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, July 31, 2017

This Island Earth (1955)

I can't believe I've never seem this film before! This Island Earth is classic 1950's Sci-Fi that is every bit as good as It Came From Outer Space or Forbidden Planet. Cinematographer Clifford Stine was in charge of the optical department at Universal Studios during the 1950's and was their "go-to" guy for special visual effects. His contribution to this film cannot be denied. This Island Earth is simply beautiful to look at and uses color to great effect. Many of the sets are fairly monochromatic so the color just pops when it is used in a scene. The painted backdrops are also really great and Stine is able to make all the different elements look seamless together. [Remember this is WAY pre-CGI so its not simple to accomplish.]

The plot is basic Sci-Fi fare but the screenplay smartly doesn't fill you in on all the details at the beginning of the movie. They keep handing you tidbits along the way so it keeps things interesting. The only weakness in the screenplay is that is is awfully wordy, but that's pretty typical of 50's Sci-Fi were they tried to explain EVERYTHING. Lots of pseudo-science abounds but, hey, that's part of the fun!

This Island Earth was also cast well. Rex Reason [The Creature Among Us] has a commanding presence on the screen as the scientist who kind-of saves the day. He has quite a booming voice which works to his advantage here. Faith Domergue [It Came From Beneath the Sea] is his sidekick, who is a scientist as well. However, this is the 1950's and her character is not exactly a self-empowered woman! Still, Domergue does a good job with the role. Finally, Jeff Morrow [The Creature Walks Among Us] is SPOILER ALERT Exeter, the Alien who is oh-so tan and has quite a five-head and quaff of white hair on top. [All the aliens look like this!] He give his character enough depth that you feel sorry for the guy in the end.

Last, but certainly not least, is the mutant monster whose costume is really well-done. He's given very little screen time and it makes you yearn for more. I actually have a figurine of this monster as a part of the Universal Monsters Little Big Heads Collection. They are a fit hard to find but are really well done.

So, grab this one off of YouTube and give it a go. You'll be glad you did!

RATING: Excellent.

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Horror House, a.k.a. The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

If you like 70's fashion in all its polyester glory, then you will dig this groovy little film. If you're looking for a few scares and an interesting story, you better look elsewhere. Horror House is overrun by 70's runway model-types who are too hip for their own good. The outfits they wear are thoroughly entertaining, and the film spends way too much time in the front end setting up the story. We listen to them whine about how bored they are and how witty and clever they are…and that's about it. When the killing starts, the scenes are pretty tepid and offer no real scares.

The cast includes beach boy Frankie Avalon but they give him very little to do in the film. The rest of the cast is thoroughly British and will be unfamiliar to most Americans.

There is not much more to say about this one. It's not poorly made, it's just uninteresting. Find your horror entertainment elsewhere.


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

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Church (1989)

The Church is a wonderful example of Italian horror at it artistic and slightly-over-the-top best. While Michele Soavi is the Director of The Church, it has Dario Argento's imprint all over it. That's because Argento wrote the story and screenplay as well as produced the film. Every scene is beautifully and carefully shot. Nothing is really wasted. And while it takes a while for the blood to really start flowing, the build up to its climatic scene is well-paced.

The story is classic horror fare: A cathedral is built over a mass grave that contained the bodies of demon-worshipping witches in the 12th Century who were killed by Crusaders. The purpose of the cathedral was to keep this evil contained for all eternity. Naturally, evil found a way to escape this prison and wreak havoc on a group of unsuspecting victims who were in the cathedral at the time.

The acting is solid through and through although the English dubbing is a bit weak at times. I would have preferred to see this film in Italian with English sub-titles. The only name that might be known to Americans is Argento's daughter Asia Argento [Land go the Dead, xXx] who played Lotte, a sweet girl with a few secrets of her own. She is great in the role.

The cherry on the top of The Church is a musical score from Italian Prog-rock group Goblin as well as Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I absolutely adore Goblin's work on Argento's cut of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead as well as Suspiria. They always create a wonderful atmosphere for the films they work on an The Church is no exception to this rule.

So, definitely give this one a try. It's not a film that is talked about very often but it is most definitely worth your time!

RATING: Very Good.

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

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.

