Welcome, children of the night! This Blog is for fans of vintage horror films as well as those who are just beginning to discover the joy of these classic movies. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Monkey Shines (1988)

When most people think of George A. Romero, they always think of zombies. Yet, Romero also did other fine films including Monkey Shines.  This one is highly original and involves a quadriplegic who has a trained monkey to help him around the house.  Things start our great but. of course, they don't stay that way!  The star of this show is Boo, the Capuchin monkey who steals the show.  He is an amazing little actor and this film would not work as well without his magnificent performance.
The second thing it has going for it is Jason Beghe [Thelma & Louise, G.I. Jane] who plays Allan Mann, the quadriplegic.  His ability to emote without the use of much of his body is fantastic.  His scenes with the monkey are wonderful and very convincing.  Granted, his character is far from likable for most of the film but you still can't help but sympathize with the guy when the monkey shows her mean streak.  That, my friend, is great acting.
George Romero really hits this one out of the ballpark.  Monkey Shines starts out slow and gradually builds to a fevered pitch.  Romero captures something special with this film and I consider it to be one of his best.  As a side note make-up man and Romero sidekick Tom Savini did some of the stunts in this film as well as special make-up effects.  Don't miss this one.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Count Dracula (1970)

Bram Stoker's novel comes to life, once again, in this less than spectacular Spanish film with English over-dubs.  I was drawn to it because it starred Christopher Lee as Count Dracula and Klaus Kinski as Renfield.  That's pretty much all it had going for it.  Jesus Franco's version of this classic tale brings absolutely nothing new to the table.  It's nice to look at but is very low key in terms of energy and atmosphere.  There is no feeling of dread in this movie.  No sense of impending doom.  Instead we have Renfied in a padded cell eating flies and staring crazily into space.  We also have a cast of characters whom I could have cared less what happened to them.  Even Christopher Lee is ho-hum in this film.  He has certainly done Dracula better.  But, hey, a guy has got to earn a paycheck!
With so many wonderful vampire films out there, it hardly seems worth the effort to watch this one.  It's not a poorly made film.  The bottom line is that it's simply not interesting nor compelling filmmaking.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Gate (1986)

I completely and totally love this classic 80's horror film.  Forget the 5.4 rating on IMDB.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Gate stars Stephen Dorff [Immortals, Blade] as Glenn, your average, all-American kids whose yard just happens to be a gateway to hell!  Dorff is perfect as Glenn.  As a child actor, he avoids being either overly-precocious or annoyingly melodramatic.  Instead, his character is real and authentic.  You really sympathize with the little guy.  His main sidekicks in this horror adventure are his best friend Terry, played by Louis Tripp and his sister Al, played by Christa Denton [Growing Pains]. They also do a nice job with their characters and the viewer is quickly drawn into their plight.
For me the real star of this show are the special and visual effects.  The pint-sized demons were done with stop-motion animation which is something of a rarity in modern films.  It really works here to great effect.  The other effects that animate the portal to hell are simple but the work well.  The soundtrack also adds to the overall experience of the film and definitely helps to heighten the tension during the big action scenes.
Director Tibor Takács and cinematographer Thomas Vámos deliver a film that looks fantastic and totally draws the audience into the power of the story.  The Gate is a special film with a loyal cult following including me.  Critics be damned.  See this movie!!!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nightmare (1964)

Melodramatic and crazy.  These are the two words I would use to describe Nightmare, the story of poor Janet who is haunted by persistent nightmares of her mother.   Jennie Linden plays the troubled teen in question.  There is no doubt she brings a LOT of energy to the role.  However, I would argue her performance is a bit over the top for me.  Crazy is always more interesting when it's subtle.  [Anthony Perkins in Psycho comes to mind.] Trust me, her performance is far from subtle.  The same goes for most of the other women in the cast as well.  It's a bit too much for me but others might find it quite entertaining.
The strongest elements Nightmare has going for it are its cinematography and direction.  It is a well made black and white film with beautiful use of light and shadow.  Director Freddie Francis [The Elephant Man, Cape Fear] definitely knows how to deliver  the good in terms of the pacing of the story and the overall look of the film.  Furthermore, the Netflix version of it I streamed on my TV looked very good.  The picture was crisp and clear and the sound was good as well.   
The only negative thing I have to say, other than the way-over-the-top acting, is that the script needed a bit more work.  It starts out strong but then looses steam toward the end of the film.  With a little more work, Nightmare could have been a really great film.  It just doesn't quite reach that spot for me.  If you like psychological thrillers you will probably enjoy this one.  
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960)

