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, April 23, 2014

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Robinson Crusoe on Mars [RCM]  is SO much better than you think it would be.  It’s the story of an astronaut and his monkey who are stranded on the planet Mars.  [Just go with it!]  Yes, some of the special effects are hokey.  Yes, some of the science is laughable.  However, there is something earnest and endearing about the performance of Paul Mantee [Cagney & Lacey and lots of other TV credits] as Commander Kit Draper.  He is front and center in every scene and carries the film very well.  Kudos to Mona the Wooley Monkey for her slamming performance as his side-kick.  I spent the movie thinking “If they kill that sweet little monkey off, I’m gonna lose it!]  She is precious  and does some pretty impressive work in the film.

RCM also stars the one and only Adam West [Batman TV series] as Col. McReady who, unfortunately dies early in the film.  It left me wishing he could have stayed around a little longer because he has such a great presence on screen.  The final actor is Victor Lundin as Friday, an escaped slave from the constellation of Orion who is also on Mars.  [Again, just go with it!]  He does a pretty decent job although his hair and costume choices are a bit ridiculous.

In addition to Mantee’s center stage performance, Director Byron Haskin [The War of the Worlds, Treasure Island] and Cinematographer Winton C. Hock [Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea] give us plenty to look at.  The overall look of the film is quite beautiful in its wide range of sets from inhospitable landscapes to crystal filled caves.  Furthermore, the props work quite well as Mantee improvises survival gear.  Most of it is quite believable and help to add interest to Mantee’s struggle to survive this hostile environment.

You really should give RCM a try.  If you like Sci-Fi I think you’ll find it to be quite an enjoyable viewing experience.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Waxworks (1924)

It all had to start somewhere.  The Wax Museum has been fertile ground for a number of successful horror films including Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), House of Wax (1953), and Waxwork (1988).  Each one of these films has their own merits and all draw inspiration from this 1924 film which is done in a German Expressionistic style.  For those who don’t know what this means, it means sets with delightful abstract proportions and lines, exaggerated make-up and a dream-like quality to the film.  My favorite examples of this style are definitely Nosferatu (1922) and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).  The print of Waxwork I watched is the Kino restoration.  The picture quality is very good, the best I’ve ever seen.  Furthermore, the piano score that accompanies it fits the visuals quite well.

Director Paul Leni [The Cat and the Canary] takes us on a thrilling ride through exotic locations.  The action begins in a wax museum where a writer is hired to invent the backstory of each figure in the museum.  As the writer begins his work, the viewer is taken on three separate journeys, the last of which puts the writer himself in the scene.  Leni tells each story so well that the intertitles are not even necessary.  Yes, they help, but the viewer can figure out what’s happening without them.

The cast includes Conrad Veidt who stole the show in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as Cesare the somnambulist.  Werner Krauss is his partner in crime who also starred with Veidt in Cabinet.  They work their magic and work it well.  Lil Dagover rounds out the trio with her feminine charms.  She also appeared in both films.

Waxworks may be a little slow for modern audiences who are used to crazy hyper-exaggerated action, but I believe silent films have their rewards if we are patient enough to enter into the story and relax a bit.  While Waxworks is not as iconic as Nosferatu or Cabinet, it is excellent and is a great example of the amazing, pioneering work that was done by a number of German directors.  If you get the chance to see it, don’t miss it!  It’s a visual delight.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Saturday, April 19, 2014

King Dinosaur (1955)

Kulats in space!  What else is a proper lady to wear on an unexplored planet?  So begins the campy journey that is King Dinosaur.  The movies begins with a fake newsreel that is delivered with deadpan seriousness.  During this newsreel the audience learns that a new planet has moved into orbit around the sun. [Just go with it!]  Conveniently this planet is right next to Earth so the good old USA designs a rocket ship to propel four scientists to explore this new world.

What do they find?  How about a planet that looks exactly like earth!  Surprised?  Throw in an alligator attack, a space romance, hysterically screaming female scientists, a giant ant and…..wait for it…an enormous killer iguana [I kid you not!] and you have a recipe for unintentional laughter.  Wow, this is a terrible move, but you have to love it’s exuberance.  I consider it to be one of those so-bad-it’s-good films.

