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, September 29, 2012

31 Scary Nights



Here are my top 31 horror films to keep you up every night during the month of October.  These are in no particular order and I tried to include films from every decade:

Alien (1979)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Zombi: Dawn of the Dead [Dario Argento's Cut] (1979)
Children of the Corn (1984)
The Bad Seed (1956)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Hellraiser (1987)
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Freaks (1932)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Masque of the Red Death (1964)
Poltergeist (1982)
Halloween (1978)
Carrie(1986)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Nosferatu (1922)
Suspira (1977)
The Wolf Man (1941)
Them! (1954)
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Psycho (1960)
Frankenstein (1931)
House of Wax (1953)
Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Dracula (1931)
The Birds (1963)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thriller: The Weird Tailor (1961)


Season 2, Episode 4

The Weird Taylor is an inventive story that is fresh and original.  Without giving too much of the plot away, the story revolves around a father whose son died.  He is trying to bring him back to life through the use of the dark arts with the help of a tailor who is making a suit for him from an unusual cloth.  

George Macready [The Return of Count Yorga, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.] is a commanding presence as the father.  This is a great role for him and he really shines.  Henry Jones [Vertigo, Arachnophobia] is also excellent as the tailor and is the perfect counterpoint for Macready's character.  

The only weakness in the cast is the mime, Nicolai, played by Abraham Sofaer.  Instead of an actor, they should have used a professional mime because he simply couldn't stand perfectly still as he played a dress dummy.  The constant warbles in his body were distracting to say the least.

However, this does not stop The Weird Taylor from being an excellent episode of Thriller.  The story is interesting, the direction by Herschel Daugherty [Alfred Hitchcock Presents] is spot on.  You can't ask for much more than that...except the death of all mimes!  [Just kidding!]

RATING: Excellent

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Brood (1979)

No one can deny that David Cronenberg is a unique and skilled director.  However, I have bit of a love/hate relationship with his films.  I love Eastern Promises and A History of Violence.  Furthermore, his remake of the Fly is a passionate and powerful film.  But when it comes to The Brood, I cant get too excited about it.  For me, it is undeniably a well-made film but simply too weird for my taste.  There is a lot that is left unexplained and is just plain strange.  

The acting is great in this psychological thriller with Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar and Art Hindle giving powerful performances.  The weakest link is the little girl, Cindy, played by Candice Carveth.  They really needed someone like Carol Ann from Poltergeist in this role.  Candice simply doesn't deliver the sense of terror required by the role.

As far as plot goes, the basic story involves the relationship between an unconventional but gifted psychologist [Reed] and his patient [Eggar].  Beyond that, it simply journeys through the weird and unexplained.  

So, I give this one a Very Good rating for the quality of the film but it's simply not my cup of tea.  If you like really strange avant-garde films, then you will probably enjoy The Breed.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Raw Meat (1973)

Raw Meat has several things going for it.  First of all, there's Donald Pleasence [Dr. Loomis from Halloween] who plays Inspector Calhoun.  Calhoun is investigating a number of disappearances in the London Underground which turn out to be perpetrated by the sole descendant of a group of 19th century cannibals who lived under the streets of London.  Pleasence brings a quirky spark of life to nearly every scene he's in which is a good thing because most of the acting is either dreary or overly melodramatic.

The second thing Raw Meat has going for it the realistically creepy London Underground which is filmed unflinchingly by director Gary Sherman [Poltergesit III, Wanted: Dead or Alive].  Corpses in various states of decay are so realistic you can almost smell them.  The slow camera shots through the filth and squalor are like an auto accident where you want to look away but can't stop staring at it.  Nicely done.

One wonders what Tobe Hooper [Texas Chainsaw Massacre] could have done with this screenplay and setting.  The potential is there for a really disturbing and powerful film.  However,  Raw Meat falls way short of greatness.  Too bad because the creepy is definitely lurking all over this film.  

