31 October 2012

Sixties Scares, Anyone?

Sophisticated, Saucy, and Sinister Sixties Scares!
By Kristin Battestella

Say that one three times fast, then sit back and enjoy this quick variety of twisted films from that turbulent decade!

 The Devil’s Hand – Commissioner Gordon strikes again! Neil Hamilton’s pushing freaky voodoo dolls, mental projection, and sexy dames in this 1962 cult-astic romp.  The photography is poor and jumpy, and the introductory narration is weird. The dialogue is both realistic and yet very dated and sexist.  The costumes are ugly, and this evil Gamba cult abounds with hokey rituals. Though I’ve seen worse iffy, Tibetan stereotypes, uncouth Asian music and drums, and more racist dancing hinder a few scenes.  The mid century symbolism and most of the action here will be too tame and predictable for audiences today.  All that potentially going against it and yet the creepy dolls, intriguing mystery, and weird dreams work. Cute things like the slide across bucket seats and decent acting go a long way, too. It seems a lot of scary movies both old and new always have these kinky, relatable, but engaged men getting tempted by evil women. They like it, and so do we. Combined with a few shocks and plenty of tease-ability, this one is a fun, entertaining hour.

Games – Katherine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Simone Signoret (Room at the Top), and James Caan (The Godfather) star in this 1967 mindbender from Curtis Harrington (What’s the Matter with Helen?), and the fun costumes, gadgets, and trickery add to Ross and Caan’s young and sexy. They’re very good at being bent with weird antiques, colorful décor, and an increasingly twisted mix of freaky foreplay. Classy as always, Signoret is mysterious, multifaceted, pushy, flaky, yet more endearing than our initially unlikable snotty rich party couple is. The suspense sequences, intense crimes, and psychic twists may seem weird. However, as the tables turn, the audience is hooked and drawn into the demented pace, surprising events, and jump moments.  Wise viewers may find the plot predictable, but this is a nice little thriller for stylish horror lovers and fans of the cast.

Spirits of the Dead – I’m not really a Jane Fonda fan, but she looks superb in this colorful 1968 Italian anthology with designs from Edgar Allan Poe. Perfect locales, music, horses, castles, and foggy coasts set an ethereal, dreamy mood for the first tale here. The period costumes and sixties fusion might be a bit too Barbarella, and some will be put off by the spoken French and reading subtitles. Yet Fonda fans will enjoy the suggested kinky and ménage taunts- even if it’s her brother Peter (Easy Rider) sparking the obsessions. ‘Metzengerstein’ is more sauce than scares, but it might have made a nice fantasy movie by itself.  By contrast, ‘William Wilson’ adds Italian occupation and religious motifs for the second installment.  Iffy kid acting, look a likes, and flashbacks can be confusing to start and some of the butchery won’t be for everyone. However great fashions, sweet cadavers, autopsy educations, and historical brutalities are scary good- not to mention a dark haired, poker playing Brigitte Bardot (And God Created Woman) to keep the questions on one’s conscious and duality from getting too dry. Terrence Stamp (Billy Budd) is a wonderful drunkard in the almost too trippy ‘Toby Dammit’ finale, but cool Roman amusement, bizarre locations, and weird play within a play production keep the plot from being too nonsensical. Though the final ten minutes get tough, the well-edited and intense driving scenes make for a fitting overall conclusion.  Not all will enjoy the near psychedelic period and foreign sensibilities, but this is some twisted fun for fans of the players and all involved.