Director Bert I. Gordon [Attack of the Puppet People, Empire of the Ants] produced, directed and wrote more than 25 Sci-Fi/Horror films over his career.  He was nicknamed “Mr. Big” because of all the giant creatures he loved to use in his films.  To his credit, Gordon knows how to put these kind of films together.  I doubt he meant them to be serious dramas and am fairly certain he was in on the joke every step of the way.  He also gets decent performances out of his actors.

So, how are the effects?  The giant ant is god-awful.  Look to the Sci-Fi classic Them! (1954) to show you how to do this well. The killer iguana is much better, especially in its epic battle with an alligator.  Gordon uses an actual iguana which he enlarges to epic proportions.  It’s one of his favorite tricks which he employs in most of his films.

In one of the King Dinosaur’s most ridiculous moments, one of the scientists says the killer iguana is strikingly similar to earth’s T-Rex of the dinosaur age.  What biology class did he attend?  So, just have fun with King Dinosaur.  It is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

RATING: Bad. [So-bad-it’s-good]

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


Friday, April 18, 2014

The Jungle (1952)

Ancient wooly mammoths terrorize India!  Yep, that’s the plot of The Jungle which might have made a nice Saturday afternoon kid’s adventure flick but, beyond that, it has little merit.  Yes, the location is “exotic” but The Jungle tries too hard to be so.  Included are random native folk dances, a troupe of traveling entertainers, the weirdest boats I’ve ever seen in my life, and lots of exotic animals fighting each other.  Where is the ASPCA when you need them?  Sure, there are lots of sights to be seen but that’s about it.  The wooly mammoths only appear toward the end of the film and, disappointingly, they look like elephants wearing shaggy blankets.  Argh!

In addition to being exhaustingly exotic, The Jungle throws all that ethnicity aside by casting two white people in the lead roles.  Marie Windsor stars as Princess Mari.  There is nothing Indian about her appearance except for her fake tan.  [She grew up in Utah and went to Bringham Young University!]  Even her enormously painted on eyebrows and eye liner look more Egyptian than Indian.  To her defense, she’s a good actress and carries with role with energy and enthusiasm.

Cesar Romero [The Joker from the Batman TV series] plays her love/not-so-love interest Rama Singh.  They give him a turban to wear but little else to try and convince us he’s Indian.  He does a good job with the role, however, and matches Windsor’s energy in every scene.

Rounding out the cast is a man’s man, Rod Cameron who plays the misunderstood hunter who was the sole survivor of the first wooly mammoth attack.  He plays the role with that classic macho 1950’s man zeal that is sometimes unintentionally funny.

The Jungle was listed as part of a Sci-Fi double feature along with King Dinosaur, but there is very little sci-fi about it.  It feels more like an action/adventure movie with emphasis on the adventure.  There is lots of walking around interesting locations, waiting for dialogue..or something…to happen.  Horror fans, you’ve been warned!

RATING: Fair.

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


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Night Monster (1942)

I have to go against the majority of critics’ opinions on this film, including Alfred Hitchcock, and say that Night Monster is predictable, boring stuff.  Yes, it’s well acted and decently filmed [great fog!], but it left me saying “Who cares?”  The biggest letdown is that Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi receive top billing.  However, both play minor roles with Atwill disappearing from the second half of the film altogether and Lugosi being reduced to playing the butler….again!  It’s a waste of two talented actors.

Director Ford Beebe [Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe] knows what he’s doing.  He gets strong performances from all of his actors.  They put tons of energy into each and every line, but are given very little to work with.  There is lots of pseudo-science and passionate speeches but they amount to very little in the end.

The story takes place in the spacious Ingston Manor.  A groups of doctors have been invited to this old mansion by its owner who is crippled.  One by one the doctors end up dead and there is talk of a “monster” whose very presence silences the frogs and crickets…but who cares!  There are no interesting plot twists.  It’s strictly by the book.  When the “monster” is revealed it’s exactly who you think it would be!

I imagine 1940’s audiences would have enjoyed Night Monster but it’s not very compelling in 2014.  If you’re a Lugosi or Atwill fan, you time is better spent elsewhere!

RATING: Fair.

