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, January 31, 2013

Creature (1985)

In the future...everyone has 1980's hair styles.  Oh, the horror of it all.  Who knew there was time for big hair and blush in outer space.  The only thing that is missing is big shoulder pads in the astronaut's uniforms.  Creature is a poor man's Alien (1979).  From the Miami Vice color palate of the space ship control panel to the synth-driven soundtrack, Creature is definitely a product of its time.  At one point in the film one of the ship's crew says alarmingly, "Are we all gonna die?"  My only reply was, "I sure hope so...and quickly is preferable."

Creature suffers from bad dialogue and weird moments such as a nude scene on the planet's surface as well as the appearance of Klaus Kinski [Nosferatu the Vampyre, Crawlspace] who seems completely out of place in this movie.  Kinski is actually a welcome surprise since much of the acting is uninspired.  Kinksi brings the strange[always] so at least there's something interesting to watch.

Director William Malone [House on Haunted Hill remake, FeardotCom] wisely keeps the lights down low because there's not much to look at: just a bunch of astronauts with illuminated helmets walking back and forth with guns in their hands.  This is not the gorgeously constructed space world of Ridley Scott in Alien and Prometheus (2012).  This is the Wal-mart version of the future.  My favorite scene in this regard is when one of the astronauts gets stuck in a set of elevator-style doors while the Creature is chasing her.  You can clearly see the doors wiggling a bit thus betraying their flimsy construction.

I could go on but why bother.  This one is a red hot space mess.  Stick with the classics that are reviewed elsewhere on my site.

RATING: Bad.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Return of the Ape Man (1944)

Monogram Pictures released low budget films between 1931 and 1953 until they completed a transition to the name Allied Artists Pictures Corporation.  When the Monogram logo appeared on screen, everyone knew they were in for action and adventure.  Return of the Ape Man is a classic "mad scientist thaws out a prehistoric man and brings him back to life" story.  Fortunately it stars Bela Lugosi and John Carradine as the two scientists at the center of this drama.  It's not Lugosi' best performance but it's certainly not his worst either.   If you're a fan, you gotta see it.  Carradine is stronger in the beginning but when he's tied up by Lugosi toward the end of the film the scene is quite laughable.

The biggest problem with Return of the Ape Man is the ape man.  It looks like a modern guy in a cheap costume that could have been bought at a Halloween store.  The make up is minimal and even by 1940's standards they had to have an idea of what a prehistoric man looked like...this isn't it!  There's no change of posture, no over-sized brow.  It's frustrating.  The soundtrack is also very generic and could have been [and probably was] used for a number of other films containing action/adventure elements.

Still, Return of the Ape Man is not a total loss.  The stars are worth watching just to see more of their body of work as actors.  As long as your expectations are not too high, you might enjoy this one.

RATING: Fair.

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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Who says a remake can't be as good as the original?  In 1978 writer W.D. Richter [Slither, Needful Things] updated Jack Finney's original story for a new generation.  The result is a film that is every bit as compelling as the 1956 original.  Kudos to director Philip Kaufmann for hooking the audience from the opening credits to the film's conclusion.  I rarely get excited about title sequences, except in Bond films, but the one in Invasion is visually stunning and creatively sets the stage for everything that is to follow.    Kaufmann's direction [Raiders of the Lost Ark Series] is excellent with perfect pacing that starts slow and then breaks into a sprint, sending the tension hurtling toward the finish line.  Kaufmann, along with cinematographer Michael Chapman [Taxi Driver, Primal Fear] also give us a film that is beautiful to look at with lots of interesting camera angles lighting choices.

Then there's the film score.  Ooooh!  Denny Zeitlin creates a sparse, moody, synth-laden atmosphere that is quite original and refreshing.  Surprisingly, this is the only film score he ever composed.  The urban legend is that he was so worn out by the work he put into Invasion, that he vowed he'd never write another film score.  Accolades and offers came rushing in after the film was released but, unfortunately for us, Zeitlin kept his promise and refused all offers.

