Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Embalmer (1965)

Starring Maureen Brown, Gin Mart, Luciano Gasper, Anita Todesco, Francesco Bagarin
Directed by Dino Tavella
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An insane killer murders young women and preserves their bodies in caverns below the city of Venice, while a determined newspaper reporter follows his trail.

Although rather simplistic in its approach, with the identity of the killer made clear early on, I enjoyed this Italian horror film and how it takes advantage of its Venice setting and the city's reputation as a romantic destination.  With the killer stalking his prey from underwater, scenes of the victims walking late at night along the canals gain natural suspense despite the romantic setting.  I would have liked to have seen the filmmakers play up the romance more between the reporter and a beautiful tourist, delve a bit deeper into the villains's motives, and throw some more red herrings in to distract us from guessing his identity, but this is still a good horror film and fun to watch.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

Starring Hiroshi Koizumi, Setsuko Wakayama, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura, Masao Shimizu
Directed by Motoyoshi Oda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Pilots for a fishing company discover dangerous prehistoric creatures on a remote island that are soon making their way towards the city of Osaka.

Despite the title and this film's status as the first followup to the original Gojira, Godzilla doesn't actually return in the film, although the movie's main creature is almost an exact lookalike.  With the same serious tone as the original film, this effort has its moments and some worthy special effects, but pales in comparison to the original, at least in my opinion.  It does have some more humor and light hearted moments to balance out the grim devastation, which I thought were welcome, but it's a bit too much of a retread of the original film, without too much new to offer.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Trip To The Moon (1902)

Starring Georges Melies, Victor Andre, Bleuette Bernon, Brunnet, Jeanne d'Alcy
Directed by Georges Melies
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A group of astronomers make a successful journey to the moon, where they discover a race of creatures living underneath the surface.

In one of the earliest science fiction movies, filmmaker Georges Melies uses stagecraft, camera tricks, and impressively illustrated backgrounds to create a memorable fantasy.  It's truly a landmark film, although modern audiences may not recognize how revolutionary it must have been at the time of its release.  Nevertheless, many of the effects still come off well, particularly scenes of the moon creatures transforming into clouds of dust.  Even after over a century, it's a triumph for Melies and invaluable to film history.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Rocket Man (1954)

Starring Charles Coburn, Spring Byington, Anne Francis, John Agar, George Winslow
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young orphan is given a special ray gun with magic powers by an alien visitor, and he uses it to help the kindly judge who takes him in.

This picture offers a charming fantasy with a wonderful cast, and even though it's completely predictable, it's grand entertainment, with young Winslow a definite charmer as the little orphan boy, whose terrific monotone delivery brought forth some big laughs from me.  Although the sci-fi elements are kept to a minimum, it's interesting that a number of the film's cast would go on to star in some of the best known sci-fi films of the 1950s, including Agar, Francis, and Beverly Garland.  As wholesome and good-natured as the film is, it's difficult to reconcile that the controversial comedian Lenny Bruce collaborated on the screenplay, but he's a solid contributor among many to this memorable film.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dracula (1931)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan
Directed by Tod Browning
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Count Dracula, the legendary vampire of Transylvania, travels to London to seek new victims, but a determined professor is dedicated to stopping him.

Bela Lugosi stars in his most famous role in this classic, albeit not completely faithful, adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, and it still holds up well, with Lugosi personifying Stoker's creature of evil in eerie closeups and fluid movements.  Although the film lacks a music score, the silence on the soundtrack is to the film's benefit, with Dracula's quiet stalkings of his victims creating unnerving suspense.  Over the years, the film has been criticized for its second half, notably by film historian David J. Skal, who indicates the second half lacks the imaginative and atmospheric photography on display in the early scenes in Transylvania.  I concur with that assessment, but I also think the second half is bolstered by the confrontations between Lugosi and Van Sloan, which are among the best scenes in the movie.  Sadly, Lugosi never had quite the same showcase for his talents again, but we're fortunate his definitive performance here has been captured for posterity.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jack Armstrong (1947)

Starring John Hart, Rosemary La Planche, Claire James, Joe Brown, Pierre Watkin
Directed by Wallace Fox
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The heroic Jack Armstrong and his friends trace a kidnapped scientist to a South Seas island, from where an evil mastermind is plotting to dominate the world.

I enjoyed this movie serial from Columbia Pictures, based on the radio series Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, and infused with sci-fi elements including a death ray and spaceship.  Charles Middleton, best known as Ming The Merciless in the Flash Gordon serials, is good as the villain, although strangely uncredited in each chapter's cast listing.  Comparatively, John Hart, as Armstrong, is a rather bland hero, but the stuntwork on display is pretty nice, and I liked the supporting cast, including Watkin, later to play Perry White in the Superman serials, and Brown, offering some silly humor as the dim-witted and perpetually hungry Billy Fairfield.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Cat And The Canary (1939)

Starring Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, John Beal, Douglass Montgomery, Gale Sondergaard
Directed by Elliott Nugent
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wisecracking radio actor tries to protect a beautiful young heiress from a vicious killer after her fortune.