Tormented – There’s some soap opera melodrama in the acting, romance, and blackmail of this black and white 1960 ghost tale, and there are over the top music cues to match. Some of it is predictably fun, even ridiculous, and the bullet bras enter the room before the ladies! It’s tough to take your ghost’s threats seriously when the entity is so…buxom.  The narration is also a bit much, and nothing is really that scary- particularly the annoying kid (Susan Gordon, daughter of the director Bert I. Gordon, Empire of the Ants). All that aside, this one isn’t that bad. The spooky lighthouse and nice seascapes might be hampered by the black and white, but the gray palette helps the freaky early effects and eerie ghostly hi jinks. Richard Carlson’s (Creature from the Black Lagoon) dilemma, scandal, and titular emotions are an intriguing consequence contrasting the pleasant mid century costumes and feelings. There’s a taint to his would be bliss thanks to the unscrupulous spirits, and the mayhem creates some tense moments and room for a twist or two.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? – We can’t imagine anyone but Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in a sibling rivalry this extreme! The two Oscar winners (Jezebel and Mildred Pierce, respectively) finally clash onscreen in this 1962 adaptation from director Robert Aldrich (Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte). The introductory rise thru the show business eras, fun vaudeville tunes, vintage film reels, swift editing, period clothing, cool cars, and plenty of suspense all cap off the warped drama and black and white demented nostalgia.  De Vol’s (Pillow Talk) over the top yet on form and fitting music adds to the fun weirdness of seeing the slovenly done up Davis. Perhaps we tend to think of her as so nice and grandmotherly today- unlike Crawford. Thanks to the likes of Mommie Dearest, it’s a little ironic to see her as Ms. Sympathy. And yet…both ladies put our expectations on end, and it’s a tough call on whose is the better performance. Although the shock moments are probably well known now, the audience wonders how far off the deep end the wonderfully cruel and simplistic scares will go. There’s great, bemusing trepidation in the little things we take for granted in the 21st century- getting a letter to a neighbor, not knowing what’s for dinner, leaving the phone off the hook.  Minds, mirrors, twisted selves- the unraveling of this relationship train wreck is quite horrific- or at the very least criminal!  Where is the desperation greatest? Who’s more deserving of their internal hostage via the wheelchair or the childlike mind? This staple is perfect for classic film fans, fans of the cast, and anyone looking for a sophisticated feminine horror spin. 

 (It's not what you think, I assure you!)

And Now for a Bad One!

The Amazing Transparent Man – This 1960 short, low budget, SF horror from the young American International Pictures starts ominously enough, with a creepy long drive and good music. Unfortunately, not much else genre fair actually happens. With the military chase and crime as is there just isn’t anything that scary or even a whole lot of sci-fi. Although there are good mad scientist machinery and sounds effects, there’s also lots of talking about taking over the world thru invisibility. Thus, all the demented science comes off a little too dry. Despite being only an hour, it’s easy to zone out or even fall asleep- unless you’re poking fun or having a drinking game here.  This one is a definite no no unless you take it for the bemusement alone.

(But this is what I call Horror!)

26 October 2012

More Bela Lugosi!

A Night with Bela Lugosi
By Kristin Battestella

I’ve sung the Hungarian Horror Hunk’s praises previously. However, there’s nothing like spending an October evening with the unfortunately typecast and it seems oft under appreciated Bela Lugosi, so here’s a spooky sampling to get the Creatures of the Nights started!

The Black Cat – Bela and Boris together, Oh me oh my!  Title aside, there isn’t much Poe in this 1934 horror hit. However, a fun opening, great trains, wonderful shadows, classical cues, and early thirties style accent the boys beautifully. Our Man of the Hour looks good, classy, and handsome- a gentleman of the time despite his military trauma and lost love.  The ferociously juicy looking Karloff has a great entrance, too. We just know something’s afoot!  Both men are sympathetic in their motives, but they have their own agendas, indeed. Whose vengeance is justified? Who’s more sinister? Why choose? Not to mention the hidden kinky- bedroom scenes with waifish, barely dressed ladies winding up men in smoking jackets- and how about those iffy lines between wives, daughters, and dead bodies? These horror heavyweights play chess and cross the occult line, and it’s simply glorious to see them going head to head without hiding behind fantastical capes and makeup. Though some may find Lugosi’s lengthy dialogue tough to understand, his torment comes thru nonetheless thanks to hefty, passionate debates, secret rituals, and good old fashioned blows. Toss in a bit of feline paranoia and mythology, a freaky Deco cool house, and not often seen interwar consequences, and hot damn. Cat lovers may both enjoy the motifs or be upset by the stereotypical ailurophobia fears, but fans of the boys will adore this one, oh yes.  

