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!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Horror Island (1941)

Fast, funny and filled with a few twists and turns, Horror Island is a light-hearted movie that is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.  Directed by George Waggner [The Wolf Man, Batman TV Series] and filled with a great ensemble cast, its hard to believe Horror Island was shot in only 12 days!  It just goes to prove that you don’t need a big budget to make a great film.

Horror Island’s actors don’t have big, recognizable names, but a number of them had lengthy and successful careers in film.  The sassy Iris Adrian, who plays the gangster’s girlfriend Arleen, lights up every scene she’s in.  She went on to star in 160 films, including The Odd Couple (1968) and The Love Bug (1968).  The love interest of Dick Foran and Peggy Moran also stared together in The Mummy’s Hand (1940).  Both are likable and help to move the film along nicely.

Horror Island is one of the lesser known films from Universal Studios.  Thankfully, it got a restoration and is included in the 5 movie collection Universal Horror: Classic Movie Archive.  I’m glad Universal took the time to market these movies to modern audiences.  It would have been a shame if they were lost to time.

So, if you have rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you’re looking for a fun thriller, Horror Island will fit the bill nicely.

RATING: Very Good.

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


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Nightmare City (1980)

Nightmare City is a bit of a nightmare, but not in a good way!  After watching the likes of Italian Horror masters such as Argento, Bava and Fulchi, I expected director Umberto Lenzi to deliver a blood-splattered good time.  Here’s what we have instead:

Lenzi’s zombies are unique, but not on a good way.  They were created by being exposed to radiation from a nuclear power plant.  Hmmm.  These are not classic voodoo zombies or Romero’s flesh eating shamblers.  Instead they slightly resemble modern viral zombies since they run really fast.  However, they also wield weapons, drive cars and only drink blood like vampires!  Hmmm.  Furthermore, their make-up is inconsistent.   Some look like burnt marshmallows while others have a little bright red blood running down their faces.  The more the “science” is explained as to why they act the way they do, the more ridiculous it sounds!

Secondly, the acting is weak.  The version I saw is in Italian with subtitles which is usually a plus in my book.  But no single character stands out as special.  Everyone is simply grist for the zombie mill.  Furthermore, most of the female cast is reduced to melodramatic histrionics which always drives me crazy. 

Finally, Nightmare City is simply not that interesting.  It’s not scary in the least.  Even the kills, which are many, are quick, dull and uninspired.  I’ve seen better blood effects at the local Zombie Walk in Asheville! 

So, leave this one alone.  If you’re looking to watch a fine Italian zombie horror flick, stick with Lucio Fulchi’s Zombi 2 (1979) which is a feast for the eyes and gives the audience some of the most interesting zombies ever created.

RATING: Fair.

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


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Doc of the Dead (2014)

For a movie that claims to be “the definitive zombie culture documentary,” Doc of the Dead nearly hits a home run.  While Birth of the Living Dead (2013) is better, it only focuses on George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Doc attempts to do something very ambitious: Start with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and make it all the way to 2014 in 81 minutes!  Whew!

The only weakness I can see is that they don’t spend enough time on the early stuff.  They mention Caligari, White Zombie (1932) and I Walked With a Zombie (1943).  Then they jump to Romero and never look back.  Since the film was only 81 minutes long, I think there was plenty of time to mention a few other classics such as Lucio Fulci’s artful Zombi 2 (1979), Hammer Horror’s The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and the light-hearted Zombies on Broadway (1945).  They are a part of the whole story along with modern takes on the classic “Haitian zombie” such as Wes Caven’s underrated The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).

I must confess I’m a zombie addict so most people would not even notice the absence of these films.  Doc of the Dead is a wonderful documentary that explores all things zombie and why they are near and dear to our hearts!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Friday, June 27, 2014

Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)

I’m not going to even pun the title of this one!  Howling IV is supposed to be an “origins” story.  However, the plot is strikingly similar to the first Howling movie which is, by far, the best of the bunch.  This is one franchise that should have died but didn’t.

