★★★★ = Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
★1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
★ = Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
...aka: Frankenstein 1975
Howard W. Koch
To celebrate the 230th anniversary of the writing of Mary Shelley's book, a small crew travels to Germany to film the pilot for a proposed TV series. They chose Castle Frankenstein as their shooting location and even tap sinister, facially-scarred Baron Victor Frankenstein (Karloff), the weary last descendant of the legendary family, to be one of the show's stars. Little do they know, but Victor's actually splicing together his own hulking monster in his lab... and he needs fresh body parts! When his kindly servant Shuter (Norbert Schiller) discovers what the mad doc is up to, he's hypotised, murdered and has his organs removed and transplanted into the creature. Instead of utilizing lightning (hey, this is 1958!), Victor sticks it in his "atomic steam generator" and is able to bring the monster (which is bandaged from head to toe) to life. The only catch is that it still needs a pair eyeballs...
The list of proposed organ donors includes film director Douglas Rowe (Don 'Red' Barry), starlet Carolyn Hayes (Jana Lund), script girl Judy Stevens (Charlotte Austin), publicist Mike Shaw (Tom Duggan), cameraman Morgan Haley (John Dennis) and even Victor's own friend and colleague Wilhelm Gottfried (Rudolph Anders). Karloff gets plenty of screen time here; some call his performance campy, and perhaps it is, but he's still a lot of fun to watch here. Still, we have to deal with the uninteresting love lives of the side characters. The director has the hots for his lead actress, but she's not interested, and the publicist is in love with the script girl, but she's the director's ex-wife and still carries a torch for him, etc. Though Karloff completely dominates the proceedings, Austin (who starred in the Ed Wood-scripted THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST the very same year) is the only one who manages to stand out amongst the supporting cast.
The sets are quite good (especially considering the 110K budget) and it was shot in Cinemascope, but the film suffers a lot from pacing problems and drags in the middle after a very promising and amusing opening twenty minutes. We also never get a look at the square-headed monster (played by Mike Lane) as it's covered from head to toe in bandages the entire time. In fact, the French release title of this translates to FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE INVISIBLE MAN!
It was released on VHS in 1997 by Warner Home Video (a pan/scan presentation) but wouldn't make its way to DVD until October of 2009 on the box set "Karloff & Lugosi Horror Classics," which is also distributed by Warner. The other titles on the set are THE WALKING DEAD (1936), YOU'LL FIND OUT (1940) and ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY (1945).★★
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
...aka: Alien: La creature des abysses
...aka: Alien from the Deep
Monday, November 23, 2009
The popular Thriller series hosted by horror legend Boris Karloff ran from Fall 1960 to Spring 1962 on NBC and made an impact on lots of kids during its day, including a young Stephen King, who has called it "the best horror series ever put on TV." Unfortunately, of the 60+ episodes that were made, only six of them were officially released. This one, along with "The Incredible Doktor Markesan," "Masquerade" (also directed by Daugherty), "The Prediction," "The Premature Burial" and "The Terror in Teakwood" were all issued (separately) on VHS in 1996 by MCA/Universal. And sadly, that was it. Even though some (bootleg) sites offer the entire series on DVD-R, this has yet to see the legitimate box set release it so deserves. "The Grim Reaper" (which aired June 13, 1960 and was the 37th and final episode of the first season) was directed by prolific TV director Herschel Daugherty, who directed 16 episodes of the show and even more episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This one's also noteworthy for featuring William Shatner in an early starring role. Shatner and Daughtery would also work together on an episode of AHP that very same year, as well as several episodes of Star Trek in 1966.
