Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Murders In The Rue Morgue (1932)

Starring Sidney Fox, Bela Lugosi, Leon Waycoff, Bert Roach, Betty Ross Clarke
Directed by Robert Florey
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A medical student and his girlfriend attend the carnival sideshow of Dr. Mirakle and his giant ape, not realizing that Mirakle is a mad scientist with designs on her as the subject of his next experiment.


Although an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story of the same name, this isn't a faithful one, refashioned as a horror vehicle for Bela Lugosi, fresh off his memorable performance in the classic Dracula.  Made up with a bushy unibrow, Lugosi again has a striking screen presence, but doesn't have a great deal to do.  The real star of the film is the cinematography by Karl Freund, who creates some genuine chills by shooting the actor in the ape suit in silhouette, and perfectly frames the climactic rooftop chase of the ape by Waycoff's young hero.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Frozen Dead (1966)

Starring Dana Andrews, Anna Palk, Philip Gilbert, Kathleen Breck, Karel Stepanek
Directed by Herbert J. Leder
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist is tasked with restoring Nazi soldiers frozen after Germany lost the war, but struggles to revive their memories, needing a living brain to study.

This isn't a bad premise for a horror film, and it starts out rather promisingly as we see Andrews' character's failures and limited successes, but the picture seems to lose its way after Andrews gets the human brain he needs to study, and morphs into a remake of the notorious The Brain That Wouldn't Die.  Despite this film having a bigger budget and better production values, the special effects used are primarily the same as that low budget stinker, and it's clear from the get-go, the story will end up advancing to a similar climax.  It's too bad the filmmakers didn't choose to go in a different direction with the resources at their disposal.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sexton Blake And The Hooded Terror (1938)

Starring George Curzon, Tod Slaughter, Greta Gynt, Tony Sympson, Charles Oliver
Directed by George King
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The head of a secret society of criminals plans a conference with his lackeys in London, but before long reputed detective Sexton Blake is on the villain's trail.

This film offers a bit of a departure from the usual vehicles for British thespian Tod Slaughter, not playing a psychotic killer here, but a master criminal, and also deferring top billing to Curzon's Sexton Blake.  The Slaughter/Curzon interplay comes off very similar to the Professor Moriarty/Sherlock Holmes dynamic in the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Nevertheless, Slaughter is again fine in his role, plotting his evil schemes from behind a wispy beard, and lusting after his henchman's attractive girlfriend, in reality a covert agent for the French government.  As with the other Slaughter/George King collaborations, the pacing is exciting and the unveiling of the plot well-done, a fine complement to Slaughter's engaging performance.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Electronic Monster (1958)

Starring Rod Cameron, Mary Murphy, Meredith Edwards, Peter Illing, Carl Jaffe
Directed by Montgomery Tully
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An insurance investigator is sent to France to look into the accidental death of a movie star, and discovers he and other recent fatalities spent time at a psychotherapy clinic before their deaths.

This is a small-scale thriller but a fun one with some sci-fi content in the clinic's method of beaming images into their patients' brains, and the welcome presence of tough guy Cameron in the lead and Murphy as his very attractive love interest.  Although it's more or less a straightforward potboiler, one has to think that screenwriter Charles Eric Maine is making some satiric commentary on television, which is far too similar to the "electronic monster" of the title to be a coincidence.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gammera The Invincible (1966)

Starring Albert Dekker, Brian Donlevy, Diane Findlay, John Baragrey, Dick O'Neill
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An atomic blast in the Arctic unleashes a giant prehistoric turtle that devastates all in its way in search of energy to feed on, leading the world's nations to convene to find a way to stop the creature.

The first in a long series of Gammera movies from Japan, and to the best of my knowledge, the only installment in the series in which Gammera is a villain (it battled other monsters menacing the universe in the sequels).  This isn't the original version of the film but the Americanized re-release, with Dekker and Donlevy playing members of the U.S. military brass trying to lend their support to the Japanese authorities, but the emphasis is still on a young Japanese boy's friendship with the monster turtle, paving the way for a series of young co-stars in Gammera movies to come.  It's a fun and entertaining concoction, with a much lighter tone than other Japanese monster epics, featuring some more than serviceable special effects that hold up fairly well.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Night Monster (1942)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erickson, Irene Hervey, Ralph Morgan
Directed by Ford Beebe
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Strange goings on at a wealthy man's estate lead to a series of unexplained murders near the grounds, and the only person who knows the truth fears she may be losing her sanity.

