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, August 20, 2018

Psycho (1960)

"A boy's best friend is his mother." says Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho. Now that's a mouthful or maybe a knife-full!  Much has been written about this film. Simply stated, Psycho is the perfect horror film. Every scene is lit and edited beautifully. Hitchcock chose to do Psycho in black and white instead of color because he thought the blood would look more realistic. He also had trouble with the censors who swore that during the shower scene they saw Janet Leigh's breasts as well as the knife plunging into her. Hitchcock made them look at the scene again and upon closer examination they realized their own minds had filled in the details. Brilliant!

As a side note, Steven Spielberg followed Hitchcock's lead while filming Jaws (1975). They were having problems making the mechanical shark look realistic. So Speilberg showed very little of the shark during much of the film, allowing the audience to fill in all the gory details. This same filmmaking technique was also used to great effect in The Blair Witch Project (1999) where the "witch" is never seen on camera.

Anthony Perkin's portrayal of Norman Bates in Psycho is iconic. Everyone else in the cast is great as well. The musical score by Bernard Herrmann [who worked extensively with Hitchcock] greatly enhances the viewer's experience of the film. I think it's one of the greatest horror scores ever! I was lucky enough to come across the two DVD special edition set of Psycho [Universal Legacy Series] at a local used Book, CD and DVD store. The digitally remastered version is pure eye candy and the documentaries that accompany it are excellent and insightful.

I will not summarize the plot because if you haven't seen it, it will ruin your experience of the film. Don't read any more reviews. Just rent it or buy it and enjoy watching a director who is at the peak of his creative power. Pure genius.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein is, without a doubt, one of the greatest horror films of all time. It is also one of the greatest films period. What director James Whale accomplished with Frankenstein is nothing short of perfection. As you watch it, notice the angles and forced perspectives of the graveyard, the tower and the final chase scenes. There is hardly a perpendicular line to be found anywhere. Furthermore, the stage backdrops with their dark backlit clouds set an ominous tone that enhances the film greatly. In contrast to these scenes the "normal" places are shot on location and everything is neat and clean: The town, the lake, Baron Frankenstein's mansion. Amazing cinematography for 1931 or any year for that matter.

Boris Karloff's Monster is sheer perfection. (Thanks to the legendary Fx icon Jack Pierce.) The make-up is flawless and Karloff's ability to make that heavy costume come to life is astonishing. In the documentary that accompanies the film they said that Karloff suffered back problems because of the sheer weight of the Monster's costume. When he was  on break he had to sit in a special reclining chair in order to get some relief. Colin Clive is perfect as Henry Frankenstein. He embodies his character with touches of brilliance, ego and insanity all rolled up into one. Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Waldman also gives a knockout performance [Is it just me or does he provide the inspiration for the Criminologist in Rocky Horror Picture Show?] as does Dr. Frankenstein's side kick, Dwight Frye as Fritz [not Egor!!!].

I've seen every remake and incarnation of Frankenstein and none of them can light a candle to the original. It has inspired countless filmmakers and fans alike. If you've never seen it, put this one on the top of your list. Furthermore, if you're a fan of Frankenstein and you've never seen Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters (1998) I consider it to be a fitting tribute to one of the greatest directors of all time. I don't believe that Frankenstein can be viewed for free online, If you know differently, let me know. I own Frankenstein: The Legacy Collection which includes not only the original film but the four sequels that followed. It's well worth the purchase price. Personally, to see this film online with poor resolution is a crime. See it on the best screen possible.

RATING: Excellent.

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Black Room (1935)

After he finished filming the horror classic The Raven with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff jumped right into making The Black Room. This film is not well-known among horror fans, but it should be. The Black Room shows Karloff at his best and proves that he is an amazing actor with or without monster make-up. This is definitely his film, and everyone else is along for the ride.

Karloff plays twin brothers Gregor and Anton who come from a wealthy family with an ancient prophecy that the younger twin will meet his demise by the hands of the older twin in the castle's black room. Karloff has a ball playing Gregor, who is the younger ruthless one, but brings a different kind of intensity to Anton who is the compassionate older twin. Both characters are fully developed and the audience knows immediately which one is on screen. The best part of his performance, however, is when Anton meets his demise and Gregor assumes his identity. Karloff creates a third character who is mostly Anton but we can see Gregor seething beneath the surface. Bravo! Well done!

