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!

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

The Toxic Avenger is a terrible movie with over the top acting, crude humor, and bad special effects.  Yet, this is why so many people love it.  I must confess that on occasion I get a kick from films that fall into the "so bad it's good" category.  Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1978) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) come to mind.  But I must confess I'm not in love with The Toxic Avenger.  While I did chuckle on occasion, I found much of the film to be just god-awful.  [Nazi jokes never work for me with the exception of Mel Brooks' The Producers.]  

So, here's my challenge to everyone out there….Tell me why you love this film.  I want to be a believer but this one just doesn't do it for me.  Perhaps I need to see this with a group of friends and a keg of beer.  It just might improve my opinion of it.

RATING: Bad.

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

If Mr. Sardonicus had been an episode of Boris Karloff's Thriller TV Series, it would have been O.K.  Unfortunately, Mr. Sardonicus feels like a half hour thriller that is stretched to an excruciating 89 minutes.  I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, but most of it is actually quite boring.

The biggest problem with Mr. Sardonicus is its premise.  A man digs up his deceased father to retrieve a winning lottery ticket.  However, the sight of his mummified Dad causes Sardonicus' face to freeze in a maniacal grimace.  Stupid!  Furthermore, the actor who plays Sardonicus has to wear a mask for most of the film that covers his entire face.  Unlike the Guy Fawkes' mask in V For Vendetta [2005] which stole the show, this one is simply annoying.  There is no witty dialogue and snappy one liners to keep things interesting.  Just a lot of boring soliloquies….and whining.  Furthermore, when his face is finally revealed the make-up work is laughable instead of being frightening.

I'm normally a big William Castle fan.  [He directed and produced Mr. Sardonicus.]  But this one felt like some of his weakest work.  He makes several guest appearances in the film as the host and practical jokester.  But this time out he didn't win me over.

I know some people like this film, but it just didn't do anything for me.  If you want to see William Castle at his best, try Straight Jacket (1964) or House on Haunted Hill (1959).

RATING: Fair.

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Old Dark House (1963)

Sometimes critics simply don't know what the BLEEP they're talking about!  Such is the case with The Old Dark House [ODH] which received a mere 5.4 approval rating on IMDB.  Balderdash, as the Brits say!  ODH should not be confused with the 1932 James Whale classic of the same name.  This movie was directed and produced by William Castle with production assistance from Hammer Studios.

ODH is a seamless blend of comedy and old fashioned murder mystery.  Most of the film takes place in Femm Manor, an old dark house, which is inhabited by an eccentric British family.  Unfortunately for them, they are being killed off one by one under strange circumstances.  At the center of the story is Tom Penderel, an American, who was invited to stay at the manor by his friend Caspar Femm who was the first of the family to meet his demise.

William Castle simply knows how to direct this kind of film to perfection.  With a clever script from the hands of Robert Dillon [13 Frightened Girls, French Connection II], Castle is off and running, knowing instinctively how to make the most of every clever line.  His sense of timing is impeccable and I'm sure 1963 audiences loved this film.  

The other reason why this film works so well is its first-rate cast.  Tom Poston [The Bob Newhart Show] plays Penderel with great expression and frenetic energy.  He's perfect for this film.  He is also surrounded by a cast of veteran British actors who know how to make this kind of dialogue work.  Particularly memorable are Robert Morley [The African Queen, Beat the Devil] who would give the dowager countess from Downton Abbey a run for her money.  Fenella Fielding is comedic perfection as Morgana the sexy sister who has the hots for Pendrel.

Don't let the rating on IMDB fool you.  The Old Dark House is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining film.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Prom Night (1980)

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Prom Night is a complete and total waste of time.  Who knew a slasher film could be so dull?  I was drawn to this flick because of its star Jamie Lee Curtis.  Unfortunately, director Paul Lynch is no John Carpenter.  He manages to completely waste Curtis' time and talent as a scream queen.  I only hope she got a decent paycheck for this stinker of a movie!

