Friday, October 31, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie 2

Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is convinced by his psychiatrist (David Cronenberg) that he has been murdering people during blackout periods. Boone seeks refuge among the Nightbreed, a civilization of monsters that live beneath a necropolis called Midian. Boone learns he's innocent, and in an attempt to rejoin his girlfriend in a normal life, accidentally leads humans, intent on destroying the monsters, to Midian. 

I've been waiting for the director's cut since I saw the movie opening night at a movie theater in New York City and noticed that scenes from the trailer were missing from the actual movie, and subsequently learned about the studio interference which led to reshoots that completely reversed the intentions of the film, which were to portray the monsters as heroes and the humans as monsters. The director's cut is not much longer than the theatrical cut and there aren't any "holy crap" new scenes added to the movie, but more time is spent on cementing Boone's relationship with his girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby) and turning the movie's perspective back to one in which the monsters are definitely the sympathetic, peaceful, people that Clive Barker intended them to be. I always hated the exploding bloodbath that was the climax of the theatrical cut, but here a lot of nuanced scenes are woven into the fabric of Midian's apocalypse, that the feel of the climax completely changes. The restoration of the newly reintroduced footage is pretty seamless, especially considering the poor quality of some of the footage when it was rediscovered. I also sprung for the deluxe edition blu ray which has lots of extras in the form of making of documentaries, still galleries, and further deleted scenes that were not reintroduced back into the movie. I have only tapped the surface of the extra features, but it's a treasure trove I look forward to diving into completely.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Movie 1

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) is Hollywood's second spectacle based on Victor Hugo's novel.  The 1923 version, starring Lon Chaney, was a hard act to follow. In terms of spectacle, this version matches its predecessor. The sets are glorious, the crowd scenes populous, the cinematography beautiful. This time Charles Laughton plays the titular character, Quasimodo under Perc Westmore's impressive make-up. Laughton's Quasimodo is less animated and acrobatic than Chaney's, but is able to get across a great deal of pathos in his reserved performance. Cedric Hardwicke makes for a nasty Frollo, and Maureen O'Hara, while not quite convincing as a Gypsy girl, makes for a beautiful Esmeralda.

It's an excellent movie, but not quite at the level of the 1923 version. The script hits all of its notes really broadly, and practically underlines key bits of exposition and dialogue to make sure the audience doesn't miss them. There's a much more optimistic feel all the way throughout that doesn't really match the situation unfolding on screen, even ending with a happy, if bittersweet ending, not true to the source material. It's somewhat like the difference between the 1943 Phantom of the Opera and the 1925 original. The silent versions were energetic, dark and mysterious. The romance was tinged with doom. The sound versions were too busy trying to cement themselves as audience pleasing costume melodramas, and completely blunted their dark edges. This remake of the Hunchback excels where the remake of Phantom didn't. Even if it were only for Laughton's performance, this movie would be well worth seeing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Barbara Britton, Ella Neal, Eva Gabot, and Katherine Booth, 1941.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 2

 Soon after turning her lover, Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), Djuna (Joséphine de La Baume) is faced with a visit from her unstable sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), that not only threatens her and Paolo's safety, but the entire extended vampire community.

Kiss of the Damned (2012) is more of an exquisite mood piece than a plot driven film. Visually it's a bit of a throwback to another era, which combined with the exotic, cosmopolitan foreignness of its cast of characters gives it a timeless quality, or at least a feeling that the vampire world exists outside of time as we know it. It's even tempered and mostly even paced, and more concerned with new relationships and the intrusive nature of any third party paying a visit while these relationships are being forged. While Djuna, and Paolo seem to be embracing the idea of forever together, Mimi seems to be striking out against what stability over long periods of time means to her; boredom. Her behavior is not only willfully self destructive, but dangerous to everyone around her. While Kiss of the Damned, doesn't really bring anything new to the vampire genre, it was still a welcome change from how the vampire story typically unfolds, and extremely well done, too.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 1

A pair of lesbian vampires, lure men to their enormous, out of the way, home, promising sex, but using them for sustenance. Meanwhile, a young married couple camping nearby get pulled into the mystery of what is happening in that supposedly abandoned house and find they should have left well enough alone.