The soundtrack on this movie is huge.  It sounds like something BIG is about to happen EACH AND EVERY SECOND of this film.  Trumpets blare.  Cymbals crash.  But, alas, very little happens on screen.  In fact, The Cape Canaveral Monsters feel a bit like an Ed Wood Production with John Williams [Star Wars] scoring each an every frame as if his life depended on it!
I tried to totally dislike this film.  However, there are some things about it that make it bearable to watch.  First of all, the acting is not bad.  Secondly, this film is often unintentionally funny.  The sets are laugh-out-loud poor, including the aliens using a tesla coil [yep, a tesla coil] to contact their intergalactic friends.  
Director Phil Tucker was known for making low budget 1950's films, the best known of these is Robot Monster which is thought by many to fall into the "it's so bad, it's good" category of filmmaking.  The Cape Canaveral Monsters may fall into this sub-genre of films as well.  If you like 1950's Sci-Fi flix with pseudo science and ridiculous dialogue then you might actually enjoy this movie.
The Cape Canaveral Monsters is predictable nearly every step of the way.  Yet, in spite of this, I cannot say it was a complete red hot mess.  Give it a shot if you've got nothing else to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  But don't expect it to be Forbidden Planet or Them!  This is definitely their white trash cousin.  You've been warned.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Hammer Horror takes on the Frankenstein story with mixed results.  Yes, it's impeccably filmed and well acted.  However, I just couldn't get too excited over it.  Why?  First of all, the make up on The Monster doesn't work very well.  It looks like he has a box of Kleenex tissue decoupaged to his head.  Furthermore, because of the way the make-up is applied, the face is permanently fixed and there is no way the actor can express emotion.  Jack Pierce did it MUCH better for Universal in the original Frankenstein.  The result in Evil of Frankenstein is that you have absolutely no sympathy for the Monster whatsoever.  He just stumbles around the set throwing things at people.  Ho-hum.
Secondly, even the great Peter Cushing cannot make this story interesting.  He gave it all the passion he could muster but this version of Frankenstein is simply a retread and brings nothing new to the table.  It may be well acted but it's just not that interesting of a story.
There are better versions of Frankenstein out there.  Unless you're a dye hard fan of this sub genre of horror, you can skip this one.  There are far better options for your viewing pleasure.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Night Creatures (1962)

Night Creatures is not exactly what I thought it would be on the basis on the movie's opening scenes.  If you're looking for horror you'll be disappointed.  However, if you're looking for an excellent drama/thriller this one will meet and probably exceed your expectations.
I really liked Night Creatures.  It has a lot going for it.  Let's start with the screenplay which was smart and well written.  The story is a period piece set in an 18th Century coastal English town that is suspected of smuggling and bootlegging.  Navy Captain Collier arrives on the scene to inspect the town and uncover the truth of the situation.  The story is interesting and takes a few unexpected turns along the way.  It's definitely one I felt like I had not seen before which is pretty hard to do.  I've seen a LOT of films!
The cast is stellar.  Peter Cushing [Horror of Dracula, Star Wars IV] stars as Rev. Dr. Blyss, who leads the flock in this little town.  He is marvelous at every turn and has a commanding presence of screen.  Patrick Allen is also excellent as Blyss' nemesis, Captain Collier.  The two play off each other very well.  Finally, Oliver Reed [Oliver, Gladiator] plays Harry Cobtree who has been totally smitten by the "serving wench" at the local bar, Imogene, played by Yvonne Romain [The Curse of the Werewolf, Devil Doll].  They are great together and provide the emotional heart of the film.
All aspects of the Night Creatures' production are first rate as well.  Director Peter Graham Scott gives us a film that is both beautiful to look at and has the right amount of action to keep the viewer interested.  The score and cinematography are a delight as well.  This is the kind of movie that made Hammer Studios the horror juggernaut it was.  There is nothing negative I can say about it.  Just sit back and enjoy this little gem of a movie.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968)

