Wednesday, October 31, 2012

‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ – Silent cinema’s finest fright film

By Steve D. Stones

This  landmark 1919 German expressionistic film may be difficult for contemporary audiences to view because of the heavy handed digital effects of today’s movies, but it is well worth the effort. The film relies heavily on psychological horror effects, gestural movement of actors and flatly painted, angular sets that give the film an unrealistic and surreal feeling.

Based on an 11th century myth of a mountebank monk, a carnival hypnotist named Dr. Caligari arrives in a German town to exhibit his walking somnambulist, who has been asleep in a coffin for over 20 years. The somnambulist, played by German actor Conrad Veidt, has the ability to predict when carnival attendants will die. He predicts that a local man named Alan will die. That night Alan is murdered in his bed.  His death is revealed through a brilliant use of silhouette and shadows projected on the wall above him, avoiding any graphic horror.

Alan’s friend Francis, who is the narrator and protagonist of the film, is convinced that the somnambulist killed Alan. He sets out to prove that Caligari and his act are responsible for Alan’s death and the deaths of other locals. The viewer is lead through a number of sets that emphasize shadows and hard-edged angularity. Francis’ investigation leads to a mental institution where he discovers that Dr. Caligari is the head doctor of the institute.

In a complete switch of plot, the film ends with Francis being fitted with a straight-jacket by Dr. Caligari at the mental institute. The viewer realizes that Francis is insane and that his story has been a fabrication of his mentally twisted mind.  The hard-edged, angular sets are symbolic of Francis’ insane mind. His role as the protagonist is now questioned by the viewer.

Critics of Caligari in 1919 felt that the somnambulist was a symbol of mindless European soldiers marching off to war to kill without question. The film was banned in a number of U.S. cities and European countries.  Some film historians have labeled Caligari as the first ever “cult film.”

The influence of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” on contemporary artists and filmmakers cannot be overstated. Rob Zombie’s 1998 MTV video “Living Dead Girl” is a complete homage and reenactment of Caligari. Caligari’s influence can also be seen in many Tim Burton films, such as “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Corpse Bride,” “Beetlejuice,” and others. “Edward Scissorhands” looks similar to the somnambulist character in Caligari, particularly his movements and gesturing.

If you have not seen “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” I highly recommend it as part of your movie viewing this Halloween Season. Caligari makes a great double-feature with another German-Expressionist silent classic – “Nosferatu” (1922). Both films have been digitally remastered and can be purchased by Kino Lorber International Video. Beware of cheap public domain prints of “Caligari” and “Nosferatu” for sale. These prints cut important scenes and have poor image and sound quality. Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Halloween scare-treat, courtesy of Rob Zombie

By Steve D. Stones

John Carpenter’s classic film Halloween literally took the box office by storm in 1978. It was immediately hailed as “the new Psycho of the 1970s” and remained the highest grossing independent film for more than 20 years, despite a budget of only $320,000.

It ushered in the “slasher genre” of the 1980s, and remains a classic of the horror film. Its influence can still be seen in many horror films of today.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the film’s release. Rob Zombie’s 2007 reworking homage to Carpenter’s film is also a real treat for the horror film aficionado. Zombie concentrates on giving the audience the point of view of the Michael Meyers character, his childhood, and the transition he makes from a child’s clown mask to the iconic Michael Meyer’s mask that has become so familiar to moviegoers and horror fans.

This time we see a more human side to the Meyers character and less of the supernatural characteristic that defines Meyers in the Carpenter film. The Meyers family can be defined as the typical dysfunctional, middle-American family, with a divorced mother, Deborah Meyers, who works as a stripper, played by the director’s wife Sherrie Moon Zombie, and her deadbeat lazy boyfriend who constantly argues with Judith and avoids the children.

The Meyers home is in constant chaos, which drives Michael to trapping and killing animals in the home bathroom while wearing his clown mask. Zombie makes many of the same references that Carpenter makes in his film, such as a scene of Howard Hawks’ 1951 film The Thing playing on the television, and the music of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Young Michael Meyer’s even wears a KISS T-shirt to school.

The one reference that got my attention immediately is a scene of a young couple having sex in the Meyer’s rundown house while they play the punk rock song “Halloween” by The Misfits, which is sung in Latin. Zombie has also kept the eerie Carpenter score from the original film intact. Zombie spends more time showing the audience the interaction that takes place between Dr. Samuel Loomis, played by Malcolm McDowell, and Michael Meyers as a child. Dr. Loomis records his thoughts into a tape recorder while videotaping young Meyers in his handmade masks.

Meyers spends his time at the sanitarium making paper mache masks. His obsession grows to a room full of masks covering every inch of wall space in his cell. Another major difference between the two films is that the Lori Strode character in the Carpenter film is a virginal, bookworm babysitter who avoids boys out of complete shyness. Lori Strode in the Zombie film is at times a very sexual, nasty teenager who isn’t afraid to use foul language and talk about boys. She appears to be more confident about herself, and enjoys participating in the normal behaviors of a teenage girl.

From a complete visual standpoint, I found this film to be very well made, with genuine scares that kept me on the edge of my seat. Zombie manages to make horror films that combine bizarre visuals and rapid montages that work well with his choice of sound and music. Like his music and live performances, you will walk away from Halloween feeling very entertained and genuinely frightened.

I highly recommend this film to any horror film buff and fan of Zombie’s music. Two thumbs way up on this one!!!!!


Monday, October 29, 2012

The Werewolf of London -- a pre-Chaney wolfman

Werewolf of London, 1935, 75 minutes, Universal, black and white. Directed by Stuart Walker. Starring Henry Hull as Dr. Wilfred Glendon, Warner Oland as Dr. Yogami, Valerie Hobson as Mrs. Lisa Glendon, Lester Matthews as Capt. Paul Ames, and Lawrence Grant as Sir. Thomas Forsythe, Scotland Yard chief. Schlock-Meter rating: 8 stars out of 10.

By Doug Gibson

The Werewolf of London, which pre-dates Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolfman by several years, drips in atmosphere. There's foggy London nights, remote Tibetan valleys and sinister chilly nights in deserted country homes. It's the tale of a London botanist (Hull) who travels to Tibet to find a rare flower which blooms when the moon shines. Also, legend has it that it serves as an antidote to lycanthropy, or literally, becoming a werewolf. In Tibet, Hull is attacked by a werewolf, and while fighting him off, is bitten on the arm. He returns to London with the flower.

Once in London, the workaholic Hull is visited by an Oriental colleague (Oland) who asks for the flower to help patients, or so he claims. Oland, who carries a charmingly sinister persona, hints that he was the werewolf Hull fought off in Tibet. Meanwhile, Hull's Dr. Glendon, much to his surprise and horror, become a werewolf. The transformation leaves him evil, and he kills several women when the moon is full. An old beau (Matthews) of Glendon's neglected wife Lisa (Hobson), visits the community and begins to suspect Hull.

This film is not too scary, but it's still very well made and very entertaining. Hull is a bit too skinny to inspire much fear and his werewolf is not too threatening or awful in appearance. In fact, the werewolves in this film aren't much stronger than the women they attack. Nevertheless, Hull's feelings of horror and helplessness at what has happened to him create strong pathos. In a particularly emotional scene Hull, desperately prays to God to spare him the werewolf curse. Then, he adds a final prayer, asking that at least he be spared of killing his wife if he be so cursed. In a way, Hull's dilemma is similar to John Abbott's in The Vampire's Ghost (Republic, 1945). They are reluctant monsters!

