Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Horror!? 56: Bluebeard (1944)

Napoleonic Paris is in an uproar. A killer dubbed "Bluebeard" stalks the streets, killing pretty women. What the public doesn't know, but the viewer learns quite early, is that the killer is the puppeteer and painter Gaston Morell. The man just can't seem to help it - every woman he paints has to die. But after he meets (and falls in love with) the modiste Lucille, he tries to change his life. If he can't stop killing the women he paints, he has to stop painting. Unfortunately this is easier said than done, especially thanks to his business partner, a greedy art dealer who never saw a coin he didn't want. And did I mention that Lucille's sister Francine works for the police?
For the means with which PRC (the company that made Monogram look like Warner Brothers) had to produce their films, Bluebeard looks genuinely lavish. Expensive seeming sets and high quality matte painting as can be seen here were of course typical of the work of director Edgar G. Ulmer at that time. As typical as the slightly greater psychological depth found here, certainly helped a lot by Ulmer's ability to drive bad and mediocre actors to surprisingly good performances. Even better is John Carradine's performance as Morell, one of the best of his career and much more understated than expected.
Having said all that I have to confess I found the film really not all that great. All elements of a very good movie are there, but they never unite to form a good movie. The whole venture just seems a little too conservative, a little too timid to be really good.

The Horror!? 55: A Walking Nightmare (1942)

A typical mansion-owning rich guy with an equally typical squabbling family disappears without a trace. A friend hires ex-detective Nick Trayne (who now works as "Brother Trayne - The Sympathetic Ear") to find him. Before Trayne can actually start his investigation, the patriarch reappears. Unfortunately he has lost his mental faculties, since his brain has been (and I quote) "decorticated". Soon it seems as if he has also discovered his tendency for murder.
One of the better Monogram mystery comedies I have seen. The plot may be terminally stupid, but at least half of the jokes are funny and even somewhat effectively delivered. I'm always thankful for comedies this old that don't fall into the ancient slapstick routine of people running and shouting and then running some more ("Look Ma, ain't it funny!?? He's a coward!!!!"). The first half even has something that looks a lot like verve. Of course all verve disappears as soon as the convoluted plot tries to get going, but half a good movie is more than I expected going in.

The Horror!? 54: Scared to Death (1947)

I am not entirely dumb when it comes to understanding movies. I can comprehend Primer without the use of a diagram and hate too much exposition, because it shows the arrogant disdain of a movie for its audience. But this film got me beat. It's about...well, who the hell knows? What I know is only the following: Scared to Death is narrated by a dead woman, Laura van Ee (but don't get hot and bothered just now, she is a very boring dead narrator - so boring that soon you'll wish her death had just shut her up), who tells us the convoluted and illogical happenings surrounding her death. You see, Laura was married to a man of wealth by accident. He got drunk at a party and made a bet to ask the singer on stage to marry him, obviously not believing she would say yes. So they marry and soon hate each other with great passion. Still, Laura denies her husband a divorce. Perhaps her nearly paranoid state of mind, her fear of green masks and blindfolds plus the fact that her father-in-law is a doctor with a shady past played by George Zucco will help her husband get rid of her in a different way? Or will Zucco's visiting estranged cousin Bela Lugosi, a stage magician with a professorial degree and a sidekick dwarf do something terrible? What about the guy in the green mask who sneaks around the house? Or the noisy reporter with the most grating voice I have ever heard? His dumb girlfriend? The rent-a-cop "comedic relief" who needs a murder to get reinstated in the police force (don't ask)?
Who knows? The scriptwriter certainly didn't and so kept himself entertained by throwing every piece of crap that came to his mind into the script, with a complete disregard for logic or even the most basic bit of sense. But the strangest thing is the inability of the movie to be entertaining. It's just boring and dumb and seems to run on and on to its equally senseless conclusion.
That the only color picture with Bela Lugosi (here completely off his game - the drugs, I suppose), has to be not only such a mess but also such a bore is another reason to stay an atheist.

If I don't seem to make much sense today, blame the movie. I certainly do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Horror!? 53: Tormented (1960)

Jazz musician Tom has his share of problems, most of them brought about by his own lack of spine. He is eloped to Meg, the young daughter of a very rich man, but doesn't break up with his previous girlfriend Vi until shortly before the wedding. Vi doesn't accept this lying down and threatens to expose their unpleasant relationship. In the ensuing argument she falls to her death from the lighthouse of the island where the whole film takes place. Tom doesn't lift a finger to help her, although he well could. These things never go unpunished in horror films, so he soon has to cope with the extortionist agenda of a local captain as well as Vi's vengeful ghost. It's not easy to get married.
Compared to Bert I. Gordon's earlier giant monster movies like The Amazing Colossal Man, Tormented is a masterpiece of competence and style. Seen with a slightly less skewed perspective it is still a relatively watchable movie. The plot reminds me of a (sadly overlong) EC comic, not really all that well paced, but still hanging together quite well. The characters are more complex than one would expect, Tom is neither as evil as is often the case, nor sympathetic enough to inspire much compassion. All actors are doing their best with what the script gives them to work with and are what keeps the film functioning.
Which is an achievement when you keep in mind how little else the film has to offer. The special effects are atrocious and distract from what could be at least good ideas. Then there is the little problem called "Bert I. Gordon" who may once have heard the words "mood" or "camera movement", but sure as hell hasn't a clue about how to achieve them. Looking at it from this perspective it is a small wonder how basically decent the film is.

Monday, April 28, 2008

[Rec] (2007)

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled program of reviews of old horror movies for a review of a relatively new one. I was able to get my hands on the Spanish original of [Rec] just before the American remake can annoy me (and I'm quite sure that it will).
A reporter and a cameraman of a local TV station in a Spanish city have the privilege to watch and film two firemen at work. They follow a seemingly routine emergency call into a small apartment building. Sooner than you can scream "Brains!" they, and the inhabitants of the building have to cope with the not that routine case of a full grown zombie outbreak. At least the Spanish authorities are acting fast and decisive. Too bad that their preferred way to deal with the crisis consists of totally isolating the building. Oh well.
I'm waiting for the backlash against the children of The Blair Witch Project any day now, but at the moment we (that is people of impeccable taste like me) can still enjoy the promiscuous tendencies of horror film makers around the world, who will not rest until every possible sub-genre has at least one entry full of fake found footage, shaking digital video and night vision.
As long as these films stay as entertaining as [Rec] I'm all for it. Of course the movie is not original in the least, but directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza use the loss of distance the film's concept provides to very effective ends. As if screaming and running zombies at close quarters weren't effective enough by themselves.
[Rec] does not add much to the huge load of subtext the zombie film carries around (the seldom seen, and here just intimated, zombie explanation it uses notwithstanding), instead chooses to present itself with the intensity of classic punk rock.