As Howling IV begins we have a successful author who is having a bit or a meltdown…or is she?  The doctor prescribes a few weeks away from the hectic pace of LA and she lands right smack in the middle of werewolf USA!  Romy Windsor is actually quite good as Marie, the main character in this lycan melodrama.  Everyone else seems a bit stiff and unable to show real emotion except for the woman who plays the owner of an art store.  [Who the #*^@ needs an art store in a town this small?] 

The plot moves along nicely at the start but eventually devolves into gibberish and inconsistent special effects.  Every single werewolf in this flick looks different.  Some are simply wolves like one would find in nature.  Other are cartoonish like the ones in the detestable film The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987).  Precious few remotely resemble what most modern viewers think a werewolf should look like.  And let’s not talk about Marie’s incredible, melting boyfriend.  What was up with that?  Shame on director Jon Hough [The Legend of Hell House] for thinking he got it right and Anni Bartels [key makeup artist] and her crew for the red hot mess they put together and called werewolves.

I don’t need to say much more.  Its a shame the sequels never matched the brilliance of Joe Dante’s original The Howling.  It could have been a great ride.  Unfortunately they decided to go for the quick buck instead of making wonderful films.

RATING: Fair.

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


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

While Godzilla, King of the Monsters is not the original Godzilla film, you can literally see it from there.  After Godzilla (Gojira) was released to Japanese audiences in 1954, it was decided for some odd reason that an American version of the film was needed.  They took much of the original version and added scenes with Raymond Burr who also narrates a good bit of Godzilla in a film noir style.  I think it works very well but I’m also aware that they deleted several references to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which I think are essential to the telling of the tale.  I guess it was too painful for American audiences to own up to what we did to the Japanese people.

I actually like Raymond Burr’s character and think they interspersed his scenes in a way that does not feel forced or desperate.  Kudos to director Terry O. Morse and cinematographer Masao Tamai for doing such a seamless job of combining footage.  I also think the story is powerful and translates fairly well to modern audiences.  They even create some sympathy for the monster and I do believe I shed a tear when he met his demise!

Now let’s move on to the star of the show…GODZILLA!  By 1950’s standards, I think he looks marvelous and menacing.  The trademark sounds he makes are perfect and the way they capture his movement on film feels authentic.  I also love the miniatures Godzilla sets out to destroy.  They are well made and each scene is crafted, and destroyed, with care. 

MANY incarnations of Godzilla would follow including the fairly disastrous remake in 1988 with Matthew Broderick and the infinitely better Godzilla that came out in 2014.  In fact, I really like the 2014 remake and think the big guy looks better than ever.  It also doesn’t hurt to help Brian Cranston [Breaking Bad] on board as well!

So, if you have any love for this iconic monster, this version, along with the 1954 original, is a must-see.  It really is a lovely film to behold.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Marsupials: The Howling III (2987)

Just when you thought it was safe to do down under…this dreadful piece of film making arises.  The Howling III is supposed to be a comedy/horror but fails at both.  Here’s why:

The biggest obstacle to enjoying this movie are the not-so-special effects.  Unlike Rick Baker’s marvelous werewolves from The Howling, Bob McCarron give an completely inconsistent look to the “werewolves with kangaroo pouches” or whatever the heck they’re supposed to be.  At one point they look like your typical werewolf.  At another their fake rubber snouts look more like pigs.  Then there’s the birth pouch on the female lead that I found to be utterly ridiculous.  All of this is surprising when you learn that McCarron also did special makeup effects on films like The Matrix (1999), Dead Alive (1992) and Mad Max II (1981).  Perhaps the fault lies with the director. Philippe Mora, instead.  I’d like to think that McCarron gave Mora what he wanted, no matter how hokey it was!

In addition to the bad effects, the screen play has lots of holes in it as well.  What exactly are these people?  Werewolves?  Kangaroos?  I seriously don’t know!  It all comes across as a bit of a red hot mess.  If they had just stuck with the werewolf angle this film would have been a lot more cohesive.  At it stands, the origin of the “Marsupials” comes across as utter non-sense.

