Welcome, children of the night! This Blog is for fans of vintage horror films as well as those who are just beginning to discover the joy of these classic movies. I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)

Robinson Crusoe on Mars [RCM]  is SO much better than you think it would be.  It’s the story of an astronaut and his monkey who are stranded on the planet Mars.  [Just go with it!]  Yes, some of the special effects are hokey.  Yes, some of the science is laughable.  However, there is something earnest and endearing about the performance of Paul Mantee [Cagney & Lacey and lots of other TV credits] as Commander Kit Draper.  He is front and center in every scene and carries the film very well.  Kudos to Mona the Wooley Monkey for her slamming performance as his side-kick.  I spent the movie thinking “If they kill that sweet little monkey off, I’m gonna lose it!]  She is precious  and does some pretty impressive work in the film.

RCM also stars the one and only Adam West [Batman TV series] as Col. McReady who, unfortunately dies early in the film.  It left me wishing he could have stayed around a little longer because he has such a great presence on screen.  The final actor is Victor Lundin as Friday, an escaped slave from the constellation of Orion who is also on Mars.  [Again, just go with it!]  He does a pretty decent job although his hair and costume choices are a bit ridiculous.

In addition to Mantee’s center stage performance, Director Byron Haskin [The War of the Worlds, Treasure Island] and Cinematographer Winton C. Hock [Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea] give us plenty to look at.  The overall look of the film is quite beautiful in its wide range of sets from inhospitable landscapes to crystal filled caves.  Furthermore, the props work quite well as Mantee improvises survival gear.  Most of it is quite believable and help to add interest to Mantee’s struggle to survive this hostile environment.

You really should give RCM a try.  If you like Sci-Fi I think you’ll find it to be quite an enjoyable viewing experience.

RATING: Very Good.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Waxworks (1924)

It all had to start somewhere.  The Wax Museum has been fertile ground for a number of successful horror films including Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), House of Wax (1953), and Waxwork (1988).  Each one of these films has their own merits and all draw inspiration from this 1924 film which is done in a German Expressionistic style.  For those who don’t know what this means, it means sets with delightful abstract proportions and lines, exaggerated make-up and a dream-like quality to the film.  My favorite examples of this style are definitely Nosferatu (1922) and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).  The print of Waxwork I watched is the Kino restoration.  The picture quality is very good, the best I’ve ever seen.  Furthermore, the piano score that accompanies it fits the visuals quite well.

Director Paul Leni [The Cat and the Canary] takes us on a thrilling ride through exotic locations.  The action begins in a wax museum where a writer is hired to invent the backstory of each figure in the museum.  As the writer begins his work, the viewer is taken on three separate journeys, the last of which puts the writer himself in the scene.  Leni tells each story so well that the intertitles are not even necessary.  Yes, they help, but the viewer can figure out what’s happening without them.

The cast includes Conrad Veidt who stole the show in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as Cesare the somnambulist.  Werner Krauss is his partner in crime who also starred with Veidt in Cabinet.  They work their magic and work it well.  Lil Dagover rounds out the trio with her feminine charms.  She also appeared in both films.

Waxworks may be a little slow for modern audiences who are used to crazy hyper-exaggerated action, but I believe silent films have their rewards if we are patient enough to enter into the story and relax a bit.  While Waxworks is not as iconic as Nosferatu or Cabinet, it is excellent and is a great example of the amazing, pioneering work that was done by a number of German directors.  If you get the chance to see it, don’t miss it!  It’s a visual delight.

RATING: Excellent.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

King Dinosaur (1955)

Kulats in space!  What else is a proper lady to wear on an unexplored planet?  So begins the campy journey that is King Dinosaur.  The movies begins with a fake newsreel that is delivered with deadpan seriousness.  During this newsreel the audience learns that a new planet has moved into orbit around the sun. [Just go with it!]  Conveniently this planet is right next to Earth so the good old USA designs a rocket ship to propel four scientists to explore this new world.

What do they find?  How about a planet that looks exactly like earth!  Surprised?  Throw in an alligator attack, a space romance, hysterically screaming female scientists, a giant ant and…..wait for it…an enormous killer iguana [I kid you not!] and you have a recipe for unintentional laughter.  Wow, this is a terrible move, but you have to love it’s exuberance.  I consider it to be one of those so-bad-it’s-good films.

Director Bert I. Gordon [Attack of the Puppet People, Empire of the Ants] produced, directed and wrote more than 25 Sci-Fi/Horror films over his career.  He was nicknamed “Mr. Big” because of all the giant creatures he loved to use in his films.  To his credit, Gordon knows how to put these kind of films together.  I doubt he meant them to be serious dramas and am fairly certain he was in on the joke every step of the way.  He also gets decent performances out of his actors.

So, how are the effects?  The giant ant is god-awful.  Look to the Sci-Fi classic Them! (1954) to show you how to do this well. The killer iguana is much better, especially in its epic battle with an alligator.  Gordon uses an actual iguana which he enlarges to epic proportions.  It’s one of his favorite tricks which he employs in most of his films.

In one of the King Dinosaur’s most ridiculous moments, one of the scientists says the killer iguana is strikingly similar to earth’s T-Rex of the dinosaur age.  What biology class did he attend?  So, just have fun with King Dinosaur.  It is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

RATING: Bad. [So-bad-it’s-good]

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Friday, April 18, 2014

The Jungle (1952)

Ancient wooly mammoths terrorize India!  Yep, that’s the plot of The Jungle which might have made a nice Saturday afternoon kid’s adventure flick but, beyond that, it has little merit.  Yes, the location is “exotic” but The Jungle tries too hard to be so.  Included are random native folk dances, a troupe of traveling entertainers, the weirdest boats I’ve ever seen in my life, and lots of exotic animals fighting each other.  Where is the ASPCA when you need them?  Sure, there are lots of sights to be seen but that’s about it.  The wooly mammoths only appear toward the end of the film and, disappointingly, they look like elephants wearing shaggy blankets.  Argh!