The Corpse Vanishes – Besides a totally cop out ending that almost undoes all the fun, I’m not sure why this fast paced hour long 1942 deadfest received the MST3K treatment. We open with a shocking death or two at the altar and proceed with hints of all the genre staples: Elizabeth Russell (Cat People) and her fountain of youth extremes, ingenue reporter Luana Walters (The She Creature) in creepy house with foreign eccentrics, their weird staff, and a few deadly secrets. Yes, the mystery is completely impractical today- Bela Lugosi stealing bridal bodies via his strangely always on the scene suspicious hearst.  Though he doesn’t speak much, Pimp Bela is skilled and demented with a purpose in his mad scientist laboratory replete with very big needles, screaming lady patients, and deformed servants in need of a whippin’!  It’s also amusing how sassy newsfolk and none too bright authorities so readily use scandalous words like drop dead and corpse so casually, “I have a daughter…maybe she’ll drop dead, too!” The limited sets feel more like a simplistic play, and nothing is scary, but there’s some demented and sinister entertainment here.

Murders in the Rue Morgue – This 1932 Lugosi vehicle inspired by Poe’s story of the same name takes a lot of liberties, with early Darwinism, religious subtext, and saucy human/ape interactions. Despite editing cuts that make for some confusion, there are a few great onscreen murders, sweet shadows, screams, and other pre-code treats to circumvent the censors. Some sequences seem downright nasty- animal hissings and damsel screams from the upstairs bedroom! Our Man Bela is gloriously demented in his torturous looking mad scientist laboratory. He creates a wonderfully twisted and wild-eyed showman inside and out with superb presence and delivery. It’s totally different from his alluringly classic Count, and yet we want to see more of his absolutely creepy obsessions over angelic in white virginal victims. The scenes without Lugosi are good in pace and storytelling, and yet his absence is apparent.  Sidney Fox (The Bad Sister) and the rest of the cast are quite fine for the time, and there are even brief shots of a real monkey to accent the man in a monkey suit action.  Hints of then-modern stereotypes, 19th century trappings, and shades of King Kong in the finale aside, this is a great little hour for Lugosi lovers and a must see for early horror fans.

I’m Torn

The Gorilla –Lugosi joins Lionel Atwill (House of Dracula) and The Ritz Brothers (The Three Musketeers) for this 1939 comedy horror murder mystery mix. Ironically, the slapstick humor and crazy ladies are more annoying than laughable, and this film would have been a lot better as a straight scary. The spooky décor, effects, and trick lighting look great, and the underlying mysterious makes the Three Stooges-esque comedy attempt feel completely out of place extraneous in this quick hour. Fun crime montages work in seriousness and suspense, and the class of our leading men holds the mystery, secrets, and scandal together. Lugosi has a few wry, subtle, and bemusing moments that showcase his range, and his accent isn’t that pronounced either.  It’s as if he and/or The Ritz Brothers are in completely separate films- even when they are onscreen together.  Make no mistake, fans of the cast will delight piecemeal, for the Ritz funny isn’t bad and the creepy is a-okay. But unfortunately, these elements just shouldn’t be together.

22 October 2012

Forties Frights and Horrors

Forties Frights Dun Dun Dun!
By Kristin Battestella

In the 1940s, it seems as though the mystery, suspense, thriller, and horror genres were often mixed and intermingled. Though this may feel like a big mistake, the list here is but a small sample of forties frights, noir, stars, and monsters working in tandem to create some fun and memorably eerie pictures.

The Amazing Mr. X – Stylized noir photography, lighting and shadow trickery, and silver nighttime beaches add mood to this black and white 80-minute supernatural mystery from 1948. We know something spooky is afoot thanks to dangerous waves and eerie cries from beyond the grave!  Though similar in vein to Laura, Rebecca, and even The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, the M.O. here isn’t obvious. There’s an interesting little case at hand. What’s supernatural? Is it a swindle or isn’t it?  It’s not really scary, but the late Turhan Bey’s (Arabian Nights) medium techniques are both creepy and corny fun.  At one point, I swear he’s trying a Vulcan mind meld!  Lynn Bari (Shock) and Cathy O’Donnell (Best Years of Our Lives) also look good and do just dynamite even though the screaming is typical of the time.  It’s a little tough to see in some scenes thanks to the poor video quality, but the steady pace keeps things from becoming too formulaic. The literal smoke, mirrors, and crystal balls may be dated or hokey, but the deceit is still effective and worth the watch.  And that skull door knocker- want!