Vampyres (1974) is a a really uneven film. The bulk of the movie is spent on erotic encounters that on the surface seem to be hungry and fierce, but are actually incredibly chaste and superficial. These encounters fall into a repetitive pattern of the vampire women pleasing each other, then luring a man to the house for additional pleasures. There are three types of characters here, the predatory vampire women, the horny male victims, and the nice married couple, one of whom is suspicious of the behavior of others, and the other who is too trusting. There are some nice visuals, and the house itself is magnificent, but too much of this film passes by slowly, and the only real ferocity and horror doesn't come until the end. This is perhaps worth a look, but not a revisit.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Gale Robbins

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 2

The staff at an oil company's remote Alaskan base, find themselves under siege by a series of strange events that seem to be connected to global warming. One by one, they die in peculiar ways, with much speculation on what's happening. Central is the idea that nature is striking back against the planet's human infestation. Here, in the arctic that attack is being brought on by the spirit of the Wendigo in the form of ghost caribou.

The Last Winter (2006) is an environmental horror film that leaves plenty of room for ambiguities, much like Larry Fessenden's previous films. Like his other films, this provides the viewer with a smart, ambitious movie that isn't entirely satisfying. That lack of satisfaction is possibly the result of wanting a film that is trying to give so much to succeed completely and spectacularly, which The Last Winter doesn't. I found myself completely enmeshed in the story as it unfolded, and was happy to see that a horror film set in an arctic research facility could completely separate itself from any version of The Thing. I'd also gladly trade in half the movies I watched this month for one ambitious, if not quite successful Larry Fessenden film.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 - Movie 1

A monster is terrorizing the countryside of Gevaudan, France, and no one can stop it, or a wicked secret society connected with it. While barely a horror movie, Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) is loosely based on events pertaining to my favorite real life monster, the beast of Gevaudan. This movie plays fast and loose with the facts, but makes for a beautiful looking historical action movie. There are a number of preposterous things on screen, but I was willing to roll with them. The mystery plays out nicely, and the actors and the characters they play are all engaging. This was my second viewing of this movie, and I still like it a lot.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

June Collyer

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 2

A writer travels to a Caribbean island in search of material for his next novel and stumbles across a scientist allegedly working on a cure for cancer but really creating an army of zombies.

I Eat Your Skin (1964) contains nothing as lurid as the title would suggest. There's one beheading in the movie, and a lot of hijinks with the protagonist unscrupulously going from one woman to the next while avoiding jilted husbands. The scenes of horror are pretty sparse, but the zombies themselves are pretty eerie looking. It's not really worth seeking out, but makes for a passable late night, or rainy Sunday afternoon viewing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 - Movie 1

A Jazz Pianist living on an island is visited by an ex flame who will do anything to keep him from marrying his new beau. To prevent this, he lets her fall to her death from the top of a lighthouse rather than save her. Her body vanishes, but her ghost sticks around to torment him, or is it just his guilty conscience driving him mad and compelling him to commit more horrible acts.

Tormented (1960) is a bit on the goofy side and feels a bit like a William Castle movie without the built in gimmick. It was actually the work of Bert I. Gordon who took a break from his obsession with giant people and monsters to make this film. Richard Carlson stars in a role that's a real divergent from his usual casting as the heroic scientist. Here he's driven to distraction by ghostly visitations and a pair of witnesses that force him into committing more direct means of murder. Overall this movie is pretty fun.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Judy Garland

Monday, October 27, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 2

The Munsters find themselves the targets of a criminal investigation when a series of crimes are committed by the wax figures, which are really robots, including replicas of the Munsters.

The Munsters Revenge (1981) was a reunion tv movie which reuinted Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo, and Al Lewis, but gave us a new Marilyn and a kid who looks like Juice Ortiz from Sons of Anarchy as the new Eddie. Within just a few minutes you could tell how bad this movie was going to be by the lameness of the jokes. The jokes were always pretty corny on the original television series, but they had an endearing charm to them and were actually funny on occasion. Not so here. This movie is just sub par all the way through. Sid Ceasar is terrible as the mastermind behind the robots which are actors wearing various Don Post masks, and a pretty great Creature from the Black Lagoon suit. The best feature is that the Wolfman sounds like Turu, the pterodactyl from Jonny Quest, also the vocalization of half the monsters on Space Ghost, The Herculoids, and the like. The make-up on the Munsters is not nearly as good as it was in the tv series, or previous movie, and no amount of it could hide how much Yvonne De Carlo had aged in the nearly twenty years since she'd last played Lily. We do get to meet a new member of the Munster family; Cousin Phantom of the Opera. That's what they really call him. He's an annoying one note character whose singing is constantly shattering nearby glass. It was pretty painful for me to see the Munsters brought so low in this movie. I recommend staying away from it.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 - Movie 1

