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!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Children of the Corn (1984)

Horror fans fall into two categories when it comes to Children of the Corn.  They either hate it or love it.  They hate it because it's not as dark as Stephen King's novel OR they hate it because it's rather bloodless for a film in which every adult in town has been murdered.  I fall into the category of "love it" because it's a well told story with solid acting and one creepy little teenager named Isaac, played deliciously by John Franklin who also appeared in the 1999 sequel Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return.
I'm the kind of person who doesn't need gratuitous bloodletting to keep me entertained [Saw comes to mind].  Children of the Corn is moody, mysterious and highly original.  I cannot walk by a corn field to this day without getting the chills.  The movie is set in the idyllic town of Gatlin, Nebraska.  It's the perfect setting for a Stephen King horror story.  The film stars Peter Horton [Thirtysomething, Grey's Anatomy] and Linda Hamilton [Terminator, Beauty and the Beast] as Burt and Vicky who get trapped in Gatlin and eventually uncover all its hidden secrets.  Their performances are great as are those of all the children in the town.  
The only complaint I have lies with some of the special effects toward the end of the film which are not-so-special.  There are other 80's films that do a much better job in this department such as An American Werewolf in London.  Perhaps there were budget limitations that prevented them from going all out on this one.

Children of the Corn is less horror and more thriller.  As a thriller, it's one of my favorites from the 1980's.  This movie spawned way too many sequels.  COTC 2: (1992) The Final Sacrifice picks up where the original ended.  It's a bit of a mess and definitely inferior to the original in every way.  COTC III: Urban Harvest (1995) is actually quite good.  It references 2 in passing but then goes its own way.  Many other remakes and sequels followed but like the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, they vary in quality.  Stick with the original [It's the best of the bunch] and see it as a slow burning thriller with great acting and creepy kids.  I couldn't ask for anything more!

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dead and Buried (1981)

The tag line for Dead and Buried reads "The creators of ALIEN bring a new terror to earth."  Translation: This film really sucks but we hope we can sucker you into seeing it.  Did it work?  Well, it worked on me!  Guilty as charged.
Dead and Buried can be best described as a crime drama/witchcraft zombie story that looks like a made-for-TV movie.  The script is predictable and smells like a second rate Stephen King rip off.  The direction is uninspired and the not-so-special effects are more funny than terrifying.
Dead and Buried also wastes the talents of a perfectly good cast.  James Farentino [Police Story, Dynasty and Blue Thunder] stars as Sheriff Dan Gillis who investigates a series of murders in the quiet seaside town of Potter Bluff and eventually discovers it's dark secret.  Jack Albertson [Chico and the Man] and Melody Anderson [Flash Gordon] also star with a small character role by the one and only Robert Englund [Freddy Krueger].  In spite of their acting pedigrees, each gives a rather lackluster performance. I chalk that up to bad directing.
Finally, these are not Romero gut-munching zombies.  These have more in common with early zombie flicks of the 30's and 40's.  Ho-hum.  Skip this one unless you're really hard up for entertainment.  There are so many great films out there.  Dead and Buried should have stayed dead and buried.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fright Night (1985)

I LOVE this movie.  As far as I'm concerned everything about it works.  Yes, there's a bit of 80's cheese in the soundtrack but Fright Night is simply classic horror cinema.  First, we start with a classic story that involves young Charley who is convinced that a vampire has moved in next store.  No one believes him at first but, eventually, everyone sees the truth.  William Ragsdale is perfect as Charley who show us the transformation from boy to man.  He plays all the emotions just right and you can't help but empathize with his character.  Chris Sarandon [The voice of Jack Skellington in A Nightmare Before Christmas] also makes a great vampire with equal parts of seduction and malice.    They play off of each other very well.  
The other big performance is from Roddy McDowall [Planet of the Apes series] who plays Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter.  It is one of my all-time favorite performances of his.  I just love what he does with this character.  Rounding out the cast are Charley's girlfriend Amy, played by Amanda Bearse [Married With Children] and his best friend Evil Ed, played by Stephen Geoffreys.  Both of them are great as well with Bearse giving us the perfect perky 80's girlfriend and Geoffreys providing some comic relief as he is transformed into a vampire.
Director and Writer Tom Holland [Child's Play, Psycho 2] keeps the action moving at a nice pace with an excellent script and a great visual look for the film.  Kudos to the special effects department for some fun and surprising pre-CGI effects.  They make you laugh and squirm in equal measure.
2011 brought us the remake starring Colin Farrel as the vamp and Anton Yelchin as Charlie.  I really loved it as well and feel it is a very worthy adaptation of the original.   It has much of what I enjoyed about the original film plus a few updates that work well for modern horror audiences.  You simply can't go wrong with either one.  As a special treat Chris Sarandon makes a cameo in the remake.  Gotta love it.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Blade Runner (1982)

