Archive for the Horror Category

Unusual Vampire Films

Posted in Horror with tags , , on October 27, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

I’m estimating that I’ve seen Béla Lugosi’s film Dracula (1931) at least once a year since I was about 6 —I’m picking that age because I know I watched Frankenstein (1931) on the original Svengoolie’s Screaming Yellow Theater circa 1971, so I was bound to have caught Dracula too. That’s 43 years ago, so I am thinking I’ve seen Drac 5o to 100 times, and the real number is probably teetering closer to 200.  Compared to several other horror films from the Golden Age (1931-1939), Dracula falls short of my top ten list (however, it is in the top 20), largely due to uninspired and static cinematography (I think Browning had reins on Karl Freund) and the slow deliberate pacing of the later half. However, Lugosi’s performance is so mesmerizing I can’t help but watch the film every year during the Halloween season.  Sometimes I’ll even live on the edge and tune into the Philip Glass Kronos Quartet score (Egads). To me, Dracula is Lugosi and Lugosi is the definitive count. Sir Christopher Lee is a bloody capillary length away as No. 2.

I also appreciate Edward Van Sloan as vampire specialist Van Helsing. He’s to vampires what Quint was to sharks. For a long time as a kid I thought Van Sloan was comparable to Charleton Heston in thesbian stature or heroic abilities, having played a slayer of vampires, an expert on the occult, and advisor to Dr. Frankenstein! This guy had the juiciest roles in filmdom as exemplified in this publicity still from Dracula, which stages Edward Van Sloan vs. Dracula.

Dracula

This year I’m exploring a bit and have dug up a few unusual vampire films. They are not rare, but are discussed less than your garden variety nosferatu film du jour.  These movies experiment a bit with vampire behavior and abilities, and push the boundaries of what we expect out of our blood-sucking Strigoi (to borrow from Romanian folklore and Guillermo Del Toro).

My friend and fellow horror film aficionado Dan opines that Dracula’s Daughter (1936), which came at the end of Universal first horror cycle is a better film than its predecessor. Just as I don’t follow the camp that says the Spanish version of Dracula is superior, I’m not buying into the notion that Daughter is a more enjoyable film. To me, Lugosi’s presence trumps direction, cinematography, pacing, lighting, casting, score and all those attributes rolled into a tightly constructed deliverable. Even a bad film like The Ape Man (1943) is watchable because of Béla.  He’s that good.

Dracula's Daughter_Titles

I consider Dracula’s Daughter an unusual vampire film. On one hand it is a direct sequel to Dracula, starting immediately after the scene where Dracula is staked by Van Helsing, but it tries to stand on its own as a horror film with a fairly interesting story with Gloria Holden’s Countess Zaleska coming to grips that she too is a vampire, even after Dracula’s death, and an effective sub-plot with Van Helsing being investigated for murder.  Edward Van Sloan is fine again as Van Helsing, but it is Otto Kruger as Dr. Jeffrey Garth who carries much of the film. I also like Irving Pichel (The Most Dangerous Game, 1993; She, 1935) as Zaleska’s henchman Sandor. Dracula’s Daughter is often cited as an early film with lesbian precepts —two of Zaleska’s victims are women. Compare this to RKO’s Cat People (1943), with obvious lesbian undertones.

Director Lambert Hillyer helmed several genre films including The Invisible Ray (1936), with Karloff and Lugosi, a Batman Serial (1943), and several westerns.  While no classic, Dracula’s Daughter has some effective horror moments and is worth a look as a double-bill with Dracula.

Gloria Holden

Much has be written about the Spanish language version of Dracula (1931), which was filmed at the same time and using the same sets as the English version, but with a Spanish-speaking cast and alleged budget of $66,000.  The film was thought to be lost, but was discovered in the 1970’s, and has since been restored and is available as a supplement film on various re-issues of Dracula on DVDs and Bluray.

Spanish Dracula_Titles

I prefer George Robinson’s fluid photography in the Spanish language version of Drácula (1931) compared to Karl Freund’s (Metropolis, 1927; The Mummy, 1932; Mad Love, 1935) rather static camera in Dracula (1931).  The best way to watch this film is back-to-back with the Lugosi version. You’ll notice several differences in staging and composition, particularly in the scenes through the Borgo Pass and those occurring at Dracula’s castle. I also like the romantic leads in the Spanish version. Lupita Tovar is stunning in the lead. However, I don’t agree with Tovar who has said in an interview that the only difference between Carlos Villarías and Lugosi was in the hands (Lugosi has long angular and expressive fingers).  To me there is no comparison. While Villarías is ok, Lugosi had honed his role on stage and personified Dracula in film. However, Villarías is interesting enough where I would love to see him in his remaining 1930’s horror films The Mystery of the Ghastly Face (1935) and The Super Mad Man (1937).

