Friday, November 29, 2013

Daughter Of Dr. Jekyll (1957)

Starring John Agar, Gloria Talbott, Arthur Shields, John Dierkes, Mollie McCard
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On her 21st birthday, a beautiful bride-to-be discovers her father was the infamous Dr. Jekyll, and that she may have inherited his curse, doomed to transform into a terrible monster.

Although the script here seems to get its monster legends confused (it labels Mr. Hyde as a werewolf who changed during the full moon, and identifies a vampire-like staking as the only way to kill him), I'm fond of this horror film, directed by the reputed Edgar G. Ulmer.  Although largely dialogue-driven, Ulmer adds effective fog-drenched outdoor scenes, and Shields is a strong asset, entertainingly recounting the Jekyll legend in his charming Highland brogue.  At times its a bit hokey and over-the-top, but makes for fun viewing.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The 10th Victim (1965)

Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli, Salvo Randone, Massimo Serato
Directed by Elio Petri
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the 21st century, the sport of hunting human beings has been legalized, and when an American huntress travels to Italy to stalk her latest victim, she begins to fall in love with him.

More a social commentary piece than a serious science fiction effort, this Italian film has some good points to make, but it doesn't delve deep enough into the world it creates to draw the needed parallels to our own.  It spends more time trying to advance its central love story, but despite some chemistry between leads Mastroianni and Andress, I found their characters not very well-fleshed out or compelling.  The movie's premise is interesting, and has surely inspired plot lines in more recent films, but in my opinion, the filmmakers don't succeed at what they're trying to accomplish.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

Starring Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Wallace Ford, Eduardo Ciannelli, George Zucco
Directed by Christy Cabanne
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An out-of-work archaeologist and his partner try to find a backer for an excavation of an Egyptian tomb, unaware that's it under the protection of an evil high priest and an ancient living mummy.

This is Universal Pictures' follow-up to the classic horror film The Mummy, but it's not a sequel, instead repurposing footage from that film to present a tale of a new mummy, this time a lumbering servant to George Zucco's sinister high priest, who controls the tana leaves that must be brewed to keep the mummy alive.  Tom Tyler, probably best known for playing the title role in the terrific Adventures Of Captain Marvel serial, plays the mummy here, and is not particularly fearsome, except when shot in close-up, with the actor's eyes blacked out in the film's eeriest effect.  Still, I love this film, which amps up the comedy considerably for a horror movie, and features a great villainous turn by Zucco, a fantastic Egyptian sacrificial chamber set, and lots of fun foreboding music re-used from Frank Skinner & Hans J. Salter's score for Son Of Frankenstein.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Maniac (1963)

Starring Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston, Liliane Brousse, George Pastell
Directed by Michael Carreras
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An American painter looking to restart his life in a French coastal village falls for the beautiful local tavern owner, and to have her, agrees to help her estranged husband escape an insane asylum.

One of a series of psychological thrillers writer/producer Jimmy Sangster made for Hammer Films in the 1960s, this is a well-acted effort with quality photography, but the script applies maybe one or two plot twists too many.  It's also a little difficult to believe that Mathews' character would abandon his initial interest in young beauty Brousse for her less attractive stepmother.  There are still some good suspenseful moments in a garage where the "maniac" confronts his victims with a welding torch, and in a stone quarry which serves as the background for the film's climax.  It's an entertaining enough thriller if you can suspend some of your disbelief.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Invisible Man (1933)

Starring Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, Una O'Connor
Directed by James Whale
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist's experiments on himself result in turning him invisible, but also warp his mind, and he soon takes advantage of his invisibility to commit murder and mayhem.

We have here a true horror classic, augmented by Frankenstein director James Whale's direction, and John P. Fulton's amazing special effects, which are still startlingly effective eighty years later.  As important to the film as Whale and Fulton is Rains, whose vocal performance is one of the great ones, conveying frustration, anger, and mania beneath the bandages.  The supporting cast is fine as well, and Whale adds humorous bits- one will never forget O'Connor's shrieking performance as the tavern owner's wife.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (1936)

Starring Tod Slaughter, Stella Rho, Johnny Singer, Eve Lister, Bruce Seton
Directed by George King
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A homicidal barber lures victims into his shop so he can steal their money and murder them, disposing of their bodies in his conspirator's meat pie shop.

