murder is impeccably shot in true Hitchcock style.  It looks beautiful and shows the work of a master enjoying his craft.  So why did I not thoroughly enjoy it?  To be honest, I simply don't know.  As Nell said of Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, "He's O.K."  Maybe I was having a bad day but I way prefer Psycho and The Birds over this one.  Don't get me wrong.  I love Hitchcock's work and portions of this film are really great, but it just didn't keep me on the edge on my seat.  
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jaws (1975)

From its opening scene, this movie grabs the audience by the throat and never lets them go.  My grandmother was so terrorized by Jaws that she refused to go swimming in the ocean ever again!  This is the genius of Steven Spielberg.  Everything about this film works.  It won three Oscars for Best Musical Score [A John Williams classic], Best Film Editing, and Best Sound.  It lost to One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest for Best Picture.  Personally I think it should have won for Best Picture but horror rarely gets its due!
The premise of Jaws is simple.  A shark terrorizes the town of Amity who tries to ignore it because it's bad for business.  But, in the end, they realize they must confront this terror of the deep before it claims another victim.  It's a formula we've seen many times before but it's rarely done this well.  With an excellent screenplay and magnificent direction, Jaws makes the genre feel fresh and new again.  Granted, the animatronic shark was a technical nightmare to work with but Spielberg employed a trick he learned from Hitchcock: What you don't see if far more scarier than what you actually see.  We really don't view the shark on screen until the end of the picture.  Yet, it's ominous presence is very much alive and well in our minds throughout the film.  Brilliant!  In an age of torture porn, I only wish modern filmmakers would realize the power of understatement.
The cast of Jaws is a trifecta of perfection.  Roy Scheider is police chief Martin Brody who is the heart and soul of this film.  He is an everyday hero who is more like TV's Chuck than Chuck Norris.  Richard Dreyfuss is marine biologist Matt Hooper who is the brains of this film.  He is the perfect foil for Robert Shaw who plays the crusty old seaman Quint.  The scenes the three of them are in together are simply movie magic.
What more needs to be said?  If you somehow missed this one, watch it as soon as possible.  Jaws is the kind of film that made me fall in love with movies when I was a wee little lad.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Whatever happened to Fay Wray?  Well, she died in 2004.  However, before she starred in the horror classic King Kong, she appeared earlier that year with Lionel Atwill in both Mystery of the Wax Museum and The Vampire Bat.  [She was one busy lady!]  This time out she plays Charlotte Duncan who becomes the obsession of a gifted wax sculptor whose was horribly disfigured in a fire.  Her trademark scream is already present and she does a fine job with the role.  
Wray's co-stars, Lionel Atwill [Son of Frankenstein] and Glenda Farrell also help to make this one a top notch thriller.  Atwill plays the sculptor, Ivan Igor [what a stupid name!], and gives a memorable performance on par with his Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein.  Vincent Price would fill his shoes in the excellent remake House of Wax (1953) and both actors bring something different to the table.  Atwill plays it serious and obsessive.  Price plays it melodramatic and creepy.  I like them both equally.  Farrell is hilarious as cracker jack reporter Florence Dempsey.  Her over the top acting style is well suited for the role and she brings the humor in the midst of the horror.
Mystery of the Wax Museum was filmed with a unique two color process that works rather well.  I'm sure audiences were thrilled to see it in 1933.  Kudos must be given to cinematographer Ray Rennahan for the visual feast he gives the audience.  It really is a lovely film to look at.  Furthermore, director Michael Curtiz [Casablanca, White Christmas] keeps the action moving at a nice pace and composes each scene with great skill and careful attention to detail.
While I am a huge fan of House of Wax, I love this one almost as much as the remake.  It is classic 1930's horror and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.  As a side note skip the atrocious House of Wax that was remade in 2005 and "stars" Paris Hilton.  It's one big pile of poo and should be avoided like a plague of locusts.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dr Terror's House of Horrors (1965)

