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!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Howling (1981)

Dee Wallace [E.T., Cujo, Critters] stars as Karen Wallace, a TV reporter who has a near fatal encounter with a serial killer.  She is sent to a rehabilitation center whose inhabitants just happen to be werewolves.  Oops!  Effects masters Rob Bottin [Star Wars: Episode IV, John Carpenter's The Thing] and Rick Baker [An American Werewolf in London, Thriller] left us glued to the edge of our seats back in 1981 with state-of-the art, jaw-dropping [literally] effects.  While The Howling has a slow start, it gradually and consistently builds tension until it finally shows the viewer a full blown werewolf transformation the likes of which we'd never seen before.  Bravo!  In a non-CGI world this was amazing stuff.  It still looks quite good considering the year The Howling came out.
Director Joe Dante [Gremlins 1&2, Small Soldiers] definitely knows how to take advantage of all the special effects.  Like a well sequenced fireworks show, he starts of slow, giving us at taste of what is to come and then masterfully builds to the grand finale.  Looking at his bio on IMDB, he has consistently worked as a director but I'm surprised he was not given bigger movies to direct.  He definitely knows what he's doing and I enjoy the way be puts together a film.
The Howling also stars a wonderful supporting cast including veteran character actors John Carradine, slim Pickins and Patrick Macnee [The Avengers].  I especially enjoyed Elisabeth Brooks as the femme fatale werewolf Marsha.  She has the most amazing eyes and is perfect for the part.  The entire cast does a great job with this film and Ms. Wallace holds it all together with a great central character that is both vulnerable and empowered.
Most critics probably don't consider The Howling to be a classic but it's a wonderful example of the great horror movies that came out in the 80's before synth tracks and big mall hair ruled the day.  I've watched this one many times over the years and it never gets old.  It's a classic to me!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

It took twelve years to produce a sequel to the unnerving, low budget masterpiece Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  So, how does TCM2 stack up to the original?  Well, it's hard to compare the two because they are very different films.  Yes, they have some of the same characters, but TCM is a pure horror film that never lets up on its feeling of sheer terror, while TCM2 attempts to combine horror with humor, resulting in a very disturbing Road Runner cartoon. 
What these two films do have in common is maximum scare with a relatively low body count.  This is impressive especially for TCM2 which was birthed in the era of the "Dead Teenager Movie"  where the general rule was the more bodies, the better.  
They were also both directed by Tobe Hooper, although TCM2 had a much larger budget which actually may have been its downfall.  With TCM, Hooper had to get creative to set the mood of the film and he did so admirably.  I still think it's one of the creepiest films of all time.  TCM2 is also creepy but the underground cave set is completely overblown.  There are too many lights, too many rooms, too many things to look at.  It's distracting.  Sometimes less is more.
Speaking of less is more, could someone please get actress Caroline Williams to stop screaming?  Don't get me wrong, she's very good as DJ Vanita Brock but can someone give her something else to do in this film?  It nearly gives the viewer a migraine.  Dennis Hopper also stars in this film but he actually has very little screen time.  He gives a good performance but he has very little to work with so it's hard to tell what he could have done with a little better material.
Tom Savini is the gore guru for TCM2 and as far as I'm concerned, he hits a total home run.  By 80's standards this is high quality blood splatter that is squirm-worthy a number of times in the movie.  Furthermore, the make up work on characters such as Leatherface and Top Chop is first rate as well.
As a final note, I'm not a big fan of films that try to entertain by excessively torturing human beings.  TCM2 seemed unnecessarily brutal with not nearly enough humor to counteract it.  My preference is for the original over the sequel.  But, TCM2 is not without its merits.  It just feels like it's trying too hard to shock people.  Trust me, the subject matter is shocking enough already.  If Hooper had toned it down a bit, it would have been a total home run.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Wasp Woman (1959)

They say that ambition bites the nails of success.  Apparently it also stings like a deranged insect.  The Wasp Woman is a low budget horror film from none other than Roger Corman.  Although Corman made a number of wonderful films in his career,,,this is not one of them.  
First of all, the sound on the copy I watched was terrible.  I streamed it from Netflix which usually does a good job with older films.  However, I had to turn the volume way up on this one and most of the dialogue sounded like all the actors were in their beekeeper suits even when they were not.
The soundtrack by Fred Katz was jazzy but a bit too fussy for my taste.  It seemed distracting at times when a simpler score would have suited the picture better.
Then there's the "wasp woman" who looks like a Halloween costume some 11 year old put together.  OMG, it's sooooooo bad...but not in a good way.  I bust out laughing the first time it appeared on screen but then the novelty wore off and I was left groaning instead.
The story is completely formulaic and predictable.  It involves a "mad" scientist with a fascination for bees and other stinging insects.  He invents the "elixir of youth" but has yet to test it on a human being.  Enter Janice Starlin, an ambitious owner of a cosmetic company whose sales are slumping.  She convinces the good doctor to be his first human test subject.  Initially, things go well and Ms. Starlin looks ten years younger.  Then, things so horribly awry.  I think you can take it from there.
The acting is not bad so I was almost tempted to give this one a Fair rating.  However, the creature is so poorly constructed, it's unforgivable.  [It makes some of Ed Wood's work look like genius.]  If you love bugs, don't waste your time on this one.  Instead, watch the classic Them! (1954) which is the blueprint for how a successful 1950s Sci-Fi Horror film should be done.  You've been warned.
RATING:  Bad.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Night of the Comet (1984)

