Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mad Monster Party? (1967)


Directed by Jules Bass
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Anchor Bay)

This Rankin-Bass stop motion animation feature is an annual Halloween tradition. Boris Karloff hosts a gathering of classic monsters during which his human nephew Felix Flanken announces his retirement. He plans to pass his title on to Felix, which causes infighting among the monsters. The real fun is the numerous one-liners, musical interludes (Little Tibia and the Fibias are the best) and of course Francesca. It all ends with a bang featuring King Kong.



Bad Ronald (1974)

Directed by Buzz Kulik
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

In the upper echelon of made-for-TV movies, Bad Ronald takes a plausible situation and pushes it to the limit. Ronald accidentally kills a neighborhood girl. Instead of going to the police he buries her. He tells his overprotective mother, who decides the best thing to do is wall up the bathroom and hide him until things blow over. She goes to the hospital for a routine operation but ends up dying. Ronald stays in hiding, even when a new family moves into the house. He retreats into a fantasy world of his own making, covering his walls, and himself, with paint and dirt. His fantasies extend to the people in the house: a young girl is a princess, a boyfriend an evil Duke. When he finally reveals himself to the girl, he's filthy and a raving lunatic. She manages to run next door but he locks her in the basement. He kidnaps the boyfriend of her sister and ties him up in his hideaway. One of his peepholes eventually gives him away, and he bursts through a wall in an incredible ending.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Severed Arm (1973)

Directed by Thomas S. Alderman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Video Gems)

Moody early 70s film that rises above its low budget origins. A group of men get trapped in a cave for over a month. They draw lots to decide who gets his arm severed so it can be eaten by the remaining men. Just as they finish the deed they are rescued. Years later members of the group are being stalked by someone who cuts off their arms in violent attacks. A twist(ed) ending and electronic soundtrack help to make this an eerie entry in the world of obscure VHS tapes.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Directed by John Newland
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

This TV movie is a precursor to all things Gremlins, Ghoulies and even ET. A couple move into an old house. The wife, played by Kim Darby, discovers a walled-up fireplace in a locked, shuttered room. Once the fireplace is opened, she is tormented by little men with cone heads who speak in whispers and hide in the dark. Nobody believes her of course and think she is having a nervous breakdown. Well, the little people tie her up and drag her to the fireplace one night, and in the downbeat ending we hear her joining the chorus of whispering voices.



Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Psychic (1977)

Directed by Lucio Fulci
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Severin)

Patience will be rewarded by this Fulci giallo. The first half is slow and often confusing. However, after a key revelation is made the second half unfolds beautifully, as if the viewer has had visions along with the main character. No, this is not the Fulci of Zombie or other gore classics, but a Fulci in complete command of characters, setting and mood.



Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)



Directed by Dario Argento
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Mya Communication)

Early Argento still in full-fledged giallo mode. It's very confusing, and like most Argento more style than substance, but nonetheless an engrossing film with several wildly imaginative killings. Michael Brandon is Roberto, the drummer in a bad early seventies band. He accidentally kills someone he thinks is stalking him. Or does he? A witness to the supposed murder spends the rest of the film tormenting him for no good reason. More people die in gloriously deranged manners. Roberto has recurring dreams of being beheaded in a large Arab square. It all gets explained in the end.

The Centerfold Girls (1974)

Directed by John Peyser
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

Almost an anthology film of three stories interconnected by a serial killer. There is nudity in practically every scene and graphic slasher violence, but this exploitation flick manages to rise above the usual low budget fare with good photography and interesting characters. Andrew Prine is stalking the centerfold girls of the month. Not much is revealed about his motives, other than to "help" the girls he thinks are "making the world dirty" by posing in the magazine. The first story features a naive playmate who helps out a stranger on the road, but ends up victimized by a group of hippies. Andrew arrives to save the day. The second story takes place at a photo shoot on a remote island. Andrew follows them there and takes care of business one by one. The final story features Tiffany Bolling as the only girl who fights back.

