The Wolf Man (1941)

From the video case:

Lon Chaney, Jr. portrays Larry Talbot, who returns to his father’s (Claude Rains) ancient castle in Wales and meets a beautiful woman (Evelyn Ankers) in the nearby village. One fateful night, Talbot escorts her and her friend Jenny to a local carnival where they meet a mysterious gypsy fortune teller. Soon, Jenny’s fate is revealed when she is attacked by a vicious wolf.

Talbot clubs the wolf to death with his silver-handled cane, but not before he is badly bitten and the curse of the werewolf is upon him.

Foggy atmospheres, elaborate settings and a chilling musical score enhance this haunting classic co-starring Bela Lugosi and Maria Ouspenskaya. (1941, b&w)

Mark says:

Even as a kid, I was not so much frightened of the wolf man as I was fascinated by him. Lon Chaney’s (The Alligator PeopleThe Mummy’s Tomb) mannerisms and appearance reminded me of my father, which made the film more personal to me. I’ve had a fondness for werewolves ever since.

I am still drawn to Chaney’s sympathetic portrayal of Larry Talbot, a man haunted by the past and returning to his father’s estate to make good. Of course, Larry Talbot is not completely innocent. After all, he first spies on Gwen (Evelyn Ankers; Son of DraculaThe Ghost of Frankenstein), in her bedroom through a telescope lens, and then continues to woo her even after she makes it clear that she is engaged to be married. Still, Larry is a likable chap and we don’t wish him any harm.

Claude Rains (The Invisible Man) turns in a fine performance as Larry’s authoritative father. However, I’ve always thought it humorous how Lon Chaney towers above his movie father. There’s not much of a family resemblance, but the two work well together as father and prodigal son.

This film also boasts other screen greats like Bela Lugosi (DraculaBride of the Monster) who, in my humble opinion, plays a better gypsy/werewolf than a vampire, and Maria Ouspenskaya who adds so much to this movie with her portrayal of the gypsy woman that it would be a crime not to mention her.

The Wolf Man is filled with great Gothic atmosphere and though the story can drag, it still manages to hold our interest enough to get us over the slow humps. And let’s not forget that Chaney’s transformation scenes still look super cool. Thank make-up legend, Jack Pierce, for the fantastic werewolf appearance.

Chaney’s wolf man may not be the most frightening of monsters, but he inspires more dread than the beast in Werewolf of London (Universal’s first werewolf film) who takes the time to put on a coat and hat before going out to kill.

The Wolf Man is produced and directed by George Waggner.

Scene to watch for: After Larry Talbot and his father, Sir John, agree that there will be “no more reserve” between them, Larry calls his father “sir” and then they share a stiff handshake.

Line to listen for: “The way you walked was thorny through no fault of your own. For as the rain enters the soil, and the river enters the sea, so tears run to their predestined end. Your suffering is over. Now find peace for eternity, my son.”

Trivia: Evelyn Ankers, the alluring female lead in The Wolf Man, later married B-movie favorite, Richard Denning (Creature from the Black LagoonThe Black Scorpion).

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ! out of 5.

King Kong (1933)

From the video case

King Kong teems with memorable moments: a movie-making expedition on a fantastic isle filled with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures; the giant simian’s lovestruck obsession with the film shoot’s blond starlet (Fay Wray); Kong’s capture; his Manhattan rampage; and the fateful finale atop the Empire State Building where Kong cradles his palm-sized beloved and swats at machine-gunning airplanes. “It was beauty killed the beast.” But in these and other great scenes, Kong lives forever. (1933, b&w)

Mark says:

For King Kong fans, it is hard to talk about the 1933 original without sounding overly extravagant in our praise. However, this picture is such a ground-breaker, and done so well, that it absolutely deserves the gushing acclamation that is often heaped upon it.

The star of the picture is an 18-inch (or sometimes, 24-inch) puppet, spectacularly animated by stop-motion master Willis O’Brien (The Lost WorldThe Black Scorpion). Not only does O’Brien bring Kong to life, but he gives the great ape character and pathos. We get caught up in Kong’s plight, and it is not too surprising to find that many of us, upon first viewing, had an emotional reaction to Kong’s tragic fate. I’ll admit that today’s CGI effects can be impressive, but not once have they made me cry.

Of course, Kong’s animation does have its imperfections. The most noticeable is that his fur sometimes moves in an unnatural manner. This was caused by O’Brien’s handling of the puppet. As O’Brien moved Kong one tiny motion at a time, his fingers would leave slight impressions on the fur. This wasn’t apparent during the stop-motion process, but when the footage was assembled as animation, the fur’s motion sometimes looked awkward. Early viewers attributed the strange motion to wind, but modern devotees know better. Still, this imperfection is not overly distracting, and is certainly forgivable considering the movie was released in 1933 and O’Brien was a pioneering talent in the field.

I like what Ray Harryhausen (who directly credits King Kong as his own inspiration for entering a career in stop-motion animation) says concerning the aesthetic charm of Kong. Harryhausen states in the 2005 DVD commentary of the film that Kong’s look is not so real that it compromises the fantasy element of the movie. Even today, over 85 years later, Kong is utterly fascinating to watch. A pretty neat trick.

Fay Wray

The heroine of the film is Ann Darrow, played beautifully by one of the earliest scream queens, Fay Wray (Doctor XMystery of the Wax Museum). Fay keeps the film interesting while we’re waiting for Kong’s arrival. She is so enchanting in the role that we have no problem believing Kong’s fascination with her.

Robert Armstrong (Mighty Joe Young) plays film producer, Carl Denham. Denham is a reckless adventurer who will risk anything to bring back a quality film. I used to think that Armstrong’s portrayal was a little too over-the-top, but after watching a documentary on Merian C. Cooper, who Denham’s character is based on, I now believe Armstrong’s characterization is not far off the mark. Merian C. Cooper is the real life producer, co-writer, and director of King Kong. The documentary of his life is included with the 2005 DVD Special Edition, and is well worth a look. A truly incredible man.