I was lured into watching this series of five horror vignettes because it starred Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Donald Sutherland.  The set up works rather well: five strangers share a train car when Dr. Schreck [a.ka. Dr. Terror] takes the sixth seat.  A conversation ensures about the supernatural with Franklyn Marsh [Christopher Lee] being the greatest skeptic.  Dr. Schreck pulls out his trusty deck of Tarot cards and proceeds to tell everyone's fate.  The stories that unfold involve werewolves, carnivorous plants, the supernatural, voodoo and vampires.  It is well acted with a cast of Brits that smells like a junior version of Hammer Horror.
Cushing is great at Dr. Shreck and his piercing eyes lend an ominous tone to the film.  Lee is also marvelous as the uber-skeptic who thinks he has life figured out.  It was also fun to watch Donald Sutherland as a young romantic who slowly begins to realize that his French wife is a blood sucking fiend.  Nice roles for all three of them.
The problem with this film for me was pacing.  While Dr. Terror is only 98 minutes long, it felt MUCH longer.  Each of the vignettes seems to drag a bit and could have used a little bit of editing to help pick up the pace.  Each is done with great care, it's just that they move so slowly that it's hard to build lots of suspense.  Furthermore, unlike other horror anthologies like Tales of Terror (1962) or Creepshow (1982) this collection takes itself way too seriously.  There are a few funny moments but not nearly enough to keep the audience interested.
There is nothing seriously wrong with Dr. Terror's House of Horrors.  I simply found it fairly uninteresting.  It's too bad, because the premise is great and I can only hope someone will attempt a remake of this one in the future.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Atom Age Vampire (1960)

Ah, the melodrama of it all!  Atom Age Vampire is part horror, part soap opera.  It's the story of Monique, a beautiful dancer, whose face is disfigured in a car accident.  Enter Professor Levin and his faithful female research assistant Jeanette.  A love triangle ensues, people get killed, and monsters are created and cured with lots of drama along the way.  The acting an cinematography are solid, although Franca Parisi's portrayal of Monique is way over the top and unintentionally funny at times.  The horror special effects are nice and the story is interesting enough even though it's fairly predictable.
This is NOT a vampire movie in the classic sense.  There is no sanguinarian sucking of blood or bats flying in the night.  This story is more about psychic vampires who feed on the life force of others, harnessing it as an elixir for healing.  It's not the worst movie I've ever seen, but it's not the best either.  This Italian film, dubbed into English, is the stuff of late night horror fests.  You can find this one in a number of cheap horror compilations, stream it for free online, or download your very own copy on archive.org.
RATING: Good.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Invisible Man (1933)

Ever since the films of Georges Méliès, such as House of the Devil (1896) and Voyage to the Moon (1902), movie audiences have been thrilled with special effects.  In 1933 director James Whale [Frankenstein], cinematographer Arthur Edeson [Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Frankenstein] and special effects pioneer John P. Fulton [Rear Window, Vertigo] pushed the limits of the technology of their day and gave us the stunning The Invisible Man.  This film was an artistic triumph and a box office success that spawned a number of sequels over the years.  Based on the book by H.G. Wells [War of the Worlds], The Invisible Man is a story about how power can corrupt us and even drive us mad.  
Claude Rains, a veteran stage actor, lent his amazing, dramatic voice to the lead character of Dr. Griffin.  Boris Karloff was originally considered for the role but turned it down.  Colin Clive [Frankenstein] was next in line but he passed as well.  It was said that when James Whale heard Rains' voice in a screen test, he instantly knew he had found what he was looking for. Other standouts in the cast include the hysterical Una O'Connor [Bride of Frankenstein] as tavern housekeeper Jenny Hall.  She steals nearly every scene she's in and provides some much needed comic relief.  Henry Travers [Clarence in It's a Wonderful Life] also makes an appearance as Dr. Cranley.  He also played Mr. Bogardus in one of my all time favorite, uber-sentimental films The Bells of St. Marys.  The rest of the cast is fine as well with no weak links in the bunch.
The Invisible Man is classic horror at its best and helped to ensure that the genre was here to stay.  The version of it I saw was the Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection and it also included a wonderful documentary on the film and its legendary director James Whale.  This one is an absolute must see and is on of the great horror films of the 1930's.  Don't miss it.
Trivia: Gloria Steward, who played Dr. Griffin's love interest Flora Cranley, is best known for her role as the "old" Rose in Titanic (1997).  Furthermore, although uncredited, Jack Pierce did the makeup.
RATING: Excellent
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

