29 November 2014

Contemporary Christmas Quickies

Contemporary Christmas Quickies
By Kristin Battestella

Though often longer than albums of yore, these more recent holiday releases provide mostly quality carols, big notes, affordable festives, and swift listening for today’s December audiences young and old.

Dream a Dream – Teen songstress Charlotte Church provides plenty of international caroling delights with O Come All Ye Faithful, The Little Drummer Boy, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and What Child is This in this hour long best seller from 2000. Church belts out the titular hit along with lighter fair such as Winter Wonderland, The Christmas Song, and a whimsical Ding Dong Merrily on High, but the treat here is in the infrequently heard Coventry Carol, Gabriel’s Message, Draw Tua Bethlehem, and Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming.  Mary’s Little Boy Child and When a Child is Born remain softer melodies, and the carols keep on coming with Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Ave Maria. The lofty notes continue for O Holy Night before the fitting Silent Night finale. Of course, there are different track listings with The First Noel and O Tannebaum included depending on region or store exclusives, but download editions today offer the chance to pick and choose. This also isn’t exactly a laid-back listen for the kids to sing along – Church may even annoy some audiences, for not all Christmas tunes need a somewhat pretentious, so loud, and high sound that one can’t understand the usually casual or easy on the ear fair. This at times exclusive, stuffy feeling is perhaps why many people dislike carols or find them too churchly or old fashioned. Fortunately, operatic fans will delight nonetheless in the rarer carols and big arrangements here.

Joy: A Holiday Collection – Crossover singer Jewel appropriately adds happy choir motifs and keeps the traditional sounds of Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels Sing whilst also making this 1999 album a festive and modern 44 minutes. Where audiences perhaps expect bombastic, O Holy Night is surprisingly soft and subdued – a respectful voice and guitar are all that’s needed. Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Ave Maria, and I Wonder as I Wander continue the slow reverence, and originals tracks such as Face of Love, Gloria, and Hands keep the personal deep down and soulful. The Go Tell it on the Mountain/Life Uncommon/From a Distance medley brings an unfortunately less and less heard gospel rock out and Christian hope, but I wish these had been separate, longer tracks instead of a 6-minute medley. It’s also odd that “holiday” is part of the title when the folksy Winter Wonderland and quick Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer seem out of place amid the church going, decidedly spiritual content. Granted, some lyrics or notes will seem mumbly to those that dislike Jewel’s slightly shrill and yodel-esque singing style. However, this is a largely pleasant, tender session full of tradition that remains easy on the millennial ear.

Merry Christmas with Love American Idol crooner Clay Aiken sets the modern easy listening tone of this 40-minute, 2004 multi million seller with an O Holy Night opener while making more room for big notes and accents around the traditional styles of Silent Night and a Hark the Herald Angels Sing/O Come All Ye Faithful medley. Aiken keeps the swanky going through Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, The Christmas Song, Sleigh Ride, and Joy to the World. Granted, there are less carols here when one might have expected Clay to take on the more difficult or rare ones. However, new, big, melancholy pop renditions of Mary Did You Know, What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve, Merry Christmas with Love, and Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day more than make up any difference. The album as a whole perhaps plays it too safe in its primary focus to deliver the mellow merriment for maximum mainstream heartstrings – rather than bringing down the house or breaking the mold with more reverence, it keeps a cookie cutter design. That said, this does a pretty darn fine job in fulfilling that sentimental December demand, certainly evidenced by the platinum status and continued success here.

A Skipper!

Through the Many Winters: A Christmas Album – I always find it tough to listen to this 2005 40 minutes from ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald, whom I normally enjoy. I thought it was just me, but after reading other reviews for this session, it seems calypso O Holy Night, funk Come O Come Emmanuel/What Month Was Jesus Born In, and a – is that bluesy? –Deck the Halls/Jingle Bells are polarizing to most audiences. The eponymous track is far, far too long at almost seven minutes, and Silent Night sounds as if its guitar has popped a few strings. The Wexford Carol and Christmas on the Bayou are, well, unintelligible at times, God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman becomes a slow jam, and why is O Tannebaum here twice with an unrecognizable Auld Lang Syne? I get that most people today may not like ultra traditional carols. Unfortunately, this experimentation for the sake of it is too grating, even extreme, and I have no idea who the audience is for this kind of holiday album. Adult contemporary listeners will have their better favorites, and younger iPod audiences won’t be bothered to find something they like in this all over the place set.