There are a few silly scenes of stereotypical neighbors and party guests who distract from the plot, and another subplot where the hero Matthews makes a play for Hull's wife, Lisa. But star Hull, despite his physical limitations, does a better-than-average job, and Oland also contributes to the fun. The music is splendid, and was copied in many other horror films of that era. The method of Hull's "werewolfism" is a flower plant. That was certainly changed by the time Chaney Jr. became the wolfman. Werewolf of London was a box-office flop for Universal, and that ended Hull's bid for horror star status. Still, the film holds up well today. Catch it when you can on Turner Classic Movies or you can buy it fairly cheap. It recently aired on Svengooli's TV horror host show.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Twins of Evil -- Cushing's best vampire adversary performance

By Doug Gibson

"Twins of Evil," Hammer's 1971 tales of Count Karnstein turning one part of a lovely pair of twins into a vampire, is not as impressive as other Carmilla-themed films, such as "Lust For a Vampire," or "The Vampire Lovers," but nevertheless it retains its status as a classic due to star Peter Cushing's strong performance as Gustav Weil, fanatical vampire hunter, so enslaved by the mysogyny of his faith and his fear of the undead that he'll solemnly burn to death any young woman who doesn't act normal. The opening scene, where Weil and his brotherhood abduct and burn a young girl to death, indicts Weil as a dangerous fanatic, a man not safe with young women and their instinctive sexuality.

Appropriately, Weil's eagerness to burn female flesh provides righteous indignation for viewers. Yet Cushing is no Matthew Hopkins, as portrayed by Vincent Price in "Witchfinder General." Weil is no hypocrite nor a luster of his victims, nor is he a man who revels in his evil acts. He's a fervent believer in the Old Testament "thou shall not suffer a witch to live." Cushing's Weill, while acting with a maniacal religious fervor, believes he is freeing his victims, releasing them from vampirism to a life with Christ. Late in the film, when it slowly dawns on Cushing that he may have been too zealous, that some of his victims were indeed innocent, his pain and remorse is evident. As both atonement and revenge, he fails to protect himself as he goes after the evil count.

"Twins of Evil" is a prequel to the Carmilla story and films. The evil Count Karstein (Damien Thomas) is tired of the limits to pleasure and evil he can attain as a mortal. He summons an ancestor vampire, Countess Mircella, (Katya Wyeth) who turns him into a vampire. Eager to satiate his lusts and increase his evil, he sets his sights on two gorgeous twins who have moved to Karnstein from Venice to live with Weil and his wife, Katy, (Kathleen Bryon). The twins are portrayed by Playboy models Mary and Madeleine Collinson. Mary plays Maria Gellhorn and Madeleine is her twin Frieda. Maria is the more timid, pious twin. Frieda is rebellious, furious with her uncle Gustav and eventually is drawn to Count Karstein, who willingly becomes a vampire. There is a subplot where Anton, a liberal teacher at the girls' school, is attracted to Frieda. Anton and Gustav, not surprisingly, clash over the latter's vampire hunting. The film climaxes with a hunt for Frieda and the ensuing possibility that the virtuous Maria may pay for her sins.

As I have mentioned, it's easy to hate the fanatical, misogynous Gustav, but he does have one fact to rest on: there are vampires out there stealing the souls of the innocent. Midway through the film, it's a testament to Cushing's acting skills that the audience starts to root for him as he goes after Frieda and the Count. The Collinswood twins are gorgeous. They are not trained actors, and it shows in their performances. Madeleine does a better job than her sister Mary, but that may be only because she as the meatier role as the bad Frieda. The print I saw has very little nudity. The most explicit scene is where Frieda, pretending to be the innocent Maria, attempts to seduce and bite schoolteacher, Anton.

The Karnstein saga was a Hammer trilogy that, as mentioned, includes "Lust for a Vampire" and "The Vampire Lovers." This is intended to be the first chapter. Watching these movies is a pleasant reminder of how vulnerable and difficult it once was to be a vampire. With the constraints of the cross, daytime, coffins, foes such as Van Helsing and Weil, and native soil, one could understand why successful vampires such as Carmilla and Dracula had pride that overlapped into egotism. They had survived through time. Count Karstein and Frieda are, ultimately, not-too-difficult prey for Weil, Anton and others. It remains a constant annoyance to this reviewer that the above-mentioned disadvantages are not a problem for today's "Calvin Klein" vampires that infect films such as "Twilight," "True Blood" and "Being Human" ...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

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.

Plan9Crunch's Doug Gibson writing; yesterday we posted a review of The Evil Dead, so why not a review of Evil Dead 2 today? Perhaps we need to review Army of Darkness soon?

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, the Spider Man series). 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. Watch the trailer below.

-- Doug Gibson

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Evil Dead – Fun Gorefest Entertainment!

By Steve D. Stones

On the evening of Tuesday October 23rd, 2012, the Weber County Main Branch Library in Ogden screened Sam Raimi’s 1983 gorefest classic – The Evil Dead. It was a great time to see this film up on the big screen for the first time. The turnout was small, but that did not spoil the fun experienced by those in attendance.  Local independent filmmaker Thom Rockwell was in attendance to show two of his short seven minute films – Terror Island and Zombie Prom.

A group of college students heads to the Tennessee Mountains to spend some time in an abandoned cabin. Along the way, the group nearly collides with a truck on the mountain road, and break through a crumbling bridge en route to the cabin. A strong sense of doom is suggested by the eerie music and sounds coming from the woods as the group drives up to the cabin.

Young Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, discovers a book –The Book of The Dead, inked in human blood and bound in human flesh in the basement of the cabin. He also discovers a tape recording of an ancient Sumerian incantation. While playing the incantation tape to the cabin group, the woods unleash their evil and begin to possess each member of the group one by one. What follows are over-the-top gore effects of dismemberment, stabbings, head bashing, chainsaw hacking, and premature burial. These effects are so extreme that they actually become comical and fun to view, which is intentional.

The first time I viewed this film was in the winter of 1988 at 2 a.m. in a friend’s dark living room while sipping soda and eating Saltine crackers. Seeing it at 2 a.m. in the middle of cold winter further enhanced the horror experience I felt as I watched the film.  I actually felt like I was a character in the film with the cold outside and the dark seclusion of the room I was viewing the film in.

Director Sam Raimi had approximately $379,000 to work with in the budget. Many accounts suggest that some of that money came from a group of Tennessee dentists. The film has gone on to gross over 29 million dollars worldwide, which is a big return on the investment.  The film was also listed on many “Video Nasty” lists in a number of countries for years, but is now widely embraced by horror fans and film critics alike. The 2007 three-disc box set release of The Evil Dead distributed by Anchor Bay contains a poster and plenty of extras, such as round table discussions by the actors and fans. If you are an Evil Dead fan, this is a must for your collection. Happy Viewing!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Beast of Yucca Flats -- the evolution of a cult film

The Beast of Yucca Flats 1961, 54 minutes, B and W. Anthony Cardoza, Executive Producer, written and directed by Coleman Francis. Starring Tor Johnson as Dr. Joseph Javorsky. Cast includes Francis, Larry Aten, Bing Stafford and Conrad Brooks. Schlock-meter rating, 3 stars out of 10. ... However, years later and several viewings later, this film has grown on me -- I'll give it five stars.

By Doug Gibson

The Beast of Yucca Flats is actually playing Thursday, Oct. 25 in Salt Lake City. Courtesy of the Utah Education Network, it will screen as a Halloween feature at the City Library, Chapman Branch, 577 S. 900 West. Film is free and popcorn, contest contest and games are planned. That's significant and we need to give this ultra-cheap, kitschy 55-minute film its due -- it has persevered. It's gone from simple schlock to unique so-bad-it's-good cult film status. Heck, it even survived a MST3K riff. Here, for the record, is my several-year-old review after my first viewing.

