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, December 11, 2014

Nightbreed (1990) Nightbreed (2014 Director’s Cut)

YES!  YES!  YES!  I saw Nightbreed back in 1990 and was underwhelmed.  I loved some of the visuals that were just as strong as Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) but the plot didn't make a lot of sense to me.  It seemed fragmented as if it were trying to tell two stories and neither of them very effectively.  Apparently Clive Barker felt the same way.  Apparently the studio tried to make it into a slasher film [which it most definitely is not] and cut and edited the film in ways that Barker detested.

Now it’s 2014 and Clive Barker finally has his day!  Thanks to Shout! Factory Barker finally got to put together the film the way he originally intended to to be.  According to Fangoria 20 minutes of the 1990 theatrical edition, including the ending, have been removed and nearly 45 minutes of new material has been added.  The result is a spectacular, highly original story that’s a joy to watch from start to finish.  THIS is the movie they should have allowed Clive Barker to make.  The restoration is beautiful and really makes this film pop.  I saw the HD version of it on Netflix and am hopeful it will gain and audience with younger viewers.

I won’t go into plot details because I think this film is best seen without any expectations going into it.  Like Hellraiser, just enjoy the ride as Barker takes the audience on a wild and crazy journey to a world only he could envision.  The cast is great and includes Craig Sheffer [A River Runs Through It] as anti-hero Boone and horror director David Cronenberg [Videodrome, Scanners] as Boone’s psychiatrist Dr. Decker.

Nightbreed is also enhanced by a beautiful symphonic score by Danny Elfman [The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride] as well as some of the most inventive creatures you will ever see on the screen.  Don’t miss this one!  I imagine Barker is grinning from ear to ear as his film FINALLY gets to be seen the way it was intended to be seen.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Monday, November 17, 2014

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

In 1967 Fantastic Voyage won two Oscars for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.  It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Sound Effects.  Do how does it measure up to all these accolades?  Very well.  Fantastic Voyage is a visual feast of great beauty, excitement and imagination. The story involves the journey of the Proteus, a miniaturized sub that is injected into the body of a diplomat who was nearly assassinated.  Their mission: to remove a blood clot and get the heck out of there before their sub returns to normal size.

Fantastic Voyage has everything going for it, beginning with a smartly written and believable script which is based on a novel by Isaac Asimov.  Director Richard Fleisher [20,000 Leagues Ubder the Sea, Soylent Green] and Cinematographer Ernest Laszio [Logan’s Run, Attack of the Puppet People] know how to bring this epic story to life with grand sweeping gestures as well as small moments of tension and conflict between individual actors.

However, the star of this show is most definitely the visual effects.  Everything about the way this film looks once the Proteus enters the diplomat’s body is cinematic perfection.  I can’t recall any earlier film that looks this stunning.  The colors, shapes, lighting and textures used to represent this miniature world are a total home run.  The voiceover at the beginning of the film says, “You’re going to see things no one has ever seen before.”    I totally agree.  What a grand adventure this is!

As far as acting goes, the cast is solid through and through.  The two most well-know acts in this ensemble are the radiant Raquel Welch [One Million Years B.C.] and horror legend Donald Pleasence [Halloween, Prince of Darkness].  While his character Dr. Michaels is not Dr. Loomis hunting down Michael Meyers, they same intensity is there.

If you like Sci-Fi then Fantastic Voyage is a must-see.  A wonderful film both then and now.  My only complaint is that they take nearly 40 minutes to enter into the body of the diplomat.  I would have shortened this part of the film a bit because that’s where the action really get going!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Thursday, November 13, 2014

They Came From Within (1975) a.k.a. Shivers

Shivers is David Cronenberg’s first full feature film and it’s quite a doozy.  The opening credits begin with an eerily calm TV commercial for a suburban high rise complex.  Once the credits are finished rolling we are greeted with a brutal murder/suicide.  The audience knows from the very beginning to expect anything!

Cronenberg [Videodrome, The Brood] wrote and directed this creepy tale about a scientist who ends up infecting residents of the high rise with a parasite that begins spreading like wildfire. Those infected become sex-crazed fiends who attack the nearest warm body. [John Waters would approve!] Cronenberg jumps back and forth between scenes of ordinary life and moments of sheer terror.  It’s quite a roller coaster ride and is quite effective, leaving the viewer on the edge of their seat for the duration of the film.

Kudos to special effects creator Joe Blasco [The Addams Family] for bringing the parasites to life.  He does so in a way that is convincing, effective and squirm-worthy.

The acting is solid but no one performance stand out as great.  This is because the parasites are the star of this demented horror show!  There is, however, a wonderful cameo role for Italian scream queen Barbara Steele.  Her infection scene is a delightfully horrifying moment in the film.

Not much more needs to be said.  Cronenberg is not everyone’s cup of tea but no one can deny he is a unique and visionary filmmaker. 

RATING: Very Good.

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


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Fly (1958)

The 1950’s was NOT a kind era to women in horror!  Most of the time their job was to scream hysterically, faint and wait to be rescued by a man!  The Fly may be one of the exceptions to this rule.  And while Patricia Owens’ character Helene does faint once, she is smart, brave, and a take charge kind of woman.

The story begins with the murder of her scientist husband Andre who is crushed beyond recognition.  Helene becomes the prime suspect in his murder and much of the rest of the film goes back in time to see how the two of them arrived at this point in their relationship.  Both David Hedison [Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea] and Patricia Owens  are fantastic as the married couple.  They manage to pull off many scenes where Hedison’s upper body is completely hidden from view, covered by a cloth.  They make it work where other actors could have failed.

The Fly also benefits from a strong performance by horror legend Vincent Price who appears in all the scenes after Andre’s death.  It doesn’t matter what kind of dialogue they give Price to utter.  He always makes it sound important and convincing.  I’m a huge fan of his and love pretty much every film he did!

As far as the technical aspects go, it’s a brilliant move to keep much of Andre hidden until the “big reveal.”  Like much of Hitchcock’s work, director Kurt Neumann [Secret of the Blue Room] knows that what we don’t see can be much more frightening than what we do see.  He uses this philosophy to great effect in The Fly. 

My absolute favorite scene is toward the end of the film when Price finds something caught in a spider’s web.  I don’t spoil the fun but it’s by far the creepiest scene in the movie.

The Fly spawned a sequel starring Vincent Price [Return of the Fly] which doesn’t quite live up to the original.  Then in 1986, director David Cronenberg gave us a very dark and sinister version of the movie [The Fly] that is even better than the original.  This was followed by Fly II which was the weakest of al the films.  Let’s face it, there’s only so much one can milk out of this story!  The cash cow simply ran dry.

If you’ve never seen The Fly, I consider it a must-see of 1950’s horror.  Don’t miss it!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Friday, October 24, 2014

Knightriders (1981)

Knightriders is not a horror film, but the legendary George Romero [Night of the Living Dead, Creepshow] wrote and directed it so that’s why it’s here.  Think of Nightriders as a Renaissance fair gone bad.  It’s all about knights on motorcycles who joust and fight for paying spectators until someone gets hurt.  Leading this family of Camelot misfits is none other than Ed Harris [Gravity, The Abyss] in one of his earlier roles.  He is this group’s King Arthur, who goes by the name of Billy, and seeks to maintain harmony and order within the community.  But Billy has a dark side which makes things interesting.

