one's uphill sledding for Vincent Price fans. There's little
life in writer/director Crane Wilbur's tedious adaptation
of the classic story by Mary Roberts Rineheart. All the
ingredients are there -- the spooky house, the hooked-handed
killer and a solid story that had already been filmed three
times before. But Price is wasted as the prime herring as
is Agnes Moorehead as the family matriarch. Watch for Our
Gang's Darla Hood in an adult role, and dig that crazy Bat
theme by steel guitar ace Alvino Rey.
the folks at Milestone Video for releasing this beautifully
restored version of the classic old house thriller. Atmospheric
lighting, spectacular miniatures and expressive shadows
punctuate the action, and Chester Morris is in fine form
as the sneering detective conscripted to ferret out The
Bat's identity. But the film's true star is the swooping,
ambulatory camera of director Roland West. We're treated
to dizzying shots that plunge us down laundry chutes and
over escarpments racing to keep up with the protagonists.
One impressive nose dive takes us from the tip of a skyscraper
to the street below. In fairness, the razzle dazzle is often
undermined by repetitive longshots that betray the film's
stage origins, but the overall effect is startling.
The Beach Girls
and the Monster
Kitsch-lovers alert! This one's got it all. Surfing, singing,
surfing, a shaggy rubber monster, surfing, go-going teeny-boppers,
surfing, Jon Hall and, did we mention surfing? Not just
interspersed with the action, but a 10-minute chunk of uninterrupted
surfing footage accompanied by twanging, Dick Dalesque guitar
riffs. Producer, director, star Jon Hal was a pretty big
deal in the 1940s, very often paired with curvaceous bombshell,
Maria Montez in exotic, Technicolor B-features. In the 1950s,
he was TV's Ramar of the Jungle. (He was also the
son of Felix Locher, whom you may recall from Frankenstein's
Daughter.) Hall hopped on the beach-movie bandwagon
in 1965 with this fairly shoddy, immensely enjoyable pastiche
featuring music by Frank Sinatra, Jr. (One noteworthy tune,
"Monster in the Surf," is crooned by a puppet.) Hall committed
suicide in 1979, but, contrary to rumor, it had nothing
to do with his failings as a filmmaker (he was dying of
cancer). As a kid, you may have caught this one on the late
show under its TV title, Monster From the Surf. As
an adult living in the miraculous era of DVD, it belongs
in your collection.
to be confused with the 1934 Ulmer/Karloff/Lugosi classic,
this film is nonetheless interesting in its own way. One
look at the cast will help explain. Lugosi is on hand in
a ubiquitous red herring role. The stentorian Basil Rathbone
is at his haughty best and comic Hugh Herbert takes up a
good chunk of the action with his oddly endearing, baggy-pants
shenanigans. The film's ostensible hero is a very young
but already bellicose Broderick Crawford, and an up-and-coming
Alan Ladd lurks in the background. There are one ot two
creepy shots, but this grab-bag roster of thespians is the
reason to watch.
Dr. Death (1943)
the height of his post-Wolf Man fame, the much-maligned
Lon Chaney Jr. starred in a series of six Inner Sanctum
films, vaguely based on the radio program of the same name.
Headed into video distribution at last, Universal has released
the films, each barely an hour long, as a series of double
features. Calling Dr. Death kicks off the first coupling,
with Lon going head-to-head with ace character actor J.
Carroll Naish. Longtime B film helmsman Reginald LeBorg,
who guided three of the films in the series, directs with
a decided visual economy.
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
it's so old it creaks. But it creaks in all the right places.
With this seminal silent shocker, German shadow-master Paul
Leni whipped up a virtual blueprint for half of the old
house mysteries subsequently filmed. Based on the long-running
stage play, the film abounds with the horror film conventions
we've come to take for granted. There's the reading of the
will, the cloaked killer, the clutching hand, the startled
heiress, the cowardly foil and the stiffened corpse falling
from an opened closet. It's all delivered with a wink, however,
as Leni plays fast and loose with shadows, camera angles,
double exposures and even the title cards.
with Basil Rathbone, George Sanders, Karloff and a handful
of others, Claude Rains is possessed of a cultured voice
and calculated delivery that one can listen to for hours.
Following his stateside success as The Invisible Man, Rains
returned to his native Britain to star in this modest shocker
about a bogus prognosticator who suddenly finds several
of his catastrophic predictions coming true. Fay Wray is
fetching in an unusual British film appearance, and director
Maurice Elvey wrings some solid chills from the proceedings.
