Friday, October 31, 2014

I Married a Witch (1942)
I Married a Witch (1942) Poster

**** out of 5

Delightful, playful comedy romance, with sprightly and amusing execution.  Veronica Lake is perfectly cast as Jennifer, a guilelessly wicked witch whose revenge plot against the last son in family line of the man who had her burnt at the stake and her spirit trapped in the ground beneath an old oak tree goes awry when she falls hard for him.  Fredric March is excellent as the man in question (as well as briefly portraying the whole line of his forbears to and including the original man who condemned Jennifer to death)
Her sorcerer father is played with a charming roguish quality by Cecil Kellaway, who manages to make a potentially unlikeable character eminently embraceable, even when doing despicable things to counter the central romantic plot.  Robert Benchley is his usual likeable, bumblingly loquatious lush character, adding a great deal of fun to the plot as March's friend and confidante.   Susan Hayward represents the rival for March's affections, and the whole thing is orchestrated with great skill & lightness of touch by director Rene Clair.

F for Fake (1973)

F for Fake (1973) Poster

**** out of 5

You've probably never seen a film quite like this.  A cinematic enigma, a practical joke, and a artistic musing on the nature of truth in art all rolled into one whimsical, sly, brilliantly conceived package.  If I told you any more than that, I'd spoil all the fun.  Check it out when you can.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Curse of the Fly (1965)

Curse of the Fly (1965) Poster

** out of 5

The Delambre family science project is making progress 3 generations later in this last sequel to the great Vincent Price-starring original The Fly, but they still have a few.. *ahem* ...bugs to work out.
While the plot offers some interesting variations on the theme, the dialogue and acting are underwhelming, even clunky at times.  Brian Donlevy particularly delivers some pretty lousy line readings.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) Poster
*** out of 5

The first sequel in the classic Planet of the Apes series does a good job of continuing the tale, while making it interesting with new elements and characters, and a grim view of a post-apocalyptic, now-subterranean New York City, and a mutated cult that worships a doomsday device left over from the nuclear war that lay waste to the city.(Who knew the Manhattan project was such a literal name!)
James Franciscus take the lead in this one, with Charleton Heston's character bookending the film by way of tying it to the first film better and also as a practical matter of box office/ marquee star power.

Many viewers and critics at the time disliked the dark ending, but really, there is no more fitting way it could have ended. Of course, it does make it difficult for the writers who had to keep the series going afterwards, but as history shows, they found a way to create many more sequels, as well as a tv series and two reboots.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) Poster

** out of 5

An absurd sequel to an equally absurd film.  I guess these two oddities in Vincent Price's oeuvre are just not to my tastes.  This one at least has better comic timing with the jokes it makes.  The plot is still nonsensical, but if you're in the mood for something with the same kind of hokum as mid-70s Bond films, but with a bit more art deco flair and psychadelic flavor to its Theater of the Absurd performances, give this one a spin.  Maybe watch The Abominable Dr. Phibes first; make it a double feature if you're feeling daring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) Poster

***** out of 5

Perhaps one of the most genuinely creepy of the always-entertaining series of Poe-based films starring Vincent Price as directed by Roger Corman. This one actually has some decent jump scares-- including what may be one of cinema's most terrifying sneezes ever recorded.
This one is great entertainment on a dark and stormy night, and will make you look askance at any cats you may encounter after viewing it.  After a grim and foreboding start, it build slowly to a crescendo that reached fever-dream pitch by the time it reaches its fiery climax and chilling finale.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944)
The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944) Poster

*** out of 5

Having little to no connection to the previous installments in the series aside from the main character having the name "Griffin," this sequel is most interesting for the kitchen sink cast of recognizable character actors it assembles.  Beside Jon Hall in the lead role, we have John Carradine as the scientist who makes him invisible, Evelyn Ankers as the girl he wants for his own, the fearsome Gale Sondergaard in a much tamer mood than she was usually cast, silent comedian Billy Bevan as a bumbling sergeant, and, probably the best thing about the film, the comic actor Leon Errol as a would-be sidekick to the Invisible Man.

Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) Poster
**** out of 5

The final Frankenstein tale from Hammer Studios, this film has the doctor (Peter Cushing, as usual) up to his old tricks, this time using his imprisonment in an insane asylum to his advantage, taking 2 fellow inmates as his apprentices, and the rest as a used body parts supply.  The creature he constructs (portrayed by David Prowse, who later shared screen time with Peter Cushing in a little film called Star Wars, in which he provided the imposing physical appearance of a fellow they called Darth Vader) in this film is an excellent balance of tragedy and terror, a misshapen mass of mis-matched parts with the brain of a musical and mathematical genius trapped within.
On a side note, the keeper of the asylum seems very reminiscent of the eminent Dr. Caligari, as depicted in that early silent horror that bears his name.
This film ends up being a quite suitable conclusion to Hammer's Frankenstein series, leaving the doctor exactly where he ought to be left.

Snowpiercer (2013)
Snowpiercer (2013) Poster
**** out of 5

A lot of interesting and recognizable actors in this little-seen recent film.   The ending is not completely satisfying, and too many of the likeable characters are offed, but this train ride is a fun if bizarre one, and one of the more unique post-apocalyptic visions you are likely to see.

Pillow of Death (1945)
Pillow of Death (1945) Poster
** out of 5

If you think the goofy-sounding title bodes ill for the film you're probably not far wrong.  This story has some reasonably Agatha Christie-esque moments, but despite being the only one of the Inner Sanctum Mystery series to actually have Lon Chaney be the killer, it is also one of the least-well constructed (and the one that gives Chaney the least screen time).  Not so surprising is that this is the final installment in that series.  The ending has the next-door neighbor who has been stalking Brenda Joyce's character win her hand, without any indication throughout the film that she looks at him as anything but a creep.  Meanwhile, Lon Chaney, who has for most of his screen time been the nice guy who Joyce seemed meant to be with, is dragged off to prison or an asylum.  Now that's rotten plottin'.

Strange confession (1945)
Strange Confession (1945) Poster

** out of 5

Rather tragic story, but not as compelling or entertaining as some of the other Inner Sanctum Mysteries.

Frozen Ghost (1945)
The Frozen Ghost (1945) Poster

*** out of 5

Ah, yes, the classic wax museum horror story motif.  It's been put to better use in better films, but the ever-burning furnace and the glowering stare of Martin Kosleck add plenty of menace to the film.  Lon Chaney as the hypnotist who is led to believe he is killing people with his eyes has one of his better roles in the Inner Sanctum series here, and the plot, if a bit over-comlicated at least manages to be interesting.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Dead Man's Eyes (1944)
Dead Man's Eyes (1944) Poster

*** out of 5

A passable whodunnit film, which accurately reproduces on film the feel of the Inner Sanctum radio show upon which the series of films was based, right down to the organ music stings and whispered voice-overs used to convey the character's inner monologues. This one, like most of them is not really a ghost story, but a rather grim mystery tale, whose twists rely upon remarkable coincidences and perfect storm logic.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Poster

**** out of 5

I was going to watch the 1929 reissue version also for comparison, but maybe next October.  This film needs to introduction, and I can add little to what has already been said about it.  Lon Chaney was brilliant, and this is basically all just a vehicle for his performance; also, his makeup is still as impressive and creepy today as it was then.  The rest of the actors are essentially just there to fill out the cast, even the supposed leads, Mary Philbin and Norman Kerry.  The colors in the Bal Masque scene are so vividly rendered, it's a shame the rest of the color scenes shot for this film are lost to history.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) Poster
**** out of 5

One of the more original and unique Frankenstein stories. No lumbering monsters in sight, but creepy and dramatic in wholly interesting and different ways than a typical tale of the mad doctor.
Plus, this one has all the makings of a good horror film:  guillotine beheadings, drowning, scarred and broken characters, angry and superstitious villagers, cool (literally, in this case) and scary science machinery, True Love, death, reanimation, soul transference, amnesia, revenge, a frighteningly seductive killer, split personalities, and a twist of Hitchcock's Psycho thrown in for good measure (this came 6 years after that game changer, so there's little reason to think it wasn't directly influential).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Lost World (1960)
The Lost World (1960) Poster