The 1940s saw a brief resurgence in horror (which died out again by 1946), but Boris managed to headline three excellent Val Lewton-produced chillers, where he gave notable villainous turns in ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945; playing a Greek general), THE BODY SNATCHER (1945; as a murderous grave-robber in one of his very best roles) and BEDLAM (1946; as Master Sims, sadistic asylum master). The 50s saw lots of TV work, two Abbott and Costello horror comedies and more turns as evil-doers, mass murderers and mad doctors. In THE STRANGE DOOR he was more or less wasted playing a manservant torn between doing the bidding of his evil master and helping out a young couple. In 1952's THE BLACK CASTLE he portrayed a similar conflicted supporting role as a murderous doctor. Other horror roles this decade include playing a skeptical scientist in VOODOO ISLAND (1957), a Jekyll and Hyde-like figure in THE HAUNTED STRANGLER (1958), the titular mad doctor in FRANKENSTEIN - 1970 (1958) and a well-intentioned but drug-addicted surgeon who makes an unholy pact with grave robbers in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958).
THE STRANGE DOOR (1951), THE BLACK CASTLE (1952), ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953), THE MONSTER OF THE ISLAND (1954), SABAKA (1954), VOODOO ISLAND (1957), CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (1958), DESTINATION NIGHTMARE (1958), FRANKENSTEIN - 1970 (1958), THE HAUNTED STRANGLER (1958), JACK THE RIPPER (1958), THE VEIL (1958), THE PREDICTION (1960), THE GRIM REAPER (1961), MASQUERADE (1961), THE PREMATURE BURIAL (1961), TERROR IN TEAKWOOD (1961), THE INCREDIBLE DOKTOR MARKESAN (1962), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963), THE RAVEN (1963), THE TERROR (1963), DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965), THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966), CAULDRON OF BLOOD (1967), MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967), THE SORCERERS (1967), ALIEN TERROR (1968), THE CRIMSON CULT (1968), DANCE OF DEATH (1968), THE FEAR CHAMBER (1968), SNAKE PEOPLE (1968), TARGETS (1968)
I've seen Jack the Ripper, The Veil, Die, Monster Die! and Targets but haven't gotten around to doing the reviews for them just yet. Some of the titles listed are from the shows Thriller and The Veil, but were released in the U.S. as features on video so I'm including them here.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Made by the Department of National Health and Welfare (with financing from The National Film Board of Canada), this is an anti-smoking horror-short which may have been filmed as a commercial. Set sometime in the 17th Century, it opens with a neurotic, chain-smoking woman (Nadia Salnick) lighting her umpteenth ciggie with a candle. Surrounding her are loads of over-filled ashtrays. A gust of wind blows out the candles, a pale-faced Dracula (played by the director) floats in from the window, the woman passes out, the vampire bites her and then coughs up smoke and keels over himself. The end. The opening title is spelled out with ashes and it runs just two minutes (half of which are credits).
...aka: Last Stop on 13th St.
...aka: Zone of the Dead
The first story involves a hateful school teacher (Judith Novgrod) who is ambushed by a swarm of vampire children in her home. Tale #2 involves a suave serial killer/photographer (Burr DeBenning) who lures women to his home, murders them and then films his crimes. The third (and) best story is a black comic tale of a rivalry between New York homicide Detective Malcolm Tolivar (Charles Aidman) and Scotland Yard's finest Inspector Wendell McDowal (Bernard Fox). Both men have been singled out by Rolling Stone Magazine as being in the running for World's Best Detective and both have really let it go to their heads. While having dinner, Malcolm receives a cryptic note telling him that in three days someone he knows will die and McDowal decides to stay a bit longer in the U.S. to see if he can determine who sent it and why. In the final tale, an insensitive office worker (Richard Gates) falls down an elevator shaft and finds himself being held prisoner in a small, enclosed room where his captor threatens to crush him with a wall of spikes and serves him a steady diet of beer over a prolonged period of time. The film then returns to Mr. Talmadge and the mortician to wrap up their story.
In a fashion similar to EC Comics, each of the tales has an obvious moral message that's not only hammered into our heads during the story but also reaffirmed by the mortician. On the whole, it's visually unimpressive, dimly lit and very tame, but all of the stories have some merit. The first has a couple of genuinely creepy moments. The second utilizes POV camerawork in a fairly interesting way, with the camera stationary in the corner of the killer's room as he does in three victims. The third story is witty, well-written and has great performances from the lead actors. The fourth is completely ambiguous and may be the weakest of the bunch, but it's still fairly interesting. The wraparound is well acted, especially by a suitably creepy Francis.
