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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Poltergeist III (1988)

Three times is not always the charm.  Such is the case with Poltergeist III.  Once again, they hired a new director/writer/executive producer, Gary Sherman, whose work is better than some critics contend but he’s hardly Tobe Hooper who did the first film.  Still, Sherman pulls off a nice visual trick in that we see much of the spirit activity through mirrored surfaces while these same figures are absent from the real world.  It adds a nice element of mystery but does get a bit old since it’s used rather extensively in the film.

Some of the other visuals are a bit lame such as the ice-covered boy who looks like he’s been dipped in oatmeal!  Sherman also borrows a camera tricks from Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street but doesn't do them with the same skill and shock value as Craven.  They come across as groan-worthy instead of terrifying.  P3 also suffers from a bad case of late 80’s fashion sense that does not serve the film well.

Heather O’Rourke is back as Carol Anne and so is Zelda Rubinstein as psychic Tangena  [LOVE her!].  The rest of the Freeling family is MIA which is remedied by Carol Anne staying with her Uncle Bruce and Aunt Patricia.  Thankfully, they got Tom Skerritt [Alien, Top Gun] and Nancy Allen [Carrie, RoboCop] to play these roles.  Both are excellent actors in their own right and their presence in this film helps it considerably.  However, this new family configuration lacks the emotional punch that the first two films had. The nuclear family in Poltergeist I and II simply works better as the emotional heart of the story.


Another minus…Julian Beck who did an amazing job as Reverend Kane in P2 died before P3 was filmed. Nathan Davis took his place but was not nearly as effective as Beck’s impeccably creepy preacher persona.

Sadly, this was Heather O’Rourke’s film as she lost her battle with Crohn’s Disease, signs of which you can see in the puffiness in Carol Anne’s face.  She was only twelve years old and it breaks my heart every time I think about it.  A remake of Poltergeist is slated for 2014 with horror icon Sam Raimi at the helm.  This is a “contemporized” version of the story so who knows what they will end up with!!!  Hopefully, they won’t massacre this classic film series.

RATING: Good. [Don’t pay attention to its rating on IMDB.  It’s better than you think!]

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


Monday, December 30, 2013

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Dario Argento is a visionary filmmaker whose work has been the inspiration for countless other horror directors after him.  His bold visual style and flair for the dramatic always take the viewer on a “long, strange journey.”  Four Flies is no exception to this rule.  The story begins with a musician who accidentally kills a man who was stalking him.  While this act is taking place, a mystery man takes pictures of the event that eventually end up in the musician’s mail box.  Who is this mystery man?  That’s what this movie is all about!

Argento takes his time developing the story and adds a number of murders along the way. [Would you expect anything less?]  These murders have a hyper-realistic style to them that is pure Argento.  It’s a combination of slow motion action and bold symbolic visuals that pack quite an emotional punch.  Others have tried to duplicate this but no one has done it better than Argento.

Be patient with the pace of the film because the ending will knock your socks off.  [The strange title of the film is explained here as well.] The version I saw had a few extra minutes added to the end of the film that were cut from the original U.S. release.  I’m not sure why they made these cuts because the movie makes a lot more sense with them in it.  It’s quite a plot twist that I don’t think anyone could figure out before it hits you like a ton of bricks.

Fun stuff!  This is an Argento film that is accessible to just about every horror fan, especially those who like “who-dunnits.”

RATING: Very Good.

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


Sunday, December 29, 2013

House II: The Second Story (1987)

Do you want to know how to waste 7.8 million dollars?  House II is the answer!  Director Steve Miner is back with over twice the budget of the original film.  The results are horrifyingly bad.  Let’s start with the plot which involves young Jesse who inherits an old house that he quickly discovers is a bit haunted.  [A classic set-up].  Then things go downhill fast.  At the center of the story is a crystal skull that various demons and reanimated corpses try to possess.   First, Jesse’s great great grandfather is resurrected.  Then we meet a few really bad puppets, followed by Aztec warriors and a virgin sacrifice [I kid you not].  The cherry on the top of this sundae is Hallmark sentimentality that makes you want to throw up in your mouth just a title bit.  It’s all horrifyingly bad.

The biggest waste of an actor is Royal Dano who play’s the aforementioned great, great grandfather.  He is a marvelous character actor with a long resume in films dating all the way back to 1922!  The crap they give him to work with is unforgivable and painful to watch.  The only bright spot in House II is a brief cameo by John Ratzenberger [Cliff from Cheers].  He steals the show as the wacky electrician.  Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save this sinking Titanic of a film.

Do yourself a favor, and skip this one altogether!

RATING: Bad.

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


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Shock a.k.a Beyond the Door II (1977)

Mario Bava’s final film is a keeper.  Shock is full of creepy, surreal imagery that is greatly  aided by a wonderfully spooky performance by child actor David Colin Jr. [who also starred in the first Beyond the Door film].  Colin plays Marco, a sensitive child who is possessed by the sprit of his father who died under mysterious circumstances.  His mom is your typical Italian horror histrionic actress who screams far too much and far too long.  It’s actually quite annoying.  The rest of the cast is fine.