Billy’s nemesis and threat to the throne is  Morgan, played wonderfully by special effects guru Tom Savini [Dawn of the Dead].  This movie proves that Savini is not only good at guts and gore, he’s a fine actor as well.  The two of them duke it out among a cast of merry misfits who try to make a living doing what they love.

Romero’s script is smart and while it taps into universal themes, it still feels fresh and original.  His direction is spot on as well and the action scenes are quite effective.  Look for a fun cameo from Stephen King who was working with Romero on the script for Creepshow while Knightriders was being filmed.  It’s great to see Romero make good use of this serendipitous occasion.

The only negative thing I can say about Knightriders is that with a run time of 146 minutes, it’s way too long for the story it tells and should have been edited down to 120 minutes or less.  If you like action films with lots of drama, then Knightriders will be an enjoyable movie to watch.  If you’re a Romero fan and you haven’t seen this one yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?  I believe it showcases the talents of a creative and visionary director and stands as one of Romero’s best films.

RATING:  Very Good.

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


Friday, October 17, 2014

Rodan (1956)

In 1954, visionary director Ishiro Honda wowed audiences with Gojira, his tale of the horrors of the atomic bomb. It was just as much a political critique as it was a horror film.  This same year the American version was released [Godzilla] and the Japanese have been fighting scores of monsters ever since!  Ca-ching!

The next monster to terrorize the Japanese countryside was Rodan, which is actually two mutant pterosaurs along with their two offspring.  The story begins in a mining village where workers keep disappearing in one of the mine’s deepest shafts.  Investigators are sent in and they discover a few giant prehistoric bugs who have quite an appetite. After this, the Pterosaurs appear and begin to unleash their reign of terror.

The script is good, especially the ending scenes which are truly heartbreaking. But what is missing is the deep social and political commentary that made Gojira a masterpiece.
Rodan follows a simple formula that many horror films before and after it follow:  Monster appears.  Monster kills.  Humans are no match for the monster at first, but find a way to destroy it in the end.

My biggest complaint are the pterosaurs which pale in comparison to the look of the original Godzilla monster.  Granted, Godzilla was a guy in a suit but this gave the monster an organic feel.  The Rodans look a bit cheesy to me and the repetitive use of the same shot over and over again, gets on your nerves pretty quick.

I know this film is beloved by many but it doesn’t do a lot for me.  I’m a huge fan of Gojira [The Blu Ray edition is gorgeous] but Rodan leaves me feeling a bit disappointed.

RATING: Good.

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


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Firestarter (1984)

Those of us who grew up in the 80’s were treated to a number of Stephen King adaptations including Firestarter.  While it’s not the best of the bunch [Carrie takes that title] it is a well acted and enjoyable film.  Drew Barrymore does a wonderful job as Charlie, an 8 year old girl with pyrokinetic powers.  Barrymore is perfect for the role and is the emotional heart of the film.  Her evil counterpart John Rainbird, is played to perfection by George C. Scott.  He can go from sweet to sinister with the slightest change of facial expressions.

This dynamic duo is helped out by a wonderful cast of actors including Martin Sheen [The West Wing], David Keith [An Officer and a Gentleman] and small role appearances by Heather Locklear [Melrose Place], Art Carney [The Honeymooners], Louise Fletcher [Flowers in the Attic] and Antonio Fargas [Starsky & Hutch]. 

Director Mark L. Lester does a good job of keeping things moving along and is able to capture some wonderful performances from his actors.  Firestarter is also greatly helped by Mike Edmonson [The Avengers, Iron Man] it’s pyrotechnical and special effects foreman.  By 80’s standards all the fire scenes are first rate and they hold up well 30 years later.

The two weakest elements in Firestarter are the wind effect that is used every time Charlie starts a fire with her mental powers and the Tangerine Dream soundtrack.  The first is just plain cheesy and looks like they are holding a blow dryer up to Barrymore’s face.  The second is too tepid and Tangerine Dream's ambient synths fail to pack the musical punch this film needed in its most dramatic moments.

Firestarter has its critics, especially those who have read the book.  But books and movies are two completely different entities and should be judged on their own merits.  I’ve watched Firestarter several times over the years and found it enjoyable from start to finish.  Don’t miss it!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Vintage Zombie Fun for October 2014

If you’re looking for a good zombie film to watch during the month of October and you can peel yourself away from new episodes of The Walking Dead, I recommend the following which are reviewed elsewhere on this blog.  There are no voodoo zombies on this list.  Everything zombie begins with George Romero! [They are in no particular order.]

Straight Up Zombie Movies

  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • Dawn of the Dead: Dario Argento’s Cut (1979)
  • Day of the Dead (1985)
  • Zombi 2 (1979)
  • Night of the Comet (1984)
  • City of the Living Dead (1980)

Zombie Horror/Humor

  • Sugar Hill (1974)
  • Night of the Creeps (1986)
  • The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Blacula (1972)

In the 1970’s a film genre was born that is often referred to as Blaxploitation.  These films were originally made for an urban black audience but gained a wider appeal across racial lines.  Blaxploitation films were the first to regularly feature soundtracks of funk and soul music as well as primarily black casts.  Eventually someone got the bright idea of combining Blaxploitation and horror.  The result is Blacula as well as another favorite of mine Sugar Hill (1974) which is reviewed elsewhere on my blog. 

Yet Blacula also manages to rise above its Blaxploitation roots to become a true horror film.  The biggest reason for this is William Marshall [The Boston Strangler, Scream Blacula Scream] , a versatile actor whose training included Shakespeare, Broadway and Grand Opera.  While Blacula was in the pre-production stage, Marshall convinced the producers to ditch the jive-talking vampire known as Andrew Brown and replace him with Mamuwalde, an ancient African prince who was turned into a vampire by Dracula himself.  The result is a vampire that is every bit as good as Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee. [Trivia: Marshall also played King of Cartoons in the TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse.]

Set in Los Angeles, Mamuwalde arrives in America after two way-too-stereotypical gay antiques dealers buy Dracula’s estate including the coffin Mamuwalde resides in.  When the coffin is opened the fun begins!  Marshall is truly fantastic as Mamuwalde and gets everything right.  He is supported by an equally strong cast including his love interest Tina, played elegantly by Vonetta McGee [Repo Man, The Eiger Sanction].  The other standout is Thalmus Rasulala [New Jack City, General Hospital] as Dr. Gordon Thomas.  He is the perfect counterpoint to the bloodsucking Mamuwalde.  This film was also the acting debut of Denise Nicholas who would go on to star in two hit TV series: Room 222 and In the Heat of the Night.

Everyone is in the capable hands of director William Crain who went on to direct a number of episodes for TV shows such as The Mod Squad, Starksy and Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard.  Crain does a lot with the film’s modest budget of $500,00 and makes it feel like a much bigger movie.

The Soundtrack is also slamming with tunes by The Hues Corporation [known for Rock the Boat], Gene Page and The 21st Century Ltd.  The Hues Corporation also make an appearance in the film as the house band of a local night club.