Some actors will do anything for a paycheck.  Case in point is Bela Lugosi's performance in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla which is also known as The Boys From Brooklyn.  This big steaming pile of poo is a vehicle for the comedy duo of Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo who try to look and sound like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis  but fail miserably at every turn.  They simply aren't funny.  Not even once.
Lugosi is cast, yet again, as the "mad scientist" on a remote Pacific Island and gives one of the worst performances of his career.  He delivers endless lines of scientific mumbo jumbo with the nuance of a sledge hammer.  It's painful to watch.
Add to this extravaganza of bad taste that is Broadway-style dancing from native islanders, a ridiculously made up language for them to speak and costumes that look like they came from the Halloween superstore, and you've got a recipe for disaster.  I'm not a violent man, but if I were around in 1952 I would have been tempted to shoot everyone in the production crew in the head to prevent them from making further movies.  It really is that bad.  I wasted 74 minutes of my life that I cannot get back watching this dookie-fest.  You've been warned.
RATING: Bad.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bedlam (1946)

Bedlam is a nice, little thriller that was produced by Val Lewton and directed by Mark Robson who worked on a number of other Val Lewton projects as well.  The setting is a mental institution in 18th century England where Master George Simms runs the show, and the living conditions inside the asylum are horrible.  Boris Karloff plays the role with excellence and shows off his considerable acting skills.  He appears to be enjoying himself in every scene and it draw you in immediately.  The other standout is Anna Lee [Whatever Happened to baby Jane, The Sound of Music] as Nell Bowen, the protege of wealthy Lord Mortimer, who tries to bring reform to the asylum and ends up getting involuntarily committed there herself.  She is absolutely wonderful and is a strong presence in every scene she's in.  
The sets and costumes are what you would expect for the period.  It's all powdered wigs, big dresses and beautiful furnishings [Except inside the asylum, of course]!  If you are a fan of Lewtons' other films, you won't be disappointed by this one.  It's definitely not a horror film and is better classified as a thriller.  There is also a lot of socio-political and religious commentary in it as well.  Watch for several nods to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, especially in the films conclusion.  It's not the kind of film that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish but it's a well made film nonetheless.
RATING:  Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

It smells but it sells.  Universal had a sure fire hit on their hands when they combined the comedy talents of Abbott and Costello with three of their legendary monsters:  Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster.  [Although Boris Karloff played the Monster originally, Strange appeared as the Monster in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945).]  Lou Costello did not want to film the movie, declaring, "No way I'll do that crap. My little girl could write something better than this." A $50,000 advance in salary and the signing of director Charles Barton, the team's good friend and the man whom some call their best director, convinced him otherwise.  It's no big surprise that the movie became Universal's second highest grossing film that year.
So, does it survive the transition to 2011?  Yes and No.  Even if you don't care for the humor of Abbott and Costello, no one can deny they are comedy legends.  I didn't bust a gut, but I did giggle from time to time.  I also admired Abbott's physical comedy work and his expert delivery of even the most ridiculous of dialogue.  Personally, I think  Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein (1974) makes the transition to modern audiences better than this one does.
How are the monsters?  Lugosi seems a little lost in this picture.  Not exactly his strongest performance.  You're not sure if he's playing the role completely straight or trying his best to be a little humorous.  Chaney is great and channels the tortured soul of Larry Talbot like nobody else can.  He takes his role seriously and it works for him rather well.  Glenn Strange was always the weaker version of Frankenstein's Monster.  I always preferred Karloff.  However, he gives a decent performance that is on par with his portrayal of the monster in previous films.
Make up effects legend Jack Pierce is MIA on this film and is definitely missed.  The monsters are a little bit off but I think the audience who came to see it could have cared less.  It's hard to rate this one because it is a well made film with nice sets, very good performances and there's even an end scene cameo by Vincent Price for good measure.  It's not a scary film, but it is kind of fun.  Enjoy it for what it is.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Unknown (1927)