The Munsters learn that they have inherited a manor in England and Herman, the title of Lord Munster. Unfortunately, the English side of the family, not happy with this arrangement, initailly determine to frighten the American Munsters away, then when that fails, to kill them. There's also an automobile race.

Munster Go Home (1966) is a theatrical motion picture that would show the world the Munsters in color (which is jarring, and really threw me as a kid). The movie is essentially an episode of the tv series on a grander scale. The comedy is the same, which means lots of corny material, but also some really fun stuff too. The anticipation of how the English Munsters' plan to frighten their American relatives out of the spooky manor backfiring leads into a satisfying play of spookshow antics which the Munsters find delightful and welcoming instead of frightening. This movie is a lot of fun and would make a nice Halloween double feature with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.


31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Vera Ellen

Sunday, October 26, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 2

Two brothers (William Shatner, Tom Skerritt) try to bring down the satanic cult led by Jonathan Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) who has been tormenting their family for generations, determined to get his hands on a book in their possession which will increase his power.

I decided it was time to revisit a film from my childhood. More often than not this turns out to be a terrible mistake, but I actually really liked The Devil's Rain (1975), probably more than I did as a kid. Yes, there are some hoaky bits, but the pace of this movie is phenomenal. It really throws you into the story with no preparation and no explanation for anything going on, but it's never hard to grasp onto. It even throws some startling imagery on the screen really quickly, with the figure of a melting, eyeless man disolving in the rain. The eyeless people and melting flesh is a recurring visual motif in this film which features rather nice make-up effects and some decent special effects depicting the souls of Corbis' converts within a large windowed jar. It's not a classic, but it's certainly a lot of fun.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 - Movie 1

A trio of kidnappers, out to deliver a pair of hostages to their cruel boss, take a wrong turn down a road that they can't seem to get off of. Things start to go wrong and get really strange for them as their situation grows increasingly desperate.

Devil's Mile (2014) is a film with very little substance pretending to be something more fulfilling. It has some nice moments, but far more stretches of little interest. The characters aren't particularly engaging and presented as such despicable creatures that it's not possible to empathize with them in their plight. The kidnapped women aren't really presented as anything, so you often forget about them entirely. The twist at the end is also flimsy and clearly meant to be mind blowing, but isn't, and adds nothing to a movie very much in need something to give it some heft. It was nice to see the crew of Rue Morgue magazine in a cameo though.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26

Colleen Moore

Saturday, October 25, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 2

Tim, a Vietnam vet, and Seminole, is also a hermit and something of an environmentalist terrorist. He lives far from any human neighbors out in the middle of the Florida Everglades, where he shares his shack with a bunch of snakes including his two favorites, a pair of rattlesnakes named Stanley and Hazel. Tim uses his snakes to attack those whose outlooks are in opposition to his own views. This includes a businessman who gets rich off of selling animal skins, that man's lackeys, and a burlesque performer who uses snakes in her act. Eventually, Tim starts to just plain lash out and his beloved snakes turn against him.

Stanley (1972) is essentially Willard (1971) with snakes. It's an odd movie. It's incredibly earnest, yet if someone told me this movie was intended as a parody, I wouldn't be surprised. It certainly has plenty of campy moments. Either way, it's entertaining, and I kept having deja vu moments that have convinced me that I must have seen this movie on tv as a kid. I give actor, Chris Robinson extra credit for keeping a straight face throughout the movie. My only real negative criticism is that snakes were not only harmed in the making of this movie, but horribly killed as well. I've even seen an anecdote that the director had Stanley made into a wallet once filming was completed, which goes against everything that Tim, and this movie, stands for.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25 - Movie 1

A bunch of non-characters wind up at a lake near a closed camp and are slaughtered by an even less interesting non-character wearing a mask.