25 November 2014

Quick Christmas Oldies

Quick Christmas Oldies!
by Kristin Battestella

Need a pleasant, traditional, office acceptable, or family friendly playlist that’s quick, easy, and full of perennial favorites? Look no further than this handful of surprisingly short holiday albums for your speedy, festive fix!  

Christmas with Perry Como – There is most definitely no shortage of holiday music from Mr. C! This 32-minute CD is not the same as the Season’s Greetings from Perry Como previously reviewed here though this compilation does cross over somewhat with The Perry Como Christmas Album. Yes, it is exhausting to keep up with these numerous releases, but everyone needs the mid century snappy of Jingle Bells, Toyland, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town provided here. The spiritual dominates this session with backing choirs on the usual carols Silent Night and O Holy Night, but Perry also presents the Adeste Fideles refrains in O Come All Ye Faithful, a subdued God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, slow and somber Ave Maria, rousing Do You Hear What I Hear, and simply stirring Little Drummer Boy. This is short, true, but there’s a little bit of everything for everyone in the Christmas brevity here. 

Perry Como sings Merry Christmas Music – Stay with me now for this oft reissued 1956 LP repeating O Come All Ye Faithful, God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Silent Night but adding more seasonal hits not found on other Perry editions including the nostalgic C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S and sentimental That Christmas Feeling. A ‘Twas the Night before Christmas reciting, bittersweet I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and The Twelve Days of Christmas join the family friendly Frosty the Snowman for a singing along good time, but a lively Joy to the World is the only new carol – and it’s exclusively here. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Christmas Song, White Christmas, and Winter Wonderland finish the set, but they can be found on Season’s Greetings, too. Whew! Pleasant as the tunes all are, it takes longer to figure out which songs are where than it does to actually listen to them! And is anyone else thinking of Blast from the Past right now?

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – Duo Elmo and Patsy recorded several more humorous holiday hits for this 30-minute 1982 album, and yes, the eponymous funfest is of course here along with well known tunes such as the kid friendly Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, catchy Jingle Bell Rock, and hoedown worthy Jingle Bells. Even Joy to the World and Silent Night receive twangy treatments, too. While bemusing original songs like Percy the Puny Poinsetta and Senor Santa Claus might not be for everyone, these are relatively short tracks. Surprisingly, the longest tune Here’s to the Lonely is a subdued and bluesy December bittersweetness. Sure, it’s easy to pick and choose your download favorites nowadays, but this is a quirky, affordable CD to add to your Christmas collection when you want some country light with your egg nog – but don’t drink too much or forget your medication when you stagger out the door into the snow!

A Tenor's Christmas Despite adding a reverent, operatic, and international tone, Mario Lanza makes the runtimes even shorter with this 28-minute session seemingly abbreviated from the longer Christmas with Mario Lanza CD also available. Deck the Halls and O Tannenbaum traditionals are the only secular nods, but choirs and lofty octaves accent the Old World feelings and pleasant pace of the no less peppy Joy to the World. The First Nowell, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear are also hymnly arranged with less frequently heard verses – lovely to hear in an age where so many feel the need to revise and meddle. Likewise, We Three Kings of Orient Are adds deeper notes to match the O Little Town of Bethlehem and Silent Night lullaby sounds. Mario takes his time with the longest concluding track O Holy Night and hits all the big notes as expected. This isn’t for every office or to sing alongside yet remains a very satisfying seasonal sound and merry mood maker akin to an old-fashioned, even Victorian styled Christmas from whence most of our traditions arose – what’s wrong with that?

