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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)


Yesterday marked the 91st birthday of Ray Harryhausen- who is famous for being a master in the field of stop motion animation.  He pioneered techniques that allowed models to seemingly interact with live action scenery and people.  His work can be seen in such classics as, "It Came From Beneath the Sea" (1955), "Earth vs The Flying Saucers" (1956), "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), "One Million Years B.C." (1966), and "Clash of the Titans" (1981).  To celebrate this great man, I'll be reviewing, "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" from 1953.

Happy 91st Birthday
Ray Harryhausen!

After a nuclear bomb test in the frigid ice near Baffin Bay, Professor Thomas Nesbitt discovers that they've released a prehistoric beast that follows the currents to New York City.  Soon, Nesbitt and his friend, Colonel Jack Evans are in a fight to save the city from the beast's rampage...

"The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" is based upon Ray Bradbury's short story, "The Fog Horn" that tells the tale of a see monster that is attracted to the sound of a fog horn- thinking it was another beast.  Upon discovering that it was just a light house, the beast destroys it.  Producers, Jack Dietz and Hal E. Chester had a screenplay written, then asked Bradbury to have a look.  When he mentioned that he recognized the lighthouse scene from his story in the screenplay, Dietz and Chester arranged to buy the rights to "The Fog Horn", and credited Bradbury as being the basis of the screenplay.

This movie cost $210,000.00 to make- and made over $5 million, and would spawn an entire genre of monster movies.  Movies like, "THEM!" (1954), "Godzilla" (1954), "Behemoth, The Sea Monster"(1959), and many others would quickly follow, and remain a beloved part of the horror movie industry up to the present time.

I have a real soft spot for this movie.  I saw this film as a kid, and instantly fell in love with monster movies and dinosaurs.  Because of "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms," I think I was one of the few ten year olds that not only knew what Paleontology was, but how to spell it.  In fact, as a kid, I wanted to become a Paleontologist. Watching this film, I couldn't help smile and remember the influence it had on me.

This film may not have great acting, the performances by a few of them are still enjoyable.  Cecil Kellaway as Dr. Thurgood Elson was great.  I couldn't help get caught up in his calm enthusiasm.  His character's death was noble and appropriate as he put himself at risk for the sake of knowledge.  Paul Hubschmid (as Nesbitt), and Paula Ramond (as Dr. Lee Hunter) worked well together in their scenes, I felt.  Their best scene is when looking through drawings of dinosaurs in an attempt to identify the beast he accidentally released from the Arctic ice.  There is some good chemistry in this scene.

Of course, even though the above actors got star billing, the REAL star of the movie is Ray Harryhausen's, beast.  For the time it came out, "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" was quite innovative for how it was able to blend the animation of the beast, with the footage of actors and scenery.  There are some scenes where, even though the monsters movements are a little "twitchy", you can hardly tell that it was matted into the shot- especially in the scenes where it's coming from behind a building.  The beast itself looked pretty good, even if it had more of a modern lizard appearance to it.

The music was composed by David Buttolph, and set the standard and tone for the giant monster movies during the 1950's.

Not only did I enjoy watching this film as a kid, I still enjoyed watching it as an adult... and would probably enjoy watching it again with my own kids one day.  And for that reason, I'm putting "The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms" into "The Good".

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Howling New Web Series?


I have maintained over the past year or so, that the entertainment industry is slowly becoming stagnant- especially with it's growing reliance on remaking older films, rebooting franchises, adapting originally successful TV shows into not-so-successful movies (we're looking at you Duke Boys), and movies jumping onto the 3D band wagon.  I am always pleased when I see, or hear about people and projects that hope to inject some innovation and originality into the industry- especially in the horror genre.

One of those recent innovations has been the growth of the web series.  You'll find many of them on YouTube by non-professionals- "Is It a Good Idea to Microwave This?" being one of them.  Of course, you'll find others with a more professional approach as well.  One of the most successful so far is the web series, "The Guild", which is a humorous look at online gaming... and those addicted to them.

Because of this, I was intrigued when I saw a small post on the forums of Horror-Movies.ca, about a group of people trying to gather money to finance a horror/comedy web series.  The name of the production group is, Full Moon Films, and the name of the series is, "Unemployed Wolfman".

Jared is an actor who was highly sought after for roles as the wolfman in werewolf movies- mainly because he was an honest, live wolfman.  Due to reckless spending, and an ever increasing ego, Jared finds himself broke, unemployed, and left with only four people in his life:  his agent, The Mummy, Dracula, and Frankenstein's Monster.  It's now up to Jared to pick up the pieces and forge a new life for himself in a world that is more impressed with CGI than his hairy arms and face...


Full Moon Films was recently formed by John Rodriguez, and "the brothers Gomez", Fernando and Gilberto after having worked together on small projects over a period of three years while attending film school.  Fernando and John started working together while attending the same school and classes... eventually bringing Gilberto in for projects while he attended another school.  According to John, "You get three distinct views collaborating to bring something interesting to the table."

I asked John what sort of influences went into the creation of "Unemployed Wolfman," he said that the "fish out of water story," an soft spot for underdogs, and a Halloween costume he designed helped to create the germ of an idea for the series.

"... But I wanted mine to have something extra.  So, why not add a new layer to the crazy world we live in where movie monsters really exist, but aren't exactly as they're portrayed on television and movies."

