Sunday, October 31, 2004


This Spanish horror film has been released under at least six different titles, with its most common one in the U.S. being THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN, but I'm using the title on the DVD that I watched. It's the first film I've seen by Paul Naschy, who is something of a minor legend among horror connoisseurs, and, though occasionally incoherent and shot in a rather slapdash fashion, it's good enough to make me want to hunt down some other Naschy films. Director Naschy plays Waldemar Daninsky, a werewolf character who crops up in several of his movies. This one begins with Naschy, dead on a coroner's slab; the doctors know he was rumored to be a werewolf but they remove the silver bullet that killed him anyway, and sure enough, he returns to snarling life and we get our first two deaths. Naschy then goes back to his decrepit castle (where he lives with his non-wolfen sister), and gets involved with two young women who are researching the legends of the vampire Countess Wandessa. Blood dripping from a cut (a la Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY) revives the dead Vampire Woman, who looks like a creepy bride dressed in black, and a reign of terror begins until Naschy joins in to stop it. Along the way, individual plot points don't always make a lot of sense, and traditional conventions about werewolves and vampires are discarded when inconvenient. Still, the movie has several good scenes and Naschy makes for a full-blooded werewolf, and in human form, a tormented "Dark Shadows"-type of anti-hero. Some dialogue scenes even feel like they came right out of an episode of Dark Shadows. The DVD from Anchor Bay is apparently the most complete version available. The original Spanish title is LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS. [DVD]

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Some Halloween Week Short Takes:

SHOCK (1946) is more of a psychological thriller than a horror film; a young woman (Anabel Shaw), already a bit on edge from waiting to meet her newly released POW-husband after 2 years, witnesses a murder and goes into shock. Vincent Price, the psychiatrist who is called in on her case, is the murderer (he killed his wife in a fit of rage), and when he realizes what she saw, he and his mistress (Lynn Bari) keep the woman committed and under sedation, but soon realize they'll have to kill her to keep her from talking. Competent B-movie with a nicely done dream sequence early on, and some good wicked scheming by Bari--oddly, Price actually underplays his part here in his first star-billing role, something he wouldn't do very often in the future. [FMC]

DR. CYCLOPS (1940) is a standard mad-scientist flick about a nearly-blind doctor (Albert Dekker) off in the jungles of Peru, tampering in God's domain by experimenting with, as one nearly hysterical person puts it, "the very nature of Life itself!" Actually, he's discovered a way to shrink living beings, and when a group of scientists arrive to help him, they wind up getting miniaturized and have to live by their wits to survive. Dekker is fine, looking suitably monomaniacal behind his Coke bottle glasses, but the rest of the cast is weak, particularly the deadly dull romantic leads (Thomas Coley and Janice Logan, who both left the movie business fairly quickly). What the movie has going for it is great special effects, as good and maybe better than those used 15 years later in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. Surprisingly, for a 75 minute B-movie, it’s in Technicolor and, after a few dicey moments at the beginning, the color looks quite good and proves an asset. I was a little disappointed seeing this again, as it didn't live up to my childhood memory of it, but it's worth catching. [AMC]

THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966) is sometimes called the movie that re-energized the Zombie sub-genre, and may have been an influence on George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). Whether or not that's true, PLAGUE is certainly one of the better Hammer efforts from the mid-60's when they seemed to be throwing anything at the screen (gorgons, reptiles, kung fu vampires) and hoping they might start a franchise. Set in late 19th century England, the story concerns a wealthy squire (John Carson) who is killing off local peasants and resurrecting them as zombies, through a voodoo-like ritual, to work for him (shades of WHITE ZOMBIE). There is a great dream sequence, tinted green, of zombies digging themselves out of their graves. The narrative structure is similar to that of Lugosi's DRACULA, with a wife of one of the zombie hunters herself turned into a zombie. The day-for-night scenes are atrocious, as they always are in 60's horror films, and the cast is only adequate (again, par for the course), but it's still worth seeing, especially for Hammer fans. [DVD]