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


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inferno (1980)

“What the crap is going on?” I said repeatedly as I watched Dario Argento’s stunning film Inferno.  He wouldn’t have it any other way!  Argento works in color in the same way Hitchcock worked in black and white.  Every scene is illuminated to perfection in primary color textures of blue, red and the occasional yellow.  It’s dark, surreal and moody.  When they come together to form the regular color spectrum, even this seems strange as if you can’t trust it in this dream-like world.  I wish more modern filmmakers took as much care as Argento does in framing each and every shot.  It’s beautiful to behold.

Argento wrote and directed Inferno.  He also provided the voice-over as the narrator.  Romano Albani is the cinematographer in this visual feast.  He also worked with Argento on Phenomena (1985) which is one of my favorite Argento films as well.  He also did Troll (1986) which shows his wide ranges as a cinematographer.  As far as I’m concerned, they work magic together.

Surprisingly, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer provides the music which varies from progressive rock to discordant symphony.  His musical textures are as quirky as the visuals so they go perfectly together.

I could spend time telling you about the plot but Inferno is one of those films that needs to be experienced without any preconceived notions of what it’s about.  Inferno is definitely an underrated and under appreciated film from one of the most unique and visionary filmmakers in horror.  Don’t miss it.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Friday, April 4, 2014

Man Made Monster (1941)

1941 was a big year for Lon Chaney Jr as he gave the iconic performance of his life in The Wolf Man, directed by George Waggner.  This same year, Chaney and Waggner would team up again for the low budget thriller Man Made Monster.  While it does not reach the cinematic heights of The Wolf Man, Man Made Monster is a solid thriller that borrows heavily from 1931’s Frankenstein.

The story begins on a dark stormy night [Don’t they all?].  A bus crashes into an electrical line, killing everyone on board but Chaney.  He then falls into the hands of two scientists who are curious as to how he survived.  The one and only Lionel Atwill [Mystery of the Wax Museum, Son of Frankenstein] gives a delightful performance as “mad scientist” Dr. Rigas.  He is perfect for the role and portrays his character with lots of manic energy and delusional tendencies.  The cast also includes Anne Nagel [Black Friday] as June Lawrence, the wife of doctor number two who is much saner than Dr. Rigas.  She brings lots of heart and warmth to the story.

My only complaint about Man Made Monster is the special effect they use when Chaney is full electrified and goes on a murderous rampage.  [He looks like a glow worm!] I would have gone for a much simpler presentation like electricity shooting through his fingers but, hey, no one asked me to direct the film!

Man Made Monster is hardly the epic adventure The Wolf Man was but it proves the point that small budget films can still look good and tell an interesting story.  Man Made Monster can be purchased as part of the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive which is a collection of 5 lesser known Universal films from the 1940’s.  The picture and sound are great and I’m glad to see Universal take the time to restore some of its lesser known horror films.

RATING: Good.

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


Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Black Cat (1941)

Henrietta Winslow is a crazy cat lady if there ever was one.  She even has a crematorium for her deceased cats whose ashes she places in urns that cover the walls of her kitty mausoleum.  It’s actually hard to know who’s crazier in this film: The old lady or her two domestic servants: Abigail the stern housekeeper and Eduardo the crusty gardener.

The story begins with Henrietta’s relatives who are circling her like vultures, hoping they will inherit her riches when she dies.  The plot thickens when the old lady is murdered and her greedy family learn they will not inherit a penny until Abigail and all the cats are deceased.  This is the set up for everything that follows!  Director Albert S. Rogell knows how to make the most of this classic murder mystery.  He gets wonderful performances from his actors and is able to keep things interesting throughout the film.  The script tries to balance “old dark house” suspense elements with comedic moments and success more than it missed the mark.  I’m certain 1940’s audiences would have loved this family-friendly thriller.

The cast is great through and through.  It includes the likes of legendary actor Basil Rathbone [Son of Frankenstein, The Comedy of Terrors], the always radiant Anne Gwynne [Flash Gordon, House of Frankenstein], Alan Ladd and Bela Lugosi [Dracula, Son of Frankenstein].  Lugosi has a fun bit part as Eduardo but it leaves you wanting a more expanded role for the character.  The comedic elements are delivered by Hugh Herbert and Broderick Crawford who get the job done with the best of them.

The copy of The Black Cat I own is part of the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive.  It’s a wonderful 2 disc collection of some of Universal’s lesser known horror/thrillers with remastered picture and sound.  The picture is crystal clear with only a few white riots here and there.  The sounds is very nice as well.  If you like Universal Horror, this collection is a must-have and is very affordable.