The one bright spot in this film is actress Imogen Annesley [Queen of the Damned] who plays the female lead, Jerboa.  Not only is she strikingly beautiful.  She also has a magnetic presence on-screen.  It’s just too bad they gave her such terrible material to work with because I think she could have been really fantastic in this role.

As far as I’m concerned you can throw this film on the barbie and let it roast until it’s reduced to ashes.  You’ve been warned!

RATING: Bad.

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


Monday, June 23, 2014

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

The only reason to watch this poorly acted, amateurishly directed film is to behold Rick Baker’s special effects work.  Rumor has it that Baker had more tricks up his sleeve but actor Alex Rebar, who plays astronaut Steve West a.k.a. The Melting Man, refused to wear them.  Too bad!  However, what we see on screen is very good.  Lots of goop and blood that oozes and drips with a final "meltdown" that is laugh-out-loud brilliant.  Baker's imaginitive work is definitely the star of this show.

The rest of it?  Several of the female characters overact and scream hysterically beyond what any normal human being would do.  I always find this annoying.  Most of the other actors emote like rejects from community theater.  It’s painful to watch sometimes.

Trying to hold this crapfest together is director William Sachs, whose work here is lacking to be kind.  Some of the scenes look very amateurish, like they were done by a horror geek with a camera who never attended film school.  Thankfully he only has 11 directing credits to his name on IMDB.  I’m surprised anyone let him make anything after this one!

Soooo, if you’re a Rick Baker fan, by all means watch The Incredible Melting Man to see his work.  Otherwise, you can skip this one altogether.

RATING: Fair.  [Bad film.  Very Good makeup effects.]

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


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

Legend has it that when Stephen King was asked by he hadn’t directed a film since Maximum Overdrive, he quipped “Just watch Maximum Overdrive.”  Sorry, Mr. King, but I whole-heartedly disagree!  Maximum Overdrive is a fun movie if you can overlook its flaws and embrace it’s campiness.  First of all, it’s propelled with a soundtrack by AC/DC that sets the perfect metal stage for this tale of machines gone wild.  They are the perfect band to score this movie.

Second, it has Emilio Estevez [Repo Man, The Breakfast Club] who gives a nice performance in the film, even when other characters are a bit weak and miss the mark.  His earnest and brooding portrayal of rebellious Bill anchors the film and keeps it interesting.  Veteran character actor Pat Hinge [Batman, Batman Returns] also does a great job as Estevez’s boss, Bubba Hendershot.  He is one of those actors who always gets it done in terms of the characters he plays.

Finally, Maximum Overdrive is a Stephen “effing" King story which is always a great thing.  Who cares if King was allegedly coked out of his mind while making this film.  Even in a comprised state, he’s still a horror rock star and does a fair job as director. of the film  If there was ever a Stephen King movie that deserves a remake, this is it.  The storyline of machines taking revenge against humans would work well in our technologically saturated world.  Mr. King, if you’re listening, let’s give Maximum Overdrive another shot.  You have at least one fan of the original!

RATING: Very Good.

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


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Night of the Creeps (1986)

After the dual opening scenes of buck naked aliens in a shoot out and an escaped mental patient on a killing spree, the policeman investigating the crime scene utters “What is this?  A homicide or a bad B-movie?”  Yep, Night of the Creeps knows EXACTLY what it is and makes no bones about it!

The concept of alien slugs who enter humans through the mouth and turn them into zombies is actually quite original. Kudos to director/writer Fred Dekker [House, The Monster Squad] for his inventive approach to the zombie genre.  The slugs are definitely the star of this show and they look brilliant on screen.

Along the way there are also zombies in various states of decay.  Kudos to the make up effects team for a few fun and inventive zombies, especially the zombie cat and dog.  They made me giggle with delight.  Some of the “exploding heads with slugs pouring out of them” are also quite good as well.

The cast is typical 1980’s stuff.  The strongest performance is definitely Tom Atkins [Lethal Weapon, The Fog, Halloween III] as washed-up policeman Roy Cameron.  He has a strong presence on screen and anchors every scene he’s in.  The teen leads are good but nothing worth mentioning.  My only complaint is the frat boys who are 90210 teenagers.  They are WAY too old for their parts!