Few films are as inept as The Beast of Yucca Flats. After watching it, I'm convinced that a talented group of ninth graders with a few thousand dollars and a long weekend could do a better job than Tor Johnson, Coleman Francis and company. (Nah, I take that back several years later) The plot? A woman is murdered. A defecting Russian scientist (Tor Johnson) is attacked in a desolate part of Nevada by communist agents. An atom bomb explodes. Tor is turned into a mutant beast who wants only to kill. Tor kills, then chases a hapless family through the Yucca Flats. Finally, two inept cops kill Tor. (Yeah, the plot is the same)

Be forewarned: The preceding plot summary is far more exciting than this dog of a film. (NOT TRUE ON RETROSPECT) There is virtually no action, (wrong) and when Tor is on the chase, his big, aging blubbery body inspires far more pity than fear. (Today I change pity to fascination; Tor looks ill and is very obese, but give him credit for lumbering around a very hot desert outdoor set) Francis shot the film without dialog, which was dubbed badly into the finished film. The viewer rarely sees lips move when actors speak. (This adds to a unique, other word-type surrealism to the film. No one seems to be looking at each other, even when they speak. In fact, for all his grunts, Tor the beast appears to be the best listener) Also, the self-pretentious Francis adds ridiculous, over-the-top narration, spoken like a man on LSD. My favorite meaningless phrase is "Flag on the Moon." (NOT TRUE ANYMORE: the bizarre narration adds to the film's outlandish plot and conspiracy. In this film, everyone looks disgruntled and depressed or lazy. I love the scene where one of the desert cops is roused from looks like a bout of morning sex with the missus or mistress. As he leaves, to narration, the broad in the bed gives him a look of utter disgust and cynicism. It somehow seems very appropriate for the bizarro world director Francis has unleashed.)

It merits three stars only because The Beast is Tor Johnson, whose always fun to watch bellow. Those who dare watch it should see the MST3K version. At least there's a few laughs. (Doug Gibson speaking: I must admit, adding to this a few years later after originally writing the review, the film has grown on me. It is bad, but unique and strangely watchable; a real cult film. I give it an extra star!) (and now I've added an extra star. (Also, I neglected in the original review to mention the nude scene prologue, which makes no sense. A young woman gets out of the shower. Sits down a very depressing cot-bed, and is squeeze-strangled to death by a fat, meaty hand that look like Tor's. But why, the good Dr. Javorsky has yet to be nuked? Ah, the intentional nonsensical plot of a cult cheapie!

Notes: Ed Wood actor Conrad Brooks has a small role; Cult figure Titus Moody helped with production; Coleman Francis directed three films spoofed by MST3K: Beast, Skydivers, and Red Zone Cuba; Francis' wife and sons were in the film. The non-MST3K version has a very brief nude scene. "Beast of Yucca Flats" is essentially a silent film, with narration and brief dialog, obviously recorded since you don't see the speaking actors' faces. The entire film can be seen on YouTube and is part of the UEN Sci-Fi Friday cycle of movies. (I'll add that this cheapie played the third or fourth bill of drive-ins and grindhouses for more than a decade -- I guess that nude scene paid off. I read somewhere that originally, the producers could not find a distributor so a movie house was rented in San Diego. Apparently, the film sold well here, and Tor was mobbed by fans.)

-- Doug Gibson

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Time of Their Lives -- one of Abbott and Costello's best films

By Doug Gibson

I had the opportunity to watch -- again -- the 1946 Bud Abbott and Lou Costello ghost romp, "The Time of Their Lives." It's one of the comedy pair's more sophisticated, often witty films, and has aged very well. I'd rank it just below "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" in the duo's fantasy comedies and it's also one of the top 5 or 6 films the pair made.

What's interesting is that the film was a financial loser for Bud and Lou in 1946, although it did better when re-released five years later. One reason may be been because Bud and Lou were feuding at the time the film was made. As a result, the pair didn't play companions in "The Time of Their Lives" but separate character who barely share any dialogue together in the film. However, Lou's character -- playing a ghost -- does get to push around Bud's hapless modern-day psychiatrist.

But to the plot: It's 1780, and Lou plays Horation Primm, a poor tinker who has a letter of recommendation from General George Washington. He arrives at the estate of Tom Danbury, hoping to use the letter to win approval to marry one of Danbury's maids, Nora (Anne Gillis). However, the Danbury House butler, Cuthbert Greenway (Abbott) manages to shove the tinker in a large drawer for a while.

Meanwhile, evidence is emerging that Master Tom Danbury is a traitor, ready to assist Benedict Arnold. Nora finds this out and is briefly captured. Horatio's letter is hidden in a mantel clock on the estate. Danbury's fiance, Melody (played by Marjorie Reynolds) learns of Tom's treachery. She grabs the tinker Horatio and attempts to flee on horses to get help. However, in a misunderstanding, troops sent to capture Danbury shoot and kill Horatio and Melody. The now-dead pair, camaflouged by their riding clothing, are casually tossed in the well with a curse that they will never be allowed to leave the Danbury estate -- now burning -- until they can clear their names. There is a funny scene where Melody and Horatio discover they are ghosts.

The plot moves forward to 165 years later, with ghosts Melody and Horation living their long existence, unable to leave the estate, which has been rebuilt -- with almost all of the original furniture, saved from the burning, now in the new home. There is a funny scene where Melody makes a playful romantic move on Costello's tinker, only to push him off their tree when he admits that all he wants is to have his back scratched.

It doesn't take long for the new owners and visitors at the home, which includes psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenway, the butler's descendent, played, of course by Abbott, to learn that ghosts are haunting the home and want to convey a message. With the help of a housekeeper, Emily, played somberly by Gale Sondergaard, a seance is conducted where ghosts Melody and Horace get the message across that they need General Washington's note to clear their names and be allowed into heaven, where Horace can reunite with Nora, and Melody with Tom ... who we have learned, later renounced his treachery and became a good patriot.

The casting is superb. John Shelton plays Sheldon Gage, the new owner of the estate. Lynn Baggett is great as his fiancee, June, and wisecracking Binnie Barnes is very witty as wisecracking Aunt Millie, who psychiatrist Greenway sort of secretely has the hots for. Scenes of ghosts Horatio and Melody learning about electricity, phones and the radio are funny. Costello has a field day pushing around the scared descendent of his one-time romantic rival Cuthbert. There is also a funny scene where Abbott's psychiatrist, remorseful over his ancestor's mistreatment of Horatio, steals the original clock from a museum and in a wild chase on the Danbury estate, tries to elude the police while attempting to unlock the secret compartment that hides the Washington letter.

I can't highly recommend this film enough. It's a high-brow version of Abbott and Costello. To me it plays like a suspenseful, funny spoof of that era's genre ghost films, such as "The Uninvited." Despite the real-life tensions between the stars in 1945-1946 -- at one point Costello walked off the set, insisting he should play Abbott's role -- there's no evidence of tension between the two. Their performances are splendid and the comic timing superb. The 82-minute film was directed by Charles Barton.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

In honor of Bela Lugosi's birthday: The Corpse Vanishes

The Corpse Vanishes, 64 minutes, Monogram, 1942, B&W. Directed by Wallace Fox, Starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Lorenz, Luana Walters as Patricia Hunter, Tristam Coffin as Dr. Foster, Elizabeth Russell as Countess Lorenz, Minerva Urecal as Fagah, Angelo Rossitto as Toby and Kenneth Harian as Keenan. Schlock-meter rating: Seven and one-half stars out of 10.

