I’m watching the subtitled Spanish language version of Dracula (1931). Right after the Demeter arrives in English port with a crew of the dead, a headline appears. Unfortunately the good folks at Universal home media didn’t subtitle the headline. Fear not -I used my trusty “Word Lens” app to translate.
Archive for the Horror Category
Oooooooh. Halloween is right around the corner. Here are my film picks for a long evening of monster mayhem. Let’s start with an animated short.
Ub Iwerk’s brilliant The Skeleton Dance (1929) is a masterwork of early American animation available on the Walt Disney Treasures Collection, DVD Catalogue #52420 (The Adventures of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit). The short runs approximately 5:30 and is a delight from beginning to end and is perfect for setting the mood for the following films.
The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (aka Castle of the Walking Dead, 1967) is a quintessential 1960’s Euro-horror film loosely based on Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1983), and reminds me of various Poe-influenced fright films produced under American-International Pictures (House of Usher, 1960; TPATP, 1961 and others). The film stars the inimitable Christopher Lee as a sadistic nobleman who has returned from being drawn and quartered to raise blood-letting hell on those that defy him. Karin Dor (You Only Live Twice, 1967) provides the eye candy. This film has all the Halloween trappings including colorful photography, a corridor with arachnids and scorpions, a snake pit, skeleton, green blood, ghosts, cobbly passageways, and diabolical torture devices, including one hell of a pendulum.
This is the film where Christopher Lee’s body, under suspended animation, reassembles and connects (*pop*) dismembered limbs! Be sure to watch the widescreen “Johnny Legend Presents” DVD with added bonus feature Death Smiles of a Murderer (1973)(not recommended).
For the next film I recommend a lesser known horror film from the golden age of horror. Paramount’s Murders in the Zoo (1933) is one of the most gruesome pre-code horror-thrillers ever made. Lionell Atwill plays a fiendish psychopathic zoologist and game hunter Eric Gorman, possibly patented after animal collector Frank Buck (1884-1950), who has problems with other men looking at his wife, and knows nefarious ways of dealing with them! Right from the opening this film packs a wallop.
Zoo has a solid cast with Randolph Scott (who starred in three non-western genre films with Zoo, 1933; Supernatural, 1933; and She, 1935), as a herpetologist, Gail Patrick, character actor Charles Ruggles, and Lionell Atwill as the heavy. Here’s another film with odd halloween accoutrements, including venomous snakes, venom injection apparatus, a monster crocodile and other surprises. Unfortunately, Zoo is hard to come by on DVD. It was once available as a TCM Vault Collection “Universal Cult Horror Collection” set of five films.
If you can’t find Murders in the Zoo, Universal’s The Old Dark House (1932) is the lesser known and appreciated of James Whale’s horror films, including Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). I like the film a lot, with major kudos to cinematographer Arthur Edeson (Frankenstein, 1931; The Maltese Falcon, 1941) and a superb script and cast, but I don’t agree with horror film historian and author Bryan Senn, who describes the film as “the one truly flawless picture from the golden age of horror” (Melvyn Douglas’ singing and comedic quips annoy me and there are too many characters in the story). The film is best known today for Karloff’s performance as the ape-like butler Morgan. Check out the KINO special collector’s edition DVD, with running commentary by actress Gloria Stuart.
For the finale I’m picking Richard Gordon’s wildly entertaining horror/sci-fi hybrid Fiend Without a Face (1957). This is the film with the stop-motion animated brain suckers terrorizing an air force base. Be sure to grab the Criterion 1.66:1 print of this classic of British genre filmmaking.
With Halloween just around the corner most horror fans will relish the moment to watch their share of Universal and Hammer classics. I will too, but I I thought it would be fun to pick a list of oddballs, following these simple rules:
- Include at least one silent film
- No Universal films
- No Hammer films
- No more than two sub-genre films (e.g. 3 vampire, 3 werewolf, 3 zombie films not allowed)
- Include at least one modern era film (year 2005 to present)
Here are my picks!
