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!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Countess Dracula (1971)

Countess Dracula is "inspired" by the real serial killer Countess Erzsébeth Bathory, who brutally murdered countless young girls in Hungary during the late 16th and early 17th century.  It was said that she bathed in their blood to keep herself looking youthful and vivacious.  Bathory, along with Vlad "the Impaler" also provided the inspiration for Bram Stoker's classic novel "Dracula."
Countess Dracula has all the magnificent sets, beautiful cinematography and impeccable acting we've come to expect from Hammer Studios.  It's a visual delight.  The problem with this film is that it is breathtakingly slow.  The pacing is very British and Countess Dracula takes its time telling the story.  This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but most modern American audiences will find it too slow to watch.  Include me in that number!  I was surprised this film was listed at a run time of 93 minutes.  It seemed MUCH longer.
Now, a word about the actors.  Ingrid Pitt [The Wicker Man, The Vampire Lovers] is great as the old version of Countess Elisabeth.  She's conniving, desperate and has a menacing look that would scare anyone.  Nigel Green [The Masque of the Red Death] is her "old" love interest Captain Dobi.  He bears a striking resemblance to Christopher Lee and gives an adequate performance.  However, it feels like he has little material to work with and it makes me wonder what he could do with a bit more jucier role.  Sandor Eles is her "new" love interest and he fills the role rather well, adding a bit of energy to the story.
All in all, Countess Dracula is good, it's just not great.  Hammer Studio produced better films than this but even at their worst they still shine.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

To see the trailer click HERE.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Initiation (1984)

Who doesn't like a rousing sorority girl slasher film?  Well, The Initiation is not one of them.  For the first half an hour the film has a hard time trying to decide what it wants to be.  It starts out with a pledge initiations scene but then switches gears to an insane asylum.  Then it transforms into a family melodrama until it tries to make its way back into a slasher film.  Somewhere in the middle it takes a page from either Dreamscape or Nightmare on Elm Street.  It is frustratingly inconsistent.
The Initiation is not helped by marginal acting either.  No one really steals the show here.  Everyone is equally flat, including Daphne Zuniga [Melrose Place, The Fly II] who is an accomplished actress but NOT in this film.  Granted, The Initiation is early in her career but if you contrast her work to Heather Langenkamp's performance in A Nightmare on Elm Street [which came out the same year] there's no comparison. Langenkamp kicks her butt.
The best thing I can say about this film is that I was happy when it ended.  It's all been seen and done before and done much better.  Don't waste your time on this one.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Sentinel (1977)

The Sentinel is an under-appreciated and somewhat neglected gem of the 1970s.  It's a supernatural tale that involves a fashion model who moves into a beautiful New York City apartment.  Everything seems too good to be true...and then strange things start to happen. [Cue the ominous music.]  Director Michael Winner [Scorpio, Death Wish] does a wonderful job of slowly feeding us the clues that lead to solving what's going on in the apartment building.  Furthermore, the make up and special effects are nicely done and add to the overall creepiness of The Sentinel.
It's a classic tale that is greatly enhanced by a cast of thousands.  It would almost be easier to list who is not in this pic but here's a sample of the talent involved: Chris Sarandon [Fright Night], John Carradine [see his credits on my site], Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Beverly D'Angelo and more.  Cristian Rains also does a good job as Alison Parker, the fashion model, as she descends into madness.  The transformation during the film is quite good and very convincing.
If you like films that are slightly off kilter and involve, demons, creepy character and the like, then The Sentinel is for you.  I won't spoil the plot.  Just sit back and enjoy this nicely crafted horror film.  It's time The Sentinel got it's due among critics and fans alike.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Young Frankenstein (1974)

If you want to learn how to strike the right balance between horror and comedy, look no further than the 1970's classic Young Frankenstein which I have always considered to be one of Mel Brook's finest film.  I have seen it so any times I can spout endless quotes from the movie.  It still brings a smile to my face every time I see it.
Young Frankenstein is a parody that draws heavily from the 1930's classics The Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein.  Mel Brooks was smart enough to film it in black and white and even captured the feel of those classic castle sets perfectly.
Everything, and I mean everything, about this film works.  It's comedic timing is brilliant.  The pacing is perfect.  The soundtrack is wonderful.  And the cast...oh, the cast, is as good as it gets.  Gene Wilder is Dr. Frankentein, which he pronounces [fronk-en-steen].  Peter Boyle is spot on as the monster and the rest of the cast is brilliant as well.  I especially love Kenneth Mars' interpretation of Inspector Kemp.  Go back and watch Son of Frankenstein (1939) and look for Lionel Atwill's Inspector Krogh.  You will appreciate what Mars does in Young Frankenstein even more.
I could gush about this movie forever but I'll stop for now.  If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?  It just doesn't get any better than this.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Stuff (1985)

