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, April 29, 2011

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941)

This incarnation of the Robert Lewis Stevenson story is the big budget Hollywood version of the tale.  First, bring in a great director, Victor Flemming, who already had huge successes with The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.  This man knows how to do epic filmmaking and Dr Jekyll is no exception to the rule.  Everything about it feels big and grand.  The sets are impeccable.  The cinematography is flawless.  The choice of black and white is also perfect for this film.  I think color would have ruined it.
Secondly, add a little star power with the love triangle of Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman and Lana Turner.  Spencer Tracy plays the conflicted Jekyll/Hyde character.  While I prefer John Barrymore's Hyde from the 1920 silent film, Tracy's Jekyll is a character of conflicted intensity and strong emotions.  His good side prefers that company of Ms. Turner who is sweet, radiantly beautiful and comes from high society.  His bad side prefers Ms. Bergman who is also sweet and radiantly beautiful but comes from the wrong side of the tracks.  To be honest, you couldn't make Ingrid Bergman look ugly if you tried.  She is one of my all-time favorite actresses and she outshines Turner every step of the way.  However, both women give great performances.  
Finally, step out of the way and let the magic happen...and it does.  While Dr Jekyll would be considered a horror film by most people's standards, it simply feels like an epic love story that happens to have a few horror elements in it.  [Think Twilight minus all the sappy romance.]  Don't look for this film to be scary.  Look for it to be a well acted, well crafted psychological thriller that reminds us what good filmmaking is all about.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Haunting (1963)

Mind numbingly boring.  That's the best description I can give of The Haunting.  It's 112 minutes of waiting for something to happen and NOTHING happens.  It's more disappointing than Paranormal Activity.  At least something finally materialized in that film.  In The Haunting it's lots of voices and pounding noises and nothing else.  ARGH!
Furthermore, lead actress Julie Harris is so over the top whiny and melodramatic that when she finally meets her demise I was relieved because I knew the film was going to end soon! 
This is not to say it was poorly made.  Director Robert Wise [The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Wise Story, The Sound of Music] gives us a beautiful looking film.  It is well made in terms of cinematography, lighting and set design.  The problem lies with the script. It just doesn't go anywhere for me.
IMDB critics gave this one 7.7 out of 10.  For the life of me, I don't know why.  If you like haunted house stories you would have better luck with William Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1959) or The Legend of Hell House (1973).  I'd skip this one altogether.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Suspicion (1941)

Suspicion is a nice little thriller from master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.  Cary Grant [North by Northwest, Notorious] and Joan Fontaine [The Witches, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea] are perfect together as a young couple who fall in love and get married.  The twist is that she begins to suspect that her husband is not all that he appears to be.  I'll leave it at that so I don't spoil your enjoyment of the film.
Grant is totally charming as Johnnie Aysgarth, although the opening scene feels like sexual harassment when viewed through modern eyes.  Other than that, he pays Johnny with great warmth and energy while managing to make us feel early on that something dark lies beneath his polished exterior.  Joan Fontaine is luminous as Lina Aysgarth.  She is a classic Hitchcock woman: beautiful, smart, and styled within an inch of her life.  I love the innocence and vulnerability she brings to her character which serve her well as she begins to become worried and then horrified by her husband's actions.  The rest of the cast is great as well.  NOTE: Veteran character actor Cedrick Hardwicke [The Ghoul, The Invisible Man Returns, The Ghost of Frankenstein] plays Lina's father.  It's always good to see him on screen.

