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, March 19, 2014

Thriller: Masquerade (1961)

Season 2, Episode 6

Yes!  Just put Elizabeth Montgomery [Bewitched], Tom Poston [Zotz!] and John Carradine [The Howling, The Sentinel] in an old spooky house on a stormy night and watch the comedy and mayhem fly.  The first two are comedic legends that can deliver one liners wit the best of them.  Carradine always brings the crazy and seems to be having a great time with his role as head of The Carter Family who own the guest house that Montgomery and Poston are staying in.

Donald S. Sanford [tons of TV credits] wrote a nearly flawless script and these pros make it come to life with wit and charm.  Director Herschel Daugherty [Alfred Hitchcock Presents] knows how to make the most of this talented cast and pulls with episode together with perfect timing every step of the way.

I don’t want to say much about this episode because the viewer simply needs to enjoy it with no pre-conceived notions going in.  This one is a total keeper.  Even Boris Karloff, who introduces the episode, has a twinkle in his eye and delivers a few zingers of his own.  A must-see.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Murders in the Zoo (1933)

Murders in the Zoo is the perfect vehicle for Lionel Atwill to show his talent.  From the opening scene where his character, zoologist Eric Gorman, exacts his own brand of justice on a would-be suitor of his wife, we watch a man who is insanely protective of his not-so-faithful spouse and will do anything to keep her, including murder.

Director A. Edward Sutherland [International House, The Invisible Woman] does a brilliant job at keeping the action moving at a nice pace.  Although Murders is only 62 minutes long, it feels even shorter.  The screenplay is smart and effective at telling the story and has a little bit of humor mixed in with its horror.  And while the subject matter has been explored many times on the screen, it feels fresh and interesting here.

In addition to Atwill's wonderful performance, other standouts include Kathleen Burke [Island of Lost Souls] who plays Mrs. Gorman.  Strangely, she bears an uncanny resemblance to my great Aunt Alberta who was also a femme fatale in her day.  Her scenes with Atwill are very good, especially when she tells him she does’t love him anymore.  Charles Ruggles provides the comic relief as the bumbling press agent Peter Yates.  His comedic timing is impeccable and he steals many scenes he’s in.

Don’t miss this wonderful film.  It may not be know as well as some of the blockbusters of the early 30’s but fans of the genre and time period will find it a wonderful viewing experience.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Georges Méliès was a brilliant and visionary filmmaker.  One could argue that he made the very first horror film [House of the Devil,1896) as well as the first science fiction adventure [A Trip to the Moon, 1902].  Between these two films one can see that Méliès had evolved as a filmmaker in such a short time.  House of the Devil was a vehicle for lots of camera tricks.  It’s amusing and his audience would have marveled at what he had accomplished.  With A Trip to the Moon he gave us an epic adventure beyond what anyone could have dreamed of in 1902.
 

I love A Trip to the Moon because of it’s playfulness and the amazing visuals it contains.  From the iconic shot of the space capsule piercing the eye of the moon to the acrobatic moon creatures the scientists encounter, this small film had huge ideas and entertains every moment of the film.  I also love Méliès sets which have rich detail and work very well for the story he is telling. He pretty much had a hand in every aspect of this film which is a tribute to his genius.

If you’re new to watching silent film, this one is a must-see alongside Nosferatu (1922) which is my favorite silent horror film.  A Trip to the Moon would provide inspiration to countless filmmakers who dared to put their dreams and nightmares on film for our enjoyment.  Thank you, George for getting the ball rolling!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Night of Terror (1933)

Thanks to a helpful tip from the Universal Horror Films Facebook group, I was able to order a copy of this largely forgotten horror film on sumogorilla.com.  It is one of those old horror films that has never been given the restoration treatment it deserves.  The copy I have varies in picture quality but the sound is good.

Night of Terror is billed as “starring” Bela Lugosi.  However, he actually has a minor role in the film as one of two domestic servants of some unknown ethnicity.  [The turban Lugosi wears is hysterical.]  Bela’s performance is fine but it’s hardly the one of the iconic roles he played in films such as Dracula (1931) and Son of Frankenstein (1939).  He actually worked on this film at night while working on another, International House, during the day.  Yet, in spite of this, his piercing eyes are on high beam throughout the film!

Night of Terror doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.  At it’s core it’s a murder mystery, but it also has elements of “old, dark house,” maniacal killer, and mad scientist films.  It’s pretty much a mix of all four and would be a better movie if it stuck with one of them.  The acting for the most part is fine but nothing special.  The only groan-worthy moments are from the films only African American actor Oscar Smith [uncredited] who plays Martin the Chauffeur.  His acting is typical of 1930’a films but it doesn’t work for modern audiences at all.  It’s very racist that the white studio machine through all blacks needed to talk and act like this.

