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, April 30, 2013

Dark Tower (1989)

Who knew that vengeful supernatural spirits could be so boring?  Alas Dark Tower is an failure of epic proportions.  Why?  Let's start with the screenplay.  The dialogue is absolutely ridiculous in places.  Not even the best of actors could make this drivel sound compelling.  

Secondly, original director Wiederhorn [Return of the Living Dead: Part 2, Shock Waves] was replaced during production by Freddie Francis [The Elephant Man, Cape Fear].  This is NEVER a good sign.  It means they knew the film was tanking and they hoped a new director could pull it from the depths to which is was sinking.  In the case of Dark Tower, this is not happen!

Finally the film felt a bit miscast.  Michael Moriarty [Law & Order, Troll] is solid as Dennis Randall, the detective who comes to investigate the mysterious death of a man who fell off a skyscraper and gets more than he bargained for.  However, both the female lead and the psychic are god-awful.  Jenny Agutter [Logan's Run, Child's Play 2] supposedly killed her husband in cold blood but she seems about as menacing as a basket full of kittens.  He needed an smart and feisty woman in this role but we didn't get one.  Theodore Bikel absolutely bombs as the psychic who keeps trying to carry on a conversation with the haunted skyscraper.  To his credit, the dialogue is horrible to begin with but I couldn't stop thinking what Donald Pleasence [Halloween] could have done with the role.  He is somehow able to make the most inane dialogue sound convincing and his talents were sorely needed on this film.

What more needs to be said.  PLEASE, if you love supernatural themed movies, skip this one altogether.  Yawn!

RATING: Bad.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jack's Back (1988)

How does one celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jack the Ripper's murders?  By meticulously recreating his wicked deeds, of course!  James Spader [Pretty in Pink, Wall Street] stars as identical twin brothers, one of whom is murdered by the new Ripper.  The other has dreams about how his brother met his demise and so he sets out to find the killer and bring him to justice.  Spader is very good in this role and I have the feeling the part may have been written with him in mind.  He is completely at ease with the character and is enjoyable to watch from start to finish.  

Cynthia Gibb [Short Circuit 2, Fame: The TV Series] also does a good job as Chris, your typical clean cut, fresh faced 80's girl.  She has good chemistry with Spader and their performances are definitely the heart of this film.

Director/Writer Rowdy Herrington is not exactly a household name.  He is best known for the Patrick Swayze cult classic Road House which he also directed.  Herrington creates a nice atmosphere with this picture but the screenplay could have used a little more work.  There are some holes here and there and the ending is quite unsatisfying and a bit disappointing.

All in all, Jack's Back is a good movie.  It could have been great with a little more work on the story which has a great deal of potential it never fully reached.

RATING: Good.

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Vampire's Ghost (1945)

Sometimes less is more and sometimes less is…..less.  Such is the case with The Vampire's Ghost, a 1940's cheapie from Republic Pictures.  Republic was a film production/distribution corporation that specialized in B movie mysteries and action flicks from 1935-1959.

The Vampire's Ghost is tepid at best.  The story takes place in Africa where drums beat constantly and everyone is whispering about vampires.  That's about it.  Seriously!  Nothing exciting takes place and when the vampire is finally revealed he looks like an addict in an Ambien haze.  Furthermore, the ending where the vampire meets his demise [This should NOT surprise you in the least] is painfully predictable and formulaic.

The acting in The Vampire's Ghost is fine but nothing notable.  The actors have very little material to work with but give it their best shot.  This film might have worked well in 1945, but it doesn't translate well to modern audiences.  There are lots of great horror films from the 1940's.  I suggest you search my site and look at one of those instead.

RATING: Fair.

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

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Christine (1983)

Nobody tells a horror story quite like Stephen King whose fertile imagination gave birth to some of the best horror movies of the 1980's including Carrie, The Shining and Children of the Corn.  Christine is another wonderful example of bringing King's tales to life.  

Keith Gordon stars as Arnie, a typical nerdy high school boy who buys and fixes up an old clunker of a car.  As the car springs to life so does Arnie and the two become inseparable.  Heaven help anyone who tries to stand between this boy and his car!  Gordon is great as Arnie playing him with all the right emotional notes.  From wide-eyed innocent to crazed killer, Gordon handles the transformation admirably.  It's fun to watch.

The rest of the cast is great as well and includes 80's notables such as John Stockwell [Top Gun], Alexandra Paul [Baywatch], and Harry Deal Stanton [Alien].  The ensemble works well together and there's not a weak link in the bunch.

But let's not kid ourselves.  The star of this show is Christine.  From the appropriately creepy 1950's music to its ability to repair itself, Christine is a wonder to behold.  The effects are just right.  Not too little.  Not too much.  It would be easy to go over the top with this one but, thankfully, the special effects people show remarkable restraint and it works well.