Last but not least, this incarnation of Invasion has a powerful cast including Donald Sutherland [Ordinary People, MASH] as the doctor who begins to suspect that something nefarious is happening in his beloved city of San Francisco.  His female counterpart this time around is Brooke Adams [Dead Zone, Shock Waves] who is a plant nerd with no love interest in the doctor whatsoever.  This is quite a contrast to the relationship that's at the center of the 1956 version, but it works well in this remake of the film.  The cast also includes Jeff Goldblum [Jurassic Park, The Fly], Veronica Cartwright [Alien, The Birds] as well as the one and only Leonard Nimoy [Star Trek].  What's not to like about THAT?

Like I said about the original film, if you haven't seen this one, what are you waiting for?  It's a great incarnation of a great story.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the finest Sci-fi horror films of all time.  There is not a thing about this film that does not work well.  We start with an intelligent script from  Daniel Mainwaring who based his screenplay on a Collier's magazine story by Jack Finney.  It's the kind of story that never gets old and taps into common themes that every generation can relate to.  Perhaps this is why Invasion was remade three times so far: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Body Snatchers (1993), and The Invasion (2007).

Director Don Siegel [Dirty Harry, Escape from Alcatraz] also does a masterful job of increasing the tension as well as the action as the movie develops.  The pacing of this film is perfect and the visual effects are subtle but effective.  A beautiful film score from Carmen Dragon also enhances Siegel's work and creates a wonderful atmosphere for this film.

Finally, the cast is absolutely stellar with strong performances from everyone.  Kevin McCarthy [Innerspace, UHF] is front and center as Dr. Miles Bennell who begins to suspect that something strange is happening in his hometown.  The emotional energy that McCarthy brings to his character is fun to watch.  It's a total knockout performance.  His love interest and partner in action is Becky Driscoll, played by Dana Wynter [Airport].  Wynter give us a self-assured, emotionally stable character that goes way beyond the usual 1950's screaming beauties.  It's refreshing to see.

Although I've never seen the 1993 remake, I have seen the other two and both are quite good.  This story will probably be remade about every ten years or so because it's that good.  If you haven't seen the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, what are you waiting for?

RATING: Excellent.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

You simply can't have much more fun than watching It Came From Outer Space.  This is a delightful alien invasion story with a monster that's so bad it's good.  I especially enjoyed the "one-eye cam" where we see the world from the monster's perspective.  This one is right up there with Forbidden Planet as the best of 1950's Sci-Fi.  A delight from start to finish.

The basic story is a familiar one: a spaceship from another planet crashes in the Arizona dessert.  Everyone assumes it's a meteor except for school teacher and astrologer John Putnam who knows its a spaceship filled with aliens.  Richard Carlson [Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Little Foxes] is perfect as Putnam.  He gets every scene right, striking the perfect emotional tone with lots of energy and conviction.  His femme fatale is Ellen Fields, played by Barbara Rush [When Worlds Collide, Peyton Place], who is equally as strong as her male counterpart.  Naturally she's coiffed to perfection but is hardly a "helpless bimbo."  Instead she is strong and self-assured and helps her man triumph in the end.  The rest of the cast is great as well.  Not a weak link in the bunch.

The script for It Came From Outer Space has its origins in a story by famous Sci-Fi writer Ray Bradbury.  Harry Essex [Creature from the Black Lagoon] fashions it into a smart and solid screenplay.  It's as good as Them! which is another one of my favorite 1950's Sci-Fi features.  Director Jack Arnold [Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man] keeps the action moving at a good pace.  He also wisely makes the human characters the focus of the film rather than the aliens.  This is a good choice because the look of the space monsters is laugh out loud funny.  But because it's such a good human drama the silly monsters actually make it all the more enjoyable.

I could go on but I think you get my point.  If you're a fan of 1950's movies, don't miss this one.  Great movie!

RATING: Excellent.

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

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Scanners (1981)

Intelligent.  Though-provoking.  Weird.  That pretty much describes any film by David Cronenberg.  Scanners is the movie that made Hollywood take notice of this innovative director.  It's one of my favorite film form this director for a number of reasons.  First of all, you never know where this film is really going.  It has lots of twists and turns and gives the viewer tidbits along the way to keep them glued to the screen.  The basic story involves a group of humans with super telepathic abilities which are known as scanners.    Some see this as a gift to humankind.  Others want to us it for nefarious purposes.  It's classic stuff done by a master filmmaker.