Like, OMG.  Night of the Comet is pure 80's cheese in a good way.  It's a rather low-key approach to the zombie apocalypse but it's an enjoyable ride nonetheless.  The film starts with a world-wide comet party that vaporizes everyone who is outside when the comet passes to a pile of red dust.  Those lucky enough to stay inside a well sheltered building survive the initial mass killing but then find themselves face to face with a small host of zombies and a red, hazy sky.
Catherine Mary Stewart [The Last Starfighter, Weekend at Bernies] and Kelli Maroney [Chopping Mall, Fast Times at Ridgemont High] and delightful as Regina and Samantha, two sisters who are part of a handful of survivors.  I especially like Regina who is a true 80's girl; strong, self-confident, able to take down a zombie as well as make a road trip to the mall for some designer threads.  They are the heart and soul of this movie and it wouldn't work without them.
The zombie make-up is pretty good and their presence in the film brings some of the more livelier moments.  [I wish there were more of them.]  There are also a few nefarious human survivors to keep the girls on their toes.  
Night of the Comet has big hair, a classic 80's synth-driven soundtrack and zombies for good measure.  You could do a lot worse!  This film has always left me smiling.  It's a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon.  It's not really scary but it's, like, totally awesome, for sure.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thriller: The Guilty Men (1960)

Season 1, Episode 6 - The Guilty Men 


Ho-hum.  A crime drama/thriller that's simply not too thrilling.  This one is the weakest in the series so far for me.  Two brothers and a childhood friend open this episode as they talk about how they're going to get beyond the poverty and desperation of their lives.  One becomes a mob boss, another a doctor, another a lawyer.  The Italian accent on the mob brother is laughable.  It's as bad as the faux-Southern accents I sometimes hear in movies.  Yet, his brother has no accent at all.  How does this happen?
This story is a morality tale that is acted well but it leaves me asking "Who cares?"  The plot has been done many times over and nothing new has been brought to the table this outing.  If you like crime dramas, stick with The Godfather trilogy.  If you want to watch a good horror or thriller story, skip this one altogether.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Valley of the Zombies (1946)

This low budget "zombie" story is a not-so-thriller with all zombies missing in action.  There is one reference to voodoo by the main villain but no shambling in sight.  The acting in this film is adequate but noting special.  It's typical 1940's fare with the added disappointment that there's is not a scare in sight and very little of interest happing anywhere in the film.  Thankfully it's only 56 minutes long, but I'd like to have those 56 minutes back to view something more worthy of my time.  Even if you're a zombie fan, skip this one altogether.
RATING:  Bad.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry is billed as "One of the 20 scariest movies of all time."  Seriously?  The Exorcist? Check.  Last House on the Left?  You betcha!  Psycho?  A classic scare.  However, more than half of Henry merely plods along...until he gets a video camera.  All the early kills are artistically posed like mannequins with the sound of the actual murder in the background.  It's an interesting filming technique but hardly scary.
Granted, once Henry and Otis get a video camera, things get much darker as they enjoy, not only torturing and murdering people but also viewing it again and again afterward.  That's a very disturbing thought, indeed, but it makes you feel more sick in your stomach rather than sacred.  Any one else out there agree?
Henry is based on the true story of serial killer Henry Lee Lukas.  This always ups the creep factor in any movie, but for my money Ed Gein trumps Lukas in a heartbeat in the serial killer department.  If you like this kind of movie, definitely check out Deranged (1974) which is way creepier and disturbing in my opinion.
Still, Henry is a good movie.  Michael Rooker is in good form as Henry.  He's always been a solid actor and delivers the goods in movies time and time again.  Rooker's portrayal of Lukas is a man with anger issues and absolutely no remorse for the people he murders.  He seems to do this for sport and amusement which is a pretty disturbing thought, indeed.  It's hard to imagine, though, that the real Lukas was not more menacing than Rooker portrays him.  However, I have no knowledge of the real serial killer so I can't say so for certain.
At times, this film feels more like a documentary to me than a real creeper.  If I didn't know the year it was filmed I would have guessed the 1970's instead of the 1980's.  It has an old school quality to it which is neither good nor bad.  It just is.
All in all, Henry, is a solid film but it would hardly make my list of the top 20 scariest films I've seen.  I guess you'll have to watch it and decide for yourself.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Madhouse (1974)