But it's the salubrious sound of Rains' anguished voice
that dominates the film. For that alone, it's worth checking
out this quirky oldie.
Blood (1971) Curse of the Headless Horseman (1971)
Here are two indefensibly bad early-seventies shockers that
devotees of splatter-film history are sure to love. Both
films are directed by Leonard Kirtman, who worked under
several aliases and turned out titles invested with such
shameless sexual innuendo that we're frankly embarrassed
to duplicate them here. These were among his first features,
and they are amateurish in every aspect. Carnival of
Blood hasn't an original notion in it, (the killer has
a "mother complex") portions are crudely dubbed, and it
looks to have been edited with a band saw. The soundtrack
(we're scraping here, but it may be the film's most interesting
feature) is a grab bag of period pop music; a whining folky
with a nails-on-chalkboard voice sings over the titles,
and "suspense" builds to a fuzz guitar and funk accompaniment.
One hilarious scene is a back-and-forth between our hero
and a clairvoyant gypsy woman ("You did!" "I didn't!" "Yes!"
"No!") that goes on for 10 minutes or so against the backdrop
of a Walter Salman painting of Jesus. We get to see a head
split in half, a teddy bear stuffed with undercooked chuck
roast that supposed to look like human entrails and, oh
yeah, Rocky's Burt Young plays Gimpy.
Curse of the
Headless Horseman (the title alone should tell you how
much originality is to be found here) is just as bad in
different ways. To begin with, there are lots and lots of
narration, a vain attempt to cover exposition (which might
have cost money to actually show on film) and plug continuity
holes. It doesn't help, but it sure is funny. It seems that
Kirtland is going for a kind of Sergio Leone feel this time
(flamenco guitar and a whistlin' cowboy fill the soundtrack)
as a mysterious rider, sans cabeza, stalks a Spahn Ranch-like
compound, splattering hippies with blood from a decapitated
head. Some viewers might find it interesting that Andy Warhol
protege, Ultra Violet, makes a cameo. I didn't. The film
closes with the same belicose narrator: "It will begin again!
It will begin again! It will begin again!" -- no kiddin',
he says it about 30 or 40 times -- perhaps to warn theater
patrons that the film would be repeated, and this was their
last chance to clear out. Gore-film completists will definitely
want this disc on their shelves. All others, beware!
of Darkness (1971)
know, I know, this one has a devoted cult following. I know,
I know, it's elegantly, cerebrally European in its approach.
It's also thuddingly boring and annoyingly pretentious.
The oh-so-adult nude scenes are protracted and gratuitous
and unresolved plot points are left to dangle maddeningly.
Its central character is Elisabeth Bathory, an actual historical
figure famous for slaughtering young maidens and bathing
in their blood.
Man's Eyes (1944)
Lon Chaney-Inner Sanctum films, based in part on
the classic radio program of the same name, are being
released by MCA-Universal as a series of double features.
The second installment begins with Dead Man's Eyes,
directed, like the bulk of the series, by journeyman Reginald
LeBorg (The Black Sleep, Jungle Woman). Chaney
is at his hysterical best as an artist doused with acid
by a jilted model (the Jungle Woman herself, Acquanetta).
Thomas Gomez, Paul Kelly and Jonathan Hale round out the
solid cast of B film regulars.
The Frozen Ghost (1945)
near as vivid as other films in the Inner Sanctum
series, this one has its moments. Lon Chaney is a guilt-plagued
mentalist who loses a volunteer subject to the throes
of a hypnotic spell. Director Harold Young boasted a lengthy
and varied B film career, and turns in a workmanlike effort,
as do character players such as Martin Kosleck and Douglas
above-average TV thriller debuted in 1972 and it's been
playing nonstop on the tube ever since. If you haven't
caught this one on cable by now, it can only be because
you don't own a TV set. It's really not terrible and
producer-star Cornel Wilde is to be commended for his
ingenuity in choosing locations and utilizing Stan Winston's
ambitious monster suits to the fullest. Former NFL-Blaxploitation
star Bernie Casey is top gargoyle with Wilde and Jennifer
Salt as father-daughter anthropologists.
The Headless Ghost (1959)
letterbox video release of this Herman Cohen-produced
absurdity (originally released soon after Cohen's fun-filled
stomach-turner Horrors of the Black Museum) can
only be of interest to widescreen purists. As patently
dopey as Black Museum is horrific, this trite
tale of a trio of fortyish-looking college students
sequestered in a British castle doesn't deliver a single
thrill. Ostensibly a horror/comedy (!), the ghosts are
bumbling and grumpy and the insipid banter of the protagonists
wears thin in the early going. For what it's worth,
the ad art is great.