Scanners is also helped by a strong cast, especially the "bad guy" Darryl Revok, played by Michael Ironside [Total Recall, Top Gun] who imbues the character with a double helping of creepy and a side of menace.  It's a classic performance and Ironside's villiains are always a delight to watch.  My other favorite character was Dr. Paul Ruth who tries to stop the bad guy by sending in another talented scanner to bring him down.    Patrick McGoohan [Braveheart, Escape From Alcatraz] gives the doctor a weird, off-kilter vibe that is perfect for a Cronenberg film.  It's a subtle but commanding performance which is a difficult thing to do.

The special effects in Scanners are also fun.  Granted, they're not the most skilled effects but they made me laugh and even wince occasionally.  The exploding head toward the beginning of the film was priceless and the final battle scene was epically strange and creative.  Love it!

In light of some of the really crappy 80's movies that came out in the early years of that decade, Scanners stand tall above them all.  Do not miss this one.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Invaders From Mars (1953)

Sci-Fi melodrama.  That's probably the best way to describe Invaders from Mars.  It's part alien invasion, part Andy Griffith Show.  William Cameron Menzes steps into the director's chair for this one with a long history of art direction and production design.  It definitely shows.  [He won two Oscars for Art Direction including an honorary Oscar for his work on Gone With the Wind.] Invaders is a visual feast with a very controlled color palate and overall look.  It's quite effective and gives the film a wonderful look overall.  The only sad thing in this regard is that Netflix copy I rented was a terrible fuzzy print.  This is one movie that begs to be restored to its original glory like they did with Forbidden Planet.

The cast is solid, if not a tad bit annoying at times.  Jimmy Hunt plays young blue eyed, blonde headed David MacLean who is at the center of the story.  He's the first to figure out that invaders have landed on the planet and they're implanting something in the heads of earthlings that makes them behave like mind controlled zombies.  He channels his best Timmy and Lassie without the benefit of Lassie.  It's typical 1950's fare but it grated on my nerves just a bit.  The rest of the cast give a solid ensemble performance with no one in particular standing out.

The aliens in question are quite humorous when we finally get to see them on-screen.  They fall into the so-bad-it's-good category and I got the giggles watching the actors stumble around in their big rubber suits.  

The star of this show, however, is the plot, which is an inventive take on the typical alien invasion story.  Ideas from this film were definitely stolen by other films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and can also be seen in the recent TV series Falling Skies (2011).  This film also had a surprise ending which makes you rethink the whole entire movie. 

Invaders of Mars is a must-see for fans of Sci-Fi.  It inspired many films that followed in its footsteps and is a fine example of 1950's UFO paranoia.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Return of Count Yorga (1971)

A bigger budget does not necessarily make for a better film [Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 is the perfect example].  While The Return of Count Yorga has a better cast, its plot is more complicated than it needs to be and ultimately fails to interest this viewer.  

Let's start with the good parts: thankfully Robert Quarry [Count Yorga, Vampire] is back at the Count with his faithful henchman at his side.  Quarry makes a very good vampire but there are so many things going on around him that his character gets lost from time to time.  Mariette Hartley [Marnie, Columbo] is a welcomed addition as the heroine of the story.  Her considerable acting ability is a step up from many in the first film.  Craig T. Nelson [Coach] also makes a cameo as Sgt. O'Connor.  Bob Kelljan is also back as director/writer of the film.  While Return is decently made, I think he did a better job with the original film.

The bad parts include the script which I've already talked about.  Plus, there are no inventive touches in this film that made the first one so interesting form time to time.  Finally, the vampire ho's are not nearly as entertaining this time around.  In fact, this film takes itself far too seriously and there aren't enough fun moments in it, intentional or otherwise.

Stick with the original and leave this one with a stake through its ho-hum heart.

RATING: Good.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)

Count Yorga is a better film than it has a right to be.  While it was made for next to nothing, it has quite a bit going for it that makes it an enjoyable film.  First, it has a decent script with some creative moments cinematically.  I won't spoil the surprises but there are a few scenes that show some originality and creativity.  Furthermore, it manages to avoid the "hippy" excesses that are so prevalent in films of this era.  Kudos to director Bob Kelljan [Scream, Blacula, Scream] for making this film look very good with no money to spend.  That's alway the sign of a talented man!