Today is Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012; The great Bela Lugosi has turned 130 years old! We honor one of his lesser films, but a key film to demonstrate why he was such a dedicated, great horror icon that lifted any production. Sit back and enjoy the film after reading the review. -- Doug Gibson

I love this film, while recognizing that the production values are virtually nil and the script leaves 1,000 plot holes and makes all the heroes seem like ninnies for not solving the crime early in the film. I have a soft heart for Bela Lugosi cheapie productions in the 1940s and this Monogram C movie is a hoot. The plot is sufficiently bizarre: Brides are dropping dead at the altar and their corpses are later whisked away before the real morticians alive. The only clue is that flowers are delivered to the victims minutes before they die. Neither the press or the police have a clue (although you'd think they could at least prevent the stealing of the corpse!) The public is up in arms, although there are still many weddings.

Enter nosy cub reporter Patricia Hunter (Walters). Prodded by her sexist editor, she tracks the flowers to the mysterious Dr. Lorenz (Lugosi) who resides with his crazy wife (Russell, in a wild performance) haggish sister, and her two sons, one a midget and the other a large simpleton. It turns out (of course) that Lorenz is the mad scientist, causing a death-like state to the wannabe brides, taking them to his laboratory (dig the fake brick walls!), withdrawing youth serum from the young ladies, and injecting it into his elderly wife to keep her youthful. (Another wonderful plot hole never explained is why Lorenz' wife is roughly 30 years older than him!). Hunter, aided by a lovesick doctor (Coffin), eventually foils Lorenz' evil plot, and of course, the pair are married (safely) at the end. The print I viewed did not reveal the fate of the sleeping brides --- perhaps Monogram lacked the budget to add a final scene?

The Corpse Vanishes is full of atmosphere. Lugosi, Urecal, Rossitto (who plays the midget) were all veterans of 1940s cheapies. Lugosi gives his usual great performance, and is aided by Russell, who acts truly crazy as his aged wife. Urecal provides a creepy atmosphere as well. This film is definitely worth a rental, and for those who are interested in Hollywood's history of B and C films, is worth a purchase.

-- Doug Gibson

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sit back and enjoy Dracula, courtesy of Castle Films

I'm not old enough to recall seeing these Castle Films ultra-shorts of classic horror in living rooms in 8MM, or in theaters (if they actually played in theaters), but I have memories of seeing several Castle shorts (Dracula, Frankenstein ...) in public schools, during assembly time. They were mesmerizing and fun and made me want to stay up all night to see the original long versions when they played on movies-till-dawn channels. (VCRs were still not anywhere near mass marketed in the early '70s).

Thanks to YouTube, and retailers such as Sinister Cinema, it's easy to find these Castle film, and the past few years I've enjoyed watching these shorts after a 30-plus year hiatus. So, sit back, no need for popcorn, the film's over before you know it, and enjoy this almost 9-minute version of Universal's Dracula. And remember, Sunday is Bela Lugosi's birthday!

-- Doug Gibson

Monday, October 15, 2012

Halloween (1978) – Classic Horror At Its Best!

By Steve D. Stones

John Carpenter’s classic 1978 film – Halloween is the standard by which every schlocky slasher film that followed aspired to be but failed miserably. It manages to scare the pants right off you without showing one drop of blood. Author Stephen King once said that the best killers in horror are the ones who give us no explanation for their killing. Michael Meyers fits this description well. He is a killing machine who will stop at nothing to kill. The viewer is never given any specific reason for Meyers’ desire to kill, making him all the more effective and Halloween all the more scary.

Lori Strode, played by 19 year old Jamie Lee Curtis, is more interested in hitting the books after school than hitting on boys. Her friends tease her about studying too much and not chasing boys. Her friend Annie, played by Nancy Loomis, tries to set Lori up with a boy at school she has a crush on. Both girls are babysitting on Halloween night when a psychotic killer, Michael Meyers, escapes from an Illinois State mental institution and comes to their town. Meyers stabbed to death his teenage sister some fifteen years earlier in 1963. He returns to the scene of the crime in Haddonfield, Illinois on the night of Halloween 1978.

Carpenter successfully creates impending fear in the viewer by never fully showing Meyer’s face. He relies greatly on shots that show Meyer’s shoulder in the frame of a shot, or by showing his silhouette in dark, shadowy environments.  Other shots show Meyers stepping briefly into the shot, only to be quickly consumed by shadows in the background. This is effective and creepy film-making, worthy of techniques used in the silent German-Expressionist masterpiece – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

I respect the Rob Zombie 2007 remake-homage to Halloween, but it is not nearly the classic of Carpenter’s 1978 film. Zombie spends too much screen time giving us a back story of how Meyers evolved into a killer and his obsession with creating masks in his mental institution cell. Like many children in 1983 who saw Return of The Jedi, I was greatly disappointed to see the man behind Darth Vader’s mask at the end when Luke Skywalker reveals his identity. I feel the same with Michael Meyers. Meyers is much more evil and mysterious when the viewer is not aware of his past and what he looks like behind the mask. I really don’t care why he kills, or what motivates him to kill. The fear a viewer experiences in Halloween is better felt by not knowing his identity.

One ridiculous criticism that Halloween received when it premiered in 1978 is that Carpenter was trying to make a moral statement about pre-marital sex and teenagers, since some of the victims killed by Meyers are teenagers having sex on Halloween night. Lori Strode, the smart girl who avoids boys and refuses to engage in sex, is the person who survives Meyers’ attacks. Carpenter’s town of Haddonfield, Illinois is not a town like Andy of Mayberry. This critique is complete nonsense. Carpenter actually adds a great sense of realism to his film by showing teenagers being sexually active. Is it safe to say that many teenagers do get together on Halloween night and engage in sexual activity? I think it is safe to say that they do, therefore Carpenter shows us a side of Middle America teens that is accurate.

Carpenter was smart not to get involved in any of the sequels to Halloween, at least in terms of directing them. Halloween II picks up where the first Halloween film ends, but it is a disappointing effort mostly because it takes place in a dimly lit hospital. Halloween III blacklists the Meyers character and instead concerns a plot to kill children with rigged Halloween masks.

This Halloween Season, enjoy a great classic by viewing John Carpenter’s 1978 classic – Halloween. You might get your pants scared off you, but you won’t be disappointed. Happy Viewing!!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The American Scream fascinates with home-haunting obsessions

By Doug Gibson

Documentary film-maker Michael Paul Stephenson of Magic Stone Productions, who had a fantastic debut with "Best Worst Movie," the documentary that explored the cult obsession with the film he starred in, "Troll 2," mostly through the eyes of dentist cum actor George Hardy, has made another impressive documentary that explores obsessions, fandom, persistence and sacrifice. "The American Scream" takes an inside, personal look at home-haunting enthusiasts, focusing on three families in the neighborhoods of Fairhaven, Mass., a mostly working- middle-class community where the houses possess far more age, and character, than generic big houses found in the suburbs.

The neighborhoods, with starter and family homes stitched tight together in streets teeming with children, are ideal for home haunts and trick-or-treating. Most of our neighborhoods have at least one home a street decorated well for Halloween, but Victor Bariteau, IT man for a financial firm by dad, takes his home-haunting beyond what most of us could even imagine. Blessed with a wife, Tina, who puts up with his year-round obsession, and two daughters, one of whom is a chip off dad's block, he literally spends thousands of dollars and what seems like 20 to 40 hours a week preparing for, with great detail, a haunted home spook alley that appears to have as much thought put into it as a professional haunted house.

Within and outside the Bariteau house, virtually all extra space, as well as a healthy chunk of essential space, is devoted to props and preparation for a one-night show for Fairhaven residents that will yield no revenue, but tons of satisfaction for Victor. He's a dogged eccentric that the viewer can't help liking. A survivor of a mother who raised him as a Branch Davidian (his family left before Waco), Victor was denied a childhood with Halloween, or birthdays, or most other holidays. In one scene, his childlike delight in finding a real, "used" coffin for only $200 captures the positive vibes he gets. Watching how eagerly he cultivates one daughter's shared interest in his haunts, one gets the impression she also represents the friends he was rarely allowed to have as a child. In one strong scene, he cites community involvement as a key reason for loving Halloween. It's a tribute to Victor's personality and dedication that he literally has a small company of friends who volunteer long hours to help create the haunt. At one point, Victor, with pride, mentions that his kids are celebrities in their schools as a result of his labors.