The Horror!? 52: The Giant Gila Monster (1959)

A supremely large gila monster plagues a rural American town and its surroundings. Only hot-roddin' car-repairing future Rock & Roll star Chase (featuring his heart of gold), the local Sheriff and four cases of nitroglycerin stand between the gila monster and a good meal.
As the renaissance man nature of Chase subtly suggests, The Giant Gila Monster is not only a giant monster movie, but also a hot-rod epic and a Rock & Roll exploitation movie (complete with very bad songs). Such is the beauty of B-pictures.
The ill considered mixture even works in a way. Now, I am not exactly calling the movie good, but its completely straightforward silliness is so charming I couldn't help but grin stupidly for big chunks of its running time (well, not when Chase sings). It is like a condensed shot of all clichés of 50s movies.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


What Lovecraftian terror are you?

You are Cthulhu!One of the most well-known and popular Great Old Ones, you are universally feared and worshiped. You wait beneath the seas until the stars are right, and then you shall rise from your watery prison to ravage across the earth.
Take this quiz!

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The Horror 51!?: Dead Men Walk (1943)

In a small town in the West of the USA a burial is held for one Elwyn Clayton. No one, not even his twin Lloyd seems very upset about the man's demise, which in the case of Dr. Lloyd Clayton isn't as strange as one might think. Finally driven to act by Elwyn's satanism and his brother's wish to convert Lloyd's daughter to Gail to the worship of EVIL, Lloyd threw his brother down a cliff. He will soon learn that it wasn't his best idea, since his brother returns from the dead as a vampire and starts a campaign to turn Gail and discredit Lloyd as an insane murderer.
What we have here honest to Cthulhu excellent PRC production with George Zucco doing great, nuanced work as Elwyn & Lloyd. Most of the other actors, Dwight Frye as Elwyn's Renfield excluded, aren't exactly great, but no one is really all that bad, even the young hero (in most movies of this caliber the worst actor on screen) is quite tolerable, perhaps because his role as Gail's fiancé and skeptical counterpart to Zucco's Lloyd keeps him off the center stage for most of the film.
What is great is the script: It transfers a very old interpretation of vampirism that owes more to folklore than to Dracula into the (then) modern day and into a (budget-constrained, but still) palpably un-gothic place. Just as important and noteworthy is an idea that even today isn't used in vampire films all that often: people do not believe in vampires and if you are declaring yourself the fearless vampire hunter they will probably think you're insane. Or even an insane murderer.
Another wonderful point is the surprisingly ambiguous character of our real hero, Lloyd, who started the whole mess by murdering his brother.
Director Sam Newfield deserves some praise, too. He makes the most of the low budget and even provides a very dramatic and effective finale, much more poignant than in most of Dead Men Walk's contemporaries.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Horror!? 50: House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Millionaire Frederick Lauren and his fourth wife Annabell lead a charmed life. When they are not trying to kill each other with poison or weapons, they caress their beloved other with snide remarks. Or invite five strangers into a sinister house to a ghost party. Everyone who survives twelve hours locked in the haunted house will be rewarded with ten thousand dollars plus the gift he or she receives right at the beginning - a loaded gun. What could possibly go wrong?
William Castle, director and producer of House on Haunted Hill, possibly was the greatest exponent of horror films as carnival rides for a youthful matinée audience. What he and his films lacked in subtlety he compensated with bluster and piercing shrieks, what they lacked in depth with a sense of fun. And House is quite a lot of fun, even if you are neither twelve years old nor have the luck to watch the ending in a cinema for which the king of cheap publicity gags himself provided a flying skeleton. There really is so much to love here, from Vincent Price' gleeful performance as Loren to the EC-like dialogue. Some would argue that movies like Castle's are empty and without deeper worth but I can't keep myself from loving their mix of naivety and hucksterism. Having a fun time with a movie is its own worth.

Darling of the Day:
"Do you remember the fun we had when you poisoned me?"

The Horror!? 49: The Monster Walks (1932)

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Eccentric rich man dies. His daughter, the usual spineless whining creature we have to accept as our heroine, returns home with her fiancé, a condescending douche we have to accept as our hero. Soon, someone tries to kill her. Is it the only person with an alibi? Or the "killer ape" (this time not a man in a gorilla costume, but a pitiable chimpanzee) who is somehow able to escape from his cage in the cellar? The audience of the 30s was probably as unsurprised by the "mystery's" solution as the modern viewer.
The most interesting thing I can say about The Monster Walks is that it stands at a stylistic crossroad between silent movie and talking picture. It's obvious how much director and cast stilled struggled with the new technology, the few arresting moments are silent and look and feel as if they belong in a different and wordless film. Most of the time, the film is just kind of dull and very slow.
Warning: Contains demeaning black "comic relief"!

The Horror!? 48: Bloodlust! (1959/1961?)

The four oldest teenagers around, consisting of always-scared-gal aka please-make-her-stop-whining-gal, guy with glasses, alpha male and uncharacteristically tough blonde, land on an island (Where? Are they on holiday? Who knows?). They don't know that they are entering the domain of Count Zaroff Dr. Balleau, who in his stint in the Army developed a taste for bloodshed and now spends his ample free time hunting and killing people and building neat dioramas with their taxidermied remains. Alas in the end every hunter falls victim to his own prey.
If you are stealing not insignificant parts of your script from somewhere, it is not a bad idea to steal from the best, in the case of Bloodlust! the (of course superior) The Most Dangerous Game.
Bloodlust! itself doesn't add much of value to the original formula, its characters stay as empty as the acting, but it is more than a little unfair to expect a late 50s drive-in movie to deliver much psychological depth, especially if it stays as conscious of its limitations as this one.
Its tight pacing came as a pleasant surprise and kept me entertained throughout.
Also, I am not sure that I have seen any film produced before Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast that features such an amount of gore effects.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Horror!? 47: Shock (1946)