The second thing Yorga has going for it is Robert Quarry [Madhouse, Dr Phibes Rises Again], who plays the vampire Count.  He has a strong presence on screen and sells all his lines with conviction and menace.  He has no special effects to rely on [just a good pair of fangs and a little white makeup].  Yet he makes it work rather well.  His bevy of "vampire ho's" are also a great deal of fun.  There is a playfulness to their scenes that makes the viewer giggle with pleasure rather than scream in terror.  They are definitely 70's girls out for a good time!

IMDB only gave this one a rating of 5.7.  I think it's an underrated movie that deserved an audience.  One of the problems with critics is that some simply don't like horror.  Therefore, they rate these movies lower than they should.  If you're a fan of the vampire genre then I recommend Count Yorga, Vampire.  It's one of the best 70's vampire films out there.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Magnificent.  Nominated for seven Academy Awards including best supporting actress [Agnes Morehead] best cinematography, best art/set direction, and best costume design, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte [HHSC] is a tour de force murder mystery that fires on all cylinders from start to finish.

It's hard to know where to begin praising this film but let's start with a smart screenplay by Henry Farrell [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?] and Lukas Heller.  By the time they're done leading you by the hand you're convinced that everyone killed Charlotte's lost love John Mayhew.   The cinematography and lighting are gorgeous with sets and costumes to match.  Add a strong music score and each scene is composed to perfection and maximum emotional impact.  Kudos to director Robert Aldrich [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, The Dirty Dozen] for pulling all these elements together for maximum effect.

Now, let's talk about the cast of characters.  HHSC is the story of Charlotte Hollis, an aging Southern bell who is more than a tad bit demented.  She's haunted by the murder of her one true love and is unable to recover from the loss.  Bette Davis gives an over-the-top, riding off the rails on a crazy train performance as Charlotte that only she can give.  I'm a huge fan and love to watch her work her mojo on screen.  Olivia de Havilland [Gone With the Wind, The Snake Pit] plays Charlotte's cousin Miriam who comes for a visit.  de Haviland is a vision of beauty and refinement which serves as the perfect counterpoint for Davis' frenetic energy.  Joseph Cotten [Lady Frankenstein, The abominable Dr. Phibes, Soylent Green] is their childhood friend Drew who is also Charlotte's doctor.  It's the most dysfunctional triangle I've seen in a long time on screen.  Add to this mix the wacky caretaker of the Hollis Mansion [Agnes Morehead] and you're in for one heck of a ride.  There are also cameo roles for Victor Buono and Bruce Dern so what's not to like about this film?

I could go on but HHSC is a must-see.  If you like who-dunnits, then this one should be on the top of your rental list.  If all murder mysteries were made this well, we would be most fortunate indeed.  A total home run from start to finish.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Evictors (1979)

A young couple buy a rural Louisiana farmhouse in 1942 and try to make it their home...except there is someone or something else who thinks its their home as well!  It's a classic theme with the feel of a period crime drama with horror elements to it.  The plot to The Evictors is pretty run of the mill.  There are really no big surprises or shocking revelations.  At the beginning of the movie they say it is "inspired" by a series of true events which usually means it has strayed so far from the truth that its origins are virtually unrecognizable.  This is not to say that The Evictors is a bad movie.  It's just not that interesting.

The Evictor's bright spot is definitely the two main characters Ben and Ruth Watkins, played by Michael Parks [From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill] and Jessica Parker [Suspiria, Minority Report].  The actors have very good chemistry together and make the audience care what happens to them.  Parker is especially good and the movie would be in serious trouble without her.

The direction and pacing of the film is fine.  The problem is that it's just not that interesting.  The other negative criticism I have of it is that although it's supposed to occur in the 1940's there is something about the set decoration and costumes that feels a bit off.  Yes, all the classic props are there.  But unlike Christmas Story which captured its time period perfectly, there is something here that is not quite right.  Anyone else feel that way?

The Evictors has the feel of a made for TV movie and is perfectly fine for a lazy Sunday afternoon.  However, if you're looking for maximum thrills with lots of twist and turns, you better look elsewhere.

RATING: Good.

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Horror Show (1989)

A serial killer known as "Meat Cleaver Max" is electrocuted while the detective who put him on death row watches.  Max vows to get his revenge and becomes a stronger entity after death.  That's the premise of The Horror Show.  The story moves along nicely for the first hour and is filled with suspense and intrigue.  Then the movie falls apart due to bad special effects and a happy Disney ending.  One explanation for this inconsistency may be that they fired the original director David Blyth and replaced him with James Isaac.  That is never a good sign as studios try to "fix" a movie.  It fails about 99% of the time.