We Need a Little Christmas – This 45 minute Andy Williams CD is a 1995 contemporary redo of his prior holiday classics along with several new tracks. Yes, there’s a bit much on the attempted hipness with the opening Mary’s Little Boy Child, the grooving Up on the Rooftop, somewhat tame What Child is This, and the seemingly smashed together and jarring Angels We Have Heard on High/Hark the Herald Angels Sing medley. Some Christmas carols just don’t need to be jazzed up. Fortunately, I’ll be Home for Christmas is a perfectly modern melancholy and swanky befitting Williams’ delivery, as are The Christmas Song, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, and the Silent Night finale. Of course, there’s some family fun, too, with Away in the Manger, Jolly Old St. Nick, and the still catchy titular staple. Though evenly split between religious and secular tunes, this update is ironically more dated than the traditional renditions one expects to hear from Williams every December. Longtime listeners may even find this millennial rerecording unnecessary altogether, however, the easy tone here nonetheless remains a charming addition to the tree trimmings playlist.

16 November 2014

Frankenstein: The True Story

Frankenstein: The True Story a Pleasant Adaptation 
By Kristin Battestella

Despite its title, the 1973 British co-production Frankenstein: The True Story does not wholeheartedly adapt Mary Shelley’s timeless classic in its two 90 minute episodes. Once the audience accepts this artistic license, however, the tale told here is a surprisingly serviceable, spirited, and pleasing presentation. 

Upset over his brother’s death, Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Leonard Whiting) studies with Henry Clerval (David McCallum), a scientist also seeking to circumvent death and achieve a new Adam with his experimentations. Frankenstein all but abandons his fiancée Elizabeth Fanshawe (Nicola Pagett) as he succeeds in resurrecting such a Creature (Michael Sarrazin) and educating this simple, kind soul. The suspicious Dr. Polidori (James Mason), unfortunately, knows of Clerval’s ideas and demands Frankenstein participate in a second, perfected female creation (Jane Seymour) – one the now ugly and rejected Creature hopes will remain beautiful and love him.
Frankenstein: The True Story and long time television director Jack Smight jump right into a confusing start with an accident, a funeral, young Frankenstein in London, and no onscreen clarifications on the passage of time. Slow traveling scenes belie the fast editing or feeling that scenes have been skipped while information is told not shown. The entire first half hour of rushed getting there montages and laboratory construction may well have been excised, for the plot really begins at Victor’s wonderful mad scientist creation – complete with an “It’s alive!” homage to up the ante along with ironically parallel incorruptible dead and mortal made immortal conversation. Dialogue from writers Christopher Isherwood (A Single Man) and Don Bachardy; interesting religious analysis on the sacraments, bread of life, and the Man made flesh; and questions of Man, God, and Prometheus strengthen the depressed, early surgeries and hospital settings. Bodies are stored in a shabby stable in conditions more barbaric than medicinal, and off screen amputations, screams, saw work, and haphazard sewing create the perfect horror mood. Deviations from the source novel are apparent, of course. However, with such a fine premise and examination on the human condition, it’s tough to do much wrong in Frankenstein: The True Story. Though the Creature is raised easily, the flaws in the procedure are soon apparent amid lovely schooling, friendly moments, and well paced studies. Narrating notes from Frankenstein explain the time and development nicely, and a competitive duality between the doctor and his new Adam layer the one on one scenes.

Could this created man outdo his father, a mere man playing God? By the second ninety minute half, the Creature is on his own, learning of the world, and meeting compassion in unlikely places. He both exceeds the possibilities of his predecessor but embodies Frankenstein’s own evils and abomination – a grotesque reaction that is not his fault. This time away from Victor for Episode Two has a much better focus on the Creature as he is taught to be feared and ashamed. Tragically, of course, contentment is not part of his destiny, as he returns to his creator demanding like companionship. The awaiting sinister does become a bit too presto with Chinese mysticism and metaphysical pastiche taking part in the inevitable second lady creation – firewater and bubbles work better than electricity, who knew? After positive explorations with the Creature, the interesting bride-esque plot may also feel unnecessarily tacked on, but this evil reversal sends home the disturbing consequences at play. We so easily love our pretty work but hypocritically despise one turned decrepit or use that originally pure beauty for our own vile purposes and corruption. Frankenstein: The True Story puts a topper on its science fiction and horror moralities with a wild coming out party and a stormy, icy finale.
I confess, I’m not much of a Leonard Whiting fan – I always preferred Michael York in Romeo and Juliet instead – and his Victor Frankenstein is somewhat dry and not as charming as the folks onscreen say. We don’t always believe his angry motivation, zest for science, or his love for Elizabeth. Presented early on as the idealistic explorer and brawn of a radical partnership more akin to a grave robbing sidekick, Frankenstein’s characterization gains momentum once he becomes the obsessed, desperate man alone. Victor toes the line in the supposedly good science advancement, but his ambition and potentially slick or shady intentions rise as he educates the Creature. Does he lament when one dies of fright at the sight of his creation? Perhaps, but he is more upset when the monster is no longer a beautiful success. Frankenstein is a parent vicariously using his child for scientific glory but ultimately regrets his embarrassing, shameful son – not that such turnabout stops him from being lured into a second, perfected attempt. The possibility and bane inherent in Frankenstein is indeed complex, and a more nuanced actor or finite direction may have better maximized the sympathetic or sinister extremes. Frankenstein: The True Story brings about Victor’s redemption a little too late, and may deviate too much instead of fully strengthening the interest here.