The Monster and the Girl (1941)

Directed by Stuart Heisler
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, MCA/Universal)

One of the more sympathetic man-in-a-gorilla-suit movies you will find. A man falsely convicted of a murder vows revenge on the district attorney and gang of hoodlums who framed him. Luckily, George Zucco needs his brain for an experimental transplant into a gorilla. He promptly escapes and carries out his revenge. It's a surprisingly melancholic gorilla, even his face has a permanent sad look etched into it, reminiscent of King Kong. Ellen Drew is good as the small town girl forced into a life of prostitution.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Vestron Video)

Michael Sarrazin is having bad dreams, only they are not dreams but memories of his past life. He catches a glimpse of some of the places in his dreams on television and travels there with his girlfriend. He finds his ex wife and daughter 35 years older than when he dreamed about them. He falls in love with his daughter, but his wife realizes who he really is and is not happy to see him. I thought the first part was rather slow, and his blond girlfriend annoying. However, as soon as she left him in Massachusetts the film took on a new life. The pacing was very good from that point and the story very involving. The electronic soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith further enhances the atmosphere. A near-classic of 70s occult cinema.

The Jungle Captive (1945)

Directed by Harold Young
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Universal)

Minor Universal horror with Otto Kruger as a scientist bringing the dead back to life. After he has success with a rabbit, he wants to try reviving an "ape woman" in the local morgue. Rondo Hatton is his assistant Moloch, who does the dirty work of stealing bodies and strangling meddlers. Moloch also falls in love with the beautiful young girl who the doctor has lined up for brain surgery.

Nightmare Castle (1965)

Directed by Mario Caiano
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Severin)

Barbara Steele has two roles in this confusing Italian Gothic horror film. Brunette Barbara is killed by her husband when he catches her with the gardener in the greenhouse, chains her up in the dungeon and cuts both their hearts out. Blond Barbara is the cousin of brunette Barbara and marries the same man shortly after her death. He tries to drive her insane with hallucinogenic drugs. He's really after her blood, which his servant needs to remain youthful. It all unravels in a finale featuring brunette Barbara in a peek-a-boo hairstyle hiding her scarred face. More silly than scary.



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Legend of Blood Castle (1973)

Directed by Jorge Grau
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Mya Communication)

Another retelling of the Countess Bathory legend. A dead body is put on trial for vampirism. He is eventually found guilty, his body burned and head decapitated. Meanwhile an aging woman discovers that the blood of her servant will keep her young. She fakes the death of her husband and he goes out and kills young girls to keep her supplied with blood. When he seduces one of them she gets jealous and kills him. Another trial at the end finds her guilty and she is walled up in her castle. A couple of good shock scenes are countered by one scene of unnecessary animal cruelty. The motivations of the husband, in particular, are unclear.



Frankenstein (1973)

Directed by Glenn Jordan
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

Perhaps the most faithful version of the Mary Shelley novel ever put on film. "The giant" is played sympathetically by Bo Svenson, who truly makes him an innocent child in the body of a monster. Once his intellect catches up to that body, he becomes consumed by rage and revenge. He forces Frankenstein to create a mate for him, but when he fails the tragedy comes full circle. This was a two-part episode on the ABC "Wide World Mystery" television series, and runs around 2 hours in length. Plenty of room to explore all the subplots of the novel. It was shot on videotape rather than film, and that does give it a rather cheap, soap opera look. The low budget also results in a cramped, set-bound production, with rubbery walls and fake props. I was able to overlook those shortcomings given the strength of the story.



