Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Creeping Flesh (1973)

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Lorna Heilbron, George Benson, Kenneth J. Warren
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the 19th century, a scientist brings back a gigantic skeleton from New Guinea, which he discovers possesses "evil" cells, and can regrow flesh on its bones when exposed to water.

Another of the many teamings of British horror icons Cushing and Lee, this time playing brothers without much love for each other, and Cushing in particular is wonderful as an excitable man of science whose decisions regarding his daughter ultimately lead her down a dark path.  Lee has his own sinister agenda, which at times seems a bit fantastic, with a Frankenstein-like laboratory hidden within the walls of the asylum he runs.  Freddie Francis in this picture may have delivered one of his finest pieces of direction after a distinguished run as a top-flight cinematographer, including a very taut sequence as Cushing tests the "blood" of the skeleton's reconstituted flesh, and a gripping climax where the monster of the film stalks Cushing for the return of a necessary item.  There's sumptuous color used throughout, and fans of the "titans of terror" will find much to relish in this quality horror film.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Master Minds (1949)

Starring Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, Alan Napier, Jane Adams
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After Sach displays an ability to predict the future when overcome by a toothache, Slip and the Bowery Boys showcase him in a carnival act, which attracts the attention of a mad scientist.

Another of the Bowery Boys' ventures into horror territory features a legitimate monster played by Glenn Strange, shortly after concluding his roles for Universal as the Frankenstein monster.  However, the beast is obliged to trade brains with Hall's Sach, so for the majority of the picture Hall, surprisingly effectively, plays a snarling monster, and Strange plays the dimwitted but jovial young man, easily nailing his silly mannerisms.  It's a bit of a departure from the Boys' usual formula, and although the story's paper thin, I still found it to be entertaining.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Devil Bat (1940)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Suzanne Kaaren, Dave O'Brien, Guy Usher, Yolande Mallott
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After being deprived of a share in the wealth of the company he works for, a vengeful scientist grows a gigantic bat creature he uses to attack the family members of the company's owners.

One of the first of Lugosi's films for the "Poverty Row" studios that starred him in a series of such low-budget pictures, it's a pretty slight movie but not without a fun factor.  Grinning while subjecting his bats to electric rays from the requisite machines of his mad scientist's lab, and leaving his unknowing victims with only a serious, "Goodbye," Lugosi's presence sells the film.  Despite the meager budget on display here, the giant bat prop looks somewhat convincing, swooping down in dimly lit night scenes that mask whatever special effects were used.  The material's beneath the actor's talents, but I can't help but look back on the film fondly, as despite its shortcomings, it still showcases Lugosi's sinister appeal.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965)

Starring Christopher Lee, Nigel Green, Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Dor, James Robertson Justice
Directed by Don Sharp
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard discovers that his nemesis Dr. Fu Manchu is alive, and is scheming to develop a deadly new chemical weapon.

Lee is cast as Sax Rohmer's fiendish Oriental villain in the first of several appearances as the character, following in the steps of Boris Karloff in yet another role, and he vanishes into the part effectively, although he plays the role with little emotion.  There's colorful photography by Ernest Steward and several effective stunt sequences, and Don Sharp does a fine job of directing the action, although the lab assistant played by Joachim Fuchsberger seems a little too skilled in hand-to-hand combat, often easily dispatching his would-be assassins.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the picture, another testament to Lee's power as a captivating antagonist.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Thing From Another World (1951)

Starring Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, James Arness
Directed by Christian Nyby
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the frozen Arctic, a team of scientists and Air Force men discover a spaceship and its monstrous pilot trapped under the ice.