Dead Men Walk – This 1943 hour can come off as an old, cheap, slightly unpolished Dracula retread with photography that’s too dark and some confusing plot points. How can killing someone who’s merely involved in the Dark Arts resurrect him as a vampire? There’s a touch of preachy righteous and occult debates, too, and some of the premise feels more bemusing than scary. Quibbles aside, there’s a nice good versus evil twin spin here.  Dwight Frye (Dracula) is always crazy fun, and the spooky duality moves quickly with plenty of music and candles for atmosphere. The effects are decent, and the then-contemporary pre-war fashions and décor add a period zest. Bigger name players might have balanced out the secondary wooden folks, but George Zucco (The Mummy’s Tomb) is worth a viewing in this fun little vampire show.

House of Dracula – John Carradine (The Grapes of Wrath) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Of Mice and Men) lead this 1945 Universal sequel spectacle combining the eponymous Count, The Wolfman, a hint of monster romance, and plenty of science gone awry.  Yes, there are inconsistencies with prior installments from Universal’s monster series-namely its predecessor House of Frankenstein- but this mini monster soap opera is still entertaining. The fun bat on a string effects and mad scientist laboratory sets don’t look bad, either.  Lovely would be undead nurse Martha O’Driscoll (Reap the Wild Wind) is all in shiny soft glow white, but Jane Adams (The Adventures of Batman and Robin) is quite interesting as a female hunchback assistant, too. Supposedly killed time and again in previous films, Chaney is tragic and tormented as Lawrence Talbot and Carradine clearly has a bloodsucking good time as Dracula. The story is a little disjointed in introducing the monsters and sometimes confusing in how all the plots fit together, and Onslow Stevens’ (The Three Musketeers) science is just a tad implausible. However, lovely mood music, candlelight, and a Frankenstein’s Monster montage do the trick along with the expected murder, mayhem, and angry mobs.  

King of the Zombies – Well, unlike the often ignorant portrayals of early film, Mantan Moreland (Charlie Chan in the Secret Service) is actually a show stealing funny man in this 1941 undead romp.  His Jeff doesn’t speak in the stereotypical subservient tone; He’s not a servant there for one’s bemusement, but rather a working man who defuses the scares with humor. There is a difference indeed. In addition to interesting plane footage, with a creepy crash into a foreign country and shades of voodoo, more suspense and pleasing layers are added when no one believes Jeff’s supernatural encounters. Though the ‘lingo’ is very dated and the effects of the hour insignificant, great candles, shadows, solid Oscar nominated music, and a gothic Old World feeling add to the unusual mix of pseudo wartime spies, scares, and humor. This isn’t meant to be serious- Druids and veiled Nazis in with Voodoo? Espionage, suspicions, and speculation mixed with hypnosis on the eve of World War II? The picture needs a major restoration, and some of the sneaking around can be a little confusing- yet it’s all somehow credible and spooky.  The neat, on the nose proto-war aspects and amusing scares make this one worth the study.

The Monster Maker – Lovely piano concertos set up the gothic mood, eponymous twisted science, and good old-fashioned lovelorn obsession in this hour-long 1944 science fiction horror tale starring a juicy J. Carrol Naish (Beau Geste) and Ralph Morgan (Magnificent Obsession) as his forcibly misshapen and sympathetic victim.  The then-contemporary designs and cool science lab are also a treat- except for the ape, of course. Why must there always be a man in a monkey suit in these old capers? A few scenes do drag or feel slow and long despite the short length, and the formula plays a little obvious at times. However, the fun, over the top style works. Women scream, get manhandled, and blackmail. It’s of its time, but entertaining nonetheless.