Monday, October 26, 2009

The Hellfire Club (1961)

Directed by Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

Adventure yarn set in late 1700s London. Keith Michell plays a peasant who through a series of fights, disguises, prison terms, women and other plot contrivances tries to claim his rightful inheritance from his cousin. The Hellfire Club is seldom seen, but we do get a glimpse of the infamous orgies, dancing girls and satanic rituals that take place in hidden caves. Peter Cushing has a minor role as a lawyer. The film would have been better had it placed more emphasis on both the club and Cushing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blood of the Vampire (1958)

Directed by Henry Cass
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

Moody little film that takes place mostly in a filthy British prison in the late 1800s. The warden is Dr. Callistratus, who conducts experiments on prisoners in his basement. He railroads a young doctor into prison and forces him into being his assistant. He has a hunchback servant with a droopy eye. There is a secret room under the lab where even stranger experiments take place. There are no vampires in this movie.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Slaughter of the Vampires (1962)

Directed by Roberto Mauri
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

The lovely Graziella Granata is seduced by an older vampire and wears the same low cut dress the entire film. Her husband brings a doctor to try to cure her, but ends up killing vampires instead. This Italian-made film emphasizes the romantic, seductive side of the vampire myth, complete with swelling violin music and buxom maidens. Unfortunately it's all pretty boring and the English dub is atrocious.



Thursday, October 22, 2009

Malpertuis (1971)

Directed by Harry Kümel
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Barrel Entertainment)

A difficult film that defies classification: part Lewis Carroll, part horror movie and part love story. Mathieu Carriere is Jan, who finds himself thrust into the world of Cassavius, a dying millionaire and owner of the mysterious Malpertuis. Much of the film has Jan wandering the long, gas-lit hallways of the mansion, trying to unlock its secrets. Along the way he is tempted by the love, and lust, of several women, or are they the same woman? And just who are the inhabitants of Malpertuis anyway? I tried to guess what was really going on, thinking maybe it was an allegory for hell with Orson Welles as the devil, but I was wrong and the "real" explanation is a bit surprising. Some amazing set design on display and it is beautifully filmed, reminding me of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. I watched the longer director's cut, and it does tend to lose its way at times, perhaps by design. It also has multiple levels of reality, at one point it appeared it was all going to be a dream, and there is a tacked on ending that takes place in a mental hospital implying it was all just the hallucinations of a lunatic. Perhaps the shorter version eliminates these unnecessary distractions.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

From Hell It Came (1957)

Directed by Dan Milner
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Archive Collection)

American scientists on a remote Pacific island revive a tree with an experimental formula. It breaks loose and seeks revenge on those who killed it when it was a man. Another parable on the dangers of the atom bomb, with a laughable walking tree monster.


The Old Dark House (1963)

Directed by William Castle
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Pleasant diversion from the usual grim October horror fare. This light comedy starring Tom Poston is set in an old English mansion. A family of eccentrics are living there to fulfill an inheritance, but are killed off one by one. Poston is the outsider who is trapped overnight in a rain storm and must try to stay alive. The plot revolves around the mystery of the killer and the eccentricities of the family. Fenella Fielding is wonderful as Morgana Femm.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

Directed by Alfred Sole
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Hen's Tooth Video)

The movie tries hard, too hard, to imitate its obvious influences: Hitchcock and to a lesser extent De Palma (himself a Hitchcock derivative). The movie is filled with screaming, hysterical women and children, which is not scary but irritating. In fact there is a definite feminine theme here, although I'm not sure it was intentional. There was no way you could guess the killer unless you were lucky (I guessed the young priest, wrong). I also suspected there might be more than one killer, which was implied by the ending. It's a well made film, just too derivative, and perhaps a bit pretentious. I spotted a Psycho poster in a train station.

She Beast (1966)

Directed by Michael Reeves
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

A witch curses a town and all its descendants before being cruelly killed. 200 years later Barbara Steele and her new husband arrive in the same town. The witch is back and she is killing townspeople, just as promised. Barbara is killed in a car accident and possessed by the witch, which causes her to disappear for most of the rest of the film. An old man who lives in a cave has a book which tells him how to save her. It occasionally veers into comedy during a long chase sequence in fast motion.

