Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And Then There Were None (1945)

Starring Barry Fitzgerald, Walter Huston, Louis Hayward, Roland Young, June Duprez
Directed by Rene Clair
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Ten strangers are invited to an island for a weekend, only to discover their host is planning to murder each of them one by one.

Director Rene Clair delivers an entertaining murder mystery with a light touch, with no blood and the violence kept off camera, in this adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic whodunit, and one of my favorites of the genre.  The film's biggest assets are the witty screenplay by Dudley Nichols and the excellent cast, as Fitzgerald and Huston lead a talented ensemble who add splendid characterizations to the mixture.  If you haven't read Christie's novel, you may well be surprised by who survives to the climax.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Terror Island (1920)

Starring Harry Houdini, Jack Brammall, Lila Lee, Wilton Taylor, Eugene Pallette
Directed by James Cruze
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman recruits the inventor of a new submarine to help her rescue her father from bloodthirsty natives on a tropical island, but treasure sunk nearby also attracts her greedy relatives.

Real-life escape artist Harry Houdini stars in another film effort, which is hard to judge completely as a number of reels have been lost per the onscreen notes from the Kino Video release I viewed.  However,  the major structure of the film remains intact and I found it to be an engaging adventure, enlivened by Houdini's noble onscreen persona and some energetic underwater sequences.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Frankenstein (1931)

Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles, Boris Karloff, Edward Van Sloan
Directed by James Whale
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A brilliant scientist succeeds in bringing life to a human body he's assembled from dead tissue, but he's soon horrified when he realizes it's an uncontrollable monster he's created.

Universal Pictures presents another of the great classic horror films, anchored by the twin triumphs of Boris Karloff's terrific performance as the monster, and Jack Pierce's frightening makeup for the actor.  Karloff is truly mesmerizing, providing childlike wonder, mortal terror, and seething anger when called upon, and it's not hard to imagine audiences of the time screaming when the monster's attacks turn brutal.  Although it's not a close adaptation of Mary Shelley's famed novel, the film is true to her themes of the dangers of man playing god, and the terrible consequences this can have, and director Whale stages a memorable birth scene for the creature, raised to the terrific height of a staggering tower to be bathed in the electrical output of a powerful storm.

The Mysterious Doctor (1943)

Starring John Loder, Eleanor Parker, Bruce Lester, Lester Matthews, Forrester Harvey
Directed by Ben Stoloff
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A doctor on a walking trip visits an English village where he learns the deaths of men working in an old tin mine have been blamed on a legendary headless ghost.

A fun wartime programmer from Warner Brothers, this is a modest B-movie, but a well-assembled one with swirling fog, eerie music, and a top-flight cast.  Actor Matt Willis, who played Bela Lugosi's werewolf assistant in The Return Of The Vampire around the same time, is memorable as a mentally retarded man who becomes a prime suspect in the killings, and Parker is good as the brave young beauty who comes to his defense.  Although some elements of the mystery are a bit transparent, Stoloff still leads the proceedings efficiently towards an exciting climax.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Alphaville (1965)

Starring Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina, Akim Tamiroff, Laszlo Szabo, Howard Vernon
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A secret agent is sent on a mission to the city of Alphaville, home to a powerful supercomputer that completely dominates the people and is waging war with its enemies.

Possessing the look and tone of a hard-boiled 1940s film noir, complete with black-and-white photography, voice-over narration, and a grizzled cynical lead in Eddie Constantine, Godard's film uses that setting as a springboard to launch into a poetic exploration of man and existence, not easily decipherable upon first viewing.  It's a marvelous film to look at and is filled with unusual edgy scenes including at a hotel where "seductresses" take guests to their rooms and offer personal service, and at a swimming pool where independent thinkers are executed and finished off by elegant swimmers toting knives.  I can't say this type of moviemaking is my particular cup of tea, but I can respect it as an art film, although not one I truly understand yet.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The World, The Flesh And The Devil (1959)

Starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, Mel Ferrer
Directed by Ranald MacDougall
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A nuclear attack leaves New York City abandoned except for three survivors, an African-American mineworker, and a Caucasian man and woman, and each have their own ideas about the future.