Bruce Cabot is Jack Driscoll, Fay Wray’s love interest. Cabot’s character is based on co-director, Ernest B. Schoedsack. Unfortunately, I find Cabot’s portrayal lacking. A more convincing actor in this role would have improved on an already great film.

Also look for Frank Reicher (House of FrankensteinThe Mummy’s Ghost) in the role of Capt. Englehorn.

Although the acting and dialog can seem dated, it also lends to a documentary feel. I think one of Peter Jackson’s wisest decisions regarding his remake was keeping it a period piece. Kong existing outside of that time period (as Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 version attests to) just doesn’t seem right.

King Kong also features some fantastic original music by Max Steiner, and breakthrough sound effects by Murray Spivack.

Entire books have been written on this film, and so my little review does not give it or its creators justice. But take my word on this: King Kong is a deeply satisfying movie. It is not only a wonderful film for its genre, but it is a great accomplishment in cinematic history, period.

Scene to watch for: Kong, realizing the woman he has pulled from her bed is not Fay Wray, drops her to her death.

Line to listen for: “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

Trivia: Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack pilot the plane that sends Kong to his demise.

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

Frankenstein (1931)

From the DVD case:

Boris Karloff stars as the screen’s most memorable monster in what many consider to be the greatest horror film ever made. Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive) dares to tamper with life and death by creating a human monster (Karloff) out of lifeless body parts. It’s director James Whale’s adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel blended with Karloff’s compassionate portrayal of a creature groping for identity that makes Frankenstein a masterpiece not only of the genre, but for all time. (1931, b&w)

Mark says:

This is it, the granddaddy of all monster films. I can’t remember the first time I saw Frankenstein, but I do know it left an indelible mark on me, as it has for countless others.

Director James Whale (Bride of FrankensteinThe Invisible Man) not only gave us a great monster flick, but he gave us a work of art, too. Each time I watch Frankenstein I’m in awe of the sets and the direction. That opening scene at the graveyard has to be one of my favorite opening shots of any horror film.

Colin Clive and Dwight Frye digging up parts.

Colin Clive does a fantastic job as Dr. Henry Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with his work, and mad with the idea of creating life. Dwight Frye (DraculaThe Vampire Bat) plays the lunatic hunchback, Fritz. I’ll forgive you if you call him Igor, though. He hobbles around, shimmies up poles, mutters and gives us what has become the archetypal mad scientist’s assistant.

And let’s not forget Mae Clarke as Henry’s fiancée, Elizabeth. She’s graceful, devoted, prophetic, and everything else a man or monster could ask for. Edward Van Sloan plays Henry’s former professor, Dr. Waldman. He is not as powerful in this role as he was as Dr. Van Helsing in Dracula, but he works well as the voice of reason.

Two characters that I find slightly annoying are John Boles as Henry’s friend, Victor Moritz (some friend, he hits on Elizabeth every chance he gets) and Henry’s father, played by Frederick Kerr. Kerr’s character, huffing and growling, is especially abrasive, and obviously used for comedy relief. These two are only minor annoyances and do not significantly disrupt the film.

Of course, it is that big, beautiful monster played by Boris Karloff that makes this movie so wonderful. I was genuinely frightened of Frankenstein’s monster as a kid (I’m told that kids today are not fazed by Karloff’s portrayal), but what was more amazing, was that I felt empathy for this brute.

Boris Karloff as Frankestein’s Monster

Here’s this poor creature, slapped together and dragged into the world of the living by no request of his own, tormented endlessly by a wretched little bully, hounded by mobs, and then rejected by his own creator. Maybe that wasn’t exactly my story, but it certainly felt like it at times.

The scene with Little Maria (Marilyn Harris) is particularly heart-wrenching. The monster finally finds an oasis in this hostile world, and then ends up killing her. Talk about King Midas in reverse.

Speaking of Marilyn Harris, she does an excellent job at playing dead. The scene where her father carries her to the burgomeister is decidedly macabre.

There’s nothing I’m going to say about this film that hasn’t been said a thousand times already. I just want it on the record that it means a lot to me, too.

I don’t think anyone will be surprised with my rating.

Scene to watch for: The manner in which Henry Frankenstein lands on that windmill blade doesn’t look too healthy.

Line to listen for: “The neck’s broken. The brain is useless. We must find another brain!”

Supplemental viewing: The 1998 film, Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellen, explores the latter days of director James Whale.

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ! ! out of 5.

Cat People (1942)

From the DVD case:

The studio gave Val Lewton small budgets and lurid pre-tested film titles. Lewton, working with rising filmmakers and emphasizing fear of the unseen, turned meager resources into momentous works of psychological terror. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, Cat People is the trailblazing first of Lewton’s nine horror classics. Simone Simon portrays a bride who fears an ancient hex will turn her into a deadly panther when she’s in passion’s grip. (1942,b&w)

Mark says

Cat People is such an intelligently crafted film that it is easy to forget its low budget origins. RKO, in an attempt to recoup its losses from the highly regarded, but financially disappointing, Orson Welles masterpiece, Citizen Cane, hired Val Lewton (The Leopard ManIsle of the Dead) to produce cheap films with exploitative titles. With Cat People, Lewton not only delivered a money-making hit, but redefined the horror film genre in the process.

Simone Simon (The Devil and Daniel WebsterCurse of the Cat People) plays Irena Dubrovna, an enigmatic young dress designer obsessed with the legends of Cat People from her Serbian past. Irena believes she is a descendant of a tribe cursed to become ferocious cat-beasts when in the throes of passion, ultimately killing their lovers. This is disturbing news for her new American boyfriend, Oliver Reed, a young ship designer played by Kent Smith (The Night StalkerDie Sister, Die!).

Kent Smith as Oliver Reed

Oliver quickly dismisses the stories of the Cat People as fairy tales, and convinces Irena to marry him. However, Oliver learns that Irena still harbors her fears when she refuses to consummate the marriage. Eventually, he suspects Irena suffers from a psychological disorder and sends her to a psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway, The Atomic Submarine). Dr. Judd proves to be a rather unscrupulous fellow and constantly attempts to woo Irena during his “treatment” of her.