It’s clear Night of Terror was made with a limited budget but it makes good use of what it has to work with.  My favorite scene has got to be the last one where the homicidal maniac addresses the audience and warns them not to reveal the ending of the movie to those who haven’t seen it.  He promises to hunt them down if they do so.  I love it!

This film is definitely for Lugosi fans as well as those who like the old dark house movies of the 1930’s.  Otherwise it has limited appear which might explain why it has never been properly restored.

RATING: Good.

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

 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Opera (1987)

Holy crap!  Opera is one intense film.  It can best be described as The Phantom of the Opera filtered through the lens of master horror director Dario Argento.  This film is NOT for the faint of heart.  Argento did triple duty on Opera, serving as director, producer and screenwriter.  It’s the kind of thing that gets M Night Shyamalan into trouble, but works flawlessly for Argento.  It’s his vision on the screen and his vision only, and what a beautifully disturbing vision it is!

Let’s start with the visuals.  Argento, with the help of cinematographer Ronnie Taylor [Star Wars: Episode IV, Gandhi], gives us a feast for the eyes that has a dramatic/operatic quality to it.  Every shot is perfectly composed.  Every object is meticulously placed.  Nothing is wasted or sloppy.  There are few people who can pull off this kind of brilliance.  Argento is one of them.  Looking at the film, one would swear this was a more modern film than its 1987 date.

Furthermore, the kills in this film are spectacularly intense and wonderfully creative.  If you’re squeamish, skip Opera altogether. The villain in this one is no mysterious man running around the catacombs in a cape and a mask.  He’s a deranged killer who is completely obsessed with a young opera star.  Argento forces us to watch every gory detail of the villain’s masochistic personality.  It’s rough viewing but it’s masterfully done.

The acting is first rate as well.  Cristina Marsillach is perfect as the up and coming opera singer Betty, who steps into the lead role in Verdi's MacBeth when it’s lead is “accidentally” hit by a car.  Her range of emotions is wonderful and she avoid most of the over-the-top histrionics that are typical of Italian horror.  The rest of the cast is great as well.

I think Opera is one of Dario Argento’s best that holds up extremely well over time.  Watch it if you dare!

RATING: Excellent.

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


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Secret of the Blue Room (1933)

An old castle.  A story of three murders in the Blue Room that happened 20 years ago.  Three suitors who try to win the affections of a blonde bombshell by agreeing to take turns sleeping overnight in the Blue Room.  These are the makings for a delightful old-fashioned murder mystery by Universal Studios.

The script for Secret of the Blue Room was adapted from a 1932 German silent film entitled “Geheimnis des blauen Zimmers.” It’s smartly written and takes the audience on a fun ride that includes at least two twists along the way. 


Director Kurt Neumann [The Fly] paces the film perfectly and captures great performances from his actors which include horror great Lionel Atwill [Mystery of the Wax Museum, Son of Frankenstein] and the radiant Gloria Stuart [The Invisible Man].  Both actors deliver the goods and the supporting cast keeps up with them all the way.  There’s not a weak link in the bunch.  It’s a great ensemble cast.

If the interior shots look familiar, they are the same sets James Whale used for the classic The Old Dark House (1932).  The only thing I found annoying was the sound effect they use for the wind which had an odd pitch to it.  Other than that, everything works as it should.

Why people don’t talk about this film more is a mystery to me.  [No pun intended!] The only frustrating thing is that the copies which are available online are pretty poor.  Both YouTube and Archive.org have versions of film on their sites but they are badly degraded. If anyone knows of a place to view a better print, let me know.  But don’t let this detract you from watching this well made murder mystery.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Munsters (1964-1966)

Recently I watched Season 1 of The Munsters on Netflix. I remember seeing it in syndication when I was a teen and loved every minute of it.  Viewing it as an adult, I think I love it even more.  The Munsters is the perfect blend of horror and comedy.  Each episode is smartly written and impeccably acted.  Furthermore the make-up design and application reminds me of the best of the legendary Jack Pierce from the 1930’s and 40’s.  It’s absolutely flawless and allows the actors great flexibility in expressing their emotions.

The cast of The Munsters is simply perfection.  Fred Gwynne [Pet Sematary] as Fred Munster is the heart and soul of the show.  He is such a brilliant character actor and fills his Frankenstein persona with great warmth and charm.  Yvonne De Carlo is absolutely radiant as Fred’s wife, Lily Munster.  When you combine the two of them with Al Lewis, who plays Grandpa Munster, they are a comedy tour de force to be reckoned with.

The incorporation of Marilyn Munster who is the “normal” one in the family is pure genius.  She is the person who is the odd ball in this family which makes it so much more fun to watch.  And how can you not love Butch Patrick as little Eddie Munster?  He is such a sweet kid and his presence enhances the great love that is shared in the Munster family.