An interesting character study which nicely showcases Belafonte's talents as both an actor and musician, the film is similar to Roger Corman's Last Woman On Earth, but possesses a much larger budget, affording the actors the opportunity to wander through a seemingly vast uninhabited cross-section of New York, really capturing the scale of their plight and the depth of their loneliness.  Stevens is also very strong, and although the subject of bigotry is certainly addressed, it's refreshing to see how the filmmakers largely ignore it to show its idiocy and how it likely caused the end of the world.  Although you're rooting for Belafonte and Stevens to get together, it seems clear the prejudices of the time wouldn't allow this to happen on screen, unfortunately resulting in a somewhat ambiguous ending, but this is a worthwhile picture and an important one, at least in my opinion.   

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Mummy's Ghost (1944)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Robert Lowery, Ramsay Ames, Barton MacLane
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Kharis the ancient mummy still lives, and a high priest is sent to America to reclaim him and the body of the princess Ananka, only he discovers the princess' soul now resides in a young woman.

A lesser entry in Universal's Mummy series, following the events of The Mummy's Tomb, this effort suffers a bit from weaker atmosphere, evidenced by Chaney's Mummy lumbering in stark daylight from the uninspired hideout of an abandoned railroad yard.  The film is bolstered by quality turns from John Carradine as the high priest and Ramsay Ames as the reincarnation of Kharis' lost love, a plot point from the original Mummy film not previously used in the sequels.  Unfortunately this doesn't result in any worthwhile scenes of pathos involving Chaney and Ames, but does lead the film to a somewhat unusual climax.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ghost Patrol (1936)

Starring Tim McCoy, Claudia Dell, Walter Miller, Wheeler Oakman, Jimmy Burtis
Directed by Sam Newfield
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A cowboy working for the Department of Justice tries to track down a gang robbing mail planes who are able to knock them out of the sky with a strange invention.

Western star McCoy and his ten-gallon hat seem a little out of place in this modern-day story with technology including airplanes, short wave radios, and the electricity-sapping device of a brilliant scientist.  Nevertheless, the film's a charming bit of diverting fun, economically directed by Newfield on what must have been a tight budget.  Despite the title, there's not a ghost to be found anywhere, nor a patrol really either.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe, Sam Jaffe, Billy Gray
Directed by Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A spaceship lands in Washington, D.C. bearing an alien visitor with a message for humanity, but one he insists he must personally deliver to representatives of every nation on Earth.

A powerful sci-fi classic you'd have to think was especially relevant during the atomic scares of the 1950s, but still strikes similar chords today, this picture is certainly among the best work of all those involved from cast to crew.  A terrific screenplay makes its points without hammering the viewer over the head, composer Bernard Herrmann perfectly captures the paranoia at the heart of the film with an eerie and suspenseful music score,  and Rennie makes the alien Klaatu believable in a simple and direct performance.  Few films are as thought-provoking and entertaining at the same time.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

Starring Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon
Directed by Sidney Hayers
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A college professor discovers his wife has been practicing witchcraft, and forces her to give it up, and burn all her protective charms, but then bad things start happening to him.

This supernatural thriller is terrifically suspenseful and entertaining, well-scripted by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, from a novel by Fritz Leiber, which had been adapted before as Weird Woman, an entry in the 1940s "Inner Sanctum" film series.  Although time and time again, I've found the original always surpasses the remake, this film is an exception, with Blair giving a solid performance as the woman who turns to witchcraft to protect her husband, sharp black-and-white photography from Reginald Wyer, and a humdinger of a climax, cleverly staged by director Hayers.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Master Mystery (1919)

Starring Harry Houdini, Marguerite Marsh, Ruth Stonehouse, Edna Britton, William Pike
Directed by Harry Grossman & Burton L. King
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In this movie serial, a young inventor employed by a patent company battles against the schemes of the evil vice president of the company, which require him to escape from multiple death traps.