I thoroughly enjoyed this Hammer Horror vampire tale starring Christopher Lee as Dracula.  Yes, the plot is somewhat familiar and predictable but there are some nice elements to the story that make it feel fresh and interesting.  Lee's Dracula is a man on a revenge mission after the good Monsignor exorcizes his castle and places a cross on the door, barring his entrance.  He chases the Monsignor across country where he attempts to seduce the Monsignor's niece as his bride. Mu-ha-ha!
Lee doesn't get nearly enough screen time in this film.  However, every time he makes an appearance you can't take your eyes off of him.  Most of the time he doesn't even speak a word yet he still manages to convey a sense of dread and malice.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.  It's what we come to expect from Hammer Studios.
Dracula has beautiful cinematography and sets the mood with its visual style.  It's grand, old-world and spooky.  Just the way I like it.  James Bernard [Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein] provides a beautiful and emotive soundtrack that skips all the horror music cliches and opts for a classic symphonic score.  It's a treat for the ears and adds greatly to the experience of the film.  Director Freddie Francis [The Elephant Man, Cape Fear] keeps the action moving at a nice pace and has fill command of both the dramatic and subtle moments in the film.
As a final note, the ending of Dracula is just spectacular.  You'll just have to see it for yourself.  It's the perfect way for Lee to meet his demise in this film.  Don't miss this one.  It's a classic Dracula story told with great energy and beauty.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dark Shadows (1966-1971)

Before there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Vampire Diaries, there was Dark Shadows.  Forget Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.  It's all about Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins.  Thanks to Netflix, you can now stream episodes of this classic horror soap opera to your hearts content.  Frid is unforgettable as Barnabas Collins.  Unlike Depp, he's not the butt of every joke.  Instead, he's mysterious and menacing, commanding the screen like no other.  Joan Bennett is also delightful as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and has a wonderful presence on screen.
Dark Shadows is the tale of the well-to-do Collins family of Collinsport, Maine.  It may well be the most unique soap opera that was ever created for American television.  It avoids many of the histrionics of your typical soaps and replaces this with horror and supernatural elements.  As a kid, I was not allowed to watch this T.V. show.  However, I snuck a peak every chance I got.  [Sorry, Mom.]  When Frid appeared on-screen in full vampire mode, it scared the crap out of me and I loved every minute of it!  I should have known then that I would become a big horror fan in the future.  
Don't miss this classic American television show.  There's nothing else quite like it.
RATING:  Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Theatre of Blood (1973)

Never underestimate a thespian spurned.  Only Vincent Price could pull off this horror/comedy whose murders parallel those found in Shakespeare's plays.  Theater of Blood stars the one and only Price as Edward Lionheart who leads a band of social outcasts on a revenge/murder spree against society's upper crust.  This is fun stuff with Price in full command of both the comedic and horror elements.  It's over the top at times but Price is able to sell it and sell it well.
Kudos to director Douglas Hickox [Zulu Dawn, Brannigan] for keeping the action moving at a nice pace and capturing the gleeful mirth of Price's expressive face.  The blood effects are pretty good as well, especially by early 1970's standards.  This is a really creative screenplay and, in my opinion, screams to be remade.  Now, who could possibly fill Price's shoes in this role?  Watch it and let me know who you think would be a worthy successor.   This one is definitely a keeper.
P.S.  I envision Robert Downey Jr. as Lionheart.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Maniac (1980)

Psycho killer.  Qu'est-ce que c'est?  A so-so slasher flick is the answer.  [Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa.]  Seriously Joe Spinell [Rocky, Taxi Driver] stars as Frank Zito, a psychotic killer on the loose in NYC who takes the scalps of his female victims as trophies.  Spinell definitely scores some points in the creepy department.  He has a fairly decent screen presence in Maniac.  However, the actually killings, by and large, have terrible blood effects that detract from the overall scariness of the film.
One exception to this is the exploding head scene where our killer decapitates someone  with a single blast form a shotgun while the victim is in the driver's seat of a car.  It's pretty awesome by early 80's standards if you like that kind of thing.  Tom Savini worked on the make-up for this film and also made a cameo appearance as the man who met his demise.
Carpenter definitely did the psycho killer thing better with Halloween (1976) in creating a truly horrifying masterpiece.  Maniac feels more like a "been there, done that" kind of film.  It follows the formula, but there's nothing highly original about it.  I found myself observing the film instead of being drawn into it.  That's NOT a good thing.  These kinds of movies work well when they either mess with the viewers heads or have us rooting for some poor damsel in distress who eventually summons up the courage to kick the killers' ass.  Neither of these happens in Maniac.  In fact, the female actresses in this film are marginal at best.  They are simply expendable targets for the killer.  No thing more, nothing less.
So, if you're looking for a just O.K. slasher flick, then this one will work.  However, if want something that will scare the B-Jesus out of you, then look elsewhere.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Videodrome (1983)