There are many excellent commentaries out there that extol the virtues of this film. My absolute favorite is Halloween: The Inside Story (2010) that can be found on YouTube. There is not a more exhaustive commentary to be found on this iconic horror film.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The American Nightmare (2000)

This documentary examines some of the iconic horror movies of the 1960s-1970s and how they were influenced by, and were commentaries of, what was happening in the world around us. George Romero, Tom Savini, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, John Landis and David Cronenberg look back on the movies they made as young men and offer some interesting insight into such beloved films as Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween among others. These filmmakers also talk about the horror films that scared and inspired them as children and teens.

The subject is thoroughly explored in the way one would expect from the Independent Film Channel. Also included are various professors/historians who add their insights as well. This is really good stuff. I know a lot about these directors but found myself being surprised by their candid insights time and time again. If you have any love of horror, this one is a must-see.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tales From the Darkside: The Complete Series (1983-1988)

In 2010 CBS FINALLY released the classic 1980's TV anthology Tales From the Darkside. Let's get the one negative out of the way: While the series was shot of film, all the post-production work was done on video before it aired on TV. Unfortunately, all the original film was destroyed so the DVD transfer was done from video. This gives it a very grainy texture which may be off-putting for some in the age of Blu-ray and HDTV. But, hey, it's the only way we can view this delightful series. So set aside the quality of the picture and enjoy the quality of the storytelling. (The audio is fine, by the way. Although the DVD version was released without it's original musical soundtrack, probably due to copyright licenses and the cost of procuring them.)

It's almost pointless to name drop the directors, writers and actors that appears in this series which ran for four seasons from 1983-1988, by let me give it a try: George Romero, Tom Savini, Clive Barker, Stephen King, Jody Foster, Danny Aiello, Lori Cardille (Day of the Dead), Debbie Harry, Seth Green and some of the finest character actors to grace movies and television. What's not to like about that? While this series is not quite as strong as the 1990's HBO series Tales From the Crypt, it's got some great stories, fine performances and a few fun horror effects along the way. George Romero [Night of the Living Dead] was one of the Executive Producers for most of these episodes so you know you're in capable hands.

All 90 episodes are in this box set which I bought at Best-Buy for $24.99 It's also available through Amazon. At that price, it's a steal to relive this 80's gem. Don't miss it!

RATING: Excellent.

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

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 Martin. 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.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Document of the Dead (1985)

If you are a George Romero fan, a zombie fan, or a film student, then Document of the Dead will give you a rare glimpse into the process of film-making as seen through the eyes of George Romero during the shooting of his zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. It's low-tech in its approach but provides tons of fun facts and insights.

For me, it was a rare treat to watch Romero do his thing as a screenwriter, director, producer and editor, a feat few can pull off with as much grace as Romero does. Document also talks in depth about Romero's editing style and explores what makes his vision unique among horror directors.

Romero was not only a visionary director. Those who have worked with him have always said he was a generous and kind human being as well. This film definitely lets that side of Romero shine brightly. Nicely done. You can find this one on YouTube.


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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Season of the Witch [a.k.a. Hungry Wives] {1972)

What's a frustrated, middle-aged 70's housewife to do? Why, take up the practice of witchcraft, of course! Season of the Witch is one of the lesser known and highly underrated films of the godfather of zombie movies, George Romero. The fact that it was made for $90,000 is downright miraculous. I have seen films with much bigger budgets from the same era that don't come close to what Season of the Witch accomplishes. It does a lot with very little which is a tribute to Romero.

Categorizing this film is a little difficult. It's part Valley of the Dolls psychedelia, part women's lib melodrama, and part supernatural/occult. The opening scene is flat out bizarre, but it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It made me feel like I didn't know what the hell was going on and I think this is right where Romero wants his viewing audience to be.

Jan White is great as Joan Mitchell, the housewife in question. Her strong eyes convey tons of emotion, even when she isn't speaking. She also gave her character just the right amount of cray-cray when needed. The rest of the cast fill in nicely but this is definitely Ms. White's show.

The only thing I take issue with in the film is some of its portrayal of witchcraft. The modern witches I know personally do not believe in Satan and see him as a Christian invention. Furthermore much of their spell-casting involves working with elemental spirits, ancestors, and the Lord and Lady which represent the Divine masculine and feminine. Working with evil/demonic entities is not really a part of what they practice so I found all this a bit distracting as I watched it. That being said, the general viewer will not notice any of this and will probably enjoy this exploration of the dark side of things.