While Suspicion is not a horror film, it made my blog because of the director.  It would best be classified as a thriller or film noir and is a marvelous example of the genius that is Hitchcock.  This film hits a home run in terms of lighting and framing of scenes as well as the pacing of the action.  If you like Hitchcock movies such as Rear Window and Vertigo, then don't miss Suspicion.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet... oh,oh,oh, oh, oh...at the late night, double feature, picture show….Rocky Horror references aside, Forbidden Planet is the ultimate 1950's science fiction/horror movie ever made.  First of all, it looks amazing.  The sets are great and never look cheesy.  The cinematography is breathtaking and the use of vivid colors is very effective.  They did their homework and created a believable and beautiful world for us to enjoy.  Even fifty plus years later it's still a feast for the eyes. 
Secondly, the cast is great.  Anne Francis is both naiive and sexy as Altaira, the daughter of Dr. Morbius.  She wears those Star Trek mini skirts like a rock star and has her work cut our for her as the only woman in the cast.  Her love interest is a very young Leslie Nielsen [Naked Gun and Airplane] in a serious rather than comedic role.  He is also great as Commander J.J. Adams, a man's man with a softer side.  Finishing out the trinity is Walter Pidgeon [Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea] as Dr. Morbius.  He has lots of wordy and scientific dialog to pull off and, somehow, makes it all sound convincing.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.
Finally, it's a really great script that continues to give us just a little bit more information as it goes along to keep things interesting.  Its only weakness may be that its a little long on words and short on action, but the main plot is well done and well thought out.  I won't spill any of the secrets or twists in the plot.  Simply enjoy this delightful slice of 50's cinematic heaven.  
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Peeping Tom (1960)

This past week I went to see Scream 4.  One of the trivia questions the Ghostface killer asked his next victim had to do with the first slasher flick ever made.  I, along with the poor schmuck on screen, quickly answered Psycho (1960).  Guess what?  We were both wrong!  The answer was Peeping Tom which I assume was released earlier the same year.  Needless to say, I went home and watched it instantly through Netflix.  
Peeping Tom is a British film that can best be described as subtly creepy.  It's the story of Mark Lewis, a young filmmaker and photographer who acquires a fetish for filming the murders of his victims in order to capture their dying expressions of terror.  Karlheinz Böhm is wonderful as the killer.  He's got the right eyes for it and plays the role with a quiet intensity which serves the character well.  Böhm is not as manic as Anthony Perkins in Psycho, but I enjoyed watching him create the tortured soul of Mark Lewis.  Moira Shearer is also great as Vivian, Lewis' main love interest in the movie.  They play off of each other really well and have wonderful chemistry on screen.
In creating this film, director Michael Powell learned the Hitchcock lesson that "less is more."  There is very little blood spilled onscreen, but the murders are still unsettling.  The mind of the viewer fills in all the necessary details.  Furthermore, there's something disturbing about the killer filming his murders so he can watch them over and over again.  It is a trick they also used in Scream 4 but for different reasons so I guess that's why they referenced Peeping Tom in Scream 4.  Someone really knows their horror.  It way probably either Wes Craven or writer Kevin Williamson or perhaps producer Marianne Maddalena who I know personally and can vouch that she really knows her stuff when it comes to horror!
Definitely add this one to your list.  It may not be as iconic is Psycho but it is a very good film in its own right.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Old Dark House (1932)

In-between the iconic Frankenstein (1931) and the Invisible Man (1933), James Whale directed three other films.  One of these was The Old Dark House which delivers exactly what the title suggests: an old-fashioned scary house story.  Many critics absolutely love this film.  However, I was a little disappointed with it.  Whale set a high standard with Frankenstein, which is one of my all time favorites.  The Old Dark House just didn't pack the same emotional punch.  
Yes, its moody and atmospheric.  Yes, it was a nice sense of dark humor.  Yes, it had Boris Karloff who is adorned with more wonderful makeup by Jack Pierce.  However, Karloff feels like a secondary character here.  His talents are largely wasted.
The bright spots of this film are definitely Ernest Thesiger [Bride of Frankenstein] and Eva Moore as Horace and Rebecca Femm.  They steal nearly every scene they're in with fantastic character acting and comedic timing.  Elspeth Dudgeon also makes a strange appearance dressed as an old man, Sir Roderick Femm.  It's a weird bit of casting and I'm not sure why they chose a woman to play the part.
The plot is fairly standard scary house fare with nothing particularly original brought to the table.  This doesn't mean it's a bad film.  It's just that there are other haunted house movies that are better such as William Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1959) starring Vincent Price or the more modern The Others (2001) with Nicole Kidman.  
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Deranged (1974)