Meanwhile, Oliver, disillusioned by his sexless marriage, takes comfort in his co-worker, Alice Moore (Jane Randolph, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). When Irena finally decides it is safe to consummate her marriage, Oliver states that it is too late; he is in love with Alice. Irena, now bitterly jealous and angry, begins to stalk Alice. This is where the real fun begins.

What is so striking about Cat People (and other Val Lewton’s films) is how ambiguity is used to create suspense. There are no overt transformation scenes in Cat People; we’re not even sure if Irena’s fears are justified as genuine supernatural phenomenon or simply a psychological impairment derived from her own sexual hang-ups. The stalking scenes are just as ambiguous. We are never absolutely sure if Irena is tracking Alice in the form of a panther or a human. In fact, at times, we’re not sure if Alice is being stalked at all.

Lewton’s approach to the stalking scenes was certainly innovative for the time. As described in VideoHound’s Cult Flicks & Trash Pics, edited by Carol Schwartz:

While using many conventions of the form, Lewton is credited with creating (or at least defining) at least two new ones with this film: “The Walk,” in which a protagonist walks down a dark alley/hallway/path, while something may or may not be stalking in the shadows; and “The Bus,” a false scare which often acts in combination with “The Walk,” named for the loudly hissing blast from a bus’s air brakes that startles Jane Randolph (and audiences for over 50 years).

All of the primary characters are equivocal. Oliver, though seemingly true blue, is willing to take Alice as a lover when his wife’s problems become too much for him. Alice, in the guise of a good friend, announces her love for Oliver while he is in an obviously vulnerable state. Likewise, Dr. Judd is more than willing to take advantage of his position of trust to satisfy his own lascivious desires. Irena is not only a sensitive, lonely woman, but possibly a raging, homicidal beast. These complexities of plot and character only add to the tense and dark atmosphere.

On re-watching Cat People recently, I was struck by the overt sexual themes of the film. For 1942, such themes must have been regarded as risque. Sexual problems within marriage, adultery, and even the use of psychiatry certainly were not subjects encountered often in films of the era. There is little doubt that these issues enhanced the already uneasy, almost subliminal, undertones of the movie.

Jane Randolph pool scene.

My favorite scene is when Alice takes a swim in a basement pool. As Alice swims (ironically, dog-paddling) we get a sense of foreboding. The water’s reflection from the pool is cast eerily on the walls and ceiling, which are already richly bathed in shadows. We hear a vague growling, and glimpse a feline shadow descending the staircase. As the tension mounts, Alice lets out one of the most sincere and truly frightening screams I have ever heard in a film. Suddenly, a light is flicked on, and there stands Irena, in her fur coat, looking innocent and asking what could be the matter. Truly a cinematic work of art.

Cat People reminds us that low budget films don’t have to mean shoddy workmanship. Using leftover sets and a belief that what is left unseen is more frightening than what is seen, Producer Val Lewton and Director Jacques Tourneur (Curse of the DemonI Walked with a Zombie) were able to deliver a film that not only won audience approval and critical acclaim, but changed the way horror films were approached for years to come.

Look for Elizabeth Russell (BedlamThe Corpse Vanishes) as the Cat Woman at the restaurant, and Alan Napier (more readily known to my generation as Alfred the butler from the old Batman TV series) as Doc Carver.

Scene to watch for: In a tense moment, Irena catches Oliver sharing details of their marriage with Alice. Oliver explains that Alice is a “good egg” and can understand anything. Irena responds, “There are some things a woman doesn’t want other women to understand,” and tersely walks off.

Line to listen for: “Oliver’s bride seems to be a very nice girl, and a very pretty one too. Carver tells me she’s a bit odd.”

Trivia: It is said that Val Lewton had two phobias: the fear of being touched (he even dreaded handshakes) and a fear of cats. Both phobias were utilized in the plot of Cat People.

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ! ½ out of 5.

Count Yorga, Vampire

From the video case:

Two lovers, Paul and Erica, make a grave mistake. When they park their van outside of a foreboding, vine-covered manor, the new owner – a vampire – decides to feed on the trespassers. The next morning, Paul has a terrible headache and Erica has two mysterious puncture wounds in her neck. Now, Paul must figure out just what happened before he loses the love of his life – and his own life – forever! (1970, color)

Mark says:

Though this is not my favorite vampire movie, it does have redeeming qualities.

Count Yorga is probably one of the first films to bring vampirism into the modern day. The setting is Los Angeles during the 1970s. In an opening scene a truck hauls a coffin-shaped crate through city streets. As we watch the truck weave through traffic, the narrator (George Macready) informs us of vampire legends and suggests that vampires may not only be an ancient phenomenon, but a modern one as well.

Count Yorga catches a ride with some future victims.

Though Count Yorga is full of vampire cliches (howling wolves, flashes of lightening, a spooky mansion, etc.) it also provides some unusual backdrops. The juxtaposition of Count Yorga, in full vampire attire, climbing into a Volkswagen Minibus to attack a pair of lovers is somehow startling, and a bit amusing, at first. However, I have noticed with more frequent viewings, that a vampire in a minibus does not seem that out of place.

I also admire how one of the major discussions takes place in an ordinary kitchen, with a large refrigerator placed conspicuously in the background. It forces the viewer to realize he does not have the comfort of time to separate himself from the story.

It is to the film’s credit that it does not dissolve into a vampire sleaze flick. That’s not to say that this film is free of sexual situations, it certainly is not, but it never gets explicit. There’s one love scene, a hint of some vampire lesbianism, a suggested rape scene, and some blatant cleavage, but no real nudity. This, apparently, was at Robert Quarry’s insistence.

The acting is adequate to above-par for the genre.

Robert Quarry (Dr. Phibes Rises Again) plays the lead role as Count Yorga. He is well-spoken, witty, and charming, or at least that is what we are to believe. Personally, I find him less than convincing, though he does have his moments.