The star of this film is the feeling it gives the viewer.  Bava’s creativity is always fun to watch.  He really comes up with some unique and artistic horror images.  The soundtrack which is a bit “Goblin-esque” [Goblin was an Italian prog-rock band] is full of texture and atmosphere that enhances the overall feel of the film.

I realize that Italian horror is not everyone’s taste but Shock should appear to horror fans of all types.  It’s part demon possession tale, part ghost story and part murder mystery.  Like many Bava films, the storyline is not as important as the experience.  Bava finishes his career with a strong offering that showcases the talents of a visionary director, writer and cinematographer.  Well done.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Friday, November 15, 2013

Zombi 3 (1988)

This most certainly ain’t The Walking Dead but, hey, modern zombie films needed to start somewhere!  George Romero got the ball shambling with Night of the Living Dead  (1968) which he followed up with Dawn of the Dead (1978).  Meanwhile the Italians decided to get into the game with Dario Argento doing the European cut of Dawn of the Dead (1977 )[I think it’s superior to the American version] and Lucio Fulchi writing his own sequel to Night of the Living Dead and entitled it Zombi 2 (1979).  [Night was entitled Zombi when it hit the European market.]  Follow me so far?  It took Fulchi 9 years to do the sequel.  Was it worth the wait?

Zombi 3 is a mixed bag.  One reason for this may have been that Fulchi suffered a stroke during the making of the film and was replaced by two other directors.  This is always a difficult thing for any film to survive.
 

The second reason has to do with inconsistency in the way the zombies move and inhabit the film.  This is a BIG pet peeve of mine which makes me a total zombie-nerd!  At times, they are a combination of Romero’s shamblers and White Zombie’s (1932) arms-straight-out moaners.  Then, these same zombies are 28 Days Later running, crazy viral zombies.  Sorry, this just doesn’t cut it for me.  All of the actors should have gone to zombie camp to learn a specific way of moving in this film.

 The good news is that some of the make-up and sight gags are really good.  Chief make-up artist Franco Di Girolamo does some good work here by 1980’s standards.  But, again, the work is as inconsistent as the movement.  The zombies lack the artistic cohesion that was seen in Zombi 2 which was done by a different FX person.

As far as plot goes, it’s all pretty predictable stuff.  No subversive social commentary here.  Just an island full of zombies and humans to devour.  After having seen Zombi 2, I was definitely disappointed in Zombi 3.  It’s not god-awful but it lacks the spark that made Zombi 2 one of Fulchi’s finest films.  If you love zombie film, you need to see this.  If the sub-genre doesn't thrill you, skip this one altogether.

RATING: Good.

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


 

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Psychic (1977)

Yawn.  Who knew having psychic ability could be so dull.  Not sure why this one is rated so highly on IMDB.  I just couldn’t get into it.  I thought it was a total snore-fest.  The Psychic is the story of Virginia who is constantly haunted by pictures of the past and future.  She spend the entire film trying to figure out what these visions mean.

Lucio Fulci is the director/writer on this film, and while it is skillfully put together, it’s about as exciting as watching a nature documentary on PBS.  Not much happens anywhere in The Psychic except tortured stares.  I was simply happy to see it end!

You can look elsewhere for other reviews on The Psychic,  but if you’ve agreed with my perspective on horror films in the past, trust me on this one.  Boring.  Boring. Bor-ing!

RATING: Fair.

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


 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Poltergeist (1982)

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is who directed it.  Most people, including me, would swear to you that Steven Spielberg directed this near perfect tale of the supernatural.  However, it was Tobe Hooper [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] who directed Poltergeist with Spielberg writing the screenplay and acting as producer.  Tobe Hooper?  It seems hard to believe, but it's true.  But when you think about it, it's a match made in heaven.  Tobe brings the gore and fright.  Spielberg brings the magic.  Who could ask for anything more?
The script for Poltergeist shows us horror storytelling at its finest.  The film first grabs us by the heart, introducing us to an all-American family that encounters what first appears as a playful sprite.  Then the movie grabs us by the throat as the sense of dread increases until it reaches a fevered pitch.  This is such a contrast to many modern horror films whose characters simply serve as grist for the mill [Saw, anyone?]  The audience doesn't really care about them.  The joy appears to be in watching the many creative ways they meet their demise.  Personally, I prefer Poltergeist over much of the torture porn that is called horror these days.
In addition to a great script, the cast is perfect.  Veteran actors Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams are wonderful as the loving parents of three "just above average" kids, being raised in the California suburbs.  For me, JoBeth is the emotional heart of the film and her performance is wonderful to watch.  Other standouts include Heather O'Rourke as little sis Carol Anne.  How can you not love this sweet and sometimes a little bit creepy kid?  Zelda Rubinstein is a total rock star as psychic Tangina.  She is delicious in every scene.  One of my all time favorite horror roles ever created.  I cannot imagine this movie without her in it.
The special effects in this film are also great to watch and hold up well 28 years later.  This is where Tobe Hooper is an asset.  He pushes Spielberg to go a little darker than usual.  This is a good thing.  It increases the intensity of the film and makes it creepier than it would have been if Spielberg was totally in charge.
Poltergeist is one of my all-time favorites.  I've watched it numerous times and never get tired of this well crafted film.  Make sure you watch the 25th Anniversary edition.  The clarity of the picture is stunning and makes earlier versions pale in comparison.  
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Carrie (1976)

