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, August 30, 2012

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

Who will reach the tomb of Ghengis Khan first?  The English explorers or the diabolical Dr. Fu Manchu who plan on harnessing the power of the tomb's relics to dominate the world?  Mu-ha-ha-ha.  Boris Karloff is great at the evil doctor.  Kudos to make up artist Cecil Holland for doing an amazing job of transforming an Indian into an Asian.  The result is quite remarkable.  Furthermore, Karloff's ability to embody the role goes a long way toward convincing the audience he's from the Orient.

Although the film is classified as sci-fi/horror, it feels more like an action/adventure film.  Director Charles Brabin keeps the story moving along nicely and also gives us a visual feast that I'm sure felt very exotic to 1930's audiences.  Not surprisingly, the best scenes  take place within the tomb.

Myrna Loy is also delightful as Fah Lo See.  Her costume is fantastic and she has a silent intensity about her that works well in the role.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.

So, if you're looking for horror, you might be disappointed.  If, however you're looking for a nice 1930's action tale then you will find Mask of Fu Manchu quite enjoyable.  This one is a must-see for Karloff fans.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

A nobleman is murdered.  The locals blame it on vampires.  But appearances can be deceiving.  Director Tod Browning teams up again with Bela Lugosi for their second vampire film; the first being the iconic Dracula (1931).  This time out Lugosi is teamed up with Carroll Borland as Luna.  The two are simply movie magic.  Although they hardly speak a word, their magnetic presence sets the mood for every scene they're in.  Borland is particularly wonderful as Luna.  Her deep expressive eyes, fantastic gown and physical presence would provide the inspiration for other "vampettes" to follow such as Vampira, Morticia Addams and Elvira.  Unfortunately she and Lugosi have far too little screen time in this film.  I love every scene they're in and it left me wanting more.

The cast also includes screen legend Lionel Barrymore [It's a Wonderful Life, The Devil Doll ] as the professor and Lionel Atwill [Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Ghost of Frankenstein] as inspector Neumann.  Both do a nice job with their roles.  The weakest link is Elizabeth Allan as Irena.  While her performance is typical for the 1930's, her acting style feels dated for modern audiences.  It's a bit too melodramatic for my taste.

Tod Browning does a beautiful job directing this film.  He knows how to compose a scene and move the story along at a nice pace.  The scenes that take place in the dilapidated castle are particularly well done.  The only thing that kept me from giving this film an excellent rating is the ending which I thought was groan-worthy as well as the already mentioned too brief screen time of Lugosi and Borland.  Still it's a really wonderful film that is not to be missed.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

Italian director Bruno Mattei is no Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento.  He's no George Romero either.  But he stole all his material from all three with less than impressive results.  Let's start with Romero.  Mattei's zombies have the same sensibility about them as Romero's do from Dawn on the Dead.  Cheesy green make-up and torn flesh gags appear at every turn but Tom Savini did them better in Dawn and made it all seem more terrifying.  Mattei also stole Goblin's music, sometimes note for note, from Dario Argento's cut of "Dawn of the Dead."  Guess he couldn't afford to pay Goblin to write new songs so be simply used them over.  Finally, he tried to get a little creative with the look of the zombies, moving beyond the green make up a time or two.  But he couldn't reach the artistic heights that Fulci did in Zombi 2 which was his sequel to Night of the Living Dead.

The other thing that doesn't work well with Hell of the Living Dead is that it is mostly set in the jungles of Papua New Guinea with lots of open space.  In the Holy Trinity of Romero films [Night, Dawn and Day], each was set in a confined space [House, Mall, Underground Complex].  This helped to intensify the sense of dread in each of the films.  Mattei's sets are too open and the zombies are too easy to run away from in a number of scenes.  This leaves the audience watching the action from afar instead of being cramped in a confined space with the zombies.  Yawn!

I really wanted this film to be good but I was unimpressed in the end.  Perhaps I was having an off night when I watched it but I do know my zombie films that this one was, well, less than spectacular.

RATING: Fair.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988)

A bigger budget and a better cast does NOT always produce a better movie.  Such is the case with Return of the Killer Tomatoes.  It's clear they have a lot more money to work with and have enlisted the acing talents of a young George Clooney [Return to Horror High, From Dusk Til Dawn] and John Astin [Gomez in the Addams Family] to improve the franchise.  However, this actually makes for a weaker film.  Here's why:

Part of Attack of the Killer Tomato's appeal is its bad acting and cheezy dialogue.  It works because it's bad.  Better acting actually takes a lot of the "funny" out of the movie.  In fact, I found Return to be awfully dull, lacking much of the silly slapstick and parody that made the first film fun to watch.  Return simply takes itself too seriously and suffers for it.