Fortunately, Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) as the Creature progresses wonderfully from the seventies pretty perfection and a simple, childlike innocence to a refined achievement mingling in society and ultimately, his creator’s monstrous enemy. While Frankenstein claims his “foreign friend” knows no good language, the Creature impresses operatic friends by speaking French. His would be suave antagonizes Victor, who is actually more barbaric despite his supposedly enlightened work, and the regressing, Neanderthal appearance and perceived monstrosity of Frankenstein reflects in the Creature. His nature is not of his own making, and the Creature weeps at his deformity, growing suicidal and showing empathy where Victor has none. But of course, which one is made to seek violence and outcast by society? In contrast, Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) remains the beautiful object of the Creature’s affection in the latter half of Frankenstein: The True Story. Her ridiculously seventies yet lovely Prima is magically and swiftly resurrected before being well dressed and manipulatively educated as a deceptive seductress. Was Prima innately vile or designed and bred to be so? Why must beauty be used for evil while a would-be kindhearted monster must strive for compassion? 

David McCallum (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Henry Clerval has no such morality, accepting payment of whatever alcohol remains in the bottle and casually taking amputated limbs away in his doctor bag to “brush up on his anatomy.” His devil on the shoulder catalyst to Frankenstein and quest to create a superior race or a Bible for the New Age would be wonderfully positive if not for his twisted intentions. Likewise, James Mason (A Star is Born) is an extreme opportunist with no need for delicacy as he commandeers any mind, body, or secrets as desired. What’s all the more sinister, unfortunately, is how he accurately sees the escalation of their life creating deeds, predicting our hatred for our ugly faces and the masks we wear to conceal them. Nicola Pagett (Upstairs, Downstairs), sadly, is the weak link in the ensemble as the wishy washy and perhaps even unnecessary Elizabeth Fanshawe. The pace drags when she is onscreen with Victor and nagging him to speak simply in terms that are “suitable to her sex.” She apparently accepts his abandonment on their wedding night but subsequently, dutifully ends up pregnant. Her love is meant to be a pendulum of good swaying Frankenstein for the better, but after the first half hour, the character goes unseen until the final act, becoming important but falling flat by the tale’s end. Thankfully, billed guest stars such as the fun, not annoying maid Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched), blind and kindhearted peasant Ralph Richardson (The Heiress), and pop up appearances by John Gielgud (Arthur), Doctor Who Tom Baker, and Mrs. Mason Clarissa Kaye accent Frankenstein: The True Story marvelously.

Carriages, footmen, and swans add panache to the idyllic English countryside setting of Frankenstein: The True Story as well – sparkly jewelry, empire gowns, frilly collars, and waistcoats harken to Mary Shelley’s 1818 publication more than the earlier 18th century recounting of the novel. The ladies’ hairstyles may also be too seventies, but lush interiors and woodwork have a surprisingly subdued color palette or antique, patina feeling. Candles, dirty tanks with body parts, and fantastic electrical mechanics mixed with old time telescopes, mirrors, and repurposed millwork make for a realistically tricked out laboratory along with crawling arms, cool goggles, sparks, and crackling sound effects. The Creature’s make up also evolves nicely as he is damaged, burned, shot, and made increasingly unsightly. Late ship bound action, splashing waves, and lightning help forgive some of the phony arctic designs and any dated visual effects or small explosions due to the of the time television budget. Considering the seventies small screen production, Frankenstein: The True Story holds up quite well with very little to date the material save for the awkward introduction on the DVD. The video has no features but does include subtitles for the complete, all-in-one three-hour presentation. 

