Thursday, November 8, 2018

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors -- Sixties anthology schlock

By Doug Gibson

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors, 1966, Color, 82 minutes, American General Pictures. Directed by David L. Hewitt. Starring John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Rochelle Hudson, Roger Gentry, Ron Doyle, Karen Joy, Vic Magee and Mitch Evans. Schlockmeter rating: Four stars out of 10.

This David Hewitt cheapie anthology of horror tales of questionable scariness is legendary for the panning it has received from critics of the genre. The critics are right; this a poor film, with an incredibly low budget. For the entire five tales, I counted only two sound stages. In one case, to save money I suppose, a sound stage was darkened in an unsuccesful effort to make it appear to be a London slum.

Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors was essentially an attempt to cash in on the horror anthology craze of the mid 1960s; two better films of that genre that come to mind are Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and Black Sabbath. According to reviewer Tom Weaver in Cult Movies 17, Gallery of Horrors was shot for either $60,000 (that seems too high) or $20,000, or even $15,000! The narrator for the five tales is the ubiquitious John Carradine. He stands in front of (I kid you not) a rigid screen mat of a castle and shoreline. The mat only takes up half the screen, so the producers filled the other half with a blue background.

The acting, except for Carradine, is atrocious from all the performers, including, unfortunately, Chaney Jr. Actress Karen Joy is at least beautiful. And former '30s starlet Rochelle Hudson adds a little acting heft to one story. The tales are poorly developed. Reviewer John Stanley in Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Again described the tales as the "scrapings of the horror barrel." There are "twist endings" but the lazy screenwriting (or perhaps it's the low budget) never allow the "payoff climax" to develop. A viewer will wait for the telegraphed twist at the end but just as it starts, the segment ends without exploring the consequences of the plot.

Like any low-budget poverty issue, the film is full of stock footage. According to Weaver's review, stock footage of castles and background music was lifted from the popular Edgar Allen Poe films of that era and other American International pictures. The special effects are laughable. Animated blood sweeps over the screen clumsily in an effort to end segments, and "fires" dance around stock footage of castles.

None of the five tales is particularly interesting, but some are less mediocre than others. The first concerns a couple (Gentry and Joy) who buy an old house in Salem. They find an old, supposedly 17th century clock (that type of clock did not exist in that era), re-set it, and an old man (Carradine, in the film's best performance, which isn't saying much)appears. He asks for an old family. The husband learns the family contained a witch (who never appears on screen by the way), and that Carradine and the witch are likely back from the dead because the haunted clock was re-started. The husband stops the clock, and Carradine burns up. The twist ending has another couple buying the house, setting the clock, and "presto," Carradine reappears.

The second tale is the worst. It concerns a vampire-like creature marauding London slum residents in the 18th century. The twist ending is embarrassing. The third tale may be the best. It had potential. A cuckolded living dead zombie doctor, murdered by his wife (Hudson) and corrupt colleague, returns with his faithful servant to exact revenge. Again, the low budget destroys any potential for surprise, and there is a laughably long far away stock shot of a carriage racing to the doctor's castle that seems to go on forever.

The fourth tale stars Lon Chaney Jr, as a former colleague of Dr. Frankenstein. Chaney's character is now a respected medical professor. With the help of two students, he resurrects a murderer. It's sad to watch the bloated semi-drunk, elderly Chaney stumble through his role. As Weaver points out, Chaney neither looks nor acts like a doctor and should have played the revived corpse (played by Vic Magee). Also, though it seems a colleague of Dr. Baron Von Frankenstein would be living in the 19th century, Chaney's character checks his wristwatch and answers a ringing 1960s-model phone in this episode.

The final episode is a poor twist on the Dracula legend that ends with Jonathan Harker (Gentry) turning into a werewolf and turning on Count Alucard, played by Mitch Evans, hands-down the worst Dracula in screen history. Despite the poor quality of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, it's worth a rental if it can be found. It's an example of the kind of low-budget, harmless, sometimes fun schlock that played drive-ins and on Chiller Theater on TV in the 1960s and 1970s.

Notes: According to Weaver, Carradine received $3,000 and Chaney Jr. $1,500. Also, Weaver said Carradine was supposed to play Count Alucard, but had to leave to fulfill another acting commitment. Gallery of Horrors was the last speaking role Chaney Jr. had. Like many low-budget films, the film had many titles. Others include The Blood Suckers, Gallery of Horrors, Return From the Past (it's TV title) and even Alien Massacre! In 1981 it was released to video as Gallery of Horror by Academy Home Entertainment. How disappointed many teens must have been after renting this "unrated" title with a misleading cover, thinking it was a very gory horror flick, and discovering a hokey, tame unscary G-rated film! Today the film can be purchased at various online outlets.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The new Halloween movie – is it any good?

