Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Undersea Kingdom (1936)

Starring Ray Corrigan, Lois Wilde, Monte Blue, William Farnum, Boothe Howard
Directed by B. Reeves Eason & Joseph Kane
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Navy lieutenant "Crash" Corrigan and his friends trace a mysterious force causing earthquakes to the lost city of Atlantis, where a powerful despot is making plans to conquer the world.

Here's an action-packed and fun movie serial from the early years of the Republic Pictures studio, which per Wikipedia was formed from a number of smaller studios including Mascot Pictures, who provided much of the principal crew for Republic's serial unit.  Mascot's serial a year earlier, The Phantom Empire, seems to have inspired this production, which also features a lost civilization, lumbering robots, and plenty of men on horseback.  Although no one would call this a great science fiction opus, it's nonetheless very enjoyable, enlivened by thrilling music, chariot chases, sieges of a fortress, sword fights, and a great deal of derring-do for Corrigan.  Although no one particularly distinguishes themselves in the cast, Lon Chaney, Jr. some years before becoming a horror star, plays the captain of Blue's soldiers.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Four Sided Triangle (1953)

Starring Barbara Payton, James Hayter, Stephen Murray, John Van Eyssen, Percy Marmont
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A pair of childhood friends grow up to become scientists and perfect a duplicating machine, but when  one of them marries the woman the other also loves, the rejected one aims to duplicate her.

I'm very fond of this picture, a science fiction effort made by Fisher for Hammer Films before their success in horror movies, and it has an excellent concept and script adapted for the screen by Fisher and Paul Tabori from a novel by William F. Temple.  The photography by Reginald Wyer is crisp and features some very beautiful closeups of the lovely Payton, and the score by Malcolm Arnold has the proper flourishes during the well-directed laboratory scenes, in which Fisher shows the prowess he would bring to Hammer's Frankenstein films.  The only thing that holds the picture back in my opinion from being a complete success is some visual representation of the emotion Payton's character has for Van Eyssen's as it becomes critical to the story in the film's latter half.  I'm not sure if this is due to Payton's range as an actress or the lack of romantic clinches in the movie, but an improvement in this regard would have just completely sold me on the film.  Nevertheless, it's still a fine production and a quality early effort by Fisher.

The Thin Man (1934)

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Minna Gombell
Directed by W.S. Van Dyke
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Retired detective Nick Charles is convinced by his wife Nora to help a young woman whose father has disappeared after the murder of his mistress.

MGM delivers a classic mystery with many laughs courtesy of the charming team of Powell and Loy, whose dialogue throughout the picture is sparkling and a lot of fun.  Based on a story by Maltese Falcon author Dashiell Hammett, the mystery is a good one but secondary to the comic scenes involving the leads and their terrier Asta.  It's interesting to see Pendleton, nearly always cast as a dimwitted but lovable type, playing it straight as the police lieutenant on the case, and there's many solid character turns by actors like Edward Ellis, Cesar Romero, and Edward Brophy.  It's a credit to their performances and that of the rest of the cast that when Powell invites all the suspects to a dinner so he can expose the murderer that we know everyone around the table without confusion.  Followed by five sequels, the popularity of the film is a testament to the chemistry between the stars.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Elsa Lanchester
Directed by James Whale
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After the Monster survives his apparent death, an evil scientist blackmails Henry Frankenstein into creating a mate for the creature.

A terrific sequel to Whale's 1931 Frankenstein film that launched Karloff's stellar horror career, the picture features the return of Karloff in his classic role, who speaks as the monster for the first and only time.  Although his performance in this film has been often parodied over the years, it is still a work of quality,  such that the distinguished British gentleman underneath the makeup isn't discernible at all.  Karloff is only one component however of a fine motion picture, which also features Whale's expert direction and the addition of wry touches of humor, something missing from the first film, as well as beautiful photography from John Mescall, and a thrilling score by Franz Waxman.  The screenplay, which according to IMDB several individuals worked on at one time or other, wisely recreates a sequence from Mary Shelley's original novel which was absent from the first film, a touching sequence in which Karloff's monster befriends a blind hermit played by O.P. Heggie.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Vengeance Of Fu Manchu (1967)

Starring Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Tsai Chin, Horst Frank, Noel Trevarthen
Directed by Jeremy Summers
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The nefarious Fu Manchu launches a new plot for vengeance against Scotland Yard commissioner Nayland Smith, which involves replacing Smith with a surgically altered double.