Geeks and rejects of the world, this is OUR horror movie!  Carrie is one of the finest horror films ever made.  Revenge doesn't get any better than this!  If you've never seen this film run to the nearest video store and watch it immediately.  Unlike many of the mindless slasher flicks that would follow, Carrie has an emotional core that is deep and profound.  The movie was adapted from Stephen King's novel by both King and Lawrence D. Cohen.  It's the story of a girl with telekinetic powers that is tormented by her crazy fundamentalist mother and, eventually, her classmates.
Brian DePalma's direction [Scarface, The Untouchables] is flawless.  There isn't a wasted scene in this film and DePalma continues to build the tension until it explodes in blood, fire and rage.  The cast is luminous.  Sissy Spacek is perfection as Carrie in her ability to portray both sweetness and fury, often switching back and forth between these two emotions at lightning speed.  Piper Laurie plays her mother and brings the "crazy Jesus" in a way that is truly unsettling.  Not surprisingly, both of them were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress (Spacek) and Best Supporting Actress (Laurie), which rarely happens in the horror genre.  Rounding out the cast are Amy Irving as Carrie's "friend" and John Travolta for good measure.  Both give great performances as well.
Carrie was remade for TV in 2002.  I saw it and thought it was far inferior to the original.  There was also a sequel entitled The Rage: Carrie 2 which was unimpressive as well.  In 2013 Carrie hit the big screen again with Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her mom.  I thought this remake was a total home run.  Mortez and Moore don't try to imitate the original performances.  Instead, they inhabit both characters in fresh ways and make them their own.  The story was also updated and centers on cyber bullying which is perfect for 2013.  

I cannot tell you how many times I've watched Carrie, but I never get tired of seeing it.  We would be so blessed if all horror films were this good.  It is a classic and probably one of my Top Ten.
Rating: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

I don’t think Rosemary’s Baby was the first “giving birth to Satan’s baby” movie, but it definitely set the template for films to follow such as The Omen (1976) and, most recently, Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem (2012).  When Rosemary’s Baby premiered, people people were horrified.  But times have changed and in 2013 this is pretty tepid stuff.  This doesn’t mean, however, it’s a poorly made film.  Far from it.  Director Roman Polanski (Chinatown, The Pianist) wrote a wonderful screenplay with lots of tension, suspense and smart dialogue.  Each scene is composed with care and Polanski gets wonderful performances our of his cast of colorful characters.

Mia Farrow is perfect as Rosemary Woodhouse, who moves into a new apartment with her husband and discovers she is pregnant.  The joys of motherhood quickly give way to paranoia and worse as she tries to protect her unborn child.  My other favorite character is Minnie, played to perfection by Ruth Gordon.  Her character os eccentric and crazy in all the right places.  It’s fun to watch.

The first time I saw this film I was a teenager and i just didn’t get it.  136 minutes of dialogue and they don’t even show the devil baby?  I felt ripped off.  Now, as an adult I appreciate what a smart thriller this is.  If you don’t need lots of blood to make you happy, Rosemary’s Baby is your kind of film.  It’s definitely a horror classic and should be seen by everyone interested in the genre.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Beyond (1981)

When Lucio Fulci does gore, he elevates it into an art form.  This is not your ordinary torture porn with buckets of blood spraying and girls screaming for hours on end.  Fulci somehow manages to find beauty in blood and the effects in this film are unlike anything  else you’ve probably ever seen, unless you’re a massive fan of Italian horror.

The Beyond is one of Fulci’s best.  He directed it and helped with the screenplay.  The first scene alone is a total attention grabber as a warlock is brutally executed by a lynch mob in 1930‘s New Orleans.  Flash forward to the present day when a young woman inherits the old hotel and begins restoring it.  Little did she know that the hotel is built over one of the entrances to hell!  You know where it goes from there!

Cinematographer Sergio Salvati [Zombi, City of the Living Dead] is to be credited for helping Fulci craft the look of this film.  His work reminds me a great deal of Zombi which is my favorite Fulci film.  The Beyond is dreamlike and unflinchingly brutal.  It’s not for everyone but I admire the skill that is employed in the creation of this film.