As an added bonus, the one and only Christopher Lee makes a cameo appearance and steals the only scene he appears in.  It left me hoping he would team up with Pleasence for the rest of the film.  Alas, that was not meant to be.

RATING: Good.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Bat People (1974)


The early 1970's produced some terrible horror films and this is one of them.  The Bat People is simply god-awful.  The story begins when a doctor is bitten by a bat while on vacation with his wife.  He then begins his metamorphosis into a literal bat man.  I can hear you groaning as you read this.  The pace of the film is slightly slower than death.  Every scene that's meant to instill terror in the viewer produced in me rolls of laughter.  Nothing scary here.  But as an unintentional comedy, it's pretty darn funny in a number of places.

It's pointless to talk about the actors, none of whom you've ever heard of.  Or the soundtrack which is soooooo bad.  Or the special effects which are, as I've stated above, most likely to induce laughter.  Just put this one in a cave with the bats and make sure you seal it tight!!  For the love of things vampire, please watch something else.  

RATING: Bad.

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

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Beast Within (1982)

At first, I thought The Beast Within was a werewolf movie.  Oops, was I mistaken!  The film begins with a rape scene where what I assumed was a werewolf impregnates a helpless young woman.  Flash forward 17 years and "wolfie" begins his transformation.  However, he transforms into something I quite can't describe.  It's sort of a cross between Linda Blair in the Exorcist and the Toxic Avenger.  The final scene where the boy becomes full creature is definitely the highlight of the film.  It's crazy, bizarre and totally awesome!  The rest of the film is more middle of the road and by the book.

The best performances in the movie are, by far, Ronny Cox [Apples' Way, Robocop, Total Recall] and Bibi Besch [Tremors, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan] who play the boy's parents.  Both have always been great character actors and they really shine in this movie.  Unfortunately Paul Clemens, who plays their son, is not nearly as good an actor as Cox or Besch.  This definitely strips the film of some of its power.  The townspeople are creepy enough and remind me of a Stephen King movie where everyone is just a tad bit off.  They are fine victims when the boy begins his reign of terror and flesh munching.

I can't get too excited about The Beast Within.  It's not a bad film but with a little more work it could have been a much better film.  

RATING: Fair.

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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Terror Within (1989)

The Terror Within feels like a made for TV movie [and I don't mean that as a complement].  This Roger Corman produced cheapie is predictable every step of the way.  In fact, the audience is slightly ahead of the plot because they've seen much of it before in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), including the classic "monster baby popping out of the stomach" scene that made alien famous.  In Scott's hands, it's terrifying.  In Corman's hands, it's boring and predictable.

In addition to massive stealing from another film, The Terror Within's monsters are erroneously labeled as "gargoyles."  This is a complete misuse of the term and doesn't really fit the monsters who inhabit the film.  They appear to be the product of a chemically induced plague that wiped out most of earth's inhabitants.  The movie is never clear about the monsters' origins, leaving the viewer to ponder if they're from another planet or simply humans transformed by the plague.  

Finally, the acting is pretty good with George Kennedy [Cool Hand Luke, The Naked Gun] getting top billing along with Andrew Stevens [The Fury, Dallas] playing second fiddle.  The problem is that they've got very little material to work with so it never really lets them shine.  

There are some good moments in The Terror Within but it never reaches anything that is compelling or original.  It all feels like leftovers from the fridge and they're been sitting there for a while!

RATING: Fair.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mad Monster Party (1967)

If you were a kid in the 1960's and 1970's there is no way you escaped the genius of Rankin-Bass Productions.  What would Christmas be without Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or The Year Without a Santa Claus?  This is classic stop-motion animation at its finest and I still enjoy watching these films many, many years later.