As I was watching The Horror Show I felt myself saying, "Hey, didn't I see this film before?  Didn't Wes Craven direct it?  Wasn't it called Shocker?"  I made a beeline to my video collection and, sure enough, Wes Craven made Shocker the same year The Horror Show came out.  Both have eerily similar plots.  Hmmm.  I don't know what that's all about but if someone out there can enlighten me, I'm all ears.

Lance Henricksen [The Terminator, Alines, Powder] is fantastic as Detective McCarthy.  He's always been one of my favorite character actors and has amassed an impressive body of work over the years.  He gets the emotional tone of this character right at every turn.  It's too bad they gave him such weak material to work with toward the end of the film.  Brion James is sheer perfection as Max Jenke.  His piercing blue eyes and maniacal laugh make him quite menacing.  James has said on a number of occasions that this was his favorite role and it shows.  They are dynamite together.

The rest of the McCarthy family varies in their ability to act.  Mama [Rita Taggart] does a nice job and so does the daughter [Dedee Pfeiffer] .  However, I wanted to kill the son [Aron Eisenberg] with a meat cleaver myself.  Perhaps it was the horrible material he was given to work with but, for whatever reason, he annoyed the heck out of me.

The other thing The Horror Show has going for it is an excellent soundtrack by Harry Manfredini who did most of the music for the Friday the 13th franchise.  Manfredini definitely knows how to establish a mood through music and this film is no exception.  Overall, I think critics are way too harsh with their reviews of this movie.  Give it a try and you may be pleasantly surprised.

RATING: Good.

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

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Invisible Invaders (1959)

Zombies from space?  Well...sort of.  Invisible Invaders isn't quite sure what kind of movie it wants to be.  It starts out as a tale about humanity being on the brink of destruction due to nuclear weapons.  Then it morphs into an alien invasion story with creatures who repossess dead human bodies to conquer the world.  [Yes, it's as ridiculous as it sounds!] This also makes it a zombie tale with everyone referring to the alien zombies as the "living dead."  Finally, we end with a morality tale about how we all learned to get along after we defeated the zombies.  ARGH!  Needless to say, the script is a red hot mess.

I got lured into this picture with the promise of John Carradine who is killed off in the first minute of the film, only to return in one scene as a space zombie.  The rest of the cast tries their best but the pseudo science and techno-babble they are forced to utter is a hard sell indeed.  Even the best of actors would have a hard time making this crap seem convincing.

For the love of science fiction and zombies skip this one altogether.  Everyone tries their best to make this film work, including director Edward L. Cahn [Zombies of Mora Tau], but all their efforts fall short of the mark.  Invisible Invaders may have worked in 1959, but it's utterly ridiculous in 2013.

RATING: Bad.

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

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Burnt Offerings (1976)

Fab-u-lous.  I've always had a soft spot for this supernatural thriller starring Karen Black  [Trilogy of Terror, House of 1000 Corpses] and Oliver Reed [The Curse of the Werewolf, Night Creatures] as Marian and Ben Rolf, who rent an old mansion for the summer from a very eccentric family.  Karen Black is at her best in this role as she undergoes the transformation from your average housewife to a woman with a one way ticket on the crazy train.  I love her in this role and Reed is a perfect pairing as her husband.  There are almost no special effect here.  Just great acting.  They also have a son, David, who is pretty much there for window dressing.  It's an unremarkable performance.

In addition to Reed and Rolf, we are treated to the one and only Better Davis [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?] whom I adore.  She has a small role but she gives it all she's got and every line feels like a gem.  Burgess Meredith [Rocky] and Eileen Heckart [The Bad Seed] also have cameos as Arnold and Roz Allardyce, the eccentric owners of the house.  They are just icing on an already delicious cake.

Director/Producer/Screenwriter Dan Curtis [Dark Shadows, Night Stalker] knows how to make a tense thriller that is character driven.  The script is a smart and interesting take on the haunted house story that echoes Poe's Fall of the House of Usher.  The story unfolds nicely, giving us more tidbits along the way to keep it interesting.  This one may not be considered a classic by some critics but I think it's a wonderful example of 1970's B-movie horror that is not to be missed.

RATING: Excellent.

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