The Stuff is a film that takes itself WAY too seriously.  Unlike it's predecessor The Blob (1958), The Stuff has no sense of humor whatsoever.  This is unfortunate because it needs it desperately since it's a marginal horror movie at best.  The basic story line is simple enough: a mysterious goo oozes from the earth's core and becomes the latest dessert craze.  The problem is that consuming The Stuff also turns people into zombie-like creatures who would do anything to get more Stuff, including killing those who get in their way.  This movie could have been a witty satire about the over-consumption of material goods in the good old U.S.A.  But, alas, it has no lofty aspirations such as these.  It settles for far, far less.
This is sad because it's a waste of a great cast including veteran character actors such as Michael Moriarty [Law & Order], Garrett Morris [Saturday Night Live], Paul Sorvino [Good Fellas, My Big Fat greek Wedding] and Danny Aiello [Moonstruck].  They are all trapped in this sad, little film.
Why belabor the point?  The Stuff is not a bad film, but it's not good either.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game is quite a fine film for a budget stretcher.  After RKO Radio Pictures spent a small fortune on King Kong (1933), they tried to recoup some of their expenses by reusing sets, casts and and creative talent to produce the film.  The basic story line involves a cabin cruiser that is shipwrecked off a remote island.  The lone survivor is Martin, played wonderfully by Robert Armstrong [Son of Kong] who was also the lead in King Kong.  Martin finds himself the guest of Count Zaroff, along with two other unfortunates.  When Martin refuses to join Zaroff in a hunt for humans, he himself becomes the next prey.
In addition to Armstrong's solid tough-man performance, Leslie Banks [The Man Who Knew Too Much, Chamber of Horrors] is a delight as the slightly crazed Zaroff.  His performance is intentionally a bit over the top and I love his mixture of sheer lunacy and evil menace.  Fay Wray also lights up the screen as Eve.  The camera absolutely loved her.  The only disappointment is that they don't give her enough to do except stumble in the rainforest.  Ah, such was the fate of many 1930's on-screen women.
By modern standards of the genre, this one feels more like a thriller than a horror film.  If you like drama with very little blood shed, then The Most Dangerous Game might be your cup of tea.  It well paced and well written.  It's the perfect film for a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

House (1986)

I really wanted to like House.  It begins with a good cast including William Katt [Greatest American Hero, Carrie], George Wendt [Cheers], and Richard Moll [Night Court] and "that actress we swear we saw on on every 1980's TV show but don't know her name" Kay Lenz [Prisoners of the Lost Universe and almost every TV show in the 80's].  It also has director Steve Miner [Halloween: H20, Friday the 13th, Part 2] at the helm who has a long list of directing credits attached to his name, so of which are really good films.
Unfortunately, House gets bogged down by slow pacing, marginal acting and groan worthy special effects.  The ghosts and ghouls in House are on par with Killer Klowns From Outerspace (1988), i.e. lots of poorly constructed latex rubber and bad puppeteering.  It's almost painful to watch since 1980's effects gurus had wonderful stuff to work with that produced thrilling results in films such as An American Werewolf in London and Hellraiser.  
I just could not get into this film.  I love haunted house movies but this one constantly left me saying "So what?" and "Who cares?"  In conclusion, House is not a bad movie.  It's just not that interesting.  Everything in this film has been done before and done better.  Ho-hum.