Mad Monster Party is a complete gem.  The lead character, Dr. von Frankenstein is voiced by none other than Boris Karloff.  The good doctor has decided it's time to retire as head of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters.  He decides to share the news with his monster colleagues by throwing a big party.  The guest list includes every iconic horror monster from the Universal Studio archive including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein [voiced delightfully by Phyllis Diller], The Invisible Man, The Creature, The Mummy, and the Wolf Man among others.  It's a celebration of all things horror with dazzling old school animation, musical numbers and a sharp wit through and through.

Yes, this one is definitely for the kiddies.  But the young at heart will also admire its joyful spirit and artistic sensibility.  Mad Monster Party is a good example of the amazing and innovate work Rankin-Bass were capable of producing.  Don't miss this one.

RATING: VERY GOOD.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)

Camp classic or total cheese-fest?  You decide.    Class of Nuke 'Em High is one of those films that you either love or hate.  This low budget, poorly acted film is considered to be one of the best offerings from Troma Entertainment whose crowning achievement was The Toxic Avenger (1985).  I must confess that I'm not a big Troma fan so here is how I see it:

1) The target audience for this film is definitely adolescent boys.  It's a mix of boob shots, gore and bad jokes which is a total home run with this demographic.  I tend to like my humor a little more sophisticated so this formula really doesn't work for me [unless it's taken to its absurd conclusion such as Porky's or Revenge of the Nerds from the same era.]

2) The acting is intentionally God-awful.  This only works if the movie has a sense of camp about it.  Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) is a good example of how to pull this off successfully.  I don't think it works as well here.  The bad acting in Nuke 'Em High is more annoying that humorous.

3) Special effects can make or break a movie.  This is where Class of Nuke 'Em High actually succeeds.  It's goal is to totally gross out the audience.  All I can say is mission accomplished.  For me, its horror sequences are the funniest and most enjoyable scenes in the movie.  They feel more like a Road Runner cartoon with a hyper-exaggerated sensibility to them.  Nicely done.

So, in conclusion, this high school reprobates meets nuclear power plant saga misses more than it hits.  That's not to say that Nuke 'Em High doesn't have a devoted fan base.  It's just not my kind of humor.

RATING: Fair.

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

Monday, September 17, 2012

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

While those who are Wiccan will probably roll their eyes at the ridiculous portrayal of witchcraft in this film, Burn, Witch, Burn is a tense thriller.  It's success lies in the tour de force performances of Peter Wyngarde [Flash Gordon]  and Janet Blair as Norman and Tansy Taylor.  Norman is a successful college professor.  Tansy is his devoted wife who would do ANYTHING to ensure her husband's rise to the top, including cast magic spells on him and the entire faculty!  When he discovers what she's doing, he demands she destroy the tools of her trade.  This sets into motion evil forces who take the couple for a crazy supernatural ride.  Wyngarde and Blair are excellent in their roles.  They draw the viewer into the story quickly and one cannot help but sit on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens next.

Burn, Witch, Burn is definitely enhanced by a well written screenplay.  Richard Matheson [I Am Legend] co-wrote the script based on a novel by Fritz Leiber, Jr.  The dialogue is smart and the pacing of the story is perfect.  Kudos as well to director Sidney Hayers who captures the tension between the two main actors perfectly.  His work here reminds me a bit of Alfred Hitchcock.  Finally, the soundtrack is beautifully orchestrated and greatly adds to the feel of the film.

Don't miss this one.  It may not be well known but it should be.  It's definitely a keeper!

RATING: Excellent.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Thriller: The Premature Burial (1961)

Season 2, Episode 3

A total home run.  The Premature Burial is based on the Edgar Allan Poe short story of the same name.  This time Boris Karloff is not only the host but also plays a character in it!  Veteran TV director Douglas Heyes and Screenwriter William D. Gordon bring Poe's work to life with great energy, wit and emotional depth.  There is not a dull moment to be found from start to finish.