I was never really a fan of the Friday the 13th franchise, so I'm not sure what compelled me to watch the Friday the 13th (2009) reboot. Reboots in general have been a pretty sorry lot, but this turd takes the trophy. This is easily the worst movie I've watched this countdown, and possibly the worst movie I've seen in some time. It makes the originals look like masterpieces in comparison. At least those movies seemed to have been having some fun, and even though the kills were increasingly ridiculous, there was some sense of "let's see the make-up guys pull this one off." This joyless movie didn't make any effort to really go beyond poking people with sharp pointy things. To start wondering about such plot points as when Jason got an engineering and electrical degree while living in the woods as a hermit since childhood give the writers of this more credit than they deserve. Having said that, Jason operates out of a VAST network of underground tunnels, that I'm assuming he dug and wired himself, since no other explanation was given. I'm guessing this was the filmmakers thinking that it would be more logical to have him suddenly appear out of nowhere if he popped up through a trapdoor, while not worrying about the logic behind anything else in this movie. Did I mention this movie is a turd?

31 Days of Halloween - Day 25

Elaine Stewart

Friday, October 24, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 2

Led by their abusive director, a group of actors sail to an island containing a graveyard for criminals, in order to perform a ritual meant to raise the dead. Pranks are played, witty barbs exchanged, and to everyone's surprise, the incantation works and the risen dead are not amused.

Your enjoyment of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) will depend a great deal on how you feel about acting groups, because that's what you'll be subjected to for the first hour of this ninety minute movie. For me, that's a completely unenjoyable experience, so the first two thirds of this movie were pretty punishing. Alan Ormsby, who authored one of my very favorite books, and is also a very nice man, co-authored and created the make-up for this movie (as well, as my previous entry, Shock Waves). He also stars as the nasty director, a performance that is effective, but irritating. If you've seen the movie you'll understand why I'm thankful that Ormsby and Paul Bartel never co-starred in a movie together.

Overall, the entire movie has an amateurish, low quality feel to it, which actually works in its favor. It's clear everyone had a good time making this, and really made the best with what they had to work with. What it needed though was a little less of the drama friends hanging out together and making a movie vibe, and on screen dominance, and more of the repercussions of the ritual waking of the dead. The zombies are pretty neat looking in a no tech way that makes them feel a bit real and fantastic at the same time, but once they emerge, there's no real sense of suspense or drama, and it feels like everyone is rushing to get the movie over with.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24 - Movie 1

A group of tourists on a ramshackle pleasure boat find themselves wrecked after an encounter with a ghost ship. Stranded on a nearby island, they discover things are even worse than they imagined, as Nazi zombie super soldiers created to be able to exist underwater without breathing, have found their way to the island where they pick off the castaways one by one.

Shock Waves (1977) stars Peter Cushing as a reclusive former Nazi scientist, and John Carradine as the captain of the pleasure boat. Despite their starring status, both have small roles in the grand scheme of the movie's running time. Among the castaways is Brooke Adams, a guy that constantly reminded me of Richard Simmons, and a really whiny guy with the voice of David Sedaris, but none of the wit, or charm. For most of the movie nothing really happens. This inaction is broken up by periodic appearances of the Nazi zombies, who also don't do much of anything beyond walking across the bottom of the sea, rising from the waves, and wading through inland bodies of water where they can ambush and drown their victims. The zombies, with their uniform appearance (which includes uniforms which somehow didn't disintegrate after thirty-odd years at the bottom of the ocean) minimally decayed skin and big black goggles which protect them from the sun, are a welcome change from the rotting shamblers we're used to. Overall, this is another movie about an uninteresting batch of adults doing stupid things so that they can find themselves in one danger after another. It's somewhat entertaining if you haven't seen it before, but probably not something you'll want to go back to.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 24

Barbara Bates, 1945.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23 - Movie 2

Seed pods from space land on earth and begin to create duplicates of everyone they come into contact with, leaving the originals as desicated husks, while the emotionless duplicates silently take over the world.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is possibly the best example of a remake that equals, or surpasses, its original, in this case the 1955 movie of the same name. Moving the action from anytown USA to the chaotic city of San Francisco works in its favor, and allows us to take in the transformation of the citizens almost ambiently around the main action as the central characters stumble upon the plot initially by a rash of people claiming that their spouses aren't really their spouses, followed by the discovery of unformed human duplicates and suspicious behavior among their friends, coworkers, and officials. By the time they figure out what's really going on, it might very well be too late.