And that applies to his wife, Tina. It must be a rare woman who can accept such a full-time hobby obsession of her husband's despite the budget, time and clutter concerns that comes with it. At one point, she matter-of-factly defends her acceptance when she tells director Stephenson that he could be wasting the money on "season football tickets." There's a reason why Victor was so fortunate in choosing a wife. Tina can see that the home-haunting makes her husband a better man, a better father and a better spouse. There's a powerful scene where Victor, suffering from what pros call "haunt-stress" just prior to Halloween, loses his cool for just a moment. Tina is upset but barely shows it. Victor, as a loving spouse does, senses it, quickly hugs his wife and apologizes.

The other families featured in Fairhaven are also very interesting. Stephenson is very skilled at capturing how haunt-housing makes the obsessed haunted decorators, spook alley playwrights, performers and designers better people, better loved by by family and friends, and respected in the city. Home-haunters Matt Brodeur and his dad Dick are two eccentric, woefully out of shape oddballs who literally provide sustenance to each other through their share obsession of house haunting, as well as another sideline, working shows as clowns, often as pirate clowns. As one close friend tells the filmmakers, Matt the son takes care of dad, a retired engineer who appears to be suffering badly from diabetes. At the same time, Dick the dad provides a home for his son as well as the means and the location to oversee their shared home-haunting obsession-hobby. Watching the two work together, with their gripes, quirks, successes and squabbles, is both amusing and touching. They are equals, more Ernie and Bert than father and son, and as close as two old lifelong friends can be. Both thrive off the other. One of the best scenes captures the pair, in hectic fashion, trying to put together a seesaw that lifts ghoul dolls -- attached to the seats -- up and down.

The third family is headed by home haunter Manny Souza, a beefy municipal worker who is ably assisted by his wife, Lori and what seems like an army of relatives complete with many kids. Souza is a gruff teddy bear; a strong scene is a trek to a farmer with many kids to collect a pickup truck full of corn stalks to use in his family's spook alley. The stalk-gathering is overseen, with gruff thoroughness, by Manny.

Souza, as well as the Brodeurs, are not as deeply invested in home haunts as Victor Bariteau. There's a scene where Victor talks very wistfully of how only his responsibilities of keeping a roof over his family's heads, as well as financial security, keeps him from a dream of of graduating from home-haunting to the pay-for-scares of a real haunted house. He so desperately wants to take that next step.

 Souza, who is mildly critical of Bariteau for being too obsessed with Halloween, does admit to having once cared more about his hobby. A heart attack stemmed the frenetic-ness of his passionate activity, and he describes, with tears of gratitude, how moved he was by how his family and friends picked up the slack so the Souza house would not miss Halloween the year of his illness.

Stephenson moves the 90-minute plus film through the month of October, with day-until-Halloween listed on the screen. It pays off with an effective holiday climax. The viewers, by now very interested in how the home haunt spook alleys will be, are not disappointed. The atmosphere in the Bariteau house is equal to an opening night, with last-minute preps and fixes, eager, nervous performers, and long lines of trick-or-treaters already waiting.

However, as interesting as the haunts are the personal stories of the Bariteau, Brodeur and Souza families, their interactions and the familial support systems within these unique persons. There is also a bit of pathos, as Victor is facing imminent layoff due to work exports, Manny's heart attack has made him more aware of his mortality, and the earthly bond that sustains the Brodeurs may not last long due to dad's poor health.

Home-haunting is not a term I was too familiar with, but Stephenson's "The American Scream" leaves me wanting to get another spook alley fix. IMDB info is here. The movie's website is here. The film will air on Chiller TV on Oct. 28.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

In the spirit of this year's election season, 'The Dark Horse'

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.

By Doug Gibson

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 film that still has relevance today, it's well worth watching when it's on TCM. Watch the trailer here.

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."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bela Lugosi in The Raven

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.

Lugosi's Vollin is implored upon to save the life of a beautiful dancer, Jean Thatcher. Once he restores her to health, he fall in lust with her and wants her for himself. Rebuffed by Thatcher's father, 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.

Vollin's unwilling helper is Edmond Bateman, 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 juat 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 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. Watch this fan-produced trailer that I found on YouTube below.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

House of Dracula -- Universal kitsch

By Doug Gibson

1945's "House of Dracula," (you can see the trailer above) was Universal's final "serious" film using the trio of monsters it had achieved fame with the past 14 years, to wit the Frankenstein monster, Count Dracula and the Wolfman. Unlike the films that formed the genesis of these monsters, "House of Dracula" contains none of the drama, pathos, emotion, creativity, plots and scripts that enhanced the originals. "House of Dracula" is a silly, kitschy film, very derivative as well as outlandish at times. It's a comic book tale with all three of the monsters, as well as a mad scientist who resembles Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

That's not to say "House of Dracula" is a poor film. It's actually a well-directed, economical, lean Universal B  60 minutes-plus time-waster that is well directed by Erle C. Kenton. It serves as a reminder that even the most formulaic big-studio production always outshone similar cheaper efforts from the Monograms and PRCs of that era. The film begins with Count Dracula (John Carradine) visiting the European castle of Dr. Franz Edelmann. Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) is working on developing a mold that can cure almost any disease. He hopes to use it to correct the malady of his hunchbacked assistant, Nina, played by Jane Adams.

The film starts to get immediately. Dracula, traveling under a fake name, is not searching for necks to bite. What he really wants is a cure; he wants to stop being Dracula. Because he's a humane man, Edelmann, even after learning that he's Dracula, decides to try to help him. After noticing that Dracula's blood contains a strange parasite, Edelmann shares his blood with Dracula.

This is a ridiculous plot twist for any purist, and although many have criticized Universal for not casting Bela Lugosi as Dracula in this film, it's probably a plus that he was passed over. Lugosi's Dracula could never be the passive, somber, ambling Dracula that Carradine portrays in the film. The idea of Lugosi's Dracula pleading for blood tests would have turned a silly but somber film into a farce. Lugosi is simply too good for such nonsense. To Carradine's credit, he creates his own Dracula; like his previous turn as the Count in "House of Frankenstein," he keeps things low-key and looks a bit like a quietly eccentric clergyman. Playing Dracula in that manner makes Carradine's transformation to cruel bloodsucker more effective. After being attracted to another one of Edelmann's assistants, comely Miliza Morell, played by Martha O'Driscoll, Dracula is none-too-pleased when Edelmann interferes. In as strange sequence, Dracula gains control over the doctor on the transfusion table, infects his blood, and -- after a half-hearted attempt to kidnap Miliza, returns to his casket, where he humbly submits to eternal death.

While the Dracula tale has been unfolding, Lon Chaney Jr., as the eternally depresses Lawrence Talbot the Wolf Man, as meandered to the castle. The good-hearted Edelmann has diagnosed his werewolf malady as the result of pressure in the cranium, and Talbot eagerly submits to treatment with hopes that his curse can be cured. At one low point, Talbot attempts suicide by jumping off a cliff into the sea. The coast hides several sea caves, and lo and behold the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange) is discovered unconscious in one!

While Lugosi would have a poor choice for this film's Dracula, he would have been an ideal picks as the saintly Dr. Edelmann, eventually turned into a mad killer by blood contamination. After all, Karloff had played a mad scientist in House of Frankenstein with Strange taking over the monster, so Lugosi could have easily endured Carradine. However, Bela was on the outs with Universal, so Stevens got the role.

