Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Bela Lugosi shows screen presence in early silent 'Daughters Who Pay'


Review by Doug Gibson

For Bela Lugosi's birthday, I had considered reviewing his second-most-iconic-character film, "Son of Frankenstein." But then I was reading Gary Rhodes and Bill Kaffenberger's new book, "Becoming Dracula: Volume 2," and I was intrigued by some mid 1920s' silent films Bela acted in. One I watched, "Daughters Who Pay," impressed me, not so much with the film, which is mildly entertaining, but with Lugosi's magnificent screen presence. He's in his early '40s, and his commanding persona draws eyes to him in most scenes.

"Daughters Who Pay" was a 1925 states rights release that starred Marguerite De La Motte, a star of that era, who plays dual roles. There are separate plots that eventually intersect. The first involve young woman, Margaret Smith, who is essentially the head of a fatherless house. Margaret has a problem. Her loser brother, Larry, has frittered away, illegally, $10,000 from his firm. He faces ruin and prison if discovered. Margaret agrees to visit his boss and plead for mercy.

The other plot involves the boss, Henry Foster, who is upset that his son, Dick, is romantically involved with a Russian nightclub singer, Sonia Borisoff. The elder Foster demands his son give her up. Dick leaves, assuming he is cut off from the family fortune.

A theme of "Daughters Who Pay" is the Russian menace of the 1920s. Lo and behold we learn that Sonia is apparently part of a Russian spy operation. The local spy ring leader is played by Bela Lugosi, His name is Serge Romonsky. (Above is a photo of Lugosi with De La Motte in the film.)

Bela appears about 20 minutes into the film, interrupting Dick Foster telling Sonia that he's given up his money for her. Above at the top of the post (courtesy of the Bela Lugosi Blog) is a still of Lugosi in that scene. His youth, looks, and commanding sense are striking. He dominates the scene with an imperious air and visible contempt for the weak Dick Foster. "I can't say that I care for some of your American friends, my dear," Bela's character says in the titles.

Later in the scene, while they are alone, Bela's character orders Sonia to drop Dick Foster. She appears to have feeling for the young man, but reluctantly agrees. Bela's Romonsky lights up at this. He has feelings for Sonia. But she quickly rebuffs him. Offended, he leaves.

Meanwhile, Mary is unsuccessful in persuading Henry Foster to give her brother a break. She leaves and apparently runs into Sonia outside the Foster mansion, where the singer has been summoned. Once inside with Mr. Foster, Sonia agrees to dump his son, but only if he shows mercy to the brother of the woman she just met, Mary. Henry Foster appears bemused by this.

Meanwhile, members of the Russian spy ring are beginning to have suspicions about Sonia. Romonsky and the others make sure they are with Sonia when she tells Dick Foster their relationship is over. After she does that, crushing Dick, a triumphant Serge begins, in the parlance of the era, to make love to Sonia. She accepts a long kiss. After it's over, Romonsky recoils in shock, with blood dripping from his lip and mouth. (See photo below).

It's a fascinating scene; the most shocking part of the film. It also serves historically -- unintentionally of course -- as a preface to a future role, Lugosi as Dracula. It made me think a bit of Lugosi eying the blood on doomed Renfield's finger. The scene shifts to Sonia, who shows Lugosi the rose with thorns she had placed between her teeth prior to the kiss. 

Soon afterward, federal agents raid the location. Many spies are arrested. Romonsky and Sonia avoid capture. This convinces Romonsky Sonia is a traitor, and he arranges to set her up for capture and presumably death. 

I will not provide more of the plot except to mention this film is very easy to watch. Here is a YouTube link. The film is set mostly in the Hamptons and it was shot in winter, so there are nice scenes with New York snow. Reviews were middling, according to "Becoming Dracula: Volume 2," which includes snippets of many critics' opinions. 

The film has about 15 or so minutes of deterioration, for about 10 minutes in the latter middle and then heavy deterioration in the final several minutes. (The film is about 78 minutes). This does not prevent the viewer from losing the plot, or losing enjoyment in the film, but it will likely prevent this film from ever airing on, say, Turner Classic Movies. De La Motte's star diminished with the beginning of sound films. She made only a handful of sound films. George Terwilliger directed the film. John Bowers played Dick Foster, J. Barney Sherry played Henry Foster, and Joseph Striker played Larry Smith. As mentioned, De La Motte has two roles, which sets up a surprise at the end. Can you guess? 