Creeps get’s it done in terms of storytelling, humor and special effects.  Yes, it has it’s flaws along the way in terms of camera work and acting but, hey, this is a B-movie not a Ridley Scott epic.  So enjoy it for what it is…a delightful slice of 80’s sci-fi horror!

As a side note, it’s fun that all the character’s last names are from famous horror directors such as Romero, Raimi, Landis, etc.  It’s too bad they don’t take advantage of this in the film itself.

RATING: Excellent.

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


Friday, June 13, 2014

Birth of the Living Dead (2013)

Wow!  Birth of the Living Dead [BOTLD] is the Holy Grail of documentaries on George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  I grew up in Pittsburgh and the subject matter explored in this film is sacred stuff!  Director Rob Kuhns [Sleeper Cell] artfully weaves together snippets of film with commentary from Romero and others who made NOTLD.  He also adds a delightful Elementary School film class and gorgeous artwork from Gary Pullin.  Along the way he makes the case for why this is such an important film both culturally and cinematically.

Themes explored in BOTLD include the challenge of making an independent film in 1968, the strong reactions of early audiences, casting an African American actor as the lead character, and an analysis of the movie’s most iconic scenes and why they’re still brilliant filmmaking.

Trust me, I know a LOT about NOTLD but I even learned a thing of two from this skillfully made documentary.  If you have any love of zombies, this film is required viewing.  It’s one I will watch many times in the future and can be streamed on Netflix.

RATING: Excellent..

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


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Thriller: Letter to a Lover (1961)

Thriller: Letter to a Lover (1961) Season 2, Episode 8

At first, Letter to a Lover, looks like your average murder mystery.  But looks can be deceiving.  Letter to a Lover has more twists and misdirections than a roller coaster.  Director Herschel Daugherty [Alfred Hitchcock Presents and numerous TV credits] paces this episode of Thriller perfectly.  It starts slow and builds to a series of surprise turns in the last few minutes of the episode.

The cast includes Murray Matheson [Alfred Hitchcock Presents] who has a commanding presence on screen.  Ann Todd plays his wife and the interplay between them is great.  You’re not sure who is the crazy one and who is sane by the time the episode is done.  Avis Scott is a firecracker as the murdered doctor’s nurse. I’m not sure why she has a huge scar over her eye.  It’s actually more distracting to the episode than helpful.  Finally, Felix Deebank rounds out the quartet of murder suspects.  By the time Letter is finished, you’re pretty much convinced all four of them did it!

If you like murder mysteries this one is quite good.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Keep (1983)

How in the world did I ever miss seeing this film?  The Keep is truly an original film which can hardly be said of any movie in any era.  The basic bones of the story involve Nazis who are behaving badly and are holed up in a “keep” which is the central tower of a castle/fortress that serves as a last refuge.  Things get interesting when they unleash an ancient demon after which the film asks the eternal question “What is true evil?  What face does it wear?”

The Keep benefits from an excellent director, Michael Mann, who is well known for producing Miami Vice as well as visually stunning films such as The Last of the Mohicans.  The Keep has a definite visual style to it and uses light and fog in some very creative ways.  The visuals are greatly aided by a sparse, ethereal music score with textured synthesizers and unusual choral elements from Tangerine Dream.

Then there’s the cast….wow.  The one and only Ian McKellen [X-Men, Lord of the Rings] plays a scholar who is trying to figure out what is happening in The Keep.  He gives his usual magnetic performance.  McKellen is then surrounded by a great group of character actors with long resumes such as Scott Glenn [Silence of the Lambs, The Bourne Trilogy], Robert Prosky [Hill Street Blues, Dead Man Walking] and German actor Jurgen Prochnow.  Everyone works so well together in this film.  It is wonderful to watch.

What more needs to be said?  SEE THIS MOVIE.  If you like supernatural films that are on the philosophical side, then The Keep is your kind of movie.  It may well be one of the most underrated horror films of the 1980’s.

RATING: Excellent.

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