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Retromedia)

A group of scientists at an isolated location have to deal not only with a monster but an apparently dead colleague who comes back to life. He is telepathically in contact with an alien with a big beak and bug eyes. The alien kills one of them, apparently to steal his brain, which enables him to talk. He lectures them on the dangers of nuclear bombs. Grade Z Corman-produced schlock, but it is entertaining.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Brute Man (1946)

Directed by Jean Yarbrough
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

Better than the first Creeper film House of Horrors, this one gives us background and more character development. While Hatton has a formidable physical presence, hid deadpan delivery is one dimensional. He becomes friends with a young blind woman who is oblivious to his deformities, sort of like the little girl in Frankenstein only older. At one point he kills a shopkeeper to get her a gift. The murders have no tension, he simply puts out his hands and strangles people with little resistance. His hideout, the "waterfront shack", has some atmosphere, but otherwise a typical PRC low-budget production.

House of Horrors (1946)

Directed by Jean Yarbrough
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, MCA/Universal)

A starving artist rescues Rondo Hatton from the river, and then uses him to kill art critics. A talky film with terrible acting. Hatton looks bored as he poses for a bust. I thought the cat was the most interesting thing in the film.

Count Dracula (1970)

Directed by Jesus Franco
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

My expectations are usually very low for anything directed by Jesus "Zoom" Franco, but this one was a pleasant surprise. Christopher Lee adds stature as he reprises his Dracula role in a non-Hammer production. He mumbles menacingly, scowls and wears blood spattered contact lenses. He also gets to seduce Soledad Miranda a couple of times. A real castle adds an atmosphere of authenticity. The film attempts to stick close to the original Bram Stoker story, but still feels almost plotless as it drifts from scene to scene. Kinski is laughable as he eats flies and throws food on the walls of his padded cell.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Man and the Monster (1959)

Directed by Rafael Baledón
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Casa Negra)

This Mexican horror film has some fine black and white photography, but is dragged down by a silly monster. A second rate pianist makes a deal with the devil to become the world's greatest pianist, but of course there is a price to pay. Whenever a certain song is played he turns into a werewolf with buck teeth and a big nose. The transformation scenes are a series of dissolves. He tries to kill a few people while in that state, but mostly gets into fist fights with a reporter. A clever ending has him transforming while on stage conducting an orchestra.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Daughter of Darkness (1948)

Directed by Lance Comfort
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Redemption)

A virtually unknown film that was probably buried due to its content. It is steeped in Bergman-esque symbolism that requires multiple viewings to appreciate. Young Emmy discovers that she has sexual power over the men in her Irish village. The women complain to the local priest and she is shipped off to be a servant at a farm in England. Things are no better there, and her sexual attraction escalates into uncontrollable violence. The film contrasts austere religious imagery with a base animalism. Dogs are ever present and their howling can often be heard in the background. This reflects Emmy's struggle to reconcile her sexuality with her religious beliefs. At one point she says she reads the Bible often, "but only the good parts". Her final victim, a young and innocent boy, culminates her transformation into pure animal, unable to control her physical desires. The ending is tragic yet inevitable.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Naked... You Die (1968)

Directed by Antonio Margheriti
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

This giallo entry is mediocre in every way. Despite the title there is not much nudity, there is little to no tension, the violence is tame and the sets are mundane. The film has no style to speak of, usually a hallmark of a giallo. There are numerous potential victims among the college coeds and just as many potential killers among the faculty, however I took a guess as to the identity of the killer fairly early in the film based on a hunch and was right. I just can't imagine needing to see this film more than once, and even that was probably unnecessary.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Directed by Edward Nassour and Ismael Rodgriguez
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(MGMHD)

