Monday, October 28, 2013

Dead Men Walk (1943)

Starring George Zucco, Mary Carlisle, Nedrick Young, Dwight Frye, Fern Emmett
Directed by Sam Newfield
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A climactic battle between a good doctor and his evil brother results in the death of the evil brother, but he returns from beyond the grave as a vampire.

George Zucco plays both the good and evil brothers in this low-budget horror film, and while Zucco had excelled in a number of villainous roles over the years, he's not surrounded by enough here, nor is the film polished enough to make this a memorable showcase.  The vampire scenes are presented rather drably, with little imagination put forth in their staging, and despite the inspired casting of Dwight Frye as a villainous henchman, (who memorably played the unbalanced Renfield in Dracula), he's not given enough to do to enliven the production.  The film still makes for interesting viewing, but despite the promise of the premise, it's just not one of Zucco's finer hours.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Wolf Man (1941)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles
Directed by George Waggner
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Young Larry Talbot returns home to manage his ancestral estate, where he tries to save a woman killed by a wolf, but after he's bitten, he soon begins to fear he could now be a werewolf.

Lon Chaney, Jr. stars in what became his most iconic role, that of the tortured Larry Talbot, cursed to transform into the bestial Wolf Man during the full moon.  It's a classic film, with a good cast of character actors, great foggy atmosphere, and a first-rate musical score.  Although Chaney would make scores more movies, he probably never got as terrific a showcase again, but went on to reprise the character in four more films.  There's some gaffes, with Chaney starting to transform into the Wolf Man in one set of clothes and then appearing in a completely different outfit as the monster, as well as the werewolf at the beginning of the film being played by an actual wolf rather than an actor.  But these are easily overlooked in this gem of a movie.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Shot In The Dark (1935)

Starring Charles Starrett, Robert Warwick, Edward Van Sloan, Marion Shilling, Helen Jerome Eddy
Directed by Charles Lamont
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A college student is found hanged, but when evidence points to murder, the father of his roommate, an amateur criminologist, takes charge of the investigation.

Despite its low-budget trappings, this is a well-done mystery with a clever script and some interesting twists and turns that keep you guessing.  It would have been enhanced by a music score and better production values, but still entertains.  Van Sloan is the biggest name in the cast, known for his supporting roles in Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy, but the entire ensemble of actors comes off well.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Horror Castle (1963)

Starring Rossana Podesta, Georges Riviere, Christopher Lee, Jim Dolen, Anny Degli Uberti
Directed by Anthony Dawson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young wife moves with her husband into his ancestral castle, where she learns he's descended from a famed master of torture, whom she's horrified to find may still be stalking the grounds.

British horror star Christopher Lee has a supporting role in this Italian chiller from veteran director Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson).  It's an effective picture, with a sumptuous castle set, and some potent shocks, enhanced by well-done makeup effects.  Unfortunately, the story isn't an altogether strong one, and Podesta seems an odd choice for the leading lady, in a role seemingly more suited to Barbara Steele.  I still liked the film however, and would rank it with Margheriti's better efforts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tangled Destinies (1932)

Starring Gene Morgan, Doris Hill, Glenn Tryon, Vera Reynolds, Ethel Wales
Directed by Frank Strayer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After bad weather forces a plane to land, the passengers and crew take refuge in an abandoned house, where robbery and murder soon ensue.

The filmmakers deliver a pretty routine mystery, which to their credit keeps the audience guessing, with plenty of suspects and red herrings to go around.  That's the film's only hook however, with no compelling performances or particularly clever sequences to speak of.  It's still quite watchable and easy to follow, even though the print I saw was heavily marred by oversaturated contrast.  The film's pretty much what you would expect from director Strayer, who kept busy in the early thirties making many a mystery for low-budget studios, so presumably they found a consistent audience during this period.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mothra (1961)

Starring Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyoko Kagawa, Ken Uehara, Emi Ito
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A pair of inch high women are abducted from their South Seas island, and put on exhibition, but they warn that a creature named Mothra will be coming for them and will bring much destruction.

Honda brings us another sci-fi monster adventure, well-designed and featuring some enjoyable characters, notably a journalist played by Sakai in a light-hearted performance.  The special effects in the first half of the film, when Mothra is in its caterpillar form, are excellent, following the creature on a devastating path through anything in its way across the ocean.  But when Mothra transforms into a giant moth, its flapping wings creating giant winds of destruction, the cars and buildings sent flying are unconvincing miniatures.  It's still an enjoyable monster romp, and provided for Mothra's return in several future films.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Mummy (1932)

Starring Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Edward Van Sloan
Directed by Karl Freund
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An archaeological expedition accidentally resurrects an ancient Egyptian mummy, who then plots to seize the reincarnation of his lost love with his tremendous hypnotic powers.