Famed real-life escape artist Harry Houdini stars in an intriguing serial from the early days of silent cinema, which has been preserved on DVD by the Kino label, but is sadly incomplete, with a number of chapters lost to the ravages of time.  What remains though offers us the opportunity to see Houdini in his prime, performing escapes from a variety of forms of bondage, and it gives the viewer a certain thrill to know that our hero is escaping due to his own wits and talent, and not through the movie trickery employed in standard cliffhangers.  Unlike most of the serials I've seen, this one is densely plotted with a great deal of romantic melodrama, bringing on the action only near each chapter's conclusion, which made some chapters seem to drag a bit.  Nevertheless, it's still an entertaining saga, and a treasure for those wanting to see history's most famous magician in the flesh.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Monster And The Girl (1941)

Starring Ellen Drew, Robert Paige, Paul Lukas, Joseph Calleia, Onslow Stevens
Directed by Stuart Heisler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After his sister is blackmailed by gangsters into a life of debauchery, her brother confronts them only to be framed by the criminals for murder, but after he's executed, a scientist has plans for his brain.

A pretty bizarre potboiler from Paramount Pictures, this picture is part crime drama, part horror film, and yet once the man's brain is transplanted into a giant gorilla, Heisler's staging of the ape scenes make it somehow credible, hard to believe as that sounds.  Draping the beast in shadow, focusing on the creature's eyes, and allowing him no ape-like mannerisms, the director and his crew succeed in suspending our disbelief in the fantastic premise, and build eerie suspense by leaving the ape's attacks unscored on the soundtrack.  It's not a great film, but still a memorable B-movie, and boasts an impressive cast, including Oscar-winner Lukas*, and old pros like Calleia, George Zucco, and even Cliff Edwards, better known per IMDB for voicing Jiminy Cricket in Disney's Pinocchio.

*Lukas won his Oscar for Watch On The Rhine (1943), per IMDB

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tarantula (1955)

Starring John Agar, Mara Corday, Leo G. Carroll, Nestor Paiva, Ross Elliott
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist experimenting with a radioactive nutrient unwittingly lets a tarantula he's treated escape from his lab, and it grows into a huge menace that threatens the community nearby.

One of the best monster movies of its kind, director Jack Arnold's follow-up to It Came From Outer Space and Creature From The Black Lagoon is an involving sci-fi thriller with special effects that still look seamless, great makeup effects for the unfortunate human beings that have been injected with the nutrient, and a stalwart performance by familiar '50s leading man John Agar.  Although the picture's somewhat derivative of Them!, which set the gold standard for "giant bug" movies when released the previous year, it holds up on its own terms, and is a personal favorite of mine among Arnold's and Agar's credits.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dead Of Night (1945)

Starring Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Mary Merrall, Googie Withers
Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, & Robert Hamer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An architect hired to fix up a farmhouse is disturbed to find the house and the people in it are exactly as in his recurring nightmares, and each have their own horror story to tell.

Britain's Ealing Studios presents one of the earliest horror anthologies and it's a good one, with some fine chilling moments.  It's most famous sequence is that of a ventriloquist played by Redgrave whose dummy seems to rebel against him, and Redgrave is excellent, but there's also quality horror mined from a man who sees a strange room in the mirror behind him, and a hospital patient who experiences a premonition of his death.  Not all of the vignettes are as strong, but the framing story is as gripping as the best of them, as the architect tries to recall the horrific ending of his dream before it is too late.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Flight That Disappeared (1961)

Starring Craig Hill, Paula Raymond, Dayton Lummis, Gregory Morton, Harvey Stephens
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A domestic airline flight that includes a nuclear scientist among its passengers is seized by a mysterious force that makes it ascend higher and higher into the sky.

