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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Snowbeast (1977)


The 1970's were well known for their TV movies.  Most of them weren't very good, but there were some decent low budget TV B-movies...

The Rill Lodge is having its annual winter carnival, which is threatened to be cancelled due to an attack on a skier by an unknown beast.  It's up to Tony- the owner's grandson, his friend Gar, and the sheriff to track down and kill it...


Joseph Stefano, who wrote the script for Alfred Hitchcock's movie, "Psycho" wrote the teleplay for this TV movie.  Supposedly, he based it loosely on Roger Patterson's book recording his own experience with Sasquatch in 1967.

For a TV movie, "Snowbeast" really isn't that bad.  Its production values are actually higher than the standard fare most networks commissioned for airing.  The skiing scenes are remarkable, and quite well done- even if they didn't really add a lot to the story's pace.  There is also some decent camerawork in this film too.  Some of the angles used for the snowbeast's point of view shots were impressive and added to the tension and suspense as he watched and approached his prey.  The scenic shots were beautiful too, really setting the location and the stark beauty of the area.  You could probably take some of the stills and blow them up as poster to hang on the wall as art photos.

The acting could've been better.  Bo Svenson wasn't bad as Gar, but I just couldn't see him as someone that could shoot at an animal, let alone a snowbeast.  I could see Tony (played by Robert Logan) as the sort that would shoot the snowbeast with little hesitation, but I found it hard to like him.  For someone trying to keep it a secret that something's been nomming on skiers, he was rather loud when talking about it.  Yvette Mimieux as Gar's wife Ellen brought a quiet grace to the movie in her performance.  I also liked Clint Walker as the sheriff, but he didn't have much in the way of screen time.

The snowbeast itself was a bit of a disappointment when finally seen.  Heck even just seeing it's arm whacking a hapless ski patrolman's head was disappointing.

However, having said that, "Snowbeast" is still fun to watch with friends on a B-movie night.  As much fun as it is to watch and giggle at, I'm going to have to place it solidly in "The Bad"

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Don't Look in the Basement (1973)


Sometimes, I come across a movie that I'm not sure HOW I feel about it.  Part of me enjoys a film, while another part KNOWS that the film is just bad.

Charlotte arrives at the Stephens Sanitarium shortly after Dr. Stephens suffers an accident at the hands of an axe wielding patient.  The assistant director of the facility briefs Charlotte on her duties, and the patients.  Soon, however, Charlotte realizes that her life is in danger... and not just from the patients...

"Don't Look in the Basement" was originally a drive-in movie shown as part of a double bill with Wes Craven's "Last House on the Left"- sharing the tagline:

"To avoid fainting, keep repeating to yourself: 'It's only a movie.. it's only a movie.. it's only a movie..."
This movie is bad.  Really bad.  But fun at the same time... IF you're in the right frame of mind.

The acting is pretty atrocious- but then again, I'd find it hard to make the dialogue sound natural and scarey.  I did find it bad enough to be funny, albeit unintentionally funny.  William McGhee, as Sam, was the best of the lot- though I also thought Rhea MacAdams' turn as Mrs Callingham was pretty good.  The others were just over the top in their performances- almost like stereotypes of insane people.  I'll admit that I also enjoyed Rosie Holotik as Nurse Charlotte Beale- she was somewhat believable as a nurse, and nice to look at as well.  I think alot of it had to do with her eyes... they expressed fear quite well, actually.  Annabelle Weenick, as Dr. Masters was pretty good too, up until the "surprise twist"- then she was a little over the top.

While the acting may have been laughable, the gore was not.  There was some decently done grue in this film, but rather than having it spread evenly throughout the film, it pretty much comes all in one quick rampage at the end.  The two early kills- and their effects were well done as well.

I was surprised by the starkness of the sets.  It's almost barren and minimalist in nature, which I actually liked.  It was like watching a play almost.

The story wasn't bad, and had a lot of potential to it.  The main problem was a lack of focus, I think.  Rather than building suspense by having things happening to Charlotte, the scenes tried to make us uncomfortable by focusing on the patients jabbering and interacting with each other.  It just kinda wandered around for the majority of the movie.

