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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'New Year's Evil' -- an annual end-of-year scare tradition at Plan9Crunch


By Steve D. Stones

Happy Days star Roz Kelly stars in this early 1980s slasher film directed by Emmett Alston. Like so many horror films of the 1980s, this one is an attempt to cash in on the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween franchise.

Kelly is a punk rock mother hosting a New Year’s Eve party at a hip New Wave music club in downtown Los Angeles. Her teenage son comes to see her at the club with flowers, but she completely ignores him. A maniac killer, played by Kip Niven, calls Kelly at the club hotline to inform her that he will commit a murder every hour until 12 midnight as part of his New Year’s resolution. A club worker named Yvonne is the first victim to be killed in a bathtub in a club dressing room.

The second victim is a pretty blonde nurse at the local hospital. The killer predictably poses as a new hospital orderly who lures the nurse into a hospital room with champagne and proceeds to stab her to death after making out with her. Another nurse at the hospital discovers her body in a closet.

The killer continues to call Kelly at the music club in a disguised voice to inform her that he is committing murders. He even plays a taped recording over the phone of him stabbing the nurse at the hospital. Kelly is now forced to take his threats seriously. She asks the local police department for police protection.

By now the viewer has been exposed to lots of really bad punk rock performances, zebra striped T-shirts, and 1980s mullet hairstyles. Where are The Ramones, The Misfits and The Sex Pistols when we need them?

Feeling rejected by his mother, Kelly’s son sees his mother performing on television at the club with a punk band. In a fit of anger, he tears apart the roses he brought for her, and stretches one of her red nylon stalkings over his face as if he is about to become a killer himself. This is a particularly confusing scene because by now we already know who the killer is and what he looks like, so any attempt to suggest that the killer could be Kelly’s son seems unnecessary. The killer now shows up at another dance club in L.A. dressed in an obviously fake moustache and three-piece suit. He tells another pretty blonde girl at the bar that he is a business agent for many Hollywood actors in town. He convinces her to leave the club to attend a business party. She refuses to go alone with him, so she takes one of her club friends with her.

This spoils the plans of the killer to get her alone. The three drive in the killer’s Mercedes to a gas station, where the killer strangles one of the girls with a bag full of marijuana. He hides in a Dumpster to attack the second girl as she comes out of the gas station with a bottle of champagne. The killer stabs her to death. As the killer flees the scene, he is harassed at a stop light by a motorcycle gang. The killer speeds away from the motorcycle gang and hides out at a local drive-in theatre.

The movie screen advertises a film entitled Blood Feast as a feature playing at the theatre, but it is not Herschel Gordon Lewis’ schlock masterpiece from 1963, unfortunately. After stealing another car from a young couple making out at the drive-in, the killer shows up at the New Wave club, manages to club a police officer in the head at a back entrance, and puts his police uniform on, which conveniently fits him perfectly. Under police protection outside her dressing room, Kelly sits in front of a mirror putting on make-up as the killer suddenly appears in her room in a jogging outfit and a Halloween mask.

She sees him in the mirror, but is not frightened. He removes the mask, and reveals himself to be Richard Sullivan, her husband. She is not frightened by his presence because she has no idea he is the killer. As the couple gets into an elevator, it becomes evident to Kelly that her husband is the killer.

He holds a knife up to her and saying:“I’m fed up . . . You’re just like all the other women in my life. Women are manipulative, deceitful, immoral and very, very selfish!”

His reasoning for killing here seems very petty and unnecessary. Wouldn’t his actions make him “manipulative, deceitful, immoral and selfish?” If he was so fed up with his wife, why didn’t he just request a divorce from her? Why go through the troubles of killing several innocent women to get to her? In the post O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson world we live in today, it seems highly unlikely that a man would go on a killing spree killing innocent victims just to prove a point with his wife.

However, I realize this film was made long before the O.J. Simpson ordeal of the1990s, and the Scott Peterson ordeal early in this decade. As the film comes to an end, Richard chains his wife to the bottom of the elevator and is chased by policemen who fire shots at him. He is chased to the top balcony of the building, where he puts the Halloween mask back on and jumps off the building, committing suicide. His son emotionally removes the mask from him.

The film ends with a shot of Kelly being wheeled into an ambulance. The driver of the ambulance is wearing Richard’s Halloween mask, and the paramedic on the passenger side lies dead on the floor of the ambulance. Could the killer now be Kelly’s son?

NEW YEAR’S EVIL follows in the long line-up of so many 1980s slasher/horror films. Like Silent Night, Deadly Night, My Bloody Valentine, Christmas Evil, Don’t Open ‘Til Christmas, April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, and so many others, NEW YEAR’S EVIL is an attempt to use a holiday title to cash in on the slasher craze of the 1980s.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Gold Raiders featured the Three Stooges in a supporting role





By Doug Gibson

"The Gold Raiders," 1951, B and W, 56 minutes, directed by Edward Bernds, starring George O'Brien as "George O'Brien," The Three Stooges, Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Shemp Howard, Lyle Talbot as Taggert, Sheila Ryan as Laura Mason and Clem Bevans as Doc Mason.


This "oater" is a curio, mainly because it features the Three Stooges in supporting roles. The very short B-film stars silent and early talkie cowboy film star George O'Brien as a lawman turned insurance man hired by mining companies to get their gold safely to the bank. Crime boss Lyle Talbot wants to steal the gold. He tries to get information on where the gold is being taken from a drunken old doctor (Bevans) who, with his stooped figure and drawling voice, is made for westerns.

The Three Stooges play bumbling peddlers who ally with O'Brien to keep the gold safe. Gold Raiders is an OK film. It's nothing special from the hundreds of other "oaters" made in Hollywood but an aging O'Brien does an OK job shooting and fighting. Talbot, who starred in Ed Wood films, is a good villain and the Stooges are funny.

Director Bernds, who helmed many Stooge shorts, a few with the trio's beautiful blonde co-star Christine McIntyre, and later some features, told Cult Movies Magazine that Moe Howard was envious of Abbott and Costello and wanted to get into features. The result was Gold Raiders, an almost forgotten film today that was meant more as a comeback vehicle for O'Brien. Bernds recalled that the film was trashed by critics but, in my opinion, it really isn't too bad. Its main handicap is an abysmally low budget. It was shot in five days and looks it. One unintentionally funny scene includes a close-range shootout in a cramped saloon where almost no one seems to get shot. The film is also unique in that it may be the only western ever made where an insurance man is a two-fisted, gunslinging hero! It's a fun film and it's interesting and not unpleasant to see see the Stooges as comedy relief is a western action film.

According to Bernds, the film idea was hatched because Moe was envious of the success of the comedy team of Abbott & Costello. Despite the obscurity of Gold Raiders, the Stooges later made several features where they were the stars, including The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, Snow White and the Three Stooges and The Outlaws is Coming. Truth is, though, I enjoy the lean and mean Gold Raiders more than any of the later bigger-budget efforts. The Stooges are more effective as comedy relief, rather than the main components of a film

Notes: The makeup for Gold Raiders was done by Ed Wood regular Harry Thomas. Gold Raiders was released by United Artists but plans for a sequel with the Stooges and O'Brien were abandoned. The film was released to TV several years later and then sat for decades forgotten until 2006 when Warner Brothers released it on DVD. It can be bought via amazon.com







Friday, December 26, 2014

Outlaw Riders -- kitschy biker pathos in the 1970s



OUTLAW RIDERS, 1971

"Outlaw Riders" is a 1971 film that belongs in a time capsule marked Hollywood 1970s derivatve biker film. It was produced by Tony Cardoza, who gave us "The Beast of Yucca Flats" and it's a low-budget mix of "Easy Rider" and "Born Losers." It's a motorcycle gang/hippy cliche-fest. The riders spout words like"split," "make the scene," "fuzz," "crash" etc.

Plot involves an outlaw motorcycle gang headed by two couples (Bambi Allan, Jennifer Bishop, Bill Bonner and Bryan West). The gang is badly hurt by a botched robbery and the four stars, the only survivors, eventually head to Mexico, where they have to combat a gang run by a sadistic Mexican (Rafael Campos). Campos is the only "name star" in the film, although he was far away from his better days in "West Side Story."

I like this film for all its low-budget shortcomings. The mostly outdoor American West setting with long dusty cycle treks give it a nostalgic, time-capsule feeling. Cult film fans will enjoy the short cameo from Ed Wood star Valda Hansen as a nun who treats one of the injured bandits. Rumor as it that Hansen was a paramour of producer Cardoza, at least she said that in an interview prior to her death. Film has the same type of downbeat ending as "Easy Rider."

I have no idea what exposure or success "Outlaw Riders" had in 1971. The color, 86-minute Tony Huston-directed film has a lot of violence but little sex, which might have cut down on its grindhouse potential. It's fairly hard to find today, but not impossible. My video copy is in great shape. It would make a nice DVD offering for a multi-disc set of biker films. Enjoy the trailer above.

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas with the Castle Films style!