20 October 2012

Horror So Bad Its Good!

Good, Bad, and Cult Horror
By Kristin Battestella

Well, in the midst of all this horror viewing, one is bound to find some bad and ugly amid the good and scary! Some of these mid-century science fiction horrors are cult classics, but others thru the years carry just a hint of iffy. Does a film have to be good to be entertaining? Nope.


Atom Age Vampire – This 1963 Italian hour and twenty minutes offers eerie effects, good music both swanky and sinister, and plenty of mood, sauce, and juicy disfigurement!  Yes, the dubbing is obvious, it’s tough to understand all the dialogue, and some of the acting is over the top in the of the time and foreign styles. Some of the technology might be confusing, and outside of an allusion towards a new kind of scientific immortal killing prey, this English title doesn’t mean much. The quibbles, however, are tolerable.  Most of the performances are fine, and the mad scientist themes work thanks to fun lab sounds and designs. The violence, murder, and corrupt sciences aren’t bad either. The human love triangles and steady plot and pace are still relatable, creating a decent little picture that takes itself a little more seriously than the B, borderline campy 50s American SF. Fans of mid century scary sci-fi can most definitely enjoy this step above all around.

The Beast of Yucca Flats – The notorious 1961 SF horror here starts off fun and scary with a toweled pretty, strangulations, space race secrets, communism fears, and nuclear fallout. Unfortunately, this hour is held together by a very dodgy narration which unnecessarily replaces what should be dialogue. It’s mistake numero uno- hardly anyone talks and this makes for the least amount of character development possible. No performance happens; it’s a story being told. While that’s fine in cartoons perhaps, aren’t you making a film because of the show don’t tell possibilities? It’s unrealistic to expect a serious science fiction or spooky adult audience to sit through something like this-which is as is really nothing more than a naughty children’s short. That’s Rule 2: don’t underestimate your audience.  Did I mention the music is also much too much? Yes, this ‘film’ is seriously flawed, and to some, that is its very appeal. Fans who enjoy the hokey of the day will love the cars, pace, and weak fifties filmmaking style, and drinking game fans can have a wonderful time with the utterly fake shoot out and car chase.  It’s like they’re kids with pop guns spinning the wheels of parked cars!  This one must be seen to be believed, indeed.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die – I’ve seen this black and white 1962 AIP SF horror romp heckled a time or two on Mystery Science Theater and Elvira’s Movie Macabre. Honestly, the title alone harkens a certain level of the absurd! A talking head in a dish, literally.  A laughing, vengeful, telepathic head in a dish, oh yes. Modern audiences can still be entertained and enjoy the hokey scares thanks to the bubbling laboratories, cool fifties cars, and dangerous outdoor scenery. Decent doctoring segues towards mad scientist mayhem, and the swift editing is frenetic with desperate music to match. Kinky dancing and swanky tunes, naughty talk about replacement bodies, catfights, hot dames, and lots of leg all add a scandalously fun element, too.  The serious tone does hamper the camp, the finale is completely contrived, and the full 80 minutes feels overlong despite the ticking clock onscreen. Yet all things considered, this one is the very definition of so bad its good ridiculous.  Have your own bemusing, beverage-laden Halloween peanut gallery party with this one.

 (Jan in the Pan...)

 (...and the auditions for her new body!)


Eaten Alive – I thought this film on my 50 Horror Classics Set the was infamous Italian cannibal rape fest, which made me a little apprehensive about watching. But no, this 1977 Tobe Hopper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) creepy jumps right into the nasty with Robert Englund (Fred Krueger!) giving Roberta Collins (Death Race 2000) some real world sex and violence scares. There’s a fun appearance by Carolyn Jones (The Addams Family), too, and Neville Brand (Stalag 17) is totally demented and deranged indeed. The wickeds are almost too much to watch, except the photography looks so poor in quality and backwater dirty that the viewer can’t see what’s happening amid this dark and dank- if creepy- design. Chainsaw veteran Marilyn Burns also spends most of the time tied to a bed with naught to do, and between the gory scenes, the pace is stagnant and insipid.  For this 87 minute edited version, it feels as though both some panache and an editing scalpel are needed.  The country music blissfully playing amid kids crying and killer sex scenes is more quirky twisted than scary as perhaps intended, and what should be a very frightful film fizzles into being just, well, kind of dumb. Why start out so slashery good to end up being a killer crocodile picture? Maybe one shouldn’t compare to the magical of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but the well seems muddled here.