The Unknown is another Tod Browning triumph [Dracula, Freaks] that feels way ahead of its time in terms of the way it is both filmed and acted.  If you're not used to watching silent films, this is a good place to start.  The copy of it I viewed was from The Lon Chaney Collection which also includes an excellent documentary on the actor entitled Lon Chaney: A Thousand Faces.
The Unknown is a the story of love triangle set among circus performers.  Lon Chaney is Alonso the Armless and is magnificent in the way we expresses emotion on the silent screen.  It's hard to take your eyes off of him.  He did have a stunt double, Peter Desmuki, for some of the scenes where he uses his feet to do some pretty astonishing things.  However, it is shot so well that you don't really notice that it's not him.  Norman Kerry plays Chaney's rival, Malabar the Magnificent, and had also appeared with Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).  It is a winning combination here as well.  
The object of their affection is a very young Joan Crawford [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane] who held her ground against these two screen legends.  IMDB said that Crawford always considered The Unknown a big turning point for her. She said it wasn't until working with Chaney in this film that she learned the difference between standing in front of a camera and acting in front of a camera. She said that was all due to Chaney and his intense concentration, and after that experience she said she worked much harder to become a better actress.
I won't spoil the plot for you because the film needs to be enjoyed without any spoilers to ruin it.  Browning takes us on a wonderful ride and that contains plenty of suspense, plot twists and emotion to keep us on the edge of our seats for start to finish.  Don't miss this one.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Friday the 13th (1980)

Ah, summer camp.  Childhood innocence.  Singing songs by the campfire.  Crafts and canoeing.  The time of your life.  Ch, ch, ch.  Ha, ha, ha.  What's that sound?  It's the sound of a perfect horror film.  Not everyone will agree with me but Friday the 13th is my generations Psycho (1960).  It even salutes Hitchcock's much beloved film through the character of Mrs. Voorhees as well as the soundtrack whose screeching violins and pumping cellos echo the original.  
Friday the 13th ushers in what some call the "Dead Teenager Movie."  Many others have tried to replicate its formula but few do it with as much heart and skill as the one that started it all.  Everything about this movie works.  Here's why:
1. The characters are plain and ordinary.  We know these people.  We grew up with them.  We were them!  They don't spout any witty lines such as "Die, Bitch."  They are innocently strolling through life, doing all the things we did until, in a split second, they're attacked and killed.  Brilliant!
2.  The cinematography in this film is spot on.  Like Psycho, every scene is framed well and designed for maximum impact.  The camera takes us on a tour of perspectives where we see through the eyes of the characters as well as the killer.  We are not spectators in the film.  We have no choice but to participate.  I love the shots where the camera "walks" toward someone or scans a scene like a pair of eyes do.  Brilliant!
3.  Director Sean S. Cunningham, who also produced Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (1972), manages to get great performances out of every actor.  These kids are not just grist for the mill.  He makes us care about what happens to them which doesn't happen in a number of Dead Teenage Movies that followed.  [We also have a pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon appearance which is an added bonus.] 
4.  The use of silence throughout much of the film is quite effective.  It lulls us into a sense of peace and calm as we watch the characters snuggle after sex or make a cup of instant coffee.  Then the familiar music either creeps in and grows louder or hits us over the head with blunt force trauma.  Again, brilliant!
I have watched this film many times over the years and I never grow tired of it.  Even though I know what's coming next, it's still a delight to see.  I've also watched the remake of Friday the 13th (2009) and it ups the gore but doesn't have the heart of the original.  This, unfortunately, is true of most slasher flicks that are made today.
Trivia:  Tom Savini, George Romero's zombie muse, did both the makeup effects and stunts in Friday the 13th.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hellraiser (1987)