In addition to being exhaustingly exotic, The Jungle throws all that ethnicity aside by casting two white people in the lead roles.  Marie Windsor stars as Princess Mari.  There is nothing Indian about her appearance except for her fake tan.  [She grew up in Utah and went to Bringham Young University!]  Even her enormously painted on eyebrows and eye liner look more Egyptian than Indian.  To her defense, she’s a good actress and carries with role with energy and enthusiasm.

Cesar Romero [The Joker from the Batman TV series] plays her love/not-so-love interest Rama Singh.  They give him a turban to wear but little else to try and convince us he’s Indian.  He does a good job with the role, however, and matches Windsor’s energy in every scene.

Rounding out the cast is a man’s man, Rod Cameron who plays the misunderstood hunter who was the sole survivor of the first wooly mammoth attack.  He plays the role with that classic macho 1950’s man zeal that is sometimes unintentionally funny.

The Jungle was listed as part of a Sci-Fi double feature along with King Dinosaur, but there is very little sci-fi about it.  It feels more like an action/adventure movie with emphasis on the adventure.  There is lots of walking around interesting locations, waiting for dialogue..or something…to happen.  Horror fans, you’ve been warned!

RATING: Fair.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Night Monster (1942)

I have to go against the majority of critics’ opinions on this film, including Alfred Hitchcock, and say that Night Monster is predictable, boring stuff.  Yes, it’s well acted and decently filmed [great fog!], but it left me saying “Who cares?”  The biggest letdown is that Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi receive top billing.  However, both play minor roles with Atwill disappearing from the second half of the film altogether and Lugosi being reduced to playing the butler….again!  It’s a waste of two talented actors.

Director Ford Beebe [Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe] knows what he’s doing.  He gets strong performances from all of his actors.  They put tons of energy into each and every line, but are given very little to work with.  There is lots of pseudo-science and passionate speeches but they amount to very little in the end.

The story takes place in the spacious Ingston Manor.  A groups of doctors have been invited to this old mansion by its owner who is crippled.  One by one the doctors end up dead and there is talk of a “monster” whose very presence silences the frogs and crickets…but who cares!  There are no interesting plot twists.  It’s strictly by the book.  When the “monster” is revealed it’s exactly who you think it would be!

I imagine 1940’s audiences would have enjoyed Night Monster but it’s not very compelling in 2014.  If you’re a Lugosi or Atwill fan, you time is better spent elsewhere!

RATING: Fair.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inferno (1980)

“What the crap is going on?” I said repeatedly as I watched Dario Argento’s stunning film Inferno.  He wouldn’t have it any other way!  Argento works in color in the same way Hitchcock worked in black and white.  Every scene is illuminated to perfection in primary color textures of blue, red and the occasional yellow.  It’s dark, surreal and moody.  When they come together to form the regular color spectrum, even this seems strange as if you can’t trust it in this dream-like world.  I wish more modern filmmakers took as much care as Argento does in framing each and every shot.  It’s beautiful to behold.

Argento wrote and directed Inferno.  He also provided the voice-over as the narrator.  Romano Albani is the cinematographer in this visual feast.  He also worked with Argento on Phenomena (1985) which is one of my favorite Argento films as well.  He also did Troll (1986) which shows his wide ranges as a cinematographer.  As far as I’m concerned, they work magic together.

Surprisingly, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer provides the music which varies from progressive rock to discordant symphony.  His musical textures are as quirky as the visuals so they go perfectly together.

I could spend time telling you about the plot but Inferno is one of those films that needs to be experienced without any preconceived notions of what it’s about.  Inferno is definitely an underrated and under appreciated film from one of the most unique and visionary filmmakers in horror.  Don’t miss it.

RATING: Excellent.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Man Made Monster (1941)

1941 was a big year for Lon Chaney Jr as he gave the iconic performance of his life in The Wolf Man, directed by George Waggner.  This same year, Chaney and Waggner would team up again for the low budget thriller Man Made Monster.  While it does not reach the cinematic heights of The Wolf Man, Man Made Monster is a solid thriller that borrows heavily from 1931’s Frankenstein.

The story begins on a dark stormy night [Don’t they all?].  A bus crashes into an electrical line, killing everyone on board but Chaney.  He then falls into the hands of two scientists who are curious as to how he survived.  The one and only Lionel Atwill [Mystery of the Wax Museum, Son of Frankenstein] gives a delightful performance as “mad scientist” Dr. Rigas.  He is perfect for the role and portrays his character with lots of manic energy and delusional tendencies.  The cast also includes Anne Nagel [Black Friday] as June Lawrence, the wife of doctor number two who is much saner than Dr. Rigas.  She brings lots of heart and warmth to the story.

My only complaint about Man Made Monster is the special effect they use when Chaney is full electrified and goes on a murderous rampage.  [He looks like a glow worm!] I would have gone for a much simpler presentation like electricity shooting through his fingers but, hey, no one asked me to direct the film!

Man Made Monster is hardly the epic adventure The Wolf Man was but it proves the point that small budget films can still look good and tell an interesting story.  Man Made Monster can be purchased as part of the Universal Horror Classic Movie Archive which is a collection of 5 lesser known Universal films from the 1940’s.  The picture and sound are great and I’m glad to see Universal take the time to restore some of its lesser known horror films.

RATING: Good.

For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.