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!

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  These films were originally made for an urban black audience but gained a wider appeal across racial lines.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.