I've always enjoyed the films of producer Robert E. Kent, who managed over the course of his career to produce numerous entertaining B-movies on modest budgets, and this one is no exception.  There's no big names in the cast, nor any significant special effects, but the film is engaging nonetheless, with a relevant storyline on the responsibility associated with designing weapons of mass destruction.  Although the production is confined to just a few sets, taking place largely aboard the plane, the actors and script make the tension palpable, as veteran director LeBorg solidly steers the story forward.  This isn't a great film, but it's a fun thriller worth your time.

The Golem (1920)

Starring Paul Wegener, Albert Steinruck, Lyda Salmonova, Ernst Deutsch, Hans Sturm
Directed by Carl Boese & Paul Wegener
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

This silent film is a retelling of the ancient Jewish legend of the Golem, a clay statue which was constructed and brought to life by a rabbi in order to save his people.

An often-filmed story with themes familiar to horror movie fans past and present, the story of the Golem is memorably presented here, with quality lighting, makeup, and art direction.  Wegener, who also co-directed the film, excels in portraying a realistic artificial man, with stiff walking movements and limited facial expressions, but also allows us to see a yearning in his eyes for something more.  The film's special effects are also impressive, ranging from blinking stars, to a crumbling palace, to the conjuring of the demon Astaroth.  It's an exciting and well-paced picture that holds up well today.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Case Of The Black Cat (1936)

Starring Ricardo Cortez, June Travis, Jane Bryan, Craig Reynolds, Carlyle Moore, Jr.
Directed by William McGann
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Famed attorney Perry Mason is hired to protect an ornery cat at the center of his latest case, who's been threatened by the heir to a wealthy man's estate.

This film offers a fun mystery based on the novel by Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of the Perry Mason character who would later become probably best known as portrayed by actor Raymond Burr in the classic 1960s television series.  Mason is portrayed by Ricardo Cortez here, who plays him differently than Burr, as more of a smooth operator with a sardonic sense of humor.  But fans of Burr's series should find much to like here with Gardner's familiarly twisting plot aided by a solid supporting cast who create some memorable characters.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Luana Walters, Tris Coffin, Elizabeth Russell, Minerva Urecal
Directed by Wallace Fox
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A newspaper reporter looks into the deaths of young brides on their wedding day, whose bodies were subsequently stolen, the victims of a mad scientist trying to restore his wife's youth and beauty.

We have here a fun low-budget horror flick headlined by Lugosi, notable for scenes in which the actor recalls his "Dracula" role by sleeping in a coffin.  It's not among his better showcases, but it held my interest, with Walters good as the lovely reporter, and some fine background music for her investigation of the secret passage leading to the scientist's laboratory.  There's some loopy humor as well with a henchman who pursues Walters while chewing on a chicken leg.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

King Kong Escapes (1967)

Starring Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama, Linda Miller, Akira Takarada, Eisei Amamoto
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After an evil scientist's plans to dig up a radioactive element with a robot duplicate of King Kong fail, he sets out to capture the actual giant ape to perform the task.

Toho Studios' second film using the King Kong creature, following 1962's King Kong Vs. Godzilla, again relies on an actor in a monster suit to portray the creature, and ups the action by adding the robot duplicate for the original Kong to fight while scaling a tower, blonde captive in hand, in a finale far too reminiscent of the original 1933 classic, but not comparable in the least.  Although the picture starts out strong with a battle on Kong's home island between the ape and a giant dinosaur, portrayed by another actor in a monster suit, but a highly detailed and convincing one, the excitement isn't sustained, and drags quite a bit until the climax.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Attack Of The Puppet People (1958)

Starring John Agar, John Hoyt, June Kenney, Susan Gordon, Michael Mark
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman goes to work for a dollmaker, and soon begins to suspect that the life-like dolls on display in his factory may be real people who've mysteriously gone missing.