So, it depends upon what kind of horror you like.  If you’ve got the stomach for a little gore, this film will take you somewhere you’ve probably never gone before!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Friday, October 11, 2013

The Skeleton Dance (1929)

Here's a delightful shirt film Disney did back in the day.  I never saw this before but absolutely love it.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Vampire’s Coffin, El ataúd del Vampiro (1958)

Ah, another dose of Mexican horror!  The Vampire’s Coffin is the sequel to the wonderful El Vampire (1957).  Thankfully German Robles is back as the vampire and does a great job with the role for a second time.  Alicia Montoya is also back which is a good thing as well.

I watched the restored version of this film that can be rented from Netflix.  The print is gorgeous and the viewer is able to watch the film in Spanish, Spanish with English subtitles and English dubbed.  I made the mistake of beginning the film with the English dub version.  I quickly changed it to English subtitles and the experience of watching the film improved dramatically.  Trust me, the dub is terrible.

Director Fernando Mendez is also back but this time with a different cinematographer, Victor Herrera.  It shows.  This film takes place mostly indoors in simple, modern buildings.  It’s missing the beautiful atmosphere I loved about the first film.  This is not to say it’s poorly made.  The original is simply more moody and atmospheric.  The overall look of the original is superior to the sequel.

Overall, The Vampire’s Coffin is a delightful old vampire flick.  If you enjoyed the original, this one is most definitely worth your time as well.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971)

Lizard is definitely one of Italian Horror director Lucio Fulci’s finest films.  It’s a mature, competent and compelling crime thriller that can best be described as a Lesbian Acid Trip Horror Orgy.  Now that I have your attention, here’s how I see it:

Fulci’s direction is wonderful.  From the opening scene the viewer knows they’re in for a long, strange trip and this is exactly what they get.  Fulci’s script is clever with lots if twists and turns.  In the final 20 minutes of the film you are completely clueless as to who the real murderer is.  It could be anybody and that’s the sign of a good movie.

Like Bava and Argento, Lulci utilizes some amazing and startling images that often hit the viewer like a ton of bricks.  I know Italian Horror is not everyone’s taste but Lizard is a great place to start as an introduction to the genre.  Low on blood and high on fantasy imagery, it’s the kind of stuff Rob Zombie went for in 2013’s The Lords of Salem.  He was slammed by many critics but it’s because they fail to appreciate his inspiration.  [If you have any appreciation for Italian Horror, Zombie’s film is a must see.]

The acting is solid through and through but the visuals are definitely what drive the story.  I’ve said this before: Italian horror is not meant to be watched, it’s meant to be experienced.  This is a fine place to start that experience.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

31 Vintage Frights for October

Here are some of my favorite horror films with an emphasis on creepy/scary.  They are arranged in chronological order:

1. Nosferatu (1922)
2. Frankenstein (1931)
3. Dracula (1931)
4. Freaks (1932)
5. The Invisible Man (1933)
6. The Wolf Man (1941)
7. The Return of the Vampire (1944)
8. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1953)
9. House of Wax (1953)
10. The Bad Seed (1956)
11. Psycho (1960)
12. Homicidal (1961)
13. Straight-Jacket (1964)
14. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
15. Dr Phibes Rises Again (1972)
16. The Last House on the Left (1972)
17. The Exorcist (1973)
18. Deranged (1974)
19. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
20. Suspiria (1977)
21. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
22. Halloween (1978)
23. Dawn of the Dead: Dario Argento cut (1979)
24. Phantasm (1979)
25. The Shining (1980)
26. Friday the 13th (1980)
27. The Evil Dead (1981)
28. Children of the Corn (1984)
29. A Nightmare of Elm Street (1984)
30. Phenomena (1985)
31. Hellraiser (1987)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Blackenstein (1973)

Blackenstein is God-awful, but that may well be part of its charm.  I only pray that the director of this film was in on the joke.  Take a bit of 1930’s Universal Horror, add a helping of 1950’s Sci-Fi, season with a pinch of Rocky Horror Picture Show and put the whole mess through the filter of 1970’s Black-sploitation films and you get Blackenstien. 

The “so bad it’s good” category is hard to get just right.  Unfortunately, this film takes itself way too seriously.  It simply doesn’t work as a horror film, but it could work as a comedy with a few changes.  Where is Pam Greer and a few “honkeys” when you need them?

In terms of filmmaking, Blackenstien is amateurish and not very well put together.  There are more inconsistencies than I care to mention [like a clear blue sky with the sound of thunder in the background or a nearly constant windstorm in your ears with no movement of trees!].  You’re either gonna love this or hate this, depending upon what you think is funny.  If you’re a fan of serious horror, skip this one altogether.  If you need a movie to watch with friends, a case of beer and shot of tequila, then this might fit the bill quite nicely!

RATING: Bad

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


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)

DTAD is one of Lucio Fulci’s best films as he takes on the touchy topic of the serial killing of children in a remote Italian town.  Needless to say, this movie is not for the faint of heart.  I’m sure it caused quite a stir in 1972.

While Fulci is known for his use of graphic violence, he chose a lighter touch with DTAD.  This is a wise decision because the subject matter is intense enough without filling in all the horrific details.