In 1968, George Romero proved that low budget can be scary as hell with his zombie classic Night of the Living Dead.  Modern films would follow in his footsteps such as the Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.  However, in 1974, another low budget film escaped most people's notice but deserves many accolades.  Deranged, which was directed by Jeff Gillen [Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things.  He also played Santa in A Christmas Story] and Alan Ormsby [who also wrote the script], is one creepy film.  It's loosely based on the story of Ed Gein who not only killed several woman but also dug up a number of corpses and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin.  This is the guy who inspired Norma Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of Lambs.
Ed Gein's story is disturbing and bewildering and Deranged captures it perfectly.  With a minimum of gore, Deranged manages to convey a sense of dread and terror that films with larger budgets seldom do.  A large part of this film's success is due to Roberts Blossom [Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Home Alone] who plays Ezra Cobb, i.e. Ed Gein.  He is perfect for the part and manages to subtly fill the character with a combination of quiet insanity, bursts of rage, and a creative violent streak.  This film is not for everyone but it is compelling nonetheless.  I couldn't take my eyes off of it even though I wanted to look away a time for two.
Most modern psycho killer movies rely on excessive gore to shock their audience.  The subject matter in Deranged is shocking enough that we don't really need much else to make us squirm in our seats.  Our minds fill in all the gory details in a way that special effects cannot.  Job well done.  As a side note veteran special effects man Tom Savini did some of the makeup for Deranged.  It is one of his earliest films.  
Don't miss this one.  Be prepared to be terrorized as Deranged gives us a front row seat to examine the mind and motivations of a truly psychopathic individual.
Rating: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Phantasm 2 (1988)

I think I'm in the minority opinion on this one but Phantasm 2 is just O.K.  Yes it had a much bigger budget than the original.  Yes, they upped the special effects.  So what?  A sequel should expand the mythos of the original film and give us more insight into the characters.  [The Empire Strikes Back, for example.]  It should also move the story forward.  Phantasm 2 fails on both of these accounts.  It simply feels like a rehash of the original.  I don't really know any more about the identity of the Tall Man than I did by the end of the first film.  Furthermore, the only thing that has changed about Reggie is the color of his hair.
The main character of Mike has been replaced by an older actor, James LeGros.  He actually does a better job than the original actor, A Michael Baldwin.  However, LeGros is a bit of a miscast.  He barely looks like the younger Mike.  When we see flashback scenes the discontinuity between the two is even more obvious.  Oh, well.
Phantasm 2 also suffers from the same thing the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise does.  The first is really great but the sequels pale in comparison.  It's not that Phantasm 2 is poorly made, it's just not that interesting.  The first one had an air of mystery to it.  You never knew what was coming next.  Phantasm 2 was definitely entertaining but it felt very predictable and formulaic.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bloody Pit of Horror (1965)

Let's just rename this one Bloody Pitiful Horror.  This sexploitation Italian horror film is simply a total mess as far as I'm concerned.  It takes itself way too seriously and is not campy enough to work as a "so bad it's good" film.  The plot involves a photographer and his models who are doing a photo shoot at an old abandoned castle.  It turns out its not so abandoned and is home to a crazy owner who believes he is the reincarnated spirit of the Crimson Executioner who was sealed in a iron maiden hundreds of years ago as punishment for his crimes.  
Bloody Pit of Horror is claim to be "based on the writing of the Marquis de Sade."  However, I find that highly unlikely.  This is bad acting.  Bad effects.  Bad horror.  Bad soundtrack.  Just plain bad.  Avoid this one even if it's the only video left on the shelf of your local Blockbuster.  I'm sure this film has its fans out there but I'm definitely not one of them.  I do appreciate Italian horror, but not this one!  Where is Barbara Steele when you need her?
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) a.k.a The Crimson Cult

Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele in one movie!  Can one ask for more? Absolutely!  This poor man's Hammer Horror toss-off is the product of the late 60's, early 70's "summer of love" drug culture.  I believe one needs to be either intoxicated or stoned in order to appreciate this film.  The story begins when Robert Manning pays a visit to a remote English country mansion where his brother was last seen.  Enter Christopher Lee as J.D. Morley and a very old Boris Karloff as Professor John Marsh who is an expert in witchcraft.  Lee's talents are largely wasted here but Karloff still has that spark we've come to know and love even though he seems a bit frail.  IMDB said that Karloff became ill with pneumonia while shooting this project in the freezing rain. It was one of his last films.  
Barbara Steele enters the picture in a series of scenes that can be best described as kaleidoscopic psychedelic acid flashbacks, where she portrays Lavinia Morley, the Black Witch of Greymarsh who was killed by the townspeople many years ago.  She is painted head to toe with green body makeup and sports a ram's horn and feather headdress.  Seriously?  Her minions include a leather boy with a horned helmet, a goat, and other assorted oddities.  As far as I'm concerned it's one red hot horror mess.  Who dreams up crap like this?  It was utterly ridiculous and Ms. Steele's talents are wasted here as well.
This is just not my kind of horror film.  I'm sure it has its devotees but I'm definitely not one of them.  All three of these actors have done much better work in a number of films.  My advice is to avoid this one like bad LSD.
Rating: Bad.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Motel Hell (1980)

It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent's fritters.  Oh, the horror of it all!  Motel Hell may be the perfect, gross-out B-horror movie.  It's funny, disturbing and actually well done.  This film is NOT for everyone.  If you are easily offended, then skip this one immediately.  If you think you can handle torture and cannibalism served up with a smile, then this film is definitely for you.
Motel Hell stars Rory Calhoun [known primarily for Westerns] as Farmer Vincent.  He is amazing in this role and plays it with just the right amount of camp and sincerity to make it work.  His sister, Ida, is played by none other than Nancy Parsons, the immortal Beulah Ballbriker from Porky's [1982].  I worship the comedic ground she walks on.  She perfectly complements Calhoun as his equally twisted sibling who helps him put a little "extra" in the sausage they make.  
The rest of the cast is simply meat for the grinder.  Literally.  Surprisingly, there is very little blood and gore in Motel Hell.  Its squirm factor comes with the subject matter.  They don't really have to show much.  Just the thought of what they are doing makes the audience wince with a mixture of horror and delight.  If you think this movie is beyond human decency, remember that Sweeney Todd was a hit both on Broadway and the big screen.  We've seen this kind of stuff done before.  However, I'll take Farmer Vincent over Johnny Depp any day.  Proceed with caution, ye faint of heart!
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Shining (1980)

I must confess, I'm not a big Staney Kubrick fan.  However, one cannot deny that The Shining is excellent filmmaking.  Adapted by Kubrick from the Stephen King novel of the same name, The Shining is the story of a family who are the winter caretakers of a hotel  that is located in the remote mountains of Colorado.  
Jack Nicholson is sheer perfection as Jack Torrence, a failed school teacher and writer who slowly looses his sanity over the course of the film.  It just doesn't get any better than Nichloson's performance!  Shelley Duvall [Popeye, Annie Hall] is Jack's wife Wendy.  Personally, she is about as useless as Judith O'Dea in Night of the Living Dead.  I really dislike her performance and consider it a bit one dimensional.  However, Nicholson is so phenomenal that you can overlook Duvall.  Rounding out the family is their son Danny, eerily played by six year old Danny Lloyd.  He is delightfully creepy as the kid with psychic powers who has visions of the past as well as the future.  He also has an "imaginary friend" named Tony but one is led to believe that Tony is anything but imaginary.
Kubrick captures something beautiful in every scene he films.  The choice of locations, the lighting and the framing of each scene is done with great care like Hitchcock before him.  My favorite image is the tidal wave of blood that flows across the elevator doors.  I also love the chase scene through the hedgerow maze that is shot at night.  It is stunning to watch as well as frightening.  This is a long film at 142 minutes.  However it doesn't really seem that long.  The length actually works it its advantage because it gives the audience the same feel of isolation and being trapped that the characters feel in the story.  [You want it to end but it just keeps relentlessly coming at you!]  Honestly, I don't know what you could have cut from this film to make it any shorter.  Every scene feels vital and important to the story.
There are many scholarly commentaries on this film you can look up online.  Just enjoy this powerful and visually stunning film.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Revolt of the Zombies (1936)

