Friday, November 26, 2021

There's more than shopping with Black Friday and Lugosi and 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. Watch a trailer for Black Friday here.

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

Thursday, November 11, 2021

King of the Zombies -- Monogram poverty-row gold


King of the Zombies, 1941, B&W, 67 minutes. Directed by Jean Yarbrough. Starring Dick Purcell, Joan Woodbury, Mantan Moreland. Schlock-Meter rating 6 stars out of 10. 

King of the Zombies is an old curio from Monogram, forgotten by most, enjoyed by purists. The plot involves three men in a plane who crash land in a West Indies island and encounter a very strange doctor (the role cries out for Bela Lugosi) who has a zombie-like wife, a cute secretary, and a collection of zombies. He also has an allied military officer held captive (it's WW2), and the convoluted plot involves the mad doctor wanting allied military secrets. 

He's foiled, of course, as his zombies eventually turn on him. The film has none of the atmosphere, moods or chills of White Zombie. It substitutes comic relief for frights. The only character who shows any real depth is Mantan Moreland, who plays Jeff, the black sidekick of the crash victims. It's a very racist role, from a different, less-tolerant era, but Moreland, whose first name is even a tacky racist gag, brings life to his character. 

The scenes where he mistakenly believes he's a zombie are very funny. There is the usual romance between crash victim Purcell and secretary Woodbury. Not a great film, but worth a look for fans and others who want to study the C movies from poverty row 60-plus years ago. For Monogram, it's gold quality.

Notes: Yarbrough also directed the Lugosi PRC film Devil Bat; It's rumored that Lugosi was slated to play the mad doctor in King of the Zombies. It certainly would have been a nice contrast to his evil, mad doctor role in White Zombie. Watch King of the Zombies here via YouTube.
-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Harry Langdon, Una Merkel a comedy pair in 'To Heir is Human'

 By Doug Gibson

"To Heir is Human" (imdb page is here) is one of comic legend Harry Langdon's more energetic late comedy shorts for Columbia, which featured other comic stars besides the Three Stooges. Released in early 1944, it stars Harry as window washer Harry Fenner, who is improbably located by telephone book deliverer Una, played by Una Merkel. It seems a sinister looking fellow asked Una to find Harry and deliver him to a forbidding domain where he'll inherit a fortune.The man, A Raven Sparrow, will give Una $1,000 to find Harry. Una drags a semi-reluctant Harry to the house, where naturally, a trio comprised of relatives and a thuggish handyman want to knock off Harry -- and Una -- and get all the inherited cash for themselves.

Although he's looking very old -- Langdon would die in December 1944 -- Harry is in excellent form the low-budget short, produced in Hugh McCollum's wing of Columbia's shorts studio. "The Elf" is in form in a few scenes, particularly during his initial refusal of Una's efforts to locate him, and more prominently in a later scene with his Vampish "kissing cousin," Velma, played by Christine McIntyre, who later gained iconic status as a Three Stooges regular. Langdon is hilarious with his mild surprise and resistance as Velma, one of the baddies, tries to provide him poisoned drinks. A Raven Sparrow, by the way, is played by Lew Kelly, who looked like a creepy cross between an aged Boris Karloff and John Carradine. The handyman is played by Bud Gribbon. His best scene is where he lowers a noose over Harry's head, who mistakes it for a tie. There are effective scenes in the house, particularly a room with an electric. Both A. Sparrow Raven and Una receive unpleasant but funny jolts as a result.

Now, I have not mentioned Una Merkel's contribution yet, because I've been saving it for her own paragraph or too. She absolutely marvelous in her role as dogged working girl Una. Merkel, who later gained a measure of consistent fame, had enjoyed a measure of stardom in the 1930s. However, by 1943 she was in a slump, and doing low-budget shorts. Nevertheless, her career slump doesn't show in this film.

Merkel has a tremendous eye for comedy, particularly slapstick, and she shows a lot of that in the film. She's literally manhandled in this film, getting thrown out of offices, having telephone directories thrown at her, being pulled by a thug who wants to kill her, fainting, and being electrocuted. Nevertheless, she never stops protecting her charge Harry, even if her main motivation for the $1,000 is to improve her appearance. Una Merkel reminds me of a slightly more intelligent version of Patsy Kelley in her shorts with Thelma Todd. Her pairing with the lower key Langdon works well. ... By the way, frequent Langdon co-star Vernon Dent has a cameo as a board chairman of a business. The scene is while Una is chasing Harry, and Langdon is funny as he intrudes into the speech.