Personally, I like the idea and it's potential for humour, character, and even an examination of the entertainment industry, the actors in it and their changing role due to technology.  This series has the possibility to bring something new to the otherwise stagnant pool we call "entertainment".  John sent me a sample of the concept art for Jared, and the look of his face/head looks good.  I'll be really interested in seeing what the finalized make-up looks like, as well as clips as this project develops.

Right now, the three are raising funds to help finance this project, and produce the first season of episode- there'll ten episodes of about ten minutes each for it.  To assist them in this, they do have a website set up for promoting the fund raising on IndieGoGo- check it out and donate!  They also have a page on Facebook, so you can visit them there as well.  And like most people, John has a Twitter account, so add him and keep up to date on the latest news regarding "Unemployed Wolfman"

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Scare It Forward!" Chapters 1 to 3


On the 20th of May, 2011, the second annual "Scare It Forward Project!" began with the posting on William Castle's blog of the first Chapter.  To date, there are a total of three chapters- each written by a different writer!

The story so far:
Summer- a time for sunshine, bathing suits, swimming in the river... and death.  Grant and four of his friends are enjoying the summer sun by spending the night along the banks of a river.  After Grant sees what he thinks is a dead body, evil begins to stalk the teens one by one...
 The authors this week are:
  • Brian Lane
  • Dan Dillard and
  • Alan Berger
 The ghost of William Castle, on his Facebook page relates that on May 27, 1977, he met with Alan Berger, and Kathy Gori to discuss the script for a proposed movie called, "Animus".  Unfortunately, Mr. Castle passed away four days after that meeting.  Thanks to the wonders of technology however, they were able to meet again via Facebook, with both offering to write for the "Scare It Forward!" project.  Chapter Three was written by Alan Berger, while Chapter Four will be written by Kathy Gorsi.  Also, according the ghost, the trio are once again working on the script for "Animus".

I highly recommend visiting William Castle's blog to check out this years, "Scare It Forward!"- as well as last years.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Thing From Another World (1951)


1951 brought the world- and horror fans, one of the greatest sci-fi/horror classics of all time, even influencing one of the greatest horror film makers of all time.  I'm talking about, "The Thing From Another World"...

After an unidentified flying object crash lands near an Arctic research centre, the military and scientists recover what may very well be the body of an extraterrestrial.  Soon, however, the small group is besieged by an almost unstoppable alien... and alien that needs their blood...

"The Thing From Another World" is actually based on John W. Campbell, Jr's short novel, "Who Goes There?", and took advantage of the American public's distrust of science after the horrors of the A-bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  It sets the stage for future movies featuring the conflict between scientists and the military- though later films would depict the military as being the sinister party.

When it was released, it actually made more money than other classics such as, "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and "When Worlds Collide".  It also came to influence young John Carpenter- who would slip several scenes from the movie into his first feature film, "Halloween".  Later, he would do his own remake, titled simply, "The Thing".  Carpenter would add the element of shape-shifting to the story, which was actually part of the original novella.  One of the most obvious homages to the original, was the inclusion of the opening, "burning title" sequence.  October 2011 will see the release of a prequel to this version, bearing the same title.

As far as I'm concerned, this movie rightfully deserves to be called a classic.  The movie is about an hour and a half long- but you don't notice the time passing.  The editing, camera work, dialog, and action sequences make for a smooth, quick paced, and even exciting ride.

The acting is great for the time.  Each of the characters are unique, interesting, human and consistant in their personalities.  The humour is witty and fun, and even subtle at times, without being ridiculous.  It felt as if the characters (and actors) had known each other for a long time.  Margaret Sheridan was both beautiful and confident as Nikki, and her scenes with Captain Patrick Hendry (played by Kenneth Tobey) were witty and enjoyable. Tobey did a great job as the Captain.  His take action manner contrasted nicely with Robert Cornthwaite's character, Dr. Arthur Carrington.  Douglas Spencer as the reporter, "Scotty" was both humorous and likeable as well.  I even enjoyed the performances by the supporting cast in their roles.

For a movie of that time, the make-up for "The Thing" was actually pretty well done, if not stupendous.  James Arness, you played "The Thing" later went on to become famous with the TV series, "Gunsmoke".  The prosthetics looked seamless, and plausible, though would be seen as primitive and simplistic when placed next to what is created these days.  Despite that, I was pleased and impressed.  The other visual effects were equally good- especially the scene of "The Thing" on fire, and the climatic confrontation scene.

The camera work showed a lot of thought and made good use of the cleverly designed sets.  Using mostly tight corridors and small rooms, you got the impression of being trapped.  Shadows were used to great effect in a few scenes- the most memorable being at the beginning of the burning Thing scene.  Quick cuts and smooth scene transitions helped the story flow and kept the pace moving.  This film is a great example of visual story telling.

Given all of these things, "The Thing From Another World" sits proudly in my collection as a classic, and at the top of "The Good".

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bluebeard (1944)


I'm always interested in watching movies based on folktales and books... which is why "Bluebeard" caught my eye...

During a rash of killings in 19th century Paris, puppeteer Gaston Morrell, and dress maker Modiste Lucille begin a romantic relationship.  Soon dark secrets and death begin to swirl around the couple until death hits their immediate circle of friends and family...