The rest of the cast is quite good as well and support Karloff's masterful performance. Perhaps the most well known among them is Marian Marsh [Svengali] who is Gregor's love interest, even if she's not interested in him! She gives a lot of emotional depth to a role that could have easily ended up as window dressing.

Kudos to director Roy Willian Neill [Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Spider Woman] who knows how to pace a thriller. It's a quick run time [63 min] and no scene is wasted. Everything serves to drive the plot forward.

I also enjoyed the graveyard set which is absolutely gorgeous. It reminds me a lot of Frankenstein (1931) with it's beautifully painted background and lush details. The castle set is also built well with lots of attention to detail.

If you are a Karloff fan, this one is a must-see. It's always a pleasure to watch him do what he does so well. This film would also appeal to those who are a little squeamish when it comes to gore, but enjoy a good crime thriller.

As a final note, you can see the ending of this movie coming from a mile away, but this did not stop me from enjoying watching what happens to Gregor in the films closing moments. Fun stuff, indeed!

RATING: Very Good.

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

Friday, August 10, 2018

Isle of the Snake People (1971)

Most people totally trash this movie online and that's understandable, because it's a pretty terrible movie. However, there are a few things about Isle of the Snake People that make it worth watching. Let's start with the good stuff!

First of all, it's got Boris Karloff. Granted, it's clear from the moment we see him on screen that he's in poor health. (He was suffering from pneumonia at the time and also had only one lung due to cancer.) Yet, in spite of this, there is a vibrant energy that comes through his performance even though we can clearly see he is having a hard time breathing. It's the sign of a class act and someone who was whole-heartedly dedicated to his craft. He has my utmost respect and admiration.

The second thing Snake People has going for it are two Mexican actors who give memorable performances. The first is Santanón who plays a character that is simply known as "The Dwarf." He's creepy as all get out and adds some much needed energy to otherwise dull voodoo rituals. The second is Tongolele (Yolanda Montes) whose snake dances are delightful. Her piercing stare and vibrant presence are most welcome in this tepid movie.

Now for the bad stuff. While most of Snake People was filmed in Mexico, Karloff's scenes were shot in Hollywood because his doctor thought he couldn't handle Mexico City's high altitude. Cult film director Jack Hill did all of Karloff's scenes in Hollywood while Mexican director Juan Ibáñez handled everything else. This gives the movie a somewhat disjointed feel which is not surprising.

The worst thing about Snake People, however, is the screenplay. It's a jumbled mess of fake voodoo rituals and lots of talking when the visuals should speak for themselves. There are so many inconsistencies that it's not even worth mentioning. Who knew that cannibalistic zombie women could be so dull! My favorite LOL moment is when some poor soul is "bitten" by a boa constrictor and dies. Last time I checked, boas were not poisonous. Oh well, Snake People is not exactly accurate on details!

The other ridiculous thing is Captain Pierre Labesh's accent. Labesh is played by Cuban actor Raphael Bertrand. Sometimes his accent sounds French, while at other times it sounds like Spanish, or a combination of the two. It's quite amusing and they would have been better off if they stuck with Bertrand's natural accent when he speaks English.

All in all, Isle of the Snake People is a really bad movie. But if you're a Boris Karloff fan, it's worth sitting through the bad stuff in order to see the master bring his mojo to the big screen. [Snake People can be found streaming on YouTube].

RATING: Bad. [Unless you're a Karloff fan.]

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

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Genuine: The Tragedy of a Vampire (1920)

Silent films require a certain amount of patience but I have mostly found them to be rewarding. Works such as the mesmerizing Nosferatu (1922) and the German Expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) are must-sees for any fans of horror to see where it all began. So I was pretty excited to finally sit down and watch Genuine: The Tragedy of a Vampire since it was directed by Robert Wiene who also did Caligari. This review is of the 43 minute condensed version which, I believe is the only one that can be seen these days. The original cut of the film lasts 1 hour and 28 minutes so A LOT has been removed from this film. I'm curious regarding what has been eliminated because that's ridiculously severe in my book.