It's an early CinemaScope western with a dinosaur at the end. The western part is strictly routine, cattle rustlers and a romance, with local Mexican flavor. The dinosaur takes forever to appear and is poorly animated in stop motion: the scale is all wrong, he's got a long, flappy tongue and the interaction between the animation and back projection is sloppy. To make matters worse, it is intercut with live shots of feet and legs which are obviously a guy in a rubber suit.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How Awful About Allan (1970)

Directed by Curtis Harrington
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Tango Entertainment)

Anthony Perkins witnesses his father's death and sister's disfigurement in a fire. The guilt is enough to make him go legally blind and end up in a mental institution. He eventually returns home to live with his sister, who has rented out a room to a local college student. Poor Anthony begins hearing things and seeing figures in the dark, which we see as vague forms through what looks like frosted glass. His paranoia grows to the point where he can't leave his room and distrusts everyone. In a memorable finale, he is shoved into a closet by a hooded figure who sets a fire and locks him inside. Anthony breaks down the door and uncovers the mystery. It should have been better given the talent involved in front of and behind the camera.

Violent Midnight (1963)

Directed by Richard Hilliard
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

Independent film from producer Del Tenney struggles to rise above its amateur origins. It wants to be a Psycho-inspired clever thriller, but spends far too much time on exposed skin and lurid sexual encounters. There are multiple red herrings and a twist ending which I managed to guess well ahead of time.

The Living Coffin (1959)

Directed by Fernando Méndez
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Casa Negra)

This Mexican film is an effective blending of the western and horror genres. It has bar fights, shootouts and a clean-cut hero with a comedic sidekick and smart horse. It also has walking corpses and creepy coffins with alarms.

Blood of the Vampires (1966)

Directed by Gerardo de Leon
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

A sequel to The Blood Drinkers, this film focuses on a Filipino family cursed with vampirism. Grandma is inflicted with the curse and kept locked in the basement, but eventually nabs her son on the neck. He becomes a power obsessed vampire and infects family members, servants and anyone else who gets close to the family. His sister and her fiance become the main focus of the film, their doomed love striving to survive, even beyond the grave. The romanticism of their relationship becomes overbearing, complete with swelling violins and ghostly apparitions. Still, de Leon effectively utilizes theatrical lighting and authentic sets to maximize atmosphere.


Monday, October 12, 2009

The Blood Drinkers (1964)

Directed by Gerardo de Leon
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

On one hand this film resorts to typical B-movie cliches: a bat on a wire, a hunchback, a midget, bad theremin music and a lead vampire who wears wraparound sunglasses and a cape. On the other hand, there is an imaginative use of color and tinting that transforms many scenes into poetic acid trips. There is also a story here, one of eternal love between the vampire and his lover, although it tends to get lost in the mix. Still, if one were to ignore the cliches mentioned above, what we have left is an evocative, beautiful film, and that is the one I prefer to remember.


Dead of Night (1977)

Directed by Dan Curtis
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

Master of made-for-tv horror Dan Curtis directs this moody anthology. The first episode tells the story of a college student who restores an old car, then travels back in time and meets the original owner. His brief encounter changes the lives of several people, including his own, when he returns to his own time. The second story is a period piece about vampires living in a mansion. A wife is being attacked nightly by a vampire, and the mystery revolves around his identity. The third, and probably best, story stars Joan Hackett as a grieving mother. She performs a satanic ritual to bring her dead son back, but probably wishes she hadn't. The film has the ethereal 70s look in color and texture, and a good shock ending to the third story. I also watched the DVD bonus episode of "Dead of Night" starring Kerwin Matthews, but it was more like the sixties Dan Curtis series Dark Shadows, which is to say a soap opera disguising as horror. The anthology film is much, much better.