Horrors Of The Black Museum
this classic, pandering shocker in the past, but it's
now been re-released in letterbox format so that fright
film fans might enjoy it in all its 'Hypno-Vistic' glory.
Vividly recalled by even casual viewers, an unctuous Michael
Gough stars as a demented writer exacting varied and hideous
methods of murder. Fans who haven't watched the film in
30 years recall with disgust the binoculars scene. The
re-release includes the film's original 'Hypno-Vista'
Jungle Captive (1944)
The lovely Acquanetta
was Paula the Ape Woman in both Captive Wild Woman
and Jungle Woman. The third time out, Vicky Lane
wears Paula's pelt, and Otto Kruger is the madcap medico
determined to revive her. Rondo Hatton is hustled through
another freak-show role as Kruger's malformed, slow-witted
assistant, "Moloch the Brute," and was given
billing as such on movie posters. Enjoyable, but pretty
much what you'd expect from a series that's gone one sequel
Hopper stars as a beguiled sailor, convinced that sideshow
sweetie Linda Lawson is a real live mermaid. Cult director
Curtis Harrington (Queen of Blood) fashioned
this atmospheric chiller out of meager ingredients and
came up with a moody, if slow-moving fantasy. The seamy
seaside setting is well-utilized and the offbeat premise
has helped the film accrue a cult following. But it's
the quirky cast that brings life to the thing: Dennis
Hopper, nuttily engaging, as always, Luana (Dementia
13) Anders, everyone's favorite "heavy,"
Bruno Ve Sota, and sultry lounge chanteuse Linda Lawson
as the chick 'o the sea.
of Death (1945)
Wallace Fox directs this lackluster Inner Sanctum
installment. Pillow of Death, about as unspooky
a title as you're ever likely to hear, features Lon
Chaney as a typically tormented lug who's driven by
the voice of his deceased wife to smother people with
pillows rather than affection.
She Wolf of London (1946)
cast is cool: June (Lost in Space) Lockhart,
Martin (Flesh Eaters) Kosleck, Dennis "Inspector
Lestrade" Hoey, Don Porter and Lloyd Corrigan.
And some scenes are actually rather atmospheric. The
only thing really wrong with the movie is that nothing
at all seems to happen. This one-hour programmer feels
like two, at least. The plot, such as it is, hangs upon
whether or not red-herring June has inherited her family's
lycanthropic curse. If you haven't determined the answer
by the second murder, shame on you.
This often overlooked
minor gem is well worth the second glance it's getting
thanks to a clean new video print. Directed with an undeniable
penny-pinching pizzazz by Alfred Werker (He Walked
By Night) this low-rent thriller provided the first
genuine showcase for Vincent Price's villainous talents,
and Price delivers the goods beyond question. As a wife-murdering
shrink abetted by perkily appealing Lynn Bari, Price exhibits
the engaging brand of sinister suavity that later ensured
his place as a thrill-film icon.
Carrol Naish returns to the Inner Sanctum series
to torment Lon Chaney in Strange Confession,
a low-rent remake of Claude Rains' 1934 classic The
Man Who Reclaimed His Head. Chaney made the portrayal
of sweaty, tormented tough guys on the edge of hysteria
his stock-in-trade. Whether you find him effective or
hammy will determine to what degree you enjoy these
Weird Woman (1944)
Chaney is at his perspiring best in Weird Woman,
an energetic treatment of Fritz Leiber's classic story
Conjure Wife. Evelyn Ankers and Anne Gwynne are rivals
for Chaney's amorous attentions, with Ankers cast against
type as the villainess. Reliable Reggie LeBorg directs
sure-handedly. The same story was later filmed in Britain
as Burn Witch Burn.
White Zombie (1932)
Halperin Brothers' creaky, creepy, crusty masterpiece
is back in release with a sparkling print from the folks
at Englewood Entertainment. For those willing to invest
in the film's funereal pacing and ulta-melodramatics,
White Zombie pays off richly. Bela Lugosi, who
threw every atom of his being into even the lowliest
roles, was never better, and his collection of unflappable,
wild-eyed zombies are still scary after nearly 70 years.
The movie's matter-of-fact handling of horror is its
chief asset -- when a hapless, zombified plantation
worker stumbles into a mill and is crushed to death,
the camera barely pauses to acknowledge the tragedy.