Thursday, November 16, 2017

Rope (1948)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Two college men decide to murder a classmate as an intellectual exercise. The strangle him in their New York penthouse and then stuff the body in a chest. For further amusement, they hold a dinner party shortly after with the victim's father, aunt and girlfriend among the attendees. However, it is the arrival of Jimmy Stewart that gets them the most excited. He is their former housemaster and instilled in them the philosophy of Nietzsche, from which they drew their inspiration. However, the two men struggle to keep it together, particularly the younger who drinks too much. Stewart begins to suspect something is wrong and eventually pieces together what happened. The film itself is also something of an intellectual exercise, as Hitchcock utilizes a series of long takes to make it appear it takes place in real time. It is partially successful, although the cuts between scenes where the camera artificially zooms in for a close up of a couch or coat, is distracting. Nonetheless, this is another dazzling Hitchcock entry, his first in color and first with Stewart.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Paradine Case (1947)


Academy Awards, USA 1948

Nominated
Oscar
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Ethel Barrymore

Selznick Releasing Organization
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)

Gregory Peck is hired to defend exotic beauty Alida Valli, accused of poisoning her wealthy husband. He falls in love with her, jeopardizing not only the case but his marriage. His wife realizes what has happened but encourages him to stay on the case. Peck tries to pin the murder on the servant with little evidence, but instead it drives the servant to commit suicide. The real murderer is revealed in court in dramatic fashion. Talky but still fascinating Hitchcock courtroom drama.

Spellbound (1945)


Academy Awards, USA 1946

Won
Oscar
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture
Miklós Rózsa
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Michael Chekhov
Best Director
Alfred Hitchcock
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
George Barnes
Best Effects, Special Effects
Jack Cosgrove (photographic)

United Artists
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, MGM/Fox)

Gregory Peck is hired to replace the retiring director of a mental hospital. Soon after he begins to have a mental breakdown, triggered whenever he sees pairs of vertical lines in patterns. Pretty psychologist Ingrid Bergman helps him with his condition, discovering along the way that he is not the same man that was supposedly hired. He admits to having amnesia and believes he may have killed the man and stolen his identity. He leaves the hospital in the middle of the night but tells her where he is going. They meet up at his hotel then travel to stay with her former mentor. They analyze a dream he had for clues to his past. They are able to deduce where the murder had occurred and travel there, triggering more memories in Peck. They are almost able to prove it was an accident until a bullet is discovered in the body. Peck is convicted of murder, but the dream provides one more vital clue. Another massively entertaining Hitchcock yarn. However, I wasn't always convinced by the psychoanalytical babble, nor the over-reliance on the dream for clues to advance the plot. The final scene is an unconvincing special effect involving what looks like a giant fake hand!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Aristocats (1970)


Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Walt Disney)

A pampered cat and her kittens live with their owner, a former opera diva, in turn-of-the-century Paris. As the aging woman dictates her will to her lawyer, the terms are overhead by her butler, who is outraged at being passed over by her cats. He kidnaps the cats and dumps them in the country. They spend the rest of the movie trying to get back home. They get help from a friendly tom cat, who introduces them to his carefree lifestyle and jazz loving friends back in Paris. The butler won't give up so easily, though, and they have to confront him one more time. Colorful, entertaining Disney, with memorable characters and some psychedelic jazz scenes that made it a hit on college campuses in the early 70s as a "head movie", much to the chagrin of the family oriented Walt Disney.

Lifeboat (1944)


Academy Awards, USA 1945

Nominated
Oscar
Best Director
Alfred Hitchcock
Best Writing, Original Story
John Steinbeck
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
Glen MacWilliams

Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)