The only negative thing I can say about Blacula is that some of the other vampires are given a quick Halloween costume makeover for their parts instead of treating them to the wonderful detail found in Mamuwalde.  I suspect this has to do with budgetary limitations but it’s the one thing that stand out as sub-par.

Whatever you do, SEE THIS FILM.  I also recommend watching Sugar Hill which will give you an inkling of what Blacula might have become if William Marshall had not been on board.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

If anyone could fill the legendary Claude Rains’ shoes, it is definitely Vincent Price, one of the true masters of horror.  The Invisible Man Returns was Price’s first horror film and he fills the role with both pathos and humor.  It’s a wonderful take on the character and his performance is easily the best of all the sequels.

The story begins when Geoffrey Radcliffe [Price] is scheduled to hang for a murder he did not commit.  After a visit from his friend Dr. Frank Griffin, Radcliffe mysteriously vanishes from prison.  Then the “invisible man” sets out to settle the score while Griffin tries to find an antidote to his friend’s invisibility.

In addition to Price’s first rate performance, John Sutton [The Bat, Return of the Fly] is great as the good doctor and Alan Napier [Alfred from Batman] steals the show as Willie Spears.  His scenes with Price are mischievous and delightful.

This talented cast is in the capable hands of director Joy May who gave Fritz Lang [Metropolis, M] his start in German cinema and fled to America after the Nazi takeover of Germany.  May brings an old world, classic look to The Invisible Man that works very well.  It feels intimately connected to the original which was made in 1933  Milton R. Krasner’s cinematography is first rate and the special effects by David S. Horsley [Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein] and John P. Fulton [Vertigo, Rear Window] hold up well with age.

The Invisible Man is classic horror at its best.  Don’t miss it,

RATING: Excellent.

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


Friday, September 26, 2014

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)

My first introduction to the “Master of Disaster,” Irwin Allen, was in 1974 when The Towering Inferno hit the big screen.  I was thirteen at the time and begged my Mom to let me see the film.  She previewed it.  My GRANDMOTHER previewed it.  Finally, the two of them told me that it was O.K. for me to go see it.  I remember my joy as I took my seat in the theater and watched all the amazing sights and sounds of this epic disaster movie.  I was instantly hooked and couldn’t wait for Allen’s next big epic to hit the screen.

Director/Writer Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is everything you could hope for in an epic adventure, 1960’s style.  Allen made it as big and as loud as he could, and we love him for it.  The dialogue is a bit bombastic at times.  The soundtrack
matches the dialogue with lots of horns and very little strings.  The underwater scenes are vibrant and energetic.  The cast is jam packed with some of the best stars of the day.  Who could ask for anything more?

Well, there are several chinks in this disaster movie’s armor.  The science is clearly fiction with icebergs breaking up and sinking, the Van Allen radiation belt catching fire  [Just Google it], attack subs diving at 3,000 feet when today’s subs can’t dive beyond 1300 feet!  But who cares?  This is one of those films where you just have to suspend your critical thinking and enjoy the ride.

The other chink in the armor is a few of the special effects, especially the octopus that attacks one of the divers and coils one of its tentacles around her.  While it’s hardly Ed Wood’s octopus from Bride of the Monster (1955), you can see it from there.  Later in the film a giant octopus attacks the sub with better results.  They used a live octopus for the scene and shot it in reverse since octopi are very shy creatures.

If you want names, you’ve got ‘em!  The cast includes Barbara Eden [I Dream of Genie] and Frankie Avlon [Beach Blanket Bingo] to attract the teenagers.  For the adults they included heavyweights Walter Pidgeon [Forbidden Planet] as the captain, Joan Fontaine  [Rebecca] as Dr. Hiller, and a small role for Peter Lorre [M, The Maltese Falcon] as Commander Emery.  Everyone in the cast is great.  There’s not a dud in the bunch!

Irwin Allen knew what he did best and it with great gusto. In the 1960’s, when Allen began making TV series, he was known as the most successful science fiction producer of the decade, spawning a TV series of the same name as the film that ran from 1964–68.  He also produced two of my childhood favorites: Lost in Space (1965–68) and Land of the Giants (1968–70).  Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is classic stuff. Don’t miss it!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sting of Death (1965)

Before there was the human walrus in 2014’s Walrus [I feel so sorry for Justin Long), there was the HUMAN JELLYFISH.  Yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds.  Thankfully, the director only lets the audience see bits and pieces of the killer jellyfish man until the final scene.  When the monster is fully revealed, the result is laugh-out-loud funny. 

While Sting of Death is definitely grade Z horror, it still has it merits.  The underwater photography, done in the Florida Everglades, is very good and quite beautiful.  The acting is also better than one would expect.  However, the endless go-go dancing for no apparent reason gets on your nerves [unless you like that kind of thing].  And the kill scenes, while they show a little blood, are anything but terrifying.

Apparently, director William Geffe never saw any Argento or Bava films from this era of he would have upped his game a bit.

I know this kind of movie has it’s audience but, for me, it fails to fall into the “so bad it’s good category.”  I can’t say it’s the worst film I’ve ever seen, but I don't feel the need to see it again.  Perhaps Sting of Death is best seen with a group of friends and a twelve pack.  With so many great films out there, I hardly think this one is worth your time.  Trust me on this one.

RATING: Bad.

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


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

There is absolutely NOTHING I like about this movie except for the few brief seconds Tartu, an ancient Indian medicine man, wiggles in his grave.  The cinematography is horrible.  The acting is ranges form amateurish to god-awful.  There are places where the plot goes nowhere for a very long time.  The soundtrack wants to make you put an awl through your ear drums.  The shark attack in the everglades is ridiculous.  What more needs to be said?  Avoid this stinker at all costs.  You’ve been warned.

RATING: Bad [REALLY Bad].

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


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944)

The Invisible Man…again?  Yes, it’s time to milk the cash cow one more time to which I can only respond “For the love of all things sinister, not every horror film needs endless sequels.” [Paranormal Activity and Friday the 13th come to mind!]  This time out John Carradine plays a not-so-mad scientist who ends up testing his formula for invisibility on an Robert Griffin, who just escaped a mental institution. [I know, I hear the groans already!]  Carradine’s performance is rather flat in this role but he has very little to work with.  The good news is that John Hall has improved since his last appearance as the invisible man in Invisible Agent (1942). Griffin is a better character for Hall who is able to convey a larger range of emotions. 

My personal favorite cast member in this movie is Grey Shadow, the dog.  When the fire breaks out in the laboratory, I worried he would meet his demise but Grey Shadow escapes and becomes the hero at the end of the film.  Good puppy!

I just can’t get too excited about this movie.  We have yet another director, Ford Beebe, who has no horror credits attached to his name and another screenwriter, Bertram Millhauser, who falls in the same category.  Both of them have more experience with action/adventure films and it shows.  When will the insanity end?  In 1951 with Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man which is actually a much better film than most of the sequels reviewed on this blog. 

The Invisible Man’s Revenge is not a bad film.  It’s just that the subject matter has been done to death and it has lost it potency.  This film needs more horror elements in it to strengthen its dark side.