Most of us recall Castle Films for their ultra-short adaptations of the old Universal horror films. I saw Dracula, Frankenstein and others at school during holiday and summer school assemblies. But Castle adapted a wide variety of films, including this short Christmas film found on YouTube. I have no idea what the original film was, although it seems to be from the 1930s or 1940s.

In any event, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Plan9Crunch and the old memories of Castle Films!

-- Doug Gibson

Monday, December 22, 2014

From Plan9Crunch, our own videocast on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians



 "Hurray for Santy Claus!" was the cheery theme song for the ultra-bizarre 1960s kiddie-matinee Christmas cult classic "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians." The hyper-low budget, so-bad-it's-good blend of sci-fi and holiday cheer hung around theaters for more than a decade. In the past couple of generations, it was named one of the 50 Worst Films by the Medved brothers, was spoofed by Mystery Science Theater 3000 and is still ubiquitous as a DVD offering in dollar stores. In the video podcast above, Steve D. Stones and I, along with camera help from Jennifer Thorsted, dissect this wonderful film. And, by, we're in the screening room of the beautiful Art House Cinema 502 theater, located at 158  Historic 25th Street in Ogden, Utah.
-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The best animated version of A Christmas Carol



Some of us recall seeing this 25-minute "A Christmas Carol" on TV in the 1970s. Alistair Sim plays Scrooge, and he's almost as good as he was in the classic 1952 feature "Scrooge." This is a real Yuletide treat of an animated short that you just can't find anywhere to buy at a decent price. There are used out-of-print VHS tapes for sale at more than $100 on amazon. That's just too much, enjoy it here, courtesy of YouTube. Trust me -- this is a great film. It's a Richard Williams production from 1971, also starring the voice of Michael Redgrave.

-- Doug Gibson

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's time for a merry, scary 'Black Christmas'



By Steve D. Stones

A film like this could never be made for today’s audiences because most phones have caller IDs. The plot evolves around a killer making obscene phone calls to a university sorority house. Wes Craven’s Scream and John Carpenter’s Halloween both owe a great deal of credit to this film.

The opening sequence is a point of view shot of someone wandering outside a sorority house and peaking in a window. This same technique was used in the opening sequence of the 1978 Halloween to establish the point of view of little Michael Meyers walking up to his sister’s room to stab her to death. Carpenter may have borrowed this idea from Black Christmas, made just four years earlier in 1974.

The film immediately sets up the premise that someone is lurking in the attic of the sorority house just before college students are leaving for their Christmas break. The opening point of view shot continues with a shot indicating that someone is crawling through the window from outside the attic. The shot then cuts to an interior shot inside the house showing the opening of the attic uncovered.

Sorority sister Jess, played by Olivia Hussey, answers the telephone to someone making loud obscene noises. She holds up the phone so that everyone in the room can hear the call. A girl in the room asks if the caller is only one person. “That’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing their annual obscene phone call,” says Barbara, played by Margot Kidder.

One of the sorority sisters named Claire Harrison is in her room packing to leave for the Christmas break. Her father is to pick her up later that evening. As she walks into her closet to remove some of her clothes, a figure can be seen hiding behind plastic. The figure lunges at her and strangles her with the plastic. Next we see Claire dead in a rocking chair in the attic with the plastic wrapped around her head. The killer is rocking her back and fourth in the chair.

Claire’s father, Mr. Harrison, comes to pick her up at the bell tower on campus later that evening. She never shows up, so he decides to go directly to the sorority house to find out what happened to her. The drunken housemother Mrs. Mack meets him. She suggests that Claire could be at the fraternity house on campus visiting a boy.

Mr. Harrison cannot find Claire anywhere on campus so he goes to the local police station with some of Claire’s friends to file a missing persons report. Lieutenant Fuller, played by John Saxon, forms a search party later that night.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Mack is now housemother to an empty sorority house, and is desperately trying to find Claire’s cat named Claude. She climbs up to the attic to discover the corpse of Claire as the killer swings a meat hook on a rope, killing her.

Jess arrives back at the sorority house to another obscene phone call. Another point of view shot shows legs coming down the stairs towards Jess. It is Jess’s boyfriend Peter. This is where the audience is led to believe that the killer has to be Peter.

Peter proposes marriage to Jess, but she refuses. Peter is concerned over Jess’s decision to have an abortion, since he is the father. The two have a fight and Peter angrily leaves the house.

Lieutenant Fuller has a tracing device put on the sorority house phone. Jess sits by the fireplace in the house to wait for another obscene phone call so that the police can trace the call. She hears the loud sound of someone choking, and rushes into Barbara’s room as she is having an asthma attack in her sleep. Christmas carolers begin singing loudly outside the house. Jess opens the door to listen to the carolers as the killer comes out of the attic and kills Barbara in her room.

Jess comes back into the house as the carolers leave. The phone rings and Jess picks up the phone, only to hear more obscene noises. A close up shot of Jess’s face as she tries to talk to the obscene caller puts the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The police are able to trace the phone call to the house itself. Police clerk Nash calls Jess and tells her to get out of the house immediately. Jess grabs a fire poker from the fireplace and walks up the stairs to discover Barbara and another girl dead. She sees an eye staring out of the bedroom closet. This is the most haunting shot in the entire film.

Jess runs down the stars, but is unable to get the front door open. As she runs back towards the stairs, we see a hand reach out and grab her hair. She is able to get away and lock herself in the basement. A shadowy figure peeks into the windows of the basement and begins to call Jess by name. He breaks the window and we discover it is Peter her boyfriend.

The police arrive to find Jess lying on top of dead Peter. She has killed him with the fire poker. The police take her up to her bedroom to rest. The film ends with the camera traveling back up to the attic to reveal that the killer is still there with the corpses of Claire and Mrs. Mack. Peter was not the killer after all.

I think it would be safe to say that this film sets up many of the typical clich├ęs that we now recognize in the slasher genre that saturated 1980s horror films. However, that is not to say that they are not effective in this film. There are many false scares in this film where the viewer is lead to believe one thing, but later discovers something else. Much of the horror in this film is implied, not shown.

For example, in one clever sequence, the parents of Claire Harrison are helping with the search effort to find their daughter. They see a girl screaming in a park and run to her. The camera shows a look of horror on their faces as they look down at something on the ground. The camera never shows what they are looking at, but we later discover they are seeing a murdered child, and not their daughter. The audience is led to believe it is their daughter they are looking at.

It is also quite clever that we never get to see what the killer looks like. As Jess runs down the stairs towards the end of the film and a hand reaches out over the banister to grab her, we never see who the person is, just the hand grabbing her. We also never see the killer as the camera travels back up to the attic at the end of the film, but we do know the killer is there. This is a clever tactic in never revealing to the audience who the killer really is.

As an interesting side note, producer/director Bob Clark went on to create A Christmas Story and the first two Porky’s films. All three films were a huge hit in the 1980s. Have yourself a scary little Christmas with Black Christmas this Christmas Season! And watch the really cool complete original trailer for the film above!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Three fun, lesser known Christmas flicks!



(This essay originally ran in the Dec. 20, 2007 Standard-Examiner)

By Doug Gibson

Every December the best Christmas films pop up on TV: "Miracle on 34th Street," "A Christmas Carol," "Going My Way," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" — I refer to the Boris Karloff-narrated cartoon — "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" and, of course, that other Jimmy Stewart classic, "It's a Wonderful Life."

We all have our favorite Christmas cinema moments. George Bailey's joyous run through Bedford Falls, Ebenezer Scrooge dancing for joy on Christmas morning, Macy's Kris Kringle speaking Dutch to a World War II orphan girl, and my favorite, crusty but lovable Father Fitzgibbon's surprise reunion with his mother after decades apart.

There are great holiday films. Much has been written about them. But today let's spill some ink about the other Christmas films, the kitschy ones. They're all over the dial. Just turn on the Hallmark Channel!

Most aren't worth five minutes of our time, but some still spread holiday magic. We've all heard of "A Christmas Carol" or "Scrooge," but how many recall the Fonz — Henry Winkler — starring in "An American Christmas Carol"? There are two well-received versions of "Miracle on 34th Street," but do you recall the kitschy 1973 TV version in which the lawyer was played by actor-turned-newsman David Hartman?

Even the biggy, "It's a Wonderful Life," has a kitschy cousin. Remember "It Happened One Christmas," the gender-switching knockoff starring Marlo Thomas?

Indeed, the competition is fierce for those kitschiest Christmas movies that still entertain us. But here are three finalists, all made on the cheap, yet still being sold and garnering holiday TV showings.

So, without further adieu, here is the best kitschiest Christmas film:

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" — This 1964 film was shot in an abandoned airport hangar in Long Island, N.Y., using many minor cast members from a NYC stage production of "Oliver Twist." It has a catchy theme song, "Hurray for Santy (sic) Claus," that you'll hum afterward. The plot involves Martians coming to earth, kidnapping Santa and whisking him away to cheer up the Martian kiddies. Two earth children are kidnapped along with Santa. Santa and the earth kids fight off a Martian baddie, prep a goofy Martian to become that planet's Santa, and launch off to earth in the spaceship. We never know if they made it home — perhaps the budget didn't allow that. The acting has to be seen to be believed, but the film has a goofy charm. It was a big hit on the now-gone "weekend matinee" circuit and played theaters for years. Pia Zadora, who was briefly a sexy starlet in the 1980s, plays one of the Martian children. John Call, as Santa, does a mean "ho, ho, ho." (Update, in 2011 holiday season this film played at the North Ogden Walker Cinemas for $2 plus a donated can of food!)