What more do I need to say?  With John Carpenter [Halloween, The Thing] at the helm as director and a wonderful cast to work with, it was inevitable that a great movie would be made.  Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite horror directors and he does not disappoint with Christine.  He also wrote the music which is quite effective in setting the mood.  Christine stands the test of time and is an 80's classic not to be missed.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lisa and the Devil (1974)

I am a fan of Mario Bava's work [Kill, Baby, Kill; Planet of the Vampires] but I must admit I just didn't care for Lisa and the Devil.  The story begins when Lisa [Elke Sommer] gets lost in an ancient Roman city and becomes a house guest at a strange, decaying mansion inhabited by a creepy family.  Sommer is O.K. as Lisa but her character spends far too much time running and screaming.  While this is a characteristic of a number of Italian horror films of this era, I found it a bit annoying in this case.  

Lisa and the Devil also stars Telly Savalas [Kojak] as Leandro the butler who could actually be the Devil incarnate.  He gives the most interesting performance in the film but there are times when I felt like they underused him as an actor.

The plot is a bit hard to follow at times and takes the viewer on a rather strange journey [How strange is it?].  While I enjoy strange journeys, I didn't care for this one because it was confusing for no reason at all.  Furthermore, the ending left me groaning with disappointment.  It's hard to believe the film is only 92 minutes long because it felt much longer.  It was tedious at times and even the horror elements were not up to par.

Maybe somebody out there likes this film and can tell me why.  While the critics on IMDB average this one at 6.2, I give it about a 4.  Director Mario Bava is wonderfully creative and Lisa and the Devil simply isn't as good as it should or could be.

RATING: Fair.

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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Stepfather (1987)

Before there was the hit TV series Lost, Terry O'Quinn [Silver Bullet, Primal Fear] had built an impressive resume beginning in the 1980's.  The Stepfather was the prefect vehicle for him to "do crazy" as he portrays the "family values" stepfather to his new  daughter Stephanie and his new wife Susan.  Jill Schoelen [Phantom of the Opera 1989, Popcorn] gives a nice performance as the daughter who suspects very early on in the movie that something is not quite right with her step dad.  Shelley Hack [Charlie's Angels, Annie Hall] fits the bill as the clueless mom who doesn't catch on until its almost too late.

Director Joseph Ruben doesn't bring too much excitement in terms of interesting camera work or establishing the mood through atmosphere.  This is pretty plain directing, the kind we would expect from a 1980's After School Special. [Ouch!]  Thankfully, the actors give us something worth watching.  Without them The Stepfather would be in serious trouble.  

Overall, this film is pretty low-key except for the moments when O'Quinn's character goes bat shit crazy for a few minutes at a time.  These are definitely the most interesting moments of the film and they leave the viewer wanting more of them.  

A remake of The Stepfather was done in 2009 which I thought was pretty good.  It ups the tension and suspense considerably and replaces the daughter with a troubled son.  I thought it actually worked better in terms of storytelling.  The director of the sequel was able to up the domestic violence scenes in a way that the audience would not have tolerated if the stepkid was female.

RATING: Good.

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

Monday, April 15, 2013

Near Dark (1987)

Who knew that Kathryn Bigelow, the director of such well-known films as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, was busy making films back in the 1980's?  Near Dark is a very stylized, unique vampire flick which is as high a complement I can pay.  The best way to describe it is a vampire road trip with a stellar cast and strong storytelling.

Among the vamps are Bill Paxton [Big Love, Aliens] who brings a wonderful manic energy to his character Severen.  Lance Henricksen [Alines, the Terminator] is spectacular as the leader of the vamp family, Jesse.  He always picks such interesting characters to play.  His work is always fun to watch.  Newcomers Adrian Pasdar [Heroes, Top Gun] and Jenny Wright [The Lawnmover Man] are the star-crossed lovers at the center of this story.  They both bring something special to the table as well.

I cannot say enough good things about Near Dark.  It's simply a beautifully made film.  If you're looking for gallons of blood you might be disappointed.  However, if you like a well told story with interesting, well developed characters, then this one is definitely for you.  It's not your typical vampire movie and this is a VERY good thing.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Daughters of Satan (1972)

Not even Tom Selleck can save Daughters of Satan from being the longest 90 minutes I've endured in quite a while.  Tedious when it should be terrifying, Daughter of Satan talks about being bad and serving the Dark Lord but shows very little of either.  The story begins when James Robertson [Selleck] buys an old painting of witches being burned at the stake.  His wife Chris bears a striking resemblance to one of the witches in the painting.  