Actor Tod Slaughter, who played a series of notorious killers in memorable British melodramas throughout the 1930s, has perhaps his best showcase in this adaptation of the well-known grisly stageplay.  Conveying the depraved character of Sweeney Todd through stares, mannerisms, and florid dialogue, it has to rank as my favorite among Slaughter's performances.  Although matter-of-factly filmed, Slaughter is supported by a good cast, and King's efficient direction.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Castle Of The Living Dead (1964)

Starring Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy, Mirko Valentin, Donald Sutherland
Directed by Warren Kiefer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A traveling troupe of entertainers perform at the castle of a count engaged in embalming experiments, and discover too late he intends to use them as his latest subjects.

Although I felt the photography didn't take good advantage of the film's settings, wasting some impressive scenery, the actors more than entertained in this film, which features another villainous performance from horror veteran Lee, and an early appearance in Sutherland's career.  According to IMDB, Sutherland plays three different roles, including a grotesque witch who figures prominently in the story, but I never would have guessed it was him under the makeup.  Although a good music score by Angelo Lavagnino helps, there's just not enough atmosphere to make this an effective chiller, but it's still worthwhile viewing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Man From Beyond (1922)

Starring Harry Houdini, Arthur Maude, Albert Tavernier, Erwin Connelly, Frank Montgomery
Directed by Burton L. King
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A man frozen for 100 years in the arctic is found and brought back to consciousness, and he falls for a young woman who seems to him the reincarnation of his lost love.

The famed Harry Houdini, the magician and escape artist still recognized as one of the greats, stars in this interesting adventure which IMDB credits as produced by his own film company.  He only has one true escape presented in the film, in which he's wrapped in sheets and tied to a bed in a padded cell, but also seems to perform some dangerous stunt work, scaling tall buildings and swimming through a raging river.  Having only read of his famous illusions and terrific escapes, it's fascinating to see the real man captured on film.  While he doesn't have a great screen presence, the story affords his some nice heroic and romantic scenes, and makes me eager to see more of his films.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pilot X (1936)

Starring Lona Andre, John Carroll, Leon Ames, Henry Hall, Hans Joby
Directed by Elmer Clifton
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The mysterious disappearances of a number of aircraft lead to the discovery that a modern-day enemy ace is shooting down innocent victims, and a scientist aims to track down the man responsible.

Serial veteran Clifton delivers a pretty good little mystery with some nice aerial footage and a good assemblage of war pilot suspects.  Leading lady Lona Andre seems to be around just for eye candy (she's an absolute knockout), as although the script figures her in a love triangle, she ignores the man she was "almost engaged to" at the start of the picture for the bulk of the film.  Although the identity of the murderer doesn't come as a big surprise, I enjoyed this film as a nice mixture of aerial action with a murder mystery.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Black Cat (1941)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi, Anne Gwynne
Directed by Albert S. Rogell
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A real estate agent trying to buy the mansion of a wealthy spinster discovers one of her heirs may be ready to murder to obtain their inheritance.

A long-time favorite film of mine, this comic mystery from Universal Pictures features a great cast, atmospheric photography, some funny lines, and wonderful music culled from the scores of the studio's horror classics.  Crawford is extremely likable as the bumbling hero in one of his earlier roles, Hugh Herbert gives us some memorable schtick, and old pros like Rathbone, Lugosi, and Gale Sondergaard play the proper notes as sinister murder suspects.  On top of all that, the script offers a well-constructed whodunit plot, leaving the murderer's identity unclear until the final climax, but dropping enough clues before then to make for a logical conclusion.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Blood Runs Cold (1965)

Starring Troy Donahue, Joey Heatherton, Barry Sullivan, Nicolas Coster, Jeanette Nolan
Directed by William Conrad
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A reckless young heiress encounters a mysterious young man who claims they were lovers in a past life, and once he starts producing evidence of their past, she begins to believe and fall in love with him.

Although this mystery could use more red herrings and I was able to guess its conclusion well before the midway point, it's entertainingly presented and young actors Donahue and Heatherton have the necessary chemistry for their roles.  The supporting cast is quite adept as well with Sullivan, Nolan, and Coster all bringing their characters to life in quality turns.  Although the film's climax is ultimately predictable, Conrad does a good job of keeping the film well-paced and weaving in what suspense he can.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wayne Murder Case (1932)

Starring Regis Toomey, June Clyde, Lucille La Verne, Jason Robards, William V. Mong
Directed by Phil Whitman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A police detective and a snooping female reporter team up to investigate the murder of a wealthy millionaire, who was killed in front of his heirs before he could sign his will. 

