Archive for the Horror Category

The Shuttered Room (1967)

Posted in Horror with tags , , on September 29, 2013 by monsterminions

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I’ve never been a big fan of Oliver Reed. I liked his performances in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and as the aging warrior Proximo in Gladiator (his last film), but in too many of his films he plays the stereotyped tough guy -to the extreme. However, his performances rarely seem to stand out. I’ve never seen much range in the actor, who had no formal acting background or training on stage, and as the roughneck Ethan in The Shuttered Room (1967), he is largely unintelligible. However, Reed was a screen presence and was rarely boring (after all, he starred in the first film to drop an F-bomb). I liken his physical aura a bit to Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who is a great actor, but seems to have had juicy scripts and collaboration with fine directors.

I’ve reached a bit of a horror film impasse. After 40 years of watching horror-sci fi-fantasy films I’ve seen just about every mainstream “classic” available, and now rely on film literature, blogs, podcasts and websites searching for something new. I still have a long way to go with Japanese and Spanish horror films. Occasionally, I’ll find something different on a DVD anthology. Such is the case with The Shuttered Room, appearing as a double bill with the Roddy McDowall golem film IT! (1967).

The Shuttered Room is a pleasant surprise, with creepy long pans, perspective photography, an unusual progressive jazz score and off-beat casting with Gig Young and Carol Lynley (as husband and wife!), Flora Robson as a witch-like aunt, and Oliver Reed as Oliver Reed. The setting is a superstitious island fishing community off the coast of New England. The village draws comparison to the pagan community of Summerisle, off the coast of Scotland, in Robin Hardy’s superior The Wicker Man (1973). In The Shuttered Room, Carol Lynley returns with her husband to her home to discover her past. Lynley was an extraordinarily beautiful actress at her physical pinnacle in this film. She played well opposite older men such as Darren McGavin in The Night Stalker (1972). I also like veteran actress Flora Robson as witchy aunt Agatha, who played one of the Stygian witches in Clash of the Titans (1981). Robson plays the mysterious matriarch role to the hilt.

The film is strengthened by restrained direction and effective use of visually interesting outdoor settings, including a humdinger of a lighthouse, windswept beaches and coastal environs, craggy habitats and an old grain mill harboring a secret. A one-eyed puritan hiding behind a welder’s mask will delight almost any horror fan.

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The Shuttered Room was advertised as being based on a H.P. Lovecraft tale. The story was actually penned by Lovecraft affiliate August Derleths. Don’t expect space creatures, ancient ones or monsters from the deep in the film adaptation. Overall, worth seeking out. I picked up The Shuttered Room/IT! DVD for $5 at Best Buy.

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http://realmofryan.blogspot.com/2010/01/august-derleths-shuttered-room.html

Check out this cool Japanese poster:

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Pick 50 Monster Films!

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi with tags on September 26, 2013 by monsterminions

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Here are my picks for 50 monster films in no particular order. Seems I like monster flicks from the mid 1950’s!

  1. Frankenstein (1931)
  2. Alien (1979)
  3. The Fly (1958)
  4. The Fly (1986)
  5. Gojira (1954)
  6. Night of the Demon (1957)
  7. Jaws (1975)
  8. King Kong (1933)
  9. Basket Case (1982)
  10. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  11. Dracula (1958)
  12. The Wolf Man (1941)
  13. 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
  14. It Conquered the World (1956)
  15. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
  16. Piranha (1978)
  17. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  18. The Mummy (1931)
  19. The Blob (1958)
  20. Fiend Without a Face (1958)
  21. Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957)
  22. Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964)
  23. El Baron of Terror (1962)
  24. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
  25. Aliens (1986)
  26. The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)
  27. Ship of Monsters (1960)
  28. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
  29. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  30. Re-Animator (1985)
  31. Them! (1954)
  32. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
  33. Dracula (1931)
  34. Island of Terror (1966)
  35. Brides of Dracula (1960)
  36. Nosferatu (1922)
  37. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
  38. It Came from Outer Space (1953)
  39. Rodan (1956)
  40. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
  41. The Howling (1981)
  42. Return of the Vampire (1944)
  43. Werewolf of London (1935)
  44. Son of Frankenstein (1939)
  45. The Black Scorpion (1957)
  46. The Land that Time Forgot (1975)
  47. The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
  48. The Abominable Snowman (1957)
  49. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
  50. Ju jin yuki otoko (1955)

Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician (Biography)

Posted in Horror, Karloff & Lugosi, Weird Science with tags , , on September 13, 2013 by monsterminions

Kenneth Strickfaden’s (1896-1984) career as an electrical technician in movies and television spanned over 50 years. Surprisingly, there is only one biography written about his fascinating life and contributions to cinema, television and construction of electrical apparatus. Kenneth Strickfaden: Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician (Harry Goldman, McFarland & Co., 224 pages) is a fascinating celebration of an enigmatic man who self-taught himself during an era dominated by apprenticeship and mentor-pupil relationships. Strickfaden essentially pioneered and monopolized electrical special effects during the 1930’s and was the go-to-man for several decades. Author Harry Goldman even makes note of Disney engineers consulting with Strickfaden on ways to synch audio with talking automatons used at a Disney theme park.