Thursday, October 28, 2004


When it came to horror, Fox was on the ball in 1942; in addition to the fine DR. RENAULT'S SECRET (reviewed 10/5/04), they released this little gem directed by John Brahm who went on to make two excellent, somewhat higher-budgeted horror films for Fox (THE LODGER and HANGOVER SQUARE) a couple years later. As you can probably tell from my previous reviews, I value atmosphere in horror, which I think can help a film overcome problems of low budget and weak writing. This has spooky atmosphere in spades, particularly at the beginning and end, which makes up for a draggy middle section. A Scotland Yard inspector (James Ellison) is called in to investigate a murder on the Hammond estate; a woman was mauled to death by some creature, and the master of the estate (John Howard) was hurt in the attack. There is a legend involving a Hammond man who committed suicide and a rhyming curse (something about not going around on a clear night when there's frost on the ground), and virtually every member of the household seems to know more than they let on about the legend and the attack: Was it a madman? A wild hound? A werewolf? The look, feel, and storyline all make this film feel like Fox's earlier Sherlock Holmes outing, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES.

The opening, with the camera panning about a large room to the rhythm of bells tolling midnight, sets the tone nicely. The sets (including a huge room with a multi-story stained glass window and a shadowy basement mausoleum) are effective, as is the creative camerawork by Lucien Ballard, who also worked for Josef von Sternberg and Stanley Kubrick. The acting, while not A-level, is not a liability, either. Howard and Heather Angel (as his sister) are quite good, as is Heather Thatcher as the comic relief Scotland Yard assistant (think of a louder, brassier Edna May Oliver). Bramwell Fletcher, the man driven crazy in the first few minutes of THE MUMMY, is a doctor friend of the Hammonds who seems to be hiding many secrets. Ellison makes for a drab leading man--he was mostly known for doing B-westerns--but there is reliable support from Halliwell Hobbes and Eily Malyon as creepy servants. I would say for an old-fashioned B-movie Halloween night, you couldn't do much better than watching this and DR. RENAULT'S SECRET back to back. [AMC]

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Ray Harryhausen movies. Actually, it's more like/dislike. His effects are always wonderful, and the movies usually sound like they'll be great fun, and often they begin well, but I'm always disappointed by the end; they wind up sunk by weak writing and acting. This is no exception, but it's probably my favorite Harryhausen movie, along with JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. It's like a western version of KING KONG, with a dash of JURASSIC PARK thrown in. James Franciscus is in Mexico, attempting to get his ex-girlfriend Gila Golan to quit a decrepit Wild West show and join his (not so decrepit, one assumes), but she's got an ace up her sleeve: a living miniature prehistoric horse that she's purchasing from a group of local gypsies. The creature comes from the Forbidden Valley, and of course, everyone winds up searching the Valley for more money-making discoveries. A legendary giant dinosaur is captured and brought to the show, but as all Kong fans will figure out immediately, plans will go awry when the beast, Gwangi, gets loose and wrecks havoc in a small Mexican town. Richard Carlson is the bad guy, Lawrence Naismith is the scientist, and Freda Jackson (the old maid in BRIDES OF DRACULA) is the Maria Ouspenskaya stand-in, warning everyone early on that there are things with which we should not tamper. The dinosaur roping scene is excellent, as is the climax, with Gwangi's reign of destruction ended in a ruined cathedral. Franciscus and Carlson have more chemistry as rivals than Franciscus and Golan do as romantic partners. A bit better than its reputation suggests, but best approached with lowered expectations. [DVD]

Saturday, October 23, 2004


This B-movie biopic (which is definitely not a horror film, but is still appropriate October viewing) isn't able to overcome its budget problems but it has its moments. Shepperd Strudwick (billed under his birth name, John Shepperd) plays Poe, who seems to have been an unhappy wretch for most of his adult life. His birth mother dies and he is adopted by the Allans; the mother (Mary Howard) is loving, but the father (Frank Conroy), who won't make Poe his legal heir, is distant and ultimately refuses to support Poe when he goes away to college. Virginia Gilmore is Poe's childhood sweetheart who winds up marrying another man (Hardie Albright) in Poe's absence. Poe stays with his aunt (Jane Darwell) while working as a writer and editor, but because he insists on fighting for extensions of copyrights, his career is derailed. He marries his cousin (Linda Darnell) and is happy for a time, but drinking and gambling soon wear him down, as does his wife's illness. The focus of the film (as announced in the title) doesn't allow for much concern for Poe's famous literary works, except for one scene that shows him reading "The Raven" to some printers. Harry Morgan (Col. Potter in MASH) is a chum of Poe's; Morton Lowery is Charles Dickens (an ally in the copyright fight); Gilbert Emery is Thomas Jefferson, president of Poe's college. The movie has a glossy look, but the writing and some of the acting betray its B status. [FMC]

