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!

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.