We all know the story of "Bluebeard" from our childhoods, right?  A man by the name of Bluebeard (in many versions of the story it's because he literally has a blue beard), has a violent reputation- and is suspected of killing many of his wives... though no bodies could ever be found.  Bluebeard marries again, and shortly afterwards tells his wife that he must leave on business.  He gives her the keys to all the rooms of the castle- and tells her that she is forbidden to enter a specific room.  After she promises to stay out of that room, Bluebeard leaves.  Soon, however, curiosity gets the better of her, and she goes to the room and opens the door.  Inside, she finds the bodies of Bluebeard's previous wives... and Bluebeard standing behind her with his sword.

This movie- starring John Carradine (David Carradine's father) in the role of Morrell is one I would classify as a cult classic.

"Bluebeard" displays excellent camera work- there are some fantastic angles used as well as close-ups that created an almost disjointed, dream-like effect.  The close-ups during the puppet show at the beginning are quite effective at this.  There is also very good use of shadows to create atmosphere, and tension in the air.  Coupled with the music, the mood of the movie was well executed.

The sets looked great too, ranging from well furnished at the studio of Morrell's art dealer, to sparse and simplistic in Morrell's own dwelling- adding extra depth to the characters involved.

All of the main cast perform wonderfully too.  John Carradine bring both pathos, charm, and menace to the character of Gaston Morrell.  You come to feel for him as he not only has to deal with the greedy demands of his art dealer, but with the deaths that are happening, and his growing love for Modiste Lucille.  He also gives an excellent example of what I call, "crazy eyes".



Jean Parker, as Modiste Lucille was both beautiful and witty in her role.  You also come to like her as the movie progresses, even though her character really doesn't get developed all that much throughout the course of events.  The character at times, verges on the edge of being almost three dimensional, but the depth just doesn't complete its appearance.

Nils Asther as Inspector Lefevre, and Ludwig Stossel- as Jean Lamarte (the art dealer) were great in their supporting roles, and I kinda wished to see them DO more.  Asther does have a great scene at an inquest questioning models that may know who Bluebeard is.  This scene shows the character's charm and wit- and certainly made me chuckle.  I liked the deviousness that Stossel brought to his character, as I really wanted to see him get his just deserts for his greed.

I also want to mention Emmett Lynn as a character simple credited as, "Le Soldat"- a old retired soilder that Morrell hires once in a while to sing during his puppet operas.  He gives a nice, humorous, but still gentle performance.  Even though he only had three scenes or so, I was really quite fond of the character.

"Bluebeard" adapts the original story I described near the start quite well, and flows smoothly to its climax.  The tension is balanced nicely with small doses of humour.  There is even an action sequence near the end that, in my opinion very well done.  The whole movie has a literary feel to it that reminds me of some of the silent films from the 1920's, which added a welcome element to my enjoyment of this movie.

I would definately say that "Bluebeard" is one of the better horror films from the 1940's, and deserves to be considered the classic it is- and earns a spot in "The Good".

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

Over the course of the past few weeks of watching various horror films from the 1930's and 1940's, I have come to appreciate the films of Bela Lugosi.  I have also come to appreciate the fact that he's often the best part of the film.

Brides have been dying at the altar... only to have their bodies stolen shortly afterwards.  Patricia Hunter- the society columnist for a small newspaper believes that a rare orchid worn by the victims can lead her to the killer.  The orchids lead her to Dr. Lorenz and his beautiful, but spiteful wife.  Soon Hunter and the local physician, Dr. Foster find themselves nearing the dark and deadly secret of the Lorenz household...

This may not be one of Bela Lugosi's better films... but it's still enjoyable to watch simple because of him.

Luana Walters wasn't bad as the society columnist.  She was witty, confident with a bit of sass, and beautiful.  But all that was kinda ruined by her ultimately winding up as the sexist "damsel in distress".  I liked the character, and was unfortunately disappointed by her having to be rescued pretty much by a less developed character.

I felt that Dr. Foster, played by Tristim Coffin (love the last name), was rather dull.  I'm sure he was trying to be intellegent and professional... but he came of ass being bland.  I might've liked him more if he was developed a bit more.  As it was, I got the impression he was simply there to rescue the female lead at the end.

Of the three servants to Dr. Lorenz, I have to say the best of the lot was the dwarf actor Angelo Rossitto.  His character Toby was interesting, and a little more developed than the others- probably because he was portrayed as having somewhat more intellegence than the other two.  Minerva Urecal- who plays the mother, was really wooden, and emotionaless when saying her lines.  The only scene where she shows any real "life" is near the end in the climatic scenes.  One character that did tug at my heart a bit (and yet repulsed me at the same time) was Angel, played by Frank Moran.  He had few lines- mostly grunts, and was creepy... but you felt sorry for the brutish figure at the same time.  Good performance, but unforunately, it wasn't enough to elevate the character above a plot device.  Together, this group of characters actually made me curious about their history and back story.

As the rather spiteful, vain, and autocratic Countess Lorenz, Elizabeth Russell wasn't bad- not great, but not bad.  Based rather loosely on the historical figure of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (who was reputed to bathe in the blood of virgins to stay young), you could see her character as being the sort who would do evil things to get what she needed.  Her best scene in my opinion is when she appears in Patricia's room, compliments her "nice, soft skin".  Even as a man, I'd be un-nerved if that happened to me.