And now, the second-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa Claus" — Don't confuse this 1959 Mexican film with Dudley Moore's "Santa Claus: The Movie" or Tim Allen's "The Santa Clause" films. This import is weird and a little creepy, but it sticks with you. Old Kris Kringle is a sort of recluse who talks to himself and lives in a castle in outer space. He has no elves. His helpers are children from around the world who can't sing very well, though they belt out a lot of songs. Santa's reindeer are, I think, plastic and he uses a key to start them. Santa also works out on an exercise belt to slim down for the chimneys. For some reason Santa hangs out with Merlin the Magician. Enter "Pitch," a devil. His goal is to stop Santa from delivering presents. Pitch is a wimpy fellow in red tights and wears what looks like a short middy skirt. Santa and Merlin foil Pitch's nefarious plans. The film also focuses on two children, a poor girl and a rich, neglected boy, who resist Pitch's temptations. There are magic flowers and even special drinks. Santa glides safely to a chimney using a parasol. If this film sounds to readers like the after-effects of taking two Percocet, you got the gist of it.

Finally, the third-best kitschiest Christmas film:

* "Santa and the Three Bears" — If you lived in Southern California long ago, this 1970 blend of live action and cartoon was a Thanksgiving afternoon staple on KTLA Channel 5. The animation is mediocre, but the story has a simple charm. A forest ranger teaches two excitable bear cubs about Christmas while their grouchy mother bear wants them to hibernate for the winter. The ranger agrees to play Santa for the cubs on Christmas Eve, but a storm keeps "Santa" away ... or does it? The best part of the film is the live-action beginning and ending, where the ranger sits by the Christmas tree with his grandaughter, a sleepy cat and many toys. The ranger is voiced and played by Hal Smith, best known as Otis the town drunk on "The Andy Griffith Show." Grumpy Mama Bear was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma on "The Flintstones"). The uncredited director is Barry Mahon, who made soft-core sex films in the 1960s with such titles as "Nudes Inc." and "The Sex Killer."


A footnote: These films can occasionally be found on TV. Indeed, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" and "Santa Claus" are usually broadcast a Friday in December on KULC Channel 9 in Utah at 9 p.m. Antenna TV played "... Martians" all last week. Both Santa Claus films mentioned here have also been spoofed by the snarky robots of "Mystery Science Theater 3000."




Friday, December 5, 2014

It's Christmas time with The Andy Griffith Show and old Ben Weaver



Here's another recap/review of a great Andy Griffith Show episode. From Season 1, "The Christmas Story."

By Doug Gibson


The Andy Griffith Show, Season 1, Episode 11, "The Christmas Story." Starring Andy Griffith, Don Knotts Ron Howard, Frances Bavier and Elinor Donahue. Guest starring Sam Edwards, Margaret Kerry and Joy Ellison as Sam, Bess and Effie Muggins, Will Wright as Ben Weaver.

Most successful TV situation comedies tend to have a Christmas episode and for some reason they are often produced in the first season: think "Mary Tyler Moore Show, "The Odd Couple" and "Happy Days." TAGS was no exception producing its Christmas-themed show in the 11th episode. It's a well-paced, funny, heartwarming tale that features Ben Weaver, Mayberry's most prominent merchant, a crochety, stooped-shouldered somewhat Dickensian figure with a well-hidden heart of gold tucked behind his gruff exterior.

The plot involves Weaver (Will Wright) dragging in moonshiner Sam Edwards to the courthouse on Christmas Eve and demanding that Edwards be locked up. A big Christmas party is being planned and Andy asks Ben if he'll let Edwards have a furlough through Christmas. True to form Weaver refuses. It looks like the Christmas Party is off, until Andy invites Edwards wife, Bess, (Kerry), and daughter, Effie, (Ellison), to stay in the jail with dad. In a funny scene, Andy overrides Ben's objections by cross-examing Sam's smiling kin, who admit they knew about the moonshining!

The funny plot seamlessly turns serious as a lonely Weaver, his Grinch-like plans foiled, tries to get himself arrested. Writer Frank Tarloff -- who penned 9 TAGS episodes -- deserves a tip of the hat for his funny, ironic script. Ben's plans to get busted are foiled when party-goers, including Ellie, either pay his fines or donate "stolen property" to him. Finally, in a scene that can bring tears, we see a lonely Ben Weaver, standing in an alley, peeking through the jail window bars, softly singing along with a Christmas Carol sung in the courthouse.

I won't give way the end for the very few who might still have missed the show, but it should be noted that perhaps the reason TAGS never again attempted a Christmas episode is that it could never have topped this. Wright as Ben Weaver is simply magnificent. His page on IMDB.com says he looks as "if he was born old." The grizzled, stooped ex-Western actor actually died at the relatively young age of 68. He played Ben Weaver in three TAGS episodes, the last before his death of cancer. Several other actors played Weaver in later episodes, but only one, Tol Avery, captured even a smidgen of the cranky magic Wright gave the role. He was, and remains, Mayberry merchant Ben Weaver to TAGS fans. In his three episodes, Weaver created a happy Christmas, saved a family from homelessness and gave a tired traveling merchant a job.

Notes: "Family members" Edwards, Kerry and Ellison were the same family Wright's Weaver threatened with eviction in another TAGS episodes. They were the Scobees. Knotts' Fife played Santa Claus, in full costume and "ho ho hos." Donahue's Walker sang "Away in the Manger." Season 1 was a little uneven, with the cast developing their roles. Knotts was still being too often used only for manic comic relief. Taylor's Andy was still the impetus for most humor. In the second season Sheriff Taylor would began to react to the humorous situations of others, and the show would move to its current classic status as a result.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

This pre-code gem, The Dark Horse, was on TCM today


The Dark Horse, 1932, 75 minutes, B&W, First National Pictures, directed by Alfred E. Green. Starring Guy Kibbee as Zachary Hicks, Warren William as Hal S. Blake, Bette Davis as Kay Russell, Vivienne Osborne as Maybelle Blake, Hal's ex-wife, Berton Churchill as William A. Underwood and Frank McHugh as Joe. Rating: 7 stars out of 10.
---
A quick note: "The Dark Horse" is one of those wonderful 1930s programmers that would sit neglected in a film library (or perhaps sit seldom seen in a Bette Davis film collection DVD) if it wasn't for Turner Classic Movies. Film-lovers are in debt to TMC, which daily offers an invaluable history lesson of cinema with its offerings.

Now, on to "The Dark Horse." This is a delightful satire of politics that proves that, even 76 years ago, we weren't fooled by the absurdities of the political arena. Veteran actor Guy Kibbee plays, Zachary Hicks, a bumbling fool of a man who is accidentally nominated by his "Progressive" Party to be governor of an unnamed state after the two front-runners are deadlocked.

A party secretary, Kay Russell, (a very young Bette Davis) recommends that a fast-talking, charming cad of a man Hal S. Blake (forgotten leading man Warren William) be bailed out of jail -- where's he sitting due to unpaid child support -- to run Hicks' campaign. Blake does a masterful job, all while trying to stay one step ahead of his scheming, vindictive ex-wife (Vivienne Osborne) and romancing wary secretary Russell.

The key to the film, though, is the dumbness and naivete of 50sh Hays, thrust out of nowhere. Kibbee is perfect in the role. He provides understated humor in his misunderstanding of situations and constant "yes ... and maybe no" to any question. William's political operative is uncannyingly on-target, you could almost picture him spinning on cable news shows today. Davis hasn't much to do but viewers can sense her screen presence that would lead her to stardom. A fun, fast-paced pre-code film that still has relevance today, it's well worth watching when it's on TCM.

Notes: Kibbee was a very much in demand character actor and B-film starrer in the 30s and early 40s. He is best known as the corrupt governor controlled by Jim Taylor in Frank Capra's 1939 classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." He also starred in the only sound version of Sinclair Lewis' tale "Babbitt." Kibbee is great as Babbitt in that seldom-seen 1934 film, which aired recently on TCM. Frank McHugh, who played William's political sidekick, is best known as Father Tim Dowd in the 1944 Bing Crosby classic "Going My Way."

-- Doug Gibson

Friday, November 28, 2014

In honor of Black Friday, a review of Black Friday with Bela Lugosi, Karloff



By Steve D. Stones

Just In Time For Black Friday – It’s Black Friday (1940), starring Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff
No, this movie is not about what happens at retail outlets the day after Thanksgiving. In fact, the opening sequence of the film shows dates on a calendar slowly tearing off a page until it stops on Friday the 13th. The film stars two great horror icons - Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Both give fine performances in the film, even though they never appear on screen together.