Mad Monster Party? (1967). This Rankin-Bass stop-motion gem features the voice talents of Boris Karloff, Allen Swift, Grammy award winner Gale Garnett (We’ll sing in the sunshine) and Phyllis Diller. Dr. Frankenstein decides to have one last bash and invites the crew, including Dracula, the wolf man, the creature, Dr. Jekyll, the invisible man, the mummy, a hunchback, the monster, and a few other surprises show up. Along with A&C Meet Frankenstein (1948), this is the most kid friendly monster film ever made. Horror fans will also enjoy this due to Karloff’s presence, a wacky busty cat-fight (!), and contributions by Forrest J. Ackerman. The puppets were designed by Jack Davis who was the poster artist for the minimalist U.S. one sheet poster of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
Brainiac (El Barón Del Terror, 1961). Described as “the most bizarre horror movie ever”. Along with The Ship of Monsters (La Nave de los Monstrous, 1959), which defies description, this film garners my vote for the most entertaining and weird Mexican horror film ever made. What’s not to like about a satanic Baron who seeks modern-day revenge as a grotesque, forked-tongue, pulsating bobble-head who gobbles up human brains? Be sure to track down the OOP CasaNegra DVD with Kirb Pheeler’s off the wall and informative audio commentary.
Dr. X (1932). This early two-strip Technicolor oddity was based on a short-run play from 1928. After its premiere, a New York Times critic described the film as a “production that almost makes ‘Frankenstein’ seem tame and friendly”. Lionell Atwill is at his creative creepiest as the vile Dr. X and Fay Wray screams her head off. What’s really sets this film apart is the bizarre production design and extraordinary makeup by cosmetic giant Max Factor.
After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight…
The Call of Cthulhu (2005). I double dipped on this one! Ha! This one gets my entry for both a silent and modern film, and what a duesie it is. This low-budget production by the HPLHS is bar none the finest film adaptation of Lovecraft ever. Had this film been made in 1929 it would have been hailed one of greatest horror films of all time.
Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972). Amando de Ossorio’s films are not for all tastes. They are clearly exploitative and full of contrivances and plot holes. Some people consider this film slow (try watching Dracula, 1931). However, the scenes with the evil Knight Templars, on horseback are so creepy and unusual it will keep most horror fans delighted. Tombs of the Blind Dead is essential viewing for fans of 1970’s Euro-horror.
I slipped in two Mario Bava films. The first is Hercules in the Haunted World (1961), starring Reg Park as Hercules and a dubbed (Err!) Christopher Lee as the evil King Licos. The sets, production design and cinematography (by Bava) in this film are just sublime. This film looks as good as any color film Bava has ever made. Reg Park is the definitive Hercules and Chris Lee is the prototypical villain. Sir. Christopher will you kindly dub your voice back into this film?
or an even better scene….
I Vampiri (Lust of the Vampire / The Vampires / The Devil’s Commandment, 1957) is widely credited as being the first Italian horror film. For my money it’s one of the best vampire films ever made. Credit Maestro Bava who helmed the camera and worked up the special effects. The sets, lighting, camera work and dream-like atmosphere elevates this film to top notch horror. The film suckers you in as a who done it mystery and leaves you with your jaw on the floor. This is exquisitive horror that looks good today.
The Deadly Spawn (1983). I saw this low-budget gem as a kid and have loved it ever since. It’s an homage to so many sci-fi/horror flicks from the 50’s. Think The Blob meets Audrey Junior (and if you know who Audrey Junior is you are reading the right blog), add lots of blood and a kid weened on FMOF and you have The Deadly Spawn. This is one of the very best horror tribute films to come out of the 1980’s and an effective monster movie to boot.
Eaten Alive (1976 or 1977, depending on source). This low-budget redneck horror flick stars cowboy heavy Neville Brand as a psychotic hick who feeds people who cross him to his pet crocodile. There you have it! This Tobe Hooper film came after Chainsaw Massacre (1974) but before the TVM Salem’s Lot (1979), and features a strong cast with Mel Ferre, Carolyn Jones, Robert Englund, and Stuart Whitman.