Review by Steve D. Stones

Is the new Halloween movie as good as the 1978 original? Will it become a great classic in time as the original? Perhaps only time can answer these questions. I feel that the new Halloween is not as good as its original, but it has plenty of knuckle-biting sequences to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, particularly the last twenty minutes of the film. As I watched the film, I enjoyed picking out references from the first film and finding similarities in how scenes are shown.

References to the first two films can be found throughout this film. A mother carving a ham is hammered in the head by killer Michael Meyers as she is watching something on TV in the kitchen, in a scene very similar to one shown in the second film. A babysitter is also murdered and draped with a white ghost sheet – which gives reference to Meyers draping a ghost sheet over himself when he confronts actress P.J. Soles in an upstairs bedroom in the first film.

When Lori Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is thrown through an upstairs window by Meyers, her body is no longer laying on the ground when the camera cuts away from Meyers standing above her, which is similar to the first film when Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is looking out the upstairs window of the Meyers home after Meyers falls to the ground from multiple gunshots at the end.

The director is careful not to reveal the face of Meyers when he is questioned by an interviewer in an opening sequence. He is chained to a block, standing inside a painted square in the yard of a mental institution. Here we see a much older, graying Meyers, but his height and size still make him very imposing.

In the first film, the viewer is not shown how Meyers obtains his iconic mask. Sheriff Brackett simply tells his daughter at the scene of a hardware store burglary that someone stole some Halloween masks and tools from the store, so the viewer assumes that Meyers took the mask from the hardware store. In this new film, the viewer gets to see where Meyers obtains the iconic mask by taking it from the trunk of a car of two reporters who attempt to interview him at the mental institution.

What makes the first film so effective to me is that the violence is much more subtle, and often only implied. This new film uses techniques more appealing to the millennial generation by showing extreme, graphic violence in which the violence is drawn out for a much longer period of time in the scene, such as a gas station bathroom killing sequence near the beginning of the film.

The opening credits also show a similar type face design to the credits shown in the first film, which is a nice touch to the opening of the film. Instead of the camera slowly zooming in on a lit pumpkin as we see in the first Halloween, here we see the pumpkin slowly reshaping itself from being squished.

The new Halloween movie is well worth the price of admission, but only time will tell if it becomes the great classic of the original 1978 film. Happy Halloween!!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Bela Lugosi and the East Side Kids; the films

Reviews by Steve D.Stones

Spooks Run Wild and Ghosts On The Loose are two Monogram/Banner Pictures that Hungarian actor Bela “Dracula” Lugosi starred in with the East Side Kids/early Bowery Boys. Of the two films, I have a special preference for Spooks Run Wild, directed by Phil Rosen. Both films make for a fun double feature. Lugosi fans won't want to miss this double feature.

Spooks Run Wild:

A bus transporting the East Side Kids to a summer camp for the needy arrives in a small town known as Hillside. A radio announcer heard on the bus radio warns of a killer monster on the loose in the town. The bus driver stops to check the tires of the bus. A local magician named Nardo, played by Bela Lugosi, is seen in the Hillside cemetery with his midget side kick, played by Angelo Rossitto. Rossitto also played Lugosi's assistant in The Corpse Vanishes (1942), also a Monogram release.

The East Side Kids find their way to the Hillside cemetery. A local grave digger warns them to leave, shooting Peewee, played by David Gorcey, in the back. The group leaves the cemetery to look for medical aide for Peewee. They soon come across the Billings House, a rundown mansion thought to be haunted, according to Hillside locals.

Nardo The Magician greets the East Side Kids at the entrance of the house and allows them to stay the night, but mentions that the house has no telephone to contact a doctor for Peewee. Scruno, played by Sammy Morrison, and Peewee are assigned to a room together. Peewee awakes in a sleep walker state after sleeping for hours, and roams the halls of the Billings House. Scruno is trapped in the room, but is later rescued by the rest of the group as he refers to Peewee as a Zombie.

It's interesting to note that Lugosi dresses in a cape and wears a suit in this film similar to his 1931 Dracula character. This gives the film great appeal to me. Lugosi's appearance greatly adds to this film, but he does not take himself nearly as seriously in this role as he does playing the evil Nazi henchman in the follow up film of Ghosts On The Loose. Lugosi and Rossitto make for a great pairing, as they did in The Corpse Vanishes (1942).

Ghosts On The Loose:

Directed by William “one shot” Beaudine, the title of this film is a bit misleading because there are no ghosts in the entire film. The title is likely an attempt to connect Spooks Run Wild to this film.