First of all you need to know that Genuine is not a vampire movie in the traditional sense. So if you're looking for blood-sucking and bats, you will be highly disappointed. Genuine is the "vampire" in question and it's more a surreal story of a priestess from some kind of unnamed cult who has power over others. That's it!

What Genuine has going for it is it's sets and costumes which are very dream-like and inventive. Genuine's outfits in particular are really fantastic. The sets also sports that German Expressionism look of Caligari, although it's not executed quite as masterfully. Yet, there is plenty of eye candy to keep the viewer interested.

The cast does a good job of bringing these characters to life and communicate quite a bit through their body postures and gestures. The intertitles that have been done in English are also a necessity if one is to understand what it happening in this film.

Genuine's weakness lies in the fact the story is not nearly as compelling as Caligari. I would consider it to be more of a thriller than a true horror movie, but that's just my opinion. That being said, there is much to enjoy about Genuine if you know what you're getting into. I appreciate the artistry and imagination that went into this film. I value directors such as Wiene whose work became the building blocks for all the 1930's classics we know and love.

This film can be found on YouTube as well as archive.org.

RATING: Good.

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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Monster in the Closet (1986)

Monster in the Closet is a guilty pleasure, served just the way I like it! You'll either love or hate this movie. I definitely fall in the LOVE category. The first thing it has going for it is the screenplay which contains some cheesy 1950's B-movie dialogue along with a tongue-in-cheek gay subtext that not every viewer will catch. It's intentionally campy and subversive at the same time. Plus the writer plants a prop and a sight gag earlier in the film that play an important role in the movie's climax. I won't ruin the surprise for you because I'm that kind of guy. Then there's also the magnificent parody of the Psycho shower scene that is perfectly executed. I could watch that scene again and again. Kudos to screenplay writer Bob Dahlin for not dumbing down the comedic elements. He also directed this film but I'm surprised he doesn't have many writing credits attached to his name.

The second thing Monster in the Closet has going for it is the wonderful cast who are more than capable of selling what Dahlin has written. There are familiar faces such as a hilarious cameo by horror legend John Carradine, Claude Akins [B.J. and the Bear], Howard Duff [Knott's Landing], Henry Gibson [Laugh In] and Donald Moffat [The Thing, Dallas]. Most of these may not be familiar names but you will know their faces immediately and each has an extensive body of work as an actor. Monster in the Closet also boasts the screen debut of Paul Walker [Fast & Furious franchise] who is a wee little kid in this film but already shows some serious acting chops.

The last thing it has going for it is the monster which is a send up of all the really bad 1950's sci-fi monsters. It's clearly a guy in a rubber suit which works perfectly for this film. There's also a small nod to Alien that you'll catch in the creature's design. I'm sure it was intentional. As a side note, 6' 5" Kevin Peter Hall dons the monster suit. He is monster royalty, having also been the creature in the Predator films as well as Harry and the Hendersons.

This is NOT, I repeat, this is NOT a scary film. But if you're a fan of cult classics such as Airplane [1980] and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes [1978], definitely give this one a try.

RATING: Very Good.

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

Crucible of Terror (1971)

Please. Make. It. Stop. There's nothing worse than a horror film that tries to talk itself to death. Based on the opening scene, I had high hopes for this movie. It begins in an artist's studio and he's prepping a young woman's body for God knows what. I won't ruin the surprise but it's a really powerful scene. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie never lives up to this dramatic set-up.

Crucible of Terror was directed and co-written by Ted Hooker, who had a very brief career in British film. The plot is hardly original and owes a great deal to the classic House of Wax (1953) along with the kill scenes of Dario Argento, although they are not executed as masterfully as Argento. It also has a bit of a Hammer Horror feel to it but never lives up to that homage either.

There are two major problems with Crucible. The first is that it's WAY too dialogue heavy. A grizzly murder occurs every once in a while to perk the audience up. But most of it is just words that don't really lead anywhere. I didn't develop an affinity for any of the characters, so when they met their demise I was just glad they stopped talking!

The second problem is the ending of the movie which was so nebulous that the surviving characters have to explain what the heck just happened. There is no way the audience could have figured this out by themselves. There were no hints or clues along the way to help the climax make sense. It just comes out of left-field.

So, you can skip this one and, instead, try one of Argento's films which has plenty of shock value and a lot more skillful filmmaking.

Rating: Bad.

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