Karloff stars as a doctor who is sentenced to the electric chair at the beginning of the film. Just before his electrocution, he gives a book of writings to a newspaper reporter who he trusts. We go back in time to witness a horrible accident of Professor George Kingsley, one of Karloff’s friends, who is ran over and killed in a car by gangsters being chased by police. A gangster named Red Cannon is also killed in the accident, leaving behind a half a million dollars hidden somewhere.

Karloff decides to transplant Cannon’s brain into the head of his deceased friend in hopes that Cannon will reveal the location of the money. No surgical procedure is ever shown on screen, and we never see how Karloff is able to steal Cannon’s brain while still evading police.

Karloff takes Kingsley to the same New York hotel that Red Canon hid from the police in. As Karloff pries Kingsley for information about the money, his features begin to transform into Cannon until he actually becomes Cannon. Cannon leaves the hotel in the body of Kingsley to kill members of his gang that left him for dead. Newspaper headlines report the murders of Cannon’s gang members.

Film noir elements are used in a sequence when Cannon hides in the back of a car to surprise a member of his gang to strangle him. As the gangster gets into the car, vague shadows consume Cannon’s face to hide his identity. Cannon lunges to strangle the man inside the car.

Lugosi’s character, a member of Cannon’s group, sets a trap to follow Cannon to find the money by using Cannon’s girlfriend as bait. The plan backfires when Cannon discovers Lugosi hiding in the closet of his girlfriend’s apartment. Lugosi and the girlfriend are shot and killed by Cannon.

The police question Kingsley at the end of the film when a taxi driver is tipped a thousand dollars by Cannon as he flees the murder scene. Kingsley does not remember the incident after being unconscious. His body returns as Cannon to seek out Karloff and the money. When Karloff shoots Cannon, he switches back to Kingsley’s body, and the viewer is now aware of why the film started with Karloff being sentenced to the electric chair.

Black Friday can be purchased in a Universal Studios- Bela Lugosi DVD set with four other Lugosi films - The Black Cat, Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Raven and The Invisible Ray. This set is a must have for any serious Lugosi fan and collector of his films.  Watch these films back to back. They are great fun.

Don’t get hassled by all those pesky Black Friday shoppers out there on November 23rd. Maybe it’s best to stay home and watch this 1940 classic – Black Friday. Happy Shopping!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book on regional horror films is manna for cult movies enthusiasts



By Doug Gibson

If you're a cult- or alternative-film fan/geek like I am, and I assume most of our readers are, then Brian Albright has provided a great service with his latest McFarland Publishers book, "Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews." (here) The book is comprised in two parts: a series of interviews with directors or persons otherwise associated with regional horror films; and a lengthy, fairly complete listing, state-by-state, of regional, ultra low-budget horrors for the 32 years covered.

Albright correctly describes a regional film as shot outside of the entertainment industry, or southern California, and not associated with a major, or even minor, studio. In many cases, these were labors of love, or hobbies that turned into several-year projects, punctuated by stubborn persistence by the filmmakers to get the thing done. What's fairly consistent through the interviews that Albright gathered -- probably over several years since some of the essays are from 2008 -- is that the filmmakers saw little, or no money, from their endeavors. Distributors took all the cash, the films were pirated and sold throughout the nation and world, the made-for-video market collapsed in the late 1980s ... survivors of the original filmmaker sold the film for a quick buck, and so on. (It would be interesting for McFalarland to publish a book on the many ways ways small-time, regional filmmakers were shut out of whatever cash flow came from their films.)

It's wise that Albright resists the urge to provide interviews involving regional films that hit it big and spawned imitators, such as "The Evil Dead" or "Night of the Living Dead." While their stories are fascinating, there is more than enough articles and books out there for fans to go to. Instead, Albright picks an eclectic group to interview. I particularly enjoy the interview with Robert Burrill, the man behind "The Milpitas Monster." Although previously published in FilmFax, the story of how a school and a small city banded together to make an ecological monster film, partially as a protest against a larger city critic's slamming of said city, is interesting. What started out as a short literally grew, like a monster, into a finished film.

In fact, future filmmakers can learn from some of the stories, including Donald Barton of Florida, who cobbled together investors willing to put in almost $100,000 to make "Zaat," a story about a scientist who turns himself into a catfish monster. (Barton even got a local Baptist church to help out!) After seeing "Zaat" falter and even be turned into other titles by distribution deals that yielded no money, Barton shelved his movie for 30 years before fans convinced him to publicize it on the Web, show it -- to a big crowd -- at an locla theater, and (later) move it back into DVD distribution. Amazingly, I watched "Zaat" recently on Turner Classic Movies' TCM Underground series; a similar "distinction" was awarded another Florida regional film listed in the compendium, "Carnival Magic," directed by the late Al Adamson. (It was also fascinating to learn that regional horror films were easier to make due to tax write offs that were unfortunately eliminated by Congress, strangling the genre by the latter half of the 1980s.)

It'd be nice to see a TCM Underground showing for regional director, J.R. Bookwalter, who is interviewed by Albright, mostly about "The Dead Next Door," his homage to Romero's zombie movies that for a while, received some support from "The Evil Dead" director Sam Raimi. Bookwalter eventually moved into low-budget producing and distribution, and it's facinating to read about the details of that industry. It may be the only viable way for most talented micro-budget regional horror filmmakers to make some bucks.

I also enjoyed the interview with the eccentric Milton Moses Ginsberg, who crafted the bizarre monster/political film, "The Werewolf of Washington," a staple today for horror movie hosts looking to cheaply lampoon public domain films. Ginsberg, who admits to being most horrified by "The Wolfman" as a youngster, created in the early 1970s what seems like a natural take off on the Watergate ... except that the film was hatched and created prior to the Watergate scandal breaking. In any event, it's a prescient regional film, and (of course) died quickly at the box office, before being pirated to the VHS and DVD market.

As mentioned, the compendium is fairly complete, and includes at least a paragraph, and most often more, on the hundreds of regional films included. A lot of low-budget cult figures are covered pretty well in the list, including Andy Milligan and Bill Rebane. The video nasty Utah regional horror, "Don't Go In the Woods ... Alone," is included, as well as the interesting, Texas regional from the 1960s, "The Black Cat." The pre-porno adult regional filmmakers are mentioned from time to time, including the late Barry Mahon's "The Sex Killer," which captures many bleak late-1960s shots of the New York City business districts.

A lot of the films mentioned in this book, including "Black Cat" and Milligan's "Torture Dungeon," would be great picks for future TCM Underground selections. Let's hope the brains behind that series is reading Albright's book..





Thursday, November 6, 2014

Comparing "Ed Wood" the movie with the book


By Doug Gibson

Tim Burton's wonderful film, Ed Wood, recently was chosen as one of the "new classics," by Entertainment Weekly. It's a worthy selection. Burton's black & white tale of Hollywood in the 1950s is a romanticized fairy tale. Johnny Depp's exuberant, ceaselessly optimistic Wood carries the day with a triumphant Plan 9 from Outer Space premiere at the Pantages. (That didn't happen, of course. Plan 9 was screened once at the tiny Rialto and then sat on the shelf for three years). When Plan 9 was put into general release, Wood didn't see a cent.

Later, before the credits to Burton's film roll, the epilogue tells us Wood descended into alcoholism and pornography. It's appropriate that not be shown in Burton's film. It is, as mentioned a fairy tale, of optimism and perserverance. In a general sense, it is accurate. Wood battled tremendous odds in the 1950s. He filmed Glen Or Glenda, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls with virtually no money. He managed to attract a diverse and eccentric collection of well-known and semi-known cast names, including Dolores Fuller, Criswell, Kenne Duncan, Steve Reeves, Bud Osborne, Timothy Farrell, John Carpenter, Harvey Dunne, Lyle Talbot, Vampira, Herbert Rawlinson, Gregory Walcott and, of course, Bela Lugosi. It appears Wood's enthusiasm was contagious, and many thought he might make it. That he didn't have a long career at least in directing low-budget thrillers must be attributed to his alcoholism, which made him unreliable. Even near his death, his writing was amazingly prolific. More than one friend recalls him writing a screenplay in a day. He wrote hundreds of paperback novels.

The following are some inconsistencies between Burton's Ed Wood, the romanticized, fairy tale film, and Grey's often gritty absorbing oral biography account of Wood's short rise and long descent. One day I'll add to this as time goes on. Here are inconsistencies by film:

Glen or Glenda: In the book, George Weiss is shown as short and trim. In the film he is an overweight slob; It is doubtful that Wood's gay friend Bunny Breckenridge auditioned transvestites for the film. By the way, actor Bill Murray does a great job portraying Breckenridge. The film set for G&G though, matches it as described in the book. Lugosi was not divorced, as the film depicts him. He was still with his wife, Lillian, although she left him soon after. In fact, Grey reports that Lillian pushed Lugosi to take the film. It is also very doubtful Wood gave G&G to a major producer to watch, as the film shows. Also, the film shows Depp's Wood as unhappy that the film was not reviewed in LA. Obviously, Wood would have known where the film was debuting and not checked the LA Times for a review. Burton's scenes of Wood's company stealing shots on LA streets are accurate, according to Grey.