RATING: Good.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Invisible Agent (1942)

Invisible Agent is quite different from the iconic 1933 film The Invisible Man.  All the horror elements have been stripped away and what it left is a science fiction wartime propaganda film that was designed to boost morale on the home front.  The Nazis come across as bumbling idiots while the Americans are victorious once again!  If you like that kind of thing, then Invisible Agent will appeal to you.  If you're looking for a much darker story, stick with the original.

Invisible Agent was directed by Edwin L. Marin, who has no horror credits attached to his name.  However, the screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak who is a horror veteran with numerous film credits such as The Wolf Man (1941), House of Frankenstein (1944),and The Invisible Man Returns (1940).  That being said, Siodmak was also a refugee from Nazi Germany and the strong anti-Nazi tone of the film should not be surprising considering the subject matter.

This time out, John Hall plays the part of the Invisible Man, although he is a different character than the one in the original film.  Hall also has no horror credits to his name so he’s actually perfect to play Frank Raymond, the “spy behind enemy lines.”  However, I miss he manic energy of Claude Rains’ original performance.  It’s far more interesting that what Hall has to offer here. 

The cast also includes Ilona Massey [Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman] and Peter Lorre [M, Mad Love] both of which are great but Lorre has far too little screen time for my taste.  He always such a commanding presence on screen and they don’t give him much to work with here.

All in all, Invisible Agent is a decently acted and well directed movie. This is especially true considering the whole thing was filmed on the Universal Studio lot for the small sum of $322,000!  While it’s not horror, it does have its merits for those who like 1940’s war pics.

RATING: Good.

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


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Martin (1978)

Visionary director George Romero gave birth to the modern zombie in his 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead.  Almost every zombie film that has been created since begins with his template and goes from there.  Then in 1978, the same year Dawn of the Dead was released, he set his sights on vampires.  The result is Martin, one of Romero’s lesser known and under-appreciated films.  The story centers on teenage Martin who is either a true vampire or a serial killer with a taste for blood.  The brilliance of Romero’s script is that he leaves it completely up in the air for his audience to decide.  Young Martin drugs his victims and then drinks their blood through an incision on their body.  Everyone dies and no one is “turned” into another vampire.  Gone are the capes, the fangs, the bats, and the fog.  In their place are mystery, hunger, curiosity and murder.

John Amplas [Day of the Dead, Creepshow] is great as Marin.  He’s in every scene and nails the character completely.  He holds his secrets close, only letting us see bits and  pieces of himself along the way.  We watch him evolve as both a killer and as a sexual being.  Like a train wreck, you can’t take your eyes off of him and wonder what he’s going to do next.

Lincoln Maazel, Martin’s Uncle, is a modern day Van Helsing.  He’s the only character in the movie that has an old-world, gothic feel to him.  He’s the cross carrying Nosferatu slayer who everyone looks at as if he’s a bit crazed…but maybe he’s the only sane one in the film.  Hmmmm.

The pace of Martin is a bit slow but that’s not a problem for me.  Romero takes his time telling the story and those who stick with it will be rewarded.  The blood effects by Tom Savini [Dawn of the Dead] work well and if you watch closely you’ll also spot Savini in a cameo performance in the film.  Romero also makes an appearance as Father Howard.

The biggest surprise for me is how good Martin looks in spite of its minuscule budget.  Romero does a lot with a little and he is to be commended for it.  Don’t miss this one.  Martin is Romero at his creative best and gives us a vampire story that’s inventive and compelling.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Changeling (1980)

The Changeling is one of those forgotten gems of paranormal horror.  It’s a bit of a slow burner at first but patience has its rewards as the story unfolds in interesting ways.  George C. Scott [ The Exorcist III, Firestarter] is symphonic composer John Russel, who moved to Seattle after his wife and child were killed in a freak automobile accident.  He moves into an old hose that hasn’t been lived in for twelve years and, surprise, strange things start to happen.

Scott is excellent in this role which shouldn’t surprise to anyone.  He is center stage in every scene of this film and handles the material like the pro he is. While the other actors also give fine performances, this is definitely his show and his show only!

Director Peter Medak [Species II] and cinematographer John Coquillon [Witchfinder General, Curse of the Crimson Altar] do a great job of establishing an eerie mood and keeping the suspension simmering throughout the film.  While some of the special effects are subtle and good, the stuff toward the end of the film is a tad bit hokey for me.  It’s typical 1980’s stuff so…it is what it is.

If you like paranormal horror and smartly written supernatural stories, then The Changeling is definitely your kind of movie.  It doesn’t quite rate a classic in my book, but it comes awfully close.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Monday, August 25, 2014

Thriller: The Return of Andrew Bentley (1961)

Season 2, Episode 12

When you start with a script by Richard Matheson [I Am Legend], you know it’s going to be really great.  Such is the case with this very serious and dark episode of Thriller.  The story begins with Uncle Amos, a practitioner of the dark arts, who kills himself after securing his nephew Ellis’ promise to guard his tomb against nefarious forces.

Terence de Marney [Monster of Terror] is fantastic as Amos.  Even his physical appearance is a little bit crazed.  John Newland [Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Dr. Kildare], who also directed this episode, plays Eliis who is a bit aristocratic and snobbish.  Newland gets every aspect of this character right.

I won’t tell you how the story works itself out because that’s the fun of this Thriller episode.  The Return of Andrew Bentley is a bit darker than some of the other episodes that often have a sense of humor and playfulness to them.  This one is straight up horror and is very effective in establishing a mood of dread and sustaining it to the end.

I can’t recommend it enough.  It’s just another reason why Thriller may be the finest horror series to ever grace the small screen.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Mole People (1956)

Utterly ridiculous!  The Mole People suffers from many things.  First on the list is a preposterous screenplay that doesn’t have an ounce of believability in it!  There is simply no way an ancient Sumerian civilization could survive underground for a week much less 5,000 years.  To make matters worse their costumes look like something that was designed by either Ed Wood or a local High School drama department.

Then let’s talk about the Mole People who are the Sumerian’s slaves.  Good God!  They are not even so-bad-they’re-good.  They are just plain bad. The only time they really look menacing is in the early scenes when we only see a brief glimpse of a hand or a set of eyes peering though a hole in the cavern.  I do, however, like the effect of when the Mole People pull their victims through the earth.  It’s the only thing that actually works in this film.

To be honest, I feel sorry for the actors, especially John Agar [Tarantula] and Alan Napier [Alfred form Batman] who are trapped in this film and are forced to utter inane dialogue form start to finish.  The Mole People takes itself way too seriously and fails epically.  You can skip this one altogether.  While the cinematography and direction are good, filming crap is…filming crap!

RATING: Bad.

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


Monday, August 18, 2014

Tarantula (1955)

I know Leo G Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills…everybody sing!  Yet another Sci-Fi classic immortalized by the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this one is worth singing about!  Tarantula is a fine example of those fun “creature features” from the 1950’s that were adored by kiddies as well as their parents.  It’s simply good, clean family fun that gets it right at every turn.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s right up there with my favorite from this era Them! (1954).

Director Jack Arnold [Creature From the Black Lagoon, It Came From Outerspace] and producer William Alland [Creature From the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature] know their stuff and give the movie a nice look and pace.  A beautiful musical score by Henri Mancini [The Pink Panther] only enhances the action and helps to heighten the tension.