The survivors of the sinking of a merchant marine ship by a German U-boat gather in a lone lifeboat occupied by reporter Tallulah Bankhead. Among the survivors is the captain of the German boat. Some of them want him thrown overboard, but Bankhead talks them out of it. They also have to deal with a hysterical woman and her dead baby, providing some rather morbid moments. Another one gets gangrene and has to has his leg amputated. They lose their limited supply of food and water during a storm. As they become more desperate and lose hope, the German takes over and seems to be stronger than the rest. When they discover his secret stash of food, water and a compass, they kill him in a rage. Just when it looks like they will be rescued by a German supply ship, it gets attacked. Unusual, claustrophobic setting provides a challenge for Hitchcock, but he is more than able to meet it as the action never stops. Bankhead is a revelation as the reporter. However, Canada Lee seems like an afterthought as a black servant.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)


Academy Awards, USA 1944

Nominated
Oscar
Best Writing, Original Story
Gordon McDonell

Universal Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Naive teenager Teresa Wright has her life turned upside down by the arrival of an uncle. At first hoping to bring excitement to her bored life in suburban California, it soon turns to horror when she suspects he is the "Merry Widow Murderer" sought by the police back east for murdering older women. After the uncle is apparently exonerated, her knowledge of the truth becomes a threat and he plots to do away with her. Their final confrontation on a train is classic Hitchcock. However, I found Teresa Wright's character annoying and was kind of rooting for the uncle, played to cold blooded perfection by Joseph Cotten.

Saboteur (1942)


Universal Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Universal)

Everyman Robert Cummings gets a glimpse of the man who set a fire at the airplane factory where he works. Accused of the crime himself, he is forced to prove his innocence. He goes to the address he saw on an envelope the man dropped: a ranch in the desert. The wealthy ranch owner at first declines any knowledge, but reveals his real identity as ringleader and calls the police. Cummings escapes and follows another clue to a ghost town in the desert where he finds a cell of saboteurs planning to blow up the Boulder Dam. He foils the plan, then escapes to a nearby cabin in the woods where he is taken care of by a kindly blind man. His daughter recognizes Cummings as a wanted man, but he kidnaps her before she can turn him in. After awhile she starts to believe his story and helps him prove his innocence. They end up at a swanky party in New York City where they confront the leaders of the gang. However, they each get kidnapped, escape, and chase the original saboteur to the Statue of Liberty. One of the best Hitchcock films from the 1940s. The plot twists, however implausible, make perfect sense while watching the film. The symbolism can get a bit heavy handed, but in the hands of Hitchcock at least it is fun and exciting.

Suspicion (1941)

  Academy Awards, USA 1942

Won
Oscar
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Joan Fontaine
Nominated
Oscar
Best Picture
Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture
Franz Waxman


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

Socialite Joan Fontaine falls for playboy Cary Grant, eventually marrying. After a long and expensive honeymoon, she finds out he has no money or job. She talks him into working for a cousin in real estate. However, she finds out later that he was fired for embezzling money to pay a gambling debt, then lying about it. Her suspicion mounting, she finds out his best friend died mysteriously while they were together in Paris. She begins to fear for her own life when his lies continue and he asks a friend about poisons. It all comes to a head in a dramatic drive along a cliff. Hitchcock classic builds momentum like few films can, but ultimate explanation seems like a cop out. And indeed it was, as he was forced to change the ending to satisfy studio executives who did not want to mar Grant's image by making him a killer.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Alice in Wonderland (1951)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, et al
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Walt Disney)

Alice follows the perennially late, hurried white rabbit down the rabbit hole, where she finds a dreamlike world inhabited by unusual characters. She changes her size by eating various things, from cookies to mushrooms, which allows her to pass through small doors. After some preliminary adventures involving Tweedledum and Tweedledee, some talking flowers and a Cheshire Cat, she ends up at a mad tea party hosted by the March Hare. They talk mostly nonsense about things such as unbirthdays, causing Alice to leave for home. However, she gets lost and ends up at the castle of the Queen of Hearts, where she plays a croquet match for her life. Colorful Disney adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic, though it feels a bit watered down at times.