Jail Bait: This film is not even mentioned in Burton's Ed Wood (probably for time and continuity reasons) so let's give it some ink. It's a crime thriller that involves a hood (Farrell) pressuring a plastic surgeon (Rawlinson) and his daughter (Fuller) to make him a new face. Interesting co-stars were Reeves (in his pre-muscleman days) and then-top model Theodora Thurman. Also in the cast are Wood regulars Mona McKinnon, Don Nagel and Bud Osborne. The film's score, which is a bit grating, was taken from Mesa of Lost Women. Howco Films released the film, which likely mostly played the southern drive-in circuit. It's too ambitious for its budget, but is not a bad hour-long time waster. According to Grey, scenes were stolen at an LA motel. (Scene stealing is shooting at private and public locations without permission) Grey, and many rumors, claim that ex-silent film star Rawlinson died the morning after his scenes were shot. Lugosi was slated to play the plastic surgeon, but was either exhausted from his recent Las Vegas gig, too addicted to morphine, or perhaps just had a better offer.

Bride of the Monster: Burton's scenes in LA's Griffith Park of Wood filming in the early AM the finale to Bride are accurate to Grey's description with one exception: Lugosi never got in the water to tangle with a rubber octopus. That was handled by his stand-in, stuntman Eddie Parker. Burton portrays Loretta King, who starred as a nosy reporter, as an airhead. Grey's depiction is fairer, and recent interviews support that she was a capable actress who got the job not for her supposed money, but for her skills. Dolores Fuller's anger at losing the role is accurately portrayed in both film and book. Also, Burton is very unfair to leading man Tony McCoy. He is portrayed as borderline retarded. Wood calls him the worst he ever had in Grey's book. But a viewing of Bride of the Monster shows McCoy to be a very average but capable actor. He certainly knew his lines and can be personable on screen. In fact, McCoy and King were both handled by agent Marge Usher, who supplied Wood with several actors.

Plan 9 From Outer Space: First, although it is a marvelous scene in Burton's Ed Wood, Wood and his idol Orson Welles never chatted at a Hollywood bar. That scene is fiction. By the way, Wood's friend and actor Conrad Brooks plays the bartender in that scene. Also, Burton has Vampira and Kathy Wood being baptized as a Baptist with other Wood regulars to get funding for the film. I don't believe Vampira would have done it, and Kathy Wood says in Grey's book she wouldn't get baptized. It is doubtful Wood would have been angry at Gregory Walcott being cast in his film, since he was a minor name actor at the time. Also, Wood never agreed to his film, Grave Robbers From Outer Space, being changed in title to Plan 9 From Outer Space, as Burton's film show. A minor point; but Ed and Kathy Wood did not meet at Lugosi's hospital, as the film shows. In later interviews, Kathy Wood said they met in a bar. The film was not premiered at the Pantages, and certainly wasn't the elaborate affair as Burton's film shows. In fact, Wood sold the rights to Plan 9 to his Baptist financier, J. Edward Reynolds, for $1 (as Grey recounts) and the film received a minimal release from a small firm, Distributors Releasing Corporation of America. It opened as a second bill to a now-obscure British film called Time Lock.

Night of the Ghouls: Again, not mentioned in Burton's Ed Wood, this film was a sequel to Bride of the Monster, as it involved Tor Johnson's giant Lobo, and a semi sequel to Plan 9 as it had Paul Marco's Patrolman Kelton and Duke Moore's Lt. Daniel Bradford in the cast. It involves a phony medium (Duncan, in a role obviously intended for the late Lugosi) and his young squeeze (Valda Hansen) ripping off elderly fools in an old house. The tables are turned on the pair as the police close in on them and the dead really do start to awake. It has Criswell, narrating from a coffin as he does in Plan 9 and having a brief acting role as well. (Let me digress and say that Jeffrey Jones was brilliant as the late psychic in Burton's film). As mentioned, Tor Johnson's Lobo shuffles around menacingly. The film is intermixed with scenes from an unreleased Wood film called Final Curtain. That sequence, which stars Moore and actress Jeanne Stevens, is quite creepy. If anyone knows where to find a complete version of Final Curtain, it would be quite a find. Night of the Ghou;s was premiered but Wood ran out money, couldn't pay a lab bill and the film was seized for about a quarter of a century before Wood fan Wade Williams paid the bill and it was released. The film's budget is threadbare and dirt-cheap. A cut out picture of Ed Wood is posted on a police wall. The police commander's office has no doorknobs. Obviously, Wood planned more editing and shoots before he lost control of the film. Night of the Ghouls was the first in a planned sequence of films that Wood wanted to make.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My five top scariest scenes in film history -- from Doug Gibson



By Doug Gibson

The late-great Alfred Hitchcock was fond of saying, “People pay money to be scared.” In honor of this Halloween season I offer my take on the five scariest scenes in film history. If you want more commentary on scary movies scenes, read my blog colleague Steve D. Stones, art professor at Weber State University, offer his five most chilling scenes here.

Without procrastination, let’s get to scariest movie scene 1: It’s the final 10 minutes of “Suspiria,” a 1977 Italian horror flick directed by Dario Argento. It stars Jessica Harper as a U.S. dance student who discovers her European dance academy is run by a coven of witches. The final ultimate scary scene involves a possessed colleague of young Ms Harper who goes on the attack at the film’s climax. Argento’s skills have deteriorated in recent decades but “Suspiria” remains a contender for the scariest film ever made.

To read the rest of this "scariest movie scenes column, go to the Standard-Examiner newspaper site, where I also published this. You can keep on reading here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My top five scariest scenes in horror cinema history -- from Steve D. Stones



Editor's note: This week, 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 is Steve's five creepy moments, and Doug's will follow later this week.
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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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Happy birthday Bela Lugosi, a review of 'Dracula'



Dracula, 1931, 75 minutes, Universal, black and white. Directed by Tod Browning. Starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, Dwight Frye as Renfield, David Manners as Jonathan Harker and Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Van Helsing. Schlock-Meter rating: 9 and 1/2 stars out of 10.

By DOUG GIBSON

As a film, Dracula too often appears like a stage play. Most of the actors aren't particularly strong, and the climax of the film (Dracula's death) foolishly takes place off screen. Nevertheless, thanks to Bela Lugosi -- and to a lesser extent Dwight Frye -- the film remains a classic, a true cult film that brings viewers back for repeat visits to Transylvania, foggy London and Carfax Abbey, the lair of the Count. The plot: Dracula prepares for a move to London. He drives Renfield (a Londoner in Transylvania to help him move), mad, and then arrives in London. He soon ingratiates himself with the Seward family, and lusts for the blood of two ladies. He is foiled when a family friend (Van Sloan) suspects he is a vampire, and pretty Mina Seward (Chandler) is saved when Dracula is destroyed.

It's safe to say that first half hour of this film is perfect, in atmosphere, Lugosi's Dracula, etc. After it moves to Carfax Abbey and the Seward sanitarium, it dips a tad in quality, but returns to perfection when Lugosi is in a scene.

Lugosi's performance is magnificent. He is truly the Count, with his urbane charm, his sly humor (I never drink ... wine.), his greedy eyes sighting blood, his melodramatic answers to questions, and his artful fencing with vampire hunter Van Helsing. However, few critics capture another personality of Lugosi's Dracula: His desire to die. In a poignant scene at an opera, Dracula expounds in melodramatic fashion the peace of death. One realizes in that scene the Count wants to die, that he's as much a prisoner of fate as his victims. He simply lacks the will power to end his long existence.

Frye's Renfield is marvelous. He succeeds in convincing viewers that the secret of the Count -- discovered first hand -- is so horrible that it would drive anyone insane. His mad chuckles when discovered on a deserted ship are chilling. Frye also conveys terror and adoration when pleading with Dracula late in the film. Manners and Chandler are barely adequate as two lovers threatened by Lugosi's Dracula, but Van Sloan is pretty strong as Van Helsing. He manages a sense of humor despite the seriousness of his task, and reminds me of Donald Pleasance's slightly crazy psychiatrist who pursued monster Michael Meyers in Halloween.

Lugosi's eyes, used to seduce victims, are hypnotic. He knew this character -- he'd played Dracula on Broadway. Director Browning conveys atmosphere early in the film with scenes of a coach in the wilds of Transylvania and a ship tossed at sea. Unfortunately, the last two-thirds of the film is often too static and talky. But every scene with Lugosi is a pleasure, and he turns an ordinary film into a classic of the genre.

(WATCH THIS SCENE FROM THE FILM BELOW)








Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bela Lugosi recites Poe's The Tell Tale Heart



By Doug Gibson

Above is a fantastic treat for horror film fans, a recording of the late, great Bela Lugosi reciting Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart." It's brought courtesy of YouTube. It's an appropriate way station in a look at Lugosi's great career. Born in 1882, his 132nd birthday is Oct. 20, 2014, tomorrow!