The acting in DTAD is solid in every scene, although it does slip into a few moments of Italian melodrama which is to be expected.  His characters, for the most part, feel real and well thought out.  Unlike some of his other films where the audience doesn’t sympathize with the characters, DTAD sucks you in from moment one and draws you into its powerful story.

As a final note, the ending scene of this film is pure brilliance.  It has both shock value and artistic merit which is a hard thing to accomplish.  It’s a slice of cinema I’m unlikely to forget for any time in the foreseeable future.  While I can hardly call DTAD “entertaining” it is most certainly an unforgettable and well-made film.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sodoma's Ghost (1988)

Boobs, blood and Nazi ghosts!  I kid you not!  This pretty much sums up Lucio Fulci’s Sodoma’s Ghost.  Part over the top orgy, part dark haunting, this film is Italy’s answer to the “Dead Teenager Movie.”  How does it stack up against similar films of the 1980’s?  Not very well.  There are a few holes in the script in terms of the time frame of what’s happening on screen.  For example, the kids eat breakfast in a deserted house.  Then they jump into the van.  A few minutes later, they’re saying “It’s getting late.”  Really?  It’s just morning!

The acting is fine, especially the main Nazi ghost who has a creepy presence on screen.  Furthermore, Fulci’s direction is O.K. but nothing special.  Sodoma’s Ghost simply lacks the artistic spark of some of Fulci’s other films such as Zombi 2.  It desperately needs less porn and more scare factor.  Sodoma has potential.  It just doesn’t reach far enough.

As a final note, what’s with the girl that freaks out hysterically several times in the film?  One of the guys then proceeds to slap her across the face in order to settle her down.  Does that ever happen in real life?  It’s too melodramatic for my tastes.

You can skip this one, even if you like Fulci’s work.

RATING: Fair.

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


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Whip and the Body (1963)

It doesn’t matter whether Bava is at the helm of a gore-fest such as Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) or a Sci-Fi adventure such as Planet of the Vampires (1965), Bava knows how to make a gorgeous film.  He lights his sets in a very controlled way that reminds me of Alfred Hitchcock.  His attention to set detail, camera angles and overall scene composition is impeccable.  The Whip and the Body is no exception to this rule.  It’s a supernatural thriller that is almost bloodless but pure Bava through and through.

The story revolves around a sadistic 19th century nobleman who was murdered long ago.  Now his ghost haunts and torments the current residents of his castle.  Christopher Lee plays the nobleman in question.  He’s great in this role and plays it with finesse and subtlety.  In a way, his character is a 1963 version of Pinhead from Hellraiser because he loves to mix pleasure with pain. 

The main target of his torment is a gorgeous Italian actress by the name of Daliah Lavy who lights up the screen in every scene she’s in.  She has a commanding presence and   wonderfully expressive eyes that can convey sheer terror without her saying a word. 

If you’re a fan of Bava this definitely needs to be on your list.  If you like supernatural thrillers with an artistic flair, this one will fit the bill nicely.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Conspiracy of Torture a.k.a Beatrice Cenci (1969)

Italian horror director Lucio Fulci has impressed me with his artistic view of zombies, especially in films like Zombi 2 (1979) and City of the Living Dead (1980).  Conspiracy of Torture is a film of a different nature altogether.  It feels like a really graphic documentary about an Italian noble family from the 16th century that endures sadistic torture at the hands of an abusive father.  Think National Geographic meets Eli Roth.

This film is quite restrained compared to other Fulci films I’ve watched.  The torture scenes aren’t excessively bloody but they are squirm-worthy a time or two.  Overall it’s well constructed and the acting is fine. The biggest problem I have with Conspiracy is there is no time for character development early in the film.  It starts with a torture scene and the audience never has time to sympathize with the victim.  It’s the same critique I have of many modern “torture porn” films where everyone is simply grist for the mill.

Surprisingly, this film received a 6.4 rating on IMDB.  I just can’t get that excited about it.

RATING: Fair.

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


 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

There seems to be no end to the variations and incarnations of the Frankenstein story.  In this version, we have the incomparable Peter Cushing [Star wars, Horror of Dracula] who would play the role of Baron Frankenstein a total of seven times in his career.  He’s always great in this role, bringing both warmth and intellect to the character.  Thankfully, Hammer Horror is also at the helm of this picture which means sets rich with detail, a collection of great actors and a strong soundtrack to support the mood of each scene.  Director Terence Fisher [Horror of Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein] is also on board and does a beautiful job with great scene composition, pacing and character development.

Unlike some films where the audience could care less about those on screen, save the monster, Frankenstein Created Woman has a heart-centered story which is due to a smart script and great performances from everyone in the cast.  The viewer is sucked into the story from the opening scene where a young boy witnesses the execution of his father.  Years later, this same boy [now a man] and a disfigured young woman take center stage in this horror drama.  It’s the perfect way to anchor the story and give it the emotional depth great films need.

This is not your typical Frankenstein story where the Baron is mad and the monster takes center stage.  This is a Baron who is pushing the limits of science and then employs that silence to try to make things right later in the story.