Spider Baby (1968)

Directed by Jack Hill
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

A campy mix of horror and humor, sort of a demented version of the Addams Family. Lon Chaney Jr. is perfect as the butler/caretaker of a family suffering from "Merrye Syndrome", a disease which causes them to mentally age backwards. So you get a cast of young adults acting like five year olds...which is just plain silly at first, but I did eventually adapt given the context. Jill Banner stands out as the girl who thinks she is a spider, and proves it by trapping and killing an unfortunate group of strangers who show up to claim an inheritance. There are heaving bosoms on display, a severed ear (hello David Lynch), cannibals living in the basement, spiders everywhere and numerous quotable one-liners.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Island Fury (1983)

Directed by Henri Charr
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

A group of treasure hunters is stranded on an island inhabited by a backwoods family. Told mostly in flashback, it's the familiar plot of weirdo rednecks stalking young and nubile teens heavily indebted to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We never explicitly learn why this innocent looking elderly couple is collecting bodies in the shed, although the film's alternate title, Please Don't Eat the Babies, implies cannibalism, there is none on display. The acting, particularly by the old man and his wife, is strictly amateur. The framing device is entirely unnecessary and confusing and there is a terrible 80s synth soundtrack.

Barracuda (1978)

Directed by Harry Kerwin and Wayne Crawford
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

A marine biologist stumbles on a government experiment in a small Florida town. People are acting strangely, fish are dying and human bodies, or at least their heads, are washing up on the beach. The barracudas are almost an afterthought. Good underwater photography and an electronic soundtrack by Klaus Schulze give this some punch, but the acting is subpar and there are long, boring stretches of scientific nonsense that undermine credibility.

The Mask of Diijon (1946)

Directed by Lew Landers
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

Erich von Stroheim sleepwalks through his role as a washed up magician turned killer hypnotist. There is a gimmick beheading to start the film, probably the best scene in the movie. Stark lighting also helps watchability, but dull acting kills it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Black Moon (1934)

Directed by Roy William Neill
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Jack Holt and his secretary Fay Wray travel to a Caribbean island, where his wife is moonlighting as a voodoo queen. This talky film has a few good scenes, such as the smoky tower and a couple of attempted sacrifices, but it's mainly a series of voodoo cliches. Clarence Muse supplies comic relief as a stereotyped Georgia black man living on the island. Roy William Neill may be the most overlooked director of the early horror genre.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Circus Queen Murder (1933)

Directed by Roy William Neill
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Adolphe Menjou is Thatcher Colt, police commissioner of NYC, who goes on vacation only to end up being a detective anyway. The audience is in on the killer, so tension is provided not by whodunnit but how the murders will occur and who will get it. Most of the film takes place in a circus, which provides atmosphere and sets this apart from most early mysteries. There is a memorable scene with the killer leering through an opening at the apex of the circus tent as trapeze artists perform below. The soundtrack is a mix of howling wild animals, circus music and even African tribal music courtesy of cannibals who play an important role in the film. It's no White Zombie, but worth a look for aficionados of early horror and mystery.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Killing Kind (1973)

Directed by Curtis Harrington
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dark Sky Films)

Mama's boy John Savage is sent to prison for his part in a gang rape, though he apparently could not finish the act. Once released, he seeks revenge on the rape victim and his lawyer. Cute Cindy Williams is a boarder in his house, so of course she gets killed as well. The film lacks any emotional impact whatsoever, the killings only serving as an excuse to relish in their sensationalism. It also has a cruel streak, with an unnecessary cat killing and a lurid rat killing. There is a hilarious scene where Savage is stoically listening to his mother reminisce about his childhood, then he starts screaming and runs from the kitchen and dives into the swimming pool, all in glorious slow motion. I don't think it was supposed to be funny. Ditto for the dream sequence featuring Savage in diapers and a crib. A disappointment from the usually reliable Curtis Harrington.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Burke & Hare (1972)

Directed by Vernon Sewell
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Redemption)