Is Frankenstein: The True Story uneven to start with rushed character development and unnecessary plotting that deviates from the source? Sure. Perhaps this miniseries didn’t need to be as long as it was, and some stray tangents and characters could have been excised for one swift telefilm. Fortunately, a solid examination of the Creature and a strong second half make up for any faults. While attempted twists may sometimes takeaway from the great drama and horrific examination of Man becoming God and die-hard literary enthusiasts may be upset that Frankenstein: The True Story is not truly an of the book verbatim, Frankenstein fans will delight in seeing these new spins on the tried and true theme. Shelley’s gothic science and spirit are here in a pleasant, period marathon of monsters and men run amok.

15 November 2014

Found Footage Horrors

Found Footage Split Decisions
By Kristin Battestella

I stumbled into watching this trio of recent found footage styled horror films. Unfortunately, despite some fine performances, period or unusual settings, and interesting storytelling, I am split on all of them thanks to that very discovered, undocumentary design that unites them – or fills them with plot holes. 

Apollo 18 – The website lunartruth.com is presented as the source for this 2011 footage recovery, and the faded lines, pops, and mixes of color or black and white seventies home movies design do nicely along with of the time gear and delightful early space program equipment. The cramped shuttle filming is a little too herky jerky and spastic camera flashes will be difficult for some, but opening interviews with the departing astronauts establish the mood, personalities, and secret situation quickly – perhaps too quickly. Sudden goodbyes, landing on the moon, and already being there for almost a week happen in the first ten minutes before some uneven, extremely slow moments with nothing happening and only the closed captioning to indicate the too soft “What was that?” eerie sounds. There’s no sense of awe, scope, or time to appreciate the possibility of this actually happening because the found footage must remain with onboard cameras and can’t allow for any clarifying movement or outside visuals. The choppy, innate presentation disrupts the intriguing conspiracy aspects – Radio Houston hasn’t exactly been honest but talk of the Department of Defense material is conveniently cut off by gaps in the video. Despite the PG-13 rating, there are some invasive bodily gruesomes and creepy contamination fears, but the chattering rock aliens may actually be unnecessary. With no scoring, the tiniest of spaces, lack of oxygen, desperate reliance on damaged equipment, and only three stranded people in foreign isolation, this should be scarier than it is. The bloody evidence of a Soviet lunar landing gone awry would have been the much more interesting antagonist. Paranoia builds nicely thanks to unexplained injuries, missing objects, and others listening in on the lunar frequencies, but need to know excuses, stupidity, and nonsensical turns can’t disguise the cheating found footage plot holes. The deadly hysteria and upsetting outcome would have been far more dramatic had the audience been able to just clearly see it happen. Whether this footage is being transmitted back to earth or later magically retrieved is never explained, but the end credits roll to the tune of We Three Kings of Orient Are. Say what?

The Last Exorcism – This 2010 ‘discovered’ religious documentary is awkward and pretentious to start with contradictory interviews and a quack minister as its subject. Do we scoff or go with the unscrupulous trick crucifix? Perhaps the lip service narrations provide the desired fakery tone, but there’s no need to overtake the Louisiana visuals and local interviewees’ superstitious state of mind. Patronizing and preachy telling instead of showing may put off viewers, but the talk of demons, Lucifer, and exorcist history add a much needed edge. Bizarre humor and resentment of the camera add dimension as well – hidden filming or distant silent observation build secrecy as blame, suggested mistreatments, and apparent abuses mount. Do the investigation methods of this hack minister encourage superstition where medicine is needed? Is this crappy dog and pony show giving believers what they want helpful or risking a young girl’s life? Medical consequences, spooky circumstances, disturbing familial twists, and freaky camera witnessing escalate the possessed or crazy debate, but hysterical, herky-jerky visuals and swerving camera action are distractingly obvious, taking away from the well done demonic ambiguity because the viewer is overly aware of the confusing, frenetic film making. One too many twists, red herrings, and foreshadowing that gives everything away happen too many times in this frustrating 90 minutes, and like all people who don’t realize they are in a horror movie, no one ever simply leaves or goes for help. Ironically, I’m not sure this is really a horror movie but rather a backwater thriller with tacked on supernatural elements, and I don’t care to see The Last Exorcism Part 2 either.