Third in the series starring Christopher Lee as Sax Rohmer's Chinese master criminal, this film features a new director, Jeremy Summers, replacing the previous film's Don Sharp, who had a talent for staging action sequences.  The fights are still well-choreographed, although the focus on Smith's double makes this production perhaps a bit less exciting, and there's some notable plot holes in Harry Alan Towers' screenplay.  Fans of the previous Fu Manchu movies should still find enough color and action to suit their tastes, but should be forewarned Lee doesn't have much screen time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Spook Chasers (1957)

Starring Huntz Hall, Stanley Clements, Darlene Fields, David Gorcey, Jimmy Murphy
Directed by George Blair
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The Bowery Boys help Clancy who runs their favorite lunch counter to find a home in the country to relax his nerves, only it's run down and supposedly haunted by a dead gangster.

One of the later Bowery Boys films after Leo Gorcey had left the series, this entry relies on the comedic shtick of Huntz Hall to carry the picture with Gorcey's replacement, Stanley Clements, serving more as a straight man.  This is mostly accomplished through silly dialogue until they get to the "haunted house," when some more amusing physical comedy starts to come into play.  The audience has likely seen all this before in better pictures, and this isn't one of the Boys' better efforts, but it's such an amiable effort by all concerned, I can't criticize the movie too harshly.  Fans of the Boys should find enough to enjoy.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Devil-Doll (1936)

Starring Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O'Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Rafaela Ottiano, Robert Greig
Directed by Tod Browning
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An escaped convict with a grudge against the men who imprisoned him accompanies a fellow escapee to his laboratory, where he finds the man is experimenting with shrinking living creatures.

Another memorable horror film from Dracula director Tod Browning, and one wonders if the story might have originally been developed for his former star Lon Chaney, as Barrymore dons drag to hide his identity, similar to Chaney's performance in Browning's The Unholy Three.  Barrymore should be given credit for a convincing turn as his female persona, effectively replacing his distinctive voice with a high-pitched old lady's.  The "devil-doll" effects show their age when inserted into scenes with other actors, but the full-size mockups of tables, stairs, and small furniture scaled by the tiny people are first-rate, enhancing the believability of the production, which for a revenge tale, has an unusually sweet center as Barrymore's character tries to reconcile with O'Sullivan's.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959)

Starring Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Christopher Lee, Marla Landi, David Oxley
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Sherlock Holmes is engaged to protect the life of Sir Henry Baskerville and investigate the mystery behind the ghostly hound that haunts his ancestral estate.

Hammer Films reunites their horror stars Cushing and Lee and director Fisher for this adaptation of the classic novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Cushing is marvelous as Holmes, playing him as a more brusque and easily bored individual than in previous adaptations, while Lee for a change provides the romantic lead in the character of Sir Henry.  It's also among the more exciting adaptations, beginning with a flashback to the barbarism of Hugo Baskerville and his relentless chase of an innocent young maiden, and highlighted by a number of dramatic conflicts.  Although the novel provides the bulk of what's on screen, Hammer clearly tries to capitalize on their past horror successes by reusing some of James Bernard's score for Horror of Dracula and adding references to evil and the powers of darkness in Cushing's dialogue.  I prefer the 1939 version with Basil Rathbone for its eerie tone and well-paced suspense, but this is one of Hammer's better productions featuring a classic character Cushing was born to play.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Monster (1925)

Starring Lon Chaney, Gertrude Olmstead, Hallam Cooley, Johnny Arthur, Charles A. Sellon
Directed by Roland West
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An amateur detective trails the disappearance of a wealthy farmer to a supposedly closed sanitarium, but it's been taken over by a mad doctor.