To be fair, Onslow Stevens does an OK job as the doc. He shows fine acting skills, particularly when he attempts to fight his evil side from overpowering his virtue. Perhaps the most chilling moment occurs when the bad Dr. Edelmann, too impulsive to have ant control, murders the virtuous, sympathetic hunchback nurse Nina, a woman the doctor truly cares about. It's a shocking death, and effective in its horror aspect, since Nina's character is developed enough for the audience to truly care about her.

There are villagers in this film, including Lionel Atwill, who hasn;t much to do as the inspector, and slimy, repulsive character actor Skelton Knaggs, who lends a sinister air as a villager bent on revenge after his brother is killed by bad Edelmann. As for "bad Edelmann," he's determined to resurrect the monster, and it's up to the (now cured!?) Talbot and nurse Miliza -- who appears to have the hots for each other -- to try and stop the bad doc. (This was filmed in an era where Chaney was slowly starting to lose his looks -- due to his alcoholism -- but he still handsome enough to get the girl)

Despite my criticism of "House of Dracula" as kitsch, it's fun kitsch and a horror fan who has enjoyed "Frankenstein," "Dracula" and other vintage horror won;t be disappointed with it. In fact, you'll probably want to watch it several times. I have.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Attack of The Giant Leeches – Swamp Trash Entertainment

By Steve D. Stones

Miss July 1959 Playboy centerfold Yvette Vickers stars in this 1959 low-budget pot boiler produced by Gene and Roger Corman. Vickers is type-cast as a town tramp unfaithful to her overweight store keeper husband – Bruno VeSota. Vickers played the same role in Attack of The 50 Foot Woman (1957). She shows off her sexy legs by rubbing them with lotion in an opening scene meant to grab the attention of the male viewer.

Local rednecks living near a swamp in the Florida Everglades are being killed off one by one by giant leeches who hide in underwater caverns. A game warden, played by Ken Clark – who looks like he just stepped off the front cover of GQ Magazine, tries to determine the cause of local deaths in the swamp.  With the help of his girlfriend and her father, Clark discovers that a handful of giant leeches living in the swamp are responsible for capturing and killing locals who poach the swamps. Two of the victims are Vickers and her lover, who were lured into the swamp when VeSota discovered the two making out near the shore.

Despite its low budget and lurid subject matter, Attack of The Giant Leeches (aka The Giant Leeches) manages to be a fun little movie to watch. Bernard Kowalski’s direction is solid and the actors seem to do a serious, convincing job. The only thing unconvincing is the giant leech costumes, which are obviously divers with scuba gear poking through the leech costumes. A Wade Williams print of this film cuts out the opening sequence of a swamp poacher shooting a rifle at a giant leech while the credits roll to the Alexander Laszlo score - the same music used in director Kowalski’s 1958 film – Night of The Blood Beast. 

Sadly, actress Vickers was found dead in her Beverly Hills home in the spring of 2010. A neighbor crawled in through her home window after no one had heard from her in months. Her mummified corpse had been sitting in a chair for over six months. A sad ending for a beautiful woman who had great promise as an actress. She will be greatly missed by her fans. See Attack of The Giant Leeches with Vickers’ other film – Attack of The 50 Foot Woman. Happy Viewing!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Laurel and Hardy's The Big Noise -- not as bad as you think

The Big Noise

by Doug Gibson

"The Big Noise," a 1944 Laurel and Hardy feature from Twentieth Century Fox, directed by Malcolm St. Claire, is generally panned by Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts. In fact, it was listed as one of the "50 worst films" in the Medved brothers book that was popular 30 years ago. But that's all nonsense. "The Big Noise" is not a great film but it's a passable way to spend 74 minutes with a classic comedy team. It's certainly not among Laurel & Hardy's best films. To see those, buy the Hal Roach feature "Sons of the Desert" and the Roach short "The Music Box." But in "The Big Noise," the boys' genius still works at times.

The plot involves Stan and Ollie as bumbling janitors working in a private detective's office. A scientist named Alva Hartley (Arthur Space) calls the agency asking for detectives to guard his bomb, called the Big Noise. The bomb is so powerful it can win World War II for the allies (how prophetic!). L&H want to be detectives, so they pose as such and take on the assignment. Next door to the Hartley live a pack of criminals, who want to steal the bomb and sell it to the Nazis. Somehow a pretty young lady (Doris Merrick) is also there (she's innocent of the plot) and Hartley takes a small fancy to her.

Eventually Laurel and Hardy take off with the bomb with the crooks in hot pursuit. Incredibly, the whole shebang ends in the ocean!

This is just an OK film. L&H fans will be more tolerant. Those unaccustomed to the pair should watch a better entry. The boys were starting to age in 1944 and the physical hijinks suffered. There are funny scenes, though, of L&H trying to relax in a bedroom with beds that come out of the walls and tables that rise out of the floor. A scene where the pair eats food in pill form is flat and unfunny, though.

One scene that works is the pair trying to sleep in a Pullman train compartment. Another unfunny part of the film is an annoying brat in the Hartley house who plays pranks. He's played by child star Robert Blake, who later gained fame as an actor and then earned notoriety after being accused of murdering his wife (he was acquitted). Also, Veda Ann Borg overacts as a chunky matron who has eyes for Ollie. One trivia bit in the film is that Stan, on his accordion, played the popular song "Maisey Doats." According to the film's press book, the pair deliberately cut back on wasteful gags to help with the WWII effort.

To sum up, it's an OK way to kill 74 minutes and should be watched by completists, but there are better L&H outings. Again, though, it's not as bad as you might think.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blog Log Notes for Sunday, Shemp Howard, The Mummy, etc.

By Doug Gibson

I've been watching more Three Stooges shorts, with an emphasis on assessing "Shemp," the brother who replaced Curly. One reviewer has described Shemp as having a face shaped like a bake potato, but he's more than that. An experienced actor and comedy-man, he was only a slight drop off from Curly and far better than the two who succeeded him, the just-OKs, Joe Besser and Curley Joe DeRita. I wish I could find a copy of the 1950 or so Stooges oater, "The Gold Raiders," via the web. The Stooges have supporting roles to star George O'Brien. The critics love to savage the film, but it's actually quite enjoyable, and lasts less than an hour.

There is a Stooges short from 1951, The Tooth Will Out, that includes Shemp. .... I just noticed that as part of its Sunday Silents on Oct. 7, Turner Classic Movies will air "Headin Home," from 1920. The film, which airs at 11 p.m. MST, stars a very young George Herman "Babe" Ruth. That's a must-see. I know that boxing champ Jack Dempsey starred in silent action serials; wonder if any still exist? Afterwards, TCM airs 1932's "Not Against the Flesh," which is the classic Vampyre under another title.

My daughter and I watched The Mummy, with Boris Karloff. What a tremendous acting job by Karloff, who mixes menacing single-mindedness with genuine terror. I love the mid-budget Kharis Mummy films Universal put out in the 40s, but nothing compares to Imhotep! .... Just found out that the Chapman Branch of the Salt Lake City public library system will show "The Beast of Yucca Flats," on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. I wonder if that's a first for the film to have such a show date? It's very cool and I hope I can make it.

Below, enjoy this photo of Shemp Howard!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Nosferatu (1922) – A Symphony of Horror

By Steve D. Stones

On the evening of Tuesday October 2nd, 2012, the Weber County Library Main Branch in Ogden screened F.W. Murnau’s 1922 German Expressionistic masterpiece – Nosferatu. The print shown was the 2007 release by Kino International with the Hans Erdmann score and 1922 intertitles faithful to the original film. It was a great treat to see this classic film up on the big screen this evening.