Things should pick up from there but they never do.  The scenes where we see the satanists doing their rituals are laughable.  The head of the Coven looks like a reject from Olivia Newton John's infamous video for "Let's Get Physical."  The only thing terrifying in these scenes is her sense of fashion.  It made me giggle with glee.

Selleck gives his usual "man's man" performance and is oozing lots of early 70's testosterone.  But even he cannot overcome a poor script.  I give him credit for doing his best with very little to work with.  The rest of the cast is tepid at best and mostly unforgettable.

When the "climatic" scene comes at the end of the film, I groaned.  It goes out with a whimper and a horrible closing song.  A total waste of 90 minutes to say the least.  This is the kind of stuff that gives 70's films a bad reputation.  Skip this one for sure.

RATING: Bad.

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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)

I'm not exactly sure what the critics on IMDB love about this movie.  Yes, it was directed well.  Yes, it starred Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence [Dr. Loomis in Halloween].  Yes, the acting was quite good.

However, it's just a boring story that steals heavily from Frankenstein (1931) and about a hundred other films as well.  I watched it to the horribly moralizing ending and could only muster a "Who cares?"  Even though the bodies hit the floor at regular intervals, there is almost no blood or horror elements to be found.  Furthermore, there wasn't enough suspense to qualify it as a thriller either.

I never need to see this one again.  Spare yourself the agonizing 97 minutes and watch one of the other films made by these two wonderful actors.  Ugh!
RATING: Fair.

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Scream of Fear (1961)

If you like thrillers, Scream of Fear is as good as anything directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  This Hammer Horror production has a smart script with several unexpected twists along the way.  After an opening scene which serves as a prologue, the story begins when Penny, an attractive, wheel-chair bound girl, returns to her father's estate after ten years.   She meets her new step-mother and is told her father is away on business.  Things get interesting when Penny keeps seeing the body of her dead father on the estate.  She wonders if she's losing her mind or whether something sinister is happening at her new home.

The trio at the center of this drama include Susan Strasberg [Rollercoaster] as Penny,  Ann Todd as the step-mother and Ronald Lewis as Robert, the hired hand on the estate.    They are perfect together and play off of each other extremely well.  They keep things interesting and suspenseful scene after scene.  Christopher Lee also stars in the small bit part of Dr. Pierre Girrard.  He fits the bill nicely and leaves the viewer wishing he had more scenes in the film.

I consider Scream of Fear to be one of the undiscovered gems of Hammer Horror.  If you like thrillers, this one is an absolute a must-see.  Intelligent.  Suspenseful.  Surprising.  Who could ask for anything more?

RATING: Excellent.

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Gorgon (1964)

I was prepared to be dazzled by The Gorgon but it didn't happen.  With director Terence Fisher [Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein] at the helm and stars like Christopher Lee and Peter Cusing cast in the lead roles, I figured The Gorgon would be a total home run.  Instead it was just O.K.

Here's why….while the film's production standards and set design were as flawless as ever, this Hammer Horror film had very little horror and felt more like a melodrama.  I thought I was watching an episode of Downton Abbey!  Finally, when the horror element arrived, it was done poorly and came across as really fake.  About the only reaction it got from me was a groan.

The concept was interesting.  The Gorgon, which in Greek mythology, were three sisters [the best known of which is Medusa] had snakes for hair that turned everyone to stone who gazed into their eyes.  Somehow one of these ancient, mythic beings takes human form and terrorizes a European Village.  It sounds like an interesting premise but the execution of it was not interesting at all.  Perhaps with a stronger screenplay it could have worked.  Unfortunately, there is no back story in the film regarding how all this came about and why a Gorgon chose this particular village to haunt.

Finally, while Peter Cushing was up to his usual excellent performance, Christopher Lee seemed a bit flat.  It felt like his costume was wearing him and he was simply taking up space on screen.

With all the wonderful Hammer Horror films out there, I'd suggest you watch them first before tackling this one.

RATING: Good.

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

Monday, April 8, 2013

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

The legend of Dr. Frankenstein has been told and retold many times with mixed results.  In this incarnation, Hammer Horror delivers the goods with an old fashioned horror extravaganza that is filled with gorgeous sets, impeccable acting and has a slightly different spin on the story.  In Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed [FMBD] we find Peter Cushing in fine form as  Baron Frankenstein, a role he has played before.  The good doctor, with the help of a young assistant and his fiance, attempt the impossible: to transfer the brain of his colleague into another body and, at the same, time, cure the patient's mental illness.  

Peter Cushing [Star Wars, Horror of Dracula] is great as Frankenstein.  He is always such a powerful and passionate actor who bring his considerable skills to every role he undertakes.  Simon Ward [Zulu Dawn, The Three Musketeers] plays his faithful assistant Karl and Veronica Carlson [The Horror of Frankenstein, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave] plays his fiance Anna.  Both are quite good and work very well with Cushing.