Below is an April 20, 1926 ad for "Daughters Who Pay" from the Hattiesburg (Miss) American for the film promising free admission, with one purchase, for mom.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Haunted is a delightfully spooky British ghost story



Review by Doug Gibson

Haunted, 1995, British, color, 108 minutes, Zoetrope Films. Directed by Lewis Gilbert. Based on a novel by James Herbert. Starring Aidan Quinn as David Ash, Kate Beckinsale as Christina Mariell, Anthony Andrews as Robert Mariell, John Gielgud as Dr. Doyle, Alex Lowe as Simon Mariell, Victoria Shalet as Juliet Ash and Anna Massey as Nanny Tess Webb. Schlock-Meter rating: Nine stars out of 10.

Haunted is a very spooky, fun ghost story with twists and turns that will leave most viewers guessing. It's based on a popular novel by British author James Herbert, who is as famous in Britain as Stephen King is in America. Here's the plot: Famed psychologist David Ash (Quinn) enjoys debunking mediums and rumors of ghosts. This may be because Ash refuses to accept that many years earlier, he saw a manifestation of his dead twin sister after she drowned in an accident. 

Seeking material for a book, he amuses himself by accepting an invitation from a frightened elderly woman (Massey) to kick out some ghosts who are in her home, which is a huge mansion near the white cliffs of Dover. As soon as Ash arrives he meets three adult siblings (Andrews, Beckinsale and Lowe). They're an odd but charming trio, oftentimes acting more like children. Nevertheless, Ash begins to feel a strong attraction for the sister, Christina Mariell, played by future star Kate Beckinsale.

There's no gore in this film, but it's as spooky as The Others and nearly as terrifying as the classic The Haunted. As time passes, Ash witnesses several supernatural encounters that force him to revise his earlier theories. He appears to be no help to his poor client (Massey), who lives in terror within the house. Although Ash's romance with the beautiful Christina intensifies, the brothers become more cold, and Ash also witnesses several strong hints of incest between Christina and the oldest brother Robert (Andrews). The home also appears isolated at times, except for occasional visits from a kindly country doctor (Gielgud) in a marvelous small role.

It would be a crime to give away the ending in this review, but rest assured it packs a powerful punch. To survive, Ash must reach deep back into the past of his life and seek help from someone he's trying to forget about. Quinn gives a marvelous performance as he tries to deal with a horror he's always scorned. Beckinsale radiates sensuality (note to her fans, the nude scenes are with a double). Finally, Massey literally looks like an old woman who has been scared so badly that she has become a walking corpse, just waiting to die. By all means, buy it or rent it, and make sure you watch it after dark. A second viewing provides fun in counting plot clues missed the first time. A Blu-Ray is available for purchase here.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

'Blood Feast' a pioneer low-budget gore film helmed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

Reviewed by Steve D. Stones

Directed in 1963 by Herschell Gordon Lewis (The Godfather of Gore), Blood Feast centers around a psychopath Egyptian immigrant named Fuad Ramses, played by Mal Arnold, who runs a food catering business in Florida. Ramses murders local beautiful women in the Miami area and uses their body parts in his meals to perform sacrifices to the ancient goddess Ishtar.

Socialite Dorothy Fremont, played by Lyn Bolton, approaches Ramses at his catering business to request catering services for her daughter Suzette's birthday party. Ramses promises a feast for the birthday party that no one will ever forget and one which has not been served for five thousand years. Mrs. Fremont is unaware that Ramses will prepare a feast with body parts of local murdered women. He intends for Fremont's daughter to be one of his next victims in the cannibalistic feast.

Meanwhile, an incompetent, chain smoking police detective named Pete Thornton, played by William Kerwin (aka Thomas Wood), is on the case of tracking down a local killer who takes body parts from his murdered victims. 