Then there is the extended disco prom scene.  I wanted to kill myself just to make the music stop.  I actually like disco on occasion but, somehow, in this picture it is excruciatingly annoying.  The whole scene lasts forever and leads the viewer absolutely nowhere.

The plot (should you care) begins with children behaving badly and then fast forwards to teenagers behaving badly.   That's all you really need to know.  No surprises and nothing original here.  The worst part of it all is that the lighting is so bad I could hardly see what was happening on screen.  Will somebody turn a light on, please?  This isn't an episode of CSI.

Stick with Carrie (1976) if you're craving a "prom gone bad" flick.  It's the finest example of how to make this sub-genre into something spectacular.

RATING: Bad.

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

While Alfred Hitchcock is widely known for his American films such as Psycho and Vertigo, make sure you don't miss this comedic thriller from his British period: The Lady Vanishes.  Everything about this film is done with such care.  It begins with a clever screenplay that misdirects the audience multiple times as the story progresses.

Then there's Hitchock's direction which is at its impeccable best with ahead-of-its-time camera work and beautifully illuminated scenes.  I was also impressed that many scenes take place in very tight quarters.  Hitchcock made this work well where other directors would have failed miserably.

The Lady Vanishes is also quite funny.  It's humor is very British [i.e. a bit dry and a lot cheeky] but even if you don't like that kind of thing, it keeps you smiling and giggling from start to finish.  The reason why the humor works so well is the talented cast Hitchcock worked with.  Whoever his casting director was should be given a plethora of gold stars.  I especially enjoyed Michael Redgrave [The Importance of Being Earnest] whose comedic timing is impeccable.  His cohort in crime, Margaret Lockwood, is equally as delightful.  The rest of the cast also creates an ensemble of characters that are unforgettable.

I won't tell you the plot of this one.  It's one of those films that is best enjoyed with no preconceived notions of what's going on.  Just enjoy this early slice of great cinema from a master director.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Asphyx (1973)

If Downton Abbey had a mad scientist in residence, The Asphyx would be the result.  This relatively unknown English film is quite good, especially for those who don't need lots of gore and big scares in order to be entertained.  This quiet supernatural thriller is big on concept and low on action but it draws the viewer into an intelligently written thriller where the quest for immortality leads to disastrous results.

The story begins with an ambitious and well-respected scientist, Sir Hugo Cunningham, who discovers the existence of the Asphyx which is the Spirit of Death that, allegedly, enters the body before a person dies.  If this Asphyx can be captured, Cunningman believes the person will become immortal.  Robert Stephens [The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Romeo and Juliet] is great as the good doctor.  He was the leading actor in the formative years of Britain's National Theater and it shows.  

His partner in crime is Robert Powell [He was Jesus in the classic Jesus of Nazareth] who plays Giles, the son of Hugo Cunningham and his research assistant.  He matches Stephens line for line and provides the perfect ally/foe for him.  The rest of the cast also does their PBS best to bring us the kind of quality we expect from these kinds of productions.

In addition to fine acting, the cinematography in the Asphix is absolutely beautiful.  I streamed this one on Netflix and the vivid colors and clarity of the film are excellent.  It feels like it was made much alter than its 1973 date.  Furthermore, like every good English drama the costumes and sets are impeccably constructed.  So, grab your cup of tea, a plate full of scones, sit back and enjoy this delightful British thriller.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pharaoh's Curse (1957)


I need to confess that Mummy pictures are not my favorite.  However, I know a good film when I see it and this isn't it.  Pharaoh's Curse brings nothing new to the table in terms of the Mummy legend nor does its shoestring budget produce anything that's even remotely interesting.

The basic plot centers around a group of archaeologists who desecrate a tomb they've uncovered.  This in turn unleashes the mummy's cruse.  Zzzzzz.  The weird "twist" is that it's one of their crew who is turned into a mummy rather than the old one rising form the grave.  Whatever.  The script is also a bit uneven and devolves into a soap opera in one big scene for no apparent reason.