For those who care, House spawned a sequel in 1987.  It's even worse than the original and does not warrant a separate review.  I could not even finish watching the poor, wretched thing.  Enough said.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bloody Birthday (1981)

Bloody Birthday is bloody awful.  There's not a single idea in this film that hadn't already been done before and done soooo much better.  Here's a list of stolen goods:
1).  The soundtrack was stolen from Friday the 13th who stole it from Psycho.  This is the weakest version of the three.
2).  The demonic, murderous children are from  a number of previous horror films including The Bad Seed and The Omen.  Again, this is the weakest of the three and this theme would go on to greatness three years later with Children of the Corn.  [One of my faves from the 1980's]
3).  Clueless parents appear in films too numerous to mention.  They seem especially clueless here.
4). Sex = death has been done as well.  Many "sluts" have been the victims of heinous crimes in slasher flicks such as Black Christmas and Friday the 13th.  Here, it's a dull and lifeless retread.
5)  All the murders are relatively bloodless.  This is not a drawback in the hands of a director like Alfred Hitchcock but here, in Ed Hunt's hands, the kills are a total yawn-fest.
Holy cow, skip this crap-fest altogether.  It's not even so bad that it's funny.  It's just plain bad.
RATING: Bad.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

King Kong (1933)

King Kong is, quite simply one of the finest films ever made, horror or otherwise.  Everything about this film works and works wonderfully.  From a classic script to breath-taking special effects, it's still a wonder to behold nearly 80 years later.
Fay Wray is the quintessential blonde bombshell and the original "scream queen."  Boy that girl sure does have a set of lungs on her!  The rest of the cast does a fine job as well but, let's be honest, the star of this show is Kong!
The brilliant stop-motion animation work of King Kong is nearly flawless. I'm sure Kong's original audience screamed and gripped their seat cushions when Kong appeared on screen for the first time.  Then, to up the ante, audiences were treated to a parade of dinosaurs that came next, some of whom wrestled with Kong in epic battle scenes.  
When Kong reaches New York City, the effects kept coming as we watched Kong derail an above ground subway train and fight with airplanes while hanging from the top of the Empire State Building.  The many hands it took to make all of this movie magic happen are too numerous to mention.  Their combined efforts result is spectacular filmmaking.
If you've never seen the original King Kong, what in the world are you waiting for?  Put this at the top of your list and prepare yourself for one heck of a ride.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

April Fool's Day (1986)

April Fool's Day [AFD] has no major star power.  However, the cast is full of 1980's actors who fall under the category of "I know I've seen them before but I'm not sure where."  This includes Thomas F. Wilson [Back to the Future series] as Rob, heartthrob Ken Olandt [Leprechaun] as Rob and Deborah Foreman [Waxwork, Valley Girl] as Muffy St. John.  The whole cast gives a solid performance which adds greatly to the film.
AFD falls into the sub-genre of the "Dead Teenager Movie" although it's script is much more clever than most.  The basic plot involves a group of eight college friends who gather together at an island mansion to celebrate their final year of school.  This soirée is hosted by Muffy whose parents own the house.  Hidden secrets end up being revealed.  People turn up dead...or are they?  Is a killer on the loose or is this someone's idea of a twisted April Fool's Day joke?  AFD leaves the audience hanging until the very end of the film.  Plus we get the surprise bonus of a nice little twist at the very end.
AFD is a fun ride, indeed and stands heads above many films in this sub-genre.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Watchers (1988)

For the life of me, I don't understand why this film has a 4.9 rating on IMDB.  This is a really good movie that relies heavily on the notion that it's what you don't see on screen that is far more terrifying that what you actually see.  In this regard it succeeds admirably.  Most gripes seem to be that the movie deviates too much from the book.  All I can say is that I never read the book so get over yourselves.  A movie is a movie.  A book is a book.  They are two different things so try to enjoy it for what it is rather than what it is not.
Watcher stars 80's teen heartthrob Corey Haim as Travis, a likable teenager who takes in a super-intelligent stray dog only to find it's being pursued by a far more sinister creature form the same genetic research lab.  Watchers is based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name.  Director John Hess does a great job of keeping the action moving along and keeping the tension pretty high.  While he has a rather small list of directing credits I think he does a great job with this film and brings out good performances from all of his actors.
Speaking of which, my favorite character is Lem who is played by the always creepy and intense Michael Ironside [Scanners, Highlander 2].  He is wonderful in every film I've ever seen him in.  You are always in good hands when he appears on screen and he does not disappoint in Watchers.  Kudos also to Sandy the Dog who plays Furface.  She is a fantastic animal companion in this movie and is definitely one of the stars of this show.
Here's some bonus trivia.  The executive producer for Watchers is noneother than Roger Corman and this is one film he can be proud of.  Jason Priestly [90210] also makes cameo as "boy on bike."  Watch  closely or you'll miss him!
Finally, Joel Goldsmith, the son of legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith, gives us a nice score that is avoids many of the 80's cliches so prevalent in movies of that era.  His work on Watchers sounds like something his father would have composed.  I consider that to be a high complement, indeed.
RATING:  Very Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