Furthermore, the plot is too complex for its own good.  The simplicity of the first film worked in its favor.  People turning back and forth from tomato to human form might be a neat camera trick but it's rubbish when it comes to the enjoyment of the film.  

That's all I can really say.  Enjoy the first film for its crazy, campy sense of humor.  Skip the second and third altogether.  There are much better movies out there to be enjoyed so why settle for poor cinema?

RATING: Bad.

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Baby (1973)

The Baby is a campy psychodrama from the 1970s that is one crazy, twisted ride.  THe story revolves around the Wadsworth family which consists of Mama, two daughters and a 21 year old diaper-clad, bottle sucking baby.  A social worker arrives on the scene  and tries to rescue Baby form his family.  Let the drama begin!

Ruth Roman is absolutely delicious as Mama Wadsworth.  Think of her as the love child of Betty Davis in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" and Anthony Perkins in "Psycho."  Needless to say, she;s one crazy bi-athch!  The daughters are equally creepy as well which adds to the fun of the picture.

There's something about this film that is unsettling in a good way.  There's so much about it that feels so wrong.  It hits your emotional buttons and takes you on a wacky and weird ride.  

I won't spoil all the fun for you by giving away the plot.  This one need to be experienced scene by scene without knowing what's going on beforehand.  Just enjoy it.

Director Ted Post [Mangnum Fiorce, Beneath the Planet of the Apes] keeps The Baby moving at a nice pace, surprising the audience time and time again.  While it's not a classic, it sure is a creepy, crazy fun film.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978)

Yes, it's God-awful.  Yes, the special effects are non-existent.  Yes, the acting is terrible.  But, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is a camp classic.  It is best seen with friends and a case of beer which is how I was first introduced to this film when I was 23 years old.  I've loved it ever since.

Tomatoes is definitely not for everyone.  You have to have a twisted sense of humor and a love of B-grade horror movies.  If you think The Rocky Horror Picture Show is pure genius and Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space is brilliantly bad then you'll love Tomatoes.  What other movie would dare include a black undercover agent disguised as Adolph Hitler?  That takes some big tomatoes!

Trust me, director John De Bello is in on the joke.  He knows what he's doing and turns the sight gag knob to 11.  He makes fun of everything from Jaws to Lassie to every 1950's SCi-Fi and creature feature you've ever seen.  Furthermore, the sound the killer tomatoes make when they appear on screen is hilarious.  It definitely adds to the sense of camp. 

Make no mistake about it.  This is a terrible film and is often regarded as one of the worst movies ever made.  I couldn't disagree more.  There are plenty of bad films that are just plain bad.  Attack of the Killer Tomatoes manages to suck and be thoroughly entertaining at the same time.  Nicely done!

RATING: Excellently bad.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Circus of Horrors (1960)

If you're looking for horror in Circus of Horrors you will be hard pressed to find it.  If, you're looking for a nicely done thriller, then you've come to the right place.  Circus of Horrors begins with a rogue plastic surgeon who disappears after a botched procedure and reappears with a new face and a new identity as the owner of a circus.  I won't give away how he got there because that's part of the enjoyment of the film.  Suffice it to say that the good doctor is a bit of a control freak and kills everyone who either gets in his way or tries to leave the circus behind.

Anton Diffring [Fahrenheit 451, The Blue Max] is excellent as Dr. Schuler.  He commands every scene he's in with his steel blue eyes and brooding intensity.  He makes the story believable at every turn and knows when and where to let the crazy show.  Jane Hylton [The Manster] is also great as his assistant/spurned lover Angela.  She brings heart and empathy to the story as she watches the good doctor behave badly.

As an added bonus Donald Pleasence [Dr. Loomis in the Halloween movies] makes a cameo as Vanet, the original owner of the circus.  He is wonderful and leaves the audience wishing he had a bigger role to play in the movie.

Circus of Horrors looks good and is paced well.  The only groan-worthy scene is the bear attack early in the film.  It looks about as good as Ed Wood's Octopus in Bride of the Monster.  Picture a big bear rug being wrapped around a screaming actor and you get the effect.  It would have been better if they had shown nothing but the dead corpse at the end of the scene.