My local used book/cd/dvd store has the magical $3.00 rack.  I check it every week.  Sometimes there is absolutely nothing.  Other times manna rains down from heaven.  This week I scored the Special Collector's Edition of Evil Dead (1981) and The Director's Cut of Blade Runner.  Not bad for $3 each!
Blade Runner is one of the ultimate Sci-Fi Thrillers of the 1980's.  Hot off of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford was looking for something a little bit darker.  He found it in Blade Runner which I describe as dark, brooding and a slow burner through and through.
The Director's Cut, supervised by the visionary Ridley Scott [Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster] looks amazing.  Blade Runner is a beautiful film to look at and the colors and textures are much richer in this version of the film.  Scott also changed the film a bit including nixing Ford's voiceover narration and change the ending as well.  Other people can argue for days about his choices.  As far as I'm concerned this film is great in whatever version you see it.
Blade Runner takes place in 21st Century LA which feels a bit like The Matrix without the green filter.  This is not the kind of place you'd like to go for a holiday.  The feeling is dark and depressing and never lets up through the entire film.  Ford is wonderful as Deckard who is a "blade runner" who stalks genetically made criminal replicants.  His assignment is to find them and kill them.  The replicant cast includes one of my faves Rutger Hauer [The Hitcher, Buffy the Vampire Slayer] as well as Daryl Hannah in her most deliciously evil role ever.  These two really shine in this film.  Rutger always gives me the chills without him uttering a word and Hannah's death scene is just incredible.
I don't need to say anything else about this film.  If you've been living under a rock and have never seen Blade Runner, put this one on the top of your list.  While it is not horror, it has more suspense and dark elements than a number of horror films I've seen over the years.  A true classic through and through.
RATING: Excellent
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Ace of Hearts (1921)

Think of Ace of Hearts as a very old episode of Creepshow.  It's a thriller that asks lots of moral questions about who should live and who should die with a story line that wrapped up in unrequited love.  The horror elements of Lon Chaney Sr's better known films [Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phantom of the Opera] are absent but in its place is an actor which an amazing ability to convey emotion without saying a word.  
Modern audiences need to learn a little bit of patience with silent films.  They usually unfold rather slowly and the pacing is different from modern cinema.  However, I have grown to enjoy these early films and it's great to see Chaney in a more subtle role.  He really is wonderful to watch and his mastery of the craft of acting in silent films cannot be denied.  
Give this one a chance.  It definitely has its rewards.  I watched the restored version which is a part of the Lon Chaney Collection from Turner Classics.  This version of Ace has a new musical score that definitely enhanced the experience of watching the film.  
I am no expert on silent films.  I just know a good film when I see it.  Don't miss it.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dracula's Daughter (1936)

Dracula's Daughter is the "sequel" to the classic 1931 film Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.  As the movie begins, Dracula and Renfield are dead and Dr. Van Helsing has been arrested on suspicion of murder.  Edward van Sloan [Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy] reprises his role as Van Helsing from the original Dracula and does a great job the second time around.  He enlists psychiatrist Jeffrey Garth, played by Otto Kruger, to be his defense team.  Kruger is great as well, especially as he begins counseling the troubled Countess Marya Zaleaska who wants to be rid of her evil impulses.
The Countess, of course, is Dracula's daughter, who is played magnificently by Gloria Holden.  She has the most amazing facial features and make up artist Jack Pierce further enhances them with subtle but quite effective makeup.  I absolutely love Holden's portrayal of the vampette.  She is dark, mysterious and has a bit of a tortured soul.  Her eyes are absolutely incredible and the delivery of her lines is sheer perfection.
Dracula's Daughter is further enhanced by a great script from David O Selznick [King Kong, Gone With the Wind] and beautiful direction from Lambert Hillyer [The Invisible Ray].  This film is not necessarily well known among casual fans of horror but I think it is a classic that is not to be missed.  Gloria Holden is mesmerizing and becomes a worthy successor to Lugosi's iconic portrayal of the Transylvanian vampire.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