Ultimately, though- the show belongs to Bela Lugosi as Dr. Lorenz.  Graceful, charming, menacing.  These describe his acting in "The Corpse Vanishes".  While this movie certainly isn't his greatest film (it earned a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode in their first season), he still gives a great performance.

The camera work wasn't bad either- a couple of decent tracking shots, and some excellent framing shots too.  The plot was actually interesting as well, and offered an opportunity for more depth of character and story.  I was a little disappointed by the lack of depth and exploration of the character's, though.

While, I would definately recommend "The Corpse Vanishes" to fans of Bela Lugosi's films, due to some lackluster performances, lack of depth to the characters in general, and the ultimate "damsel in distress" treatment of the lead actress, I'm going to have to place this still enjoyable film in "The Bad".

Sunday, June 19, 2011

William Castle Presents: "Scare It Forward!" (2011)


 In 2010, my friend, Jay- from Film Reviews in the Basement, took part in a special story telling project hosted by the ghost of William Castle.  Every four days,a new chapter of the story (titled "Angel Island") would be published on William Castle's blog.  Each chapter would be written by a different person.  A total of 31 chapters were written.

Well, this year, William Castle is once again proud to present "Scare It Forward!"  This year, there was such an overwhelming response to his request for writers, that the project is starting early- June 20th, and continuing until Oct 31st.

Due to the number of writers volunteering for this project, the ghost of William Castle has divided the writers into three stories of about 13 writers each.  Just like last year, a new chapter will be posted on the William Castle blog every four days.

Not only is this a fun project, but I'll be taking part in it this year as well!  I will be writing Chapter 9 of the third story... with my part of the story appearing on the blog on Oct 20th.

There'll be updates here, on "The Corner of Terror", William Castle's Facebook page, and his blog.

Also, feel free to check out last year's, "Scare It Forward!" story: "Angel Island"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

King of the Zombies (1941)


This is one of those films that I reviewed on Facebook a couple of years ago- and gave it a harsher review than it deserved on first viewing.  For it's flaws, this early zombie film isn't all THAT bad.

While searching for a missing Admiral during World War II, Bill Summers, his pilot, and his valet are caught in a storm and are low on fuel.  Their only chance of survival is to follow a weak radio signal and crash land on a s small island in the Caribbean.  What they will discover there is beyond their belief as they confront, the King of the Zombies...

 Originally, Monogram Pictures tried to get Bela Lugosi to  star in this movie as Dr. Miklos Sangre (sangre is Spanish for "blood" just so you know), but he was unable.  Since they weren't able to get Peter Lorre as their second choice, the role went to Henry Victor- who signed just before filming began.  "King of the Zombies" was released just before the US entered World War II on the side of the Allies, and you get the pretty clear idea that the enemy behind the plot are the Nazis.  Some of the clues given are Dr. Sangre's Austrian origins, German being spoken, and spy references.  Even though neither German, or Nazi are mentioned outright, the press kit for the film does list Dr. Sangre as a "secret agent for a European government."

When advertizing the film, exhibitors were told to compare it to Paramount's "The Ghost Breakers" (1940)- a runaway Bob Hope comedy/horror from the previous year.

I think part of the reason I was hard on this comedy/horror when I reviewed it on Facebook was because of its unfortunately racial stereotyping of the black valet: easily frightened, less than intellegent, and jive talking.  The irony is the fact that while they're using a negative racial stereotype themselves, they highlight the villain's own bigotry to make him more distasteful to the audience.  I found the dichotomy of the racism to be a little distasteful as a whole when I first viewed it.

On second viewing however, I noticed something I hadn't the first time: it was the racially stereotyped black valet, and the racially stereotyped black kitchen maid that got all the really good lines.  One classic line occurs when Mantan Moreland (as Jeff, the valet) explains to the white characters what a zombie is: "A fugitive from the undertakers".  Another example is during the scene when Jeff is hitting on Samantha, the black maid (played wonderfully by the lovely Marguerite Whitten), and she reveals that she sees her ex once in awhile... but only because he's a zombie.

Compared to Moreland and Whitten, the main white characters are dull, boring and lack depth.  Maybe this time, the racial stereotyping backfired.

Once I got over the racially oriented irony, I actually enjoyed this film more- especially the humour.  Mantan Moreland was fantastic as Jefferson "Jeff" Jackson.  Even though his character was a stereotype, he brought humour, wit, and charm to the role.  Unlike William Best's role in "The Monster Walks" (1932), Moreland's character was a more integral part of the storyline, and much more interesting than those played by the white actors.  Marguerite Whitten as Samantha was also a joy to watch, despite the racial stereotype... and I won't lie- she was nice to look at too.  Her character was confident, witty, and charming.  The teaming of her and Mantan was perfect.  The two played off each other wonderfully, and gave me several chuckles throughout the film.

I also enjoyed the role of the black butler, Momba- played by Leigh Whipper.  He didn't have a lot of screen time, but he did bring a couple of smiles to my face with his characters apparently ability to just appear in a room after having just been left in another.  The cook and voodoo high priestess- played by Madame Sul-Te Wan was also a small, but still enjoyable character too.

Now, if I could only feel so positive about the characters played by the white actors.  I found Dick Purcell's James "Mac" McCarthy, and John Archer's Bill Summers to be rather dull, boring, lackluster, and essentially blah- especially Archer.  At least Purcell tried to bring some life and energy to his role as the pilot, "Mac".  I know they were supposed to be the straight men to Moreland's comedic Jeff, but a straight man tend to be funny because of his reactions to the comic.  In this case, I found them rather lacking in humour.  I just couldn't get interested in their characters.