"We have such sights to show you," says Pinhead in the totally messed up, disturbing and brilliant Hellraiser.  Just when we thought Wes Craven had pushed the envelope in the 1980's with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Clive Barker tore the envelope up, wrapped it up in S&M bondage gear and set it on fire.  This film is definitely not for everyone.  However, you cannot deny its emotional impact.  It's still one of the most original and disturbing horror films out there.  IMDB summarized the plot as follows "An unfaithful wife encounters the zombie of her dead lover, who's being chased by demons after he escaped from their sado-masochistic Hell."  I'll take their word for it.  To be honest, the first time I saw it I didn't know what the crap was going on and just tried to hang on for dear life.  I was repulsed by what I saw but I also couldn't take my eyes off of it.  I'm sure that's just what Barker had in mind!  He is definitely one twisted little puppy.
The special effects are amazing and remind me of those in John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) but kicked up a notch or two.  He also has Dario Argento's love of blood and heavy symbolism and uses both to great effect.  The acting is superb and the ensemble cast work flawlessly together.  There is not a weak link in the bunch.  This film also gave us "Pinhead," the lead Cenobite who is just as iconic as Freddy, Jason or Michael.
This is truly an original horror film.  The cinematography will absolutely blow your mind and still looks fantastic over twenty years later.  The musical score is also excellent and helps to establish the mood of the film.  This one is definitely a must see but prepare yourself for the ride of our life.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

According to the screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, producer Val Lewton wanted to call this film "Amy and Her Friend."  However, RKO executives insisted on using the "Cat People" name to attract fans of the original Cat People (1942), which had been an enormous box office success made with a very low budget.  The result is a sequel that is, well not exactly a sequel.  Simone Simon is back as Irena, only this time she is a ghost.  Kent Smith is also back as Oliver Reed, who is now remarried and is the father of the imaginative Amy Reed played extremely well by child actor Ann Carter.  The only continuity between these two films is the appearance of Simon and Smith.  Curse of the Cat People has its own agenda and its own story line and should be really be judged on its own merits.
Personally, I really enjoyed the film as a nicely done, low key supernatural thriller that beautifully explores the world of a child's imagination.  My favorite line in the film occurs early on when Amy's school teacher remarks, "Amy is a nice girl...only a little different."  What a fantastic line.  Love it!  If you need lots of action you'll be terribly bored with this film.  There is very little thrill in this thriller, however, that does not mean it's a poorly made movie.  In fact, it is very good in terms of acting, script and cinematography.  Lewton knew how to make beautiful films on a shoestring budget.  It is one of the reason why I appreciate his talent as a producer.  
If you need severed heads and buckets of blood to keep you entertained, then you might want to skip this one.  However, if you like well made vintage movies of all sorts, then this one might just fit the bill.  I preferred the original over the sequel but I cannot deny that Curse of the Cat People is a nicely made movie.
Rating: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

The Fall of the House of Usher is the most visually stunning 13 minutes of film I've ever seen.  It completely blew me away with its angular German Expressionistic sets and amazing cinematography.  You simply cannot take your eyes off of it.  Granted, you don't always know what's going on either, but it's one heck of a trippy ride.  
The film is based on the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe and follows the source material faithfully.  Directors James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber [who also plays the mysterious traveler in the film] layer image upon image in a way that is trance-like and hypnotic.  Symbolism abounds everywhere and the minimal use of text also adds a sense of mystery to the film.  One cannot be distracted by anything else.  If you're eyes are not glued to the film for every second, you feel as if you might miss something.  Surprisingly, both of these directors film resumes are very short, consisting of three films each.  What a pity.  There are much lesser talents that churn out bad film after bad film and no one seems to have the will to stop them.  [I'm not naming names.  You can figure it out for yourself.]  Too bad these two did not get the opportunity to do more.  They've accomplished more in 13 minutes than some filmmakers accomplish in a lifetime.  Don't miss this one!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Queen of Blood (1966)