The World Gone Mad –This hour plus murder mystery from 1933 looks, feels, and sounds old thanks to the low budget period décor, fast talking colloquialisms, and the early styled pacing and editing.  And yet all that is a real treat for those who like to see tilted fedoras, fabulous frocks, plenty of cigarettes, and a candlestick phone or two- not to mention a very young Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon from the Batman TV series).  Oh, the typewriters and phone operators! The main investigation plot is a little too tough to follow at times, which is a major problem in such a short film, and time is wasted on a little boy that I swear looks exactly like Shirley Temple! Outside of the ironically lovely and nostalgic visuals, one might wonder what the point was here, even if the crime chase gets better as the film proceeds. It isn’t scary or that mysterious, but one intense train sequence might make the film.  I’m torn. It’s flawed, but looks good. Confusing, but entertaining. 

(Yeah, attacking someone thru a door that isn't attached...)

19 October 2012

Early Horror and Silent Hits

Early Horror Delights!
By Kristin Battestella

While some, even the most adamant classic or horror fans, may baulk at the idea of silent films and Hollywood’s earliest horror efforts, there is most definitely a good amount of decent-and in some cases stellar- frights to be found in film’s infancy.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – This 1920 John Barrymore silent classic still looks good, with fine style and design and eerie organ music to match. There’s a lovely level of atmosphere for a spooky event- project this baby on some creepy cloth and you’re set! Granted, it’s a little slow to start and long for a silent film at 80 minutes. The presentation itself is almost Victorian in establishing the parlor goodness before its hint of pre-code sauce- the dance and proposition of Nita Naldi (The Ten Commandments). The posturing and makeup for Hyde may seem hokey, there isn’t that much of a visual difference compared to today’s high tech effects transformations. Nonetheless, Barrymore (Don Juan) sells the depravity without over exaggerating as the era often dictates, and the result is quite timeless.  There aren’t many title cards, either.  As the film progresses, the good and evil torment steadily increases thanks to the freaky pictures and creepy performance. A must see. 

The Monster Walks – There’s poor sound, dry dialogue, and it’s almost tough to tell what’s going on in this 1932 caper. The ladies are stereotypical and we have an utterly inappropriate portrayal of subservient black chauffeur: “I’d just love to take my shoes off and skip in the rain! Yes’um!” Is he supposed to be some sort of comic relief, the first example of a wise cracking brother?! Faults of the time aside, a creepy opening scene, eerie décor, spooky lighting, and a “must stay the night” storm make for a dangerous setting as the will is read and the scares come in the night. Of course, an evil ape must be involved, but fortunately, there’s some good suspense. The story gets better as it goes on, with plotting over the inheritance, mysterious passages, erroneous deaths, and family secrets to up the ante for this entertaining little hour.  

A Shriek in the Night – This 1933 crime stopper is loaded with hokey effects, wooden investigators, copper colloquialisms, annoying old ladies, and yet another racist, subservient portrayal, “It’s too much, yes sir!” Fortunately, the interesting and inventive penthouse crimes are accented with awesome vintage cars, glorious fashions, and period style.  Famous song and dance star Ginger Rogers (Kitty Foyle) looks sweet as a sassy get the scoop reporter, and her fans will enjoy this serious, pre-Astaire turn.  For only being an hour long, the plot meanders somewhat with seemingly useless, sexist scenes. However, today’s audience can see the attempted establishment of the suspense procedural and murder mystery. It’s not major scary, despite a few good screams and light and darkness tricks, but fans of the mystery genre and its evolution onscreen can have a good time with this predictable, but fun study.  