Released on the heels of the similar-themed but better regarded The Incredible Shrinking Man, and compared to that sci-fi classic, this film has an inferior storyline and lesser special effects, but it's still a lot of fun.  Hoyt makes a fine sympathetic villain, and Gordon and crew make good use of believable oversized sets and props for their "shrunken" cast to interact with.  Albert Glasser adds the right notes of menace when appropriate in his music score, and Agar and Kenney are appealing as the romantic leads.  On the minus side, there's more than a few plot holes in the script, but they can easily be dismissed for those in the mood for an entertaining B-movie experience.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dr. Renault's Secret (1942)

Starring J. Carrol Naish, John Shepperd, Lynne Roberts, George Zucco, Mike Mazurki
Directed by Harry Lachman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An American doctor visits his fiancee in France at the home of her uncle, a noted scientist, and is intrigued by his soft-spoken handyman, not realizing he's the scientist's greatest experiment.

Centered around a strong performance by Naish as the mysterious Noel, aided by a subtle but convincing makeup, this is an interesting effort, with its only true detriment being a lack of anyone in the cast convincing as a Frenchman.  Nonetheless, there's a fine collection of character actors on display, with Zucco in a familiar role as the cruel scientist, Mazurki as his menacing gardener, and Arthur Shields as the determined police inspector.  Running under an hour, it's a short picture but well-paced by Lachman with an exciting climax.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Ghost And Mr. Chicken (1966)

Starring Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Liam Redmond, Dick Sargent, Skip Homeier
Directed by Alan Rafkin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A meek typesetter for a small town newspaper is given the opportunity to write a feature story, but must spend the night in a haunted house where a murder took place 20 years before.

Playing a role not too different from his Barney Fife persona on The Andy Griffith Show, Knotts is charming as the easily spooked Luther Heggs, whose meekness extends from putting up with a boorish writer at the paper to his timid courtship of the town beauty.  It's not riotously funny, but gently amusing at times, and good-natured throughout, a fine counterpoint to the more raucous and ribald comedies of today.   Vic Mizzy contributes a whimsical music score, and though there's nothing particularly frightening in the haunted house, Knotts does a nice job of entertaining the audience with his fearful reactions.

The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Otto Wernicke, Gustav Diessl, Rudolf Schundler, Oskar Hocker
Directed by Fritz Lang
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Despite being imprisoned in an insane asylum, and apparently out of his mind, the criminal genius Dr. Mabuse is still able to devise plans and deliver them to his criminal gang to carry out.

Fritz Lang's follow-up to his silent classic Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler is a less impressive film in my opinion, but still interesting viewing, featuring thrilling sequences including a nighttime car chase from a burning chemical factory, and two people desperately trying to escape from a locked room containing a bomb.  Less time and detail is devoted to the extent of Mabuse's attempts to create terror in the city, as the director focuses more on Mabuse's gang, including a reluctant member who wants to give up his criminal past and start a new life with his beautiful girlfriend.  It's still a worthy effort by a master filmmaker, just not as impactful as the story's first chapter.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

It Came From Outer Space (1953)

Starring Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An astronomer witnesses an alien spaceship landing on Earth, but after it's buried in an avalanche, no one will believe him, even after he encounters the aliens themselves.

The first of many forays into science fiction by Universal Pictures in the 1950s, this film gets that series of pictures off to a spectacular start, tapping into the fear of the unknown that was prevalent then with a quality story from sci-fi great Ray Bradbury.  Featuring grotesque alien makeups, a wonderfully eerie music score, and a strong lead performance by Carlson, it's a durable classic intelligently directed by Arnold, and still relevant today.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Dick Foran, John Hubbard, Elyse Knox, George Zucco
Directed by Harold Young
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An Egyptian high priest is tasked with transporting the still-living Kharis the mummy to America, so he can bring death to the surviving members of the Banning expedition that violated his princess' tomb.