Queen of Blood is a Sci-Fi adventure with a bit of horror tossed in about two thirds of the way through the film.  I was lured into it by the cast which included screen legend Dennis Hopper [Land of the Dead, Easy Rider], John Saxon [A Nightmare on Elm Street, Enter the Dragon] and Basil Rathbone [Son of Frankenstein, Tales of Terror].  
The best thing I can say about Queen of Blood is its use of hyper-saturated color.  While the sets look like something constructed by a community theater troupe, it's use of bright colors and creative illumination help to distract the audience from the fact that the sets are less than inspired.  With this cast, one would think that there would be some powerful chemistry among the actors.  This is not the case.  The lame, overly technical dialogue and flat, emotionless performances prevent this film from taking off.  The only character that seems to possess any sense of deep emotion is the space being the astronauts rescue from one of the moons of Mars.  While she barely utters a sound, her piercing blue eyes convey that something sinister is about to happen...and it does.
Queen of Blood is the kind of film that used to be the staple of late night Sci-Fi/Horror fests when I was a kid.  However, it's the type of film that used to make we wonder why I stayed up so late to watch this piece of mediocre trash.  
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

House of the Devil (1896) Le Manoir du Diable

I cannot image what audiences thought as they saw a motion picture for the first time.  It must have been an amazing experience.  Now they could see images not only of things they knew but also things that were solely the domain of their imagination.  Although it was not called horror in its day, The House of the Devil is often credited as the first horror film ever made.  French director Georges Méliès who also gave us the iconic silent film Journey to the Moon (1901) shows us fanciful and humorous images of flying bats, skeletons, mysterious hooded figures and the devil himself [played by the director.]    It's only three minutes long but this is where it all started.  Serious fans of horror need to see it just to appreciate the development of the genre over time.
Between 1896 and 1914, Méliès directed over five hundred movies, both fantasy and drama.  His playful spirit not only entertained audiences but became the inspiration for many young aspiring filmmakers to follow in his footsteps.  Who knew that only 24 years later we would be treated to the likes of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide (1920).  Merci Georges for getting the ball rolling.  Our lives would be much different without you.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Raven (1935)

The Raven is a nicely done adaptation of the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name.  It stays closer to the source material than the 1960's Vincent Price movie and expands the theme of the poem in interesting ways.  There is also a nod to Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum which fits the movie well.
The Raven stars Bela Lugosi as Dr. Richard Vollin, a gifted surgeon who saves the life of a beautiful dancer and then becomes obsessed with her.  The beginning of the film moves a bit slowly but things kick into high gear once Boris Karloff enters the scene, as Edward Bateman, Lugosi's new henchman.  I love watching these two work together and they seem to bring out the best in each other.  Karloff's makeup was designed by Jack Pierce for whom Karloff was his favorite canvas. It was executed by another makeup artist and if you look closely you can easily see where the prosthetics end and Karloff's face begins.  It make me wish that Pierce had done the makeup himself.
Of the two performers, Karloff is the strongest.  His work is subtle and strong and draws the audience deeply into his character's conflicted emotions.  Lugosi is way over the top in this one as the "mad scientist" and the character would have been better portrayed with a more subtler approach.  Crazy is always better when it's done with a lighter touch.  [Think Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.]  Still, Lugosi does a nice job here, although at this point in his career he seems type cast to play a doctor which is unfortunate.  His role as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein (1939) proves the point that he's capable of so much more.
Also appearing in the film is Lester Matthews [Werewolf of London, The Adventures of Robin Hood] who does a nice job of playing the "hero" even if he doesn't save the day.  Furthermore, director Lew Landers [The Return of the Vampire, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin] does a fine job in keeping the suspense high once Karloff's character is introduced in the film.  Fans of either Lugosi or Karloff will want to see this one.  It's not their best work but it is quite good, nonetheless.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.