The Unknown – Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera) and Joan Crawford (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) star in this short but memorable 1927 silent from writer and director Tod Browning.  Similar to Browning’s Freaks in many ways, the grotesque yet tender and sympathetic love triangle here is fast paced and well edited with intense twists and a great, revitalized score.  Sure, it may be a Leap of Faith in taking Chaney as armless and the carnival set-ups are hokey- but trust me.  There’s no over the top acting, only perfect expressions and emotions all around. Crawford looks dynamite, too, with great eyes and readable lips that don’t need inter titles. It’s not all Chaney’s footwork and bravo to his double Paul Desmuke; their combination is strangely delightful to watch. It’s probably a tough concept for some contemporary, effects-obsessed audiences to comprehend, but hearing or reading words aren’t required for the viewer to receive the trauma here.  Yes, some of the essential plot points are fairly obvious today. However, the performances keep it splendid nonetheless. This hour is by necessity of the silent style yet also very modern in its own way. It’s definitely a must see for classic fans, lovers of the cast, and film makers or would be actors- who should definitely take a lesson on the big reveal here!

Vampyr – It’s tough to partially pay attention to this restored 1932 international horror tale, as it has both subtitles for the spoken German and English title cards between scenes. It’s a lot to read onscreen, and won’t be easy for everyone to watch. However, I like the fun opening spider web designs, lovely yet creepy music, and excellent lighting and shadows. I can’t imagine director Carl Theodor Dreyer (The Passion of Joan of Arc) receiving bad reviews for its debut. The candles and décor complete the mood and atmosphere and set the scares perfectly. There’s a foreboding feeling, and one can get chills just by watching a few minutes. Again, this is a great one to play in the background for a theme night or viewing party, as one ends up stopping, captivated into taking notice of this peculiar little tale.  There’s a beautiful and careful attention to detail, making each shot look like a pretty picture in addition to advancing the story. There aren’t any in your face jump out and scare you moments, just a lot of artistic brooding and a total sense of macabre. Of course, the women are a bit much, with typical old ladies of the time, and it is a slow, heavy 70 minutes devoid of today’s simply mindless entertainment.  There’s even some religious study with innocent, virginal victims, nuns, and white/purity symbolism battling against a demented, unholy photography of skeletons, poisons, and surreal death dreamscapes. Thankfully, it really is stylized- I want to say exquisite- work, and students of horror and early film should at least take a look. Ironically, one may very well be delighted here.  

13 October 2012

More 1970s Horror

70s Horror Classics. Again.
By Kristin Battestella

More and more, I am finding myself watching and enjoying more horror and mayhem produced in that shiny, glittery, and be-bell bottomed decade of the 1970s. Here’s a small sampling of our latest late night seventies viewings, because it was ten years with a lot of onscreen scares, shocks, scandals, and sophistication.

Blood on Satan’s Claw –We Americans would call the shaggy hair, peasant costumes, and poor candlelit interiors of this 1970 British scare fest “Colonial.” Great screams, sound effects, and music accent the off-camera frights and country crazies. There are plenty of spooky locales, too; lonely wooden houses and ruined cathedrals out on foggy, overrun and empty greens. Dark, intimate, and up-close photography smartly keeps the villagers’ fear, not the titular hand, as the focus- and it is scary.  Yes, the dialogue scenes in between the scares might be slow, confusing, or tough to understand for some, and having had a horror proper cast would have been nice, too.  Fortunately, the steady reveal, religion versus demons tug and pull, and nasty sexual overtones up the horror ante.  The rapaciousness is not for the faint audience, but the evil temptations, nudity, and demented 17th century teens aren’t there for the titillation as in today films. Obviously, witchcraft is painted as the devil worship of the day, and this will be an offensive movie for some. However, fans of the genre will enjoy the instrumental, heavy, intense, and hairy finale- literally!