Chances are, none of this is news to you.  However, if you haven’t watched this classic TV show or it’s been a very long time, I recommend you sit yourself down and enjoy this slice of cinematic perfection.

RATING: Excellent.

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


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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

A number of movie reviewers have compared Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust to the zombie movies of Lucio Fulci.  I don’t get it.  This film is inferior to Fulci’s work in many ways:

1) The story is actually about cannibalism with a few zombies scattered about for good measure.


2) Girolami’s zombies are rather dull and hardly menacing.  They don’t have the artistic rendering of Fulci’s Zombi 2 or the dreadful menace of most post-Romero zombies.  They lumber around slowly are are easily killed by humans.  Yawn!


3) The effects work done in this film is rather amateurish for 1980.  If I didn’t know the date of the film, I would have thought is was early 70’s.  Fulci’s killed are a lot more dramatic and intense.

If we stand Zombie Holocaust on its own merits, it’s an O.K. film but nothing special.  It moves rather slowly and offers very little in terms of suspense or action.  Most folks who love zombie film will find this one disappointing to say the least.  With a title like Zombie Holocaust, I expected a crazy, intense Italian horror ride.  Instead, I was left feeling like I had wasted 84 minutes I could have spent doing something else.

RATING: Fair.

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


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ghostbusters (1984)

After the recent passing of writer/director/actor Harold Ramis [Caddyshack, Meatballs, Stripes] I knew it was time to revisit Ghostbusters.  I remember going to see it in the theater and loved every minute of it.  How does it stand up thirty years later?  Quite well, thank you very much!  Ghostbusters is a delightful mix of humor and horror with an emphasis on humor. The script by Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis [uncredited] is sharp, smart and full of the kind of dry humor and improv one would expect from Saturday Night Live and SCTV alumni.

Let’s start with direction.  Ivan Reitman [Kindergarden Cop, Meatballs, Stripes] knows how to make this film work.  His sense of timing is impeccable and he has a gift for finding the right moment to drop a sight gag or a clever piece of dialogue.  The action flows nicely and he gets wonderful performances from a dream cast.  Cinematographer Laszio Kovacs [Not exactly a household name but, trust me, you’ve been his films] makes NYC look absolutely gorgeous.  And captures a look that transcends the mid 80’s which is not always an easy thing to do.

Then there’s the cast.  OMG, does it get any better than this?  In addition to Bill Murray, Ramis, Aykroyd and Moranis we also have Sigourney Weaver [Alien movies], Annie Potts [Designing Women] and a supporting cast including Ernie Hudson [The Crow, Oz], Alice Hudson [To Wong Fu] and Carmen Zapata, Larry King, and Casey Casem.  The Holy Trinity of Murray, Akyroyd and Ramis are perfect together, with Ramis doing the difficult job of being straight man to Murray and Akyroyd’s antics.  The rest of the cast is sharp too with everyone having the opportunity to get in on the joke.  And let’s talk about Sigourney Weaver.  Comedy doesn’t exactly come to mind when you think of her as an actress but she has a ball with this role, especially when he becomes possessed by a demon.

The special effects hold up pretty well.  It’s typical 80’s stuff but the ghost librarian and the ectoplasmic slime gags and wonderfully funny.  Any, of course, the Stay-Puft marshmallow man is a cinematic legend, taking its cue form none other than King Kong (1933).

What more needs to be said?  If you haven’t seen this one yet you must have been living under a rock.  If you like horror comedies, this is classic stuff that is not to be missed!

RATING: Excellent.


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

 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The House by the Cemetery (1981)

Intense is the best word to describe Lucio Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery.  Visually stunning and bathed in blood, The House by the Cemetery proves that torture porn is not a modern phenomena.  While this type of horror is not my favorite, I cannot help but admire Fulci’s exuberance for blood spatter and creating multiple squirm-worthy moments.  His victims die slowly and horribly and he seems to enjoy every moment of it!

The House by the Cemetery is the story of the Boyle family.  Dad is busy doing research about the mysterious Dr. Freudstein, taking over for a colleague who murdered his mistress and then killed himself.  Mom is busy looking after their son Bob who befriends the girl next door.  While that sounds really sweet, it’s clear the girl in question is dead.   Things heat up when they hire a new babysitter and I’ll leave it at that.  The only other thing I’ll say is that the ending is one-the-edge-of-your-seat great and the make-up on the departed dr. Freudstein is fantastic.

As a side note, Fulci not only directed but also wrote the screen play for this film.  The only negative I have is that the over-dub is not done very well.  I would prefer to hear it in it’s original Italian with subtitles but this is not an option on Netflix.

If you like Fulci’s work then this one a must-see.  A strong film from a unique and visionary director.

RATING: Very Good.

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