Vincent Price pays tribute to Vincent Price.  This is the core story of Madhouse where Price plays aging horror movie icon Paul Toombes.  Who better to play an aging horror movie icon that, uh, an aging horror movie icon.  While this movie also stars another horror icon, Peter Cushing, Madhouse is Price's world and we're all lucky to live in it.
Vincent is as radiant as ever and can even make average material seem like something special.  I have always admired his talent and he doesn't disappoint.  The script has a few problems and the "twist" ending is a bit stupid, but this doesn't diminish Price's radiant presence on screen.
This movie is Scream before there was a Scream.  See if you don't spot some of the major ideas in Craven's movie that are evident in Madhouse.  It makes me smile to see the connections.  It's also fun to view snipets of Price's earlier work in films such as The Pit and the Pendulum, Tales of Terror, and Fall of the House of Usher.
The only drawback to Madhouse is that the special effects are horrible.  It's obvious they had a tight budget with this film and the murders of the cast are poorly executed at best.  There simply isn't enough terror here.  Therefore, I sadly have to give this film a Good rating instead of a Very Good rating.  Madhouse has potential that it just doesn't reach.  This is unfortunate because there is such good stuff to work with here.  If you a fan of Vincent Price then this one is a must-see.  However, Madhouse does not represent his finest work on the silver screen.  If you're looking for that, try two of my favorites The Masque of the Red Death or House of Wax.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hell Night (1981)

In the late 70's, a sub-genre of horror became wildly successful and profitable: the slasher flick.  Films such as John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) gave birth to iconic modern monsters and we flocked in droves to see them kill off teenagers in creative and twisted ways.
Unfortunately, this also sent studios rushing to dismember the cash cow by producing poor imitations of the originals.  Bad special effects and sub-standard acting became the rule.  However, since these films made money, like Michael Meyers rising from the dead, studios continued to make more of them.
Hell Night is one of these films.  While the cinematography is decent, the special effects are groan-worthy.  Sorely missed are the talents of moderns splatter gods such as Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini.  Most the effects in this film look like they belong in a high school play.  It's a rather bloodless and cheesy affair in this viewer's opinion.
Furthermore, this film promises us the acting talents of two stars: Linda Blair of Exorcist fame and Vincent Van Patten who starred in more teen movies than I can recall.  Linda Blair is just not good in Hell Night.  It makes me long for the pea-soup shooting, head-twisting Linda Blair that scared the B-Jesus out of me when I saw the Exorcist for the first time.  This Linda Blair is completely declawed and lifeless.  Van Patten and the rest of the cast seem trapped in this film as well, with very little material to work with.
I know some people enjoy Hell Night and I've seen a number of positive reviews out there extolling its virtues.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out why people like this film.  If you're a fan of "real" slasher films such as Nightmare on Elm Street avoid this one like the plague.  It feels like the Disney version of slasher films and should be buried six foot under immediately.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Witchcraft (1964)

WARNING: This thoroughly British film, starring Lon Chaney Jr., barely stars Lon Chaney Jr.  His name is emblazoned front and center but, except for a few scenes at the beginning and end of the movie, he is completely absent from the plot. 
Now that you've been warned, on to Witchcraft.  This 1960's thriller feels a bit more like a melodrama and less like a horror film.  It's the kind of stuff I saw as a kid on late night horrorfests.  Witchcraft is well acted and has a decent plot.  However, it develops in ways that are fairly predictable.  In fact, you can see every supposed surprise coming from a mile away.  The set up is classic: A developer runs his bulldozer right through a cemetery to make way for a new housing development.  In the process he desecrates the graves of the Whitlock family, and unearths the coffin of uber-witch Vanessa who was buried alive many years ago.  Naturally, she is still alive and seeks her revenge on the developer's family.  You can pretty much figure out where it goes from there.
As a side note, if you have any friends who are Wiccans, do not invite them over to watch this film with you.  I guarantee you evening will not go well.  This film, like many others before it, ties witches to Satanism.  This, of course, is a long-standing societal prejudice that needs to be dismantled.  I know several Wiccans and they do not perform human sacrifices!!!  Their religion is earth-based and peaceful.  Enough said!
Overall, Witchcraft is not a bad film.  It's not great either.  It's just O.K.  If you're bored on a rainy Sunday afternoon with nothing to do, then this film will fit the bill quite nicely.  If you're looking for a masterful performance from Lon Chaney Jr. stick with The Wolf Man (1941).
RATING:  Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006)

While this Starz produced documentary is not a vintage film it does a wonderful job of tracing the slasher flick sub-genre of horror from Psycho to modern day films such as Saw.  The list of films that appear in this movies is exhaustive and includes classics as well as rotten tomatoes.  If you have any love for these kinds of films then this documentary is a must see.  Lots of in depth interviews with some my favorite directors [John Carpenter, Wes Craven] and make up effects gurus [Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero].  I streamed Going to Pieces on Netflix.  It is also available for purchase through Amazon.  Nicely done!