We have here an interesting mystery film from Monogram Pictures with a number of good elements to its credit, including a worthy script, nice chemistry between Toomey and Clyde, who's quite smart and attractive in her role, and good staging by director Whitman.  Unfortunately, the portrayal of the stereotypical character of the easily frightened butler, as played by a black actor billed only as "Snowflake," in a performance reminiscent of the maligned Stepin Fetchit, is extremely offensive.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Beast Of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Starring Guy Madison, Patricia Medina, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Pascual Garcia Pena
Directed by Edward Nassour & Ismael Rodriguez
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A cattle ranch owner in Mexico suspects a rival rancher when some of his cattle go missing, but a prehistoric creature is the real menace responsible.

A conventional western for the most part before revealing its sci-fi twist in the form of a stop-motion animated dinosaur, I found this film to be pretty entertaining, well-abetted by a cast of skilled Mexican character actors, who build audience empathy with their plights.  American import Madison isn't given too much to do, but looks good on a horse and brings the requisite toughness to a knock-down drag out fight.  As for the dinosaur animation, it's pretty well-done, despite movement by the beast's tongue that borders on the silly.  Don't expect anything too profound, and you'll have a good time watching this.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Haunted Palace (1963)

Starring Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney, Jr., Frank Maxwell, Leo Gordon
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A century after the villagers of Arkham burned an evil warlock at the stake, his descendant inherits the warlock's palace and is possessed by the evil man's spirit.

Although promoted as another Edgar Allan Poe adaptation for star Vincent Price and director Roger Corman, Wikipedia indicates this is in reality an adaptation of a H.P. Lovecraft horror story, although one of Poe's poems is incorporated into the screenplay.  As such it's far different from the rest of Price and Corman's Poe films, avoiding the gothic sense of dread prevalent in those adaptations, with the focus on the warlock's schemes for revenge and to mate innocent female victims to supernatural demons.  As with the other Poe/Corman movies, the set design is first rate, and this entry boasts a music score by Ronald Stein which I enjoyed and found perfect for the film.  Although it ends in a rather ambiguous conclusion, and the demon's appearance at the film's climax is rather disappointing, this is a nice departure from the norm for the Poe series, and I enjoyed it on that level.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

One Million B.C. (1940)

Starring Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Lon Chaney, Jr., Conrad Nagel, John Hubbard
Directed by Hal Roach & Hal Roach, Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A caveman from a hostile tribe journeys to another tribe's territory, where he meets a beautiful woman who teaches him the gentler ways of her people.

I was surprised to find how entertaining this film is, as for me, caveman movies often get bogged down by their lack of dialogue, and as a consequence are sometimes difficult to follow.  That's not the case here, with the filmmakers embracing a simple story and not calling on anything too complex for their actors to portray besides basic emotions.  The movie has almost a light-hearted tone, accompanied by a whimsical music score, despite some violent scenes.  The special effects combine men in dinosaur suits along with giant rear projections of lizards and elephants in wooly mammoth coverings to provide the prehistoric creatures of the film.  Although scientifically inaccurate, these are well-done effects that according to IMDB earned the film an Academy Award nomination, and were borrowed by numerous films well into the 1960s.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Green Eyes (1934)

Starring Shirley Grey, Charles Starrett, Claude Gillingwater, John Wray, William Bakewell
Directed by Richard Thorpe
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A costume party at a wealthy man's estate is interrupted by his murder, and as the police investigate, one of the guests, a writer of detective stories, tries to solve the case on his own.

This densely plotted mystery isn't a bad one, but could really use something more, lacking a music score, a dynamic performance, or anything imaginative as far as the photography or direction.  As it stands, the film hinges almost solely on dialogue between the characters to advance the story, and although the movie moves along at a brisk pace, I found it difficult to hold back a yawn.  It's still an efficient mystery that keeps you guessing, but the filmmakers could have used much more imagination in filming this story.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Starring Allison Hayes, William Hudson, Yvette Vickers, Roy Gordon, George Douglas
Directed by Nathan Hertz
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy socialite, mentally suffering due to alcoholism and a philandering husband, encounters an alien being who infects her with radiation that makes her grow to a tremendous size.