According to Lugosi biographer Arthur Lennig in "The Immortal Count," the above tape was discovered in the past generation by cult film historian Lee Harris, who passed it onto former Cult Movies magazine editor Buddy Barnett, who now edits Mondo Cult. Anyway, Barnett shared it with Lennig.

Probably recorded in 1947 or by Lugosi with his then-agent Don Marlowe, it's not a professional recording, although conducted at WCAX in Burlington, Vt.. There is no background music or end pieces. My guess is that Lugosi was practicing for his spook show that would include his storytelling of the Poe tale. He does a great job, never losing a sinister edge and slowly, just like Poe's tale, losing his sanity and composure as the tale unfolds. The final 30 seconds of The Tell Tale Heart (and please watch it) are a marvelous as Lugosi exudes passion and fear as his voice breaks with emotion.

Lennig downplays the history of Lugosi's "The Tell Tale Heart" bookings, writing that the show appeared "in such obscure places that the dates it played remain lost and it quickly folded because of its meager drawing power."

That's not quite true. Further research, revealed in the new book, "No Traveler Returns: The Lost Years of Bela Lugosi," by Gary Don Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger, confirm that "The Tell Tale Heart" show didn't last very long but it had significant performances, was accompanied with press coverage and media ads. The show opened in Rockford, Ill., in late 1947 to a large crowd -- 1,500 -- at The Coronado theater in Rockford. Lugosi was interviewed by the Rockford Morning Star. The Poe play, which was accompanied by a Lugosi film ("Dracula" was the co-feature in Wisconsin) eventually planned a moves to Minnesota and Michigan. "There are graphics of vintage newspaper ads about Lugosi "Tell Tale Heart" play.

Unfortunately, despite the great start, the play's success declined rapidly. Marlowe, who was notorious for flashy starts and low future cash, had booked obscure theaters and lesser Lugosi co-features, such as "Spooks Run Wild" and "The Return of the Ape Man". Profits disappeared -- it's reported that Marlowe had promised Bela $2,000 a week -- and by early December future showings were cancelled. "No Traveler Returns" writes that on Dec. 10, Lugosi had signed for $1,250 a week to do vaudeville.

In all, it appears that Lugosi performed his "The Tell Tale Heart" show at most 8 times, perhaps a few more. History is murky. As the the above recitation shows, preserved on the Net, he was more than up to the task.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Bela Lugosi in Invisible Ghost -- a fuller review



By Doug Gibson

Recently,  I spared a paragraph on "Invisible Ghost," Bela Lugosi's first Monogram film. Ironically, it was the first Lugosi Monogram I ever saw and years ago I was rather dismissive of the film, particularly Lugosi's insane murder moments. Watching it again, as recent as last night, and comparing it to other Lugosi Monograms, I re-evaluate it as technically, the best looking Lugosi poverty-row offering of the 1940s, if not the most campy or cultish. That notice still remains with "Devil Bat," "Bowery at Midnight," and "The Ape Man."

Here's what I wrote recently on this blog: "THE INVISIBLE GHOST, 1941:

"Lugosi's first Monogram has a convoluted plot but benefits from above-average direction from Joseph H. Lewis. Lugosi plays a kindly man whose wife deserted him. Unbelievably, she still lives on the grounds and he goes quite mad when he catches glimpses of her. The deaths lead to the execution of one innocent man whose brother (same actor) comes to the house to seek justice. Lugosi's hypnotic walk when under the murder spell of his wife is campy but the actor also brings pathos to it. Former silent star Betty Compson plays Lugosi's estranged, insane wife."

Lewis' direction is superb, and he throws in touches that other, run of the mill cheapie directors do not do, including interesting shots from a fire place, with the flames dancing in front of the actors, and excellent forward shots of a horrified Lugosi seeing his wife Compson through the window in a storm. The acting is better, particularly black actor Clarence Muse as Evans the butler who acts with dignity, and not a Stephen Fetchit portrayal. And the film's love interest is the talented Polly Ann Young, the least successful of the sisters in Hollywood trio that included Loretta Young and Sally Blane. Also, the sets seem of better quality than an average Monogram film.

One the minus side, the script is weak and convoluted, and mildly confusing. I think quality of scripts are the biggest difference between Universal B films and poverty row offerings in the 1940s. The other distinction is depth of acting talent in the films. Also, although Lugosi is excellent in his role -- even now I see the restraint in his insane moments that I missed on my first viewing, his playing of Mr. Kessler is not a role that demands any particular expertise or trait that made Lugosi unique. For example, the role could easily have been played -- at 90 percent of Lugosi's strength -- by George Zucco.

One more thing to add: Compson does a very good job as Lugosi's insane wife, who wanders around the Kessler estate. The poor script offers very little in how she could manage this so consistently, but as mentioned, scripts were not a priority on poverty row.

I highly endorse "Invisible Ghost" as a strong Lugosi poverty row offering. It appropriately belongs in the top tier of the Monogram cheapies and comes the closest to looking like a Universal B offering.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Boris Karloff plays good twin, bad twin in 'The Black Room'



By Doug Gibson

Boris Karloff is pretty darn good in The Black Room as Gregor and Boris, evil and good twin brothers in Columbia's 1935 mystery/horror "The Black Room." It seems that there's a curse with the landowner's family that whenever twins are born, the younger kills the older in a part of the castle called "The Black Room." To end this fate, the Black Room is sealed off and the younger twin, Anton, is eventually shipped off to Budapest (Anton, by the way, has a paralyzed right arm) and the older twin, Baron Gregor, is left in charge.

Well, you guessed it, Gregor is an evil psychopath and serial killer of women as well. Just before the peasants are about to overthrow his authority, he sends for mild-mannered, kind Anton, eventually ceding his power to Anton and promising to leave. But, just before he does that, he takes Anton into the Black Room (Gregor has a built a secret entrance) and reveals his evil and murders to his brother before killing hapless Anton and taking his identity, complete with a faux paralyzed arm. He fools everyone except a faithful dog which knows he's not Anton.

Subplot involves a gorgeous colonel's daughter, played by Svengali star Marian Marsh, who is lusted after by Gregor. Her dad is opposed to Gregor pawing his daughter but would love Anton to marry her. You get what's happening. The colonel's daughter has a fiance, a lieutenant, but Gregor manages to kill the colonel and frame the lieutenant, which leads to a proposed marriage with the young lovely, while her intended awaits an execution date. Meanwhile, the dead Anton rests at the bottom of a pit in the Black Room, with the sharp end of a knife sticking out of his chest. At the marriage climax, the faithful pooch attacks Gregor, which leads to a wild chase toward the Black Room and a fulfillment of the family curse.

Karloff is excellent playing dual roles. As author Greg Mank has noted, his "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" voice almost 30 years later sounds eerily like Gregor. Katherine De Mille, wife of Anthony Quinn, has a small role as one of Gregor's murder victims. Starlet Marsh was still a big name in the mid '30s, but by 1940 her A studio days were over and she was on Poverty Row toiling at Monogram and PRC. Her last feature was "House of Errors" with Harry Langdon as a co-star.

All in all, a great film, highly recommended as among Karloff's best non Universal 30s work.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Plan9Crunch kindle story: Yehudi, a tale of terror from Ogden's Historic 25th Street



At Plan9Crunch we are happy to offer via Kindle a short story, "Yehudi," that is a ghost tale set on Ogden, Utah's Historic 25th Street, a location that is rife with ghost legends. The story is penned by blogger Doug Gibson and offers cover art from co-blogger Steve D. Stones. It's only 99 cents, and we think you'll enjoy the read. To check it out, go here. (The original art that made the cover is below) Also, if you like my story, it's part of an anthology, "Tales From Two Bit Street and Beyond Part II," which can be purchased here.

Here is the pitch at the Kindle site: People usually take a chilly, adventurous delight in detailing the supernatural. They feel an icy breeze, see a ghostly white phantom sliding by, or sense a mostly tender touch. But it's different with Yehudi, the trickster of Ogden's Union Station. He makes a great first impression, until the face below the dark hat is revealed. It's then the terror starts.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Raven: Bela Lugosi at his most maniacal evil



                                                                  By Doug Gibson

Simply put, "The Raven" (1935) is a masterpiece. And credit for its perfection belongs to star Bela Lugosi, who is magnificent as the brilliant, deranged, courtly and insane Dr. Richard Vollin, who is so obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe that he has built real Poe-inspired torture devices in his dungeon.

"The Raven" is almost as good as "The Black Cat" that starred Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but it lacks the subtle sadism and velvet touch that director Edgar Ulmer gave to the other "Poe tale."

Lugosi's Vollin is implored upon to save the life of a beautiful dancer, Jean Thatcher, Irene Ware. Once he restores her to health, he fall in lust with her and wants her for himself. Rebuffed by Thatcher's father, Samuel Hinds, he hatches a plan to invite the dancer, her father, her fiance, and others to be tortured and murdered. In his feverish mind, Vollin believes that by killing, he can be released from his Poe obsessions, that to torture will relieve his torture.

Vollin's unwilling helper is Edmond Bateman, (Karloff) a murderer on the lam who bewails his ugly face. He begs Vollin to bring beauty to his countenance. Instead, Vollin makes him uglier and then promises to fix his ugliness after he kills his guests.