Don't adjust your T.V. screens.  Yes, that is a ferocious bat-spider you see attacking our fearless astronauts on the planet Mars.  The Angry Red Planet [TARP] is a film that I believe transcends its not-so-special effects.  There is something about this film that is very endearing to me and critics are unnecessarily harsh with it.  Danish-born writer/director Ib Melchior tries his best to give his 1950's audience a grand adventure and I believe he succeeds.  Considering how small a budget he had to work with in this film, the results are impressive to say the least.
TARP is a classic 1950's Sci-Fi adventure with touches of horror.  Gerald Mohr is the unlikely captain of the spaceship in all his male chauvinist pig glory.  The way he treats his femme-fatale subordinate Iris would land him a sexual harassment lawsuit in our day and age.  Nora Hayden is delightful as Iris.  She is the emotional center of the film and gives TARP it's much needed heart and soul.  The other two astronauts are fine as well but are definitely peripheral characters.
TARP is a bit wordy at times, filled with lots of techno-babble.  But that was common in Sci-Fi films of that era.  The ultra red color filter used during the scenes where the crew is on the planet Mars is effective and serves to counteract the terrible monster effects that are right up there with the best of Ed Wood.  Yet, these monsters fall into the "they're so bad they're good" category and are worth a few laughs at the very least.
Give this one a chance.  It's not Forbidden Planet (1956) but its better than it probably has a right to be.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dreamscape (1984)

Dreamscape has one heck of a cast: Dennis Quaid, Christopher Plummer, Max von Sydow, Eddie Albert and Kate Capshaw.  It should have been a total home run but there's something about it that falls short for me.
The dream theme is done better in Nightmare on Elm Street which came out the same year.  Nightmare also have much better special effects as well.  The "hippy psychedelic"   dream travel was also done better in Altered States (1980) which is one crazy ride not to be missed.  The whole movie made me feel like I'd seen it before and it was done better.
This is not to say that Dreamscape is a bad movie.  The acting was fine but it felt like the script gave them very little to work with.  Maybe it was the mood I was in when I watched it but I found the whole thing rather boring.  The horror/fantasy elements are few and far between with lots of nothing really going on in the middle.  Dreamscape is just O.K. and nothing more needs to be said.  Spend your time watching the other two I mentioned in this review.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Snow Creature (1954)

If Ed Wood had set out to make a picture about the Yeti, it would look something like this.  Director W. Lee Wilder, who made a number of B-movies in the 50's and 60's, does his best to give us us his worst.  The Yeti in this film looks like a 6 ½ foot human in furry pajamas.  The costume is absolutely horrible.  Furthermore, the plot has been done a million times over and you can anticipate every scene almost shot for shot.
To make matter worse, much of the front end of the film feels flat and wooden, like a really boring documentary that you saw in Elementary School back when they had film projectors.  With so many wonderful creature features out there, why waste your time watching this kind of drivel?  Avoid this one even if it's the last video on the shelf.  Go outside and play with your dog.  Clean the house.  Do anything except watch this movie!
RATING: Bad.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Video Dead (1987)

What do you do when a comedy is not funny?  What do you do when the zombies are better actors than the living?  Such is the case with The Video Dead which proves that the 1980's spawned some truly terrible horror films.
I've seen better acting at the local community theater.  Oy-veh.  Who are these people?  Were they all relatives and friends of the director?  Speaking of the director, Robert Scott wrote, produced and directed this monstrosity.  I guess he's the original M. Night Shamalan.  Someone sohuld have said to him along the way. "You know, this film really sucks."  Thankfully, he had a better career as an Assistant Director with J.A.G. and House M.D. among his credits.
THe greatest loss of this film is that the zombies themselves are quite good.  Nice make-up.  Nice Romero shambling and flesh biting.  Too bad they were trapped in this cinematic tragedy and could not drag themselves off the set and into another movie.
Yuck.  Yuck!  YUCK!
RATING: Bad
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.  Although, for the life of me I don't know why anyone would bother!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