On IMDb, the film is listed under the misleading ALIEN ZONE title (if there were aliens present at any point I must have missed 'em) and has run times ranging from 100 to 79 minutes. The copy I watched from Mill Creek is the title I've listed it under and runs just 77 minutes. I'm not sure if what I saw was a print censored for TV or what, but I didn't see any of the obvious tell-tale signs this had been cut and the stories seem paced about right. It was filmed in Oklahoma and is gore and special effects free.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
... aka: Human Robot, The
... aka: Humano Robot, El
... aka: Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, The
Dr. Edward Almada (Ramón Gay), his wife Flora (Rosa Arenas) and his assistant Pinacate (Crox Alvardo) invite two scientists over to their home and then go into great detail about their previous run-ins with both a resurrected mummy and the evil Dr. Krupp aka "The Bat" (Luis Aceves Castañeda). We learn that Flora is the reincarnation of Xochi, an Aztec maiden set to be sacrified by her village. She, along with her warrior lover Popoca (Ángel Di Stefani), are apprehended and killed when they try to flee. Popoca still lives on as a mummy in the temple ruins, springing to life any time someone lays a finger on a valuable bracelet and gold breastplate. After an unsuccessful attempt to raid the temple, the mummy's home crumbles to the ground and he's forced to relocate to a cemetery crypt. Dr. Krupp and his acid-scarred accomplice Bruno hypnotize Flora into helping them locate the mummy. They take his treasure (again) and then face dire consequences when the mummy crashes the lab, basically kills all the bad guys and then goes back to his resting place. All of the events listed above are from the first two Aztec Mummy films... and now we only have about 20 minutes left!
Friday, November 20, 2009
Herschell Gordon Lewis
Well, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. This was my least favorite of the five schlock-gore films I've seen from Lewis so far. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for it. Maybe I never will be. Call me crazy, but if I'm going to sit through something horribly acted, horribly written, horrible edited and horribly made, I at least want it to make sense. The premise itself is admittedly a fairly clever way to set up all the gore murders (which are the only reason to see this), but all the "reality vs. illusion" bull this one tries to pull out at the very end was just flat out annoying. To me, it felt like various story points were laid out that would require some clarification later on, and then they took the the easiest, laziest possible way out. However they word it, it essentially boils down to a frustrating "it was all just a dream" equivalent in the very end. Then again, when things are as inept and nonsensical as they are here, all it takes it throwing in a couple of camera swirls and you're suddenly being praised for being a surrealist.
Montag himself is extremely grating and extremely loud. Not only are his redunant monologues flat out boring to listen to, but he's asked to overenunciate every other word as if he's trying to make sure people two blocks down the street can hear him. The other actors are dreadful and there's not a single likable or charismatic actor to be found in the entire film. I know that bad performances can be found in all of Lewis' movies, but there's a difference between endearingly amateurish and obnoxious. I just didn't find much of the charm here that I found in some of his better offerings.
The gore sure does hit the spot at times though, so I can at least give it that much credit. The effects (concoted by the director, assistant director Allison Louise Downe and Robert Lewis) are often cheap-looking and shoddy (obvious mannequins, shifting wigs...), but when they work, they're suitably nasty. Montag also likes to gleefully play around with the brains, eyeballs, innards and the blood of his victims. Filmed in 1968 but not released until two years later, Wizard not only went on to inspire the bad taste cult hit BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1976), but was also remade in 2007 starring Crispin Glover as Montag. The newer version is actually far less gory than the movie that inspired it.
Many labels (Continental, Midnight, Rhino...) issued this on VHS throughout the 80s. Something Weird eventually picked up the entire Lewis catalogue for distribution on DVD, and gave this one a special edition release. It's also available on a Lewis box set.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
...aka: Demoness from Thousand Years
...aka: Qian nian nu yao
...aka: Thousand Year Ghost
There's no official U.S. release of this one. The bootleg version I saw (which seems derived from a VHS source) had burnt in English subtitles. The subs are white and frequently placed in front of white clothing and furniture; making it impossible to see all of the dialogue.