The Quiet Ones – This 2014 nuHammer mix of science and supernatural has a great atmosphere to start. The isolated British setting, 1974 style, and on form, age appropriate cast lend a serious, mature tone. Cool, old time equipment and clunky cameras add to the grainy film feelings and harken toward a classic Hammer design. Where is the line between evil and mental illness? Do you seek a doctor or a priest for your affliction? These questions and a touch of kinky suggestion are smartly played instead of going for today’s depraved sensationalism. The PG-13 rating wasn’t as bad as I feared, but wise horror viewers can tell the editing is designed to toe the ratings line with near bathtub nudity, scandalous bedrooms, and only a few blood and gory scenes. Mixing the traditional shooting with found footage style designs also seems amiss – calling attention to this gimmicky effect is too on the nose, and the shaky dropping the camera moments feel more funny and annoying than scary startling. We’ve seen better crazed or disturbia elsewhere, so the debate on torturing a young patient in an experiment on possession or illness feels weak amid the series of loosely held together Ghost Hunters bumps and metaphysical double talk. The parapsychology possibilities and unfulfilled back-story on mental repression, evil channeling, and occult history won’t be enough for horror audiences expecting more scares, and the final half hour unravels into a mess of this twist, that twist, a ye olde library research montage, and another twisty twist. This is watchable for younger audiences today, but there is definitely a lingering, unfinished, or too many hands in the pot behind the scenes feeling overshadowing the potential here. I kind of feel like I’ve only seen half the movie and wonder where the rest of the footage is! 

Sideways, dark, and broken lenses remind us of the camera when motion pictures are by design meant to record the unfolding events whilst making the medium as nonexistent as possible. As you can guess, as inadvertently as I came into viewing them, I am now staying as specifically far away from found footage films as possible. This would be much, much easier, if the entire trend would just, you know, cease.

02 November 2014

Forties Mysteries and Mayhem Returns!

More Forties Mystery and Mayhem!
By Kristin Battestella

Science run amok, family monsters, mistaken identity, mystery, and murder abounds in these wartime tales inspired by classic literatures and period macabre.  

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Spencer Tracy (Boys Town), Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca), and Lana Turner (Peyton Place) star in this loose 1941 Robert Louis Stevenson adaptation from director Victor Fleming (Gone with the Wind), itself a remake of the 1931 Fredric March award winner. Though available on DVD sets with its predecessor, the heavy-handed religion good and science bad Hayes Code restrictions here hamper the supposedly scandalous talk of whether the soul is in the realm of science or spirit. The slow, talkative start, dated abstract ideals, and dramatic pacing tell the audience about these radical experiments rather than showing the medical dangers. The design also isn’t as impressive as we might expect, for black and white photography and small set pieces don’t illume all the possible Victorian grandeur. Quick animal testings and laboratory montages represent the science fiction while the up close transformations and intimate camerawork remains on the earnest but out of place Tracy– he ironically looks kind of goofy and doesn’t seem all that different as Hyde. Bergman adds some much needed sassy intrigue, and it’s pleasing to see one normally so demure go from saucy and streetwise to submissive and scared thanks to Hyde. Unfortunately, Turner doesn’t have much to do as the suffering fiancée, and her charming society chaste counter balance isn’t well developed. Escalating violence and bemusing dream sequences of the two women, lotus flowers rising, whipping racing horses, and bottle corks popping do much better with the innuendo. We never get the horror depravity one hopes with this tale thanks to the straightforward presentation and fade to black tame, but it’s nonetheless fun to see just for the classic stars going freaky.