Thursday, October 21, 2004


This has a reputation as one of the worst horror movies of the classic movie era, and it is pretty bad, though I found it somewhat pleasurable on a "so bad it's kinda good" level. I'd love to see what the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 guys would have done with this. A plot summary makes it sound much more exciting than it is. During WWI, a Cambodian priest leads a zombie brigade for the Allies, but refuses to give up the secret for making and controlling the zombies, so a group of British soldiers and archaeologists heads to Angkor to see what they can find. Nothing much comes of the trip, but the single-minded Armand (Dean Jagger) manages to stumble on the secret formula, creates a horde of zombies he enslaves for his own use--to get the girl of his dreams--and is eventually killed by his slaves. The single best moment is very early on, when we see the zombie soldiers in action; it's all downhill from there. Most of the movie consists of choppy dialogue scenes (we're almost always told rather than shown what's happening) that are badly set up and end awkwardly as though the director forgot to yell "Cut!" (One scene fades out as an actor is still speaking his lines.)

Jagger is pretty good, giving an eccentric but effective intensity to his role, but the rest of the acting is terrible, done almost entirely by non-professionals who didn't make many (or any) other movies. Jagger's romantic rival, Robert Noland, gives one of the worst acting performances I've seen, with Dorothy Stone as the girl coming in a close second. The story gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "plot loophole"; in the war scene, it's implied that the soldiers are actually the dead returned to life, but Jagger's zombies are just people under a strong hypnotic spell. How they get that way is unclear--it involves the smoke of some powder being wafted their way, but also some ambiguous ability on the controller's part to activate his "third eye" to bring the zombies under his power. There is one potentially interesting theme in the film: Nowland points out to Jagger that he is a soft, passive man who lets others ride roughshod over him, and suggests that Jagger needs a bit of ruthlessness in his personality. When he gains the power to "zombify," he does indeed become ruthless, but this idea doesn't really get developed. There is a long trek through a swamp done in front of rear projection--at first, it just looks miserably phony, but as it goes on and on, it takes on a sort of surreal atmosphere (I'm being generous here). The director, Victor Halperin, did the earlier low-budget WHITE ZOMBIE, which had two things that helped it transcend its grade Z budget: a creepy atmosphere and Bela Lugosi. Neither of those things are present here, although according to reference sources, it's shots of Lugosi's eyes from the previous film that we see when Jagger starts commanding his zombies. Lovers of bad Poverty Row cinema need to see this one; all others, beware! [DVD]

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


The American International horror flicks of the 60's and 70's are a mixed bag, but for horror fans, they are usually worth sitting through once. This one, seemingly an attempt to challenge Hammer Studios' period horror movies, is one of their better efforts. In 16th Century England, Vincent Price is a town magistrate who delights in witch hunting, even as he tells worried villagers that a supposed devil wolf roaming the area is just a mangy dog. His sons are hunky but sadistic brats who love to molest women--three women have their blouses torn open in the first fifteen minutes, making this a literal bodice-ripper of a tale! Price breaks up a meeting of witches led by Elisabeth Bergner (Olivier's Rosalind in the 1936 AS YOU LIKE IT); some are killed and Bergner puts a curse on Price's family. She conjures up a "sidhe," or banshee, a spirit that takes over Roderick (Patrick Mower), a D.H. Lawrence life-force guy who seems to be able to communicate with animals and is also bedding Price's daughter (Hilary Dwyer). After much pillage and murder, Price thinks he has escaped the curse, but there's a creepy and nicely handled final twist, which helps make up for some big plot loopholes. Quite atmospheric throughout, with lots of dimly lit castle rooms, fog, and gravestones with human faces carved on them. Bergner's craft is presented as an amalgam of Wicca, Druidism, Satanism, and voodoo; the split between the "old religion" and rationality is a theme that is brought up but mostly ignored. The credit sequence was produced by Terry Gilliam, just before his Monty Python days. An unexpectedly interesting little gem for a stormy October night. [DVD]