Despite all the serious flaws in "Don't Look in the Basement," I still had fun watching it- even if it probably wasn't the sort of fun the film crew had intended.  Because of that, this movie falls just short of being part of "The Bad".. and sits in "The Ugly"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Vampire's Night Orgy (1973)


Before movies like "Twilight" turned vampires into emo, teen angsty, sparkling pretty boys, the movies showed them as vicious, evil creatures that preyed upon humanity in the dark shadows of the night.  They were fearsome creatures deserving of fear.
Unfortunately, "Twilight" can't be completely blamed for making vampires boring and dull.

A group of unemployed people have been hired to work in a European household.  When their driver dies, they are forced to spend the night in a small town whose mysterious residents turn out to be more than they seem...

The Spanish film, "The Vampire's Night Orgy" has some good qualities, but several flaws as well.  Since it's dubbed into English, the words, actions and pacing are skewed, causing a lack of real tension and suspense during the exposition scenes.  I'm sure that to a Spanish audience in the 1970's, the acting and dialogue would probably be considered good.

The music is also a detriment to the movie.  Rather than being moody and sombre, it's rather jazzy and misplaced.  I found myself getting jarred out of any sort of developing interest because of it.  The only scenes where the music fit were the scenes where the vampires are actually attacking the main characters.

As with many vampire films, there's some titillation in the form of a sex scene, and some voyeurism on the part of one of the main characters.  While these might be considered risque back in the 1970's, it's rather tame today.

I did like the humour though.  The scene where "The Giant" goes to the axe sharpener to get his axe sharpened... then inform the axe sharpener that the Countess says he can do his job with one arm made me smile at the irony.

I also like the premise of the movie: travelers are stranded in a village of vampires and must find a way to escape.  The only problem is that the rest of the film elements didn't fulfill the potential I saw in the basic story idea.

Fans of bad vampire films may enjoy this, but I'm going to have to slide "The Vampire's Night Orgy" into 'The Ugly"...

Monday, July 25, 2011

"Scare It Forward!" Chapters 8 & 9


The time has come for another update for William Castle's 2011 "Scare It Forward!".  This week, we have Chapters Eight and Nine for you to enjoy!

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... 
Years ago, a simple Mexican peasant girl caught the eye of the Don's son.  He wanted her, and have he would.  But all was not what she expected.  Soon the rumors brought to her by the servants, and his growing attention towards their twin sons would pull the family apart... and her actions would haunt the landscape for years to come...

And one of those years is now.  Aaron- one of the teens camping by the side of the river is found the next morning... barely concious, and terrified.  Torn between taking their friend to the hospital, and staying to give him a chance to rest and recover, the teens try to deal with Aaron's pleas for them to leave before, "she" kills them all.  That night, the mysterious female apparition visits Aaron... with Death keeping her company...
Death most foul comes at the hands of a friend, ripping dreams and innocence away like a corpse's shroud as the teens are caught in the grip of a rage and an anger from the past.  Friend turns on friend as the past corrupts the present... changing the daydreams of the future into the nightmare of the past...
 There is no rest for the dead as Aaron falls under the spell of La Llorona- the ghost of a mexican peasant girl tortured and murdered for the death of her sons.  Memories float through her mind of how she survived her attempt at keeping them with her... and the days of pain and mutilation that followed at the hands of her husband.  Twisted through the years, La Llorona seeks to enlist Aaron and his friends to help her find her lost boys... even if it means their lives...
  La Llorona army of servants grows as the still night of death continues.  Another of the remaining teens becomes the target of the spirit's twisted and disturbed needs and sense of justice.  Love is betrayed, friendship usurped, and the soft whispers of hate float through the air... whispering in the ear of a sleeping form... kill... kill... or die...
 Chapter Eight was written by Gail Petersen, and Chapter Nine was written by Jesse Orrall.  Gail's entry was actually posted LAST Monday, but wasn't included in my update because I'd posted my update just before the story had been updated.

As always, I'm really looking forward to seeing where this story goes, and how it ends since there's only about four more chapters in this particular story before the second one begins.  You can check out the whole story on William Castle's blog!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Night of the Living Dead (1968)


In 1968, George A. Romero gave the world a whole new look at an old and underestimated fear:  zombies.

After her brother and her are attacked in a cemetery by a strange man, Barbara flees to an isolated farmhouse.  There she is joined by six others as they try to survive a night long siege from crazed flesh eating people who turn out to be more than mere humans... they're zombies...