The Invisible Man Returns – Smoky atmosphere, great décor, execution tensions, and reprieve desperation start this 1940 sequel featuring a young Vincent Price as the eponymously afflicted. There’s some confusion in how this plot ties in with the 1933 film but the familial connections are explained soon enough. Objects move by themselves thanks to the invisible tricks and the neat see through effects hold up well along with Scotland Yard investigations, a fun laboratory, innocent romance, and elaborate plans. Animal experiment scenes, however, are bittersweet, and Price’s voice is a bit muffled when under wraps for the fainting ladies. His voice isn’t the raspy smooth, mature sound we love, either, but the invisible science debates and ethical questions amid the escalating violence are intriguing. Why look for a cure when the madness is so much fun? A touch of social commentary, a wronged man, an 80-minute built in ticking clock, and a race for an antidote forgive some bumbling cop work and the cliché, hammy colloquialisms, and there’s a wild, dirty, factory finish. But I’m not going to tell you if we see the young, debonair Vincent, hah! 

The Undying Monster – Great ominous music sets the mood along with family curses, stately but sinister seaside locales, tolling bells, barking dogs, and turn of the 19th century styles for this 1942 hour. Gas lamps, old time phones, and period laboratories accent the conversational delivery – which isn’t your typical monster exposition. Foreboding uses of shadows and light, up close camera attacks, and wolf howls keep the action moving while a comical older lady, on the case Scotland Yard, and meddling help are smartly utilized. Beware, there is one scene of canine faint, but this leads to intriguing self-aware discussions on the supernatural versus science and ancestral indiscretions like selling one’s soul to the devil. No one wants to believe what’s happening, and as such, the pleasant horror tone takes a backseat to a proactive who done the violence mystery. The ensemble, however, adds well done banter, antagonism, agendas, and evidence. The scares are wisely used as needed, and the time here doesn’t seem so short thanks to a fun action pursuit finish. This is a well put together little eerie, and I sincerely wonder why contemporary horror films just can’t take everything done right here and maximize all the gothic atmosphere and glory.

The Woman in White –The late Eleanor Parker (The Sound of Music) shines amidst the top hats, frilly collars, carriages, white capes, flowing skirts, and asylum escapes in this spooky but alluring 1948 adaptation of the Wilkie Collins novel. Lovely interiors, telescopic effects, camera tricks, black and white photography, and shadowy lighting designs accentuate the titular figure whilst moving candlelight and brimming fog layer the cemeteries and outdoor scenery. The opening and closing narration and tacked on whimsy feel amiss, and there are some hammy characters and melodramatic over acting. However, Parker is doubly charming, and the ill at ease, mistaken identity and family secrets blend well with the budding romantic triangles. A perfectly scheming Sydney Greenstreet (The Maltese Falcon) adds to the suspicions and Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) drops an intriguing tidbit or two. Granted, several dated plot points may be amusing – a 2-year engagement is considered urgent? A distant relative institutionalized is scandalous? Fortunately, plot twists increase as the mystery, tension, secret passages, and creepy escalates. The audience is forced to pay attention and seek out the subtleties – even if you’re familiar with the story; this version remains fun to watch as all the switcharoos unfold.

One to Skip

The Invisible Woman – Following The Invisible Man Returns, this 1940 double bill is slow to start with anonymous humor and lighthearted talk of money and loveable, hair brained professors. Let’s put an ad in the paper seeking someone who wants to become invisible! The get back at her nasty boss reason for our supposedly so ballsy and beautiful lady applicant – a model aptly named Kitty – is weak, and the invisibility making machine instead of the previous potions is mostly an unexplained MacGuffin. Beyond Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton and Stooge Shemp Howard, the sassy house staff is annoying and the numerous coming and going people all look the same. Fun laboratories and experiment effects are pleasing along with the softer, melodic scoring. However, the feminine spins seem wasted on scaring off jerks and clothes off or on innuendo. Crooks are after the invisibility machine, there’s somebody named Foghorn, bad Mexican jokes, and the slapstick – eh, I stopped caring and went to clean my tub drain instead. This is harmless fun and dated girl power if you like forties comedy, but it unfortunately doesn’t match the fantastic dilemmas of its predecessors and replaces them with 70 minutes of overlong and loosely tied platitudes.