The first of the many Mummy movies, and the best, in which Karloff stars in one of his greatest roles, abetted by closeups of the actor's face in which the lighting is manipulated to make his eyes seem to glow.  Freund, who served as the cinematographer on Dracula, directs this time, but oversees many effective panning camera movements that set up scenes and transition to new locales.  A largely unsung contribution to the film is an uncredited musical score that adds color to the Egyptian backgrounds and supports the menace within Karloff's performance.  This ranks in my mind as one of the all-time Universal Pictures horror classics, and one of my favorite films.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Haxan (1922)

Starring Maren Pedersen, Clara Pontoppidan, Elith Pio, Oscar Stribolt, Tora Teje
Directed by Benjamin Christensen
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

This documentary traces the origins of witches through historical texts and illustrations, and presents new filmed sequences portraying their secret rituals and the horrors they suffered when put on trial.

Although this silent film from Denmark starts out more or less a straight documentary, once director Christensen lets his camera and actors take over, it becomes a highly stylized horror film, with dark and daring imagery and quality makeups for the denizens of hell, none more impressive than the horned, clawed devil, portrayed by Christensen himself.  The film's closing sequence in which Christensen compares the witches of yesteryear to the women of 1922 is probably the weakest in the film, but his filming of a witch's trial from initial suspicions against her to her forced confession makes for powerful cinema at its best.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Life Returns (1935)

Starring Onslow Stevens, George Breakston, Lois Wilson, Valerie Hobson, Stanley Fields
Directed by Eugene Frenke & James P. Hogan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist is determined to find a formula to return the dead to life, ignoring everything else, leading to tragedy for his family.

Featuring documentary footage of an experiment that actually restored a dead dog to life, this film concocts a melodramatic backstory to lead up to that moment, and at times it's almost silly, but I can't say I wasn't entertained.  Breakston is earnestly likable as the scientist's son, and probably gives the best performance in the movie, as his travails and his unfailing dedication to his father and his dog are more compelling than Stevens' somewhat listless portrayal of the scientist.  Interestingly, Breakston and Richard Quine, who plays another youngster in the movie, went on to become film directors.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rodan (1956)

Starring Kenji Sahara, Yumi Shirakawa, Akihiko Hirata, Akio Kobori, Yasuko Nakata
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A mining accident breaks opens a sealed cavern containing prehistoric creatures, including two giant flying reptiles that cause disasters and terrorize nearby cities.

Honda's followup to his successful Gojira is another fine Japanese monster picture, with an intriguing story and good production values.  Although the special effects are primitive by today's standards, they're well-done for the era, and distinctive and memorable, especially a sequence in which one of the Rodans hatches from a massive egg.  Honda efficiently builds suspense by keeping his monsters off screen for as long as possible, and the screenwriters wisely keep the subplots of the human characters secondary to keep the film moving at a lively pace.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Day Of The Triffids (1962)

Starring Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Mervyn Johns
Directed by Steve Sekely
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A meteor shower brings blindness that afflicts nearly all of the Earth's population, and also spores that grow into immense mobile plants that stalk human victims.

Howard Keel stars in this version of the science fiction novel by John Wyndham, which per my recollections of the book and its synopsis on Wikipedia, is not a very faithful adaptation, eliminating characters and condensing a bit too much, but still offers some effective scenes, with the triffid plants rendered about as well as one could expect for special effects of this era.  The filmmakers and actors do a good job of creating characters we can care about, and the eerie sound effects accompanying the triffids' movements are first rate.  However, the film would have been better had the screenwriters kept more of Wyndham's novel in their script.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Ghost And The Guest (1943)

Starring James Dunn, Florence Rice, Robert Dudley, Mabel Todd, Sam McDaniel
Directed by William Nigh
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A newlywed couple move into an old farmhouse but discover it belonged to a hanged criminal, whose body is delivered in a coffin, but then soon disappears. 

Despite the title, no ghosts are to be found in this low-budget mystery-comedy from "Poverty Row" studio PRC, which suffers from some pretty bad lighting during nighttime scenes.  It's still watchable and a few jokes are still good ones.  Though African-American actor McDaniel is unfortunately saddled with the stereotypical role of an easily spooked servant, to his credit he doesn't overplay it, and has most of the best lines.  All in all, if you don't go in with too many expectations, it's entertaining enough, and has a brief running time, so the film doesn't overstay its welcome.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Vampire's Coffin (1958)

Starring Abel Salazar, Ariadna Welter, German Robles, Yerye Beirute, Alicia Montoya
Directed by Fernando Mendez
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist unearths the body of notorious vampire Count de Lavud for experimentation, but before he can, the creature is resurrected and takes the opportunity to again prey on the lovely Marta.