The same can be said about Barbara Winslow (played by Joan Woodbury).  She was beautiful, yes... but her character lacked depth, and really didn't seem to serve much purpose- other than to be the damsel in distress.

Henry Victor did bring some decent acting to his role as Dr. Miklos Sangre though.  He gave his character just the right amount of charm, arrogance, mystery and menace that I was interested in what he was up to.

Finally, we come to the acting skills of the zombies.  As with the 1932 classic, "White Zombie", this film also uses voodoo zombies... and the same style of "acting" for them:  stiff back, wide open eyes, staring straight forward.  I would've peferred some shambling, but I have to admit that this style of zombie attitude made the scene of them marching into the kitchen in ranks with Jeff in the lead a bit more humourous.

I was impressed with the music in this movie, it was subtle, but good.  "King of the Zombies" was actually nominated for the Best Music Score of a Dramatic Picture Academy Award when it was released.  I'd love to find the list of the song titles, and see if I could find them for download.

As with many film from this era, the camera work was simple- but still interesting and very effective in telling the story.  I was quite pleased with the way shadows were used to dress up the background of some of the more spartan sets.  The jungle scenes especially were well shot, and looked great.

In the finaly analysis, while the racial stereotype played by the black actors may turn some people off, once you realize that those actors are the BEST part of the movie, you come to simply enjoy their performance.  As great as they are, however, this film won't be able to rise above being placed in "The Bad"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Devil Bat (1940)


I reviewed this movie a couple of years ago on Facebook, and gave it a two star (out of five) rating.  Revisiting this film again for this review, I feel I was a little harsh- and found more to enjoy about it.
 
The members of the wealthy Heath and Morton families are being killed.  The only clues are bite and claw marks... and a strange scent.  Henry Laden- a reporter, and his photographer "One Shot" McGuire must figure this case out before "The Devil Bat" claims another victim...

"The Devil Bat" is a horror/comedy produced by Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC)- which was considered to be part of the "poverty row studios" of the time.  PRC was well known for quickly filmed movies that cost little, and had plenty of humour.  This movie was actually their first venture into the horror genre.

Even though it's classified as a horror/comedy, the comedy isn't as overwhelming as in others- such as the rather disappointing, "The Gorilla" (1939)- which also featured Bela Lugosi.  It's also limited to just a couple of characters, and is sprinkled lightly through the film... rather than being a constant, in your face factor.  Dave O'Brien is great as Donald Kerr's straight man, and I quite enjoyed their back and forth banter.  Unlike The Ritz Brothers in the aforementioned "The Gorilla", these two are charming and likeable characters.

The other actors had pretty small roles, but still worth mentioning a few things about their acting.  Suzanne Kaaren as Mary Heath was beautiful- but I found it hard to like her.  Maybe it was the fact that her character had a touch of superiority that turned me off.  I felt the same dislike for Alan Baldwin's character, Tommy Heath.  In fact, I was glad when his character was killed.  I will say that I enjoyed Arthur Q. Bryan's humorous performance as the grouchy newspaper editor Joe McGinty.  His scenes with both O'Brien and Kerr made me smile and even chuckle.

Along with the comedic pairing of O'Brien and Kerr, Bela Lugosi was a joy to watch.  He exudes anger and menace beautifully as the vengeful Dr. Paul Carruthers.  And even though he's dedicated to getting revenge, you can still hear regret in his voice as he bids his victims, "Good-bye".  All around, an excellent performance by one of the masters of horror.

I mentioned in my review of 'The Vampire Bat" (1933), that I don't like bats.  That, in fact, I have a hard time watching them in movies, etc.  I couldn't help but shudder a bit when close-up shots of a real bat were shown mixed in with wider shots of the large, fake bat.  Beyond the close-ups, I didn't have a problem with the bat in this movie- possibly because I could tell that it was pretty much made of rubber and fur.  In fact, the Devil Bat itself is kinda silly as it flies across the screen... and hovers at a window.  Mind you, fans of b-movie monsters will probably get a kick out of it (I know I did).

There is some decent- if simple, camera work in this film.  Basically stationary camera shots, with maybe a couple of tracking shots.  Regardless of its simplicity, the angles and framing is very effective at moving the story along.  Similar to how "The Ape" (1940) used super-imposed  action images to announce the arrival of a circus in town, "The Devil Bat" effectively uses the same technique for when it displays newspaper headlines about the killings.

One thing I liked was the use of a voice over to express the thoughts of Dr. Carruthers.  It broke up the general practice of either displaying a journal page, or the character talking to himself.  It was definately a nice touch in my opinion.

Fans of Bela Lugosi will enjoy this film- as I did.  I'm going to give this firm place near the top of "The Bad".

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Ape (1940)

I recently finished an excursion through the horror films of the 1930's.  I ended that trip with a deplorable comedy/horror movie called, "The Gorilla".  When I saw that the first movie on my list for the 1940's was called, "The Ape," I wasn't exactly enthused.

Suffering from the loss of his own family due to polio, Dr. Adrian is determined to cure a young woman... but to do this, he requires human spinal fluid.  The escape of a circus ape gives him the opportunity to get what he needs... while the towns people blame the ape...