The sets are, at times, laughable.  This is especially true of the lid to the sarcophagus which is clearly made of styrofoam or some other light material.  The actors seem incapable of pretending it is anything but easy to remove.  Furthermore, I've been fortunate enough to travel through the Nile Valley in Egypt and there was nothing in this film that even remotely resembled it.  The decorative elements, wall textures and outdoor shots in this film are a pure Hollywood invention.

Let's talk about acting for a moment but is a bit uneven.  Mark Dana [ ] play the unstoppable Captain Storm with enough testosterone to make Vin Diesel look like a pansy.  Ziva Rodann plays the Egyptian priestess Simira as if she's in an Ambien haze.  She comes across as heavily medicated rather than mysterious.  I don't think this was her desired effect.  The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable.

So, if you want to see a great mummy pic try Boris Karloff's The Mummy (1932) or Hammer Horror's The Mummy (1959) with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.    Leave this one in the dust bins of a Hollywood backlot.

RATING: Fair.

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

When Hammer Studios gets it right, they really get it right.  There is not a single negative comment I can make about Hands of the Ripper.  Everything works.  Here is why this one is a must see for fans of old-fashioned gothic horror.

First, it's a feast for the eyes.  Gorgeous sets and magnificent period costumes are highlighted by cinematography with an eye toward the poetic and artistic.  Every scene is composed with great care and detail.  Flawless.

Second, it has an intelligent and creative script that puts a new spin on the Jack the Ripper legend.  This time, it's his daughter who is doing the killing after she witnessed her mother's murder at the hand of her father (Jack the Ripper) when she was a child.  Now she's 16 an finds herself blacking out for periods of time, not knowing exactly what is happening.  Fortunately, a compassionate (and a little obsessive) psychologist takes her under his wing and is determined to find out what's going on with her, suspecting the worst.

Third, the acting is impeccable and while the "English whores" are a bit of a caricature, the rest of the cast is delightful to watch.  Dr. Pritchard is played by veteran Shakespearean actor Eric Porter [The Lost Continent, Day of the Jackal] who bears an odd resemblance to Kevin Spacey.  He appears in almost every scene in this film and brings a wonderful depth to his character.  Angharad Rees [Poldark, Jane Eyre] is also great as Jack the Ripper's daughter.  She never overacts and gives a subtle but powerful performance, capturing both the emotions of innocence and malice with great skill.

Do not miss this one.  It's definitely an overlooked gem from the wonderful body of work created by Hammer Studios.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Alive (1974)

The best word I can use to describe It's Alive is "tepid."  It's barely alive in terms of acting, visual effects, pacing and storytelling.  Does that cover it?  I think so!  The worst part of this film is they never completely reveal the creature who is attacking everyone so viciously.  In Hitchcock's films less is more, but with It's Alive less is less.  Furthermore, the blood effects look like blobs of paint on the floor.  I was surprised that Rick Baker did the effects work on this film.  I'll cut him some slack since it was some of his early work.  Thankfully, he got much better as the years rolled by.

Perhaps the weakest part of It's Alive is the script.  This story line has been done to death and done better.  Mom gives birth to strange creature who kills lots of people and dies in the end.  The most frustrating thing about this is that It's Alive give no back story whatsoever.  Is the killer baby the result of a pact with the devil?  Space aliens?  Living near a nuclear power plant?  They never say a blessed thing.  That's just plain lazy writing.

It's hard to believe but this tepid ilm spawned two sequels, neither of which I'm going to watch.  So, if you're up for punishment, watch the other two and let me know what you think.  Boring!

RATING: Bad.

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Open House (1987)

After the success of films such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), legions of filmmakers set out to make their version of the slasher flick.  They hoped to milk the serial killer cash cow without investing any money up front on their part.  Unfortunately, this gave birth to a plethora of really bad movies.  Open House is one of them.  