Saturday, October 16, 2004


On her wedding night, Beverly Garland's husband (Richard Crane) ditches her in the middle of a honeymoon train ride. Frantic, Garland can't dig up much information about him, but she does find out that his last known address is a mansion in the middle of the Bayou. The cranky old matriarch (Frieda Inescort) is no help at first, but eventually Garland finds out that Crane, who had been seriously injured in an airplane crash some months ago, recovered through the use of an unorthodox treatment (from research doctor George Macready) involving serum derived from alligators, and now Crane seems to be turning into an alligator himself, as are a couple of other research subjects at the mansion. This a straightforward B-film which looks better than most of the time because it was shot in Cinemascope, and perhaps because it was released by a major studio (Fox). The acting is fine, and even Lon Chaney Jr. does a nice job as a shambling idiot who hates gators because one tore off his hand (he's basically Cletus, the Hook-Handed and Ill-Tempered Yokel). The setting is atmospheric and the shadowy cinematography is great; the make-up is good early on, although by the climax, the complete alligator man is far more silly looking than scary. There is a strange framing device--the story is told by Garland under hypnosis; apparently she has had all memory of her past experience shocked out of her and has been living under a new identity; a psychiatrist (Bruce Bennett, who was a pretty good Tarzan in a movie serial in the 30's) has to decide if her hypnosis story is true, and whether or not she should be made aware of her previous life. OK but not essential viewing. [FMC]

Thursday, October 14, 2004


One of the best "Poverty Row" movies I've ever seen, with a great October atmosphere and a fine performance by George Zucco in a dual role. The plot is essentially an uncredited rewrite of the Lugosi DRACULA, with the angry villagers of FRANKENSTEIN thrown in for good measure. We first see Zucco as Dr. Lloyd Clayton, attending the funeral of his brother Elwyn--the shot of Zucco looking down into the casket at himself, before we know what's going on, provides a nice "Twilight Zone" shock. Elwyn was the wicked brother, who spent his days searching out and studying arcane occult texts; Lloyd, the good brother, actually killed Elwyn, throwing him off a cliff during an argument, though it's never quite made clear if it was an accident (as the townsfolk assume) or on purpose. At any rate, thanks to his devil-worshipping ways, Elwyn returns from the dead as a vampire to prey on his niece (Mary Carlisle). No one believes Kate (Fern Emmett), the crazy old lady who goes around telling anyone who'll listen that Elwyn is still around and up to no good, until the niece starts suffering from the time-honored effects of Elwyn's nightly visits. Carlisle's drab boyfriend (Nedrick Young) teams up with Lloyd to fight the undead fiend. Zucco, who was doing supporting parts in A and B level movies in addition to his starriing roles in these ultra-low budget shockers, does a great job with the two roles, and there are some nice split-screen effects used. Some critics might say that Zucco is a bit campy, but since almost no one else in the movie acts much at all (especially the terrible Young), Zucco has to carry the film, and he does. Dwight Frye, playing a hunchbacked variation on his Renfield role from DRACULA, tries hard, but he looks tired and bloated before his time--I didn't even recognize him at first--and indeed he died a few months after finishing the movie. Lost of shadowy atmosphere helps, and the climax, with the two brothers duking it out in a room that's on fire while the townspeople watch from outside, is very nicely done. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

THE GHOUL (1934)