A woman checks into a hotel to await the arrival of her husband coming home from WWII, only to become witness of a murder in an adjoining room. Thanks to really bad impulse control a man kills his wife while they discuss divorce to help him marry his lover. The dear witness falls into a catatonic shock, like every good woman in a psycho thriller should. It's a great way to spare the poor actress having to do much acting and enables the plot to progress, as the soon consulted psychiatrist is not only (young) Vincent Price, but also the murderer. The psychiatrist, Dr. Cross, talks the finally returned husband into committing her to his psychiatric clinic.
At first he only tries to brainwash her into forgetting what she witnessed, but soon his femme-fatal-ish lover, who works as a nurse in the clinic, convinces him to murder his patient in the course of insulin shock therapy.
As you can see, the script is not very original, but at least it is tight and plays quite well with the fear of sane people in the grip of a malicious psychiatric system. An effect that is even stronger on the modern viewer, since the state of psychiatry in the 40s today seems primitive and barbaric, treatments and curative principles dangerous and ineffective, not to say not quite sane.
The direction is mostly basic, though not distractingly so. In its early scenes the movie promises something more in a short but technically very interesting dream sequence. This kind of stylistic flourish sadly soon disappears.
And then there is Vincent Price, who doesn't portrait Dr. Cross as demonic maniac, but as a driven man full of self doubt who just isn't strong enough to do the right thing although he very much knows what is right or wrong. Price's performance is what gives Shock a much needed sense of originality and life and makes it a movie well worth seeing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Horror!? 46: The Brain Machine (1977)

MilInCo strikes again. An evil government operation secretly abuses a not terribly well defined experiment about environmental issues (don't ask me, I didn't write the script), consisting of running four volunteers through psychological tests and then locking them into a room with slowly enclosing walls as well as some gibberish about bio-feedback, as a testing ground for their development of mind reading technology. As always, the experiment goes horribly wrong.
This at least surprisingly unflinching TV production could have been a very interesting little SF movie about the themes of paranoia and surveillance or an interesting little thriller about people falling apart under pressure, alas it does not look like the three scriptwriters did agree on what exactly The Brain Machine was supposed to be about. So they opted for the old tactic of very very slowly setting up any damn thing that came to mind (a useless prologue, a whole angle about the scientists not knowing for what their experiments are used and so on and so on), leaving about twenty minutes for half a dozen pay-offs that never really come to pass.
What interesting ideas and psychological intricacies are still left, are then utterly ruined by acting flat as a pancake.

The Horror!? 45: Crimes at the Dark House (1940)

Another Tod Slaughter vehicle, with even more atrociously theatrical acting by just about everyone in the cast. I'll take the woodenness of many Hollywood Poverty Row actors over this gathering of bombastic hacks any day. At least the Americans knew that there is a difference between acting for film and acting for theatre. Not that the screaming and mugging found here (the true crimes at the dark house) would be more tolerable on stage.
As there is nothing else about this movie worth talking about, I'll let the curtain drop. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Horror!? 44: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

AotGL is an archetypal specimen of late Fifties Roger & Gene Corman co-productions. So it is a strange mixture of the merely competent, the amateurishly incompetent and the surprisingly effective. "Merely competent" is the direction by future TV director Bernard L. Kowalski, and the script. Obviously scriptwriter Leo Gordon had a grip on concepts like theme and character, a less good grip on the concept of dialogue and no idea what plotting is supposed to mean at all.
"Surprisingly effective" is some of the acting (the part that doesn't fall under the description of "amateurishly incompetent"), some moments of actual suspense and some quite creepy scenes. Letting the monsters keep their victims alive to suck them dry over some time is a gruesome and effective touch, for example.
The "amateurishly incompetent" part of the movie lies in the nonsensical and baffling cutting. I dare anyone to try and explain what happens in the action scenes at the end. And then there are the monster costumes...
Did you know that leeches have arms, eyes and suction cups like an octopus has all over their bodies? Or that they wear air tanks under their skin? Well, the special effects crew (if you want to call them that) did.
But there are worse ways to waste an hour than with Giant Leeches.

The Horror!? 43: The Mad Monster (1942)

PRC had the dubious honor to be a Poverty Row studio even more budget deficient than Monogram. So if they needed (equally dubious) star power, they couldn't even afford poor old Bela Lugosi but had to use someone like George Zucco as their own kind of star. Which doesn't mean Zucco was a bad actor. In fact I would call him a better actor in a traditional sense of the word than Lugosi. At least he made a damn fine mad scientist. In the case of The Mad Monster he is the only participant who can be described with the word "actor" at all. I am at a loss what word to use to describe the person who "plays" our hero, young reporter Tommy, though "Jimmy Olsen" probably fits.
My personal hero is of course Zucco's Dr. Cameron, who has been -mostly through the words of four colleagues- discredited in the public eye as well as in the scientific community. In truth he has invented a way to transfer animalistic characteristics to humans, namely his favorite human guinea pig, his mentally handicapped handyman Pietro (or Pedro, as Jimmy Olsen calls him), thus creating a wolf man. He even thought of a useful application for his serum: He plans to sell it to the US Army and help create an army of uncontrollable, murderous wolf men, who will win the War (and probably eat the civilian population of Europe, but oh well). Dr. Cameron is a man with clear priorities, though, so he initially proceeds to let his own private wolf
man kill the men who are responsible for his disgrace (and a few innocents, but oh well).
All this is very, very entertaining for people who like this kind of stuff, especially since Zucco is great, the script merely stupid, and Sam Newfield's direction at least not too terrible (which is more than you can ask for of the director of White Pongo). I even found one relatively clever moment: The early grand exposition scene is handled by letting Zucco hold an impassioned speech to his enemies - or to be more precise, his hallucinations. If this is not a wonderfully budget conscious way to inform the viewer of all things of import and interest, including the good doctor's state of mind, I don't know what is.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Horror!? 42: Atom Age Vampire (1960)

An exotic dancer is disfigured in an accident. Since nobody can restore her face, she lets herself be used as a guinea pig by a mad scientist. His treatment is partly successful. Her face is restored for a certain time, but afterwards her disfigurement returns. Without her knowing the scientist, who has fallen madly in love with her, starts to murder women for their treasured glands and treats her with them. But murder isn't that easy, so he transforms himself through the wonders of radiation into a hilarious hideous beast. He even finds a scapegoat for his deeds in the form of an escaped ape. But the police and the dancer's (semi-ex-)boyfriend can not be fooled forever...
This American cut of an Italian movie is full eighteen minutes shorter than the original, so its grinding stupidity and mindboggling cutting could very well not be the movies fault alone. But I highly doubt that eighteen more minutes of boredom could make it a better film. The plot is more a less a relapse to the horror style of the 30s and 40s, only without Lugosi, Zucco, Naish or Karloff and with a much longer running time.
Atom Age Vampire's real problem is of course a simple one: It is just plain boring.