The best performance is from Michael Murphy, playing the role of Paul. Paul is the doubting Thomas of the group, refusing to believe in any occult mumbo-jumbo. It’s not until his girlfriend, Erica (played admirably by Judith Lang) is kidnapped by the Count that he really takes vampirism into serious consideration.

In a disturbing scene, Erica (Judith Lang), feasts on a kitten.

A recognizable face is Roger Perry (The Thing with Two Heads, also featured regularly on the tv series, Love, American Style) as Dr. Jim Hayes. Jim is the kind of doctor who smokes in his office as he tells his patient to “stuff yourself with steaks.” He also acts as investigator/researcher in the area of vampirism. He puts me in the mind of Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak from the old Night Stalker series.

Other major roles include Donna Anders as Donna, Michael Macready as Donna’s boyfriend, Michael, and Edward Walsh as the beastly vampire’s helper, Brudah. Marsha Jordan has a smaller role as Donna’s mother.

Though I can not rave about this movie, I will admit it is a fine film and definitely worth a view. Christopher Lee never had anything to worry about, though.

Written and directed by Bob Kelljan.

Scene to watch for: Erica really loves cats – rare and without seasoning.

Line to listen for: “Well, it’s not very attractive to complain of a troubled stomach, but I’m afraid I must. Perhaps I’ll have a little snack later on.”

Trivia: The narrator featured at the beginning and end of the movie is actor George Macready (The Alligator People), who is the father of Michael Macready, the producer of the film.

Mark’s Rating! ! ! out of 5.

In Memory

Tony Rash

NoteThis was first published on my original Movie Review Page, March 12, 2006.

Sadly, in addition to the recent deaths of Don Knotts, Dennis Weaver, and Darren McGavin, I have to include a profound personal loss. My boyhood friend, Tony Rash, passed away very suddenly on March 6, 2006. He was only 43 years old. Tony leaves behind a wife, Dianne, and two small children, Megan and Michael.

Tony was my best friend during grammar school and junior high. It is impossible for me to think of my childhood without thinking of him. We shared a love of science fiction and horror movies, and the highlight of our week was always the “weekend stay-over” where we’d stay up late and watch Creature Features with my little brother, Tom.

One of the reasons I started collecting B movies is because watching them reminded me of those wonderful boyhood late nights when Tony and I would try to keep each other awake so we wouldn’t fall asleep before seeing the finale of films like It Came from Outer Space or Creature from the Black Lagoon.

But Tony was far more than a movie-watching partner. We shared many adventures on camp outs and exploratory trips into the woods near my house. We assembled monster models together, shared a love of animals, and discussed a wide range of topics from cartoons, to sex, to God, and everything in-between. Tony literally saved my life once (I fell into a pond and could not swim. I was losing consciousness when Tony pulled me out.) Tony was such a good-humored kid. I could always get him to laugh so hard during school lunches that he would spray milk from his nose. We faced neighborhood bullies together and swore friendship till death do us part.

Tony’s father died when he was just two years old. When his mother died during our junior high years, Tony had to leave town to live with his sister. We stayed in touch through high school, but afterward, we began to drift our separate ways.

One day, after I hadn’t seen or heard from Tony in three or four years, he showed up at my apartment. We had made a boyhood promise that if we ever got married, we would be each other’s best man. Tony, true to that promise, asked me to stand up with him at his wedding. I’m still amazed by his sense of loyalty when I think of that day.

As time passed, Tony and I kept in contact less and less. Every few years I would get a phone call, or perhaps he would drop by when passing through town. A few years ago, though, Tony called and made arrangements for us to spend a full day together. He wanted to visit all of our boyhood hang-outs and take pictures. We visited a lot of old memories that day, and photographed the occasion. He met my future wife, and shared stories with her that I hadn’t discussed in years. It was a beautiful day, and it ended with us promising to get together more often.

Unfortunately, that was the last day I was to see Tony. He died Monday without ever being sick or showing symptoms of illness.

On Friday, Elly and I made a trip to Iowa City for the funeral. During one portion of the service, people were invited up to tell their favorite “Tony stories.” I had a few I wanted to relate, but so did a score of other people. As I listened to the stories, I realized Tony’s kind and compassionate nature had not deteriorated with adulthood. As a nurse, husband, parent, brother, son, and friend, he had touched many, many lives. The minister finally had to stop the storytelling so they could get to the grave site. I was proud of my friend, and all of the good he has accomplished.

In the last week I have gone over many memories of which I am now the sole keeper. These memories aren’t relics, but important living pieces of myself. Only now, they are ever so slightly tainted with sadness.

Thank you for your friendship, Tony. I’m glad you’ll be there to greet me when I get to the other side. I miss you already, and will keep Dianne, Michael, and Megan in my prayers.

Your pal,

Mark

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” – Stand By Me (1986)

Dracula (1931)

From the DVD case:

Although there have been numerous screen versions of Bram Stoker’s classic tale, none is more enduring than the 1931 original. The ominous portrayal of Could Dracula by Bela Lugosi, combined with horror specialist director Tod Browning, help to create the film’s eerie mood. Dracula remains a masterpiece not only of the genre, but for all time. (1931, b&w)

Mark says:

The audience that viewed Dracula for the first time in 1931 had some advantages going in that we don’t have the privilege of today. First, they were not yet numb to onscreen blood and violence, and therefore could appreciate the subtlety of the film.

Less importantly, they did not have the foreknowledge of Lugosi’s later films. For me, anyway, it is difficult to watch Dracula without thinking of Mr. Lugosi in the roles that would eventually diminish his stature as a serious actor. Dracula isn’t quite so frightening when you’re thinking of him as Dr. Eric Vornoff from Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster.

But don’t get me wrong, Dracula is a great film. I love the fantastic sets, especially the Transylvania scenes and the shots of Carfax Abbey. The story also remains intriguing even after all these years. The acting seems stagy by today’s standards, but it lends to the ancient atmosphere.

Of interest is the lack of music in Dracula. At some points you perceive an unsettling silence. If you purchase the Dracula Legacy Collection you can listen to the movie with a score composed by Phillip Glass.While the music is beautiful (performed by the Kronos Quartet) it has a tendency to overpower the film. I actually prefer the original score (or lack of score) over the Phillip Glass treatment.