Bob Hope fires off a steady stream of jokes, many of which are still pretty funny, in a good old-fashioned mystery, adapted from the 1927 film of the same name.  Hope's paired here with the ever-charming Goddard and well-supported by a professional cast, including familiar character actors George Zucco and Gale Sondergaard.  The mystery is well sustained throughout, with good spooky atmosphere provided by the requisite mysterious mansion with secret passages, situated against the background of a Louisiana swamp.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Crooked Circle (1932)

Starring Zasu Pitts, James Gleason, Ben Lyon, Irene Purcell, C. Henry Gordon
Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The head of a group of amateur detectives is targeted for death by a gang of hooded criminals, who plan to strike the same night the man moves into a mansion said to be haunted.

This is a fun little mystery, featuring the comedic stylings of Pitts as the easily rattled housekeeper of the mansion, and enlivened by mysterious characters, secret passages within the mansion, and a number of red herrings spicing up the plot.  Most early sound films of this type are a bit creaky, due to the lack of a musical score and staging of scenes around a microphone, but there's so much action in this film, you don't have time to notice.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Man Made Monster (1941)

Starring Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney, Jr., Anne Nagel, Frank Albertson, Samuel S. Hinds
Directed by George Waggner
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist invites a carnival performer who's survived electrocution to his lab for study, but doesn't realize his ambitious assistant has plans to turn the man into a being dependent on electricity.

Lon Chaney, Jr. stars in his first horror film for Universal Pictures, which serves as an interesting trial run for the actor before taking over the roles of Universal's classic monsters in the ensuing years.  Starting out very earnest and likable, Chaney does a good job of diminishing the energy in his performance as he's fed more and more electricity until he's only emoting through the angst in his eyes, well abetted by some subtle makeup and nice glowing effects.  Atwill, as the true villain of the piece, provides the appropriate intensity and enthusiasm for his mad scientist, and the film has a strong musical score with the proper flourishes accompanying the electrical sequences.  Although a faithful dog's pursuit of Chaney at the film's climax comes off as a little heavy-handed, this is still a very worthwhile horror film.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Daughter Of Darkness (1948)

Starring Siobhan McKenna, Anne Crawford, Maxwell Reed, George Thorpe, Barry Morse
Directed by Lance Comfort
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A beguiling young Irish woman irresistible to men and thought evil by the women of her village is driven out, and settles on an English farm, where she soon disrupts the peaceful life there.

We have here an intriguing character study, well-acted, and featuring some quality cinematography- it's not quite a horror movie, but close, as the main character transforms in our eyes from a misunderstood victim to a creature of evil.  McKenna's casting is very interesting, as she does not fit the bill of a classic beauty, but has an enticing quality to her that serves her character well.  I would have preferred that the screenplay explain some of the rationale behind her evil acts, which primarily occur off-screen, but it nevertheless is a quality film. One wonders if this movie was an inspiration for 1960's Carnival Of Souls due to McKenna's secretive performances of eerie organ music in a church, also a plot point in that later film.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Two On A Guillotine (1965)

Starring Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero, Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg
Directed by William Conrad
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A magician's estranged daughter attends his funeral, where she learns he's promised to return from the grave, and requires she live in his mansion so she can witness his return.

This is simply a terrific movie, expertly directed by Conrad, with superb production values, a good score from veteran composer Max Steiner, and a winning cast.  Stevens and Jones are utterly charming as the young leads, and Jones in particular is interesting to watch, cast in this film shortly before his long run as the star of several Disney comedies.  Conrad and his crew do an admirable job of balancing their love story along with the mystery behind the magician's wife's disappearance, and some horrific moments within the mansion, all without revealing too much until the film's entertaining climax.  It's a top flight horror-mystery from beginning to end.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The H-Man (1958)

Starring Yumi Shirakawa, Kenji Sahara, Akihiko Hirata, Koreya Senda, Makoto Sato
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a drug smuggler disappears, leaving his clothes behind in the street, the police assume he's gone into hiding, but a scientist fears a radioactive menace is responsible.

Gojira director Ishiro Honda delivers here a pretty good sci-fi picture, and one that's a bit of a departure from Honda's giant monster films.  Although the special effects aren't particularly innovative or memorable, they're well-executed enough- I just thought it was too bad the filmmakers didn't choose to give their monsters some sort of character or personality.  Nonetheless, it's a skillfully assembled picture, and an interesting one.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Drums Of Jeopardy (1931)

Starring Warner Oland, June Collyer, Lloyd Hughes, Clara Blandick, Hale Hamilton
Directed by George B. Seitz
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After discovering a member of the Russian royal family is responsible for his daughter's death, a maddened scientist pursues the family to America for revenge.

I liked this horror thriller, which has gained some fame for naming its villain Boris Karlov in an odd coincidence, as according to IMDB, the movie was released months before actor Boris Karloff's star-making performance in 1931's Frankenstein.  The film has its drawbacks, with few of the actors playing Russians being convincing as Russians, and I thought Oland's villainy could have been played up a little better.  However, it's still fun to watch, with some memorable imagery, and actress Clara Blandick is entertaining as a crotchety old woman with some funny lines.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963)

Starring Kent Taylor, Marie Windsor, William Mims, Betty Beall, Lowell Brown
Directed by Maury Dexter
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After successfully landing an unmanned space probe on the planet Mars, a scientist returns home to California to be with his family, not realizing an intelligence from Mars has followed him there.