One of the best science fiction films of the 1950s, the picture features a winning ensemble of a cast, and is highlighted by engaging dialogue and a memorable monster, as well as several eerie and suspenseful scenes.  This is likely the finest hour for both actor Kenneth Tobey as the stalwart Air Force captain, and Robert Cornthwaite as the determined scientist whose character became something of a sci-fi archetype.  Dimitri Tiomkin delivers an atmospheric and appropriately chilling musical score, and the film's direction is first rate, although per Wikipedia, there's been a great deal of contention over the years whether Nyby actually directed, or if producer Howard Hawks really helmed the movie.  Although John W. Campbell's original story "Who Goes There?" is named in the credits, the film is far from a literal adaptation of that story, but remains a gripping and impactful picture.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Find The Blackmailer (1943)

Starring Jerome Cowan, Faye Emerson, Gene Lockhart, Marjorie Hoshelle, Robert Kent
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A private eye is hired by a politician to seize a talking crow used by his blackmailer, but the detective finds the blackmailer murdered, and the crow missing.

Although written like a hard-boiled mystery, the film has such an emphasis on comedy, and the plot's so convoluted, it plays more like a parody of the genre.  Cowan is perfectly cast in the lead role as smarmy detective D.L. Trees, and Lockhart is convincing as the ironically honest mayoral candidate whose deception of his fiancee has landed him in trouble with his conniving brother-in-law to be.  It's not the funniest film of its type, but the cast, playing all the film noir archetypes from cynical detective to femme fatale to dimwitted thugs, all appear to be having great fun in their roles, and the effect is infectious.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Alias John Preston (1955)

Starring Betta St. John, Alexander Knox, Christopher Lee, Sandra Dorne, Pat Holt
Directed by David MacDonald
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy stranger settles in a new community, and quickly becomes one of its leading citizens, but his short temper and distaste for his past point to the fact he has some disturbing secrets.

This small-scale melodrama on a modest budget might otherwise not stand out if not for the presence of Lee in one of his rare leading roles before becoming a star in horror films, and he's fascinating to watch here.  He runs through a gamut of emotions from joviality to anger to depression and paranoia, and in one memorable scene underscores his character's unease by twirling a cigarette through nervous fingers.  The script spends a bit too much time on the young man St. John jilts in favor of Lee, but becomes much more interesting when Lee takes over the film and we see the nightmares that have been haunting him.  That seems a bit prophetic of the imposing monsters that would haunt his audience's nightmares in films to come.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Atlantis: The Lost Continent (1961)

Starring Anthony Hall, Joyce Taylor, John Dall, Bill Smith, Edward Platt
Directed by George Pal
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A Greek fisherman rescues a shipwrecked woman, who reveals she's a princess of Atlantis, and guides him to her advanced but cruelly ruled kingdom.

Producer/director George Pal's follow-up to the better regarded The Time Machine, this picture isn't quite of the same quality, but is still a fun adventure.  Shaping the fall of Atlantis as a cautionary tale for the power hungry, the film doesn't focus too much on the benefits of Atlantis' advanced civilization in favor of presenting its excesses, like the slavery of foreigners and the transformation of its slaves into literal beasts of burden.  As a consequence we don't really get to see enough of the world that Pal and his crew have created before it's destroyed, but the romance of the young people at the heart of the story works well enough, and there's thrills a plenty from young hero Demetrios' battle to win his freedom and free his fellow captives.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Mad Love (1935)

Starring Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy, Sara Haden
Directed by Karl Freund
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A brilliant surgeon with an unhealthy attraction to a beautiful actress secretly replaces the mangled hands of her pianist husband with a murderer's.

This remake of Robert Wiene's silent drama The Hands Of Orlac is refashioned as a showcase for Lorre in one of his first American films, and the actor's haunting stares and compelling performance as a villain on the verge of madness make for a most memorable film.  Enhanced by excellent photography and camera movement by Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane) and Chester Lyons and fluid direction by former cinematographer Karl Freund, the picture is a legitimate horror classic.  For me the only shortcomings were a scene in which Clive comes face to face with the owner of his new hands, handled much better in Wiene's original, and the poor attempts at humor by actors May Beatty and Ted Healy.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Unholy Three (1925)

Starring Lon Chaney, Mae Busch, Matt Moore, Victor McLaglen, Harry Earles
Directed by Tod Browning
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A trio of carnival performers scheme to use their talents to commit a daring series of robberies, but their leader grows jealous when his girlfriend falls for another man.