For many years, this film was only available in choppy, murky prints, but last year MGM put it out on DVD with a fresh print found in England. The good news is that it looks fantastic, like it was just filmed yesterday. The bad news is that this DVD makes it clear that the movie is only so-so. It's the first film which was released with an "H" (for Horror) rating in England, but it's really more an "old dark house" thriller with a vaguely supernatural atmosphere. Boris Karloff is a dying Egyptologist who believes he has the secret to eternal life. He has a rare jewel bandaged into his hand just before he dies, and is buried in a vault with a large statue of an Egyptian god. He thinks he will rise up, place the jewel in the statue's hand, and life forever. But while Karloff is on his deathbed, his servant (Ernest Thesiger) steals the jewel. After Karloff's interment, a houseful of acquaintances, relatives, and jewel-searchers converge upon the house, including Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Richardson, Kathleen Harrison, and a bland romantic couple (Anthony Bushnell and Dorothy Hyson). Karloff does indeed rise up and goes looking for the jewel; this would seem to be a supernatural occurrence, but an unlikely "rational" solution is thrown in, in a short dialogue scene that looks like it was added at the last minute. The chief villain turns out to be Richardson, and the climax, with he and the couple stuck inside Karloff's vault when a fire breaks out, is well done. The first few minutes, as Karloff is dying, are very atmospheric and as creepy as anything in a Universal horror classic, but the rest of the movie doesn't come close to living up to that. Still, definitely worth a look. [DVD]

Monday, October 11, 2004


This Irwin Allen sci-fi adventure movie became the basis for a mid-60's TV show which I fondly remember, along with "The Outer Limits" and "Johnny Quest," as fueling my interest in science fiction when I was growing up. Walter Pidgeon is commander of the Seaview, an experimental atomic submarine. While under the sea on a test run with lawmakers and a reporter on board, the Van Allen radiation belt catches fire, threatening the entire aboveground world. Pidgeon thinks his ship can fire missiles at the belt to stop the fire, and when the U.N. is too slow to approve his action, he takes off himself to give it a shot. Pidgeon is supposed to be seen as a single-minded zealot, and he does have his opponents on board (including a mysterious person who is out to sabotage the mission), but he's generally too rational and bland to be viewed as dangerous by anyone, or even particularly compelling to the viewer. The supporting cast includes Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre, Frankie Avalon (who sings the lovely theme song!), John Litel, and Barbara Eden, though this isn't really an actor's movie and none of them get much of a chance to shine. I also recognized Howard McNear, who played Floyd the Barber on the Andy Griffith Show. The DVD print is pristine and colorful and some of the effects are good, but it's best if you don't think too much about the science involved. This had a bigger budget than the TV series, but the series was more fun. [DVD]

Saturday, October 09, 2004


An excellent if little-known horror film, one of the few that Karloff did in his native England after he hit the big time with Universal in the USA. Karloff is a scientist who has developed a method to switch the "thought content" of beings from one body to another. We see a successful experiment in which he switches the "thoughts" of a passive monkey and an aggressive monkey, and Lord Haslewood (Frank Cellier) offers him financial backing to continue his work, but during a conference of scientists, Karloff is ridiculed and Cellier reneges on his agreement. This sends Karloff over the edge and for revenge he puts Cellier's brain into the body of Karloff's crippled assistant (Donald Calthorp) and vice versa. This is roughly the halfway point in the story, and a twist follows that I don't want to reveal--suffice to say that plans go astray (as mad scientist's plans are wont to do), leading to death and destruction. There is the requisite romantic couple (John Loder and Anna Lee) who get involved, though they come off as rather bland and difficult to care about compared to the other characters. The ending is too pat for its own good, but that doesn't ruin the movie. Cellier is particularly good in what amounts to a dual role, first as the high-class Haslewood and then as Haslewood with the cripple's brain. As usual, Karloff is fine, doing one of the first of his B-movie mad scientist roles that would end up typecasting him. This one rarely shows up on cable, but is available on DVD, and would be perfect viewing for a creepy October evening. (Also known as THE MAN WHO LIVED AGAIN.) [DVD]

Thursday, October 07, 2004


These two Falcon movies, the second and fourth in the series, provide a nice contrast between the two different actors who played the character. DATE has George Sanders playing Gay Lawrence, the original Falcon, a wealthy bachelor who informally helps the police investigate crimes--I did a Google search on the character and the descriptive phrase that came up most often was "freelance troubleshooter." A scientist who was about to sell his formula for creating perfect synthetic diamonds is kidnapped and later found dead. Sanders is dragged away from his fiancee (Wendy Barrie) by Inspector O'Hara (James Gleason) to work on the case and they run into the usual hot dames, tough punks, and sticky situations. In most of the early Falcon movies, sidekick Allen Jenkins provides the comic relief, but here, much of the movie is comic, which for me works well--not all Falcon fans agree. The most amusing scene has Sanders insulting a group of cops from a car so that the cops will stop the car and he can escape the clutches of kidnappers. There's a twist involving identical twins (which I figured out ahead of time), but otherwise, as in most Falcon movies, the pleasure comes less from the plotting and more from the characters and dialogue.