The cast is stellar as well. Sidney Blackmer takes center stage as an aging millionaire who, unfortunately, has a habit of falling into a catatonic state that resembles death.  Patricia Media is deliciously dramatic as Victorine who would rather be with her young lover and tries to make sure her husband stays buried, dead or otherwise!  Karloff stars as Dr. Thorne, a friend of the millionaire who is determined to keep his millionaire friend alive.

A classic story with first rate acting.  One of the highlights of Season Two.

RATING: Excellent

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Sorority House Massacre (1986)

Sorority House Massacre [SHM] is Halloween's in-bred redneck cousin twice removed.  The story lines of the two are remarkably similar but this is all they have in common.  The main character's brother killed the whole family when she was a child.  However, she managed to escape by hiding in the basement.  Now she's a young woman and as she returns to the house, which is now a Sorority House, the killings begin again.  Hmmmm.

The biggest thing SHM lacks is imagination.  This is warmed over dookie at best.  SHM also doesn't have Jamie Lee Curtis or Michael Meyers.  Instead the movie is filled with marginal actors and bad dialogue.  Furthermore, the pacing is a little slow and never reaches any moments of true terror.  Director Carol Frank [Her one and only film as a director] is no John Carpenter.  While I see small glimpses of originality, especially in the dream sequences, the rest is ho-hum to say the least.    Furthermore, she doesn't have the ability of Carpenter to write an iconic soundtrack as either.

Boys and girls, there are plenty of slasher flicks out there that deliver the goods.  Why waste your time on marginal fare especially when so many others movies deliver the goods and then some.

RATING: Bad.

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hellgate (1990)

It's hard to know where to start.  Hellgate is a hella-mess.  The sound editing and balance are way off.  The story within a story framework seems totally lame and overdone, mostly because of bad actors who set up the story.  The segment that takes place in the 1950's has so many time period inconsistencies that it's laughable.  

But, hey, Hellgate has Ron Palillo as it's main star!  For those who have no idea who Palillo is, he played Horshack on the 1975 series Welcome Back Kotter.  All I can say is that he was better in the series than he is in this movie and that's not much of a compliment.

Then let's talk about special effects.   The "bat on a string" belongs in a 1930's movie.  The "muppet from hell" zombie goldfish is laugh out loud funny.  Then there is the "fashion model zombie" who is brought back from the dead after 30 years with hair and make up intact.  The rest of the undead are fairly well preserved as well.  Obviously, they forgot to budget some money for a simple make up kit from the Halloween Superstore!  Where is Tom Savini when you need him? [Some zombies actually do appear toward the end of the film but it feels like too little, too late.]

I could summarize the plot but, at this point, who cares.  It's all been done before and done sooooo much better.  Skip this one and let it rot in bottom of the bargain video bin for all eternity.  RIP.

RATING: Bad.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thriller: Guillotine (1961)

Season 2, Episode 2

Guillotine is a period piece set in the French Revolution.  Ida Lupino is in the director's chair, once again, and does a great job with the episode.  While IMDB gives this one an 8.1 rating, I'm not feeling the love. 

The story involves a condemned man who faces the guillotine.  He learns of a loop hole which might get him out of his execution and so he sends his girlfriend to do the deed.  The best acting in this episode came from Robert Middleton who plays the executioner.  He has a long resume of television credits and this performance shows us why.  He is definitely the bright spot in Guillotine.

I would not call this episode either horror or a thriller.  It feels more like a crime drama with a clever ending.  It's solid but I can't get too excited about it.

RATING: Good.

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thriller: What Beckoning Ghost? (1961)


Season 2, Episode 1

What Beckoning Ghost is a classic, old fashioned, love triangle, ghost story.  It begins with a concert pianist who believes she sees her own coffin in her drawing room.  The acting is a bit over the top in places, especially Judith Evelyn who plays the pianist.  But in spite of this, the story is nicely told and has a few twists to keep things interesting.  Boris Karloff's intro is great.  He seems to be having a good time with this series and it shows.  Director Ida Lupino, who is also a fine actress with a long resume, does a nice job of keeping the story moving along at a nice pace.  Definitely worth a look.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Morons From Outer Space (1985)

Monty Python I get.  Absolutely Fabulous is wicked fun.  Even good old Benny Hill is good for a laugh or two.  But Morons From Outer Space?  It's a Briitish comedy that's about as funny as a root canal without any novocaine.  I wanted it to be funny.  I kept waiting for the jokes to happen.  But I could only manage a chuckle ever once in a while.