Strickfaden’s resume of films was impressive, but generally spanned from Frankenstein (Universal, 1931) to Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein (1974). Author Harry Goldman notes he made contributions to over 80 films, including Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), War of the Worlds (1953), The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Munsters Dr. Shrimperstein episode (1966) and many others. He also helped with silents before and some television and film consulting afterwards. Mel Brooks called the man a genius. Strickfaden’s talents have become a bit of a lost art in cinema. It is safer and typically more cost-effective to render lightning effects using computer-aided graphics. The next time you watch one of these old horror films try and spot one of Strickfaden’s devices.

Kenneth Strickfaden: Dr. Frankenstein’s Electrician is essential horror film reading that will also appeal to Nikola Tesla fans. The book consists of 19 Chapters and 4 Appendices. Several of Strickfaden’s sketches and notes are included in Appendix B. Also check out a few screen captures and images I have presented below.

Here’s the opening shot of Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). That’s Strickfaden’s Nebularium, although it also looks a bit like another mirrored device he called the Scintillarium. In any event, the distorted gargoyle-like mug of Fu Manchu is appropriately distorted by Strickfaden’s device and DOP Tony Gaudio’s striking cinematography.

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Dr. Fu Manchu tests a soon-to-be debunked sword of Genghis Khan using a Tesla coil (conical apparatus with an orb on top).

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Boris Karloff as the nefarious (“three times a doctor”) Fu Manchu. That’s Strickfaden’s Multistributor behind Karloff.

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Kenneth Strickfaden in Fu Manchu makeup, by Cecil Holland, standing in for a voltage-shy Boris Karloff. In an earlier take, Strickfaden took a nasty arc due to an improper ground, but he returned to finish the shot.

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Kenneth Strickfaden, age 85 with the giant primary Meg Sr., used during educational exhibitions and in several films, including Young Frankenstein (1974).

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Here’s a shot from 1975 with Kenneth Strickfaden (center) and friends with the Nebularium electrical device seen in several Golden Age horror films, including The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

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A Night to Remember

Harry Goldman’s Book

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Alien Test Footage

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi with tags on September 11, 2013 by monsterminions

Puppet Master 4 (1993)

Posted in Horror, STOP-MOTION with tags on September 8, 2013 by monsterminions

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I purchased the Puppet Master DVD 9-pack for $5 at a K-Mart in Houghton Lake, Michigan. To be honest, I had no idea that the series was so successful with nine films -actually eleven films made, but I’ll fork out a finski for this much entertainment. Puppet Master 4 (1993) might be considered the Halloween III of the lot. It shift gears with the puppets playing the good guys much like Arnold’s Terminator in T2: Judgement Day (1991). PM3 also had the puppets protecting the puppet master. In PM4, the villain is the Skeletor-like Egyptian sorcerer Sutekh hellbent on punishing the legacy of André Toulon. David Allen (b. 1944, d. 1999) is back, supervising the puppet effects, and introducing two new creations: a super cool ornate tribal totem demon (actually there are a few), shown below, and the remarkable Decapitron which serves as an Avatar for André Toulon’s spirit. The resurrection of Decapitron is a highlight and fans of the Universal Frankenstein series will likely enjoy the homage. I love Decapitron’s Tesla coils and spark apparatus. The demise of the first totem is also grisly fun, with Blade, Pinhead and the Peter Lorresque Tunneler doing the hero work.

I plopped in this film to watch puppets battle demons and that’s what I got. PM4 features actor Gordon Currie as cybernetic engineer Rick Myers and Ash “The Panther” Adams (that’s what IMDb says) as Cameron the 1980’s dick-head. Think of the character Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) in John Hughes’ Some Kind of Wonderful (1987). PM4 is light entertainment that delivers what it proposes “When bad puppets turn good”. Now I have 8 more to go….

Check out this original puppet that sold for $3,200.00.
Totem Puppet Sold

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Survivor (1999)

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi with tags , on September 3, 2013 by monsterminions

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I purchased this film on an 8 for $5 Monster Movie DVD pack I purchased at K-Mart. I had a hard time finding the film on IMDb. The one poster I found comes from the German down-load site. This isn’t a bad little alien romp, with an oil exploration crew battling a predator-like creature unearthed in polar ice. Survivor is a retread of The Thing from Another World, Predator, and Roger Corman’s Night of the Blood Beast (1958), but it held my attention. The fades between scenes suggest to me that the film was made for TV.