George A. Romero was inspired by the novel, "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson to write "Night of the Living Dead."  He wanted to explore how such an apocolyptic "revolution" might start, and how humans might react in a situation where something that's supposed to be "forever" stopped being... well, permanent.  That "forever" was Death, and thus the Romero zombies were born.  Matheson, himself described Romero's interpretation as, "kinda of cornball".  Little did he know the sort of grip it would have on the world.

The character of Ben- played by Duane Jones, was originally intended to be a simple truck driver.  Jones had some problems with the dialogue, and pretty much re-wrote the character as being well educated.  Judith O'Dea told an interviewer that most of the dialogue was actually improvised:
"The sequence where Ben is breaking up the table to block the entrance and I'm on the couch and start telling him the story of what happened {to Johnny} it's all ad-libbed.  This is what we want to get across [...] tell the story about me and Johnny in the car and me being attacked.  That was it[...] all improv.  We filmed it once."
 
Even though most reviewers disliked the film when it came out, it has grown into one of the most successful horror franchises in the world... and one of my favorite films.

I thought the acting was great.  Duane Jones turned a serious, smart performance as Ben.  If I was isolated in a farmhouse with the hungry dead coming for me, I'd want Ben on my team.  Producer Karl Hardman was fantastic as Harry Copper, even though there were a few slightly hammy moments in his acting.  He makes Harry unlikely, but understandable at the same time.  Even though her role has upset feminists over the years for being a "stereotypical damsel in distress," I felt that Judith O'Dea's portrayal of Barbara was quite good- and reflected how ANY person might react in such a traumatic situation.  In fact, ALL of the actors did a great job presenting various facets of human response in a tough scenario.

I can't say enough about the camera work.  There are some remarkable angles and shots put in front of us in this film.  Wide angles of the slowly growing number of zombies approaching, mixed with close-ups of the blank expressions on their faces and off kilter, slanted angles all combine to create a tense atmosphere and mood.  Add into it the use of shadows to distort the appearances of the zombies, and you've got some skin tingling moments to enjoy.  And can't forget the music- it's the finishing touch of discordant notes that puts you on edge and gets your heart beating just a tad faster.

Of course, none of it would've worked unless the story itself was strong enough to support everything.  Even though it's a very basic premise, it was plenty strong enough- and relevant enough to people's fear of diseases, and Death to give structure to the meat of the characters, editing and events.

I could probably write almost forever about what makes this film such a classic, but I'll simply state out right that, "Night of the Living Dead" is one of "The Good".

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Terror (1963)


After all the black and white films I've watched over the past month or so as I worked my way through horror films from the 1920 to the present, I finally hit 1968- and a colour film.  It was a welcome change of pace- as was the story.

Seperated from his regiment in 1806, Andre Duvalier stumbles across the castle of Baron von Leppe, and a mysterious woman whom the Baron claims has been dead for the past 20 years- because he killed her and her lover.  Determined to discover the truth behind the dark past of the castle, Duvalier soon finds himself confronting a deadly mix of guilt, revenge, and madness...

"The Terror" was filmed on sets used in two other Roger Corman films- "The Raven," and "The Haunted Palace".  The tree in the final scene is from "The Haunted Palace" where it was the sight of Vincent Price being tied up and burnt.  In addition to re-using sets, this movie is notable for the number of directors it had:
  • Roger Corman
  • Francis Ford Coppola
  • Monte Hellman
  • Jack Hill
  • Jack Nicholson
I'll say from the start that I enjoyed this movie.

The acting was quite good- but that's only natural considering it had Boris Karloff as the Baron, and a young Jack Nicholson playing the role of Duvalier.  Nicholson brought some cheese to his performance, but it wasn't overpowering, and was enjoyable.  Karloff, as he did when playing Frankenstein's monster, brought pathos and a feeling of tragedy to the character of Baron von Leppe.  Seeing the two of them together was just a joy to experience.

Dick Miller- who plays Stefan the butler, did a remarkable job as well.  You got the sense that he honestly did care about the Baron, and would do what he had to in order to protect his secrets.  I also really enjoyed the character of the peasant witch, played by Dorothy Neumann.  She didn't have a huge role, but still helped the story move forward, and showed the folly of revenge.  The mysterious woman, Helene- as played by Sandra Knight, was beautiful, and brought a very ethereal air to her character.