The Lady Vanishes (1938)


Gaumont British
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Criterion Collection)

Tourist Margaret Lockwood befriends middle aged May Whitty at a county inn. The next morning, she gets bumped on the head before boarding the train, waking up in a passenger compartment with her new friend and some strangers. After chatting a bit, Lockwood falls asleep, then wakes up to discover her friend missing. Unable to convince anyone else that she actually exists, much less look for her, she turns to musician Michael Redgrave, whom she had met, and disliked, at the inn. However, she gradually warms up to him as they search the train, discover clues and eventually unravel the mystery of her disappearance. Highly entertaining Hitchcock, if a bit contrived, with comedy relief from "Charters and Haldicott", who proved to be so popular that they would appear in several more films in the next decade.

Rapsodia Satanica (1917)


Società Italiana Cines (Italy)
Directed by Nino Oxilia
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Aging woman makes a Faustian bargain with the devil to regain her youth. She flaunts it in front of two brothers who fall in love with her. One brother commits suicide when she does not show up at their appointed time, while she agrees to marry the other one. However, this violates the terms of her bargain with the devil, who shows up and makes her old again. Early example of style over substance, with some astounding shots in the second half by cinematographer Giorgio Ricci of leading actress Lyda Borelli. A fine silent Gothic romance.

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

Reclusive aristocrat Vincent Price falls meets equestrian beauty Elizabeth Shepherd while on a fox hunt. They eventually marry against his better judgment, for he is still not over the death of his first wife, who bears a striking resemblance to his new one (also played by Shepherd). A black cat which freely roams the premises makes life difficult for everyone, probably because it is possessed by his first wife and is intent on ruining his new marriage. It all ends in flames, where Corman gets to reuse the footage of a burning house for the umpteenth time. Last, and least, of the Corman Poe Cycle, though the location shooting in and around a crumbling English priory adds authenticity.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Genuine (1920)


Decla-Bioscop (Germany)
Directed by Robert Wiene
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Kino)

The story of "Genuine", a tribal princess, who is sold at a slave market to an eccentric Lord who locks her in a room in his house. His friend the barber becomes enamored by her and visits every day, raising the suspicions of locals. So one stay he sends his young nephew instead, who also becomes entranced by the girl. She breaks out of the room and murders the barber, then demands that the nephew kill himself to prove his love for her. Meanwhile, the original Lord Melo's grandson arrives and becomes yet another victim of her irresistible charms. Director Wiene made this just before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which would become one of the most highly influential German Expressionist films of the 1920s. Genuine often has the same look as Caligari, particularly her elaborate chamber, but completely lacks Caligari's emotional impact. The confusing plot, and lack of character motivation, combine to relegate it to obscurity.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween (1978)


Compass International
Directed by John Carpenter
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Anchor Bay)

After a prologue in which a young boy inexplicably murders his sister, 15 years later he escapes from the mental institution in which he was being treated by psychiatrist Donald Pleasence. He heads straight for his old home town on the anniversary of the original murder, Halloween. Teenage babysitters including Jamie Lee Curtis arrange jobs for the night while fretting about boys. Her two friends become the first victims, who then sets his sights on Curtis for the extended finale. Highly influential "slasher" film owes a lot to Hitchcock's Psycho, star Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh. Simple yet effective soundtrack by the director contributes to the menacing atmosphere. However, after multiple viewings over the years, the impact is beginning to wane. Instead, I begin to notice the gratuitous shots of teenage girls and their sexual escapades, but especially the lack of motive in the numerous killings. The endless sequels, and then reboot, will spend the coming decades trying, and mostly failing, to provide one. 

The Muppet Movie (1979)


Academy Awards, USA 1980

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Original Song
Paul Williams
Kenny Ascher
For the song "The Rainbow Connection".
Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score
Paul Williams
Kenny Ascher

Associated Film Distribution
Directed by James Frawley
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Walt Disney)

Kermit the Frog is convinced to leave his Florida swamp by vacationing Hollywood agent Dom DeLuise. He sets off on a cross-country journey, picking up other aspiring Muppets along the way. He is spotted by Charles Durning, the owner of a restaurant specializing in frog logs, who wants to use Kermit in his commercials. Durning pursues him across the country. By the time they get to California, Kermit and his large entourage must confront a killer hired by Durning in a western ghost town. Side-splitting comedy will be over the head of most youngsters, but a lot of fun for Muppet fans.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Jack Kinney, et al
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Walt Disney)