You can’t go wrong with Frankenstein Created Woman.  It is one of the best Frankenstein stories out there that relies less on horror and terror and more on story and character.  Don’t miss it.

RATING: Excellent

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


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Pillow of Death (1945)

In spite of the ridiculous title, Pillow of Death is actually a decent thriller that marks the end of the Inner Sanctum Mystery series.  Director number four is at the helm and Wallace Fox [The Corpse Vanishes, Bowery at Midnight] restores the integrity of the series, ending on a high note. 

Lon Chaney Jr is back.  This time he plays attorney Wayne Fletcher whose wife is found smothered to death.  He becomes the prime suspect, but not all is as clear as it seems.  Pillow of Death has great pacing and a classic who-dunnit script with a few nice twists along the way.  This film is as good as the first three in the series and is quite enjoyable.  The voice-overs that were prevalent in the earlier films are gone.  To be honest, they were wearing a bit thin so I’m glad they decided to change things up a bit with this film. 

This is just a classic 1940’s thriller.  It’s hardly innovative but it is quite enjoyable.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Strange Confession (1945)

Melodrama starts here!  Ugh!  Strange Confession is the fifth of six films under the title Inner Sanctum Mysteries.  Things are starting to wear a bit thin, needless to say.  With director number three at the helm, John Hoffman, we are treated to a slice of melodrama that has little to do with either horror or thriller.  It’s exhausting to say anything about this tepid little film except that it has Lon Chaney Jr [who has no material to work with whatsoever] and a young Lloyd Bridges who makes a brief appearance.

Yawn!  It’s not terribly made.  But it’s not terribly interesting, either.  That’s all I can really say about Strange Confession.  You can skip this one.

RATING: Fair.

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

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Frozen Ghost (1945)

The Frozen Ghost is number four in a series of six films under the title Inner Sanctum Mysteries.  Harold Young [The Mummy’s Tomb] is a new director in this series and he does a decent job with the material he’s been given.  Unfortunately Frozen Ghost steals much of its plot from the 1933 classic The Mystery of the Wax Museum.  To add insult to injury it doesn’t do a great job with the material either.

This is not to say the acting is bad.  Lon Chaney is solid as Alex Gregor, a stage mentalist who is convinced he has killed someone solely by the power of his mind.  If Young had stuck with this storyline it might have worked.  But then the wax museum material gets introduced, it begins to feel like two movies in one.

Universal Studios probably cranked this picture out very quickly and it shows.  It might have amused audiences in the 1940’s but it’s definitely one of the weaker films in this series.

RATING: Fair.

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

 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tenebre (1982)

I truly appreciate the artistic genius of Dario Argento in films such as Phenomena (1985) and Suspiria (1977).  Therefore, I had high expectations when I sat down to watch Tenebre.  Unfortunately those expectations were not met.  Forget the 7.0 approval rating on IMDB.  This film was dull and unimaginative.  I consider it to be one of the weakest films in Argento’s career.

The plot lacks any sense of imagination or originality.  The story centers on an American writer who is being stalked by a serial killer who seems determined to eliminate anyone associated with the publishing of his latest book, Tenebre. [Yawn!]  That’s all you need to know and that’s all you get!

I know it’s probably blasphemy to speak ill of Argento but Tenebre feels like a film he made in order to get a paycheck.  If anyone out there loves it, tell me why.  I’m all ears.  As far as I’m concerned, fans should stick with the two other films I mentioned in this review which are truly amazing films.

RATING: Fair.

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


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead is Sam Raimi's first feature film and, wow, what an impression he made!  This writer, director and executive producer gave us what can only be described as a living Road Runner Cartoon on horror steroids.  It's disgustingly gross, quite funny at times and takes the viewer on one crazy ride.  If you don't have a stomach for gore, sit this one out.  If you do, then let the blood begin flowing!

The story starts when five friends go to a cabin in the woods where they stumble upon an ancient book and a reel to reel tape which provides an audio translation of what is written there.  Once the tape is played, all hell breaks loose: the "demon cam" takes you on a roller coaster ride through the woods.  Friends start becoming demon-possessed flesh-munching monsters.  Blood flows more freely than it does at the Red Cross. 

Bruce Campbell is crazy wonderful as the film's swashbuckling hero, Ash, who undergoes a transformation from scaredy cat to full-on zombie slayer by the end of the film.  Ash is an anti-hero in the sense that he is less Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more your average guy who rises to the occasion.  He doesn't have any special powers but, somehow, finds a way to get the job done.  The rest of the cast is great as well and bring the mayhem to life in an over-the-top style that serves this movie well. 

In an age that is pre-CGI, the effects in this movie are quite creative in their use of prosthetics and sight gags.  Furthermore, the claymation meltdown at the end of the film is simply a work of art.  CGI makes things much easier for filmmakers today to bring to life anything they can imagine.  I found myself appreciating the hard work and old fashioned inventiveness that made this film leap from the screen and into the viewer's lap.  It is one intense viewing experience.  The Evil Dead is not for everyone but if you loved 2009's Zombieland, then this film is definitely your cup of tea [or bucket of blood as the case may be].  This one can be watched instantly through Netflix or rented everywhere. 