The Horror!? 41: The Invisible Ghost (1941)

If not for some small and one big problem The Invisible Ghost could have been the rarest of creatures: a good Monogram film starring Bela Lugosi.
Lugosi is Mister Kessler, a (honestly) nice man living with his daughter and a few servants (including something virtually unheard of in films of this vintage - a black butler who is treated as an actual human being!). He seems to have only one problem. His wife left him some time ago for another man and broke his heart. What Kessler doesn't consciously know is that his wife and her boyfriend had a car accident that killed the man and drove Mrs. Kessler insane. For some reason Kessler's gardener keeps Mrs. Kessler secluded in some kind of cellar, possibly in the hope that no treatment of her mental illness and total isolation are the fastest way to her cure. Of course there is something that the gardener doesn't know - from time to time Mrs. Kessler sneaks out of her hiding place, stares through a window into the Kessler mansion and makes eye contact with her husband...who falls into some kind of trance/goes temporarily insane and strangles the next person he can find with his dressing gown. And here you can see the film's big problem in action: the script doesn't make a lick of sense. Or did you know that the police will not ever suspect the owner of a mansion to be the murderer who kills only people in his own damn house? Or that you can sentence people to death without any proof at all? The list of idiocies goes on and on.
All this could be quite fun, if the film itself wouldn't try to take the script seriously. Director Joseph H. Lewis does his best to use unusual camera angles, movement and the play of light and shadow to imbue the movie with atmosphere, but can barely make the idiotic watchable. He mostly directed Western and it is a real shame that one of his few horror/mystery efforts is such a waste of an obvious talent for mood and atmosphere.
Lugosi is surprisingly subtle and very likable when portraying Mister Kessler in his sane state of mind, only to go badly over the top when he has his fits, reminding me of a five year old imitating a mummy.
The rest of the cast, excluding Clarence Muse as the black butler Evans, who is very obviously the best actor of the lot, is as wooden as usual in Poverty Row features.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Horror!? 40: The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936)

I already explained my thoughts about movies as windows into another time. This is a very interesting, but in no way entertaining case in point. Stephen Hawke is a vehicle for British actor Tod Slaughter who was a popular stage actor in villain roles of Victorian melodramas and most of his films seem to follow the same formulas. He didn't change is acting style for film a single bit, leading to a performance so broad and stagy that Bela Lugosi looks like a most subtle and nuanced actor. Most of the other actors are even worse, while the even in 1936 quaint and old fashioned style of dialogue does nothing to lessen those problems.
My biggest problem with the movie is its (its director's? its star's) unwillingness to actually be a film. There is (again, even given the possibilities of the time) no interest in the visual part of filmmaking. The damn thing even starts as a filmed radio show (complete with vaudevillian song, comedy and interview with Slaughter - who is even more scene-chewing there!) before it transforms into something like a film.
I don't know much about British cinema of the Thirties, so I can't say if this kind of production is more typical of its time and place than more advanced movies, but like to imagine Stephen Hawke as an anachronism.
At least I know now how Victorian popular plays were supposed to be acted.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Horror!? 39: The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

Alright, this might be the most deranged of all Monogram horror cheapies featuring the great Bela Lugosi. Of course in my little world "deranged" equals "fun" and I really don't want to imagine someone who can watch this film without having any.
Bela overacts his role of a mad scientist in a gloriously unhinged fashion even surpassing his grand performance in The Devil Bat. Again our villain needs glands, this time to keep his insanely bitchy wife young. So he devises a most devious plan to collect the glands of young women: he sends poison orchids to women who are going to be married, so they are (seemingly) dying right at the altar. He then proceeds to steal the supposed corpses to harvest his beautiful fresh glands and keep his wife comparatively satisfied (I should add that they are sleeping in separate coffins).
But he is not alone. Helping him are a boring dude who can drive a car, a dwarf of dubious sanity, an old woman with an unnerving tendency to look unnerving and her son, the hunchback Angelo aka "The Angel", who really, really likes to fondle the hair of dead or unconscious women. All of them are acted in equally hysterical fashion.
Our heroes are a spunky young lady reporter and a young doctor, but who cares about them?
Much more important is our local freakshow in the old dark house.
I don't know what the producers, writer and director of the movie might have been thinking, but I know enough about poverty row creatives to be absolutely sure they didn't plan to make one of the weirdest -okay, let's be honest: completely insane- movies ever conceived. The actors however were surely in on the joke. There is no other explanation for the sublime quality of their performances.
Oh, and the dialogue!

Darling of many days to come:
"I find a coffin much more comfortable than a bed. Many people do so, my dear."

The Horror!? 38: Black Dragons (1942)

Why does mad Bela Lugosi kill the American members of a Japanese fifth column cell? I'm certainly not going to tell. This kind of surprise is something one has to experience for herself.
Welcome to the wonderful world of WWII anti-Japanese propaganda movies, surprisingly enough almost completely without white people in offensive make-up or Asian people.
Compared to King of the Zombies, Black Dragons is a masterpiece of logic and suspense. Alas in the real world I would call it perhaps slightly entertaining, especially for people who slog through the "acting" (not even Bela seems to be trying), "script" and "dialogue" to the very silly conclusion.

Darlings of the Day:
"Alice, will you marry me?"
"For what?"
"So I can beat you up!"

"A businessman has no time to engage in feminine emotions."

The Horror!? 37: King of the Zombies (1941)

In short: Nazi spy on island uses hypnosis and voodoo hoopla to do mean things. A government agent and his incredibly racist depicted comic relief servant intervene.
Supposed to be funny, actually very uncomfortable to watch and atrociously unfunny.

Oh and: Dear Lord, please make the people on IMDb who think Mantan Moreland's performance is somehow subversive see the error of their ways. What to do about the people who call this movie "funny" I really don't know, but I'm sure you'll think of something.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oh well

Your Slogan Should Be

Do Me a Favor, Plug Me into Houseinrlyeh

The Horror!? 36: Monster From A Prehistoric Planet aka Gappa (1967)

The greedy owner of Playmate Magazine sends an expedition to a tropical island to populate his soon to be opened theme park (Playmate Land!) with exotic flora and fauna. The explorers soon find something better - a freshly hatched amphibian dino-bird thingy whom the native population calls Gappa. Of course the (very friendly and peaceful) plead with our intrepid imperialists and warn them of Gappa's rage. And yes, of course the thieving bastards ignore it. Soon after our "heroes" leave, the little one's parents appear, finding their child missing and stomping the innocent natives to death. To everyone's delight this will not be the last stomping to occur.
And the stomping is what makes the film worthwhile, although the rest of the movie also has its charms if of a more troublesome kind.Unfortunately the first half of the movie is painfully slow, all set-up without much payoff until the destruction finally starts.
Our heroes are morally reprehensible and their so called "change" is of a sappy dishonesty that would be disgusting were it not so funny. And it's obviously supposed to be a good thing when a female photographer intends to give up her job to become a housewife and marry "an honest and hardworking man".
The monster suits look suspect. The effects scenes are silly but effective if you like your giant monsters battling the Japanese Defense Forces and causing fake looking tidal waves (and who doesn't?).
But the most priceless moment of all is the grand reunion of Little Gappa and its parents, played in an absolutely bizarre mode of honesty and bathos. Afterwards our sweet little family literally flies into the sunset.