Dracula vs Frankenstein Good blood, scary zooms, carnival crazy, scientist mayhem, and cool laboratory works with flashing gizmos and vintage radical machines accent this 1971 swansong for both Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) and J. Carrol Naish (Sahara).  It’s pleasing to see Chaney’s silent, big, and scary henchman. He’s used and sympathetic in contrast to the no less intriguing but vengeful and wheelchair bound Nash as Frankenstein. Forrest J Ackerman (The Howling) has a fun appearance, and the crazy credits are a good time, too.  There’s enough homage and sentiment here to keep the bright seventies setting entertaining, although the bizarre UFO-esque sound effects music is too dated. The Vegas singing montages- perhaps to somehow capitalize on the Hello Dolly trend- are also weird, and the hectic, glossed over attention on hipness doesn’t serve this tale well. Regina Carol (Black Heat) is also kind of bad, but she’s not given much guidance from director/her man Al Adamson (Blood of Dracula’s Castle). I’m also not sure about Zandor Vorkov (Brain of Blood) debuting this strange look to Dracula; a young guy made to look, well, kind of like Vincent Price as Dr. Phibes!  The echoing voice effect too tries too hard, and the zooms punctuating the end of his sentence….err no. The disjointed mix of dumb happy summer of love interferes with the fine old school demented monster plots, and the finale melts down to drinking game viewing. Thankfully, it’s all fun, but Sweet Jesus, is the boyfriend upset because he spent $1 on gas? One Dollar.  Pfft!

House of Shadows – There’s not much information on this 1976 Spanish murder mystery starring Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) and John Gavin (Psycho). I mean, no Wikipedia page, gasp, the horror!  The stormy scenery, eerie music and sound effects, spooky décor, colorful period costumes, decrepit haunted house vibes, and past luxuries gone awry are all gothic and moody enough- and most importantly, they help disguise the somewhat bemusing English dubbing.  The dialogue seems more like the tone of an audio book than you know, acting.  De Carlo is lovely as always, but it’s weird that she is also dubbed. Something’s lost when we don’t hear her sultry voice, and this contributes to some of the awkward or confusing and slower scenes. Some of the values here are also just too dark to see. Thankfully, a few unexpected scares and deadly twists accentuate the initial mystery, subsequent murders, amateur investigation, and spectacle séances. Yes, this is hampered by some poor post- production. Is it hokey like a telenovela thanks to the dubbed dialogue? For sure. Is it classic? Maybe not.  Nonetheless, there’s a fine little story here for an audience to enjoy solving, and it’s worth a look.  

Murder on the Orient Express – Yes, yes. This 1974 Agatha Christie adaptation starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Jacqueline Basset, Sean Connery, Michael York, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, John Gielgud, Everyone, and Your Grandmother isn’t really a horror film as we know it. Nonetheless it is dang suspenseful and entertaining with great thirties Art Deco design, tunes, and cars. There’s European and Asian flair, mixed languages, and lots of visual joys and dangers of trains that perhaps some today can’t appreciate. Likewise, director Sidney Lumet’s (Dog Day Afternoon) hectic in a good way pace won’t be for everyone. Some today may find conversational beats too talkative instead of action, but the unwrapping of the crime is pleasing and intelligent, a step above all those other all-star seventies disaster pictures. The suspenseful flashbacks and sudden edits reveal the case with lovely procedures, clues, suspense, and stunning performances.  The whole family can spend an evening guessing with this one or a sophisticated Halloween party might enjoy the debate. Perhaps it’s all old hat to those familiar with Christie or the story, but this one’s delightful for new viewers looking for something beyond Clue.

Night Gallery – Growing up, I really enjoyed watching this 1970-73 Rod Serling follow up to The Twilight Zone. Unfortunately, there is a lot of distaste and confusion surrounding these unloved episodes- from being butchered initially, and then chopped further in syndication, and recently its difficult road to DVD.  All that aside; some of these episodes are damn decent creepy, with Serling’s sense of morbid, demented inspirations from the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, and solid guest players such as Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, Adam West, Leslie Nielson, and more.  “The Housekeeper,” “The House,” “The Doll,” “Lone Survivor,” “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes,”  “A Death in the Family,” “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” and “The Dark Boy” are but a few examples of the quality here.  Due to the behind the scenes troubles, is Night Gallery a step down from The Twilight Zone? Yes.  Is it nonetheless worth a place in your scary viewing marathon? Absolutely.