Hutter, a real estate agent, is assigned by Knock to travel into the Carpathian Mountains to sell property to Count Orlok, a hideous rat looking creature with an elongated body and fingers, living on human blood. Hutter’s coach refuses to take him to Orlok’s estate, so he travels on foot. He encounters the Count driving another coach through the woods. It is here that one of the most haunting shots of the film is seen as the coach travels through a fog infested forest while the print is shown in reverse from the negative. Cheap prints in the public domain omit this creepy sequence.

Hutter arrives at Orlok’s estate to make the sale. While there, he writes letters to his young wife Mina, complaining of mosquitoes biting his neck. He soon discovers that Orlok has trapped him in his Carpathian Castle, and plans to travel to Hutter’s hometown of Wisborg, Germany with coffins filled of his native soil. While on route, the rats in the coffin spread the plaque to all the ship’s passengers, bringing the plaque to Wisborg. Orlok leaves the ship and carries coffins through pointed archways to his destination. Funeral processions of coffins being carried into the streets signals that death and the plague have arrived in Wisborg.

Just before sunrise, Orlok confronts Mina in her bedroom as she sleeps. He evaporates in the sun light after Mina is bitten on the neck. Just before the sunlight fills the room, a reflection of Orlok can be seen in the mirror next to Mina’s bed, which is not in keeping with future depictions of vampire beings who cannot cast a reflection in mirrors. Many scenes show Orlok walking around in bright daylight, such as a famous sequence of him walking across the bow of a ship traveling to Wisborg. 

Max Scheck’s portrayal of Count Orlok is grotesque and iconic, a true screen legend that continues to haunt audiences even today. Scheck’s Orlok is more truthful to Bram Stoker’s vampire in the Dracula novel. More contemporary depictions of Dracula show him as a handsome aristocrat that attracts and repels beautiful women. Scheck’s Orlok is meant to be a frightening creature, avoiding any romantic references.

Stoker’s estate was not pleased with the intentional copyright infringement of Nosferatu to the Dracula novel, so all prints of the film were ordered to be destroyed. Lucky for us, Nosferatu is still in circulation for audiences to enjoy today. German film maker Werner Herzog recreated Nosferatu in 1979 starring Klaus Kinski in the role of Count Orlac. See both great classics this Halloween Season. Also see the 2000 film – Shadow of The Vampire, which is a fictionalized account of the filming of Nosferatu. Happy Viewing!! (Above is artist Stones' work, Vampire Crunch)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

George Zucco in PRC's Dead Men Walk

By Doug Gibson

Dead Men Walk, 1943, B and W, 64 minutes. Producers Releasing Corp. Directed by Sam Newfield. Starring George Zucco as Dr. Lloyd Clayton and Elwyn Clayton, Mary Carlisle as Gayle Clayton, Nedrick Young as Dr. David Bentley, Dwight Frye as Zolarr, Fern Emmett as Kate and Hal Price as the sheriff. Schlock-meter rating: Six stars out of 10.

This 1940s PRC cheapie about a vampire who rises from the grave and attempts to destroy his niece to spite his brother is a lot of fun. It stars horror great Zucco in dual roles; as ocultist brother Elwyn who is murdered by his good brother, a doctor named Lloyd, also played by Zucco.

Alas, the evil Elwyn's death fails. Elwyn has learned how to resurrect himself as a vampire. With the help of demented servant Zolarr (Frye in a great, meaty role), he begins to murder. A woman driven crazy by grief (Emmett) suspects him, but no one takes her seriously. Once she starts to gain credibility, she is killed off by Zolarr. Elywn's chief target, however, is revenge against his brother. He appears to the startled doctor, and promises to suck the lifeblood from his beautiful niece Gayle (Carlisle). She's engaged to another doctor (Young) who, as Gayle starts to wither away, begins to suspect Lloyd of trying to kill her.

There are rumors all over town that Lloyd killed Elwyn and the townspeople, spurred by the murders, start to talk vigilantism. The sheriff blusters a lot, but accomplishes little. Eventually, there is a showdown between the undead Elwyn and brother Lloyd.The low budget, of course seriously hampers the film. The FXs are virtually non-existent. Zucco's Elwyn seems to fade away rather than pass through walls. The lighting is very poor. The script weak. Many of the characters are stereotypes. There's the rich doctor, the rich young couple, the crazy old lady, the blustery sheriff, the very superstitious townspeople.

The acting, except for Zucco and Frye, is quite poor. The direction, by cheapie legend, Newfield, is pedestrian. However, the plot is quite unique for a vampire film of that era. Film writer Frank Dello Stritto, writing in Cult Movies 27, describes Dead Men Walk as the best plotted vampire film of that era. However, Dello Stritto agrees the finished product is mediocre.

Nevertheless, Zucco is magnificent. The doctors are not cast as twins. It's amazing how different Zucco appears as the respected Dr. Lloyd Clayton and the balding, gaunt brother Elwyn. His timing and delivery is first rate. Frye's Zucco is menacing, and watching it is bittersweet, since the talented horror star died of a heart attack a few months after completing the film. Students of the early horror films, particulary Poverty Row Bs, should own Dead Men Walk. It's easily available on VHS or DVD.

"Dead Men Walk" is a wonderful example of a low-budget 40s C horror film with stars (Zucco and Frye) that elevate the film beyond its low-budget production values It's often on UEN, Channel 9 in Utah..


Here is the UEN information:

When your twin brother is way into the dark arts, do you really want him dead?The 1943 gem, "Dead Men Walk", features not one, but two (!) performances by George Zucco. As Dr. Lloyd Clayton, he's a kindly uncle and caring village doctor. As Lloyd's evil twin, Elwyn, he's a Satan-worshipping, vampiric goon bent on revenge against the gentle brother who shoved him off a cliff in an attempt to stop him.

It's worth noting that Elwyn learned the skills he needed to become a vampire on a trip to India. Western interpretations of vampire lore generally rely on ideas developed by authors such as Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, who found inspiration in the historical figure Vlad (The Impaler) Draculea. But vampires lived in legend long before Bram first put pen to paper and even before Vlad first put stake through victim.

Many discussions of Indian vampires begin with Kali, a complex Hindu goddess typically associated with death and destruction. When confronted with a demon that replicated from his own spilled blood, she solved the problem by drinking him dry. But this isn't exactly what most of us think of when we think "vampire." Not to fear: Indian lore offers a rich variety of true demonic-style vampire types that range from Brahmaparusha and Pacu Pati to Rakshasha and Baital, each of which have different origins and powers.

Anyone interested in ancient vampire lore would do well to check out the Indian story Baital Pachisi, a.k.a. Vetala Panchvimshati. First written in Sanskrit, this well-known classic is an early example of a frame story, one that places multiple tales within an overall narrative. In the frame for Baital Pachisi, the hero Vikrim pledges to present a sorcerer with a Baital – a vampire spirit who inhabits a human corpse at a cemetery. The Baital agrees to let Vikrim carry him to the sorcerer on the condition that the man doesn't speak until the journey is done, but as Vikrim lugs the weighty Baital down the road, the vampire tells him a story that provokes a response. Baital flies back to the cemetery and Vikram gets to try 24 more times, hearing a fresh tale every time. According to scholars, the original tale had a profound influence on European literature and contributed to Western frame stories such as Boccaccio's Decameron and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. An English translation of 11 of the tales first appeared in 1870 under the title Vikram and the Vampire, by Sir Richard Francis and Isabel Burton. Numerous editions are available today, including e-books and paperbacks issued as recently as 2008.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mark of the Vampire, a missed opportunity

By Doug Gibson

MGM's 1935 thriller, Mark of the Vampire, directed by Tod Browning, is such a marvelous film for 50 minutes that you just want to scream at what Browning did to cheat viewers in the final 9 minutes. Yeah, I know it's a sort of remake of the 1927 London After Midnight, (now lost) and Browning stubbornly refused to mess with that plot. But nevertheless, it was a big mistake to turn this supernatural fantasy into a murder mystery. There's a reason Mark of the Vampire is not discussed in the same revered tones today as Dracula, Frankenstein, or even White Zombie ... it's because that cheat of an ending.