Burke and Hare are peasants in Edinburgh that discover they can make a small fortune selling bodies to doctors. Finding bodies by chance is not enough to feed their greed, so they resort to murdering drunks and prostitutes. It so happens that medical students frequent the local brothel, and the scheme is eventually uncovered. The movie spends most of its time at the brothel, lingering on peep holes and exposed skin, and as such is more of an exploitation film than horror. The Redemption DVD is full frame and marred by missing frames and a jumpy soundtrack at the reel changes... speaking of which that theme song will stay with you for days.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

An Angel for Satan (1966)

Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Midnight Choir)

Barbara Steele makes her first appearance this October. She returns home to a remote village by a lake. She meets a sculptor, who was hired to restore a statue found at the bottom of the lake. The locals believe the statue is cursed, and soon Barbara takes on its characteristics. She seduces most of the important men of the village, as well as her maid. This leads to several deaths and she is branded as a witch. It's all logically explained in the end. Good black and white cinematography, and Barbara, are the best things about the movie. The title is a misnomer, as Satan is never referenced.

Frankenstein - 1970 (1958)

Directed by Howard W. Koch
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Bros)

Boris Karloff is the whole show here, at times it is almost a Karloff soliloquy in his laboratory as he slowly resurrects the Frankenstein monster stashed away in the basement of his castle. Upstairs, a film crew is working on a TV show, but their real purpose is to provide raw materials for the mad doctor downstairs, as they disappear one by one. The monster is wrapped from head to toe in bandages, and looks more like a mummy than the typical Frankenstein. He is also missing eyes, a sore point with the doctor, but still manages to nab frightened guests in dark corners.



Zombies on Broadway (1945)

Directed by Gordon Douglas
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Bros)

Brown and Carney, a poor imitation of Abbott and Costello, travel to a Carribbean island to make good on their promise of a zombie for a nightclub opening in New York. They find Bela Lugosi making zombies out of living people, including Brown (or maybe Carney, whichever is the fat one). Well, after much ado and voodoo cliche they head back to New York with zombie in tow, but he "revives" when he sees a showgirl. Neither funny nor scary, so more or less a failure, though Lugosi hams it up enough to make for passable entertainment.

The Road Builder (1971)

Directed by Alastair Reid
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

A handyman smooth talks his way into a job at a Gothic mansion owned by a blind mother and her aging daughter. Despite her initial misgivings, the daughter, played by Patricia Neal, eventually falls in love with the much younger man. She also overlooks the fact that he is a serial killer who habitually rapes local young women and buries their bodies in remote locations (the film also goes by the title "The Night Digger"). It's a mostly slow story, with the emphasis on characters and the psychological underpinnings, but is entirely shot on location in a fantastic mansion. The score by Bernard Herrmann inevitably invites comparisons to Hitchcock, and if not quite up to the standards of the master, a nonetheless good film for those that can appreciate its methodical style.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Saw What You Did (1965)

Directed by William Castle
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

Tame William Castle film comes off as Hitchcock-lite. Two of the dumbest teenage girls ever put on film end up at a stranger's house in the middle of the night as a prank. He just happens to have murdered his wife and next door neighbor Joan Crawford. They get away, but not before he gets their car registration. Next thing you know he is at their house and throwing knives at her kid sister. It's got some goofy music and lots of fog.



The Son of Dr. Jekyll (1951)

Directed by Seymour Friedman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Turner Classic Movies)

It's 30 years later and the son of Dr. Jekyll is mixing chemicals and hanging out with low life women again. There is one brief transformation scene that is actually well done, not the usual series of dissolves, in fact I could not make it how it was done. Otherwise, Mr. Hyde is mysteriously AWOL in the film. Most of the plot involves an old colleague of the original Dr. Jekyll and his attempt to extort money from the son.

You'll Find Out (1940)

Directed by David Butler
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Warner Bros)

Kay Kyser and his nutty orchestra end up in a remote house on a stormy night with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre. It's mainly played for laughs, and there are numerous breaks for songs, but still enough secret passages, weird seances and other horror cliches to make for an enjoyable escape from the usual deadly serious horror fare this month.