No Carribean zombies here.  This zombie revolt is all about Cambodia and I got sucked into it because it's listed as a Bela Lugosi film.  Not really!!!  Bela Lugosi's eyes flash across the screen from time to time but that's the only appearance he makes in the entire film.  To make matters worse, his eyes are actually archival footage from another film, White Zombie, which director Victor Halperin did back in 1933.  Boo.  Hiss.
After the popularity of such classics as Dracula and Frankenstein, Hollywood hopped on the horror bandwagon and released lots of cheap horror films in order to make a quick buck.  This is definitely one of them.  However, it doesn't fall into the "so bad it's good" category.  It's just plain bad.
I won't bore you with the not so gory details.  The acting is marginal, the screenplay is really awful and the zombies are not even remotely interesting.  Even zombie lovers will want to avoid this one.  Don't waste your time.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Bad Seed (1956)

Sugar and spice and everything nice.  That's what little girls are made of.  Apparently they never met Rhoda Penmark, played deliciously by Patty McCormack.  Think Cindy Brady with a psychotic streak!  That's what this little girl is made of.  The Bad Seed is one heck of a ride even in our day and age as it takes an unflinching look at a disturbing subject.  
The story centers on sweet, little Rhoda whom her mother suspects may be a cold blooded killer.  McCormack is amazing as Rhoda and may have given us the scariest little girl ever seen on screen.  [Linda Blair from The Exorcist was a teenager so she is out of the running for the prize!]  Nancy Kelly is also wonderful as Rhoda's mother, Christine.  The scenes of the two of them together are simply movie magic, even if Kelly is a bit over the top at times.  You really care about both of them and are immediately sucked into their drama.
The supporting cast is excellent as well.  Evelyn Varden plays chatty Aunt Monica who seems oblivious to her niece's sociopathic tendencies.  Eileen Heckart is hilarious as the drunken mother, Hortense Daigle, whose son died during a school field trip and suspects that Rhoda killed him.  This movie is definitely a feast of women's roles but I also have to mention the magnificent performance of Henry Jones who plays the Penmark's handyman, Leroy Jessup.  He is the first to see little Rhoda for who she really is.
Kudos to John Lee Mahim who effectively adapted the screenplay from the original play and to director Mervyn LeRoy who keeps the action humming along.  The Bad Seed was nominated for four Oscars including Best Actress, two Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography.   As far as I'm concerned it should have won all four!  [O.K. I have to admit it's hard to beat Ingrid Bergman [Anastasia] but Patty McCormack was robbed.]  What more need to be said?  This is 1950's horror at its best.  A true classic.
RATING:  Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Waxwork (1988)

Waxwork is a 1980's guilty pleasure.  The soundtrack is cheesy, the hair is big but the acting is quite good in this send up of classic horror movies.  The action takes place in a wax museum where those who are too curious find themselves sucked into the horror scene they are attracted to.  The catch is that if you die, you become a wax figure in that particular tableaux.  The premise works quite well and so the audience is treated to vampires, werewolves, the mummy, zombies, The Marquis de Sade, and others.  It's a fun, joyride with classic 80's special effects that work quite well in the film.
Waxwork stars Zach Galligan [Gremlins] as Mark who becomes one of the heroes who saves the day.  He is a commanding presence and fills the role quite nicely.  The cast also includes David Warner [The Omen] as the owner of Waxwork.  He is the perfect villain to the sweet Mark.  They work well together in every scene they are in.  Comedic relief comes in the form of a little person [Mihaly Meszaros] and a giant [Jack David Warner] who play every scene they're in to the hilt.  Deborah Foreman and Michelle Johnson play classic 80's babes and are also a commanding presence onscreen as well.
Teen horror films are often much maligned by critics.  Who cares?  Sometimes we just want to have fun for 90 minutes or so.  Waxwork fits the bill quite nicely.  It's not really scary but it is enjoyable through and through with a few special effects squirms along the way.  Nicely done.  Trivia: Romero fans will enjoy the Night of the Living Dead tribute scene that is a turning point in the movie.  Love it!
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.