The cast helped to strengthen a really good storyline.  It was layered, but not so heavily that you got distracted thinking too much.  The characters were well written and interesting, and the events moved smoothly from one scene to the next.

"The Terror" had some very effective camerawork- especially during the exterior shots on the beach and in the forest.  The scenery in the beach scenes was simply beautiful, and perfectly set-up the isolation of the Baron's castle.  The only scenes where the camera work wasn't as good involved the ones out front of the chapel.  It just couldn't hide the fact that it was a set.  Other than that one area, I was impressed.  I also quite liked the opening credit sequence.  It reminded me very much of the style used for the opening of Coppola's earlier movie, "Dementia 13".  I have to wonder if they got the same artist to do them.

There aren't a lot of special effects in this movie- other than lightning, and the final scene.  I was especially impressed with the smoothness of the final sequence.

For a low budget film- and one often considered to be a B-movie, I have to say that "The Terror" is one of my favorite ghost story movies.  I'm definately rating this one as "The Good".

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Scare it Forward!" Chapter 7


Monday has rolled around again, which means it's time for another great update about William Castle's 2011 "Scare It Forward!"  Only one chapter was written this week, but what a chapter it is!

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... 
Years ago, a simple Mexican peasant girl caught the eye of the Don's son.  He wanted her, and have he would.  But all was not what she expected.  Soon the rumors brought to her by the servants, and his growing attention towards their twin sons would pull the family apart... and her actions would haunt the landscape for years to come...

And one of those years is now.  Aaron- one of the teens camping by the side of the river is found the next morning... barely concious, and terrified.  Torn between taking their friend to the hospital, and staying to give him a chance to rest and recover, the teens try to deal with Aaron's pleas for them to leave before, "she" kills them all.  That night, the mysterious female apparition visits Aaron... with Death keeping her company...
Death most foul comes at the hands of a friend, ripping dreams and innocence away like a corpse's shroud as the teens are caught in the grip of a rage and an anger from the past.  Friend turns on friend as the past corrupts the present... changing the daydreams of the future into the nightmare of the past...
 Nathan Thomas Milliner brings us Chapter Seven, and really turns up the volume of terror.  What will happen next?  Who will live?  How it will it end?

To find out, you'll just have to read William Castle's "Scare It Forward!", which is posted as part of his blog.  I know I'll keep reading!

Oh- and also, keep an eye open in the book stores for William Castle's book, "From the Grave: The Prayer"- the first book written by a ghost.  There's been a small delay in it's arrival at book stores but those that pre-ordered this book should still receive their copies on time.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Carnival of Souls (1962)


One sort of horror movie I really love are ghost stories.  Haunted houses, phantoms sliding around in the shadows, and lost souls looking for rest.  As much as I love monster films, and slasher movies, I really love a good ghost story- and "Carnival of Souls" is a decent one- even if there are some flaws to it.

Mary is the soul survivor of an auto accident that claimed the live of her two best friends.  Wanting to escape the memory of it, Mary takes a job as a church organist in another city.  Soon she starts to see strange figures, and develops an unusual obsession with an abandoned fairground... that may hold a dark revelation for Mary...

Despite the fact that "Carnival of Souls" didn't garner much attention when first released, it has grown into what is considered to be a cult classic.  I can see why.

For starters, the story is actually quite good, even if it wasn't fully developed to its potential.  When I first saw it, I was really interested in seeing where the story was going.  Some might complain about several questions being left unanswered:

  1. Who were the "carnival ghouls"?
  2. Why did they gather at the carnival?
  3. What did they want with Mary?
  4. Were they the reason the fairgrounds were abandoned in the first place?
I didn't mind these questions being unanswered, since it added to the unreality of the whole movie.  The ending reminded me of a short story I read as a kid about a civil war soldier that was about to be hung- but manages to escape- only to realize things weren't what he thought they were.  Besides, there's something unsettling about the idea that the "carnival ghouls" may still be there... dancing to the organ music...

Candace Hilligoss turned in a great performance as Mary.  The scene of her playing the organ during the dance scene was surreal and creepy, and the scenes where she's apparently invisible to those around her were unsettling.  Director Herk Harvey looked phenomenal as The Man- the main "carnival ghoul" haunting Mary.  The make-up was simple, but effective, as was his acting.  The first time I saw him close up, I squirmed a bit.