We have here more B-movie fun from Universal Pictures, with a quality cast, an unusual metaphysical premise, and great music cues from the Universal library.  Despite Lugosi's top billing, his character's a minor one, and only a red herring here, but nonetheless a key piece of the well-used ensemble in the picture.  There are a few plot holes, and the story's final resolution may require you to suspend your disbelief, but it's another good mystery-horror programmer from the studio.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Aztec Mummy (1957)

Starring Ramon Gay, Rosita Arenas, Crox Alvarado, Luis Aceves Castaneda, Jorge Mondragon
Directed by Rafael Portillo
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After probing his fiancee's mind, a scientist discovers she was a virgin sacrifice to the Aztec gods in a past life, and goes in search of her tomb, where he unwittingly brings an ancient mummy back to life.

Mexican horror that borrows more than a few elements from the Mummy films of the 1930s and 1940s, this effort pales in comparison to those classics, with murky photography, badly lit night scenes, and little opportunity for the monster to emote or gain audience sympathy.  It's not all bad, featuring a fairly well staged hypnosis experiment, and some authentic looking Aztec ruins, but remains a misfire in my mind.  Nevertheless, according to IMDB, the monster did pop up again in a number of sequels.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940)

Starring Eduardo Ciannelli, Robert Wilcox, William Newell, C. Montague Shaw, Ella Neal
Directed by William Witney & John English
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In this movie serial, Bob Wayne dons the mask of The Copperhead, passed down to him by his crime-fighting father, in order to oppose the plans of Doctor Satan, a brilliant evil scientist.

One of my favorite movie serials, and one of the best, from top serial directors Witney & English, with great stuntwork, fine music, and Ciannelli perfect as the clever and calculating villain.  The early chapters are by far the finest, but  I enjoyed hanging around through the later chapters to see the storyline play out to the final conflict in Doctor Satan's lair.  According to Wikipedia, this serial was originally intended to be an adaptation of the exploits of comic-book hero Superman, but the rights fell through.  One wonders if Ella Neal's character, a reporter named Lois, would have been Lois Lane in the original serial, and had a more substantial role- for the bulk of the serial, she's just hanging around her father's laboratory to answer the phone.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gog (1954)

Starring Richard Egan, Constance Dowling, Herbert Marshall, John Wengraf, Philip Van Zandt
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A government agent is called in to investigate murders and sabotage at a secret scientific laboratory, where an advanced supercomputer controls all the experiments as well as a pair of powerful robots.

Although the special effects are economical and not ground-breaking in any form, this is an efficient thriller well-directed by Strock, and the screenplay contains some fascinating insights for the time into approaching space travel, the focus of the laboratory's scientists in the film.  Despite a great deal of technical jargon and confinement to a small number of sets, Strock keeps things moving along at a nice pace, and the saboteur's attacks come off as exciting and suspenseful.  Although the robots, named Gog and Magog after figures referenced in the Bible (according to Wikipedia), are not especially memorable, they become effective instruments of death in the film's final act.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Crimes At The Dark House (1940)

Starring Tod Slaughter, Sylvia Marriott, Hilary Eaves, Geoffrey Wardwell, Hay Petrie
Directed by George King
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scoundrel murders a man who's inherited an English manor, but when the murderer tries to impersonate his victim, he finds himself deep in debt, and stalked by a mysterious woman.

Based on a Wilkie Collins novel, "The Woman In White," per the film's credits, that novel was later made into a Warner Brothers film starring Sydney Greenstreet which I've seen, and found to be more literate and polished than this version.  However, it lacks Slaughter's charisma as the villain here, whose brash indignation when questioned, and devilish laughter as he takes the lives of his victims, are grandly entertaining.  The film remains another example of the effectiveness of Slaughter's skill at playing nefarious characters, well-paired with King's quality direction.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tower Of London (1962)

Starring Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman, Robert Brown, Bruce Gordon
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

On the death of his brother, the king of England, the hunchbacked Richard of Gloucester plots and murders to seize the throne for himself, but is haunted by the ghostly apparitions of his victims.