The basic story involves a not-so-mad scientist, played by the wonderful Leo G. Carroll [North by Northwest, Strangers on a Train], whose experiments with growth hormones have unintended consequences.  Along for the ride are his gorgeous new research assistant Stephanie and a colleague named Dr. Hastings.  Mara Corday [The Black Scorpion] smashes a few 1950’s stereotypes with this role.  She’s smart and is taken seriously in the lab.  She only screams slightly, never faints, and rescues her own damn self!  Way to go, sister!  John Agar [The Virginian] is also great as the “leading man” and gives a great performance through and through.

Tarantula is helped by a smart screenplay whose science sounds believable, as well as Bud Westmore’s make-up that would make the legendary Jack Pierce smile.  As an added bonus, watch the final scene carefully and you’ll spot a young Clint Eastwood as a military pilot.  While he has an air mask on, you simply can’t mistake those eyes for anyone else’s!

The giant tarantula that terrorizes everyone is…well…a tarantula that is clearly magnified to epic proportions.  The handlers of the arachnid in question used air jets to make it move in the direction they wanted over a  well-built miniature landscape.  The effect is pretty good for 1950’s standards.  An uncredited Wah Chang [The Time Machine, Planet of the Apes] also designed a tarantula puppet that is used for close-ups.  It is very well made which also helps the monster to look convincing.

You can’t go wrong with Tarantula.  It’s a joy to watch from start to finish. 

RATING: Excellent.

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


Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Locked in a prison of ice millions of years ago, a giant praying mantis is set free to terrorize America!  And that’s all you really need to know.  The Deadly Mantis is a delicious slice of 1950’s kiddie horror that was probably shown on a Saturday afternoon.  In spite of it’s overly serious tone in the beginning of the film, it’s actually a lot of fun. 

The trio at the heart of this story is Margie Blaine, the editor of a Natural History Magazine; Dr. Ned Jackson, an authority on the evolution of animals; and Col. Joe Parkman, who invited the other two to join him at an Army base near the Arctic Circle where our adventure starts.  Alix Talton [The Man Who Knew Too Much] is great as Margie, who is a bit more useful than your typical 1950’s hysterically screaming movie female.  William Hopper [The Bad Seed] makes a convincing scientist does a great job at making the storyline seem believable.  Finally Craig Stevens [Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde] confidently commands the troops into battle and wins the girl in the end.  [Naturally!]  These three, along with the rest of the cast, do a great job of making the story come alive.

Now, how about the monster?  Well, the results are uneven.  When the Mantis is on the ground, it looks pretty good.  When it takes off in flight, it looks ridiculous.  Fred Knoth, who did the god-awful special effects in The Land Unknown (1957), has a more money to work with here and shows he can come up with some decent effects by 1950’s standards.  The best the creature looks is when it’s trapped in the Lincoln Tunnels in NYC.  The fog and subtle lighting help to make it look more menacing and powerful.  I made a n emotional connection with the Mantis in this scene and actually felt sorry for the big guy when he met his demise.

Kudos to director Nathan Juran [Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman] and Producer William Alland [Creature from the Black Lagoon] for making this film work as well as it does.  It definitely has its weak spots [use of stock footage as well as a few bad shots where the camera tricks are way too obvious] but the film itself manages to be greater than the sum of its parts.  It’s not the best monster movie out there, but it’s definitely a campy and enjoyable film.

RATING: Very Good.

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

 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Land Unknown (1957)

Universal originally intended The Land Unknown to be a big budget Sci-Fi extravaganza, filmed in color.  What it ended up becoming was a small budget, black and white B-movie with laugh-out-loud special effects. The plot is simple:  A crew exploring Antarctica discovers a giant crater that is home to a prehistoric world, including dinosaurs.  Where it goes from there is classic “lost world” stuff with no big surprises.

The Land Unknown is nearly impossible to rate because parts of it are very good, while other elements suffer from lack of money.  Let’s start with the good stuff:  Director Virgil W. Vogel [Tons of TV credits to his name] shot his film mostly indoors at Universal Studios and does a decent job of trying to make painted backdrops and artificial shrubbery come to life.  To the film’s credit, the backdrops are painted beautifully.  It’s the kind of stuff you just don’t see in movies anymore and it has its own special charm.

Vogel also had a great cast to work with including the electrifying Shirley Patterson [It! The Terror From Beyond Space] who plays an adventuresome scientist who, unfortunately, morphs into the stereotypical 1950’s woman who screams, faints and has to be rescued by her man.  Sigh!  I also enjoyed William Reynolds [The Thing That Couldn’t Die] who looks a bit like a young Marlon Brando and has a strong presence on screen.

I was also impressed with the soundtrack which is beautifully composed and gives this film lots of energy and emotion.  Not surprisingly, an uncredited Henri Mancini [The Pink Panther] was the man behind the music.  Perhaps he did this anonymously so that the Universal could pay him less than his usual fee.

Now the bad stuff:  OMG the dinosaurs are HORRENDOUS.  Let’s start with the classic “giant iguanas wrestling” that we’re supposed to believe are dinosaurs.  It’s classic 1950’s stuff but that doesn't mean we have to like it.  Then, bless their hearts, there’s the T-Rex that is a man in a poorly constructed rubber suit with lifeless arms and a way-too-upright posture to be a convincing a T-Rex.  The swimming Plesiosaurus is even worse and looks like a bad ride at the county fair.  I know they had a limited budget but, WOW, the dinosaurs absolutely kill this movie, and not in a good way!

So, if you like cheese, then The Land Unknown is right up your alley.  It’s a rip-roaring good time.  However, if you like serious horror you will probably mourn the fact that if this movie only had a few decent special effects it could have been a really good movie.

RATING:  Very Good - direction, acting and cinematography  Bad - special effects

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


Monday, August 11, 2014

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) American Version

Willis O’Brien, who did special effects for King Kong (1933) wanted to pit this epic monster against another epic monster…Frankenstein.  Huh?  Not surprisingly, he couldn’t find an American studio who was interested in making the movie.  Next he turned to Japan and the result is King Kong vs. Godzilla.  If you’re looking for a movie with horror elements and sharp social commentary, this is not it!  If you approach it as a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon, it works quite nicely.

Ishiro Honda, who directed the original 1954 Godzilla film, gave this incarnation of Godzilla a sense of fun and adventure.  This is NOT a stinging commentary on the nuclear age.  Instead it has more in common with TV Westling than it does with the horror genre.  They toned down the look of Godzilla and gave his roar a higher pitch to make him look less menacing.  They also designed the expression on King Kong’s face to be more comical so that it didn’t frighten younger children.

So, how is the movie?  As a kids movie it works quite well.  It’s fun, entertaining and not the least bit scary.  The effects are fine for a young audience and comparable to others in the same time period.  The storyline is a bit contrived but how else are you going to get these two monsters together in the same city?

As a movie for adults, however, King Kong vs. Godzilla definitely has it’s faults: 1) The scenes involving Kong and the island natives are ridiculous.  They have bad face paint, awful costumes, and sing and dance like central casting extras (which is exactly what they are), 2) The miniatures used are inconsistent.  Sometimes they look really good and at other times they are god-awful, and 3) The American scenes cut into the original  Japanese film have a different visual quality to them and don’t match very well.