Thornton happens to be dating Suzette Fremont, played by 1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason. The bad chemistry between both actors is so obvious on the screen. Mason stands in a number of scenes with her arms folded while gyrating back and forth as if she's shivering from cold. In one scene, she looks directly into the camera, searching for her cue card to read her forgotten lines.

Both Mason and Kerwin will go on a year later in 1964 to star as another couple in director Lewis' – Two Thousand Maniacs. Their chemistry does not improve much in this film, but Two Thousand Maniacs is technically a much better film. The couple married in real life in 1964 and remained married until Kerwin's death in 1989.

Despite its $24,500 production budget, Blood Feast went on to earn 4 million worldwide – which is a great return on such a small investment. Blood Feast is considered the first splatter – gore film in cinema history. The film threw the motion picture industry in a panic during an era without film ratings. Drive-in movie patrons across the United States lined up for hours to see Blood Feast. Word of mouth spread quickly about the gruesome nature of the film.

Director Lewis once said Blood Feast was like a Walt Whitman poem - “It's no good, but it's the first of its kind.” Even many of the AD campaigns for Blood Feast live up to the reputation of the film. As one advertising poster states: “Nothing so Appalling in the Annals of Horror! You'll Recoil and Shudder as You Witness the Slaughter and Mutilation of Nubile Young Girls!” Most horror films could never live up to this claim. Blood Feast certainly does a hundred times over.

Many of Lewis' gore films are currently offered on Tubi streaming service – Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs (1964), Color Me Blood Red (1965), The Wizard of Gore (1970) and The Gore Gore Girls. Don't miss these great gore classics. Happy viewing this Halloween season.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Blob is a great popcorn monster movie for the 1950s


By Steve D. Stones

Actor Steve McQueen was just 28 years old when he played his first screen role as a teenager on a date tracking down a giant cherry colored blob that comes to earth from a meteor crash. His girlfriend, actress Aneta Corsaut, -- last name misspelled in credits as -- would later appear as Helen Crump on the 1960s TV series – The Andy Griffith Show. The Blob has everything a low-budget 50s sci-fi movie could offer – poodle skirts, Brill creamed hairstyles, classic cars and dopey, untrusting cops.

While necking in a car high in the neighborhood hills, McQueen and Corsaut witness a meteor crash nearby. They track the meteor to the property of an old farmer. The farmer cracks open the meteor to discover a Jell-O-like substance that consumes his arm.  Writer Stephen King pays homage to this scene in Creepshow (1982) – by also playing the role of a curious farmer who finds a meteor in his backyard.

McQueen and Corsaut take the farmer to a local doctor, where his body later becomes fully consumed by the Jell-O growth on his arm. The farmer transforms into a giant blob and consumes the doctor and his nurse. McQueen reports this incident to the local police, but they have a tough time taking the report seriously, even after investigating the scene of the crime at the doctor’s office.

Meanwhile, the blob grows larger and larger as it consumes more victims in the town. McQueen and Corsaut track the blob to a local supermarket and are forced to barricade themselves in a meat locker. Here they discover that the blob does not like the cold as it tries to slither under the meat locker door but is repelled by the cold.

In a scene shown at the drive-in from the movie Grease (1978), dozens of teenagers run out of a theater as the gooey blob slithers through the theater doors and out into the street. The marquee on the theater advertises the film – Daughter of Horror and actor Bela Lugosi’s name.  

After warning many local teenagers and attempting to warn local police again of the blob menace, McQueen and Corsaut become trapped once again, but this time in a local diner. The blob has consumed the entire diner, trapping everyone inside. McQueen sprays a CO2 tank on the blob as it crawls down the basement stairs of the diner.

The local high school principle, Mr. Martin, assigns the teenagers to gather up fire extinguishers at the school. The extinguishers are used to freeze the blob – allowing the victims inside to escape.
The film ends abruptly with a shot of a parachuted crate landing in the snow of the frozen arctic. The viewer has to assume that the blob is contained inside the crate. The shot is likely stock footage because it is grainy and out of focus.

In 1972, a sequel was made entitled - Beware! The Blob (aka Son of Blob).  A 1988 remake of The Blob was also made. As remakes go, this 1988 version is not too bad, but does not reach the level of a drive-in classic of the original 1958 version. Happy viewing!