In this sequel to The Mummy's Hand, set thirty years in the future, despite the prior film having been released just two years earlier, Chaney takes over the role of Kharis the mummy, and the heroes of the last installment become Kharis' victims this time around.  This was disappointing to me, as I found Foran and Wallace Ford and the rest very likable characters, and even George Zucco, so entertaining as the villain of the last film, is forced to turn over the reins to a younger high priest.  Nevertheless, Chaney is a strong upgrade as the Mummy, with his stocky frame and lone staring eye beneath the makeup making for a more fearsome monster.  Chaney's presence, along with Universal's production values and fine music cues, make this another fun monster movie, although not exactly what I was hoping for.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Return Of The Giant Monsters (1967)

Starring Kojiro Hongo, Kichijiro Ueda, Reiko Kasahara, Naoyuki Abe, Taro Marui
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Gamera the prehistoric turtle monster returns in time to take on a new monster, Gaos, awoken from an ancient slumber by a series of volcanic eruptions.

The third Gamera film features weaker special effects than the first two but finds Gamera taking on full-fledged hero status, battling Gaos, who menaces the skies and emits destructive sound wave beams from its mouth, slicing aircraft in two.  The film features the return of original director Yuasa, and another young boy for Gamera to rescue and for children in the audience to identify with, after children were curiously absent from the grimmer Gamera Vs. Barugon.  The results are good fun, although a lesser film than its predecessors.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

King Kong (1933)

Starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy
Directed by Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A movie director sets off with a fledgeling actress on an expedition to an uncharted island in search of a giant jungle god named Kong.

Still one of cinema's greatest spectacles, with special effects by Willis O'Brien that have not lost their potency, this is a bonafide adventure and horror classic.  Unfolding mysteriously at the start, and then building thrill upon thrill, abetted by Max Steiner's vibrant score, it's an exciting and dynamic picture, with O'Brien's skilled stop-motion animation bringing to life not only King Kong, well-integrated with full-size mockups of the ape's head and arm, but a plethora of prehistoric creatures.  Although there's some hokey dialogue, and outdated stereotypes, the film is an influential masterwork, full of images and scenes that have since become iconic.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Snow Devils (1967)

Starring Jack Stuart, Amber Collins, Rene Baldwin, Wilbert Bradley, Halina Zalewska
Directed by Anthony Dawson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Commander Rod Jackson is assigned to investigate strange happenings in Earth's Arctic region, and discovers the legendary Yeti, who are in fact aliens intent on freezing the Earth, are to blame.

We have here a sort of followup to War Between The Planets, featuring many of the same actors and characters from that film, just as director Antonio Margheriti had earlier done with The Wild, Wild Planet and The War Of The Planets.  In fact all four films share similar sets, costumes, and effects, and Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson), directed all four.  This was the final film of the four to be released, and breaks up the formula refreshingly with the Yeti storyline, transposing much of the action to the frozen Arctic, before disappointingly resorting to a less-exciting space mission in the picture's final act.  I would have liked to have seen more done with the Yeti, probing into their planet's history and their leaders' motivations, but sadly this was not to be.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Return Of The Vampire (1944)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Frieda Inescort, Nina Foch, Miles Mander, Roland Varno
Directed by Lew Landers
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A pair of scientists track down the resting place of a vampire and destroy him, but two decades later, the vampire is resurrected, and seeks revenge on them and their children.

Providing Bela Lugosi one of his final starring roles for a major studio, this film is a worthwhile and atmospheric chiller, with sets drenched in fog and a perfect mood-setting score from Mario Tedesco.  As a vampire film, it doesn't offer anything more to the genre besides Inescort's female protagonist, rare for a horror picture, and its wartime blitz setting, but is welcome for offering Lugosi an opportunity to return to the screen in another Dracula-like role.  Actor Matt Willis also provides a memorable performance as the vampire's loyal werewolf henchman.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Black Moon (1934)

Starring Jack Holt, Fay Wray, Dorothy Burgess, Cora Sue Collins, Arnold Korff
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A businessman allows his wife to return to the island she grew up on for a visit, but unbeknownst to him, she is not planning to return, taking her place as a priestess of the voodoo-practicing natives.