House of Dracula (1945)

Just subtitle this one "Pretty Monsters with Problems."  No, wait, that's The Vampire Diaries on the CW Network.  This time out Universal brings back three iconic monsters to draw moviegoers into the theater.  First, there's Dracula, played this time by John Carradine who is a little bit better than Lon Chaney was in Son of Dracula (1943).  He's not happy being a blood sucking fiend so he turns to Dr. Franz Edelmann to help him find a cure.  Onslow Stevens [Them] is great as Dr. Edelmann and is especially good when he vamps out later in the film.  Personally, I think Bela Lugosi's Dracula beats everyone above by a mile.  Why they didn't ask him to star in this film is a mystery to me.
Second monster on board is The Wolf Man.  Thank you, Lon Chaney Jr for discarding your vampire cape and playing the role of the tortured Lawrence Talbot.  I SO love him in this role and he does not disappoint this time around.  Like his buddy Dracula, Talbot is also unhappy and looking for a cure.
Then, for some strange reason, Edelmann and Talbot find Frankenstein's monster in an underground cave and bring him into the story line.  [Enter monster number three.]  Glenn Strange plays the Monster this time instead of Karloff, but he has very little screen time and adds nothing to the storyline.  Strange would go on to reprise his role as the Monster in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).  However, his portrayal does not come close to Karloff's greatness in this role.
Add to this all star lineup Lionel Atwill as yet another police inspector and, my personal favorite, Nina, the hunchback nurse, and House of Dracula becomes quite an adventure.  Erie C, Kenton [House of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein] does a great job as director and Jack Pierce does his usual brilliant job with monster makeup.  While House of Dracula is not as classic as some of films these monsters originally appeared in, it is a thoroughly enjoyable movie nonetheless.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Seventh Victim (1943)

Who knew a Satanic cult could be so prim and proper.  Well, it is the 1940's after all!  Pearls and petticoats were the fashion for everyone, even Satan's minions!  The Seventh Victim is another Val Lewton thriller that mostly hits the mark.  The lead actress, Kim Hunter, who plays Mary Gibson is wonderful as the girl who is searching for her missing sister.  She brings lots of heart and emotion to this film.  [Who knew she would go on to star in most of the Planet of the Apes films as well.]  The rest of the cast is solid as well.
The only let down for me was the ending.  I was hoping for something a little more spectacular and it simply left me groaning.  I screamed at my TV set "Seriously?  That's all you got?"  I expected a little more sinister plot from the devil worshippers and they did NOT deliver the goods.  I guess it was shocking enough to simply mention the topic in 1943, but modern audiences expect a little bit more.  Thats all I really have to say about this one.  For me, it's not one of Lewton's best efforts even though some critics will disagree with me on this one.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Son of Dracula (1943)

Vampires should either be sexy or menacing or a combination of both.  Count Alucard [wonder who that could be?  Hmmmmm] is none of the above.  I love Lon Chaney Jr. but he is just plain boring as Dracula.  There are no fangs, no blood and it feels like Chaney is simply walking around the set with a cape and white make-up on his face with very little to do.  His counterpart, the vampette Louise Allbritton who plays Katherine, does a much better job besting Chaney at every turn.
That being said, this is not a poorly made film.  The Universal Legacy restoration of Son of Dracula is absolutely marvelous.  The picture is crisp and clear and the sound is great if you put it through a decent pair of speakers.  Furthermore, director Robert Siodmak, the brother of legendary horror screenwriter Curt Siodmak [The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man Returns] give us a beautiful looking film that is paced well and looks like it was made with a bigger budget than it actually had.  It makes you wonder how great this film could have been if someone other than Chaney took on the role of Dracula.
This is simply a case of Chaney being a hot commodity after his amazing performance in The Wolf Man, therefore, it was a no brainer to have him star in Son of Dracula.  However, it appears that vamps simply aren't Chaney's strength as an actor.  Skip this one and watch the HBO series True Blood instead.  Now THERE are some sexy, menacing vampires indeed!  As a side note Jack Pierce did the make up in Son of Dracula although he is not credited.  Not exactly his best work either!
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)