So, it all depends on what you like in classic horror films.  This is definitely not Freddy vs. Jason. It’s more like Rick Flair vs. Hulk Hogan.  Enjoy it for what it is, and try not take it it too seriously.

RATING: Good.

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


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Thriller: Dialogues With Death (1961)

Season 2, Episode 11

How do you make a fantastic episode of Thriller?  Start with a smart script that combines horror with a little dark humor (Robert Arthur, a Thriller and Alfred Hitchcock Presents regular, fits the bill quite nicely).  Hire a veteran TV director to steer the ship (Herschel Daugherty is hard to beat).  Then cast Boris Karloff three times in one episode and watch the sparks fly.

Dialogues With Death is a joy from start to finish.  Karloff introduces and end the episode.  In between be plays two colorful characters in with vignettes about death.  In the first he is Pop Jenkins who likes to sit in the morgue and chat with the dead.  He usually keeps their secrets until, one day, he accidentally spills the beans.  The rest of the story focuses on the consequences of his actions.

The second vignette contains Karloff as Col. Jackson Beauregard Finchess, an eccentric old Southern plantation owner.  He is over the top great with this role and his performance is enhanced by Estelle Winwood [Batman, the TV Series] who plays his equally crazy wife.  I love seeing Karloff tackling a comedic role.  He is so good at it, it makes me wonder why he was not hired to do more of it!

Episodes like Dialogues With Death are a reminder of how brilliant this TV series was.  Thriller is definitely the best of the best in terms of horror TV.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gojira (1954) a.k.a Godzilla

Gojira is, without a doubt, one of the finest creature features ever made.  It starts with a brilliant story which is a critique of the atomic age after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as well as H-bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean in 1952.  Screenwriter Takeo Murata and visionary director Ishiro Honda took Shigeru Kayama’s novel and adapted it for the screen.  The themes in the movie were so powerful that when it came time to adapt the Japanese film for American audiences, much of the stinging commentary was left out.  Personally, the original version is a more coherent story and is much stronger that what would become Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956).

The next thing they needed was a great monster.  Director of photography and special effects guru Sadamasa Arikawa originally wanted to use stop motion animation for Gojira but no one in Japan was experienced with this filming technique.  So, he decided on a “guy in a suit” who would destroy a miniaturized set.  He worked a long time on developing the creature which was a mix of a T-Rex and an Iguanodon with Stegosaurus spikes and alligator skin detail.  It might be a guy in a suit, but it had to be a terrifying guy in a suit!  As a bit or trivia the original Godzilla was charcoal grey, not green.  Furthermore, the actor’s head is actually in the neck and the creature stood at a height of 2 meters.

From the very beginning of the film, the director establishes a feeling of dread and helplessness which never lets up until the closing credits.  There is also lots of angst, hidden secrets and regrets which give the film depth and complexity.  The cast is great and I think it’s essential to see Gojira in its original language with subtitles.  The dubs in the American version are less than accurate in conveying the emotions needed to carry this film.

Not much more needs to be said.  Gojira is right up there with 1931’s Frankenstein in terms of creating an iconic monster that spawned endless sequels and rip-offs.  The original is still the best so make sure you catch this horror classic.  See it on the biggest screen possible and if you can snag the Criterion Blu-ray version to watch, it’s probably the best one available.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Black Castle (1952)

WARNING: While The Black Castle contains performances from Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr, they are not the stars of this thriller and are relegated to minor roles.  This is especially true of Chaney who is virtually mute and does a lot of staring for a couple of brief scenes.  Of course, their work in this film is very good but there is oh so little of it!

That being said, the stars of this thriller are Richard Greene [The Adventures of Robin Hood] and Rita Corday [The Body Snatcher].  Greene plays Sir Ronald Burton who goes undercover as Richard Beckett in order to investigate the disappearance of two of his friends.  He stays at the castle of the sadistic Count von Bruno whose wife Beckett eventually falls in love with.  Both of them give very good performances with Greene being the stronger presence on screen.  The rest of the plot develops as expected with no real surprises along the way.

Why IMDB gives this one a 6.4 rating is baffling.  Perhaps I missed something.  Yes, it’s a well made movie.  However, the problem is that it’s not terribly interesting.   I was lured into watching it because of Karloff but, as I said, there’s precious too little of him in the film.  The Black Castle is part of the Boris Karloff DVD Collection which is odd since he has such a minor role in the movie.  Karloff did so many wonderful films, it’s interesting that this one would be included in the collection.

So, if you like thrillers with no gore or horror elements.  And if you don’t like big plot twists then The Black Castle might be your kind of film.  I personally don’t feel the need to see it ever again.

RATING: Good.

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


Friday, August 1, 2014

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

I don’t say this often but An American Werewolf in London is a perfect horror film.  It has everything going for it: A smart script, great acting, a sense of humor and eye-popping special effects.  Director/Writer John Landis [Twilight Zone: The Movie, Thriller] is at the helm of this visual feast that surprises and delights at every turn.  Kudos to cinematographer Robert Paynter [Thriller, Little Shop of Horrors remake] for such beautiful color and lighting that looks glorious in the restored version of the film.

American Werewolf won the Oscar in 1982 for Best Makeup that was done by the legendary Rick Baker [Videodrome, Men in Black].  Even by today’s standards some of the visual effects hold up really well. This is especially true of the main character’s dead friend who continues to decompose throughout the film.  I also love Baker’s werewolf transformation scene as well as when the wolf is running through the streets of London.  It’s classic stuff!

But the thing that really holds this movies together is the incredible performance of David Naughton as David Kessler, the college stunt who is bitten by a werewolf and survives, only to begin his transformation into a werewolf himself.  Naughton gets everything right with nuanced emotions that draw you into his struggle and make you really care what happens to him. The rest of the cast is great too and serve to enhance Naughton’s fine performance.

So, what are you waiting for?  If you’ve not seen this film yet, put it on the top of your list.  You won’t be disappointed.  A sequel, of sorts, entitled An American Werewolf in Paris was done in 1997.  It’s pretty good but it doesn’t come anywhere near the genius of the original.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943)

Monogram Pictures built a reputation for well made low budget films between 1931 and 1953.  While most of these were in the action/adventure genre, some also dealt with supernatural/horror themes.  Mystery of the 13th Guest is one of those films with a classic “whodunit” story line.  The patriarch of the Morgan family knows his days are numbered.  So he gathers his greedy, hateful family together for one last dinner party.  During dinner he hands his 8 year old granddaughter Marie an envelope containing his will.  The catch is it cannot be opened until her 21st birthday. 

Fast forward 13 years [how convenient!] and Marie shows up at the house to open the envelope.  Almost immediately her relatives end up dying one by one.  Who is murdering all these people?  What exactly does the cryptic message in the envelope mean?  This is the story of the Mystery of the 13th Guest.

Director William Bodine [The Ape Man] does a fine job of keeping things humming along at a decent pace.  While the movie treads familiar territory, it does so in a way that’s still interesting and enjoyable to watch.  The strongest performances come from Helen Parrish [You’ll Find Out] who plays Marie and Tim Ryan who plays the gruff Lieutenant Burke.  While Dick Purcell [King of the Zombies] gets top billing as private investigator Johnny Smith, Ryan bests him in every scene.  Ryan’s performance holds this film together and it would be a much poorer movie without him.