Salazar, Welter, and Robles reprise their roles in this follow-up to The Vampire, the Mexican horror film that introduced Count de Lavud, a sinister Mexican version of Dracula.  Robles is an impressive villain, and there are a few atmospheric moments, but I found this to be a fairly unimaginative horror film, with sparsely decorated sets and static photography.  Although the majority of the film takes place against the promising backgrounds of a darkly lit hospital and a creepy wax museum, the cinematographer doesn't take advantage of these settings to build chills.  As a result, the picture drags quite a bit.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)

Starring Kurt Russell, Cesar Romero, Joe Flynn, William Schallert, Alan Hewitt
Directed by Robert Butler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A small-town college student gains the super-intelligence of a powerful computer in an electrical accident, but after becoming an international celebrity, he lets the fame go to his head.

This routine Disney comedy isn't particularly funny, but has its charms, and is notable for featuring a young Kurt Russell years before his later stardom, and for spawning a couple of sequel films featuring Russell's character, as well as co-stars Flynn, Schallert, and Romero.  Despite the sci-fi premise, there's little in the way of special effects, and the film's climactic chase sequence can't compare to the more madcap action of Disney's past efforts.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Haunted House (1940)

Starring Jackie Moran, Marcia Mae Jones, George Cleveland, Christian Rub, Henry Hall
Directed by Robert F. McGowan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A pair of teenagers try to find evidence to clear a kindly handyman convicted of murder, but their efforts keep getting them into trouble.

Earnest performances from Moran and Jones are the best asset of this small-town murder mystery from low-budget Monogram Pictures, which despite its title, does not actually feature a haunted house.   The young leads are cute together, and surrounded by a good cast of character actors, but one actor's performance as a Chinese restaurant owner comes off as an offensive stereotype.  Nevertheless, there's enough good-natured fun here to make this an amiable time-passer, and I'd therefore rank this film as one of Monogram's better productions.

Friday, October 4, 2013

She (1935)

Starring Helen Gahagan, Randolph Scott, Helen Mack, Nigel Bruce, Gustav von Seyffertitz
Directed by Irving Pichel & Lansing Holden
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The descendant of an explorer who purportedly found a fountain of youth in the Arctic follows his ancestor's trail and discovers a lost civilization ruled over by a queen who's lived for centuries.

H. Rider Haggard's classic adventure story is adapted by the producers of King Kong, who deliver fantastic sets, interestingly choreographed rituals, and special effects that still hold up well.  Although there's an overemphasis on flowery dialogue, and not enough chemistry between Gahagan and Scott to make their ages-old romance believable, it's still a distinctive picture.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Starring Ron Randell, Debra Paget, Elaine Stewart, Anthony Caruso, Gregg Palmer
Directed by Allan Dwan
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A gangster caught in an atomic blast not only survives it, but finds it has mingled his atoms with that of a steel tower, turning him into an indestructible man.

Not a film too distinguished in any regard but nevertheless still very watchable, this low-budget effort from veteran director Dwan could have been something special had more money been put into the makeup or effects, although a scene where Randell is electrocuted still comes off pretty well.  The story's paper thin and some of the dialogue is near comical, but a strength is the fine casting, with Caruso perfect as a mob boss, Paget and Stewart very lovely as the ladies in Randell's life, and Tudor Owen a nice fit as the scientist trying to help him.  Ultimately, the low budget dooms the film, with stock footage taking over at the climax, but I still enjoyed it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tomorrow At Seven (1933)

Starring Chester Morris, Vivienne Osborne, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Henry Stephenson
Directed by Ray Enright
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A crime novelist researching a book on a killer calling himself "The Black Ace" tries to protect a wealthy man who's been targeted by the criminal.

Although there's not much original here, with familiar elements such as a mysterious killer who leaves a calling card, a pair of dim-witted bumbling detectives, and lights that go out at pivotal moments, there's still some entertainment to be had.  Morris is an affable lead who may or may not be the villain, the screenplay does a good job of introducing a number of other suspects, and McHugh and Jenkins amuse without being too grating.  There's even a small role for familiar serial villain Charles Middleton.  The end result is a film not all that different from mysteries put out before or since, but this one's better than most.