One of several collaborations between performer Lon Chaney and director Tod Browning, it may well be among their best, with Chaney, the "Man Of A Thousand Faces," playing a ventriloquist who also impersonates an elderly woman, proprietor of a pet shop he uses as a front for his crimes.  Although this role doesn't offer one of his more remarkable transformations, Chaney's acting is superb, convincing as the ventriloquist (in a silent film!) and believable as the old lady, simply by stooping over and adopting a kindly expression.  The film was remade by Chaney and Browning as a talking picture five years later, but the original is still an impressive achievement.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

Starring Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Ivan Triesault, Red Morgan
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An enemy spy breaks a safecracker out of prison with plans to turn him invisible to stage a daring theft of atomic materials.

Not a particularly good film, nor a terribly bad one, this effort from low-budget director Ulmer makes the most of limited special effects and an effective music score from Darrell Calker, but there's just not enough on the screen to make the picture particularly memorable.  Kennedy is well-cast and convincing as a hardened criminal but we really don't find out much about him, and Chapman is saddled with a even less-defined character who hitches her wagon to Kennedy's character, but it's never really clear why.  Still, if you're looking for an afternoon's diversion, you could fare far worse.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Mummy (1959)

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, Felix Aylmer
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Archaeologists open the long lost tomb of an ancient princess but unwittingly restore to life a mummy who is directed to murder them to avenge their desecration.

One of the best Hammer horror films, in my opinion, the film boasts the winning tandem of Cushing and Lee and a wonderfully haunting score by Franz Reizenstein, so evocative of both the tragic tale of the mummy and the color and pageantry of ancient Egypt.  On a par with Boris Karloff in the original Mummy film, Lee emotes effectively with his eyes and stiff but swift and lethal movements.  The slower moving mummies of past films would not be able to keep up with him!  Jimmy Sangster's screenplay unites elements from several of the previous Universal mummy movies, and hits upon a winning combination of terror and pathos in Lee's Kharis, pining for Furneaux who resembles his lost love.  Cushing delivers more of the selfless heroism he displayed in Horror Of Dracula along with a cleverly phrased verbal confrontation with George Pastell's villainous high priest, in which he eggs on his adversary without ever raising his voice.  It's a pity none of Hammer's Mummy sequels would ever be as good.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Scared Stiff (1953)

Starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Lizabeth Scott, Carmen Miranda, George Dolenz
Directed by George Marshall
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A nightclub entertainer and his clumsy sidekick accompany a young heiress to a Cuban island haunted by ghosts and a zombie.

According to Wikipedia, this film is the fourth adaptation of the same play, and was last filmed as 1940's The Ghost Breakers, starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard.  Here it's remade as a vehicle for Martin and Lewis, and it's not a bad picture, featuring some fun numbers teaming the singer and comedian with Brazilian songstress Carmen Miranda.  Yet the horror scenes pale in comparison to the 1940 version, as for example, Jack Lambert's zombie does not have the same impact as Noble Johnson's did a decade earlier.  Although the presence of Lewis allows the filmmakers to jettison the stereotype played by Willie Best in the previous version, that leaves the film without any black actors, so that's not exactly progress.  Despite all that, fans of Martin and Lewis should enjoy the movie, but I'd recommend The Ghost Breakers as the better version for those looking for laughs and chills.  The two earlier silent versions of the story are apparently lost films, per Wikipedia.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The X From Outer Space (1967)

Starring Eiji Okada, Shun'ya Wazaki, Itoko Harada, Peggy Neal, Franz Gruber
Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An Earth spacecraft bound for Mars is forced to return home, carrying an alien object which grows into a monster that rampages across Japan.

What begins as a promising original science fiction adventure from Japan soon reverts into another of their giant monster movies, echoing territory Godzilla, Gamera, and others have tread before, although a more fanciful creature which seems to be enjoying its destruction distinguishes this effort.  I would have liked to have seen more of the story behind the aliens who were destroying prior Earth ships and why, or even more development in the love triangle involving Wazaki, Neal, and Shin'ichi Yanagisawa, but the film is what it is, and as an entry in the kaju genre, it's among the more entertaining if not quite what I was hoping for.