Lugosi is just brilliant. He's gentlemanly and manic, polite and cruel,  courteous and a raving lunatic. The short, 61-minute film is tightly directed by Lew Landers. It is an example of Universal's consistent fiscal cruelty to Lugosi that he received only half as much as Karloff earned, although Lugosi's Vollin is the real star, the real villain.

In this film, Lugosi proved that he could play the essential mad scientist, obsessed, insane, unfeeling, sadistic, perverted and, of course, brutal and murderous. In fact, Lugosi and Karloff play almost the same type of roles they would play in The Body Snatchers a decade later, with Karloff the weaker one in The Raven.

This is a film that should not be missed by any horror film fan. Its history is interesting; early reviews were appropriately positive, but then the Breen-era morals kicked in and there was a flurry of bad reviews decrying the sadism of the film. As a result, its profit was lower than expected and the film would damage the pocketbooks of Karloff and particularly Lugosi as it prompted the British horror ban on the latter half of the 1930s.

Fortunately, the film's excellence survived the prissy reviews and it's appropriately regarded as a classic and a Lugosi film with Karloff as a secondary character. The trailer is below:

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Mummy's Hand: The first Kharis tale from Universal



By Doug Gibson

My son and I have spent the past two weekends watching Universal's four "Kharis the mummy" movies. They are lean, competent films that seem to be over just as they've begun. By 1940, most Universal horrors were of the B-production and indeed "The Mummy's Hand" is budgeted at $80,000, about a third of what "Dracula" cost in 1931.

Despite the low budgets, the Universal films are generally far better than efforts from low-budget studios such as Monogram or PRC. The reason is due to discipline; more disciplined scripts, more disciplined directors, more disciplined acting (In a PRC or Monogram film, generally only 1, 2, or three actors were really talented; At Universal, most of the cast was. Also, Universal had access to its wonderful back lot and stock footage from earlier horror efforts.

Directed by Christy Cabanne, a silent films veteran, "The Mummy's Hand" is generally considered the best of the four films. I agree but I think all are entertaining. What perhaps sets apart "The Mummy's Hand" is the very strong cast. Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Wallace Ford, Charles Trowbridge, Tom Tyler, and particularly George Zucco are in top form. The actors also don't take themselves too seriously. There are interludes of light comedy in the films which prevents the tension from going stale.

The plot: There's a prologue where we learn about Kharis being punished for trying to resurrect the Princess Ananka's tomb, in which he's mummified alive and left with life-sustaining "tanna" leaves. This is related to Dr. Andoheb (Zucco) who is tasked by a mentor to protect Ananka's tomb. Foran is Steve Banning, recently fired archaeologist stranded in Cairo with a sidekick, Babe Jenson, Ford. They discover a partial ancient vase which another expert, Dr. Petrie (Trowbridge) believes provides directions to Ananka's tomb. Using his influence and spies, Andoheb tries to stop them (he even breaks the vase) but Banner and company get funding from an eccentric American showman, the Great Solvani (Cecil Kelloway). His daughter, Marta Solvani (Moran) is upset with Banner and Jenson for getting the cash from her dad and even pulls a gun on them, but she is eventually won over and Foran and Moran become the love interest in the film.

The expedition heads off to the tombs with natives worried about the curse of Ananka's tomb. They have reason to worry as they are being tailed by Andoheb and his spy. Once Kharis is discovered in the tomb meant for Ananka (she was moved secretly, as the prologue notes), Andoheb revives the mummy (Tyler) with tanna leavesand the death toll starts to mount.

Tom Tyler, a western star, only played the mummy once. It was soon turned over to Universal's new horror star, Lon Chaney Jr., but some argue that Tyler is better than Chaney. In my opinion, Chaney's mummy has more personality but Tyler's is more sinister looking, particularly with the black holes that serves as his eyes. They are creepy.

Foran and Moran have chemistry and Ford, as he often did, provides a satisfying blend of whimsy and drama. Zucco is magnificent as the cold, calculating Andoheb. He doesn't get nearly enough praise for his mad scientist roles, often overshadowed by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The script falters a tad at the end by having Andoheb get the hots for Marta. That's out of character and unbelievable but it was a regular plot twist in the Kharis movies.

The only Universal Kharis film not set in the USA, "The Mummy's Hand" is well worth an hour-plus. It's a fine example of the efficient, low-budget horrors that Universal provided in the 1940s.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Night of The Living Dead (1968) – The Godfather of Zombie Movies



By Steve D. Stones

There’s no question that director George A. Romero is the Godfather of the zombie movie. His Night of The Living Dead (1968) is the standard to which all following zombie movies are measured. Prior to this landmark black and white film, the zombie was portrayed as a figure created through voodoo ritual. This zombie was a slow moving, brain dead person moving in a sort of somnambulistic trace. 

Romero changed this stereotype. In Romero’s world, zombies are vicious creatures who were once our friends, neighbors and loved ones, and they eat the flesh of the victims they attack. This was a big change from the voodoo zombie seen in Jacques Tourneur’s “ I Walked with a Zombie (1943).”
Watch closely, and you will see a film steeped in political and social commentary, and one which makes a statement about the breakdown of the family unit. The hero is a young African American man named Ben – played by stage actor Duane Jones. To cast a black man as the lead role and hero was risky business in the 1960s following a decade of racial tension, riots and Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Birmingham.

The story may be familiar to you by now. Night of The Living Dead concerns a group of terrified individuals who have trapped themselves in a Pennsylvania farmhouse to protect themselves from hungry zombies. As the group fights desperately to survive the attack of zombies outside the house, the real struggle is between two men – Ben (Duane Jones) and Harry Cooper – played by Karl Hardman. Both are desperate to have complete control over the situation. The two continually argue with each other through the entire film.

Cooper’s wife and child and a young couple have barricaded themselves in the basement. Ben insists that everyone come upstairs and protect the ground level of the house. Cooper rejects this request, and a conflict between the two men occurs. Both men think they have the best plan for protecting the entire group, but as we see in the end – the zombies eventually break into the house, and only Ben is able to race downstairs and barricade himself in the basement for protection.

Ben survives the attack, but is mistaken for a zombie as a posse approaches the house and kills him. His body is thrown on a pile of dead zombies and burned at the end of the film. No heroes prevail in Romero’s zombie world.

The opening sequence of Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) driving through an empty Pennsylvania cemetery covered with fallen leaves is one of the most effective scenes in horror cinema. Without showing a single zombie in the opening, the viewer immediately knows something dramatic and intense is about to happen. From the moment Johnny is attacked by a zombie wandering through the cemetery, the film never lets up on the zombie assault.

Shot on a shoestring budget by a group of Pennsylvania filmmakers working in television and commercials, the group formed the production name Image Ten based on the ten investors who put up the money and worked on the film. For further information on Night of The Living Dead, see Danny Peary’s “Cult Movies volume one” and Joe Kane’s excellent book “Night of The Living Dead – Behind The Scenes of The Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever.”

A remake was made in 1990 and 2006. The 2006 remake is a 3-D movie that comes with 3-D glasses if you buy the DVD.  Avoid the 30th Anniversary print with new scenes added. Romero had nothing to do with this version, and if you see it – you’ll understand why. The new scenes add nothing to the original film, and do not blend well with the original print.  Also avoid the computer colorized print that was released on VHS in the 1980s. The zombies are portrayed in a ridiculous green color that is laughable.

Don’t miss Romero’s excellent 1978 follow up – Dawn of The Dead. This sequel steps up the graphic horror and violence about ten notches and is in color. Happy viewing. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

We love our Johnny Sokko! Another Giant Robot Voyage Into Space post

 By Doug Gibson

Voyage Into Space is an absolutely bizarre 1970 or so Japanese monster-rama that involves a young boy, Johnny Sokko, having control over a crime-fighting, flying Giant Robot. Sokko and Giant Robot work for the Unicorns, a UN-type spy ring trying to save the world from the extraterrestrial evil, Guillotine, his various sidekicks, including "Spider" and Dr. Botanus. The "army" of Guillotine is "the Gargoyle Gang," a group of military types who resemble Nazis.

This is a weird movie but unbelievably entertaining for young kids and nostalgic adults who recall seeing it when they were young kids. I saw this film when I was 7, 8 or 9 and we used to talk about it on the playground in school. It stars no one you ever heard of, the special effects are pretty bad, the acting terrible, the dubbing weak, but it's strangely cool. There's a 1960s' counterculture aura to this film. Several of the baddies dress like they stepped out of a Roger Vadim film. Guillotine raises a whole host of monsters and some are pretty interesting. One is a giant plant; another is a giant eyeball (I kid you not).

But still, this film, released by American Independent Films to TV only, is woefully cheap. The battling monsters don't match up to the same size in close ups and far-away shots. In one scene, Johnny Sokko and a Unicorn agent wash up on the beach with their clothes fully dry and pressed and their hair neat. Johnny Sokko's dubbed voice sounds a little like Bea Arthur of The Golden Girls. The Giant Robot hero is very cool, though, and the film's theme song is catchy. My four year old son, who like his dad loves the film, hums the theme song daily.