First, the plot: Sir Karell Borotyn, master of an estate in central Europe, is found dead, bloodless, one night in his reclusive castle. The villagers are sure it's the work of a vampire, but Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) scoffs at such a theory. And inquest declares the death from causes unknown. A planned wedding between the Sir Karrell's daughter, Irena, and a young man named Fedor Vicente, has been postponed. Baron Otto Von Zinden (Jean Hersholt) is handling the late man's estate.

Move forward nearly a year. The murder is unsolved. The castle is decaying, full of vermin and insects. Suddenly, two vampires are seen by villagers and other. They are described as the undead bodies of Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter, Luna (Carroll Borland). Fedor and Irina are both attacked, presumably by the vampires. The villages are in an uproar. The skeptical Inspector Neumann is joined by eccentric Professor Zelen, played by Lionel Barrymore in an outstanding performance of a very chewy, Van Helsing-like role. Zelen supports the vampire theory. Through further investigation, it is revealed that a personage who resembles the dead Borotyn has been seen roaming the castle and heard playing the organ. A visit to his crypt reveals an empty coffin. Baron Otto Von Zinden is getting very nervous.

The gothic, horror atmosphere in this film is superb. Lugosi is at his best. His vampire performance, short though it is, rivals his Dracula performance. The beautiful Borland radiates screen presence as Luna. Inexplicably, she had a very small film career but her image became iconic because of this role. A scene where she swoops down, in batlike fashion, to the castle's floor, is one of the finest scenes I have seen. The ghostly, filthy decay of the castle is better than Browning's depictions in Dracula. As mentioned, Barrymore is great with his dedicated persistence as the "vampire seeker."

The final 10 minutes reveal the whole affair to be an elaborate practical joke to enable the actual killer, Baron Otto Von Zindon, to recreate the murder on the actor playing Sir Karell. That's bad enough, but Browning also turns Lugosi and Borland into actors and provides silly dialogue at the end. One reason the film maintains such effective mood and atmosphere for so long is because Browning only revealed the trick ending near the end of shooting. Legend has it that most of the cast was furious. In his biography, "The Immortal Count," Lugosi's biographer, Arthur Lennig, mentions Lugosi suggested that the real actors for Mora and Luna arrive at the very end, apologizing for arriving late. That sounds like a great idea that would have retained more fame for this otherwise excellent film, but Browning, and MGM, said no.

The short running time, 59 minutes, was trimmed from an original 75-minute film (the excess is lost). Some say that village humor scenes were cut, Others claim that a subplot, where it's mentioned that Mora committed incest with his daughter Luna, and later killed her and himself, was taken out.It is ironic that Lugosi's Mora has a clear bullet wound on the left side of his forehead/temple. As mentioned, Mark of the Vampire is a remake of Browning's London After Midnight, in which the faux monster is played, with truly horrifying makeup, by Lon Chaney Sr. A 45-minute version of that lost film has been gathered into a movie comprised entirely of still shots. It has played on TCM and turns out to be much better than it would seem to be.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Edison's 1910 Frankenstein -- a silent curio

By Doug Gibson

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, my co-blogger, Steve Stones and I headed to the main branch of the Weber County library in Ogden, Utah. It's Halloween and the library showed a brillaint Kino print of "Nosferatu." Like the old days, though, there was a short, and it was the interesting, 1910 curio, 14-plus minute silent film, from Thomas Alva Edison's film company, "Frankenstein," self-described as a "liberal adaptation."

Boy, were they right on that. Edison Studio's Frankenstein bears less resemblance to Mary Shelley's tale than the Whale/Karloff version did 21 years later, but it's quite interesting, with decent special effects. Unlike virtually every film made prior 1914 or so, there's more to the movie than just people hopping around. A young college student, Augustus Phillips as Dr. Frankenstein, eagerly, and very dramatically, sets about creating a human male from scratch. The scenes of a monster slowly being created out of fire are quite impressive for that primitive film era. Unfortunately, once he creates the man-made man, played by Charles Ogle, he's horrified by the monster and shrinks dramatically away in repulsion and terror.

Ogle's portrayal of the monster is quite effective. He's no Boris Karloff, of course, but he does convey a helpless creature, created through no fault of his own who desperately seeks companionship and approval from his creator. His horror, and self-disgust when he sees his grotesque self in a mirror is moving.

For a while, Frankenstein is a broken, emotional wreck, nursed back to health by his father, as well as his bride to be, played by Mary Fuller. However, the monster eventually finds him and wreaks some mild havoc on the trio before a silly climax abruptly ends the film. Director J. Searle Dawley forces into the film a silly theme that only Dr. Frankenstein's evil created the monster and hence the monster can be dispatched into nothingness if the love between Frankenstein and his fiance overpower the evil, or something like that.

As it is, Edison's Frankenstein is an important piece of cinema history, and it's fortunate we can watch it today on many sources, including YouTube (above). The film enjoyed little success. Audiences were reportedly repulsed by Ogle's creature, which I think actually has held up well the past 100 years. For a long time the film was considered lost, but a couple of copies eventually surfaced, the first in the early 1960s, and eventually the film received a DVD release. Except for the monster creation, most of the film is pretty static, and has the look of a film shot as a stage production. The acting is par for the time, very overdramatic, Below is a still shot of the monster, as played by Ogle.

Monday, October 1, 2012

More Lugosi -- Bela in The Phantom Ship!

By Doug Gibson

This British 1936 film is a treat for Lugosi fans. He is Anton Lorenzen, a broken-down one-armed sailor who inspires a pity as part of the doomed crew of the Mary Celeste, a ship that in real life in the 1870s was discovered in the Atlantic sans crew.

This film, released in a much longer -- unfortunately lost -- version as The Mystery of the Mary Celeste in Britain, is an entertaining murder mystery. It sort of plays like a rough version of Agatha Christie.

The plot: A captain and his bride (Shirley Grey) set sail with a ragged, rough, sinister ship's crew, including Lugosi, who inspires pity. One by one people start to die. The captain and his wife disappear. Finally only Lugosi's Lorenzen and the sadistic first mate are left. At that point, Lugosi, acting like a 30s version of The Usual's Suspect's Keyser Soze, announces he is the killer, there to avenge a previous wrong. He kills off the first mate but then is hit by a beam of wood and falls into the sea to his death.

Before he dies, Lugosi brags of killing the captain and his wife. That scene appears clunky though. It almost sounds as if Lugosi's voice is dubbed. This is important because the ONLY remaining print is the 62-minute U.S. version, The Phantom Ship. The longer, lost 80-minute version, The Mystery of the Mary Celeste, apparently had an epilogue where the captain and his wife are discovered alive on an island, having escaped death on the Mary Celeste via a raft. It sure would be fun to locate a copy of the lost version. Lugosi biographer Frank Dello Stritto has located director Denison Clift's original shooting synopsis for the film and it includes the island epilogue.

Lugosi is great in The Phantom Ship, which used to be rare but in today's digital world can be found easily and in fact watched for free on the Net. He inspires pathos and pity and then effectively turns cold-blooded killer. He did this very well also in the 1930s The Black Cat, the Monogram Black Dragons and even Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster. Rest of cast is capable and the ship scenes are quite effective for the low budget. Co-star Shirley Grey later teamed up in an enjoyable co-starring role with the Saint, Simon Templar, George Sanders in The Saint in London. The Phantom Ship is definitely worth a buy. One of Lugois's best late 1930s films.