Furthermore, the make up effects are a weak as well.  Frank Pierce did much better work in the 1940's and 50's.  If this film had been shot in black and white they might have been able to get away with it.  However, in color it just doesn't cut it.

In the end the good far outweighs the bad.  Circus of Horrors is a well told thriller that is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962)

IMDB totally trashes this film with a rating of 4.9.  Ouch!  However, I would argue that while Journey to the Seventh Planet has its flaws, it falls into the "so bad its good" category.  There is something endearing about this film that I found quite enjoyable.  Yes, the acting is a bit stiff and the dialogue over scientific.  Yes, there are holes to be found in the plot and a number of details that defy explanation.  But here's the good stuff:

The overall plot is actually quite decent.  It takes the subject of "mind control by an alien being" into interesting territory where the ship's crew find their greatest fears and desires coming to life before their eyes.  

Furthermore, I freakin' love the stop-motion cyclops rat monster [I don't know how else to describe it].  It's horrible but in a really entertaining way.  It doesn't invoke terror as much as it does rolls of laughter.  This scene alone is worth the price of admission!

John Agar [Attack of the Puppet People, Tarantula] make a nice 1950's space ship captain.  He does it with the classic bravado of the period and hold the film together.  he rest of the cast is fine as well.

Finally, the cinematography is actually quite decent for the limited budget.  Yes, the exterior shots of the rocket flying through space are Ed Wood worthy [God-awful] but the shots on the surface of the planet work quite well.

So, be kind to Journey to the Seventh Planet.  If you like cheesy 1950's Sci-Fi flix, then you will probably find this one enjoyable.  It's not great filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not a red hot mess either!

RATING: Fair.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Return of Doctor X (1939)

The Return of Doctor X is not so much a sequel as it is a reboot.  In modern film language we sometimes call this a "re-imagining."  However, in this case, no imagination was used in the making of this film!  Overall it left me with the feeling that The Return of Doctor X was made to cash in on the popularity of the first film.  Imagine that happening!?!

This time out the story involves a new Doctor X, with the unusual casting of Humphrey Bogart in the part.  He's fine but he cannot light a candle to Lionel Atwill's performance in the first.  However, Bogart would get his revenge a few years later with the huge success of The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942).  Faye Wray, who starred in the first, is also sorely missed an no one really takes her place.  There is a reporter for comic relief like the first film.  But it all feels like it's been done before and done better.

The other disappointment is that the horror elements are gone.  Instead of the "synthetic flesh" storyline, we have one about "synthetic blood."  It just doesn't work very well and lacks the punch of the first film.

What is left is a decently made crime drama with little originality or emotional impact.  What a disappointment.

RATING: Fair.

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

Friday, August 10, 2012

Doctor X (1932)

While the plot of Doctor X is far from original, it's the cinematography that's the star of the show.  Director Michael Curtiz [Casablanca, Mildred Pierce] and cinematographer Ray Rennahan [Mystery of the Wax Museum, For Whom the Bell Tolls] utilize a two-strip Technicolor process to full effect.  Doctor X was also filmed in black and white but don't miss out on the UCLA Archive's beautiful restoration of the Technicolor film.  Rennahan is often credited as being the father of color cinematography and this same two-strip technique was used in other early horror films such as the Masquerade scene in Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).  It is very effective and adds a depth to the film that is beautiful to behold.

However, if you're not impressed with the cinematography Doctor X is still a fine little crime drama with touches of horror.  The film is greatly helped by the acting talents of Lionel Atwill [Son of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man ] and Fay Wray[King Kong, Mystery of the Wax Museum].  Both are great in the film, especially Atwill who can make the most ridiculous scientific dialogue seem believable.  He is one of my favorite early actors and doesn't disappoint in Doctor X.

The movie also employs comedic elements, supposedly to soften the horror elements which were quite frightening to 1930's audiences.  The main comedic bits are handled well by Lee Taylor who plays a very nosy and ambitious reporter.  While these comedic bits aren't as humorous to modern audiences they were standard fare in the 1930's.

The basic plot of Doctor X involves a series of grisly murders in which cannibalism was also involved.  The police give Doctor X 48 hours to find the killer and that's exactly what he does for the rest of the film.  There are no big surprises here but by the sheer force of Atwill's performance, the film works rather well.

Doctor X is a film that is not very familiar to casual fans of horror.  But it's quite good and certainly beautiful to look at.

RATING: Very Good.

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

P.S.  I could only find the black and white trailer.  Sorry!