Blood Feast (1963). This infamous gore splatter concoction from Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Frieman first came to my attention in the 1980’s by way of the notorious Golden Turkey Awards (which I don’t agree with), where the brothers Medved nominated Lewis the worst director of all time (losing to Edward D. Wood, Jr.). The film is fairly tame by today’s standards and the blood comes across as being red paint, but the film still holds me in a trance and the scene with Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) yanking a tongue out of a woman’s throat still freaks me out. Don’t pair this with Mad Monster Party as a kiddie double feature!
Here’s the trailer from Something Weird Video:
During the making of Fitzcarraldo (1982) director Werner Herzog decided to actually cart and drag a 300-ton steamship through the rainforest of the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru, rather than using miniatures, forced perspectives or other special effects. The final results on film are extraordinary. Herzog attempted the feat because he noted that it had never been done before for a movie, calling himself “Conquistador of the Useless.”
With rare exceptions, Herzog’s films are realistic and minimalistic character explorations. Off hand, I can think of one Herzog vehicle —Incident at Loch Ness (2004), which uses CGI. Herzog stars and narrates this film, but it was directed by Zak Penn. Herzog’s films focus on people and relationships. Some, like the largely forgotten and gorgeously photographed Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) (nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes), starring Bruce Spence (The Road Warrior, 1982) have a political message. Most of his films are beautifully shot, such as Green Ants, Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre the Wrath of God (1972), The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), and Herzog’s revisionist spin on the German Expressionist classic Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922), titled Nosferatu the Vampyre (Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht) (1979), just released by Shoutfactory as a stunning HD Blu-ray transfer.
Nosferatu the Vampyre is an exceptional homage made during the same time-frame that John Carpenter completed Halloween (1979), Ridley Scott helmed Alien (1979), and mainstream American horror was evolving into mad slasher films and creature eat ’em uppers (my term), respectively. Herzog’s boogieman of course is Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski, b. 1926 d. 1991), portrayed as a sickly and grotesque elf-like being, carrying plague and in turn being plagued by the beauty of Lucy Harker (Isabelle Adjani). There are no transformations from humanoid to bat, rat, wolf nor hyena. Herzog implies Dracula’s metamorphosis through simple images of a bat in motion or rats crawling as pestilence on the vessel Demeter or on the mainland.
The film was lensed in a distinct expressionist style by Herzog collaborator and cinematographer Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. I don’t know of any horror films from that era shot and designed quite like Nosferatu the Vampyre, with muted color palate, asymetrical photographic compositions (just like Murnau’s original) and dramatic use of light and dark lighting contrasts, because it’s probably the only horror film from the 70’s shot that way. I might be wrong. The European settings (Germany?) help the same way Dan Curtis’ version of Dracula (1974) works —the Count is in home territory.
The makeup effects are old school prosthetic appliances helmed by Dominque Colladant and Reiko Kruk. Kinski is particularly vile as the Count. I think he is terrific in the lead role and along with Max Schrek (Nosferatu, 1922) and Reggie Nalder as Barlow (Salem’s Lot, ironically also made in 1979), is arguably the ugliest vampire in cinema history. I also like Roland Topor’s performance as the insectivorous Renfield —he reminds me of Peter Lorre (who would have made an awesome Reinfield) when he laughs.
A few final comments on the Blu-ray pressing. The film looks great and has been out of print for several years. I had an old VHS copy, but there is no comparison. Both the English and German versions of the film are presented. The English version has an outstanding dub. I believe Kinski performed the English dubbing for his parts, but I may be wrong. It sounds like Kinski. I can hear Herzog calling up Kinski on the phone: “Now KLOWZ…Be nice… I need you to come in for the English dialogue….” “Piss off VAHR-Ner…”.
There are also a few trailers and a supplemental film on Making of Nosferatu (worth watching). This is essential horror viewing and one of the 5 best vampire films ever made.