Renfield attends to a fresh cut.

Dwight Fry (FrankensteinThe Vampire Bat) is wonderfully entertaining as Renfield. It’s not easy to forget Renfield’s laugh after hearing it. Mr. Fry portrayed a lunatic so well that he would be typecast as a madman for the remainder of his career.

Van Helsing gives Drac the cross test.

Edward Van Sloan (FrankensteinThe Mummy) is powerful and wise as Prof. Abraham Van Helsing. I much prefer this 1931 version of Van Helsing over the newer, “hip” version portrayed in Stephen Sommers movie Van Helsing. Of course, I prefer watching reruns of Scooby-Doo over the Stephen Sommers’s film.

Helen Chandler and Frances Dade play Mina Seward and Lucy Weston, respectively. No complaints here, except that some of Mina’s scenes with Jonathan Harker (David Manners) seem awkward, overly-dramatic and at times, comical.

Bela Lugois is the iconic DRACULA

Of course, this is Bela Lugosi’s picture, and he does bring an exotic element to the story. When people do imitations of Dracula, you are far more likely to hear a Lugosi inflection in the voice than a Christopher Lee. Lugosi’s Dracula is certainly the most iconic.

Lugosi can be genuinely eerie, especially when he arrives as the coachman to pick up Renfield at the Borgo Pass. Other times, he is less effective. When Dracula speaks to Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston) in the balcony, the doctor seems to tower over the Count. Lugosi looks almost ridiculous in comparison. A little more attention to stage direction could have helped this scene, but it does not significantly diminish Dracula’s eeriness.

My least favorite character in the film is Martin the orderly (Charles K. Gerrard) who is used for comedy relief. He might be appropriate for an Abbott and Costello picture, but he is extremely distracting here.

Overall, this is a wonderfully entertaining and atmospheric film, and it gets extra points for its historical significance.

Dracula is directed by Tod Browning (FreaksMark of the Vampire).

Scene to watch for: Dracula’s castle seems to have an armadillo problem.

Line to listen for: “Isn’t this a strange conversation, for people who aren’t crazy?”

Special Note: I highly recommend Universal’s Dracula The Legacy Collection.

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ! ½ out of 5.

The Tingler (1959)

From the DVD case:

Vincent Price stars as an obsessed doctor who discovers that fear manifests itself as a parasitic creature, which grows on the spinal cords of terrified people. If they scream, the Tingler can be destroyed. If they don’t, it will sever the spinal column and kill them. He successfully isolates and removes the Tingler from a deaf mute (Judith Evelyn) who has been scared to death by her devious husband. Once captured, the Tingler escapes and runs amok in a crowded movie theater. Terror is loose, but can it be stopped? (1959, b&w)

Mark says:

There is nary a scene in The Tingler that isn’t filled to the brim with absurdity. Of course, with a William Castle picture (I Saw What You DidHouse on Haunted Hill), you don’t expect much else.

Castle was the king of gimmicks and for The Tingler he created “Percepto.” At larger theaters, Castle had one of every ten seats rigged with an electric motor that would buzz and vibrate at just the right moments. The premise being that if audience members screamed, they could escape the clutches of the “Tingler,” thus saving their own lives. A silly gimmick, to be sure, but it must have been wonderful fun.

Vincent Price (The Abominable Dr. PhibesThe Pit and the Pendulum) is Dr. Warren Chapin, a pathologist researching the phenomena of fear. Warren ultimately discovers that the tingle you feel on your spine when you are afraid is an actual living creature that can only be kept at bay by screaming. Warren further postulates that if a person were somehow prevented from screaming, the Tingler would actually kill that person by crushing his/her spine. And that, my friend, is the ridiculous basis of this film.

Price has long been noted for his ability to recite the most outrageous dialog and make it sound plausible. In The Tingler, he is really put to the test. Though you might not always believe what Price is saying, you have to admit that he sure sounds good saying it. Even without the benefit of “Percepto,” Vincent Price makes The Tingler a treat to watch.

Robb White (13 Ghosts) wrote the screenplay, and his script shares common elements with House on Haunted Hill, another film he authored also starring Vincent Price and produced/directed by William Castle. In both films, Price is married to a conniving wench. In The Tingler, Vincent’s wife, Isabel, is portrayed by Patricia Cutts. Isabel is such a nasty creature that she poisoned her own father to get at his fortune. Isabel is also openly unfaithful, inspiring some witty banter between the couple:

Warren: “Did you hear what the little husband said to the big wife?”

Isabel: “Is this another one of your oblique jokes?”

Warren: “He said why does the back door slam every time I come in the front door?”

Darryl Hickman plays David Morris, Warren’s youthful assistant who is in love with Isabel’s younger sister, Lucy (Pamela Lincoln). David and Lucy are an attractive pair, but Isabel is against the relationship. Isabel also refuses to dole out any of her father’s fortune to her sister while Lucy is involved with the young pathologist. It takes Warren’s threat of exhuming her father’s corpse for autopsy before she is convinced to be nicer to the young lovers.

Another key couple in The Tingler are Ollie and Martha Higgins, played respectively by Philip Coolidge (North by Northwest) and Judith Evelyn (Rear Window). Ollie can seem both harmless and sinister. As the story unfolds, we discover that Ollie has a great potential for evil. Martha is a deaf mute who suffers from OCD. She also has an incredible phobia of blood, tensing up and fainting whenever she catches a glimpse of the fluid.

Warren is immediately intrigued with Martha, a woman so capable of terror, yet not having a means to scream. It is hinted that Warren considers using unscrupulous measures to torment Martha so he can capture and study a Tingler firsthand.

The Tingler itself is a cheap piece of plastic pulled along by (sometimes visible) wire. It seems to be a cross between a lobster and a centipede. I assure you, your cat has coughed up scarier things.

Vincent Price on a bad trip.