It's hard to given an opinion of the other performers as they didn't get that much screen time.  The only supporting cast member that got any serious time was Sidney Berger who played Mary's lecherous neighbour.  I would have to say though that since I wasn't meant to like his character, he did a good job making me not like him.  Other than to illustrate Mary's rather unemotional interactions with people, the supporting characters really didn't serve much purpose.

One of the important keys to a good ghost story movie is a sense of foreboding through the use of shadows and light.  "Carnival of Souls" did what I felt was a remarkable job with that in regards to its camerawork.  There are some fantastic shots that would make great stills.  Angles, distances, light and shadows were well used in this film- creating a sense of suspense, anticipation, and unreality that kept me interested.

Combined with the organ music scoring, the surreal scenes seem all the more un-nerving and creepy.  The dance scene once again illustrates this perfectly.  I was extremely impressed by how the music and editing blended together to create great atmosphere to the scenes.

Usually, when I hear that a movie is a "cult classic," I'm usually ready to sigh and pop the movie into "The Ugly"... but "Carnival of Souls" is a cult classic that, for me deserves better- and has earned a spot in "The Good."

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)


There comes a point in every horror fan's life where they come face to face with a beast so bad... so horrific... so ill conceived that they wonder how it could've possibly been brought forth.  "The Beast of Yucca Flats" is one of those points in my life.

While fleeing Soviet agents, scientist Joseph Javorsky is caught in the explosion of an atomic bomb.  The blast transform him into a beast that rampages across the countryside... with the authorities on his trail...

"The Beast of Yucca Flats" has been described by some critics as being far worse than Ed Wood's infamous "Plan 9 From Outer Space"- with good reason.

Since the dialogue wasn't recorded at the same time as it was filmed, it was put into a rather bad position to begin with.  Every spoken word and sound effect was added in post production.  Rather than matching the dialogue with the mouths of the actors, the scenes are edited so that you can't see the speaker's mouth... or they're off screen when talking.  The dialogue is also limited- replaced mostly with a voice over narrator... who speaks in cliches and enigmatic phrases that are probably meant to seem deep and profound.  I found them somewhat nonsensical and irrelevant to the story in most cases.

I can't say the acting is bad, since there really isn't much in the way of acting.  Tor Johnson- who plays the beast, and is a cult horror icon for his B-movie roles, does the most acting... and even then there isn't a lot of it.  Mostly waving his arms and shambling across the scenery.  His best scene- and one that actually made me smile was when he enters a cave where he'd left a dead woman earlier.  He discovers that the cops had found and removed her body.  The narrator intones, "Finding his victim gone, the beast unleashes its fury..." and Johnson howls and tosses a rock the size of his head before laying down for a nap.  Now that's fury!

To be honest, I hardly found The Beast to be scary.  The extent of  Javorsky's transformation was some make-up that looked more like someone smeared some oatmeal, or something similar on the actor's face, and ripped his shirt a bit.

The story wasn't very engaging... nor did it make much sense- especially the opening scene.  The movie starts with a murder (supposedly by The Beast), but nowhere is there time for The Beast to commit the murder... nor is there any mention of this one.  When film historian Tom Weaver interviewed producer Anthony Cardoza, Cardoza said that the opening scene was added in post production simply because the director like nude scenes.  There isn't even that much nudity in it.

This film's only saving grace is that it's only 53 minutes long... but it's still and "Ugly" 53 minutes...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Atom Age Vampire (1960)


These days, you often have to leave the North American film industry in order to find interesting and entertaining horror fare.  While some of these imported films may be as cheesy as those offered by Hollywood, many of them are still interesting because of the different things they bring to the genre.

After suffering a horrible auto accident, Jeanette is persauded by a mysterious woman to undergo experimental treatment in the hopes of regaining the beauty she once had.  Soon, however, she is part of a world where love, desire, and murder are all part of the recipe that is behind the special serum that keeps her beautiful.

"Atom Age Vampire" is an Italian film originally titled, "Seddok," and was quite entertaining- its apparent cheesiness hiding some rather clever thinking, and an interesting mix of the vampire and Jekyll/Hyde tales.