This is a shame because the production values in the movie are decent.  The actors even includes James B Sikking [Hill Street Blues, Doogie Howser].  But nothing can save this film from being just plain dull.

I don't know what more can be said.  If you like horror/sci-fi comedy, there are plenty of others films out there for you to enjoy.  Skip this one altogether.  You've been warned.

RATING: Bad.

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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Devil Doll (1936)

It's hard to believe this film was made in 1936.  If I didn't know better I would swear it was made in the 1950's.  Such is the skill of director Tod Browning [Dracula, Freaks] as he tells the tale of an escaped convict who uses miniaturized humans to take his revenge on those who framed him.  Lionel Barrymore [Mark of the Vampire, It's a Wonderful Life] stars as Paul Lavond/Madame Mandilip.  He is great in his dual roles and plays the aging Madame without being overly campy.  It's a nuanced and realistic performance that works very well.  Maureen O'Sullivan [Tarzan the Ape Man, A Day at the Races] is also very good as his daughter, Lorraine Lavond.  She has a strong presence on screen and is not tempted to be overly dramatic like many of her contemporaries.

My favorite performance, however, comes from Italian actress Rafaela Ottiano as Malita, the wife of the mad scientist who co-created the miniaturization process.  Her expressive eyes and bride of Frankenstein hair make her unforgettable in the role.

But the real stars of this show are Tod Browning's direction and Leonard Smith's cinematography.  This film is simply beautifully made with a number of more modern filming techniques that were definitely ahead of their time.  Hitchcock would have been proud!

While The Devil Doll is more thriller than horror, it is a well made film through and thought.  If you're a fan of Tod Browning, it's definitely a must-see.  Yes, the premise is a bit hard to swallow but, hey, it's Science Fiction so suspend reality for a while and just roll with it!

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mad Love (1935)

Mad Love is the talkie "remake" of the silent film The Hands of Orlac (1924).  With Karl Freund [Metropolis, The Golem, Murders in the Rue Morgue] in the director's chair, one would expect greatness, and greatness is what we get with Mad Love.  The direction and cinematography are top notch.  Weighing in at a lean and mean 68 minutes, everything counts and Freund give us no fluff anywhere.

Mad Love is greatly helped by its lead actors who include Peter Lorre [M, Casablanca]as the crazy but talented Doctor Gogol, who transplants the hands of a murder onto a gifted pianist after he is injured in a horrific train wreck.  Lorre is luminous as Gogol.  His performance is quite understated at times but still very powerful.  The pianist in question, Stephen Orlac, is played with equal vigor by Colin Clive [Dr. Frankenstein in the 931 classic and sequel, Bride of Frankenstein].  The two of them are great together.  

Completing the classic love triangle is Frances Drake [The Invisible Ray, It's a Wonderful World] as Mrs, Orlac.  His her acting style is a bit over the top toward the beginning of the film [typical of the period] but she settles down nicely in the second half.

While the set up of the plot is identical between the two films, Mad Love takes things in a different and better direction.  In the original silent film Orlac does battle with his hands who take on a personality of their own.  This worked well in the silent era.  But Freund wisely takes the plot in a new direction where Doctor Gogol tries to convince Orlac he's going insane by posing as the dead murderer.  It's perfect for a talkie and actually makes the overall film stronger.

Mad Love is a nice, well made thriller from the 1930's.  Although it's not widely known by the general public, it's a delightful movie that should not be missed.

RATING: Excellent.

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