There are a few other scenes worth mentioning. First, in an attempt to scare himself, Warren takes some LSD, making history as the first onscreen acid trip. However, far from being frightening, Price’s hammy acting imbues the scene with a comic flavor. Still, it’s a fine piece of entertainment.

Of course, the highlight of the movie is when the Tingler escapes in the crowded movie theater. The lights go down and Price’s voice shouts, “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic! But scream! Scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theater!” Obviously, this is when the projectionist would push the “shock button” and theater patrons would be subjected to “Percepto.” As an added bonus, the shadow of the Tingler crawls across the movie screen while the audience is “screaming for their lives.” Stupid, maybe, but I sure wish I could have experienced it.

The Tingler, image 2

In another scene, Martha wakes up to find a disfigured man with a hatchet in her room. As she flees the intruder, she finds herself in the bathroom. At this point in the film there is a color sequence. The movie is still in black and white, but the bathroom faucet is running with bright, red blood. Also, the bathtub is filled with the gory liquid, and a blood-drenched arm reaches out of it. The scene isn’t necessarily scary, but I must say, the effect is pretty cool.

Though The Tingler has an outrageously ridiculous premise and plot, it’s hard not to enjoy. There’s an innocence and whimsy to it that really enhances its nostalgic appeal. For fans of the genre, as well as the era, I definitely recommend this film.

Scene to watch for: That final shot of Philip Coolidge’s terror-stricken face as Judith Evelyn walks slowly towards him (see above).

Line to listen for: “Look at that Tingler, Dave. It’s an ugly and dangerous thing. Ugly because it’s the creation of man’s fear, which is ugly, too. Dangerous because – because a frightened man is dangerous.”

Trivia: Darryl Hickman would eventually marry his co-star, Pamela Lincoln, after the filming of The Tingler.

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ½ out of 5.

The Brain from Planet Arous (1957)

From the video case:

Wonderful Atomic Age entertainment with floating brains, telepathic possession, atom bombs, and a scientist whose eyes can destroy planes in mid-flight, plus a sex-starved alien brain monster with lustful desires for beautiful leading lady Joyce Meadows, who delicately refuses it’s advances with a meat ax. (1957, b&w)

Mark says:

I don’t normally like to “retell” the movie, but since the above description does not do it justice, I want to briefly outline the plot. Perhaps you will get a better feel for the type of picture this is.

The Brain from Planet Arous stars John Agar (TarantulaInvisible Invaders) as a man possessed by a brain from another planet (Arous, to be exact).

The evil brain, Gor, has escaped his own planet to dominate and rule Earth. To do this, he needs the body of an earthling, and so he borrows the body of atomic scientist, Steve March (Agar). Gor, enjoying human sensations for the first time, finds himself amorously drawn to Steve’s fiancée, Sally Fallon (Joyce Meadows) and makes passes at her every chance he gets.

Meanwhile, another brain from Arous (a good one this time, named Vol), arrives to recapture the evil Gor and return him to Arous to face his just punishment. To do this, Vol takes possession of the family dog (yes, dog), George. The strategy is to catch Gor outside of Steve’s body, when Gor is at his weakest, and destroy him.

By now, Gor is brandishing his power before the world by blowing up airplanes and setting off nuclear explosions. He announces to government officials his intentions to enslave the world, all the while trying to seduce Sally with his tremendous sovereignty.

The brain itself kind of floats in a transparent way, with two big eyes out in front. It solidifies toward the end of the film and we see it in all its Styrofoam glory. Truly a sight to behold.

What really sells the movie, though, is the freaky look in John Agar’s eyes while possessed by Gor. I’m going to embarrass myself and admit that I think the effect is genuinely creepy, especially when enhanced through a water cooler. His maniacal laughter is a bit unnerving, too. But everyone knows I’m a big Agar fan.

Camp dialog, an insane plot, and cheap special effects make this a thoroughly enjoyable movie. I’ve watched this film more times than I care to admit, and I always find it entertaining.

Brain from Planet Arous also stars Robert Fuller as Steve’s sidekick, Dan Murphy, and B-movie veteran Thomas Browne Henry (Beginning of the EndEarth vs the Flying Saucers) as John Fallon.

Directed by Nathan Juran, aka Nathan Hertz (Attack of the 50 Ft WomanThe Deadly Mantis).

Scene to watch for: Dan really loves his burgers!

Line to listen for: “I chose your body very carefully, even before I knew about Sally, a very exciting female!”

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ½  out of 5.

The Howling (1981)

From the DVD case:

Severely shaken after a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer, TV newscaster Karen White (Dee Wallace) takes some much-needed time off. Hoping to conquer her inner demons, she heads for “the Colony,” a secluded retreat where her new neighbors are just a tad too eager to make her feel at home. Also, there seems to be a bizarre link between her would-be attacker and this supposedly safe haven. And, when, after nights of being tormented by savage shrieks and unearthly cries, Karen ventures into the forest to find answers, she makes a terrifying discovery. Now she must fight not only for her life, but her very soul! (1981, color)

Mark says:

1981 was a stellar year for werewolf movies. Lycanthropes were featured in such ground-breaking films as Wolfen and An American Werewolf in London. But first out of the gate was The Howling, based on the novel by Gary Brandner and directed by Joe Dante.

The Howling is a living tribute to everything that came before it. Not only are roles given to classic horror/sci-fi stars like John Carradine (Invisible InvadersHouse of Frankenstein), Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Kenneth Tobey (The Beast from 20,000 FathomsThe Thing from Another World), and Dick Miller (It Conquered the WorldA Bucket of Blood), but there are enough cameos here to endlessly entertain film buffs. My favorite cameo is by famed horror producer/director Roger Corman, featured, in a reference to his miserly approach to film producing, checking a pay phone’s coin slot for spare change. Also look for Forrest J Ackerman (creator/editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland”) as a bookstore customer.

As a further salute to werewolf filmography, scenes from The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., are interspersed throughout the film. And if you pay close attention, you’ll recognize some of the character names (e.g. George Waggner, Terry Fisher, Fred Francis) as the names of directors of past werewolf films (The Wolf ManThe Curse of the Werewolf, and Legend Of The Werewolf, respectively).