Unfortunately, Sanders got tired of the series after only three films, so in the fourth one, THE FALCON'S BROTHER, Tom Conway, Sanders' real-life brother, enters as Tom Lawrence, Gay's brother, to take over. Sanders goes to meet his brother arriving on a boat from South America; a man using Conway's name is found murdered in his cabin and Sanders knows it's not really him, but he lets the cops think it is so he can go about his own investigation. It's all about Nazi spies who are using a fashion magazine's covers to communicate classified information. Sanders gets a concussion and is laid up for most of the movie, leaving his brother to do the sleuthing. In the end, Sanders sacrifices himself to stop the assassination of a Mexican diplomat and Conway decides to stay in New York to be the new Falcon. The comedy is downplayed, and Gleason and Jenkins are gone, replaced by disappointing second-string actors Cliff Clark and Don Barclay. Sanders sleepwalks through his role, obviously happy to be leaving the series, and Conway is nowhere near as debonair and slyly amusing as Sanders. One bright spot is Jane Randolph as a fashion reporter who tags along with the brothers. The later Conway movies are watchable (see my review of two of them on 5/31/02) but the earlier Sanders movies (including THE FALCON TAKES OVER, reviewed 8/29/03) are more enjoyable. [TCM]

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


This is a B-movie with a little more gloss than usual courtesy Twentieth Century-Fox. The story combines thematic elements from ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (mad doctor, animal experimentation) with the style of "old dark house" thrillers like THE CAT AND THE CANARY, and is quite successful within its B-horror film parameters. Shepperd Strudwick (billed under his birth name, John Shepperd) arrives in a small French village to see his finacee (Lynne Roberts), who is living with her uncle, the research doctor of the title (George Zucco). Of course, we know from the title that Zucco will eventually display some dark side to his personality, but in the beginning, most everyone seems likeable, even Noel (J. Carrol Naish), an assistant to Zucco, who has a creepy look and manner about him that is difficult to pin down, though he seems more odd than sinister. The only character we actively do not like is ex-con Mike Mazurki, just out of jail and clearly ready to raise trouble. A drunk who had crashed in the motel room that was supposed to go to Strudwick is murdered and suspicion falls on both Naish and Mazurki. Naish has a sixth sense about animals, which we see when he avoids a car collision with a dog, but later when that dog is found dead, hanging from a tree, Naish is the main suspect. Strudwick soon discovers that Zucco has been engaging in some extreme experiments with animals, and Naish turns out to be the result of one of those experiments, an ape turned into a man. Does that mean that he's also a brutal killer? The hour-long film moves at a good clip, with an exciting climax. The sets and lighting add to the atmosphere (as does a short scene involving a hand reaching out of a secret wall passage), and the acting is more subtle than one usually finds in a mad scientist movie, with Zucco and Naish particularly good. The doctor's secret is revealed in an interesting fashion, not in direct flashback but through a narrated diary accompanied by photographs. This is one of those films I remember cropping up a lot on Chiller Theater back in the 60's but is harder to find today. Worth seeing. [FMC]