Here's the big secret to Voyage Into Space. It's actually about four episodes, including the first and last, culled from a 30 or so-episode series from the late 60s called Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot. That show also aired on TV, including on long-forgotten Channel 52 in Southern California when I was a kid. You can catch Johnny Sokko episodes today on http://www.hulu.com/ For more than a generation, you couldn't find Voyage Into Space on VHS or DVD. I spent decades wondering what had happened to my favorite Japanese color monster film. Finally, last year Sinister Cinema http://www.sinistercinema.com/ started selling the film. Since that occurred the floodgates have opened and Voyage Into Space, a public domain film, has many sellers. And it's all over YouTube as well.

It's a great film, particularly if you have a fondness for the Japanese monster genre, and your kids will love it. And let's face, it has one of the coolest opening music. Watch it.






Thursday, September 25, 2014

An appreciation of director Tod Browning, master of Lugosi's 'Dracula



(This column originally ran in the Standard-Examiner newspaper)

By Doug Gibson

My friend, Steve Stones, and I have a blog on cult movies. As a result, sometimes we are asked to recommend a suitably chilling Halloween movie. That’s a little like being given $25 and being asked to buy that one novel you want more than any other novel. There’s just too much competition.

To enjoy great films, think of them as samplers of genres, directors or stars. You like Bela Lugosi, (I do), Check out “Dracula,” “The Black Cat,” “The Raven” and “Son of Frankenstein.” You like Vincent Price? Try “The Tingler,” “Tower of London” and “The Conqueror Worm.” I favor the older films but I don’t discriminate against new films. Watch Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” and then rent his earlier films “Army of Darkness” and “Dark Man.”

 I hope people will discover, or re-discover Tod Browning, a director whose popularity peaked during the silent era. Although he directed Lugosi in “Dracula,” his career declined in the ‘30s and by 1939 it was over. As a boy late in the 19th century, Browning ran away from home and joined the circus. He was a contortionist and lived closely with the carny lifestyle. Later he was a fairly successful early silent movie actor before gaining fame as a director.

Always fascinated with the circus lifestyle, Browning cultivated the talents of a young actor named Lon Chaney. Dubbed the man of a thousand faces, Chaney was the biggest star of the late silent era. The actor was an incredible physical specimen, and a perfectionist. He created faces in two films, “The Phantom of the Opera,” and the now-lost “London After Midnight,” that have not been matched in fright value. Chaney died just before he was to film “Dracula.” His death opened the door for Lugosi and Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s monster) to achieve stardom.

In 1927, Browning directed Chaney in the silent film “The Unknown.” It is my first selection for a Halloween evening. Set in a circus, it stars Chaney as circus attraction, “Alonzo the Armless,” who shoots arrows safely at a pretty circus girl, Nanon, played by a very young — and gorgeous — Joan Crawford. Chaney really isn’t armless, he’s a violent criminal on the lam. With a trusted assistant’s help, he wraps his arms to his sides to escape detection. Chaney is in love with Nanon. With his eyes and facial grimaces, he lets us know what a possessive, frustrating, tinder-box love it is. He can’t bear the sight of the circus strongman, Malabar the Mighty, who admires Nanon, and he encourages Nanon to distrust Malabar.

Chaney’s obsessive love for Nanon leads him to really remove his arms in an operation. When he returns weeks later, expecting to pursue Nanon and find his love requited, he discovers Nanon and Malabar have fallen in love and will be married soon. In my opinion, the two minutes of Chaney’s reaction to the news, bewilderment, frozen smile, pantomime of maniacal laughter and threatening glare, is the finest acting of the silent era. This is a tight, 50-minute film (some inconsequential scenes are lost).

Besides “Dracula,” the film Browning may be best known for is the 1932 “Freaks.” It is a masterpiece of surreal horror. The plot involves a selfish, beautiful trapeze artist (Cleopatra) who marries a little man (Hans) for his money. With her strongman lover (Hercules), she plots to kill Hans. Their big mistake is that they assume the circus “freaks” are little children, rather than adults capable of retribution. What they learn too late is that the “freaks” — and the actors really were such — act like children as a defense mechanism. They want to be left alone. But threatened in their environment, they draw strength from numbers.

For 40-plus minutes of this slightly longer than an hour film, we are not scared. Instead, we learn about life in a circus, and we view the “freaks” as human beings. The last 20 or so minutes are horrifying as the “freaks” gain revenge on two who would falsely request their trust and then try to kill one of them. The scenes of the “freaks” with knives and guns, peering through windows and under wagons, slithering, hopping, sliding and pursuing Hercules and Cleopatra through a dark rainy night are frightening. For years, the fim ended with a brief, jarring shot of what the “freaks” had done to Cleopatra. It’s one of the most shocking finales in film. But I recently saw “Freaks” on Turner Classic Movies and the print added an epilogue with Hans and other characters that diminishes the impact a little.

“Freaks” was ahead of its time. The suits at MGM hated the film and barely distributed it. More than any other film, it damaged Browning’s career. In fact, it was banned in Britain for 40 years. See it for yourself: it’s a masterpiece that draws on Browning’s love and respect for carnival life.

One more Browning film worth seeing is the 1936 “The Devil-Doll.” It stars Lionel Barrymore as Paul Lavond, a framed banker who breaks out of France’s Devil’s Island prison with a mad scientist who can turn people into doll-sized humans who can be manipulated by human masters’ thoughts. It’s a wild plot. Outside Paris the mad scientist dies. Lavond’s and the scientist’s widow — who is as crazy as her husband — continue the experiments. She wants to turn the whole world little; Lavond just wants to gain revenge on his ex-partners who framed him and also help his blind mother and daughter, who were impoverished by his imprisonment. He uses the “devil dolls” to get his revenge on his ex-partners and clear his name.

Watch this film for the special effects and Barrymore’s performance. He’s great as a mostly decent man who can’t control his thirst for revenge and knows it.

All these films are inexpensive, pop up on Turner Classic Movies and can be rented. Trust me, they are far better than “Saw VI,” or any of the “Saw(s)”.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Plan9Crunch retread -- Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn, Raimi and Campbell


By Doug Gibson

1987, Color, 85 minutes (less in some foreign versions). Directed by Sam Raimi. Cast includes: Bruce Campbell as Ash, Sarah Berry as Annie Knowby, Dan Hicks as Jake, Ted Raimi as possessed Henrietta Knowby, Denise Bixler as Linda, and John Peaks as Professor Raymond Knowby. Schlock-Meter rating: Eight stars out of a possible 10.

So many reviews like to call Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 a comedy, or a tribute to the Three Stooges, and there are some great "gross-out" gags, as well as my favorite comic scene, where Bruce Campbell's Ash, minus his possessed hand, traps it by piling a copy of Hemingway's "A Farewell To Arms" on a container holding the hand. Yes, this film contains a lot of comic parody, and after the first half Campbell plays his part mostly for laughs. And it's true that Raimi's very fast-paced, boom-boom-boom "I'm going to jar the viewer every 30 seconds" seems a tribute to Stooge-like filmmaking. And the excessive gore does desensitize the viewer after a while.

But let's not forget that Evil Dead 2 is a very scary, suspenseful thriller that throws out just about every horror/action plot element that exists. Most work. There are only a few clinkers, and the result is a cinema gem. Critic Roger Ebert pegged it best when he wrote that the film was not in bad taste, but about bad taste. Evil Dead 2 is sort of remake of Raimi's micro-budgeted Evil Dead, but with a little more plot and a twist ending that set up another, even more comic sequel, Army of Darkness. The plot: Ash and his girl Linda (Bixler) decide to squat for a night at a cabin in the Michigan woods. Once there, Ash turns on a tape recorder where a professor, who lives in the cabin, invokes a chant from The Book of the Dead that sends a demon to the cabin. From that point on, all hell breaks loose. Eventually, Ash and a few later arrivals, including the professor's daughter (Berry), are forced to fight it out with the demons.

The film is so fast-paced that you just marvel at the speed and special effects in the film that you forget the plot is pretty light. Director Raimi was destined for bigger assignments (A Simple Plan, Quick and the Dead). He's thrifty and economical. I suspect many minutes were spliced out of the final cut of Evil Dead 2 to maintain the fast pace, horror shocks and, yes, comic timing. Most of the cast is mediocre, except for Campbell, who is outstanding. For the first half of the film, he is largely responsible for carrying the flow of the film, and he uses the right amount of fear, fatigue, anger and outrage to pull it off. There are great visual effects, including a twisted, ominous looking bridge over a high drop, a dancing headless woman-demon, a human snake, a psychopathic hand, a woman being attacked by a tree, a demon's eyeball flying into a screaming mouth, and the most chilling, Ted Raimi's possessed Henrietta Knowby, a thoroughly gruesome old demon hag who hangs out in the cellar.

By all means rent or buy Evil Dead 2. It's well worth the price. However, while it is funny, expect more shivers than chuckles. Also, those who leave the room for a snack will miss several shock scenes. They happen so fast.