Raimi remade Evil Dead in 2013 but I found it to be humorless, sadistic and brutal.  It’s basically well-made “torture porn” which is a modern sub-genre I dislike immensely.  Stick with the original!
 

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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Black Sunday (1960)

Take the best of the Universal Horror Pictures from the 1930's and early 40's, run them through the lens of director Alfred Hitchcock and you end up with Mario Bava's masterpiece Black Friday.  For those who shy away from Bava because of his love for blood I hope you'll give this one a try because you will be pleasantly surprised.  From the opening frames to the dramatic conclusion, Bava, as both director and cinematographer, give us a visual (nearly bloodless) feast.  Every since scene is crafted with care and no shot is wasted.  Bava packs more atmosphere and detail into the 5 minute opener than many filmmakers do in an entire film.  Black Friday is so gorgeous to look at, I cannot say enough about his skill in setting a mood and capturing a sense of eeriness in every scene.

The plot is fairly common for the horror genre, but in Bava's hands it feels fresh and exciting.  Part of the reason for this is the presence of Italian scream queen, Barbara Steele who plays the dual roles of Princess Asa (devil worshipper) and Katia her kin several generations removed.  Barbara's big, expressive eyes are perfect for the role and the audience knows she's a force to be reckoned with even before she utters a word.  The rest of the cast is very good as well.

Rather than bore you with plot details, I recommend you watch it without any preconceived notions of what's going on.  It's part of what makes this film enjoyable.  Black Friday is also helped by the make up talents of Eugenio Bava and Mario himself, both of which are uncredited.  The Devil mask is perfect and the undead effects are fantastic because they are given the same meticulous detail as every other element in this film.  The sets and props are also wonderfully constructed as well.

So, what are you waiting for, SEE THIS MOVIE.  It stands among of finest in Bava's career, the finest in horror films, and the finest of all films as far as I'm concerned.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dead Man's Eyes (1944)


Dead Man's Eyes is the third of six films under the label Inner Sanctum Mysteries.  Director Reginald Le Borg is back again and gives the story a nice pacing with lots of energy among its twists and turns.  The screenplay is very good and keeps the viewer guessing who the murderer is through most of the film.  

Lon Chaney Jr. is back as well.  This time he plays David Stuart, a talented artist who is blinded by an accident caused by his model and his own carelessness.  Chaney is as dependable as ever and does a really nice job with this role.  The female characters are not as strong this time out.  This is especially true of Jean Parker [Little Women] who plays his fiance.  She employs an acting style typical of the 1940's which doesn't translate well to modern audiences.  She's O.K. but lack the intensity of the actresses in the second film of this series,  Weird Woman.

I won't spoil it for you by taking about the plot.  It's the strongest element of the film here and is meant to be enjoyed as it unfolds.  Unlike the first film in this series, Calling Dr. Death, which was terribly predictable, Dead Man's Eyes has a few surprises up its sleeve which I'm certain went over well with 1940's audiences.  In spite of the weak female cast, I give this one a Very Good rating because of its storyline.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Weird Woman (1944)


Weird Woman is the second of six in Universal Pictures Inner Sanctum Mysteries.  Reginald Le Borg who directed the first feature, Calling Dr. Death, is back with an even stronger film.  Lon Chaney Jr is front and center as Prof. Norman Reed, a sociologist who studies the role of superstition vs. reason in society.  Chaney is as dependable as ever but this time out he is helped by three wonderful veteran actresses.  Anne Gywnne [House of Frankenstein, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe] plays his "island bride" whom he met among a tribe of voodoo worshippers.  Evelyn Ankers [The Wolf Man, Son of Dracula] is an old flame and Elizabeth Russell [The Curse of the Cat People, Bedlam] is the wife of a rival professor.  All three are excellent and make Chaney's job easy.  I'm especially fond of Elizabeth Russell who is wonderfully charismatic on screen.

The pace of Weird Woman is a little faster than Calling Dr. Death and the plot is much more interesting.  The only cheesy element here are the voodoo ritual flashbacks that look more like a Broadway musical then a cult in a religious frenzy.  This is typical of the time period, however, so I'll give it a pass.

Weird Woman is a nice little thriller that unfolds in interesting ways.  Don't miss it.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Calling Dr. Death (1943)


Calling Dr Death was the first of six low budget thrillers that ran under the banner of Inner Sanctum Mysteries.  Inner Sanctum Mysteries was a popular radio program that aired from 1941 to 1952.  The films tried to capitalize on the popularity of the radio programs with Universal Pictures using one of its most bankable stars, Lon Chaney Jr [The Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein] in all six films.  