We have here a comic mystery enhanced by some dark and eerie scenes and the presence of Chaney as the villain, who plays his part with wide eyes and a creepy grimace, but it's not one of his more memorable characterizations.  Arthur is the familiar hero, seemingly patterned after Buster Keaton's character in Sherlock Jr., a somewhat meek and ridiculed clerk who wins a diploma from a correspondence detective school and continually consults a crime solving book.  Arthur is no Keaton, and his routines aren't all that amusing, but the film really takes off once we make to the sanitarium where West introduces us to Chaney and his sinister henchmen, and the secret passages and torture devices within, leading to a number of memorable suspenseful scenes.  I enjoyed the picture, but Chaney has had much better showcases.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Tingler (1959)

Starring Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Pamela Lincoln
Directed by William Castle
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A coroner studying the effect of fear on the human body in his spare time makes the incredible discovery that a living creature causes the tingling on our spine when we become frightened.

Modern audiences might not find this film as frightening as those of fifty years ago, but despite the fact that we can't enjoy Castle's gimmick back then of rigging vibrating seats in selected theaters, it's still great fun, and enjoyable to watch.  Not playing an out-and-out cad like he did in his prior film with Castle, House On Haunted Hill, Price is able to employ his considerable charm in serving as the very likable protagonist of this picture, though saddled with a cheating wife he probably goes too far in turning into one of his test subjects.  The showpiece of the film, a nightmarish sequence in which the mute character played by Evelyn reacts to terrors throughout her apartment, including the only color used in the picture, is the most effective from a horror point of view, but scenes involving the true monster of the movie, the "tingler" itself, are still entertaining, even though it's unable to move its individual legs as it waddles across the floor.  That serves as a cheerful reminder that the film left and still leaves smiles on the faces of many. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mark Of The Vampire (1935)

Starring Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Jean Hersholt
Directed by Tod Browning
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A modern community is convinced that vampires haunt a castle whose owner has been recently murdered, and the police inspector calls in an expert on the legend to help.

A sound remake by Tod Browning of a lost silent film few have seen, London After Midnight, the movie may follow the same story, but it looks a lot like Browning's Dracula, and returns that film's star, Bela Lugosi, although he has a limited role.  Filled with creepy imagery and featuring the photography of acclaimed cinematographer James Wong Howe, it's a perfect film for Halloween-viewing with numerous scenes of skulking rodents, crawling spiders, and swooping bats, and although some of the creature effects appear obvious today, I relished them for their contribution to the film's dark mood.  Fans expecting more from Lugosi's presence may be surprised to see Carroll Borland as the chief vampire here, but her icy stare is very effective, and Howe lights her menacingly as she stalks Allan throughout the film.  We may never know if the movie is an improvement or not as good as London After Midnight, but it's certainly another memorable foray by Browning into gothic horror.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

She (1965)

Starring Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, John Richardson, Christopher Lee
Directed by Robert Day
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After encountering a beautiful queen from a lost city, a young adventurer convinces his companions to accompany him on a dangerous journey to find her kingdom.

Hammer Films tries their luck at an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's oft-filmed adventure, casting their horror stars Cushing and Lee as supporting players, although each have some meaty and worthy scenes, including some memorable dialogue with each other.  I enjoyed it very much, with Andress and Richardson probably giving off more heat than any of the stars of the previous adaptations, and composer James Bernard turning in a majestic love theme and a fun jaunty cue for the men's journey through the desert.  Cribbins also is very likable as Cushing's plucky manservant, and there's some fantastic sets on par with the classic 1935 version.  Expecting Andress and Richardson to pass for ancient Egyptians is probably a bit too much to ask, but for those in the mood for a fun period adventure, I'd heartily recommend this.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy (1958)

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

The greedy Dr. Krupp tries again to take the breastplate and bracelet from the ancient mummy who protects them, planning to defeat him this time with a powerful robot.