The main cheese factor was the dubbing the Italian over into English.  The dialogue sounded like it was being read- or even improved.  This is a mixed blessing/curse.  One one hand, it detracts from the movie being taken with a serious look- while on the other, it can be seen to give the movie a bit more entertainment value for B-movie fans like myself.  Personally, I felt "Atom Age Vampire" was more fun because of the less than natural dubbing.  Even the screams sounded like the voice actor came to the line, "insert scared scream here" and screamed on cue.

The acting could also be described by North American viewers as belonging to a B-movie.  Part of this can be attributed to the dubbing, while some could also be put down to differing styles of acting from country to country.

Alberto Lupo- who plays Professor Alberto Levin, was pretty good at being menacing, possessive, and driven.  He was passionate and energetic in his role.  Susanne Loret as Jeanette Moreneau, was both beautiful and  well suited to the role.  I'll admit that some of her scenes felt a little stiff, but not so much as to detract from my enjoying myself.  Franca Parisi plays Professor Levin's assistant, Monique Riviere.  I thought she was gorgeous and well suited to the strong willed character she played.  Personally, I couldn't see how, when he had a hot looking lab assistant like Monique, why he'd be so determined to win Jeanette's heart.  Mind you, I do have a weakness for independent woman in glasses...

Of the cast, the only one that I had problems with was Sergio Fantoni as Pierre Mornet- Jeanette's boyfriend.  I just didn't like the character.  He was just blah and a bore... but he did have nice hair I thought.

There is some pretty decent camerawork in "Atom Age Vampire" as well- especially in the transformation scenes.  While they're certainly not as slick as what we see today, they still run fairly smoothly.  I was quite impressed with not just the camerawork in these scenes, but also the continuity of make-up from one shot to the next.

The make-up for the "vampire" was also quite interesting, I thought.  I could definately see how viewers back in the early 1960's could find it disturbing.  Even I found myself going, "eeewww" when I saw it.  It was certainly well enough done that I was able to overcome my disappointment when I realized just how much it limited the movement of the actor's lips when delivering dialogue.  His lips could hardly move, but fortunately, he doesn't do much talking in those scenes... and I'm sure he appreciated that fact too.

Some people seeing this will say, "HEY!  There's no vampires in this movie!  WTF?"  True, there aren't any vampires as we're used to them, but there is one.  Rather than being an undead creature that needs to feed on the living, there is a person who needs the blood of women to restore the woman he love's beauty.  This person "sucks" the victims dry, and then "feeds" his love's the serum in the hopes of winning her love- a sort of psychological vampirism.  Plus, there is the woman he's giving the serum to.  Without this serum made from the blood of women, her beauty would fade, so in a sense, she is a vampire as well- although an unwitting one.

This look at the vampire was quite clever, I thought- as was the use of the Jekyll/Hyde archetype of character.

In order to obtain the blood he needs for the serum, Professor Levin uses another serum to transform into a monstrous looking creature so he could avoid his normal identity being linked to the murders... much the same way that Dr. Jekyll transformed into Mr. Hyde in order to do naughty things without it reflecting badly on his Jekyll identity.

The mixture of the vampire and Jekyll/Hyde elements are what really elevates this above most B-movies.  If it wasn't for the rather lame acting of Sergio Fantoni, I would put this into "The Good"- but it'll have to settle for being one of "The Bad"...

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Scare It Forward!" Chapters 5 & 6


It's time for another update regarding William Castle's 2011 "Scare it Forward!" project.  Over the course of the past week, Chapters Five and Six were posted.

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... 

Years ago, a simple Mexican peasant girl caught the eye of the Don's son.  He wanted her, and have he would.  But all was not what she expected.  Soon the rumors brought to her by the servants, and his growing attention towards their twin sons would pull the family apart... and her actions would haunt the landscape for years to come...

And one of those years is now.  Aaron- one of the teens camping by the side of the river is found the next morning... barely concious, and terrified.  Torn between taking their friend to the hospital, and staying to give him a chance to rest and recover, the teens try to deal with Aaron's pleas for them to leave before, "she" kills them all.  That night, the mysterious female apparition visits Aaron... with Death keeping her company...

This week, the two chapters were written by a total of FOUR people.  Chapter Five was written by Heaven Leigh Eldeen, while Chapter Six was written by the team of:

  • Dan Dillard;
  • Will Newell; and
  • William Castle
What will happen next?  Only the next writer in the story knows for sure... but even then, the writer after them may give them a surprise.