As I said, after my experience watching, "The Gorilla," I wasn't exactly holding out much hope for "The Ape".  The fact that it starred Boris Karloff helped to raise my enthusiasm.

There is some decent camera work in this film that allow for interesting plays of shadow.  The angles aren't exactly innovative, but they're still effective at framing the action.  The opening- announcing the arrival of the circus in town, is well done and eye catching.

It was interesting to see the variety of  acting styles used in this film.  I found Gene O'Donnell in his role as the leading lady's boyfriend, to be a bit stiff and rather stereotypical of how such men from small towns would be portrayed during that time period... almost as if he was a chariacture, rather than a person.  I enjoyed Henry Hall's gruff character, Sheriff Halliday.  He managed to combine humour and toughness quite well in my opinion.  There are even a couple of third tier characters that put in pretty good performances too.  Maris Wrixon, as the young paralyzed woman Dr. Adrian is trying to cure did an admirable job, though she didn't get to do a lot.

Boris Karloff, though, turns in the most complex and interesting performance of the movie.  He looked the way you'd expect a small town doctor might look.  Karloff showed us a man torn between doing what he felt needed to be done, and knowing that it was wrong.  He created a character pushed by what he saw as necessity into doing criminal acts, and mixed it with pathos and warmth.  You actually come to LIKE Dr. Adrian, despite the fact that he's committing horrible acts in his obsessed quest.

The story itself, while lacking depth, was enough of a spring board for Boris Karloff to display his wonderful skills as an actor.  If the movie had been the length of most modern movies, I'm sure they could've fleshed out a lot of the more "horror related" scenes- such as the kills.

My only complaints really are the rather truncated attack scenes, and the general look of the ape costume.

I may not recommend this to the average, casual horror watcher, but I would definately recommend it to fans of Boris Karloff movies.  I'm giving "The Ape" a spot in "The Bad".

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Joy of Box Sets


I enjoy my horror movies, and strive to find as many as I can.  In the process, I have found that as cool as it is to collect the "Special Director's Cut Holographic Foil Cover Necronomicon Edition" of a movie, it's more economical (for me at least) to simply buy box sets.  Of course, there are other advantages... as well as disadvantages to buying box sets.

The obvious advantage is  the financial one that spurred me into collecting them.  I have one box set that has fifty horror movies (pretty much all of them black and white ones from the 1920 up to the 1950's).  It only cost me $20.00.  When you do that math, that's $2.50 per movie.  When you compare that to the price of most single movie DVD's- $9.00 to $24.00, and you can see the financial value of purchasing box sets.  A definate point in favor of them.

Another advantage is the variety of box sets.  Are you a fan of a franchise such as, "The Omen"?  Well, you can probably find a box set that has all the movies in it.  I have one with all "The Omen" movies- including the 2006 remake.  Like vampire movies?  There's a box set.  Need to add some serial killer movies to collection?  Got a box set for that as well.  There is a box set for pretty much every franchise or category of horror film to be found that will satisfy your horror craving.

The next point could be an advantage- or a disadvantage, depending on how you view it: copies of movies.  Many box sets will include movies that are part of other box sets.  For some this is a waste of DVD space- what good is having more than one copy of a movie in your collection?  Well, for me, having that extra "copy" is nice.  I had one box set where it's copy of "Dementia 13" was unwatchable due to minor damage to the DVD.  Since this is one of my favorite movies, I was- well, annoyed to say the least.  Luckily though, another box set had a viewable copy (in fact, this movie is in three of my box sets).  Because of this, box sets can allow a collector to rest assured that they'll have at least one (hopefully) copy of a movie they'll be able to watch.

Another mixed blessing of box sets are the variety of movies in them.  Many of the films are little known or independent movies, so there is always the chance that you'll find a real gem of a horror movie.  I know I always feel satisfied with a box set purchase when I find a well done movie that few people know about.  Of course, to balance the joy of finding a gem, you'll also find some real lumps of coal in your box set stocking.  I have a few in my box set collection where I can honestly say that I've seen better stuff made by YouTube users.

One disadvantage of box sets (besides those for franchises) is the lack of "Special Features"- which is one of the reasons why horror fans will buy the "Special Director's Cut Holographic Foil Cover Necronomicon Edition" of movies and franchise box sets.  It's always interesting to see the trailers, deleted scenes, and featurettes.  Having said this, I do, however, have ONE general horror movie box set that DOES have special features on it for the movies: "Horror Movie Classics (Collector's Edition)" by Madacy Home Video.  They included:
  • Movie Trivia for each movie;
  • Biographies of cast and crews;
  • Blooper reels;
  • News reels; and
  • Movie poster gallery.
This box set also included a bonus CD with various horror movie themes and sound effects.

The only other disadvantage is finding time to watch all the movies.  Even though I watch about three horror movies a week so I can review them for the site, I STILL a have two or three box sets (with 25 to 50 movies apiece) to work through.  Add to that the fact that as soon as I see a new box set, I more or less buy it, you can see how it could prove disadvantageous to a horror fan's life.

However, looking back on this article, I would have to come to the conclusion that buying box sets definately has advantages over buy single DVD's that outweigh any disadvantages.  Given that, I think I'll continue to buy my box sets... and find joy in their contents...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Gorilla (1939)

Horror and comedy often go together- sometimes successfully... and sometimes not so much.