Two-part animated anthology from Disney. In the first, based on The Wind in the Willows, a wealthy British toad, prone to the latest fad, becomes enamored by motor cars. He is accused of stealing one and wreaking havoc on the countryside. He is arrested, but at the trial it turns out that he didn't steal it after all and is set free, only to see an airplane flying nearby. In the second part, based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a gangly schoolteacher arrives in a small town. Despite his appearance and mannerisms, he turns out to be popular with the local women, eventually falling for the daughter of the town's richest man. More interested in her money, he accompanies her to a dance where her other brutish suitor plants the seeds for a nightmarish ride home pursued by the Headless Horseman. Rather dull and routine until that final ride, vividly animated by Wolfgang Reitherman.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Victim (1972)


ABC
Directed by Herschel Daugherty
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Elizabeth Montgomery gets worried about her sister who lives alone in a remote country house and doesn't answer the phone. She gets stranded there herself during a rainstorm, and spends the rest of the movie frantically trying to find out what happened. The audience is shown the body, so we know she is dead, but poor old Liz just thinks she is losing her mind when the housekeeper and her sister's ex-husband start acting strangely. Poor made-for-tv effort for Liz in her first post-Bewitched appearance. She spends far too much time on the phone, and I just kept waiting for her to twitch her nose.

Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)


First National Pictures
Directed by Benjamin Christensen
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

A man about to be married lusts for adventure. Instead, he and his fiance are kidnapped and taken to a large house run by none other than Satan himself! His followers consist of dwarfs, cripples and other degenerates, who engage in all sorts of debauchery. At one point, in order to prevent his fiance from being given to Satan, he must pass a test by walking up a staircase, sort of like a Satanic game show. It just keeps getting weirder, until the big twist ending. David Lynch fans take note!

The Jungle Book (1967)


Academy Awards, USA 1968

Nominated
Oscar
Best Music, Original Song
Terry Gilkyson
For the song "The Bare Necessities".

Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Walt Disney)

An orphan boy is raised by wolves in the jungle. Ten years later, a tiger threatens the pack and he is banished to the "man village". The panther who found him as an infant agrees to escort him, but he resists and runs away. He barely survives a python attack and is unable to care for himself. He does, however, make one good friend, the affable Baloo, a carefree bear. However, he is kidnapped by monkeys who take them to their village. Baloo shows up to rescue him, but they still have to deal with the tiger. Popular Disney film has become somewhat dated. Baloo is a hippie and even Mowgli is an outsider who refuses to conform. Kipling's dark story has been transformed into sugar coated Disney. I still like it, but it is far from classic Disney.

The Haunted Palace (1963)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

In an opening prologue, Vincent Price is burned alive by an angry 18th century mob accusing him of witchcraft. He curses them and their descendants before succumbing to the flames. One hundred years later, his great-great-great grandson shows up to take possession of his decaying estate. He soon becomes possessed by his dead relative and attempts to revive his wife with the same witchcraft. The townsfolk, who suffer deformities from the original curse, stage another revolt. Typically moody Corman Poe cycle film, though it owes more to Lovecraft than Poe. However, the make-up effects are unconvincing, the pace plodding and the plot predictable. Still, very entertaining for a dark, rainy night.

The Masque of the Red Death (1964)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

Vincent Price is a wealthy prince and Satanist living in a castle, safe from the plague ravishing the nearby village. He saves one, pretty Jane Asher, by inviting her inside, but imprisons her father and boyfriend in the dungeon. He teaches her etiquette and eventually falls in love with her, upsetting his jealous consort.  She gives herself to Satan with the intent of getting revenge, but instead is killed by a falcon. Price himself shortly meets a similar fate in a dramatic meeting with none other than Death himself. Asher, and a select few others, are the only survivors left after the long night. Moody, philosophical entry in the Poe Cycle, vividly photographed by Nicolas Roeg. Frequently compared to Bergman's The Seventh Seal, it shares similar themes but nowhere near the depth or impact. Still, highly entertaining, if a bit silly at times.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Haunted Castle (1921)



Decla-Bioscop (Germany)
Directed by F.W. Murnau
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Bored hunters at a rainy, remote estate, gather in sprawling drawing rooms. A visiting count spurs talk of a murder, and when the widowed wife shows up things get really interesting. Flashbacks reveal how her husband becomes consumed by a religion denying worldly things. The ignored wife turns to a friend of her husband for comfort, and maybe more. Other than a couple of dream sequences this is melodramatic Murnau more typical of films of the period, not the horror-tinged, expressionistic films which would come shortly.