Island of Lost Souls is one of the most under-appreciated and least seen of the great 1930's horror movies.  Based on a story by H.G. Wells, Island of Lost Souls stars Charles Laughton [The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Spartacus, Mutiny on the Bounty] as Dr. Moreau, a "mad scientist" who conducts evolutionary experiments on animals in order to make them more human.  Laughton is terrific as Moreau.  His performance is subtle but unnerving.  His Moreau is a man with few scruples and no compassion for the victims of his experiments.  He also conveys a twisted sense of humor that is seen as a slight smile on his face or a twinkle in his eyes.  Furthermore, Laughton also gives off an Oscar Wilde or Dr. Frank-n-furter vibe that's a delight to watch and must have been a bit controversial in the 1930's.  
Richard Arlen is also quite good as our hero Edward Parker who gradually uncovers the horrible truth about Dr. Moreau's experiments.  He's the perfect counterpoint to Laughton and they play off of each other very well.  Bela Lugosi also has a small cameo as one of the lead mutants but his makeup gets in the way of his performance as far as I'm concerned.
Speaking of make-up, Wally Westmore does a really great job in this picture with the exception of Lugosi.  The hair work is excellent and in an age where silicone was not available his prosthetic work is very clean and convincing.  Erie C. Kenton's direction [House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein] is also very good and is some of the finest work of his career.
Island of Lost Souls provided the inspiration for so many movies to follow such as The Fly (1958), Swamp Thing (1987), and just about every creature feature in the 1950's.  It's a must-see of 1930s horror.  Don't miss it.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Children in the Attic (1987)

Back when I was a junior in High School (1979), everyone I knew was reading Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews.  It was an old-fashioned Gothic horror novel that captured our imagination as it told the story of four siblings living in an attic who were at the mercy of a crazy grandmother and a self-absorbed mother.  Finally in 1987, the film version of this story was released.  However, it was largely panned by fans and critics alike.
This is one of those instances where I disagree with the majority of critics.  I've always liked this film.  Louise Fletcher [Firestarter, Cruel Intentions] is a delight to watch as the uber-oppressed, black dress wearing, Bible-toting grandmother.  She doesn't even have to say a word.  Her mere appearance is creepy enough to unnerve anyone.  Victoria Tennant is also very good as the mother who is absolutely clueless as to what it happening with her children and couldn't seem to care less.
The real stand out among the kids is Kristy Swanson [Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ferris Bueller's Day Off] as Cathy.  She reminds me of a young Patricia Arquette and fills the role with passion and true emotion.  Jeb Stuart Adams [The Goonies, Once Bitten] plays her brother, Chris, and he is also quite good.
One of the drawbacks in this film is the make up used on the children as they get sicker and sicker.  They sort of look like the Cullen family from Twilight which, for me, is not a good thing.  A little subtler approach would have been more effective.
Flowers in the Attic is the kind of film that's perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.  There are plenty of films out there that will scare the b-Jesus out of you but this one is just plain creepy and is able to keep us that feeling for the entire length of the movie.  If you've never seen this one, it really is worth a try.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Zombiethon (1986)

Zombie Porn.  This is the only way I can think to describe this wretched little film that features clips from a number of Italian zombie films.  If you're a 12 year old boy you might find some joy from nude women cavorting all over the big screen who meet their demise by flesh-eating zombies.  Otherwise, this is a total piece of trash.
Zombiethon has a loose narrative of a group of zombies gathered together to watch zombie films.  This could be entertaining in the right hands but in this case, it's a red hot mess.  Yes, it includes two lengthy clips from Zombi 2 which is very good film.  But then it goes downhill from there.
Even fans of the zombie genre do not need to see this one.  I wish I could get the 88 minutes of my life I wasted watching Zombiethon.  However, that is not possible.  Don't make the same mistake.  Watch another film.  Go out to dinner with a friend.  Bang your head repeatedly against a wall.  Anything but taking the time to watch this abysmal piece of "cinema."  Enough said.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sugar Hill (1974)