*** out of 5

Brings the spectacle you'd expect from Irwin Allen productions, and also an ensemble cast as usual.  Where the earlier silent version pared down the cast, this one adds characters, resulting in less time for character development and thus ends up with several somewhat 1-dimensional characters.  Claude Rains, who is usually an excellent performer, delivers a lot of histrionics, especially early in the film. And the dinosaurs, which should be the biggest draw of the film, end up being the chief disappointment; instead of awe-inspiring effects, we get lizards and baby crocodiles with spines and horns glued onto them, tramping through miniature jungle sets or composited into shots of the cast.
There are some cool additions, with giant spiders and man-eating plants, but the net result is less exciting than the 1925 silent film.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)
The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) Poster

*** out of 5

I like that this 3rd film in the Hammer Studio's Frankenstein series allows both the monster and the scientist to be protagonists, and not actually monsters or evil as the title implies. I also found that they dared with Katy Wild's deaf-mute beggar girl to create a female character who could look on the monster with sympathy and compassion, even empathy. But the monster's makeup in this film is impossibly to take seriously. It is beyond laughable, a garish caricature of earlier interations of the creature. It looks like that glued the bottom of a milk carton to his forehead and dabbed some liquid latex on with a 2-inch brush to hide the join, and the platform shoes used to add height were not nearly as noticeable with Boris Karloff wore them. Here is looks like they were showing them off as a future fashion trend (this was made in 1964). If you can get past all that, this film has a lot of interesting twists to offer fans of Frankenstein and his creations.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Invisible Agent (1942)
Invisible Agent (1942) Poster

*** out of 5

This one IS a sequel, and the main character is the grandson of the original Invisible Man, who uses the serum to benefit the allied powers in WWII. Not the best in the series, but a diverting evening's entertainment.

The Invisible Woman (1940)
The Invisible Woman (1940) Poster

*** out of 5

This one is played strictly for laughs, even dipping its toes into the screwball comedy genre at times. Nor is it technically part of the invisible man series, having no ties to the other films in its plot or characters, but merely connected by the topic of human invisibility. Entertaining film, but not if you're expecting a straight sequel to the other Invisible Man films.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
The Invisible Man Returns (1940) Poster

**** out of 5

in my comments on the first invisible man, I expressed an opinion that it couldn't possibly get better than the original. I am happy to report I was in error. This film, while not having as pervasive an atmosphere that such a story deserves, and the first film got, has something that was NOT in the first- the invisible man, this time played by Vincent Price, is a sympathetic character, even when driven mad by the effects of the drug that turned him invisible. There aren't as many iconic moments as the first film, but the story is more satisfying because we are allowed to care about the fate of the invisible man.

The Lost World (1925)
The Lost World (1925) Poster

**** out of 5

8 years before his masterpiece, King Kong, effects pioneer Willis O'Brien created this story based on the Arthur Conan Doyle tale. To those who have seen that later film, the basic story arc will seem very familiar; expedition into the remote regions of the world, finds ancient and giant creatures, and after escaping from that region, bring back one of the creatures, which proceeds to wreak havok on the city. While Kong's performance was more sympathetic than the dinosaurs here, the effects work throughout is groundbreaking for its time, and still remarkably impressive.

Frankenstein (1992)
Frankenstein (1992) Poster

**** out of 5

One of the best adaptations of this classic tale. Boris Karloff gave a more interesting and iconic performance, but this is a more interesting story, and more closely connected to the original Mary Shelley novel. I like that they jettisoned a lot of the cliche elements, like the grave-digging jigsaw-puzzle version in favor of a creation story that is more like the book, and more truly an act of creation than reanimation. also gone is the "abnormal brain" trope, in favor of the more faithful concept of an intelligent, thinking, speaking creature who begins innocent, but is twisted by the abuse he is treated to in reaction to his gruesome appearance. Also, no Stitches or neck studs. Check it out.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Phantom Carriage (1921)
The Phantom Carriage (1921) Poster

***** out of 5

Victor Sjostrom directs & stars in this silent supernatural drama that influenced such diverse artists as Charlie Chaplin and Ingmar Bergman (who later directed Sjostrom in his masterful early film Wild Strawberries). There's even a scene that is prescient of the bathroom scene in the Shining, where Sjostrom's character uses an axe on a door while trying to get at his wife and children.