Third in a series of Mexican horror films to feature an ancient monster based on the legends of Aztec mythology, following The Aztec Mummy and The Curse Of The Aztec Mummy, this effort doesn't stand on its own very well, with over half its running time devoted to presenting clips from the previous two films.  Nonetheless, the battle between robot and mummy at the film's climax is probably the most exciting sequence in all three movies, but that's not saying a great deal, as the films are as lumbering and slow as the titular monster.  However, I can't quite say I didn't enjoy the picture at all, as Castaneda's crazed scientist and the bulky robot with its human head fit the bill for another loony Mexican horror film experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Island Of Lost Souls (1932)

Starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi, Kathleen Burke
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A shipwreck survivor ends up on the island of Dr. Moreau, a cruel scientist who has transformed the beasts of the jungle into half human creatures.

A still potent shocker, adapted from H.G. Wells' Island Of Dr. Moreau, the film is highlighted by some very impressive "manimal" makeups, each different from one another, and quite convincing, despite the picture's fantastic plot.  I've heard Wells was not enamored of the film or Laughton's performance, but I think the actor makes a marvelous villain, displaying his own bestial side, cracking a whip to keep the beast-men at bay, and threatening them with a return to "The House Of Pain," if they do not obey his laws.  Horror icon Lugosi is among the most fearsome looking of the creatures, his penetrating stare a fine compliment to his frightening bushy makeup, but each of the made up actors surely unnerved audience members in the 1930s.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968)

Starring Teruo Yoshida, Tomomi Sato, Eizo Kitamura, Hideo Ko, Kathy Horan
Directed by Hajime Sato
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A Japanese flight crashes after encountering a UFO, and something from the spaceship takes over one of the passengers, transforming him into a human vampire.

We have here a very memorable horror film from Japan, which despite its effects showing their age, still has the power to unsettle viewers.  After establishing an actor's possession by the aliens in a gruesome scene, the filmmakers are able to build suspense without showing anything more than his sinister expression below a simple makeup scar in eerie closeups, and the terror in the actors trying to elude him.  It makes for an exciting and effective feature, enhanced by a haunting music score from Shunsuke Kikuchi, and the frightful use of color in the reddish skies that the plane plunges into, as well as the luminous shades of the kaleidoscope-like flying saucer.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Brides Of Fu Manchu (1966)

Starring Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Heinz Drache, Marie Versini, Howard Marion-Crawford
Directed by Don Sharp
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Nayland Smith discovers Fu Manchu's latest scheme, a plot to deliver destruction from a distance with the help of scientists he forces to work for him by kidnapping their daughters.

A swiftly made follow-up to Lee's debut as the master villain in The Face Of Fu Manchu, the picture brings back much of the first film's cast and crew, but recasts Wilmer as Manchu's adversary Nayland Smith.  Sharp again delivers a solid and colorful action-adventure, and Lee seems a bit more comfortable in his role, although the plot which involves Manchu's deadly manipulation of radio waves poses a challenge for the filmmakers to visualize, and the screenplay leaves a number of major questions unanswered.  Still, those who enjoyed the previous film should find this to be an entertaining sequel.  Among the "brides" is actress Carole Gray, who was quite busy in British sci-fi/horror films that year, also appearing in Curse Of The Fly, Island Of Terror, and Devils Of Darkness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die (1965)

Starring Gary Merrill, Jane Merrow, Georgina Cookson, Neil McCallum, Rachel Thomas
Directed by Gordon Hessler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A female executive's domineering ways lead her husband and one of her employees to conspire to murder her, but once they've done the deed, the husband fears she may have returned from the dead.

Although pretty derivative of past works, this is an absorbing and intricately plotted thriller with strong performances.  I enjoyed it, and must admit I didn't see the screenplay's final twist coming, but was somewhat disappointed that the filmmakers didn't try to do more to amp up the horror, although there are some effectively creepy moments.  Hessler would go on to make a series of violent horror films with Vincent Price, so it's interesting to see him create chills on a more subtle level here, including a nice sequence where Merrill witnesses lights turn out one by one in a house he had thought empty.  Still, I felt the picture was a bit too dialed back, and would have been much more memorable with a greater emphasis on unnerving the audience.