The Hands of Orlac (1960)


S.B.D.C. (France)
Directed by  Edmond T. Gréville
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Classical pianist Mel Ferrer gets the hands of a recently executed killer after a fiery accident. He tries to retrain them and to resist the urge to kill, neither with much success. Overly familiar plot somewhat redeemed by Christopher Lee, as a sleazy magician who figures out what is happening and decides to blackmail him. Dany Carrel is his sexy assistant who reluctantly goes along, at least for awhile. Jazzy score by Claude Bolling!

The Devil's Daughter (1939)


Sack Amusement Enterprises
Directed by  Arthur H. Leonard
My rating: BOMB
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

A woman from New York inherits a plantation from Jamaica. When she gets there, the owner and her half-sister is hiding out in the jungle, using voodoo to get back her interest in the plantation. There is also a romantic subplot involving two men. Nina Mae McKinney, the bright star of 1929's Hallelujah!, gets to sing one song in the final voodoo ceremony. Incredibly dated, offensive, low budget feature, in the running for worst film of all time.

The Fox and the Hound (1981)


Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Ted Berman, et al
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Walt Disney)

A young fox and hound dog become best friends while pups. After they grow up, their friendship is threatened by the fact that everyone around them expects them to be enemies. The hound's owner, a crotchety hunter voiced by Jack Albertson, vows to kill the fox after his older hound dog is injured in a chase. The fox's owner, a kindly older woman, tries to save him by releasing him in a game preserve. After adjusting to his new surroundings, the fox meets a female and it appears they will settle down, but the hunter has other ideas. More than just an animated talking animal picture, the story is not afraid to explore more adult themes like socialization and expected behavior. A climactic fight scene involving a bear is vividly illustrated.

The Three Caballeros (1944)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Norman Ferguson, et al
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Walt Disney)

It's Donald Duck's birthday and he is given a film projector by friends in Latin America. This provides the framework for the seven segments that make up the movie. Donald and friends have various misadventures set in Central and South America. The animation and music are up to the usual Disney standards. However, Donald's antics toward the end get a little out of hand. His girl chasing would make a human blush, and for modern audiences, it's downright offensive. Still, if you can put it in a time capsule, it's harmless enough.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Night of the Scorpion (1972)


Bengala Film (Spain)
Directed by Alfonso Balcázar
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Dorado Films)

Widower brings his new bride to live in his large mansion with his sister and stepmother. They give them a frost reception, to say the least, and his alcoholism makes a gradual return. He is tormented by guilt about his wife, whom he may have accidentally murdered in an alcoholic rage. A knife-wielding killer shows up in the last half hour or so, but too late to save this from the first hour's melodramatic dreck. Beautifully shot in sun-drenched Spain, but another disappointing giallo.

Rascal (1969)


Buena Vista Distribution
Directed by Norman Tokar
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Walt Disney)

Teen Bill Mumy adopts an orphaned baby racoon while hunting with his traveling salesman dad. Left alone for weeks at a time, Mumy and new friend racoon wreak havoc on their neighbors and small town. Things eventually reach the point where the sheriff intervenes and he has to get rid of the racoon. Brisk Disney Americana, but lackluster direction fails to bring this above TV movie level.