So, if you like murder/mysteries, definitely give this one a try.  It’s not epic filmmaking but it is a wonderfully done movie that is fun to watch from start to finish.

P.S.  DO NOT confuse this film with the 1934 classic of the same title that also stars Bela Lugosi, along with Boris Karloff.  It’s easily the stronger of the two films and should be seen by everyone.

RATING: Very Good

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


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

"They're coming to get you, Barbara!"  So goes the famous line from the mother of all modern zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead.  George Romero, who hails from my hometown of Pittsburgh, is the godfather of all that is zombie.  [My pastor performed his wedding.  How cool is that?]  Yes, there were zombie films before his but most of these involved living people whose minds are controlled through voodoo or some sort of black magic.  What separates George Romero's work from everything that came before it is a number of things: 1.) His zombies are always the dead come back to life, except in the remakes.  2.) Romero adds a subversive layer of social commentary and dark humor to his films.  The issue of racism runs all through Night of the Living Dead.  3.) He also ups the sense of terror and utter hopelessness in fighting "the machine" that is zombies.  [There are many scholarly commentaries on Romero's films that are available online if you want to read more.]

The basic plot of Night of the Living Dead is simple.  A sister [Barbara] and brother [Johnny] visit the grave of their father when they are attacked by zombies.  Johnny is killed but Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse where she meets up with others who are trying to survive.  The rest of the movie is a classic study in human nature and how life-threatening situations bring out the best in some of us and the worst in others.  Even though I've seen this film a million times, I still find the ending shocking and subversive.  It's a stroke of pure genius.  You don't see it coming.

Night of the Living Dead has been remade twice.  First in 1990 with special effects guru Tom Savini as director and George Romero doing the rewrite.  It is one of the best remakes of a horror film I've ever seen although the soundtrack is filled with cheesy synthesizers and the ending is reworked in a way that I think is less powerful than the original.  [You can view this in 9 parts on YouTube.]  The second remake is entitled Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) and totally rewrites the original story until it is virtually unrecognizable.  It is most definitely the worst of the three versions.

The best copy of this film I’ve seen is the Millennium Edition by Elite Entertainment.  It has the blessing of George Romero and was made from the original 35mm negatives. Skip the 30th Anniversary Edition [a recut version of the film] which everyone agrees is a piece of crap.  I would also stay away from the 40th Anniversary "No B.S." Edition which I paid too much for, only to discover that cheaper editions I’ve owned had a clearer picture.  Rats!  You can also download a nice copy from Archive.org and burn your own DVD. 

Night of the Living Dead is a must see in whatever form you can get your hands on.  I still think the original is one of the creepiest films of all time.  Love you, George!



RATING: Excellent.
Download a copy of the film from Archive.org
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Halloween (1978)

I cannot imagine Halloween without, uh, Halloween.  Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho may be the mother of all slasher films, but John Carpenter's Halloween is the one that reinvented the genre and wrote the playbook for many inferior slasher films that would follow.

Jamie Lee Curtis is perfection as the virginal Laurie Strode who gives us one of the iconic performances of the horror genre.  You find yourself rooting for her character every step of the way, wincing every time she stumbles and screaming "run" every time her nemesis Michel Meyers appears lurking in the background of the scene.  I also love  Donald Pleasence's portrayal of Dr. Loomis who has some ridiculous lines to deliver, but he does them with such sincerity and conviction that I find myself buying into it hook, line and sinker.

The soundtrack is one of the finest that is found in horror.  It's right up there with Psycho in my book with an instantly recognizable theme and moody synths that help maintain the sense of dread throughout the film.  Carpenter's direction is also a joy to watch.  Michael Meyers may not utter a single word throughout the film, but Carpenter somehow manages to make him a commanding present in every scene.  Nicely done!

Without the success of Halloween there may have never been a Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street or the Scream series.  Halloween got the ball rolling and it keeps on rolling to this very day with the likes of Jeepers Creepers, The Ring and [unfortunately] Saw.

My favorite print of Halloween is the 25th Anniversary edition by Anchor Bay.  This Divimax big resolution transfer bests every other one I’ve seen that’s out there.  The images are crystal clear and the colors look natural.  I found it for $3.00 at my local Book/CD/DVD store and there are reasonable used copies available online.

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