     In Calling Dr. Death, Chaney plays psychologist Dr. Steele, whose cheating wife is murdered and the good doctor has no recollection of where he was during the time of her murder.  Dr. Death is a nice psychological thriller with Chaney doing his brooding best.  This is the kind of role he does well and manages to keep things interesting even though there is very little action as the story progresses.    Ramsay Armes [The Mummy's Ghost] is dynamite as his wife.  Unfortunately, she only has a few scenes in the movie.  It left me wanting more.  She has a wonderful fire in her eyes that is a joy to watch on screen.

Director Reginald Le Borg [The Mummy's Ghost, The Black Sleep] does a solid job of directing this film, although the choice of the disembodied head in the crystal jar who introduces the film is groan-worthy and more humorous than menacing.  All in all, this is a nice little thriller with a surprise toward the end of the film that most people will not see coming.

RATING: Good

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Demons 2 (1986)

Demons 2 is best described as Night of the Living Dead with demons instead of zombies plus a touch of Gremlins for good measure.  DirectorWriter Lamberto Bava [son of legendary cinematographer Mario Bava] and Producer/Writer Dario Argento have a good time with this film, giving it a weird sense of humor and lots of demon action.  The story takes place in a 10 story apartment building where the host of the party is transformed into a demon.  She then begins to infect her guests and the whole motley demon crew begin hunting down everyone else in the building.  

Demons 2 uses just about every cliche in the book but, somehow, still manages to be interesting and entertaining.  The demon make-up is fun and the transformations of people to demons produce both squirms and giggles.  Fun stuff!  Wisely, Bava and Argento take several "horror rules" off the table which give the film a few surprising moments.  In Demons 2, no one is immune from being attacked.

The acting is solid in Demons 2 which contains no actors Americans would be familiar with.  Everyone plays their part well, although a few characters are a bit stereotypical.  The other weakness is the soundtrack which has a few too many 1980's bad new wave excesses.  Where is Goblin when you need them?

In spite of its faults, I found Demons 2 to be thoroughly entertaining.  This film is not meant to be taken seriously.  So grab some popcorn and enjoy the ride!

RATING: Very Good.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Demons (1985)

Attending a movie premiere in a newly renovated theater, a group of unfortunate souls are trapped with a pack of maniacal demons. That's all you need to know, except for the fact that once you're bitten or scratched, you become a demon as well.  Director/Writer Lamberto Bava [son of the legendary cinematographer Mario Bava] and Producer/Writer Dario Argento give us a melodramatic, blood-squirting screamfest that can only come from Italy.  Like many other Argento films, this one blurs the line between what's happening on the movie screen featured the film and what's happening in the film.  Argento always knows how to use these kinds of set-ups for maximum impact and Demons is no exception.

If you have a low tolerance for blood, Demons is definitely not for you.  It's loaded with multiple stabbings and blood dripping everywhere.  The "demon ooze" is also totally disgusting.  It can be best described as a tsunami pimple that erupts with brutal force.  It even made me squirm a little bit which doesn't happen very often.  While Demons would not be considered torture porn, it's pretty violent stuff.

Demons also boasts some crazy special effects including fingernails growing into claws and teeth falling out, only to be replaced by gnarled, crooked fangs.  With the help of contact lenses and a little green slime, the demon look is complete.  It's actually quite good and skillful especially for the time period of the movie.  

A sequel to Demons was made the following year.  While IMDB rates the original higher, I actually prefer the sequel in terms of storytelling, its artistic sense of style and the fact that its a bit lees gorier than the first.  See both if you like to have a gross out good time.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Phenomena (1985)

A Dario Argento film is not meant to be watched, it's meant to be experienced.  Argento loves to play with the line between fantasy and reality.  The end result is always a strange and enjoyable trip.  Such is the case with Phenomena that is arguably one of Argento's best films.  The story centers on a girl named Jennifer who has the unusual ability of communicating with insects.  Jennifer Connelly [Labyrinth, Dark City] is wonderful in this role and does a great job with this character.  In most writer/director hands the girl would exact revenge on everyone who is mean to her by inciting a plague of locusts.  However, Argento does something completely different.  [I won't spoil the surprise!]  Jennifer also sleep walks in this film so Argento takes advantage of this and completely messes with your mind.  There are several moments in the film where you have no clue as to whether she is dreaming the events unfolding on screen or she is actually there.  Brilliant!

Donald Pleasence [Halloween], who has always been a horror favorite of mine, gives a subltle and warm performance as entomologist John McGreggor who befriends Jennifer and tries to help her understand the nature of her psychic abilities.

While there are small flaws here and there, who cares?  Argento doesn't and neither should you!  It's all about mood, atmosphere and suspense.  Phenomena has plenty of all three….with a bit of blood...or a lot of blood thrown in the mix.  Hey, what's an Argento film without at least one decapitation?

Italian horror is a bit of an acquired taste and I'm definitely hungry for more.  Argento has such a unique and distinctive perspective as a filmmaker and writer.  This one is not to be missed.  As an added bonus, most of the soundtrack is done by Italian Prog-rock band Goblin.  Who could ask for anything more?

RATING: Excellent.

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