The Raven (1963)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

Vincent Price is a 15th century wizard who cooks up a potion to turn a raven back into his human form, Peter Lorre. Price, who is mourning his dead wife, finds it hard to believe when Lorre tells him he has seen his wife earlier that evening at the castle of a rival wizard, Boris Karloff. The odd pair, along with Price's visiting daughter, travel to the castle and confront Karloff. At first friendly, he soon turns Lorre back into a raven and attempts to blackmail Price. The face off in a final wizard's duel. Probably the least of the Poe Cycle films, with a flimsy plot, hardly any suspense, and questionable special effects in the climactic duel.

The Tigger Movie (2000)


Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by Jun Falkenstein
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Walt Disney)

Tigger gets lonely for a family, but of course since the greatest thing about Tiggers is that he is the only one, his search is fruitless. His friends in the Hundred Acres Woods try to help him out by disguising themselves as Tiggers and throwing a party, but when they are unmasked it sends Tigger into the snowy woods. Eventually he realizes that his friends were his real family all along. Painfully obvious but still enjoyable romp with Tigger, Pooh and the rest of the gang.

The Ghost and the Guest (1943)


PRC
Directed by William Nigh
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Honeymooners' rental house in the country turns out to be the hideout of a gangster who was recently hanged at a nearby prison. His coffin shows up with the very much alive prisoner, as do his gangster friends looking for him. The "ghost" in this case is the prisoner, who roams the house's hidden passageways scaring the naive couple. Dated comedy with offensive racial humor, written by Morey Amsterdam of Dick Van Dyke show fame.

Creature with the Blue Hand (1967)


Constantin Film (Germany)
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Klaus Kinski escapes from an insane asylum, then hides in his nearby family mansion. He assumes the identity of his twin brother, confusing the police who search the premises. A series of murders are committed using an armored glove with knives attached to the fingers. Scotland Yard is thoroughly confused, as is the viewer in this convoluted Krimi tale based on an Edgar Wallace story.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Tales of Terror (1962)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Kino Lorber)

Anthology loosely based on stories by Edgar Allen Poe. In the first, Vincent Price is a widower living alone in a decrepit mansion. Unable to move on from his wife's death, he keeps her decomposing body in a bed. When his daughter visits, we learn that his wife died in childbirth. One night his wife's ghost rises from her bed and kills his daughter, after which she takes over her body. Her husband is the next victim in a fiery ending. In the second story, Price is teamed with Peter Lorre as dueling drunks. In the film's best scene, they try to out-drink each other at a wine tasting. However, when Price starts an affair with his wife, he goes to extremes to get revenge. In the last story, an aging Price uses a hypnotist to extend his life, but gets caught in a kind of purgatory neither dead or alive. The hypnotist tries to seduce his wife, prompting a decomposing Price to come back to life. Unsuccessfully tries to incorporate humor into the morbid stories, but they still come out unscathed.

Teenage Zombies (1959)


Governor Films
Directed by Jerry Warren
My rating: BOMB
IMDb
(YouTube)

Teens looking for fun end up on an island where Russian spies are working on a nerve gas. They kidnap the teens and lock them up in a cage. Later, their friends show up to rescue them with the help of a sheriff, who turns out to be working with the Russians. Jerry Warren nonsense with an awful fight scene between the teens and the spies, and a man in a gorilla suit for no reason at all.

Premature Burial (1962)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

Ray Milland plays a wealthy British aristocrat debilitated by an irrational fear of being buried alive. He regains enough control so that his fiance still agrees to marry him. However, his old fear soon comes back, driving him to build an elaborate burial vault with multiple ways to escape accidental entombment. His wife convinces him it is all unnecessary and he destroys it. Later, he digs up the grave of his father, sending him into an cataleptic fit and his worst fear comes true. Somewhat underrated film in the Poe Cycle, and the only one not starring Vincent Price. It is actually a rather creepy study of an irrational fear, with a delicious twist ending.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)


Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, Hamilton Luske and Clyde Geronimi
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Walt Disney)

With the help of his pet dalmatian, a London bachelor meets the girl of his dreams and they get married. Her pet dalmatian has a large litter of puppies, which are coveted by an old schoolmate who offers to buy them. However, they refuse to sell any, so she hires a couple of bumbling henchmen to steal them. They hideout at a remote mansion where dozens of other dalmatians are kept, waiting to be killed for their fur. The two older dogs set out to rescue them, getting lots of help along the way. Entertaining if not quite classic animated Disney, hurt by an animation process that used cheap xerox techniques. Cruella De Vil, however, is one of the more memorable Disney villains.