Betty, played by Ava Gardner, is marrying Jack Gibson, played by Rick Vallin. Gibson is purchasing a house on 322 Elm Street next to a haunted house as a honeymoon gift to Betty. Emil, played by Bela Lugosi, gets one of his spy henchmen named Tony to approach Gibson and convince him to sell the house. Tony offers Gibson a larger purchase price to discourage him from moving into the home. Gibson takes a small down payment and decides to take his bride on a honeymoon trip instead.

After providing choir services during the Gibson wedding, the East Side Kids break into Gibson's new home to clean and tidy up the home as a surprise to the newly married couple. They notice the home is in need of furniture, so they go to the haunted house next door and remove all the furniture to place it in Gibson's house.

Emil arrives at the house with Tony and his other henchmen. The group attempts to scare the East Side Kids out of the home. Emil and others in his group appear inside portrait paintings hanging on the walls of the home. As Scruno, an East Side Kid, is dusting a picture frame on the wall with Emil standing inside the frame, Emil sneezes, which frightens Scruno. Fans of this film have debated for years as to whether or not Lugosi says the S-word as he sneezes in this scene. It certainly sounds as if he does. I contend that he does say the S-word.

The East Side Kids later find a printing press in the basement of the house and pamphlets entitled “What The New Order Means To You.” Emil and his gang are discovered to be Nazi spies who moonlight in the basement printing Nazi propaganda literature. It turns out that Gibson has actually purchased the haunted house used as a hideout for the Nazi sympathizers, and not the house that the East Side Kids had cleaned.

Ghosts On The Loose appears to have many comical gags, perhaps even more than Spooks Run Wild, but this does not necessarily make it a better film. The cemetery sequences and the interior shots of the haunted house in Spooks Run Wild make for a much more creepy and atmospheric film, mixing both comedy and great atmosphere. As mentioned above, Lugosi's appearance in a cape and suit similar to his Dracula character also adds greatly to the atmosphere of Spooks Run Wild. Enjoy these two features as part of your Halloween entertainment this Halloween. Happy viewing.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The scariest scenes in horror films -- take 2

Editor's note: This month, in honor of Halloween, Plan9Crunch bloggers Steve D. Stones and Doug Gibson will share what they both see as the five scariest minutes in film. First was Doug's five creepy moments, and here are Steve's.
1). Night of The Living Dead (1968) – After witnessing her brother being attacked by a zombie in a Pennsylvania graveyard, Barbara (Judith O’Dea) runs to a nearby farmhouse to hide. She walks up stairs with a horrified look on her face and a kitchen knife in hand. The shadows of the banister cast across her face as the camera quickly zooms in closely to reveal a rotting corpse lying on the floor at the top of the stairs.

2). Poltergeist (1982). – A paranormal researcher investigating reports of ghosts in the suburban home of a young family goes to the kitchen to find something to eat.  He places a raw piece of meat from the refrigerator on the kitchen counter while eating a chicken leg. The meat suddenly starts to crawl slowly across the counter and the piece of chicken in his mouth spits out maggots. He runs to the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. While looking in the mirror, he starts to pull the flesh off his face as chunks fall into the sink and blood drips everywhere.

3). The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – After being terrorized by an inbred family of cannibals, including Leatherface – a chainsaw carrying psycho wearing a human skin mask, Sally (Marilyn Burns) is gagged and bound to a chair made of human arms. The grandpa of the family drinks Sally’s blood and attempts to knock her out with a hammer, but is too weak. This scene is so grueling that the sweat pouring from the faces of the actors involved heightens the uncomfortable, uneasy feeling the viewer experiences while the scene unfolds.  Sally eventually gets free and jumps out the window as Leatherface chases her once again down with a chainsaw – the most famous scene of the film.

4). Nosferatu (1922) – In this German Expressionist masterpiece of the silent era, Hutter – a real estate agent, is trapped inside the castle of Count Orlock. Hutter discovers the crypt where Orlock sleeps at night. Peeking through the crack of a stone coffin lid, Hutter can see the count lying in the coffin. He quickly pushes the stone lid off the coffin as the count stares directly at the camera in a frozen glance. This scene will chill your blood.

5). Jaws (1975) – Police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) are onboard a boat called the Orca to hunt down a giant shark terrorizing the sunbathers and swimmers of the ocean town of Amity. Brody leans over the boat to throw a “chum line” of fish guts into the water to attract the shark.  A giant shark raises its head from the water as Brody throws the line into the water. He immediately stands upright and walks backward with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and quietly says the most famous line in the film to Captain Quint – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

Happy Halloween!

Steve D. Stones