The monster design is cool and reminded me of a cross between the Thetan (The Architects of Fear), a gray alien and Predator. There’s also a subplot with a “food of the gods” blue ooze that heals people, some decent kills, and really bad acting. Survivor is worth a look, but don’t seek it out beyond a free download or YouTube.

IMDb

Criterion Title 666

Posted in Horror with tags , on August 17, 2013 by monsterminions

What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.

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When Guillermo del Toro (GDT) is on target with films like Cronos (1993), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001) few modern directors can match his vision of gothic horror and homage to films that are no longer made. At his best I think he is a maverick filmmaker with an unmatched visceral style that bucks the system and says “this is how I make a film”. I still consider Pan’s Labyrinth the best horror-fantasy film of the last 20 or so years (I can’t think of any film quite like it), and the Spanish-language El espinazo del diablo one of the finest ghost films ever. At his worst we see studio-imposed blockbusters with CGI rubbish, albeit entertainment such as the gigantically disappointing Pacific Rim (2013). It’s still difficult for me to comprehend that a man who wrote, directed and produced Backbone and Labyrinth could churn out headache-inducing hollywood IMAX/3D/D-Box fodder.

I first saw The Devil’s Backbone in an art theater in the metro-Detroit area. I had never heard of GDT. I remembered him afterward. The film occurs during the Spanish Civil War, sometime between 1936-1939. A 1935 Peugeot 601D sedan rumbles down a barren, wind-swept landscape to an orphanage. Young Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives with his tutor, who fights for the Republican loyalist minority. Carlos’ dad has died in the war. The orphanage is run by Dr. Casares (well-played by GTD regular Federico Luppi) and headmistress Carmen (Marisa Paredes), who has a prosthetic leg. The villain of the story is groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). Also present is compassionate teacher Conchita (Irene Visedo), who is involved with Jacinto. An unexploded ordinance, a metaphorical bomb the size of a sedan sits planted in the pavilion of the orphanage.

The orphanage is populated with colorful characters like Jamie (Iñigo Garcés) the bully, and Owl, who doesn’t speak but watches a lot and once made a marble out of dirt and 6 months of snot. Carlos is given bunk 12, which belonged to Santi who mysteriously disappeared. Another entity is present in the orphanage. Carlos is picked on by Jamie and the other kids and learns about a cistern underlying the orphanage. It looks like a swimming pool filled with rusty oxidized water. We also learn that the orphanage is a depository for gold used to fund the loyalists. Other odd trappings abound in the orphanage.

Dr. Cascares explains to Carlos that deformed fetuses, pickled in rum and spices, serve as a source of elixir that is profitably sold to town men looking for a cure for impotency. Cascares refers to a spinal deformity that the locals call el espinazo del diablo. He drinks a shot.

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Carlos eventually learns the secret and fate of Santi.

The Devil’s Backbone is shot in two color schemes: gold and blue (like old vintage photographs or cyanotypes). It’s a gorgeous film to look at and like Pan’s Labyrinth was story-boarded by GDT and several talented artists and shot by DOP Guillermo Navarro. GDT and production designer César Macarrón styled the doorway arches in the orphanage to look like the glass vessels containing fetuses. Also take note on the use of the color red, which is reserved for the presence of blood. Everywhere there are details in this film. Rain is added to suggest cleansing (like in Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption when Andy Dufresne finally escapes), while in PacRim it is an excuse to add an additional layer of 3D.

Criterion’s new Blu-ray print is the definitive version to own. The 2-disc set is loaded with supplements, including story board comparisons, artwork, several interviews and commentaries and deleted scenes. The uncredited cover artwork by GDT collaborator and friend Mike “Hellboy” Mignola and essay by Mark Kermode are also special. I also like the Criterion touch of making this film title #666.

I’d like to watch a GDT film with the director. I think it would be a fascinating experience. I love his style and appreciation of old films and gothic horror. I might be tempted to watch Pacific Rim. I’d ask him what the hell were you thinking with yet another rain shot and stupid “top gun” cliches. Sometimes I wonder if GDT is better making films in his native language.

GDT has noted that “The better the villain the better the film”. I think this is true -remember Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh? Orson Welles as police captain Hank Quinlan? Or Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death (1947)(I remember him pushing that wheelchair-bound woman down the stairs, but that’s all I remember). A good villain can carry a film. The evil Jacinto is despicable but he is no match for the porcelain-faced Santi who says “bring him to me…”.

The Devil’s Backbone. Essential horror viewing. One of the top Blu-ray and DVD releases of 2013.

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