I saw this one at the local Thursday night Horror show and enjoyed every minute of it.  This little gem from Universal Pictures has a great cast including the infamous Lionel Atwill [Son of Frankenstein, Mystery of the Wax Museum, etc.] as Dr. Fish who has number two billing but very little screen time.  Front and center in this film are Patric Knowles [The Wolf Man] as Detective Church, Anne Gwynne [House of Frankenstein] as Mrs. Church and Mantan Moreland [King of the Zombies] as Church's faithful manservant Horatio.  
Knowles is perfect as the detective who somewhat reluctantly investigates the case of Doctor Rx who pins a note to all his victims, signed with a printed Rx and the number in which they met their demise.  Gwynne is delightful as his wife and brings quite a bit of comic relief to the film.  [She is also a total fashionista, complete with hats and perfect hair 24/7.  You gotta love 1940's women.]
Hands down, however, it's Moreland who steals the show.  Scandalously he is not listed in the opening credits even though he is in almost every scene.  Such is the fate of black actors in the 1940's but this doesn't stop Moreland from showing off his quick wit and comedic timing.  If you are unfamiliar with Moreland's career, it's worth a Google search to learn more about this actor who opened doors for many other black actors who followed in his footsteps.
Director William Nigh [The Ape] keeps the action moving along at a nice pace.  The only caution I have about this film is that it is really a nice crime drama with a few horror elements thrown in toward the end of the film.  So, if you need lots of blood and guts to keep you interested but might not enjoy this film.  However, as a thriller, it's a solid effort that is well worth your time.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Two Evil Eyes (1990)

The genius of Edgar Alan Poe is that his stories are timeless.  Each generation has been able to put their own spin on them and make them feel fresh and new.  Enter George Romero and Dario Argento, two masters of horror, who take on Poe in the delightful Two Evil Eyes.  Romero is first up to bat with a wonderful adaptation of a lesser known Poe story "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar."  Adrienne Barbeau is front and center as Mrs. Valdemar who is, as we say, a money grubbing ho what has a lustful eye for the doctor who is taking care of her dying husband.  The casting is perfect all around and Romero builds the suspense until it hits a fevered pitch.  It's really a great adaptation of the original Poe story and is not to be missed.
Dario Argento bats second with an intense rendition of "The Black Cat."  Character Actor Harvey Keitel is gives a riveting performance as Roderick Usher [Another Poe reference.  There is also a nod to "The Pit and the Pendulum" as well toward the beginning of the film.] who is a crime scene photographer who eventually creates his own crime scene by killing his girlfriend.  This one is squirm worthy with the kind of blood and gore you expect form Argento.  Wow!  He really reinvents this story in a way makes it feel like it was written yesterday.  The only WTF moment in the film is a dream sequence that can only be described as a satanic Renaissance fair.  Not sure what the purpose of all that way but it is a strange and unsettling ride, indeed.  Kudos also to Madeleine Potter who plays Usher's love interest, Annabel.  The innocence and sweetness she brings the role are the perfect counterpart to Keitel's menacing intensity.
A bit of trivia on this one: makeup effects guru Tom Savini appears in the dream sequence even if ever so briefly.  he was uncredited but I looked it up in the IMDB and, sure enough, it was him.  He was also the make up effect supervisor so you know the gore and horror elements were very good.
I had never heard of this anthology before I saw it on Netflix.  You can either rent it or stream it.  Great stuff.  Not to be missed.  I wish all Poe adaptations were this good.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.