Monday, October 04, 2004


A William Castle film which is essentially a period melodrama with some Gothic trappings being passed off as a horror movie. Ronald Lewis is an English doctor who is called to a European castle by an old girlfriend (Audrey Dalton) to attend to her husband, Baron Sardonicus (Guy Rolfe). The baron is a rather cruel taskmaster who always wears a plain mask because his face is frozen in a hideous grimace; Lewis' job is to cure him. We see in flashback that the disfigurement occurred when Rolfe dug up his father's grave in order to get a winning lottery ticket out of his jacket; he thinks he became the victim of some kind of supernatural curse. Lewis does cure him, discovering that the problem is all psychological, and he leaves the castle with Dalton. In the end, Rolfe's servant (Oscar Homolka) gets revenge on Rolfe for his cruel ways. There's a campy William Castle opening in which he promises the theater audience that they will be able to vote near the end of the movie in a "Punishment Poll" as to whether or not Rolfe will suffer. The character is indeed not a nice guy--we see a serving girl getting tortured with leeches in an attempt to find a serum cure for Rolfe's disfigured face--but he doesn't quite strike me as evil, and the final punishment feels almost too cruel; after all, he's already lost his wife. Even though the audience was led to believe that their vote could affect the movie's ending, only one ending was ever shot, since Castle knew the audience would want revenge. The black and white movie looks OK, though not as lush as some of the Roger Corman/AIP movies this was competing with at the time. Solid, but it doesn't quite live up to its reputation. [DVD]

Saturday, October 02, 2004

THE OTHER (1972)

Creepy kids with a propensity for murder are nothing special in movies these days, but this was, I think, one of the earliest films to use that theme (after, of course, THE BAD SEED and THE INNOCENTS) and possibly the first to let the killing kid off scot free. Set in the past (I'm not sure why) in a small farming town, it's the story of twin 10-year-old brothers (played by real twins Chris and Martin Udvarnoky); one seems to be good and kind, well mannered and very loving to his ill, fragile mother (Diana Muldaur), while the other is spiteful and ornery, perhaps even downright evil, causing a string of deaths that appear on the surface to be tragic accidents. About halfway through the movie, there's a twist that viewers might see coming (but that I remember being shocked by when I read the Thomas Tryon novel that the film is based on) which, like in an M. Night Shyamalan movie, forces you to rethink much of what has happened before. Shyamalan uses these twists lazily, but here it's used to give some interesting psychological depth to the situation. The movie is atmospheric; even though most of it is shot in bright (if filtered and gauzy) sunshine, the darkness of the story is conveyed fully. Famous Broadway actress (and teacher) Uta Hagen is good as a grandmother who may have vaguely supernatural powers. The Unvarnoky brothers are fine but neither one made another movie. I highly recommend the book as a good October read; the movie isn't quite as good, but it's worth seeing, and I hope it gets a letterboxed DVD release soon. I suggest reading the book first. [FMC]

Friday, October 01, 2004


It's October again, and time for a month of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery. This Val Lewton B-thriller is usually lumped in with the horror films he did for RKO (CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, etc.), but except for its foggy, gloomy atmosphere, it doesn't really belong in that category. If you adjust your expectations from horror to psychological thriller, you may find this enjoyable. Russell Wade, young and inexperienced, joins the crew of the Altair as 3rd officer to the middle-aged captain, Richard Dix. There are immediate omens of bad luck: Wade learns that his predecessor died of mysterious convulsions in his cabin, and a crew member is found dead (apparently of a heart attack) just before they leave port. Wade soon discovers that behind Dix's calm exterior lies a lonely person who feels it is his lot in life to remain isolated from others. Dix also has a thing for authority and can mete out sadistic punishment when he thinks it's needed. One crew member (Lawrence Tierney, later a star of many hardboiled B-noirs) dies in an apparent accident, crushed by the ship's anchor chain, though Wade suspects that Dix was responsible (because Tierney questioned the captain's authority). On shore, Wade brings charges against Dix but they don't stick and when the Altair leaves, Wade is kept a virtual prisoner by Dix. Things come to a boil in a graphic knife fight involving Dix and a mute sailor (whose voice-over thoughts have functioned like a Greek chorus throughout). Like the other Lewton/RKO movies, its budgetary shortcomings are obvious but interesting style and atmosphere (lots of well-placed shadows and fog) help; a scene involving a gigantic and deadly anchor hook that swings wildly about the deck one rough night is especially well done. Wade is fine, though Dix, toward the end of his career, is rather boringly one-note. Edmund Glover gives stand-out support as an intellectual who sides with Wade (for a while). Calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who sang throughout I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, gets in a few sea chanteys along the way. Directed by Mark Robson, who did several other Lewton B's. This movie was out of commission for almost 50 years due to legal entanglements, and therefore has a strong reputation, which it doesn't completely live up to. [Laserdisc]