The Horror!? 35: The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)

Oceanographer Professor King is somehow involved in triggering underwater radiation that creates one of the most boring creatures around. Little does he know that the government and a square-jawed scientist are already on his case. He is equally clueless about his assistant's (who isn't allowed to enter the lab anyway) plan to sell the secret the movie never bothers to define to "a foreign power". I would gladly say that the monster goes on a rampage, but grappling with two or three people and shoving them out of their rowboats is the best it does manage. The actually killings seem to be done by the underwater death ray anyway, I think. Not that the movies bothers to tell us.
We have here a monster movie/spy film crossover with a script as undramatic and illogical as possible, bad-but-not-funny dialogue, wooden acting, and an uninteresting monster. I am bored now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Horror!? 34: One Frightened Night (1935)

And another mansion mystery, although gorilla free and really quite good. An old millionaire invites his prospective heirs into his old dark house to inform them, that he'll give each one of them an equal part of his fortune, unless his estranged granddaughter arrives until midnight. Two women claiming to be the heiress arrive, and soon one of them is murdered. With a house full of suspects and the usual comedic cops, the millionaire himself must solve the case.
One Frightened Night takes one or two interesting deviations from the usual direction of this kind of mystery fare, which -added to snappy dialogue and a breezy pace- is more than I expect from movies of the type. I even found myself laughing a few times. Of course not about the (fortunately tolerable) buffoonish comedic relief, but about some really clever lines, most of them delivered by our unusual hero.

The Horror!? 33: Voodoo Black Exorcist (1973)

Ah, Voodoo Black Exorcist, who are you trying to fool? To nobody's surprise VBE contains no voodoo black exorcists. In truth it is a kind of remake of the classical The Mummy, only with (supposedly Nigerian) voodoo and without talent or taste. We get a cruise ship and a very sweaty policeman instead.
But at least we are in the world of wonderfully inept filmmaking where camera work is highly original/batshit insane, acting is a subset of sweating and nothing makes any sense at all. As a bonus this dubbed version presents us with a battered and bruised and absurdly framed full frame print plus very inappropriate dubbing. I should probably mention the blackface and the exceedingly red flashbacks too. And the fire-eating/dancing sequences that made me think wistfully about watching Vampyros Lesbos again.

Darling of the day:
"You speak English well."
"Three centuries in museums. I have learned many, many things."

A moment of silence, please

for Hazel Court.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Horror!? 32: The Head (1959)

Wonderfully mad scientist Dr. Ood (Horst Frank), who -as he will tell you while foaming at the mouth- is a genius. Not only does he preserve the mind of famous Scientist Prof. Dr. Abel by keeping his disembodied head alive (and really, why does the old fart Abel not like it?), he even exchanges the heads of a hunchbacked nurse and a striptease dancer to create a much more pleasing nurse-head/striptease dancer-body combination. I certainly can't say why he's called a mad scientist. One or two murders in the name of science aren't really that bad.
Die Nackte und der Satan (the original title means "The Naked Woman and the Demon") is something very special. In Germany after World War II up until the 80s the horror genre (apart from Edgar Wallace Krimis) wasn't really a part of local film production, so a horror movie like this that today seems like an obvious forerunner of the peculiar European horror style I love so much is something I treasure. Especially when the film is not just obscure but excellent.
Visually it is obviously heavily influenced by the expressionist German horror movies of the silent era - architecture, nature and shadows seem to lead a life of their own and lend a surprising measure of style to the pulpy plot. Heavy (for 1959) overtones of sleaze and equally heavy undertones of psychosexual intricacies are also part of the fun. Add to this well known German character actor Horst Frank's delirious performance and you will find one of the weirdest (in every sense of the word) movies of the 50s.

As an aside: There is no German DVD of The Head, so this dubbed English version is the best way to see one of the few German movies of the 50s worth watching.

God, am I a nerd?

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Horror!? 31: Man with Two Lives (1942)

I wasn't sure what to write about this film while watching it, but the "final twist" saved me. I don't even have to go into the plot much, because, as the last scene shows, the whole fucking slog was a hallucination of our hero after a hit on the head.
And you know what? This is the only rule every artist in every narrative art should follow: "If you think your plot is such a piece of crap that you have to make your complete book/movie/play/whatever a hallucination, can it."

The Horror!? 30: The Atomic Brain aka Monstrosity (1964)

Just imagine yourself as a rich and mean old woman. You've got money, a (not very much) younger lover, but you know that you soon will die. It just isn't fair.
Fortunately the world of z-grade movies holds the solution to all of your problems. What could be easier than to employ one of those mad scientists and let him install a nuclear reactor in the basement of your mansion, so he can transplant your brain into a younger body?
Well, you didn't expect all the problems that would arise. Violently phony British accents and a narrator who just doesn't know how to shut up are the least of your problems, with earlier experiments of your scientist running loose, everyone's inability to act and your scriptwriter's inability to make anything make any sense at all still not the worst. No, what's worse is this damnably cat brained girl with her absolutely hilarious cat imitation and the traitorous doctor transplanting your brain into the cat's body in shameful ignorance of the basics of physics.
But there's always the reactor's self destruct system. Even a kitty can use it.

The Horror 29!?: Count Dracula and his Vampire Bride aka Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

Count Dracula leads a satanic cult that plans to destroy mankind through use of a mutant strain of the bubonic plague. His arch enemy Van Helsing and his granddaughter, a Scotland Yard inspector and a few secret agents are trying to stop him.
The last Hammer Dracula film and the second that tried to modernize the series by dragging the Count screaming into the light of the modern day. Only here, quite in opposition to Dracula A.D. 1972, it actually was the modern day of its time and not what an eighty year old of the time thought about the modern world. What I like most about Satanic Rites is that this update does not try to drag Hammer's old style of horror into the Seventies but goes to great length to find a new formula for the series by crossing it with the spy movie genre, or to be more precise, British spy television shows like The Avengers or Secret Agent Man.
Most viewers seem to hate the film for exactly that reason, while I find myself more or less convinced by its idea and execution.
The acting, as was always the case with Hammer, is solid to great (although Christopher Lee really hams it up this time), the script tight but not great, the production values not as high as they used to be in the studio's golden age, but still used with obvious care. Only Alan Gibson's direction is a little pedestrian, though solid enough to make for a very fun movie.
The movie's commercial failure is a little tragedy, not only because it marked the beginning of the end for Hammer, but also because it deprived us of a lot of copy cat movies in the Occult Spy Film genre that never was. Just to think was Roger Corman or Jess Franco would have made of it!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Horror!? 28: White Pongo (1945)