So definitely give this one a try. If you search hard enough you can find a copy of it on YouTube but this is not always the case.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Day of the Dead (1985)

Day of the Dead (DOD) may well be one of the best zombie films ever. At least it’s one of my all-time favorites! DOD is the third zombie offering from the one and only George Romero who basically invented the modern zombie genre single-handedly with Night of the Living Dead (1968). DOD take place sometime after Dawn of the Dead (1978). The story line involves a group of military personnel and scientist who are living in an underground bunker while the world around them is overrun with zombies. The setting is perfect because it creates a claustrophobic feeling which Romero exploits to its fullest effect. Most of the humans are one step short or a nervous break down and sometimes it’s hard to tell who is the greater menace: the zombies or the humans! Brilliant!

The scientists in this film are experimenting on the zombies, trying to figure out what makes them tick with the hope they can rehabilitate them. The star of this show is Sherman Howard who plays a zombie named Bub. His performance in this film is astonishing. He is, in my opinion, the BEST ZOMBIE EVER! The way he embodies the character is nearly flawless. He makes the audience care for Bub in a way that makes us want to shoot some of the humans and save the zombie!

The human cast is a bit cliched but they serve their purpose. The exception to this is Lori Cardille, the daughter of Bill Cardille who hosted a weekly double feature monster fest in my hometown of Pittsburgh. Lori’s character, Sarah, brings lots of emotional depth to the table and helps carry some of the other actors in the film. As a bit of trivia, make-up effects guru Greg Nicotero [The Walking Dead] makes his acting debut in DOD. He was also an apprentice of Tom Savini who did the effects work on DOD.

Speaking of effects, Tom Savini upped his game big time since Dawn of the Dead and gives the audience some brilliant blood-spaltter effects and classic zombie make-up. His work is a feast for the eyes and his influence on Nicotero cannot be denied.

John Harrison also gives DOD a wonderful soundtrack which always cranks up when the zombies appear. It reminds me a bit of the work Goblin did on a number of Dario Argento’s films. It sets the perfect mood in the scenes it’s employed.

What more need to be said? Day of the Dead is essential viewing for those who love all things zombie. A remake of Day of the Dead was done 2008 with Steve Miner [Friday the 13th, Part II, Halloween: H2O] in the director’s chair. The zombies in the remake are the fast-moving viral kind which I find annoying, especially when they violate the laws of physics! The remake has its good points but it simply doesn’t compare to the original.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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. 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. 

I'm also excited that MOMA did a complete 4K restoration from the original film negative in 2016. It's slated to hit select theaters in 2017 and, no doubt, will be available at some point as a Blu-ray disc. This version has the blessing of Geoerge Romero who said it was the closest thing  to what he intended viewers to see. With George's passing a few days ago, I'm fairly certain that this version will be made available to the general public.

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, July 18, 2017

Zombie: Dawn of the Dead [Dario Argento's Cut] (1979)

Seeral years ago I hit the holy grail of zombie horror in the used DVD section of my local mall. If you're a zombie aficionado you are well aware that Dario Argento did the European Cut of George Romero's zombie classic Dawn of the Dead. I had heard about Argento's version for years but never had the opportunity to view it….until then!
How does it stack up to Romero's cut? Well, if you're looking for an exhaustive critique of the subject click HERE. But if you've read my blog before you know I like my reviews short and sweet. Argento's cut is fantastic. It's lean, mean, dark and full of action. While I love Romero's sense of humor and character development which appears in his cut, Argento skips the lighter moments in favor of a much more sinister and gorier film. It works beautifully. If you don't squirm in your seat or wince a time or two while watching Argento's cut then there may be something seriously wrong with you. He really brings out the horror in Romero's film.
Argento's cut is also greatly aided by a different musical score that was composed by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin. It really adds a great deal to the feel of the film and is a total home run.   
Some people enjoy getting into arguments about which version is better. What's the point? Both versions show the vision of two great directors who know how to edit horror. If you can get your fingers on a copy of this one, it's definitely well worth your time.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the episode's entry in IMDB.

Monday, July 17, 2017

R.I.P. George Romero

Like everyone else who loves horror, I was saddened to learn of the death of George Romero. I grew up in Pittsburgh so I have always felt a kinship with George. He is much beloved in my hometown and elsewhere. The first time I saw Night of the Living Dead it scared the shit out of me but I loved it. I was in Middle School at the time. When Dawn of the Dead premiered I actually saw it at the Monroeville Mall where it was filmed. Walking out into the mall and parking lot scared the shit out of me again! I have always found his films to be thought-provoking with lots of social commentary to be found in the midst of gut-munching and zombie kills. George, you were one-of-a-kind. A great human being and a visionary filmmaker. You will me missed by this zombie-loving fan!