David Cronenberg is the kind of director you either love or hate.  He definitely knows how to establish an off-kilter atmosphere and keep the viewer hanging there for an hour or two.  Videodrome is a strange and wonderful film.  It takes you on one of the weirdest journeys you'll ever embark upon where reality and fantasy become so intertwined you can't tell which is which.  The special effects are also crazy and effective.  There's no CGI here.  Just really good latex work by legendary Rick Baker that's right up there with the best of John Carpenter's films.
The star of Videodrome is definitely James Woods.  Without his magnetic performance, this film would be in serious trouble.  Deborah Harry [lead singer of Blondie] is along for the ride but cannot compare to Woods' intensity on screen.  While this film is a little bit of a slow burner at times, it's a low flame the likes of which you've never seen before.
I won't ruin the plot for you.  Enjoy the film as Cronenberg creatively explores the effects of video and violence on our society.  It is thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing, and altogether unforgettable.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Paranoiac (1963)

I am a big fan of Hammer Horror.  Over the years they produced some amazing films that are among some of the best in the horror genre.  I must admit, however, I couldn't get too excited about Paranoiac.  Yes, it stars THE Oliver Reed [Oliver, Gladiator] as Simon Ashby a wealthy socialite with a destructive personality who lives with a crazy family.  Yes, he gives a very good performance.  But Paranoiac left me feeling like I'd seen it a hundred times before.  For me there were no surprises.  The "twists" in the plot I saw coming a mile away.
This is not to suggest that Paranoiac is not a good film.  It is well made and reasonably well acted all around.  It's just...well...I can't put my finger on it but I found the whole thing a bit boring.  For whatever reason, it just didn't work for me.  But maybe it will work for you.
The critics seem somewhat fond of it.  However, it felt more like a melodrama to me than a horror film.  Do with it what you will.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Crawlspace (1986)

Crawlspace is a much better movie than the critics say it is.  It's the story of a man who runs an apartment house for women.  Unfortunately for them, he's a sadist with sociopathic tendencies.  Needless to say, things don't go well for the tenants.  The one and only German born actor Klaus Kinski [Nosferatu '79 version] stars as Dr. Karl Gunther.  He has an unmistakably off-kilter appearance on screen that works well for the character.  This is not Anthony Perkins doing his theatrics as Hannibal Lector.  Kinski's goes deeper and subtler.  Personally, I think he does a great job with the role.
The women, as they say, are grist for the mill.  Crawlspace starts off slow but then continues to build and spiral downward.  The last scene where Kinski puts on smeared lipstick and watches old Nazi films is truly disturbing.
A shout out to Sally Brown for her amazing portrayal of Martha White, a woman who has been held captive by Dr. Gunther for far too long.  Her tongue has been cut out and it's clear she's been horribly abused.  Brown completely nails the character and give us some of the more emotional moments of the film.
Yes, we've seen this kind of movie before.  Yes, the script needs a bit more work especially in the form of more backstory.  But I think Crawlspace is well worth your time solely for Kinski's performance.  Don't listen to the critics on this one.  Give a chance and let me know what you think.
RATING:  Very Good
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Hammer Horror puts its spin on the iconic story of The Phantom of the Opera.  As one would expect, the sets are huge and rich with detail.  Furthermore, Director Terence Fisher [House of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein] knows his way around a horror film and gets nice performances out of the entire cast.  
The high spots in Phantom are the performances of Herbert Lom as the Phantom and Michael Gough as bad guy Lord Ambrose d'Arcy.  Lom's phantom is not as diabolical as  Chaney's original, but the scene where he rehearses Christine is great as he turns up the mean in order to help her reach her potential.  Michael Gough [Batman, Sleepy Hollow] is fabulous as d'Arcy.  He pretty much steals the show and takes change of every scene he's in.  
The weak spots include Heather Sears as Christine.  She's a "plain girl" and simply doesn't have the vulnerability, charisma or beauty Christine should possess.  A second weak spot is that the make up on the phantom is unforgivably bad.  He is not unmasked until the last scene and the results are not terrifying at all.  I believe I did better makeup as a teenager on Halloween night.
The final weak spot is that they have messed around with the story quite a bit.  I understand the choices they made and they work well in this film.  However, I prefer a meaner and more vengeful phantom than one who has a heart of gold.  Oh well.  All in all they did a good job with Phantom but it's not my favorite version of this story.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.