The only annoying feature in Mystery of the 13th Guest is the addition of Frank Faylen as Speedwell Dugan, Lieutenant Burke’s sidekick.  While he is a competent actor/comedian with a long film resume, his sight gags and jokes wore very thin, very quickly.  It’s hard to tell whether this was his fault or the fault of the script writers.

So, if you like murder mysteries, this one is not bad.  It win;t keep you on the edge of your seat but it is a decent film and I found it enjoyable to watch.

RATING: Good.

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


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) a.k.a. Blood Brides

While much of Itailian horror means buckets of blood, Hatchet for the Honeymoon has more to do with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho than it does some of Bava’s gore-fests like Bay of Blood (1971).  Yes, the body count is still satisfactory but Bava uses restraint in showing the carnage, opting for weird camera work and voices from beyond the grave.  It works very well and pays tribute to Bava’s artistic side which is always a little surreal and impeccably lighted!

The story centers on John and Mildred Harrington whose marriage died a long time ago but they stuck around to make each other miserable!  John owns a wedding fashion business he inherited from his mother and his wife brings all the cash to the relationship.  Things get interesting right away because John is a tad bit psychotic and his hobby is killing young brides-to-be before they get all mean and spiteful like his wife!

This is a well thought out and well told story that has at least two delightful twists in it.  Just when you think you know where the film is headed, it surprises you again and again.  Canadian born Stephen Forsyth had a brief career in Italian horror and he does a great job with this character.  While not as intense as Anthony Perkin’s portrayal of Normal Bates, Forsyth gives his character the right amounts of creepiness and crazy.

If you are new to the sub-genre of Italian horror, Hatchet for the Honeymoon is a great place to start.  It’s a great example of the talent of Mario Bava and his ability to take the viewer on a strange journey into unexplored territory.

RATING:Very Good.

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


Monday, July 28, 2014

The Day of the Triffids (1962)

And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills.  [Everybody sing!]  For the record, Janette Scott screamed like a helpless school girl every time she saw a Triffid!  She always waited for her man to kill it for her!  Oh well!  Rocky Horror Picture Show aside, The Day of the Triffids is a delightful B-movie.

Let’s start with the Triffids.  These are not the singing carnivorous houseplant in Little Shop of Horrors (1986), nor are they the terrifying pods that transform human beings into mindless duplicates in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).  Instead they resemble something Sid and Marty Croft would have created for H.R. Pufnstuf or Land of the Lost. [Bonus points if you get these two references.]  They are campy and crazy and that’s the way I like my movie monsters.  Hugh Skillen is credited in the film with “triffid effects.” Not surprisingly, this was the only film in which he did this kind of work.

Next we turn to the plot which begins with a classic Sci-Fi premise:  Most of the earth’s population was blinded by watching a spectacular meteor shower.  To make matters worse, the meteors carried spores with them that quickly grew into man-eating plants that are able to travel across the countryside in search of human prey.  YES!  It sounds crazy when you read it in print but it works.

The rest of the movie follows two story lines: The first is recovering from eye surgery so he escapes being blinded.  The second is a husband and wife research team who are on an island when all this happens.  They set their sights on finding a way to defeat the triffids.

If it feels like you’re watching two separate movies, there is a reason for this.  Director Steve Sekely’s [Revenge of the Zombies] original cut of the film, which followed the story of the sailor, was so terrible that the studio brought in an uncredited Freddie Francis [Dune, The Elephant Man] to save it.  He shot the second story line and interwove it into the first.

Francis’s work is definitely superior to Sekley’s.  His contains Janette Scott [Paranoiac] and Kieron Moore [Dr. Bloods Coffin] as Karen and Tom Goodwin.  Their scenes together have a lot of emotional depth to them, except for the hysterical screaming, and are the best part of the movie.  Sekely’s scenes contain Howard Keel who starred in numerous musicals as the charismatic leading man.  In Day of the Triffids, however, he is a bit flat and wooden and does not do the role justice.  His character also keeps traveling from city to city which makes no sense whatsoever.  It’s no wonder the studio wanted to bring in a new director.

Yet, in spite of this flaw, the film works surprisingly well and I found it thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.  Day of the Triffids is not really scary but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.  There is a reasonable print of it that can be watch on YouTube.  However, be warned, the DVD prints that are available are of poor quality so don’t spend the money to buy it.  The reviews on Amazon are not pretty.  Here’s hoping they will, one day, take the time to restore this gem to its former glory.  Don’t miss it!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Friday, July 25, 2014

The Lost World (1925)

The Lost World is not only a great adventure story, it’s a technical marvel as well.  The stars of this show are definitely the men who made the dinosaurs come alive in this adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel.  The two main players in this special effects extravaganza are Marcel Delgado and Willis H. O’Brein, both uncredited.  Remarkably, this was Delgado’s first picture.  He vastly improved the techniques used in model building to make them appear as life-like as possible.  Delgado would later wow audiences with King Kong (1933), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and Fantastic Voyage (1966).

O’Brien was the special effects person who helped to bring the dinosaurs to life.  He would work again with Delgado on King Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949).  Most notably he worked with a young apprentice on Mighty Joe Young by the name of Ray Harryhausen [Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts] who would become a legend in the special effects world himself.

Credit also has to be given to cinematographer Arthur Edeson [Frankenstein, The Invisible Man] who was one of the best in the business and director Harry O. Hoyt who has numerous writing and directing credits to his name.  Hoyt was able to get a more natural acting style from his actors instead of the big gestured, melodramatic approach that was favored in many silent films of the era. Among the standouts in terms of acting were Lewis Stone whole played a big game hunter, Lloyd Hughes who played a young ambitious reporter, and Bessie Love his love interest who tried her best not to be the “helpless hysterical girl” that was so prevalent in early movies.

If you’ve never watched many silent movies, this is a great place to start.  It is very accessible to modern audiences and is the perfect example of how inventive and visionary some of these early films were.  A definite must-see.

RATING: Excellent.
 

A copy of the film can be downloaded for free at Archive.org.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Death Race 2000 (1975)

Death Race 2000 is slightly miraculous for several reasons: 1) It was filmed for a budget of only $300,000, yet it looks like a big blockbuster, 2) They were able to snag David Carradine [after he starred in the hit TV series Kung Fu] and Sylvester Stalone [right before became a mega star with Rocky] as a part of that small budget, 3) Director Paul Bartel used cinematographer Tak Fujimoto early in his career before he racked up an impressive resume including Silence of the Lambs and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and 4) Roger Corman was at his best as producer of the movie.

The stars aligned in the making of Death Race 2000 which can be described as a Sci-Fi comedy with a little gore thrown in the mix.  The plot is simple: It’s the year 2000 in America where it’s annual government sponsored entertainment extravaganza is a cross country race where competitors score points for killing pedestrians.  It’s sort of a Hunger Games on wheels, as it were, since the racers also end up getting killed off as well until only one remains standing.

David Carradine is Frankenstein who is a veteran of this race.  His costume, which is mostly black leather, is very effective and he plays the charter perfectly.  Sylvester Stalone is the slurred-tongued [No surprise there!] Machine Gun Joe Viterbo who is a larger than life Italian Stallion gangster [No surprise there either!].  He does what he does and does it well!  The rest of the cast is just as good and director Paul Bartel gets great performances from everyone.