This film really succeeds by presenting its eerie invasion concept against the mundane day to day lives of the central characters and the behavioral changes detected in their loved ones dismissed as an emotional distancing effected to cope with their hectic and unhappy lives. There's a lot of paranoia on display as well. People not believing others, people suspicious of whether their friends are really their friends, of who can be trusted...The special effects are pretty unsettling, amplified by Ben Burtt's highly effective sound design, which along with Denny Zeitlin's minimalist score, drives a lot of the unease and tension in the film. Then there's my favorite moment in the film, which I won't spoil for those of you who haven't seen it. I'll just say it involves a banjo playing homeless man and his dog.

31 Says of Halloween - Day 23 - Movie 1

A test pilot disobeys orders and flies his ship 250 miles from the earth's surface. His ship passes through a strange cloud of particles which turn the pilot into a hideous monster in need of blood to survive.

First Man Into Space (1959) was obviously influenced by The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and would in turn influence The Incredible Melting Man (1977). It's attempt to present serious aeronautic experiments using stock footage, and it's one note characters, add more tedium than excitement. There are some neat things in the movie though. The compositional transformation of both the ship and the pilot is pretty cool, in spite of the pseudo scientific mumbo jumbo presented to explain why it happened. Also, while the transformed astronaut is a deadly monster, all is not as it seems, and the payoff here is a welcome change from how these stories from this period typically played out. It was also nice to see Roger Delgado, the actor who originally played The Master on Doctor Who, appear as a consul from Mexico.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 23

Nancy Carrol

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie 2

Poor Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). Bullied at school, abused by her crazy religious nut mom (Piper Laurie) at home, just when things finally look like they are going to change for the better for her, a nasty prank at the prom turns tragic as Carrie finally decides to push back with deadly telekinetic force.

I don't have any interest in either of the remakes. Carrie (1976) based on the novel by Stephen King remains a really strong movie and one of the few King adaptations that really succeeds. The strength of the movie lies in its cast Spacek and Piper are fantastic and deserve all of the praise they are given for this film, but William Katt as the high school boy who takes her to the prom, and Betty Buckley as the supportive gym teacher deserve equal accolades. Without their genuine performances here to offset the more villainous characters this movie would not have been nearly as successful, and the tragedy that unfolds would have felt empty. The prom, where Carrie's life seems like it's really going to change, is the heart of this movie, and you really want things to get better for her, and you suspect they probably would have, had not the mean kids intervened with their bucket of blood.

There are a couple of scenes here that feel a bit dated, and there are particular music cues that are almost painful to listen to, but overall Carrie really holds up well. Split screen, which pretty much went out of fashion around the time this movie came out, is used really effectively during the film's climax by Brian DePalma.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22 - Movie 1

Christina Ricci plays Fall River's notorious ax murderer in the Lifetime original tv movie, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax (2014) a historical drama revisiting the murder of Lizzie's parents and the trial that followed. Despite having a good cast, this movie is a dreadful bore. It seems to drag on forever, as if somewhere along the way they discovered that this story isn't really that interesting and could be summed up in about twenty minutes instead. In an attempt to inject some life into any scene that involves people walking outside, riding in a carriage, or just standing outside on the street, modern music that would sound at home in a Jack Daniel's commercial is played over these scenes. This choice was a bad one and only draws attention to itself since the music in no way enhances the scenes in a way that's pertinent to the story.

This may not be the worst movie I watch this month, but I doubt any other movie is going to prove to be more tedious to sit through.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 22

Leila Hyams, 1930.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Movie 2

A tarantula injected with a synthetic super food nutrient breaks loose from the lab and continues to grow wreaking havoc on a small desert community.

Like Empire of the Ants (see previous entry), Tarantula (1955) mainly relies on combining photography of an actual tarantula with live action plates (and the occasional close up of a full size mock-up spider), but the effects in Tarantula still look amazing. It doesn't hurt that the story is better and the characters, while being a bit thinner as dimensional characters, are more engaging and likable. John Agar, as is often the case, plays the earnest young scientist. Model/actress Mara Corday is the love interest and scientific assistant to the man behind the synthetic super food nutrient (Leo G. Carroll), who in a b plot is also breeding monsters of the human variety in a series of disfiguring side effects when the nutrient is injected into humans. This fun monster movie is one of the last classics to come out of Universal Studios, and one of my favorites. The score by Ronald Stein is also top notch.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Movie 1

Joan Collins plays a shady real estate developer who takes potential clients to an island in the hopes of selling them beach front property. Little does she, or her guests, know that the island is overrun with giant ants.