Soylent Green (1973)
Soylent Green (1973) Poster

**** out of 5

Part camp, part serious, this sci-fi detective story is all good fun, and gives Edward G. Robinson one last great character, with an indelible final scene in his 101st film before he died of cancer. Chuck Heston is pretty good, too- and their on-screen camaraderie is a beautiful thing.

The Hands of Orlac (1924)
The Hands of Orlac (1924) Poster

**** out of 5

Conrad Veidt, most recognizable as the guy who played a bunch of evil, sadistic German officers during the early years of WWII, plays a far different role here, in the original Hand Transplant Horror film, giving an iconic performance as a sensitive musician driven mad by the idea that his hands were formerly those of a murderer, and are now driving him to crime, an idea that is encouraged by some people who want to use it to their own advantage...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Invisible Man (1933)
The Invisible Man (1933) Poster

**** out of 5

With Claude Rains as the invisible man, James Whale as the director, the series can only go downhill from here.

Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Star Trek: Generations (1994) Poster

*** out of 5

flawed, but not the worst of the series by a long shot.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Poster

**** out of 5

looking backwards, it's easy to see the influence this film had on cinema in general, but I also thought specifically of Shutter Island, whose key plot twist is very similar to this one. The term "Expressionist" is used rightly to describe this film, but it is more so in light of that plot twist, that the central character, who is narrating the tale (do you need to add a spoiler alert to a summary of a 90+ year old movie?) is actually the one who is insane. The scenery throughout the film reflects the psyche of the characters, and the off-kilter look of the entire film turns out to be because the one telling the tale has gone off the deep end. Great early cinematic acheivement, and still pretty creepy film today.

Genuine (1920)
Genuine (1920) Poster

** out of 5

If David Lynch was making movies in 1920, they probably would have looked something like this.

Scream of Fear (1961)
Scream of Fear (1961) Poster

***** out of 5

Hammer studio does their version of a Gaslighting thriller with a whopper of a twist. This film acheives near-Hitchcock levels of suspense. Susan Strasburg is outstanding in the lead role, with able support from Christopher Lee, Ann Todd, and Ronald Lewis.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Gorgon (1964)
The Gorgon (1964) Poster

**** out of 5

terrific Hammer Horror classic- a fun thriller that combines Gorgon mythology with a twist of werewolf logic. Plus, anything with Christopher Lee AND Peter Cushing is bound to be at least a little fun.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Mummy's Curse (1944)
The Mummy's Curse (1944) Poster

*** out of 5

the only twist in this sequels is that the mummy of Princess Ananka has also somehow come to life, only she is apparently more well-preserved, and doesn't know who she is. Kharis, played once more by Lon Chaney, is still lumbering around Louisiana Bayous trying to find her for the priests who command him. spoiler- the good guys win. again.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
The Mummy's Ghost (1944) Poster

*** out of 5

plot is essentially the same as the previous film, The Mummy's Tomb, only in this one, the priest (this time played by John Carradine) is sent by George Zucco to retrieve Kharis and bring him back to Egypt to rest, along with the reincarnated Princess Ananka.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Things To Come (1936)
Things to Come (1936) Poster

*** out of 5

A lot of cool visual effects, but the story is not very compelling. By letting "message" and utopian propaganda take precedence over characters, this story loses the interest of the viewer far too quickly. If you don't care about the characters, you won't care enough to receive any message a story may have to deliver. This is a key failure of such pieces, and a glaring irony in the work of HG Wells in general- that in his efforts to promote Humanist ideology, his character fail to be relatable- human. They are mouthpieces for his philosophical and political thoughts and little more.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)
The Mummy's Tomb (1942) Poster

*** out of 5

This sequel sees several of the cast of the previous film return, but mostly just as a segue into the story that takes place some 20-30 years after the last film. Dick Foran is aged up and spends the first 14 minutes or so recapping in detail the story of The Mummy's Hand, before being killed off by the revenge-seeking lackey of the aged George Zucco character (who somehow survived being shot 3 times at point-blank range and falling down a long long flight of stone stairs). The tone of this film greatly reduces the humor and plays itself out more seriously, but the mummy (as played by Lon Chaney) is given little to distinguish itself as a real character, but is merely the means of execution chosen by the villain, played by Turhan Bey.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Mummy's Hand (1940)
The Mummy's Hand (1940) Poster