The jungle adventure movie genre is one I haven't been able to warm. White Pongo certainly won't change that. In fact it incorporates everything that irritates me about jungle movies. So it features casual and not so casual racism (a head porter called Mumbo Jumbo!?), a script without a single clue about Africa, minutes and minutes and minutes of stock animal footage. Oh, and not much adventure of course. In addition to the stock animal footage the film also grants us minutes and minutes and minutes of men in bad gorilla suits making really strange noises and (like the actors not in gorilla suits) doing not much of interest and further minutes and minutes and minutes of White Pongo, the "missing link", a man in a white gorilla suit, staring and staring and staring at the expedition that is supposed to catch him.
But viewer beware! There is (kind of) something happening in the last few minutes, which at this point in the film looks like the most thrilling thing you have ever seen. I nearly woke up!
Of course I can not and will not spoil these incredible action packed final moments. Whoever makes it this far into White Pongo deserves at least the little the film has to offer unspoiled.

The Horror!? 27: Horror of the Zombies (1974)

is one of the half a dozen titles the third Blind Dead movie is known by. Reading them all is the most entertaining thing pertaining to the film you could do. I really recommend to abstain from trying to watch it.
"Is there a plot?" you might ask yourself before watching. Afterwards, you will still ask yourself the same question. But I am feeling helpful today so I'll give you three cues: people, galleon, Blind dead. And another sentence: Please make it stop. Not that there's anything happening or any mood built or any acting taking place, but please make it stop anyway.

The Horror!? 26: Teenage Zombies (1959)

At least the title delivers. The rest is a so-boring-it's-boring collection of non-happenings. A non-Russian mad scientist tries to develop a gas to turn all Americans into docile idiots (non-zombies), instead of waiting a few decades to let them achieve that state naturally.
To this end, she cages the most boring teenagers the world has ever seen. Someone in a non-gorilla costume runs around. Nothing happens. A lot. Sometimes you can detect camera non-movement so still your mind expands. Sometimes you are not sure if a non-event occurs or if you just hope it does. Slowly you realize the terrible truth. This is not a movie. Not even a non-movie. It is Jerry Warren's grand achievement: a door to hell. Satan is boring.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Horror!? 25: The Ghost Walks (1934)

And another mansion mystery. You know the drill: people meet in an old and mysterious things start to happen, until...the film pulls the rug from under your feet with something you really didn't seem coming.
If not for the badly dated humor and the anti-climactic finale, I could even recommend it to people with a more mainstream bend in taste.

The Horror!? 24: The Vampires Night Orgy (1973) (hey, not my title)

A handful of travelers strands in a small Spanish village, after their driver suddenly dies. They could hardly have known that their generous hosts are a bunch of slightly uncanonical vampires.
Sometimes the humble viewer gets more than expected. In the case of The Vampires Night Orgy (thus sayeth the title credit) this doesn't come as a big surprise - the movie is all over the place. I'd really like to know how a film becomes a mixture of so many different moods. It is at times eerie (the final flight scene, some of the murders), sleazy (our "hero" watching our heroine through a peephole), outrageous (fun with cannibalism), goofy (fun with cannibalism again) and honestly disturbing (the fate of the little girl). Add to this Leon Klimovsky's (not always seen in other movies by him I know) moody direction and a funky soundtrack and you get something incoherent but very effective.

Darling of the Day:
"The countess says you can do your work...with just one arm."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Horror!? 23: Blood Tide (1982)

I am quite sure that in the minds of its creators Blood Tide is a really profound piece of art. If it just wouldn't be so terribly boring.
Its problems are manifold, but gravest is the absolute inability to make anything of a possibly intriguing idea (which I won't explain to not further entice anyone into a coma). Or get James Earl Jones to stop mutilating Shakespeare.
Damn, now I'm even to bored to write more about it.

The Horror!? 22: The Bowery at Midnight (1942)

Bela Lugosi strikes again. In this feature Bela is a kindly psychology professor by and a soup kitchen chef and homicidal criminal mastermind by night. Sadly all weird science is relegated to his drug abusing doctor friend and not important before the very end of the movie.
The whole movie is a relatively competently made lurid pulp crime story without any real drive or outrageous ideas, which should still lead to a watchable movie, but makes this the least entertaining of the Lugosi films in the box set.
It isn't good enough to be thrilling and just not bad enough to be entertaining.

Fuck no!

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

The Horror!? 21: Evil Brain From Outer Space (1956?, 1964?, the internet is divided)

An interesting specimen. Three or four parts of a Japanese serial (TV show? Reports conflict) re-cut and atrociously dubbed for the American market. It seems to be about the invasion of Earth by an alien brain called Balasar and its mutant henchthings. The only thing that stands between mankind and destruction is a certain Star Man (or Space Giant, as the original seems to call him), sent from the Emerald Planet to thwart the brainy plans.
That's as much of the plot as I can comprehend, the rest is completely nonsensical running, flying and fighting in the patented superhero serial style. Some of the monster designs are commendably weird, if dirt cheap.
People like me, who like the Turkish Kilink movies or the American Captain Marvel serials can expect a modicum of fun (and an early directorial outing by Teruo Ishii as one of three listed directors).
Also, I bet this thing is from 1956.

Darling of the Day:
"I bring orders from Balasar's brain."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cloverfield (2008)

So much has already been written about my new second favorite giant monster movie (just behind the Japanese cut of the original Gojira) that I'll just add a few thoughts.

- I was completely unprepared for how Lovecraftian the outlook of Cloverfield is. In the end, all our little heroics, our best intentions and our love just don't matter to the universe at large, and will most certainly not save us. In this sense the relative shallowness of the characterization not only does not matter, but is admirably used to heighten this effect.

- Another thing that did surprise me was the brilliant transition from the boring but necessary party scenes in the beginning to the catastrophe. Also the transition from boredom to feelings of helplessness and even panic. At least for me.

- Damn, that's a beautiful monster!

- If a movie's sound design is effective enough, it doesn't need a score. (Although the ending theme has a nice classical monster movie soundtrack feel to it.)

Darling of the Day:
"If this is the last scene you see...That means I died."

Look what I am!

Dein Ergebnis:: The Basic Feminist

You are 71% on your way to being a Feminist!

You're a Feminist! Congratulations!