Bert I. Gordon (The Amazing Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Food of the Gods) continues his cinematic fascination with giant creatures with Empire of the Ants (1977) loosely based on a story by H.G. Wells. Formulaic by way of 1970s disaster movies in which a cross section of personality types are introduced so we can fathom who they are, then the horrible element is introduced and the characters are picked off one by one. It's schlocky, but somewhat entertaining. Coming out the same year as Star Wars, which really upped the ante on special effects, the effects here are awful when they fail, such as the transparent superimposed ants, but actually pretty damned good when they work out. The effects are a combination of macrophotography of actual ants inserted into footage of actors, or on miniature sets, mixed with full sized ant props which are shaken at the actors by off screen crew members. The story itself isn't all that interesting, or new, until very late in the film when it introduces an interesting plot development. By the time this comes to the forefront though, the movie is pretty much over.

If you like other 1970s nature gone mad films like Day of the Animals and Frogs, you may get a kick out of this. Everyone else though would be much better off watching Them! (1954)

31 Days of Halloween - Day 21

Myrna Loy

Monday, October 20, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20 - Movie 2

Bela Lugosi is definitely the star of The Corpse Vanishes (1942) as a horticulturist who uses an orchid of his own creation to put young women about to be married into suspended animation simulating death. He then steals these "corpses" and whisks them off to his laboratory so that he can extract fluids from the young women to inject into his aging wife in order to keep her beautiful. He is aided by a family of creeps. Luana Walters plays a reporter uncovering the secret behind the stolen dead brides.

This is a pretty ludicrous movie, even for poverty row, but it is pretty fun to watch. The diversity of the elements involved keeps it pretty interesting, and there's some novelty in the orchestration involved in turning the brides into "corpses" and then abducting them. Elizabeth Russell is an actress with a very otherworldly aura about her, which makes her perfect as Lugosi's ailing wife here, just as it benefitted her in movies such as Cat People and Weird Woman. This is no classic, but it's good for a late rainy night.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20 - Movie 1

Today is Bela Lugosi's birthday, so, as per usual, I try to watch at least one of his movies in his honor. First up is Black Friday (1940) which sounds like he and Boris Karloff should be racing for hot ticket items at one of the big box retail stores on the day after Thanksgiving. Really though, Karloff plays a doctor who attempts to save his friend, a kindly literature professor, by transferring the brain of a dying gangster into his head. The professor suffers from a few back and forth Jekyll and Hyde moments as the dead gangster's personality takes over set on revenge against the criminals who killed him, including  Bela Lugosi in a small role (even though he gets second billing). There's also the matter of a lot of hidden money, which Karloff's character wants to get his hands on for his own experiments.

This is an okay movie with some really wonky logic in it, but it plays pretty well if you're willing to completely suspend disbelief and go along with it. This movie is really a showcase for actor, Stanley Ridges who plays both the professor and his Hyde character as two very distinct characters, even physically. He does a real good job, too. If you're looking for some classic Lugosi/Karloff chills, this isn't going to be the movie to provide them.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 20

Nan Grey

Sunday, October 19, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 19 - Movie 2

Radio crime reporter, Bob Hope and his assistant Willie Best find themselves travelling to Cuba in order to protect Paulette Goddard from a murder threat and ghosts and zombies with a haunted castle she has inherited.

The Ghost Breakers (1940) is a successful horror comedy not quite on par with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, but still a highly enjoyable viewing experience. There's plenty of Scooby-Doo like shenanigans, a creepy zombie and ghost, and a number of guest stars ranging from Richard Carlson to Paul Lukas and Anthony Quinn. The castle set is great, and this movie was one of the inspirations for Disney's Haunted Mansion.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 19 - Movie 1

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) moves its story from a small town to a state of the art skyscraper in Manhattan, where Gizmo gets wet spawning more mogwais who eat after midnight turning into gremlins, which get wet spawning more gremlins and so on. This time things are complicated by an on site genetics lab where some of the gremlins are able to ingest formulas that merge them with spiders, bats, vegetables, and electricity. There's even a gremlin who increases his intelligence and becomes voiced by Tony Randall. Much of the original cast is back and together they must keep the gremlins contained within the building until they can develop the means to destroy them.