Probably better known for its iconic movie poster in which a gigantic bikini-clad Allison Hayes menaces a city she towers above than for the actual content of the movie itself, this film has achieved a pretty trashy reputation over the years, which it doesn't completely deserve, despite poor special effects and a fairly thin storyline.  Don't get me wrong- a giant woman in her underwear wreaking havoc on a city is fairly trashy, but that actually makes up a pretty small portion of the movie, and the rest I found enjoyable, whether you take the plot seriously or not.  Hayes gives a sympathetic performance, Ronald Stein's music score is a good one, and if you do check it out, even if you find it to be a terrible movie, I think you'll still stay tuned to see what happens.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Black Scorpion (1957)

Starring Richard Denning, Mara Corday, Carlos Rivas, Mario Navarro, Carlos Muzquiz
Directed by Edward Ludwig
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A pair of geologists in Mexico trace savage killings in the wake of a volcanic eruption and earthquake to a horde of giant scorpions, freed from their subterranean lair by the disaster.

Another of the giant insect movies of the 1950s, this one boasts excellent stop-motion animation effects overseen by Willis O'Brien, who pioneered creature effects of this kind in the classic King Kong.  This film doesn't compare to that masterpiece, but remains a fun effort, much in the same vein as 1954's Them!, with Denning and Rivas tracing the beasts back to their underground nest and attempting to re-trap them inside.  Although O'Brien and his team supplement the animation with effectively grotesque mockups of the scorpions' heads, these aren't integrated too well in the film, and according to Wikipedia, a number of scenes where we only see the scorpions' silhouettes represent unfinished work by O'Brien's unit because they ran out of money.  Nevertheless, I've found this to be one of the more enjoyable monster pictures of the 1950s, and one well worth revisiting to experience and appreciate O'Brien's wizardry.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Intruder (1933)

Starring Monte Blue, Lila Lee, William B. Davidson, Gwen Lee, Arthur Housman
Directed by Albert Ray
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a murder takes place on an ocean liner, the ship is wrecked during a storm, and the murder suspects and a police detective are stranded together on a jungle island.

Although otherwise a routine mystery, the film's island setting makes this an intriguing one, with wild gorillas and a crazy castaway also inhabiting the island.  Humor is mined from that castaway, (leading up to a pretty funny sight gag), and a perpetually inebriated character, who's not quite as amusing.  All in all, it's an entertaining time-passer which makes good use of its locale to stand out from other entries in the genre.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Cry Of The Werewolf (1944)

Starring Nina Foch, Stephen Crane, Osa Massen, Blanche Yurka, Barton MacLane
Directed by Henry Levin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist studying the creatures of legend founds a museum in the former home of a female werewolf, and when he seeks to publish her secrets, enrages her daughter, who shares her mother's curse. 

One of Columbia Pictures' rare excursions into horror in the 1940s, this is a small-scale low budget piece, getting around the cost of a werewolf makeup by portraying the creature as an actual wolf.  While that choice is unfortunate, it's still a worthwhile film with Foch making a compelling villainess, MacLane entertaining as a glib police detective, and atmospheric music, some of which was borrowed from the previous year's The Return Of The Vampire. That film and this one make an interesting double feature, with Foch featured in both, and scripts from Griffin Jay, who wrote a number of the Mummy films for Universal Pictures.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)

Starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Aud Egede-Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel, Bernhard Goetzke
Directed by Fritz Lang
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A criminal mastermind amasses great wealth by manipulating the stock market and using his hypnotic abilities to dominate his victims.

Klein-Rogge gives an excellent performance in a well-regarded silent film from acclaimed director Lang, most famous for Metropolis, but who had a long career in both Germany and the United States, including helming a couple of Mabuse sequels.  Filmed in two parts, this is a lengthy work to digest, running over four and a half hours in total, and I definitely found it a bit too drawn out at times, but there's much to admire, from the opulent sets to the well-rendered characters to some excitingly staged bits of action.  Armed with a near-perpetual scowl and plethora of disguises, Klein-Rogge brings intensity to each of his personas, and creates a memorable villain that must have been highly influential.