Director Terence Fisher [The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula] simply knows how to make great horror films.  The pacing is good and there are lots of moments filled with tension and suspense.  Kudos to the set and costume designers for their beautiful work on this film that furthers the reputation of Hammer as one of the finest studios, horror or otherwise. 

There is nothing to dislike in FMBD.  Enjoy this entertaining and well-made film.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tales From The Crypt (1972)

Before the amazing 1989 HBO Series Tales From The Crypt came into being, there was a film bearing the same name.  This version of Tales is lower on humor and higher on horror but is an enjoyable film nonetheless.  The "host" for these stories is the Grand Inquisitor who shows five people what the consequences of their actions might be if they let their desires get the best of them. Each segment is well done and there is not a weak one in the bunch. Here is how it breaks down:

And All Through the House - Joan Collins and a homicidal Santa at Christmas?  How can you possibly go wrong with that?  This one was one of my favorites and packs a nice emotional punch as well as a few uncomfortable giggles along the way.

Reflection of Death - It's a classic "left my wife for another woman story" that takes a few interesting and unexpected turns along the way.

Poetic Justice - Thanks to a magnificent performance by Peter Cushing, this segment was hands down my favorite.  It's the story of a grieving widower whose property is a bit of a mess.  This leads his next door neighbor to take some drastic steps to try and force him to move.  It's also got a zombie in it so what's no to like?

Wish You Were Here - A classic take on the old Monkey's Paw story.  A man is forced to file bankruptcy and his wife uses an old statue in the house that grants the bearer three wishes to try and sort things out.  Unfortunately, she just keeps digging the hole deeper.

Blind Alleys - A gripping revenge tale that takes place in a group home for blind men.  Everything is going fine until they get a new headmaster who is less than kind.  Lots of great performances in this segment.

If you like horror anthologies, definitely give this one a try. 

RATING: Good.

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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Asylum (1972)

As horror anthologies go, this is a really good one.  While it doesn't have the cheeky sense of humor of Creepshow (1982), Asylum has a well written script with a few scares and surprises along the way.  This collection of four stories are tied together by the tale of a young psychiatrist [Robert Powell who also played Jesus in Jesus of Nazareth] who has to interview four mental patients as a requirement for his employment at the asylum.  Each inmate then has their own vignette.

All four work rather well, although my favorites are the first two.  Frozen Fear has a dysfunctional couple who are slowly sucking the life out of each other.  I won't spoil the fun but where this story goes is on a crazy journey with nice special effects that made me giggle with glee.  

The Weird Taylor is actually a remake of The Weird Taylor episode from Boris Karloff's Thriller TV Series.  This time out we have the one and only Peter Cushing [Horror of Dracula, Star Wars] as Mr Smith who contracts a local tailor to make a suit for his son.  He gives the tailor a bolt of unusual cloth along with some strange instructions for how to make the suit.  This reboot is just as satisfying as the original Thriller episode.

Director Roy Ward Baker [Dr Jekyl & Sister Hyde, The Avengers] takes his time with each story so that the production does not feel rushed.  He gives lots of attention to detail and has a marvelous cast of British actors to work with which also includes Britt Ekland [The Wicker Man, The Man With the Golden Gun] and Herbert Lom [1962's Phantom of the Opera, 1971's Murders in the Rue Morgue].  

If you're a fan of Hammer Horror, then you definitely need to give this one a try.  There's no gore here, but there are lots of well told and interesting stories to be found.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1963)

This Spanish/French production tells the story of "mad scientist" Dr. Orlof who, along with his creepy henchmen Morpho, abducts beautiful women and uses their skin to try and repair his daughter's fire burned face.  The version of Dr. Orlof I saw was dubbed into English which is not my favorite way to see a film.  I like the raw emotion of the native language which sometimes gets lost in the dubbing process.  Therefore, it's a little hard for me to judge the quality of the acting since the original performances have been filtered through another set of actors.

With this in mind, I thought Dr. Orlof was O.K. but nothing special.  The story has been told and retold many times before since horror films began.  It offers no surprises nor interesting twists.  Everything just goes along like you expect it to.  Yawn.

What it does have going for it is in terms of cinematography.  The choice of black and white for this film was perfect.  It's has great atmosphere and often interesting scene compositions.  The other thing it has going for it is Ricardo Valle who plays Morpho.  He creates a quirky, weird character that would have scared the crap out of me as a kid.  He's definitely the most interesting thing on the screen and keeps the audience wondering who or what he is.

All in all, I just can't get too excited over The Awful Dr. Orlof.  He just wasn't awful enough for me!

RATING: Good.

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