This is an obscure film. A Langdon fan and film collector originally provided me a copy of the film, Look for it at Turner Classic Movies on the odd chance it will get on as an "extra." It is now on YouTube, however. Watch it here.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Review: 'Troll 2' cult film made in N. Utah's 'Nilbog'

On Sunday night, Oct. 31, 2021, Top of Utah dwellers can watch the Utah-made cult film, "Troll 2." It's at The Monarch in Ogden, 445 25th Street. The film starts at 8 p.m. and is part of this year's 9Rails Film Festival. The Monarch opens at 7 p.m. Watching "Troll 2" is free, but it's a festival, and a lot is going on. There will be food for sale, a silent auction, a costume contest, lots of stuff to purchase, including art associated with Troll 2. After the film, one of the actors, Utah's Darren Ewing, will take questions from viewers. 9Rails had a previous festival for another Utah-helmed film, "Plan 10 From Outer Space."

"Troll 2" was filmed as "Goblin" more than 30 years ago with an Italian film crew in Morgan County with then-mostly inexperienced actors. Released quietly to video as "Troll 2," (it's not a sequel to the 1985 film "Troll," though) it slowly gained a cult following for its bizarre dialogue, outlandish plot and sheer enjoyment value. It involves a vacationing family, and a few others, discovering they have entered a town, Nilbog, full of murderous vegetarian Goblins, masquerading a humans. They want to feed the "Nilbog" milk and mostly green food to our protagonists; the better to make them plant-like and ready to consume. The film is so much fun and resulted in a well-regarded documentary, "Best Worst Movie," about the film, its characters and its steady cult following. It was directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, who played in "Troll 2," and actors George Hardy, and Ewing, were part of the documentary. You can watch "Best Worst Movie" on Tubi.

Here is our Plan9Crunch blog review. Hope readers will enjoy the film as much as we do. The three pieces of original art are from local artist Steve D. Stones. 

Plan9Crunch review by Steve D. Stones

Ever see a movie so bad that it actually improves with each viewing? If you haven’t, I would highly recommend that you watch "Troll II." If your viewing experience doesn’t get better with each viewing, you may need to increase your dosage of Prozac, or just simply lighten up a little and relax.

After all, "Troll II" is just a little movie filmed in rural Morgan, Utah where the cows outnumber the local citizens 10 to one. In the case of "Troll II," the Goblins outnumbered the local citizens for several weeks of filming during the summer of 1989.

At the time of filming, a street sign was put up, changing the city to: NILBOG. What I wouldn’t give or pay to have this sign in my movie memorabilia collection! I would even trade a double-decker pastrami sandwich with all the works, hold the mayo and mustard please.

The Goblins in the film might not take too kindly to this trade, since they are vegetarians who sweat green and eat anything green. Young Michael Stephenson even saves the day in the film with a cold cut bologna sandwich, which repels the Goblins from eating him. My favorite scene in the film is when Michael Stephenson approaches a mirror to talk to the spirit of his Grandpa Seth, and ask for his protection and guidance against the Goblins that have him and his family trapped in a house.

A Goblin immediately jumps out of the mirror attacking Stephenson. Grandpa Seth appears with an ax, cutting off the left hand of the Goblin. The Goblin then jumps backwards through the broken mirror, and the scene cuts to Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the Goblin Queen, screaming in pain in her Goblin lair of a run down old church. She tries to heal her severed arm by shoving it into the crevice of a glowing magic rock.

The expression on the Goblin Queen’s face, played by Deborah Reed, is priceless, and worth  the effort to watch or own the film. A later scene has Reed trying to seduce a teenage boy in a motor home with a cob of corn. She is dressed in a sexy black gown with black nylons and high heels, similar to Elvira, Mistress of The Dark. I don’t know about you, but I have a soft spot for those sexy raven-haired women dressed in black. Come to me Creedence Leonore Gielgud, sexy Goblin Queen!!