The basic premise is interesting as female real estate agents are being killed off left and right.  Meanwhile, the killer is talking on air with a local psychologist who hosts a talk therapy show.  The problem with Open House is that it wastes this premise and is totally uneven in terms of pacing and quality of storytelling.  It starts off with a poor mans's Dario Argento screamfest of nubile realtors being dispatched in vile and gruesome ways.  This portion of the film is totally overacted.

Then Joseph Bottoms [The Black Hole, The Net: TV Series] and Adrienne Barbeau [Swamp Thing, The Fog, Creepshow] step in as the psychologist and big love interest.  Things settle down a bit and the quality of the acting improves greatly.  But, alas, Open House then morphs into an after school special with the most horrifyingly moralizing ending that explains why the serial killer did what he did.  Ugh!

Enough has been said.  Skip this one and stick with the classic slasher flicks.  I wasted my brain cells on Open House.  Don't make the same mistake or I will hunt you down and beat you senselessly.

RATING: Bad.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dolls (1987)

Dark humor is a tricky thing to master.  It has to be the right combination of cringe-worthy moments, snarky dialog, and killer special effects.  The 1980's was a great time for dark humor thanks to vast improvements in special effects and the arrival of CGI.  Films like Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Re-Animator (1985) set the bar pretty high.  Therefore it was a challenge to come up with material that could rival the pure genius of films like these.

Dolls is definitely a neglected film of this era.  I was a young man during this time period and I don't remember this one at all.  Dolls is a mixture of fantasy and horror in the vein of Troll (1986).  The cinematography and direction are quite good.  After all, Stuart Gordon [Re-Animator, Honey I Shrunk the Kids] is at the helm so one would expect decent direction.  The soundtrack by Fuzzbee Morse manages to avoid all the 80's cliches and give us music that is more classic and timeless.  Finally, the set decoration is spot on, giving the mansion where most of the action takes place a classic, old school feel.

There are, however, two weak spots that prevent this movie from being a classic.  The first is that all the characters seem like stereotypes of real people.  There's a Madonna wanna-be complete with her Desperately Seeking Susan ensemble.  The man who befriends the little girl is ridiculously childlike.  The family at the center of story is a mess in a way that makes you want to call child protective services ASAP.  None of these are good things because the audience never deeply cares what happens to these people.

The second weakness is in terms of special effects.  All the close-ups of the dolls are good.  They have a really interesting and unique look.  It falls apart for me when they resort to stop motion animation to bring them to life.  It looks a bit jerky and amateurish for 1980's standards and detracts from the power this film could have had with better effects.

Overall, this one is well worth your time.  If you're a fan of 80's horror you will wonder how you missed this one.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Grave of the Vampire (1972)

A young girl finds herself pregnant but is the father her devoted boyfriend or a nefarious vampire?  Yep, it sounds like an episode of Twilight only this actress manages to be worse than Kristen Stewart.  Grave of the Vampire is a bit uneven but it has several things going for it:  1) The plot is interesting as the aforementioned baby grows up and tracks down its vampire father.  2) Director John Hayes [Garden of the Dead, Dream No Evil] adds some creative flourishes to the film such as the opening scene where cobwebs cover the inside of the coffin as well as the vampire.  The vamp also looks a bit green and crusty and remains so until his first few kills.  This is different from the usual vampire flicks where the coffin as well as the vamp are neat and tidy.  [How does that happen if they've been lying around for a few years?] 3) William Smith i[Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn] s quite good as James, the son of Anne who tracks down his vampire father.  Michael Pataki [ Halloween 4, Easy Rider] also makes a decent vampire by 1970's standards.

The weak points include: 1) Uneven acting.  Lyn Peters is dreadful as Anne.  She truly makes Kristen Stewart look like an Academy Award Actress which we all know is not going to happen in this lifetime.  The other female leads give O.K. performances but no one is outstanding.  2) It has a few "hippy" excesses such as a little free love scenes and a go-go dance party which seems out of place in this film.

Overall, Grave of the Vampire is decent but I can't get too excited about it.  The 1970's wasn't a great era for vampire films.  Thankfully, the 80's would give us a wonderful resurgence of the genre.

RATING: Good.

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