But more than great fun for horror film enthusiasts, The Howling is a fantastic story. Led by psychiatrist Dr. George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), a colony of werewolves attempt to blend in with modern society to escape detection. This means raising and feeding on their own cattle rather than feasting on human flesh and blood. This is not an easy transition for the lycanthropes, and there are obvious tensions among the pack. Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) is a particularly disturbed werewolf, who has gained notoriety in human society as a serial killer dubbed “the Mangler.”

Newscaster Karen White, played by Dee Wallace (E.T. the Extra-TerrestrialCujo), becomes involved when she, in an attempt to get a story, agrees to meet Eddie at a sex shop. Karen catches a glimpse of Eddie as he transforms into a werewolf, and as she screams, policemen gun down and “kill” him. Karen is so traumatized by the event that she represses what she saw and, upon the advice of Dr. Waggner, drives up to “the colony” with her husband to recuperate. Unwittingly, she has placed herself in the midst of danger.

The Howling is told with a great deal of suspense and a touch of dark humor. Mystery is also a significant element (the most fun is guessing who is and who isn’t a werewolf). However, it is probably the transformation scenes that will stick with you.

The make-up was designed and created by Rob Bottin (The FogThe Thing). Though werewolf enthusiasts often note that the special effects are not the same caliber as those of An American Werewolf in London, I have to interject that they are still very creepy. The pulsating transformations not only look disgusting, but painful.

Unfortunately, the stages of werewolfism are portrayed more impressively than the final result. The finished transformation always reminds me of the less-than-believable beast from Curse of the Demon. There’s also an oddly humorous scene where two werewolves having sex turn into conspicuously animated cartoon characters.

The acting is more than adequate, with impressive performances by Elisabeth Brooks as Marsha Quist, Slim Pickens (Dr. Strangelove) as Sheriff Sam Newfield, and Belinda Balaski (The Food of the GodsThe Werewolf of Woodstock) as Terry Fisher. Dee Wallace in the lead role of Karen White is also completely convincing.

I would contend that the movie’s conclusion is a little too glib for an otherwise distinguished film. But this is easily debated, and nothing to discuss in detail here.

The Howling is one of my favorite werewolf flicks, and unlike many werewolf films that came before it, it may actually scare you.

Scene to watch for: Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) gives Karen (Dee Wallace) a piece of his mind.

Line to listen for: “We should have stuck with the old ways. Raising cattle for our feed. Where’s the life in that?”

Trivia: Dee Wallace, who starred as Karen, was actually married to her onscreen husband, Bill (Christopher Stone).

Mark’s Rating! ! ! ! out of 5.

Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)

From the DVD case: Director Edward L. Cahn teams with another great writer, Bernard Gordon (using his blacklist nom de plume, Raymond T. Marcus) for this delightfully loopy adventure about a sunken ship’s cargo of diamonds guarded by its zombified crew members. And wouldn’t ya know it, there’s a bunch of foolhardy scavengers who aren’t scared of the swimming dead. (1957, b&w)

Mark says: The DVD description gives us a hint as what to expect from Zombies of Mora Tau. It’s never favorable to hear a zombie flick described as a “delightfully loopy adventure.”

Zombies of Mora Tau 02

What Zombies of Mora Tau does have is a strong cast of B-movie regulars. Most notably, Allison Hayes (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) stars as Mona Harrison, a greedy and voluptuous vixen. Mona has her eyes set on Jeff Clark, played by Gregg Palmer (From Hell It CameThe Creature Walks Among Us), even though she is married to George Harrison (Joel Ashley). Morris Ankrum (KronosEarth vs the Flying Saucers) portrays Dr. Jonathan Eggert, a man more interested in a story than diamonds. Marjorie Eaton (The Reincarnation of Peter Proud) is a Maria Ouspenskaya-like character known as Grandmother Peters. You’ll also recognize Gene Roth (Twice-Told TalesAttack of the Giant Leeches) as Sam, the chauffeur.

Zombies of Mora Tau 03
Autumn Russell

However, you probably won’t recognize Autumn Russell as our heroine, Jan Peters. I was disappointed to discover that Ms. Russell had a short film career.  She’s a lovely leading lady and is at least on the same acting par as her better-known co-stars. She seems a natural for the genre, if not something better. Autumn played bit parts in films such as Anything Goes and Spatacus, but seems to have disappeared after 1960.

The plot goes something like this: In 1894, off the coast of Africa, a ship known as the Susan B. went down with her crew and a cargo of uncut diamonds. Ten of the original crew members, including the captain (Frank Hagney), became zombies and were doomed to guard the gems forever.  Several expeditions have already been slain by these “walking dead.”  George Harrison (not the Beatle) and his assembled crew are the latest to try their luck at recovering the jewels.

Furthermore, Grandmother Peters was married to the Captain of the doomed ship. She built a mansion on the African coast in hopes, with the aid of the new expedition, of somehow saving her husband from the eternal torment of zombiedom. Jan Peters is her granddaughter whose visit coincides with the arrival of the campaign.

Zombies of Mora Tau 04
Some zombies of Mora Tau

The zombies themselves are unremarkable. They aren’t nearly ghastly enough and look rather like well-fed men walking around with their eyes wide open. Their movements are too slow to be menacing, and they don’t inspire dread in their numbers as they are relatively few. Ten measly zombies? A lame child could out-maneuver this brood. Not only that, they are so afraid of fire that a simple candle is enough to chase them away. It’s amazing that no one thinks to torch them, even after Grandmother Peters plainly states that fire is the only way they can be destroyed.

One interesting aspect concerning the zombies is that they can walk underwater. Unfortunately, the underwater sequences are ridiculously unconvincing and are more apt to make you laugh than shudder. Nice try, though.

Zombies of Mora Tau 05
Allison Hayes

Allison Hayes with her stunning figure is easily the high point of the film. Her character, Mona, with her constant complaining and suspicious nature is thoroughly unlikable. She lashes out at everyone, except for Jeff, who clearly has little interest in her. When Mona becomes zombified she is decidedly more agreeable.