During a rash of killings by someone calling themselves, "The Gorilla," Walter Stevens receives a death threat from the killer.  For protection, he hires a group of three bumbling detectives to protect himself.  Secret passage ways, an escaped gorilla, and a strange butler soon complicate the case... and put their client at risk...

Not only am I a fan of older horror films, but I'm also a fan of old comedies.  Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers,  and Abbot and Costello especially.  This film is the first time I'd heard of The Ritz Brothers (who play the three bumbling detectives), and I was hoping for the same type of charm and lightness of humour that I enjoyed from the other groups.

Unfortunately, even though I smiled once or twice at their antics, I didn't really laugh, or feel entertained by them.  Instead, I just felt like I'd seen the same sort of pratfalls, facial expressions, and  running around that the others had done... except the others did it better.  This could be due to the fact that all three of their characters were pretty much the same.  Don't get me wrong- there are some decent lines from them in the movie, but just not enough to leave me feeling good at the end of the film.

There are some good lines delivered by Patsy Kelly (playing the maid, Kitty), but overall, her voice winds up grating on you by the end of the movie. Lionel Atwill was enjoyable to watch as Walter Stevens- though his role was actually somewhat limited, which was a shame in my opinion.

And of course, there's Bela Lugosi as the butler.  As usual, he turns in a great performance- but, like Atwill, his role is limited and he's essentially there to add a big name to the cast.  I really loved his straight faced delivery of his lines though- those I actually chuckled at.  If you really want to see him put out a good comedic turn- watch the 1944 mystery/comedy movie, "One Body Too Many", where he gives a brilliant performance again as the butler.  Originally, Lugosi wasn't signed up for "The Gorilla".  His role was originally meant to be played by Peter Lorre.

Even though "The Gorilla" is categorized as a comedy/horror,  the horror elements are few and scattered.  The storyline itself is a jumble, and pretty much a thin excuse for one piece of disconnected silliness after another.

I will say though, that I did enjoy the musical scoring- which is actually something I seldom pay any attention too.

In the final analysis, I have to rate, "The Gorilla" as one of "The Ugly"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Maniac (1934)


There are some movies from the past that when compared to movies made today, could be classified as a truly bad movie.  1934's "Maniac", directed by Dwain Esper, would certainly fall into that category. Having said that, however, when viewed as part of the evolution of the horror genre within cinema, this film could be considered a "classic".  The same can also be said of this film when viewed simply for amusement and a chuckle or two.

Don Maxwell- a vaudeville impersonator hiding from the police, becomes involved with Dr. Meirschultz and his plans to bring the dead back to life.  A gun shot and circumstances conspire to drag Maxwell into madness as those around him close in on the truth...

Dr. Meirschultz is portrayed by Horace B. Carpenter, who was a silent film producer/director/actor during the silent film era.  Once talking movies took over, he portrayed white haired characters in westerns.  Marian Blackton is often mistakenly reported as playing the "cat farmer" by wearing male drag, when in fact she played the female neighbour questioned by police.

"Maniac" is not a film to be taken seriously- but is enjoyable none the less.

This film was made during the relatively early transition from silent to taking movies- and shows elements of both.  The acting is exaggerated and theatrically large movements- which is characteristic of silent films... though it could also simply be indicative of bad acting  Another element of the silent film era used is title cards adding exposition about mental illness.  It has been claimed, however, that the title cards were to add an "educational" angle to the film... in case there were complaints about the more exploitative segments.

Personally, I found the acting charming, if silly.  I really liked the contrast between Bill Wood's rather ludicrous portrayal of Don Maxwell, and that of the rest of the cast.  I also quite enjoyed Ted Edwards' role as Buckley.  They are both good for a laugh, and Bill Wood's gives an excellent demonstration of  "crazy eyes" .  Another fun character was the "cat farmer"- his scene with the police detective is definately one that brought a smile to my lips.

There is also some decent camera work in this film, showing some innovation away from the standard locked in one position style of silent films.  The superimposing of scenes from the Swedish film, "Witchcraft" (1920), "Through the Ages" (1922), and Fritz Lang's "Siegfried" (1923) illustrating Maxwell's descent into madness were good- especially the images of the large hands grasping at his head.

The story, however is rather simplistic and just barely serves to hold things together.  It is more of an excuse to show scenes that- for the time period, would've been considered shocking.  "Maniac" is acknowledged as one of the earliest exploitation films with it's use of gratuitous scenes of women fighting, hints of necrophilia, cat eyeball eating (an actually convincingly done scene), and female flesh.  One scene even shows four women lounging around in their frillies!  Scandalous!

If you're a casual viewer of horror films, this film probably wouldn't interest you.  If you're a student of horror film evolution, and want to see where the more exploitative elements of modern horror movies started- this film is definately worth a see... and worth a chuckle.

It's a bad film, but still enjoyable for what it is, so I'm going to give this a spot in "The Bad".

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Vampire Bat


I'm not afraid to admit that bats scare the hell out of me.  I have a hard time even watching them on TV or in a movie.  And when a movie is called, "The Vampire Bat", you can expect me to be ready to squirm a bit when they show the bats...

The small village of Kleinschloss is being plagued by a rash of killings- killings where the victims have been drained of their blood.  Unable to find clues of a human killer, the authorities are forced to contemplate the supernatural...