The Spanish Dracula was directed by George Melford, best known as a character actor in many westerns produced in the 1940’s and 1950’s and for directing the notorious The Skeik (1921), starring Rudolph Valentino.  The real star is George Robinson’s photography. Robinson went on to be DOP for several notables, including Son of Frankenstein (1939), Tower of London (1939), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), one of the best and most atmospheric Sherlock Holmes mysteries The Scarlet Claw (1944), House of Dracula (1945), The Cat Creeps (1946) and the seminal big bug classic Tarantula (1955).

Spanish Dracula

Director Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) may be the oddest vampire film ever made. I’ve watched it a half-dozen times and still haven’t decided if I like it or not.  The film was exquisitely lensed [through a thin veil of gauze] by DOP Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928); Foreign Correspondent (1940); Gilda (1946), When World’s Collide (1951)). The film is best described as an atmospheric dream [nightmare?].  Film historian William K. Everson believes Vampyr to be the greatest horror film of the 1930’s.  It’s also plodding and difficult to follow.

VAMPYR_Titles

But with images like these….

Vampyr_Poison

Vampyr is worth a look.

Vampyr_Coffin

George Romero has been around as a director for approximately 45 years and has helmed less than 20 films.  He is best known for his zombie films, but three of my favorites include the vampire flick Martin (1978), the unique Knightriders (1981), starring a young Ed Harris, and the disturbing Monkey Shines (1981), which affirms the notion that I will never ever own a “pet” primate.

Martin_US One Sheet

Martin is a well-crafted horror thriller garnering a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.2/10 through IMDb.  Romero has claimed that Martin is the favorite of all his films.  Tom Savini provided the blood-letting. The film works by having real-life scenarios, with Martin doping victims and slicing wrists, and being treated by a religious Lithuanian zealot grand-uncle using Old World vampire exorcism techniques (use of garlic, wielding of crucifix, use of stakes). Romero has never been better.

The Vampire_Titles

Kenneth Tobey in a vampire film? Look no further than this 1950’s gem The Vampire (1957).  John Beal (The Cat and the Canary, 1939) stars as a hometown doctor who is accidentally doped with a serum derived from vampire bats!  This film has the irresistible low-budget aura like The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) and The Werewolf (1956).

The Vampire_Victim

Plus there are some shoking scenes!

Vampire was directed by Paul Landres, who is best known for his work on The Lone Ranger (1952-1953), The Cisco Kid (1950-1954) and the underrated The Return of Dracula (1958), starring Francis Lederer as the count (also worth a look). Check out John Beal as The Vampire….

The Vampire_John Beal

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002) is my vote for the most unusual of vampire films.  Warning —Horror fans stay clear.  This is a film adaptation of a ballet rendition of Stoker’s novel. It’s gorgeous to look at and the choreography is stunning as presented in an expressionistic style, but a little bit of dancing and music goes a long way.  There are effective horror moments.  Dracula’s resurrection is as effective as any I’ve seen in any film this side of Nosferatu (1922). Virgin’s Diary is an experimental film from the creative mind of Canadian Guy Maddin. Curious art-bent folks might enjoy this spin.

Dracula, Pages from a Virgins Diary_Titles

You haven’t lived until you see Wei-Qiang Zhang as Count Dracula.

Zhang Wei-Qiang as Dracula

 

 

 

Word Lens for Spanish Dracula

Posted in Horror with tags , on October 26, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

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.

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The Monster, Colorized!

Posted in Horror with tags on October 21, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Franky_Green

My Picks for Halloween 2014

Posted in Horror with tags , on October 20, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

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.

skeleton-dance_prancing-skeletonUb 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.

Dr. Sadism_Titles

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.

Dr. Sadism_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).

Murders in the Zoo_Titles

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.

Murders in the Zoo_Mouth SewZoo 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.

Murders in the Zoo_R Scott with Rattlesnake

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.

The Old Dark House_Boris

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.

Fiend without a Face

Skeletons from I Vampiri

Posted in Horror with tags on October 13, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Skeletons from I Vampiri

10 Oddballs for Halloween

Posted in Horror with tags , on October 13, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

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

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).

El Baron del Terror

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

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.

Cthulhu_2005

After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight…

Cthulhu_2005_Ancient One

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

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.

Hercules in the Haunted World_1961

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?

I Vampiri

or an even better scene….

I Vampiri_Skeleton

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

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

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_Titles

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!

Blood Feast

Here’s the trailer from Something Weird Video:

Jason

Posted in Horror with tags on June 14, 2014 by MONSTERMINIONS

Had fun Friday the 13th!

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