Check out the story on William Castle's blog!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

William Castle Presents: "Back From The Grave: The Prayer"


Those of you that keep an eye on this blog will probably have figured out that I'm a fan of William Castle- having reviewed two of his movies (so far), spent a month paying tribute to his birthday, and even posting updates (and soon participating in) about his 2011 "Scare It Forward!" project.

Well, here I am letting you know that William Castle is once again bringing horror to his fans with a new book that goes on sale July 18th, 2011.

The book is- appropriately enough, titled, "From the Grave: The Prayer".  From comments made by William Castle on his blog, it tells the story of how he died... and returned from the other side.

I, for one, think this is fantastic- especially since the first hundred or so books are autographed by the spirit of William Castle.  Thinking about it makes my fingers tingle with the need to hold such a book, and turn each page as I'm gripped by the suspense and horror put forward only as the great Mr. Castle could do it.

For William Castle fans- this is one of those "must have" items... and one that I most definately want.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Killer Shrews (1959)


To date, I have reviewed a string of movies from the 1920, 1930's, and the 1940's.  With "The Killer Shrews," I'll be closing out my set of five movies from the 1950's... and what a way to close it.

While dropping off supplies to a small research team, Captain Thorne Sherman is stranded on the remote island due to a hurricane.  Soon, he discovers that the hurricane isn't the only danger he's facing- for him and the science team are now at the mercy of killer shrews...

This is definately one of those movies that you show during a cult classic/b-movie night.

Captain Sherman- played by James Best, is a bit of a jerk, but kinda likeable at the same time.  Ken Curtis's character, Jerry is great as the drunken arse of an assistant.Judge Henry Dupree, and Alfred DeSoto- being the minorities in the movie seem to be there simply to die before the white people... though I did like DeSoto's character, Mario.  I also liked Baruch Lumet as Dr. Marlowe Cragis as well.  I will confess though, that at times, it was hard to follow the dialogue due to the various accents used.

The story is pretty basic- and well, silly... but still manages to entertain you throughout.  Other than a few scenes in the woods, the whole movie pretty much takes place in the living room of the cabin the scientists are using.  Because of this, the camera work doesn't show much innovation or style.  The music too isn't very stylish, and is more action oriented than suspenseful in tone.

"What about the shrews," you ask?  Well, let's talk about the shrews.  They look like dogs with really bad mange... and bad hairpieces to cover up the bald spots.  I highly doubt the make-up designer won any awards for their work.

Despite the flaws I've mentioned... or maybe because of them, "The Killer Shrews" is still fun to watch- like most b-movies are.  It doesn't try to be an artistic piece of nightmare inducing horror.  No, it is quite content to simply be a non-thinking, momentary distraction from the world around us- and it succeeds at it.

This is one movie that I would pull out for a cheesy horror movie night with my friends and popcorn.  It's still one of "The Ugly"... but it's a fun kind of ugly...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Screaming Skull (1958)


I have come to realize that the 1950's had quite a few B-movie.  Many of them were pretty cheesy, but fun to watch.  Some even showed a lot of potential and had some things that I really liked.  "The Screaming Skull" is one of those films.

Jenni has just moved into her new husband's large mansion.  Soon, however, her and Eric's happiness is marred by strange sounds and the appearance of skulls around the house.  Is Eric trying to drive his wife insane?  Is Mickey, the gardener, trying to scare Jenni away?  Or is Eric's former wife coming back... from beyond the grave?

"The Screaming Skull" is NOT a great movie- but it did have some promise and potential to it.  I had to smile at the William Castle-like opening, where a voice informs the audience that if they were to die of fright during the movie, the studio would pay for their funeral.  Cheesy, and unnecessary, but I still liked it.

While most of the camera work was pretty basic, there were some great shots using unique angles, and showed some skill at framing shots.  Unfortunately, the film quality wasn't that great.  Many of the details were almost whited out in some scenes due to a high contrast.  The sets and scenery helped make the camera-work take a step up to just above a B-movie- especially the scenes in the greenhouse and the surrounding garden.  The use of an almost empty house was an interesting touch, though I have to confess the floor plan seemed a little confusing to me, as it took a rather long time for the characters to reach the front door from the landing just above the main entry way.  The sets also allowed some good use of shadows to build atmosphere and tension.  In conjunction with the music, "The Screaming Skull" wasn't a total loss in regards to building mood.