It's difficult not to compare this adaptation of the story of Richard III to the 1939 version starring Basil Rathbone, which also featured Price in a lesser role.  Rathbone's version is the superior film in my mind, but the way the screenplay for this film casts Richard in a re-imagining of Shakespeare's MacBeth is interesting.  Price is good, playing a figure not dissimilar to some of the vile characters he played during Corman's Edgar Allan Poe cycle, and his supporting cast is accomplished as well, but Rathbone's Richard was a craftier villain, and Pate's role as henchman to Richard in this version, is far less memorable than Boris Karloff's executioner in the first film. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Horror Island (1941)

Starring Dick Foran, Leo Carrillo, Peggy Moran, Fuzzy Knight, John Eldredge
Directed by George Waggner
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A huckster tries to lure thrillseekers to a phony haunted castle on an island he owns, but the lure of a hidden treasure on the island also brings a mysterious phantom there.

A fun little B-movie mystery from Universal Pictures, this picture reunites Dick Foran and Peggy Moran, the stars of The Mummy's Hand, and benefits from their charming screen chemistry.  There's also a pleasant mixture of comedy and thrills in the offing, a nice assemblage of music cues from the Universal library, and a colorful supporting cast with standouts in Carrillo as a boisterous peg-legged sailor, and the sinister-voiced Foy Van Dolsen as The Phantom.  I've always felt the comic mysteries Universal put out in the forties were second to none, and this one's no exception.

Boys Of The City (1940)

Starring Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Hal E. Chester, Frankie Burke, Vince Barnett
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The East Side Kids, after another run-in with the law, agree to spend the summer at a home in the country, but end up having to stay the first night at a spooky house where murder strikes.

The East Side Kids, one of several incarnations of a gang of tough young boys living on the street who were featured in numerous films from the 1930s well into the 1950s, headline this production, and it's a pretty entertaining one despite its low budget, featuring memorable parts for some quality character actors.  Minerva Urecal, often cast as an old spinster in numerous films for the "Poverty Row" studios, particularly shines as the creepy housekeeper with an evil laugh.  The African-American member of the kids is saddled with the familiar stereotypes of the era, and there isn't anything particularly different or exciting about the plot or direction, but one can see why this kind of light entertainment kept audiences coming back for more adventures with this cast.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Leslie Banks, Noble Johnson
Directed by Irving Pichel & Ernest B. Schoedsack

A big-game hunter is stranded on a jungle island owned by a mad Russian count, who hunts human beings for sport, and displays their carcasses in his trophy room.

Perhaps my very favorite among the films I've seen, I've always loved this adaptation of Richard Connell's famous short story, although it's lesser known than the film it shares much of the same cast and crew with, the famed King Kong.  According to Wikipedia, this adventure was filmed concurrently with Kong on the same sets, and while it lacks that film's stop-motion special effects, it's a horror classic in its own right.  Featuring a driving musical score by Max Steiner, a memorable sinister portrayal of the villainous Zaroff by British actor Leslie Banks, great direction, and a wonderfully staged culminating chase, together all these elements contribute to making this one of the most exciting films of the early 1930s.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Snorkel (1958)

Starring Peter Van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller, Gregoire Aslan, William Franklyn
Directed by Guy Green
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A clever sociopath murders his wife and makes it look like a suicide, fooling the police, but not his stepdaughter, who's convinced of his guilt, and tries to find a way to prove it.

Van Eyck makes a smooth villain in this suspense thriller from Britain's Hammer Films, and the filmmakers hook viewers early with the intricately planned and silently photographed murder, in which the killer uses a snorkel to breathe the harmless outside air while his wife asphyxiates on vapors from the gas lamps he turns on.  From there the race is on to see if the stepdaughter can find the evidence to expose him, or if he'll knock her off first, setting the stage for the finale in which one of them overplays their hand.  Although the rest of the film doesn't quite deliver as well as the opening scene does, this is enjoyable fare, with a story that avoids using the more relentless twists to be found in Hammer's thrillers to come.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Snake Woman (1961)

Starring Susan Travers, John McCarthy, Geoffrey Denton, Elsie Wagstaff, Arnold Marle
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist injects his wife with snake venom to cure her insanity, but when their daughter is born, she shows signs of being part-reptile, and is thought a creature of evil by the townspeople.

I'd have to label this film as disappointing, although there's some fine shadowy photography, good performances, and professional production values.  Despite all this, there's a lack of imagination in creating a compelling character for Travers as "the snake woman," and no payoff with a creature makeup or any special effects.  Intercutting Travers with footage of a regular-sized snake suggests her ability to transform into the creature, but the filmmakers could have done so much more to make this a memorable horror film.  Still, I can't quite dismiss the movie, as it's certainly well-crafted, and entertaining to watch.