This film has a lot going for it, from an impressively staged opening scene on Mars, to a terrific musical score from Richard La Salle, to some suspenseful sequences in the film's primary setting, an isolated Beverly Hills estate filled with foreboding angles and maze-like shrubbery.  Obviously filmed on a limited budget, Dexter and his crew make the most of what they have, and very successfully, but just as the film seems headed into an exciting third act, it abruptly ends.  One can't help but wonder if the filmmakers ran out of money, and if so, that's a terrible shame, because with a few added scenes it could have earned a place among the classic sci-fi chillers.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Phantom (1931)

Starring Guinn Williams, Allene Ray, Niles Welch, Tom O'Brien, Sheldon Lewis
Directed by Alvin J. Neitz
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A district attorney is guarded by the police after a notorious killer escapes from prison, but the killer's intended victim may really be the attorney's daughter.

Part mystery, part horror film, but with many comedic scenes, this picture isn't great, but is entertaining enough and has a few distinctive visuals, including the killer's escape onto a speeding train, and a cloaked figure with twisted fingers who may or may not be "The Phantom."  Per IMDB, director Neitz is actually veteran western and serial director Alan James, who regrettably doesn't have too many action scenes to stage here.  The character of a frightened maid is a little grating, and the inclusion of a romantic triangle seems rather pointless, but all in all, this isn't a bad time-passer.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Thing That Couldn't Die (1958)

Starring William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone, Carolyn Kearney, Peggy Converse
Directed by Will Cowan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The residents of a California ranch dig up an ancient chest containing the still living head of an evil and powerful being.

To my mind, this is probably the least imaginative of Universal Pictures' horror films, and not scary in the least, but it doesn't matter- it's a hoot.  From the film's bizarre heroine who searches for buried treasures with a divining rod, to the bug-eyed stares and silent lip movements of the disembodied head, to the ranch hands whose characters seem to be ripped from the pages of "Of Mice And Men," this is a guilty pleasure throughout, and an entertaining one to watch.  The filmmakers should be given some credit for creatively hiding actor Robin Hughes' body in his scenes as the "head," perhaps due to the skill of cinematographer Russell Metty, who put his talents to far better use in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil the same year.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Unidentified Flying Objects (1956)

Starring Tom Towers, Floyd Burton, Marie Kenna, Robert Phillips, Gene Coughlan
Directed by Winston Jones
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

This documentary examines the evidence of UFO sightings and eyewitness accounts collected by the Air Force, and presents the sightings they have been able to explain and the ones they have not.

Combining a docudrama approach with actual filmed testimony from UFO witnesses, this documentary is unabashedly presented from the Air Force's perspective, with Towers portraying a former journalist who goes to work for the agency's press corps, and learns about the sightings and their investigations first hand.  Don't expect much revelatory footage, for while there a couple of unexplained films of possible flying saucers presented, they're shot from a great distance and only show some white dots in the sky.  The most effective sequence is a recreation of a UFO encounter tracked on an airport radar screen, which features the voice of a jet pilot coming over the intercom which is indisputably actor Harry Morgan, who went on to TV fame in the series Dragnet and M*A*S*H.  Although much of the film is highly technical, it's entertaining in its own right.

Monday, September 2, 2013

East Of Borneo (1931)

Starring Rose Hobart, Charles Bickford, Georges Renavent, Lupita Tovar, Noble Johnson
Directed by George Melford
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A beautiful woman journeys deep into the jungle in search of her estranged husband, and finds him on a volcanic island ruled over by a sadistic native prince.

This is an entertaining jungle thriller, headlined by Hobart, very beautiful and appealing and believable in her role- it's hard to figure why she didn't become a bigger star.  Melford does a good job of staging the jungle perils, and Renavent makes a nice villain.  The film's showpiece is a well-executed sequence of a native's doomed swim through a river swarming with crocodiles.  The only shortcoming for me was the lack of dialogue for Tovar, who plays a native servant jealous of Bickford's wife, and her character would have been better defined with some dialogue.  She's better known for playing the female lead in the Spanish-language version of Dracula, released the same year, so perhaps her accent or knowledge of English played into this.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Underwater City (1962)

Starring William Lundigan, Julie Adams, Roy Roberts, Carl Benton Reid, Chet Douglas
Directed by Frank McDonald
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After losing out on a contract to build a space station, an engineer accepts a job to design and construct a complex on the ocean floor, but doesn't feel it's as important as the space station would be.

This is an interesting, if not very in depth, look at what it would take to construct a means of living under the sea, and it's fun, with romance in the offing for the principals, and humor from a character trying to get drunk with no alcohol around.  The underwater photography and special effects are serviceable but nothing special, and the film could have used a little more conflict in its second act, but overall, it was charming and I enjoyed it.