"The Vampire Bat" was produced by Majestic Pictures, Inc. as a way for them to cash in on the publicity of Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill appearing in Warner Bros' films "Doctor X" (1932), and "Mystery of the Wax Museum" (1933).  As soon as Wray and Atwill finished filming, "Mystery of the Wax Museum", Majestic Pictures hired them for their own film.

To help their rather low budget film look like that of an "A-List" studio, Majestic Pictures leased sets from Universal pictures- such as the German Village set from "Frankenstein" (1931), and interiors from "The Old Dark House" (1932).  Dwight Frye was also hired to "populate" various scenes with Wray and Atwill.

This is a slightly silly film- but one that is still quite enjoyable.

The acting, in regards to the villagers (especially Kreiger) was over-the-top, but fun to watch.  Dwight Frye as the quirky, bat-loving Herman was wonderful- and you can get a sense of what he brought to 1931's "Frankenstein" as the Dr.'s assistant, Fritz.  Lionel Atwill was well cast as Dr. von Niemann- bringing an air of sophistication and charm to the role.  Fay Wray, was both beautiful and talented as his assistant, while Melvyn Douglas was dashing as Karl- the police inspector.  I also enjoyed Maude Eburne's humorous turn as Aunt Gertie.

The camera work wasn't complex, but had enough interesting angles as well as effective use of shadows in some scenes to be effective.  The best shot involves a dark figure entering Karl's window as he sleeps.  The background portion of this shot is beautiful.  Even the shot of the bats was well done... though thankfully for me, it was brief.

I have to admit though, that the story itself was a little thin- but it still managed to serve its purpose.  They left some aspects of the story hanging without an explanation, which detracts a bit from the logic and flow of the movie overall.

While this isn't what I would consider a "classic," it is a movie that I would willingly pop into the machine during a horror film night with friends, popcorn and beer... even if it's just have have a laugh and a good chuckle.  This film sits in "The Bad"... but in a good way.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

White Zombie


Bela Lugosi followed up his classic 1931 portrayal of Count Dracula with the first feature length zombie movie in 1932.  This film was actually inspired by Kenneth Webb's Broadway play, "Zombie", and was filmed in a span of eleven days.

Madeleine and Neil have been invited to be married at Charles Beaumont's plantation in Haiti, despite only having just recently met him.  Neil soon discovers that things aren't what they seem when Madeleine dies shortly after the wedding... only to be raised again as a zombie...

Many of the cast members were silent film stars whose fame started to die out with the advent of talking films.  Joseph Cawthorn, who played Dr. Brunner was mostly known at the time for his comic relief roles prior to "White Zombie".  Madge Bellamy, the lovely actress that portrays Madeleine used to recall that working with Bela Lugosi was pleasant, and that he  would often kiss her hand in the mornings on set, while others- such as the Assistant Cameraman Enzo Martinelli claimed that he "wasn't really a friendly type".

While most of the sets were re-used from previous movies, they were wonderfully redressed, and looked great in this film.  Some of the sets you'll see from other famous films included:
  • The great hall seen in "Dracula" (1931);
  • The pillars and the hanging balcony from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923);
  • The dark, gloomy corridors from "Frankenstein" (1931); and
  • The chairs from "The Cat and the Canary" (1927)
I absolutely loved the look of the film.  They used shadows to good effect in many scenes, and even had some creative camera shots as well.  One shot in particular, I thought was beautiful.  It's the shot of Madeleine coming down the stairs of the great hall, while the camera is pointing through one of the clover leafed holes in the banister.  Kudos especially to Bela Lugosi's costume early on in the film, before he switches over the a more traditional tuxedo.

And his make-up!  Jack Pierce, who did Lugosi's make-up is also famous for his work on "Frankenstein", "The Wolf Man" (1941), and "The Mummy" (1931) as well.  His thin mustache, and the double tufted beard looked sinister and marvelous on Lugosi.  The only problem I had was the eyebrows... they were a little distracting.

One complaint cast against this film over the years is the quality of the acting.  I won't lie, it's not the greatest acting in the world, but fans will be pleased with Lugosi's acting.  One needs to remember that most of the stars were used to silent films, and based their style on that.  This is really evident in Madge Bellamy's performance, as well as John Harron's (he plays Neil).  Robert Frazer (as Charles Beaumont), and Joseph Cawthorn are a bit more natural in their acting.  The show of course, though is stolen by Bela Lugosi's portrayal of "Murder" Legendre- the voodoo master.

I'm not too sure what to say about the portrayal of the voodoo created zombies, since they aren't what we would expect them to be.  I was a little disappointed by the rather stiff movements of the poor zombies.  They looked like they were almost trying to march.  Personally, I would've liked to have seen them shambling along- not so much like the George Romero zombies from "Night of the Living Dead", but more like sleepwalkers in a trance.

The storyline is pretty basic, and told in a simple fashion, but is still interesting enough to give Bela Lugosi material to hand in a great performance.  Honestly, the only real flaw is the acting- which is understandable when you consider that films were still in a bit of a transition from silent to talking films.

"White Zombie" is definately a film for those that are interested in seeing the evolution of the zombie film from voodoo zombies to the dead rising to nom on the living zombies.  If you're a Bela Lugosi fan, you'll truly enjoy his acting in this film as well.  Since this is one of those under-rated films, and I still quite enjoyed it, I'm giving this a spot in "The Bad"...