Considering the often obscene amounts of money that Studios spend these days on blockbuster hits, they could learn a lesson from Death Race 2000.  More money does not a great movie make [Battlefield Earth comes to mind].  Long live independent cinema!  Definitely give this one a chance.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vampire Over London (1952) a.k.a. Mother Riley Meets the Vampire

IMDB is very unkind to this film, giving it a 3.0 rating.  It’s SO much better than that!  Vampire Over London stars Bela Lugosi in a slapstick horror comedy.  Yes, you heard me correctly!  Lugosi plays Von Housen who is also known as “The Vampire.”  He’s actually a madman trying to rule the world.  The vampire thing is just a ruse to throw people off.

In spite of the fact that Bela looks a bit thin and ill, he has a blast with this role and totally hams it up in a few scenes.  This is the last decent film he made before his addiction to morphine got the best of him. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for his films with Ed Wood because he gave it 110% in spite of his declining health.  If you’re a Lugosi fan, Vampire Over London is a must-see simply to watch the twinkle in Bela’s eyes as he tackles a comedic role.

His partner in crime is British actor Arthur Lucan who made a series of movies in drag, portraying a slightly-crazed old working class woman, Mother Riley.  This was the last of these films he did as this character and some Americans will miss the humor in it completely.  If you’re not a fan of British comedy, you just not going to get this.  I love classic British comedies such as Absolutely Fabulous and Are You Being served? so I’m at home with this kind of material.  It’s completely absurd and that’s the point!  There is also a lot of “insider” material that only Brits would understand.

As an interesting bit of trivia, I read in another review that Bela Lugosi had to make this film in England because he needed the money for his ticket back home. He went to Britain to revive his famous Dracula play, but was stuck there when it bombed and the actor couldn't scrape up enough cash to sail to America! This film helped him get back on his feet.

Give this one a chance!  It’s not Bela’s best film but I thought it was a whole lot of fun!

RATING: Very Good.

You can download a free copy of this film at archive.org.

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't Look Now (1973)

Some movies hit you over the head with scare tactics and blood splatter galore.  This is not one of those films.  Don’t Look Now is a brooding supernatural thriller that makes the viewer feel slightly unsettled at every turn.  If you like lots of action, you’re doing to hate it.  If you like films that take their time developing characters and always have a little something unexpected up their sleeve, Don’t Look Now is definitely for you.

While I found the film to be a bit long for my taste, I was impressed with how it trapped you in a strange world and never let you go until the final credits rolled.  Don’t Look Now was filmed in Venice which is a city I adore.  But this Venice is both beautiful and menacing.  Something always feels a bit “off.”  You can’t put your finger on it, but you know it’s there!

Don’t Look Now is the story of John & Laura Baxter who lose their daughter in a drowning accident in the USA.  Then they head to Venice to escape this tragedy but it keeps following them around everywhere!  Donald Sutherland [Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Hunger Games] gives a great performance as John and brings lots of depth and complexity to the character.  Julie Christie [Fahrenheit 451, Doctor Zhivago] matches him at every turn.  They are quite good together.

I won’t give away any details because this one needs to be seen with no preconceived notions of what is going on.  Don’t Look Now is one of those films that is hardly ever mentioned when horror films are discussed, but it deserves a bigger audience.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Michael Rennie was ill the day the Earth stood still and he told us where we stand.  [Everybody sing!]  The Day the Earth Stood Still is a brilliant movie.  Released in the aftermath of WW II, it stood as a warning, and a promise, for the future of the earth.  Unfortunately, we’re just as stupid now as we were back then!  The amazing thing about this movie is that it sounds as fresh today as it did in 1951.  The “if you don’t understand it, kill it” philosophy is firmly entrenched in our world and, according to Klaatu [Michael Rennie] who came to evaluate us as a species, we are STILL a failed experiment. 

Michael Rennie [The Lost World] is perfect as the even-keeled Klaatu who gets down to business and is not distracted by much.  He is a powerful and constant presence in nearly ever scene of this movie. [This is where the 2008 remake fails since Keanu Reeves is more of a zen stoner than a man’s man.]

Joining Rennie is the radiant Patricia Neal [Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Hud] who saves the world’s posterior by befriending Rennie and supporting him on his quest.  Joining these two is the sweet 1950’s kid Bobby, who is played nicely by Billy Gray who was also in the hit TV show Father Knows Best.  Oh, and there’s also a small role for Frances Bavier who played the iconic Aunt Bee a on The Andy Griffith Show!  Sweet!

From a technical aspect, The Day the Earth Stood Still looks great.  The Sci-Fi elements are good for their time and don’t come across as too hokey.  The robot is definitely iconic in its design and is different from others I’ve seen.  It works really well and the decision for it to remain silent was a good one.  It adds to the menace.  Furthermore you can’t go wrong with director Robert Wise [The Andromeda Strain, Star Trek: The Motion Picture] who gave us such iconic films as The Sound of Music and West Side Story.  The guy totally knows what he is doing and his direction in this film is smart and confident.

Everything about The Day the Earth Stood Still works well.  If you haven’t see it yet, what are you waiting for?  Forget about the 2008 sequel and savor the original.  It’s classic 1950’s Sci-Fi at its very best.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Munster's Revenge (1981)

It is well known that Fred Gwynne had mixed feelings about the success of his character Herman Munster.  It made it difficult for producers to see him as anything else, which is a shame!  Therefore, when producers asked him to do a reunion movie he asked for an astronomical amount of money…and he got it.

The Munster’s Revenge is a tepid substitute for the original series.  Gone are Butch Patrick and Pat Priest, who played Eddie and Marilyn in the original series.  I’m not sure how you can have a reunion without them!  Bless K.C. Martel [The Amityville Horror, E.T.] for taking on the role of Eddie.  They give him absolutely NO material to work with so it’s no surprise he pales in comparison to the original.  The smart bet would have been to write a script that had the grown-up Eddie and Marilyn in it.  It seems desperate to try and portray the rest of the cast as much younger than they actually were when they made this movie.  I call this the Beverly Hills 90210 effect!

Speaking of scripts, this one is a stinker.  Absent are all the clever banter and bad jokes that made the original so endearing.  There are time spans where nothing funny is being said or done.  It just doesn’t work as a serious drama!  Furthermore, the wax figures turned robots are absolutely ridiculous for 1981.  [FYI wax does not move!] It’s obvious they are actors in suits who seem incapable of standing still when they’re supposed to.  It’s thoroughly annoying.  Ugh!

The one bright spot in the movie is the scene where Fred Gywnne and Al Lewis (Herman and Grandpa) go undercover as waitresses.  It’s the only moment in the film where I bust out loud laughing.  Classic stuff.  Another plus was the addition of Bob Hastings as Cousin Phantom of the Opera.  He gives the role everything he’s got and even when the jokes run a bit thin he manages to pull off a great performance.

What can I say?  This one is definitely for the fans.  The Munsters will always be one of my favorite shows but The Munster’s Revenge fails to capture the brilliance and energy of the original TV series.

RATING: Good.

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