Return of the Fly (1959)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Edward Bernds
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

The son of the scientist killed in the original movie resumes his father's experiments in the basement of a rented house. He gets help from another scientist, but they run out of money. He bullies  his uncle Vincent Price, with whom he jointly owns a successful electronics company, for more funding to resume. However, his partner turns out to be an industrial spy and murderer, who will stop at nothing to steal the secret of their machine and sell it for profit. This downbeat subplot, not to mention sub-par special effects, make this less enjoyable than the first movie.

House on Haunted Hill (1959)


Allied Artists
Directed by William Castle
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

Millionaire Vincent Price lures guests to a remote house he has rented by promising them each ten thousand dollars if they can make it through the night. After giving each of them a gun and locking them inside, ghosts begin to appear. One of the guests, a female employee of one of Price's companies, is driven to the verge of hysteria and apparently kills Price in the basement. However, it all turns out to be a ruse and Price has set a trap for his wife and her lover. Entertaining William Castle nonsense, originally with the "Emergo" gimmick where a skeleton flew over the audience.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Zebra in the Kitchen (1965)


MGM
Directed by Ivan Tors
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

Jay North keeps a mountain lion as a pet near his country home. When his parents decide to move to the city, he sneaks the lion on the moving truck. It works for awhile, but soon the lion is discovered. Rather than be shot, he agrees to let it live in a zoo. He works there so he can be near his pet. However, the deplorable state of the zoo leads him to release all of the animals, who run rampant through nearby neighborhoods. Somehow, they all get caught and returned safely. His actions, though well intended, are nearly disastrous for all involved. Poorly thought out story will leave animal lovers on edge. Jay North is irritating, to say the least, while Andy Devine as a zookeeper is terrifying.

Peter Pan (1953)


RKO Radio Pictures
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Walt Disney)

An older sister who spins tall-tales to her siblings in the nursery is visited one night by the real Peter Pan. He whisks them all away to Never Land with the help of some pixie dust from Tinker Bell. They tangle with Captain Hook, get kidnapped by Indians and befriend the Lost Boys. After all of that adventure, they get homesick and return to London with their new friends. It may or may not have been all a dream. Animated Disney classics gets bogged down in Never Land, but still has enough going for it to make it enjoyable, if not exactly a classic.

Gaslight (1940)


Anglo-American Film Corporation
Directed by Thorold Dickinson
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Warner Bros)

Newlyweds move into a mansion that has been empty for years after a murder. The wife begins to notice small things missing and other oddities, but her husband proves her wrong and she begins to think she is losing her mind. Of course it is all a ruse by the husband. Disappointing talky and stagey adaptation of the original play, I still prefer the 1944 version.

Castle of Evil (1966)


World Entertainment Corp.
Directed by Francis D. Lyon
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

Relatives gather at a remote mansion for the reading of a will. A housekeeper watches the proceedings on closed circuit TV. She also controls a man/robot with a disfigured face and well-tailored suit, who roams the mansions numerous secret passages. The cast is consists of washed-up stars such as Scott Brady and Hugh Marlowe, but Virginia Mayo gets the award for worst performance. Terrible all-around.