Somehow, I've never seen this movie until now. It was a real mixed bag for me. While I admired the social commentary and satire, sight gags, and the numerous homages to various pop culture touchstones, the gremlins themselves were really irritating. Joe Dante decided to go for a more cartoony approach than in the first movie, and Rick Baker came up with a lot of individualized gremlins that fit the bill, but their silly slapstic and screaming was like trying to watch an hour and a half of Tazmanian Devil cartoons if you removed Bugs Bunny from them. Gizmo was strangely absent from most of the movie with much of his screen time a build up to a one note bit based off of a movie scene, much like Gizmo's race car scenes from the original movie, only here it's not nearly as endearing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 19

Ida Lupino

Saturday, October 18, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18 - Movie 2

Baron Boris von Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) creates the means of ultimate destruction and summons all of earth's monsters (except one) to his island castle in order to announce his discovery and his retirement as leader of the Worldwide Organization of Monsters, a role he plans to pass on to his clueless, human, nephew Felix. This leads to a number of the monsters and Frankenstein's assistant, Francesca, scheming to get their hands on the secret formula for themselves.

Mad Monster Party (1967) was created by the same people that brought us Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other beloved holiday classics. Like Rudolph, Mad Monster Party was created using stop motion animation on miniature sets with characters designed by Jack Davis. There are also a number of musical numbers.

Unlike Rudolph, and most of the other Rankin/Bass classics, Mad Monster Party has never won me over. I love stop motion animation and think it's a perfect choice for this film. I love the character designs and the sets too. I just think the characters themselves and the story (written by Harvey Kurtzman and Len Korobkin) are a bit flat and uninteresting, especially for a feature length movie that was clearly padded out to extend its running time with several scenes in the middle that serve no other purpose. This is similar to my reaction to A Nightmare Before Christmas. Both of these movies feature lots of things that appeal to me and I feel that I should love them, but I don't. The biggest problem here is that Felix is such an unlikable dweeb that it's hard to root for him and harder to believe in the romance that develops between him and Francesca.

I'm a big fan of Rankin/Bass, but as much as I want to love this movie, it just doesn't do much for me beyond the visuals.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18 - Movie 1

Andy (Alex Vincent) receives a "Good Guy" doll named Chucky for his sixth birthday little knowing that his new best friend is really the soul of a voodoo practicing serial killer (Brad Dourif) inhabiting the doll until he can transfer his soul to the first person he revealed himself to in this form -- Andy.

I haven't seen Child's Play (1988) since it's opening weekend and I don't think I've ever seen any of the sequels. On its own, this film holds up really well. It maintains a sense of logic that is absent from many genre films these days and the suspense isn't built upon people being stupid. In fact a few characters catch on the what's going on pretty quickly, but how to convince anyone who can do anything that a living killer doll is responsible for a pair of violent crimes which are being attributed to Andy. The film really revolves around the relationship between lonely Andy and his mother, and Andy and Chucky instead of a gimmick, which makes almost heartbreaking when Andy realizes that Chucky never really was his friend to the end.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 18

Lillian Wells

Friday, October 17, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 17 - Movie 2

After the still birth of their third child, a couple (Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard) decide to adopt nine-year old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) an adorable, polite and precocious child hiding a dangerous secret which tears her new family apart.

Orphan (2009) is one of those movies that depends on characters acting stupidly in order to sustain its running time. It also chalks up a lot of obvious creepy bad seed child moments that don't challenge the audience either. In spite of all of that, I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit. The adult characters are all played by very talented actors, but it's really Isabelle Fuhrman and Aryana Engineer as the younger, deaf daughter, Max, who make this movie worth watching. Not only do they both give outstanding performances, but their onscreen relationship is what holds the whole movie together and makes what otherwise would have been a completely mundane movie rise above it's clichés into something that kept me, at least, engaged throughout.