Clumsy Mona (Allison Hayes) falls into a grave.

Strangely, no one believes that Mona has become a zombie (except for Grandma) even after she hypnotically stabs a crewman to death and refuses to talk or even close her eyes to sleep. A particularly silly scene features Zombie Mona approaching her intended victim who throws a candlestick at her. The candlestick bounces off her forehead with a cartoonish clunk! and Mona continues her assault unfazed.

There are other campy moments, but too much dialog and a slow pace hamper the film from being enjoyable even on a kitschy level. I was particularly frustrated with the crew’s absolute denial of the existence of zombies even after they shoot them full of bullets without effect and then witness them walk underwater. Discovering that they rest in coffins should have been some sort of clue, too. The film’s anticlimactic conclusion does not help matters.

Zombies of Mora Tau will tantalize hardcore genre fans and admirers of Allison Hayes, but I imagine the general populace will be disappointed.

Directed by Edward L. Cahn (Invisible InvadersIt! The Terror from Beyond Space) and produced by Sam Katzman (The Giant ClawCreature with the Atom Brain).

Scene to watch for: Dr. Eggert (Morris Ankrum) gets shot down in flames when he asks Mona (Allison Hayes) for a kiss.

Line to listen for: “You old hag! You’re dead already; you just don’t have sense to lie down!”

Mark’s Rating! ! ½ out of 5.

The Slime People (1963)

From the DVD case:

They came from deep beneath the earth’s surface: grotesque, reptilian creatures covered with slime, forced from their subterranean lair by underground nuclear testing. Setting up an almost impenetrable dome of fog over L.A. to lower the city’s temperature and make the surface more habitable, they’ve emerged from the sewers and cesspools, impervious to attack and mad as hell. Now, Los Angeles has been evacuated, its empty streets shrouded in a permanent twilight. Except for a small band of survivors, the Slime People have the city all to themselves. Holed up in a television station, pilot Tom Gregory, Professor Galbraith, his daughters Lisa and Bonnie, and marine Cal Johnson have been left behind doomed to a fate worse than death, unless they can find a way to penetrate the wall of fog that imprisons them.

Mark says:

Robert Hutton (Invisible InvadersThe Colossus of New York) stars in and makes his directorial debut with The Slime People.  Hutton’s inexperience as a director is painfully evident from frame one. Any chance the film had for building suspense is blown in the first few minutes of footage. Without buildup or fanfare, we are introduced to the creatures as they emerge from their sewer lairs. The monsters are the highpoint of this movie, but exposing them so early on seems premature and demonstrates poor showmanship. Or perhaps the philosophy was to hook the audience immediately before they got restless with this talky and mostly non-action filled flick.

Though released in 1963, The Slime People seems more at home with the science fiction fare of the latter 1950s.  All the elements are here: a cheesy premise, subpar acting, rubber-suited monsters, and an exceedingly low budget. Hutton states the budget for the film was $56,000, with three or four thousand dollars going to the creation of the Slime People costumes alone. Still, he was able to bring the movie in under cost, allowing the excess money to go for advertising. Roger Corman himself couldn’t boast more efficiency. Well, maybe.

The monsters are pretty cool, as long as we see them in head and shoulder shots. Once we see full body shots, they lose their menace. From the waist down it is apparent they are wearing costume pants. Robert Hutton reported in an interview with film historian, Tom Weaver, that they could only afford to have two Slime People outfits produced, but in several brief scenes we see three. We see these two or three creatures a lot, as they need to represent an army of Slime People. The monsters are bulky and clumsy, making it hard to believe they could defeat the entire U.S. Army and drive out the inhabitants of Los Angeles. It’s also unlikely that creatures that can construct a machine that creates a domed wall around a metropolitan city would be reduced to using hollow spears as their only form of weaponry.  But that’s the fun of B movies.

Richard Arlen was originally slated to play Professor Galbraith, but became ill the day before shooting and was replaced by Robert Burton (I Was a Teenage FrankensteinInvasion of the Animal People).  This would be Mr. Burton’s last picture, as he died of a heart attack shortly after filming. Professor Galbraith’s daughters, Lisa and Bonnie, are played by Susan Hart (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini) and Judee Morton, respectively. According to Robert Hutton, Susan Hart landed the role because she looked good in a sweater. William Boyce, who plays the young marine, Cal Johnson, was found, “walking down the street one day,” and had no previous motion picture experience. The acting is about what you would expect, with a lot of awkward romantic scenes between the two daughters and the leading men.

Les Tremayne (War of the WorldsThe Monolith Monsters) makes a brief appearance as the eccentric writer, Norman Tolliver. This role is beneath a man who is legendary for his early radio work and extensive acting resume. Les Tremayne is one of my personal heroes, and I have mixed feelings about seeing him in this production. It’s a pleasure to see him in anything, but the role of Tolliver is so ridiculous that it is almost painful to watch. I was pleased to read that Mr. Tremayne did this picture as a personal favor to Robert Hutton and that he wasn’t doing it because he was down on his luck.

A major flaw is the film’s use of fog. The premise is that the Slime People create the fog to keep the temperature suitable for their existence. The fog also solidifies to create the dome over the city. Unfortunately, the fog becomes so thick that we can barely see what is happening. This is particularly frustrating during the action sequences. We wait and wait for something to happen, and when it does, we can’t see it.

The Slime People, for all its failings, is not a total loss. I begrudgingly enjoy the movie on a schlock level.  It is just silly enough to be fun. Mind you, I have a high tolerance for schlock entertainment.

Scene to watch for: Mrs. Castillo has a hysterical breakdown during her television interview.

Line to listen for: “He’s a great writer, but the biggest troublemaker I’ve ever known. Besides, I think he’s a potential psycho.”

Note: Much of the information used for this review was taken from an interview Robert Hutton gave to Tom Weaver in his book, Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes. Very highly recommended.

Mark’s Rating! ! ½ out of 5.

Create your website at WordPress.com
Get started