"Hello, honk, remember me?" says Diane "Sugar" Hill as her zombie hordes feed one of her enemies to a herd of hungry pigs.  "I hope they're into white trash." she says with a sly smile.  Oh my goodness, nobody should have this much fun watching a horror movie. It definitely falls into the category of "guilty pleasure."  And I'm guilty as charged!
Marki Bay channels her best Vanessa Williams as our self-empowered heroine, Sugar.  The story begins as Sugar's boyfriend, Langston, is murdered by a group of thugs who want to take over his club.  With the help of a voodoo priestess and a horde of the undead, Sugar goes out into the world to seek her revenge.  Perfect!
Marki Bay is absolutely delightful as Sugar.  She's smart, self-assured and cool as they come.  This is one tough chick that nobody should mess with.  Robert Quarry [Dr Phibes Rises Again, Count Yorga] is her arch nemesis and he fits the bill perfectly.  Add to this mix Richard Lawson [Poltergeist, Scream Blackula Scream] as inspector Valentine and a cast of talented character actors and you have a complete home run.  A shout out to Zara Cully [Mother Jefferson from TV's The Jeffersons] for her portrayal of voodoo priestess, Mama Maitresse.  She nearly steals every scene she's in.  I wouldn't want to mess with her either!
Now, let's talk about the zombies.  Kudos to Hank Edds for giving us something interesting to look at.  These zombies look more like those from Zombi 2 (1979) than they do Night of the Living Dead (1968).  They are artistically rendered with dirt, cob webs, and eyes that look like wedges of silver ping pong balls.  It doesn't sound great but it works in this film.  The music that accompanies them also adds to the feel of these Haitian voodoo zombies.  Nicely done.
There is not much more to say.  You either love or hate the blacksploitation films of the early 1970's.  For me, it's pure amore! 
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)

In 1920 John Barrymore gave us a tour-de-force performance in the silent version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  It was inevitable that a "talkie" would come along to tell this Robert Lewis Stevenson story to a new generation.  So in the year that Universal Studio unleashed one of the golden eras of horror with Dracula and Frankenstein, Paramount Pictures gave us Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
Director Rouben Mamoulian and cinematographer Karl Struss [The Fly, The Great Dictator] give us a beautifully crafted film that stacks up with the greats of the 1930's.  They also have Frederic March who nearly fills the shoes of Barrymore as Jekyll/Hyde.  The only drawback to his performance is the over-the-top, ridiculous make-up he wears as Hyde who has a bigger set of false teeth than is necessary or useful.  I would have loved to have seen what Jack Pierce would have come up with...but he was a busy man in 1931, doing the make-up for both Dracula and Frankenstein.
The studio should have trusted March's talent as an actor who could have made a compelling Hyde without the bad hair and facial prosthetics.  The make-up gets in the way of his performance rather than enhancing it.  Yet, in spite of this, March's Hyde is dark and unsettling.  His violence toward women is often subtle in the film but this makes it even more disturbing to watch. March's Hyde is definitely the star of this show and all the other characters serve to enhance March's skillful performance.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable version of the classic Jekyll/Hyde story that is often overlooked by the majority of horror fans who are usually drawn to Dracula and Frankenstein.  Don't miss it. 
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Faust (1926)

German director F.W. Murnau was a groundbreaking genius of early cinema.  His silent films contains some of the most imaginative and indelible characters such as Nosferatu (1922) and the eye-popping fantasy that is Faust.  Cinematographer Carl Hoffman helps Murnau bring Goethe's play to life as God and Satan wage a bet for control of the world.
I love the way they portray the Archangel and the Devil in the beginning of this film.  These two characters work well on screen and must have been a wonder for audiences to behold in 1926.  Hoffman also uses lots of shadow, cloud and shafts of light to establish the mood of the film.  His camera tricks are also right up there with the great French director Georges Méliès.  The visual elements in Faust are truly a wonder to behold.
Gösta Ekman's portrayal of Faust is great.  His wild white hair and piercing eyes give him a powerful presence onscreen.  Ekman was known as Swedish theater's most legendary stage actor and his considerable talent shows in this film.  His Faust is dramatic and intense which is exactly what is needed to make this film come alive.
Thanks to critical success of The Artist (2011) and Hugo (2011) there is a renewed interest in silent film.  I can only hope it sends people scurrying to Netflix to uncover some of the hidden gems of this often neglected period of cinema.  Faust is a great place to start that journey.  It's a very accessible film for those new to the genre and its fanciful, fantasy-horror elements are enough to keep modern audiences thoroughly entertained.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.