This is a memorable horror film of quality that doesn't delve into any supernatural content, but still has the capacity to thrill, well-directed by Roy William Neill, and featuring some striking photography and music.  Unfortunately, it paints its strokes too broadly, casting the entire black population of the island as the villains, and ignoring the oppression they apparently suffer at the hands of the white plantation owner of the island.  That makes it difficult to praise this picture, although its composition and direction place it among the better horror films of the 1930s.  It's not blatantly offensive in the way A Birth Of A Nation can be, but is definitely a product of less enlightened times.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Battle In Outer Space (1959)

Starring Ryo Ikebe, Kyoko Anzai, Koreya Senda, Minoru Takada, Leonard Stanford
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The nations of Earth discover an alien race with a powerful anti-gravity weapon is planning to invade Earth, and send two spaceships to attack the aliens' secret base on the moon.

Although the quality of special effects in Japanese science fiction films is sometimes compromised by obvious miniatures, and to be honest, there are some of those here, but as a whole, the special effects are very well-done, and help make this adventure believable.  Although we unfortunately don't get to see any of the aliens up close, other than some small helmeted figures which attack some of the crew in one scene, Godzilla veteran Honda and his team craft some thrilling sequences, featuring ray guns, flying saucers, and explosions a plenty.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Hands Of Orlac (1924)

Starring Conrad Veidt, Alexandra Sorina, Fritz Kortner, Carmen Cartellieri, Fritz Strassny
Directed by Robert Wiene
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a concert pianist's hands are badly mangled in a train accident, his doctor replaces them, but the pianist becomes traumatized when he learns his new hands came from an executed murderer.

Veidt gives a first rate performance in this classic silent film from Germany, emoting the mental torture his character's experiencing, and extending his hands out limply to seem disconnected from his rest of the body.  Viewers more accustomed to the film remakes of this story might be surprised, as I was, that it's much less steeped in horror than those versions, and is more of a psychological thriller, but has the same somber tone, enhanced by expressionistic lighting.  I'm not sure if it's due to the pacing we're accustomed to now a days, but I found the picture's pace a bit too slow moving, especially during the film's first half.  Still, it's a worthy showcase for Veidt, and a treasure of silent cinema.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)

Starring Jacques Bergerac, Merry Anders, Allison Hayes, Marcia Henderson, Joe Patridge
Directed by George Blair
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A series of unexplained self-mutilations by women confuse the police detective investigating them, but his girlfriend suspects a popular hypnotist may connect the victims.

Although the subject matter is a bit horrific, and one certainly cannot welcome the violence experienced by the victims, overall the film makes for entertaining viewing, due to a compelling mystery, a quality cast, and an enjoyable hypnosis sequence where Bergerac invites the movie audience to participate and experience the real thing.  Cinematographer Archie Dalzell makes good use of closeups during the hypnosis scenes to bring us into the experience, as well as tight shots of Bergerac's stare in the posters outside his theatre to heighten his menace.  It's a good horror film with some still potent shocks.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Case Of The Black Parrot (1941)

Starring William Lundigan, Maris Wrixon, Eddie Foy, Jr., Paul Cavanagh, Luli Deste
Directed by Noel M. Smith
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young reporter tries to get to the bottom of a mystery concerning a valuable cabinet bought by his fiancee's father which was designed by a master criminal.

A fun B-movie mystery from Warner Brothers, with a young Lundigan very engaging in the lead, this film has a few twists that are obvious and some that caught me by surprise.  Although small in scale, with only a few settings, it benefits from Warner's production values and studio polish.  Only issue I had was that Cavanagh overdoes his French accent a bit, to an almost comical extreme, but that's a minor complaint, and I had a good time with this entertaining whodunit.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

She Devil (1957)

Starring Mari Blanchard, Jack Kelly, Albert Dekker, John Archer, Fay Baker
Directed by Kurt Neumann
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist injects a dying woman with an experimental serum, and she completely recovers, but also gains strange abilities and loses her inhibitions, transforming her into a predatory female.