You have a good idea of what sexism is, how to avoid it, and how to stand up for women and/or yourself. You might have read some basic Feminist literature or thought in passing, and thought that it was pretty good. Sometimes you baulk a little at overtly identifying yourself as a Feminist due to the negative stigma. Don't be ashamed of being right! Just keep on doing what you're doing and exploring more ways to treat everyone with respect because of their humanity, not their parts, and you're helping to fix the problem!

All Results:

The Wife Beater

The Antifeminist

The Traditionalist

The Egalitarian

The Basic Feminist

The True Feminist

Link: The Feminist Test written by proudfeminist on OkCupid Kostenloses Online Dating

The Horror!? 20: Night Fright (1967)

Mere words can hardly contain the glowing brilliance of this film. Just listen to the basic plot: NASA tests the effect of cosmic radiation on animals. Their test rocket crashes near a small Texan town (of course, we are shown nothing of this) unleashing a man in an ape monster costume (what is it with all these apes anyway?) who stomps stealthily through the woods and kills (more or less off-camera) obnoxious teenagers. The local sheriff (only -kind of- actor in town John Agar) uses both of his brain cells to trap the creature.
But a mere plot outline cannot describe pure genius. True beauty lies in the execution. And what execution it is. The 75 minute running time is filled with approximately 40 minutes of people getting in and out of cars, people driving said cars veeeerrryyyy sloooowly, people walking through the woods, people walking through the woods some more, people running through the woods. Also, we are treated to about twenty minutes of dialogue about nothing much of import to the plot, but spoken with the kind of unconvincing conviction only the worst of actors can achieve and only if and when blessed with dialogue as poetic as in The Giant Claw.Then, there are ten minutes (or hours?) of dancing. Oh, the dancing!
And as if all that wasn't already more than enough: An explosion! But don't blink, or you'll miss it.
Just as praiseworthy as the explosion are some dadaist attempts at suspense. Will the deputy sheriff return from the percolator fast enough to hear the death screams of his co-deputy on the radio? Oh no! He forgot the sugar!!!
I could go on and on...
Alright, I am going to be honest: I would marry this movie, but am too afraid of the form our mutant love child would probably take.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Horror!? 19: Phantom Express (1932)

I like trains.

The Horror!? 18: Rattlers (1976)

Now this, on the other hand, accomplishes all a bad movie could set out to do: It captures a place and time (Nevada, 1976) brilliantly, is badly acted and produced in a very heartwarming way and is quite stupid (of course not as stupid as -let's say- a Michael Bay movie, but hey, that guy has a lot more money to burn).
So, why are the rattlesnakes near a small desert community running amok? Could it have something to do with the nearby military base? Will our herpetologist-hero and his photographer-love-interest solve this riddle? Will you survive the romantic interludes? How clever and stealthy can these rattlesnakes get? What's up with the doctor's hair? What exactly is my definition of "genius"?
If you want the answers to these questions and others that you never dared to ask before, run out and find yourself a copy of this small work of genius!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Horror!? 17: Death by Dialogue (1988)

And then there are the movies even I won't watch to the bitter end. The honesty of the title is of course commendable, although I would have gone with (slightly more unwieldy, but even more honest) "Death by Dialogue, Acting, Direction, Boredom and the Damn Worst Soundtrack Evah". And nope, it isn't even funny-bad.

The Horror!? 16: Hands of Steel (1986)

This might well be the best arm-wrestling-killer-cyborg-with-a-conscience movie in the history of Italian cinema. Of course it has none of the style (or budget) of director Martino's earlier gialli.
Only John Saxon as evil (and really, is there any other kind?) industrialist and George Eastman (in a very small cameo) do something I can describe as "acting", the budget was obviously as low as conceivable, but there are enough silly little ideas and quite dynamic action scenes to make it worth watching.
And for the ladies: Beefcake!

The Horror!? 15: The Ape Man (1943)

Buy war bonds!
You may remember Bela Lugosi, mad scientist. At this point in his acting career the great man was reduced to playing a "gland expert" who should know better than to try self experiments, but tries his new "serum" (whatever it may be meant to achieve) out on himself anyway, only to mutate into a bad case of ape man make-up. His only hope to become fully human again is to kill people for their spinal fluid. So he and his assistant (a bad case of "man in shoddy gorilla suit") go on a killing spree.
It is equally sad and hilarious to watch Lugosi in his ape man get up, trying to imitate an apelike gait and playing the doomed scientist with as much pathos as he can.

The Horror!? 14: Beast From Haunted Cave (1959)

I didn't want to end yesterday's movie binge on a note as sour as Don't Open Till Christmas, so I watched another -much better- one.
The directorial debut of Monte Hellman, whose energetic style and sense for dialogue reminds me of another great singular director, Sam Fuller.
The plot itself is nothing special: A small group of gangsters robs gold. To distract the police, they blow up an old gold mine, unwittingly releasing a creepy web-spinning thing with tentacles. Which of course follows them to their hide-out.
What makes the film special is its sense of style. There's not a single moment that is not in some way interesting to look at, no single small gesture of the actors that doesn't make sense. Even the monster is surprisingly horrific and much weirder than usual in films of this time.

The Horror!? 13: Don't Open Till Christmas (1984)

Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop. Please make it stop.

Ahem, sorry, but this British slasher may be the most charmless and hurtfully inept piece of crap I have exposed myself to in a long time. It's about a killer who specializes in eviscerating people in Santa Claus costumes. And turning the viewer's brains to mush with irritation. In this sense it is very effective, but so is cooking one's head in an oven. 

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Horror!? 12: Devil's Partner (1962)

Now this little movie is supremely satisfying. If I can believe the IMDb (and in this case I do) it was actually produced in 1958 and only released a few years later.
It's the story of a mean old man who makes a deal with the devil, gets rejuvenated and endowed with magic power. He tries to use his new found power to win the heart of a young woman and (very effectively) to be grudgeful.
Three things make the film interesting and well worth watching: Firstly Ed Nelson as our bad guy, slightly creepy and never overacting. Secondly the relatively small scale of the happenings. Sure, there are a few murders, but none of them is supposed to be spectacular. When Nelson uses magic to transform himself to kill someone, he doesn't become a monster, but a snake or a horse. Even his motives aren't as much apocalyptic as believably petty and egocentric.
Thirdly the sure and (again) subtle direction gives all of the proceedings a pleasant feel of realness of place and time.
Not small things for a low budget movie like this.

The Horror!? 11: House of Mystery (1934)

How much one can appreciate films of the mansion mystery sub-genre from the 1920s and 30s depends more or less on ones ability to enjoy a movie as a window into the pop cultural interests and obsessions of another time and the ability to ignore an awful lot of bad jokes. I, historically minded and easily amused as I am, can have a perfectly fine time with a perfectly inoffensive little movie like this, featuring everything this kind of film needs: A bad ape costume, a badly thought out plot, bad jokes, badly clichéd characters and murder.