31 Days of Halloween - Day 17 - Movie 1

Thirteen-year old Lila (Cheryl Smith) the beloved singer in a church, receives a letter from a woman named Lemora (Lesley Gilb) telling her that she needs to come visit her gangster father before he dies. Lila leaves the reverend she lives with to do so, because she feels it's the good Christian thing to do. Her trip is like one long weird fairy tale journey into the haunted forest, or through the underworld. The town where she needs to catch her bus is populated by the dregs of human society, and the bus is meant for her alone. The bus is assaulted along the way by strange, formerly human creatures. From there Lila is dropped into the hands of witches and vampires including a batch of creepy undead children. Lemora is an odd, distant, cold, beauty like one of Disney's evil queens by way of Dracula's daughter, and her interactions with Lila are a predatory lesbian seduction. Each time Lila's will is tested, she takes strength in her beliefs as a Christian to turn away from sin, leading one to suspect that this movie is really a cautionary tale for teenagers thinking of running away from home made by a religious organization. That is until the end of the movie.

Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural (1973) is an odd movie. It's pretty amateurish in its production, screenwriting, and much of its acting, but it never seems laughable. In fact it's really compelling to watch. The various creatures on screen have pretty rough make-up, so that I couldn't honestly tell you how many different types of monsters there are. There could be vampires, werewolves, and whatever those things were that attacked the bus, or they could all be vampires. Instead of being a detriment, this is a real strength. The no frills make-up seem to make these creatures a bit disturbing, as does the choice of sound effects applied to them to create their growling and snarling. Likewise, the vampire children, who look like normal kids, only their laughter is too loud and obviously not coming from them, making it far creepier. The one touch to make the kids physically monstrous is a nice surprise, and not over the top. Lesley Gilb as Lemora is the best part of the movie. There's a very quiet stillness to her predatory role, making her seem like a spider slowly trying to draw her prey across her web to where she can snatch it. She never even seems to blink, adding a further hypnotic element to her performance.

I think people will either love, or hate this movie, but it will stick with them either way.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 17

Betty Grable

Thursday, October 16, 2014

31 Days of Halloween - Day 16 - Movie 2

Hammer tackles the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), in which the obsessed scientist played by Paul Massie uncovers a means of unleashing his inner dark side in the form of Mr. Hyde (also Paul Massie).

Hammer played against expectations by making Jekyll the hirsute unattractive one and Hyde the clean cut handsome one. While Hyde is a loathsome, sadistic, sociopathic, hedonist and completely unlikable,   Jekyll's no one to root for either. He cares nothing for anyone except his experiments. His inattention to his wife has driven her into the arms of his alleged friend, Paul Allen (nicely played by Christopher Lee) who also sponges off Jekyll's generosity, using the scientist to pay off his own huge gambling debts. There are no characters to sympathize with, or root for here. The bulk of the supporting characters are criminals, drunks, prostitutes, and self centered hedonists like Hyde, including a young Oliver Reed.

Terrence Fisher's direction is up to his usual high standard with nice use of color and staging that takes advantage of the depth of the sets by using foreground, middle ground and background to tell the story. Unfortunately all of the colorful Can-Can girls and other visual spectacle cannot elevate this movie beyond a well made curiosity. Attempts at suggesting a love story, and setting up a tragedy are wasted because the love is between back stabbing adulterers, and tragedy befalls characters who seem to deserve what they get.  The problem really comes down to neither of Dr. Jekyll's two faces being part of a character we care about.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 16 - Movie 1

On her 21st birthday, Janet (Gloria Talbott) visits her benefactor (Arthur Shields) and learns that she's the daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, and that his lycanthropy might be hereditary. She then begins to experience strange dreams in which a feral version of herself is slaying people who are found dead the next day. She becomes more and more troubled, and the locals more and more determined to destroy her. Only her fiancé (John Agar) believes her innocent and must find out the truth before it's too late.

There are a number of goofy elements to this film, and it's six day shooting schedule kept this from becoming a masterpiece, but Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) has a few things going for it. Director, Edgar G. Ulmer brings plenty of strong visuals to the film from fog shrouded woods and mansions to Janet's weird dreams. Gloria Talbott also turns in her best performance aside from her outstanding performance in I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) as a woman falling apart from the strain of wondering if she changes into a killer monster at night. Bewildering is John Agar's striped jacket which makes him look like he should be selling ice cream.