Fred Olen Ray
The film's raison d'être is clearly to showcase the charms of the actresses on hand, and the film is reasonably successful on that front. Four of the five actresses have their own nude scenes and spend the bulk of their screen time running around dressed in bras, panties, mini-skirts and see-through lingerie. Not only that, the five are also given a platform to engage in farcical comedy and do their very best with the material handed to them. Unfortunately, the material handed to them just isn't all that good. I could never figure out where the "witch" in the title really stems from. Aside from making a telephone blow up (off-screen) several times, the sorority girls are never seen using any kind of special powers at any point in the film, though they'd obviously come in handy after a certain point. There are also some issues with tone. At times it seems like your standard cheapie horror-comedy spoof of deliberately cheesy gags (including a scene directly referencing the blood test in Carpenter's THE THING) and at others it seems like it's trying to find light humor in sadomasochistic behavior, kidnapping and cruelty.
The copyright in the credits says 1990, but it wouldn't be released until years later. In 1993, a heavily-edited version (minus all of the nudity) made its way onto the USA Network's Up All Night program. I found a listing for a German VHS release (under the original title LITTLE DEVILS) on Amazon from the mid 90s but the first home video release I'm aware of in the U.S. is the 2002 DVD through Ray's own company Retromedia. It's worth a look for fans of the actors, but I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone else.★1/2
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Pampered, bitchy, alcoholic actress Laura Winters (Rita Morley) needs to get to Provincetown in a hurry to prepare for a new stage production. Her secretary and personal assistant Jan Letterman (Barbara Wilkin) pays pilot Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanders) three times his normal fee to fly them there, despite warnings of a nasty tropical storm heading their way. An hour from their destination, the engine freezes and they're forced to land on a small, uncharted island until the bad weather clears. Almost immediately, they stumble upon German marine biologist Professor Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck), who's there doing research on aquatic life (so he claims) and offers them food and shelter in his tent until they're able to leave. But Bartell is up to more devious things. He's a former Nazi who's carrying on some kind of experiment on living, glowing crystaline parasites that live in the ocean and like to feast on human flesh. Using powerful electric currents, he also plans on transforming all of the little critters into one gigantic monster. After Laura, Grant and Jan find a beach full of dead fish bones and a human skeleton, Bartell unties their plane and pushes it out to sea; trapping the new visitors there until he has a chance to dispose of them.
Considered by some to be one of the first American gore films, this was filmed several years before BLOOD FEAST (1963), though it wouldn't be released until a year after. And yes, it is indeed quite bloody at times. There are scenes of the parasites eating through a leg (and then getting cut off with a knife), boring their way through a stomach and stripping bodies down to skeletons in seconds, plus some icky moments involving the monsters and a blood-oozing empty eye socket. Though the amount of on-screen grue instant distinguishes it, THE FLESH EATERS also deserves credit in many other areas. As a matter of fact, there's enough positive here, and such a Corman-like efficiency to the whole thing, that I wouldn't hesitate listing it as a great example of how to create much from very little.
For starters, it's surprisingly well-written by early graphic novelist Arnold Drake. Drake has not only come up with a clever and interesting premise, but also created colorful characters and given them very witty, sometimes hilarious dialogue that make even the talkier moments a pleasure to watch. Good lines without a good cast might go waste, but thankfully most of the actors here do a fine job with their roles, particularly Kosleck and Morley. Ray Tudor also has a memorable supporting role as a goofy beatnik who washes up onto the island just when things start getting nasty. Nearly the entire film takes place on a lone stretch of beach, but the beautiful black-and-white cinematography and interesting shot compositions make the absolute most of the location and adequately pull off the desolate island feel. That's even more impressive when you take into consideration this was filmed in Long Island.
Director Arnold (who also shot the film under a pseudonym) would unfortunatley never make another genre film and passed away in 1970. Barbara Wilson (TERROR IN THE MIDNIGHT SUN) appears during the opening sequence. Radley Metzger was the editor. The Dark Sky DVD is an excellent quality print and contains a nazi experimentation sequence removed from the finished film, as well as outtakes.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
... aka: Terror Castle