This film has a fascinating hook- what if we applied the ability of insects to adapt and heal themselves to human beings, and what abilities could they develop?  Although we get to see these abilities manifest themselves in Blanchard's character, it's not really what the film's about, instead turning into a monster movie with a liberated woman as the creature.  Whether the filmmakers are using this as a vehicle to say something about repression or sexism in the '50's, or trying to reinforce such attitudes, I don't know, but the results are an entertaining romp, although one that can't be taken seriously in the slightest.  It's a hoot though, and Blanchard makes a fine villainess.  Director Neumann's better known for his follow-up the next year, The Fly, but once you see its predecessor, you won't be able to forget it.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966)

Starring Kojiro Hongo, Kyoko Enami, Yuzo Hayakawa, Takuya Fujioka, Koji Fujiyama
Directed by Shigeo Tanaka
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The giant flying turtle monster, Gamera, returns to Earth in search of new energy to consume, while a trio of fortune-hunters seek a hidden gem in New Guinea, not realizing it will unleash a new monster.

The first sequel to Gammera The Invincible leaves behind the characters and also much of the charm of the first film, offering a plot that quite frankly is far too similar to Mothra, but in fairness still remains quite watchable.  Enami is strikingly attractive as the leading lady, and there are some compelling special effects, although the effects work is somewhat uneven throughout the film.  The Barugon creature, who fires destructive beams out of its back that resemble a rainbow is an odd concept, but it didn't bother me too much.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Voodoo Man (1944)

Starring Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, George Zucco, Wanda McKay, Louise Currie
Directed by William Beaudine
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An obsessed doctor tries to restore his dead wife through voodoo rites performed on young women, turning them into mindless zombies.

This is one of my favorites of Lugosi's films for Monogram Pictures, affording the actor some intense closeups, and one of his best supporting casts from the studio.  The voodoo rituals border on the silly, and accomplished actors Zucco and Carradine's roles are beneath their talents, as a voodoo priest spouting gibberish, and a dim-witted henchman respectively.  Still, that makes for some kooky fun, and I couldn't help but be entertained.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Cyclops (1957)

Starring James Craig, Gloria Talbott, Lon Chaney, Jr., Tom Drake, Duncan Parkin
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman charters a plane to find her missing fiancee, who crashed three years before in a forbidden Mexican valley, home to immense creatures and a 25-foot one-eyed giant.

One of several science-fiction pictures made by Bert I. Gordon that he also produced the special effects for, the film's pretty short on story and character development, but includes some decent matinee thrills, featuring a fearsome makeup for The Cyclops, and solid, if not spectacular, rear-projection sequences.  Although the actors are largely playing nothing more than stereotypes, they're an engaging lot, particularly Lon Chaney, Jr. as a greedy co-financer of the expedition.  I found it to be a good bit of diverting fun.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Terror Beneath The Sea (1966)

Starring Shin'ichi Chiba, Peggy Neal, Franz Gruber, Steve Queens, Andre Husse
Directed by Hajime Sato
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The sighting of a strange figure underwater during a submarine torpedo test prompts a pair of reporters to investigate, only to be captured by the cyborg fish-men created by a mad scientist.

I enjoyed this fun sci-fi adventure from Japan, which boasts some interesting makeup effects and a catchy musical score.  Though there's a load of plot holes and not much for the leading lady to do but scream in horror at regular intervals, I was willing to overlook those detriments due to the film's entertainment value.  There's not much depth to the story, and the villain's motivations are never really made clear, but the set design of the underwater base is well-done, and the action-packed climax is fun to watch.