*** out of 5

Even though it reuses some footage from the first film in its telling of the mummy's history, this is more reboot than true sequel, being produced 8 years after the original, with different characters reenacting the discover of the mummy in an entirely different context, with more humor, and a less sentient title monster, who, in this iteration is not a mournful prince seeking his long-lost bride, but a faithful servant to that princess, who has since become a mindless slave to a priest played by George Zucco.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Mummy (1932)
The Mummy (1932) Poster

**** out of 5

The original mummy movie. Karloff is pretty great in this, easily the best of the classic series; the only film in which the character really is more than a lumbering, groaning shadow of terror. In this, he is a much more fully realized character than in any of the films that follow. He is powerful, imposing, manipulative, and cunning. Also there is the sense of tragedy and longing in him that makes this much more interesting than any of the sequels.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Eyes Without a Face (1960) Poster

**** out of 5

simultaneously beautiful and disturbing. Haunting. Tragic. Elegaic. great cinema.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

House of Dracula (1945)
House of Dracula (1945) Poster

*** out of 5

strange that a film called "House of Dracula" would kill off the title character before the half-way point of the picture. But then this mishmash, hodge-podge film leave a lot to be desired, and it's no wonder that it was the last of the classic universal horror monsters film cycle. Even the music is largely pastiche of themes from the earlier films in the cycle. One or two interesting variations to the stories are attempted, but nothing notable is really done with any of them. We have the Wolfman, who is cured by a mad scientist, who accidentally becomes injected with Dracula's blood during a transfusion intended to cure the vampire of his curse (his own request, in what may be the wimpiest-written version of the classic character). The effect of the blood on the scientist turns him into a semi-Jekyll-and-Hyde, and the finale has him chased through the streets by crowds of angry villagers, a scenario that had already become a cliche horror film image. He kills his female(!) hunchback assistant, and brings to life the Frankenstein monster he found in the caverns under his castle, but by then, it's too late in the picture for that character to do much more than trash the room, and go down in flames, just like the movie itself, which has no real conclusion, but just kind of ends with that fiery inferno, with no attempt at denouement.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Omega Man (1971)
The Omega Man (1971) Poster

*** out of 5

Richard Matheson's perennially filmed novel, I Am Legend gets its second cinematic treatment here. Very much a product of the time in which it was filmed. Watch it, you'll see what I mean.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Son of Dracula (1943)
Son of Dracula (1943) Poster

*** out of 5

Lon Chaney as "Alucard" (Dracula spelled backwards) is not *quite* as good as Lugosi, and J. Edward Bromberg is not an especially compelling substitute for the Van Helsing character played by Edward Van Sloan in the first two films, but this is still a good addition to the classic franchise. Despite a handful of slow moments, it offers some impressive process photographic effects for when the vampire characters transform to mist, an unusual sad ending, and a dramatic death scene for Chaney

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Dracula's Daughter (1936) Poster

**** out of 5

Most interesting for its depiction of the vampire character as at least partly sympathetic, this first sequel to the original Lugosi Dracula film is a better than average classic Universal horror flick. Edward Van Sloan returns as Van Helsing, and with a few slight deviations, this story essentially ends where the first left off, bringing some interesting new twists to the vampire genre playbook, including a jealous acolyte to the undead, the use of an arrow's shaft as the "stake" that ends the reign of vampire, and some fun cinematic pseudo-psychology, with hypnosis and more!

Witchfinder General (1968)

Witchfinder General (1968) Poster

*** out of 5

Not the masterpiece it is sometimes proclaimed to be, but better than its budget should have permitted. the first hour could have been cut in half and dramatically improved the pacing. But Vincent Price is reliably diabolical in the title role, with robert russell as his vicious partner whose lust for cruel violence is genuinely terrifying. The ending is rather grim, but suitably so, given the subject of the film.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Uninvited (1944)
The Uninvited (1944) Poster

**** out of 5

pretty good classic ghost story. Extra points for not being a fake-out ghost. Great moody atmospheric film, balanced with the right amount of humor to make it a well-rounded piece of entertainment.