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972)


Rialto Films
Directed by Umberton Lenzi
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Shriek Show)

After an attempted murder on his girlfriend, the couple work with the police and go into hiding, letting the killer think they are dead. Fearing the truth will be discovered, they try to find the killer. Clues lead to a hotel where all of the victims stayed or worked. Meanwhile, the killer is making his way through all of the women in the guest book on a certain day, murdering them in various grisly ways typical of the genre. Unfortunately, Lenzi's direction is lackluster at best, an uneven mix of the German "krimi" and Italian "giallo". The acting is uniformly dull, even Marisa Mell can't liven things up.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Pit and the Pendulum (1961)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout! Factory)

A man travels to the remote castle of his brother-in-law to investigate the death of his sister. He finds Vincent Price and his younger sister living alone with vague answers as the cause of her death. The younger sister reveals through a flashback a traumatic event in Price's past that may explain his actions. Strange events lead to the opening of the dead wife's tomb and sends Price over the edge of insanity. The second entry in the Corman Poe Cycle is just as good as the first. The eerie castle setting perfectly complements the Gothic melodrama, with superb performances by Price and  Barbara Steel as his "dead" wife. Score by Les Baxter and cinematography by Floyd Crosby seal the deal as a horror classic.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

House of Usher (1960)


American International Pictures
Directed by Roger Corman
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Shout! Factory)

A young man travels to a desolate mansion to find his fiance. However, her brother, Vincent Price, tells him she is going insane and refuses to let him see her, much less marry her. The young man manages to bully his way into the house and convince  the girl to run away with him and start a new life. Her brother has other ideas and will resort to extreme means to keep her from leaving. The first entry in the famous 8-film Corman Poe Cycle is one of the best. Colorful sets and moody atmosphere elevated the Gothic melodrama to new heights and firmly entrenched Vincent Price as a horror icon.

Werewolf in a Girls' Dormitory (1961)


MGM
Directed by Paolo Heusch
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(YouTube)

A pretty intern is murdered at a girl's reformatory school. The police suspect an animal, but others think it is a werewolf. As more bodies turn up, the list of suspects grows to include the hunky new science teacher, a lecherous older teacher being blackmailed by a student, and others. Italian-made feature belies it's American exploitation title, and is actually a rather good werewolf film, with a bit of an early giallo feel.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Spell (1977)


NBC
Directed by Lee Philips
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Shout Factory)

Overweight teen conspires with her gym teacher to get revenge on taunting classmates. Her parents struggle to understand her, eventually deciding to just send her away to England. She lashes out at them, only to find an unexpected adversary. Other than a couple of scenes, this is mostly a family melodrama, featuring a young Helen Hunt as the "good" sister and Lee Grant as the tormented mom, a year before she played a similar character in Damien Omen II.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Monster Club (1981)


ITC Entertainment
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(Blu-ray, Scorpion Releasing)

Horror anthology hosted by Vincent Price and John Carradine. The "club" is a nightclub where "monsters" meet to listen and dance to bad new wave music. Price tells three stories: a woman who works for a strange, reclusive man at his country estate; a boy who discovers his father is a vampire and the vampire hunters who are after him; and the final, and best, story with Stuart Whitman playing a film director scouting locations, ending up in a remote village filled with cannibalistic ghouls. The connecting segments are embarrassingly bad, but the stories are entertaining enough.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Bell from Hell (1973)



Mercurio Films (Spain)
Directed by Claudio Guerin Hill
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Pathfinder)

Man released from an insane asylum returns to the remote country home of his aunt and her three daughters. He plans to seek revenge on them for plotting to send him to the asylum to get his inheritance. He tries to kill the aunt with bees, then rapes the girls and ties them up by their ankles. They manage to escape, capture him and seal him up in a wall with a rope around his neck tied to the new church bell. However, he has one last trick up his sleeve. Long, unpleasant film containing disgusting, real footage from a slaughterhouse that makes it impossible to watch at times. The director notoriously died during production, falling off the bell tower.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Satan's Slave (1976)


Crown International Pictures
Directed by Norman J. Warren
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb Wikipedia
(DVD, Scorpion Releasing)

19-year-old Candace Glendenning travels with her parents to the country estate of an uncle. An automobile accident leaves her parents apparently dead, and she is taken in by the elderly uncle and his son. She is sedated and drugged, causing her to have dreams/visions involving satanic rituals at the estate. She falls in love with the son, but their uneasy romance ends when he turns violent. On her 20th birthday a few days later, she discovers the family's real intentions: human sacrifice. Unpleasant little thriller with multiple rapes and explicit violence, undermining the otherwise atmospheric rural setting and story.