The pace was pretty slow though, with more talking than action.  And when the action did start, it was spoiled by some rather hammy acting by John Hudson.  The plot itself is also pretty plain and suffers from one or two logic holes, but still manages to serve its purpose.

I felt that the acting of most of the performers was pretty blah and uninspired- especially John Hudson as Eric.  I found his frightened running around and "scared face" during the climatic sequence to be overblown and hammy to the point of squealing like a pig.  I did however, like the performance given by director Alex Nicol as Mickey, the mentally unstable gardener.  I got the impression that the characters of Reverend and Mrs. Snow were simply there to give Jenni and Eric someone to explain plot points to.

As for the Screaming Skull itself?  Less than frightening, I'll admit- especially when you can see the wire that's rigged to move the skull.

When all is said and done, even though I DID derive some enjoyment from "The Screaming Skull", I'm going to have to place it in "The Ugly"

Monday, July 4, 2011

"Scare it Forward!" Chapter 4

This past week, Chapter Four of William Castle's 2011 "Scare It Forward!" project was posted for all to read and enjoy.

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...
Years ago, a simple Mexican peasant girl caught the eye of the Don's son.  He wanted her, and have he would.  But all was not what she expected.  Soon the rumors brought to her by the servants, and his growing attention towards their twin sons would pull the family apart... and her actions would haunt the landscape for years to come...
Chapter Four was written by Kathy Gori, who, along with the author of Chapter Three met with Castle just days before his death to discuss the screenplay for a movie called, "ANIMUS".  They've now come together again thanks to Facebook in order to bring us this chilling tale of revenge from beyond the grave...

I highly recommend visiting William Castle's blog to read more of "Scare It Forward!"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Indestructible Man (1956)


In the horror genre, there are some stellar movies... and plenty of not-so-stellar ones.  But sometimes, even the less than great horror movies have good things in them.

Charles "The Butcher" Benton vows revenge on his lawyer, Paul Lowrie for sending him to his death in the gas chamber.  After his execution, Benton's body is used for a secret experiment that revives him.  Taking this opportunity, Benton cuts a swathe of death as he heads ever closer to Lowrie and his cronies.  The police are hot on his trail, but something about "The Butcher" is different... bullets just bounce off him.  What can stop the "Indestructible Man"?

This movie stars Lon Chaney, Jr- whose father is famous for roles in "The Phantom of the Opera", and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and is a real B-movie.  So much so that it was actually featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

I have to admit that this movie is far from being great.  In fact, it's a pretty cheap rip-off of the "Frankenstein" story:  A dead body is brought to life, and the immensely strong (and mute) monster goes on a rampage.  Despite that, there are SOME good things in this movie.

I thought it was neat that they tried to blend horror and film noir genres.  The voice over was a little cheesy, but fun.  The music was an interesting mix of sci-fi/horror and detective styles as well.

Over all, the camera work was far from good, even though there were one or two decent shots and made good use of various locations around the city to make those shots more eye catching.

I found Max Showalter's police detective character to be a little bland.  The character didn't do much- other than flirt with Benton's girlfriend, and express frustration at not finding the money that Lowrie hired Benton to steal.  It was hard to cheer for him.

Marian Carr, was simply beautiful to look at- even if her character didn't do much more than unsuccessfully try to warn those "The Butcher" wanted to kill.  Having her character as a burlesque dancer did, however give the producers ample reason to show off her figure- and a very nice figure it was too.

The character of Paul Lowrie had more depth than Showalter's character... but was ultimately forgettable enough that I can't even remember the actor's name that played him.

And then, there's Lon Chaney, Jr..  I have to admit that even though he did great in the role- it wasn't enough to bring this movie up to the status of his father's films.  His only dialog was at the start of the film.  As soon as he was revived, he didn't utter a thing.  Essentially, he was a shambling Frankenstein type of killer.  The burn make-up at the end of the movie though wasn't bad (not great), and was probably quite shocking for the time this movie came out.  Also, Chaney does give us a decent example of "crazy eyes" as well.

 
Even with Lon Chaney, Jr bringing his skill to this movie, it was not enough to save this film from being declared one of "The Ugly".