Darling of the Day:
"We must trap the ape and whoever is behind him."

The Horror!? 10: Moon of the Wolf (1974)

The story of a small community in Louisiana terrorized by a werewolf! Sounds intriguing. But suffers a lot through characterless direction, terrible accents and the problematic decision to play the story as the kind of whodunit whose solution even the most stupid viewer will reach after about ten minutes, then slogging through forty five minutes of boredom until the hero of the piece finally comes to the same conclusion and the movie to its (exceedingly unexciting) end. 

The Horror!? 09: Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

A little talked about historical fact is the attraction Fifties America had for alien invaders. Today we would know little about these failed efforts to subjugate, eat and enlighten us, if not for the tireless work of the documentary producers of American International Pictures.
Night of the Blood Beast tells us about the little known case of a benevolent alien that came to this planet on board a returning terrestrial secret experimental space craft and was subsequently hunted down and burned to death by a small group of scientists and military. It was one of the greatest tragedies in the decade of the Alien Wars, caused by the ignorance and small mindedness of the human participants. Just because a creature from outer space lays its eggs in an astronaut and eats the brains of your head scientist you don't have to feel menaced, especially when the friendly creature then proceeds to tell you that it has only eaten that brain to be able to communicate with you and make your head scientist immortal. Our friend from outside even promised to help the rest of humanity in the same way!
Alas the US military of the past did not count many transhumanists in its numbers, so our savior was brutally and senselessly killed.
All that is left of its legacy is this dry but important documentary.

The Horror!? 08: The Phantom Creeps (1939)

or, The Further Adventures of Bela Lugosi, Mad Scientist.
This time around Bela has everything a man could need: a mysterious energy source, diverse coma inducing devices (including a swell metal disc/mechanical spider combination), an invisibility belt, a goofy killer robot, a healing ray, a z-ray, 'splody things, a stupid and treacherous assistant and the most ineffectual government agents this side of Inspector Clouseau on his case. But he still can't win! Oh, that dreaded megalomania strikes again!

Darlings of the Day:
"That man is dead! How fortunate! That simplifies everything."

"One by one my enemies will be disposed of...until I'm master of the universe!"

The Horror!? 07: Murder Mansion (1972)

Ah, a mansion mystery. Will the handful of people stranded in the crack'd and crook'd old manse survive the night? Is the mansion overrun with the customary undead or does someone have a very silly plan to get money?
Not a very good movie, but fun all the way to the obvious end.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Horror!? 06: Sound of Horror (1964)

Although made in Spain this is not a typical European horror movie of its time, but something in the tradition of American monster movies of the Fifties.
Some treasure seekers awaken an invisible monster which proceeds to kill them one by one. If you have seen a few movies of this kind, you know what to expect, even though two or three sequences achieve a little more suspense and atmosphere than the relatively unspectacular rest of the film would let you hope for.
Most interesting about Sound of Horror is the appearance of a very young looking Soledad Miranda a few years before becoming Jess Franco's muse. Not that the movie does anything interesting with her besides of a strange little dancing scene, but the presence of someone who is actually charismatic doesn't hurt it either.

The Horror!? 05: Savage Weekend (1976?)

This is a prime piece of Seventies nastiness I hadn't heard about before. The movie is a surprisingly clever and stylish take on the "evil country people kill city folk" sub-genre, but plays out as a rural American variant on the Giallo. Which not only means creative, but sloppy (try to count the number of times you see a boom mike) directing, but also more strange sexual overtones and undertones than one could hope for.
And all this brought to us by a future Dallas writer. The world of weird movies is truly wonderful.

The Horror!? 04: Condemned to Live (1935)

Don't let the friendly Imdb reviews fool you into thinking this might be worth your time. Being made in the Thirties is no excuse for acting this stiff, nor for non-existent direction.
The plot: Nauseatingly kind professor turns into bloodsucking fiend by night. Our nauseatingly good romantic lead thinks himself the killer, because his mother was once bitten by a vampire bat. Also featuring: Nauseating love triangle.

The Horror!? 03: The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

The more films by Edgar G. Ulmer I see the more I come to the conclusion that the man was one of the truly unsung heroes of B-movie direction. Taking an obviously nearly non-existent budget and a script about an ex-military man who presses a scientist, a freshly sprung safe cracker, a shady dame and some guy with a gun into his service to build an army of invisible men and making it work - not so much as a horror film, but as a fine late noir - is no mean feat.
The short duration of the movie (not even a full hour!) and solid acting help to keep things snappy and concentrated, even the script is not bad at all, if you can overlook the "army of invisible man" business. Sure, most of the characters are stock characters/archetypes, but they are used cleverly enough to make this into a strength instead of a flaw of the movie.

Darling of the Day:
"Honey, right now I need a car more than I need you."

Edited to correct my inability to count to three.

The Horror!? 02: Snowbeast (1977)

What can I say about the blandness they call Snowbeast? Oh yeah, it's like a very very bland, made-for-TV Jaws rip-off in which a Bigfoot stands in for the shark, a skiing area for the island and boredom for suspense. Oh, wait, it actually is a very very bland, made-for-TV Jaws rip-off in which a Bigfoot stands in for the shark, a skiing area for the island and boredom for suspense.
Also, there's lots and lots of skiing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Horror!? 01: The Devil Bat (1941)

Thanks to the wonders of the internet I recently acquired one of those cheap Mills Creek DVD box sets "100 Horror Classics". Let's see how many of the pictures I'll actually watch.
And what better way to begin this little experiment could there be than watching one of Bela Lugosi's poverty row films, the idiotic but charming The Devil Bat.
Bela plays "kindly Doctor" Paul Carruthers who moonlights as perfumer and mad scientist. Feeling betrayed by the business partners who made a fortune out of one of his fragrant inventions, he decides on a logical course of revenge: To let a bat grow enormously by treating it with electrical mad science thingies and persuade his victims to test "a new shaving lotion", whose smell drives the bat to kill them.
Given the brilliance of this plan, the stupidity of the victims and Bela's incredibly insincere kindness, nothing could possibly go wrong, if not for an annoying reporter and his even more annoying side kick.
Until Bela finds his (totally undeserved) end, he treats us to many fine moments of evil grinning and glaring, even a little evil speechifying. Sadly, not so much with the cackling.
I felt highly entertained anyway.

Darling of the Day:
Tell me, Doc - how did you develop a monster bat like that?
You wouldn't understand the scientific theory!