Saturday, July 22, 2017

The War Of The Worlds (1953)

Starring Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite, Sandro Giglio
Directed by Byron Haskin
(actor & director credits courtesy

Investigations into meteors that crash land on Earth reveal they are actually spaceships from Mars, carrying deadly machines out to conquer the planet. 

Legendary fantasy film producer George Pal presents one of his keystone films, an updating of H.G. Wells' classic sci-fi drama that had been earlier presented as a famous radio drama by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre.  The visual design of the Martian death machines is iconic, and although it probably doesn't hold up as well to modern audiences, it had to have made a huge impact on 1950s viewers, accompanied by unnerving sound effects of destruction.  When we finally get to see a Martian, the creature's composition is also unique and memorable among cinematic aliens.  Barry and Robinson make fine leads, but the film's lasting power really resides in the bleak story and the quality of the pyrotechnic special effects.

The Black Castle (1952)

Starring Richard Greene, Boris Karloff, Stephen McNally, Paula Corday, Lon Chaney Jr.
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy

An English adventurer arranges to visit the castle of a sadistic count he suspects of murdering his closest friends, and falls for the count's innocent young wife. 

Following in the footsteps of The Strange Door, that film's screenwriter Jerry Sackheim presents another costume drama with horror elements, and like the prior film, succeeds best with the film's villain, Count Karl Von Bruno, portrayed by Stephen McNally.  McNally gives the eye-patched Count a memorable sinister characterization, but there's not much depth to Sackheim's story with a plot proceeding rather by-the-numbers in following similar adventures we've seen before.  Still, there are some exciting perils for Greene to face, including a savage black leopard and a pitful of crocodiles, and Irving Glassberg's photography and the fine supporting cast are worth checking out.  Karloff and Chaney only play minor roles, with Chaney playing a savage mute like those he would later bring to life in The Black Sleep and Indestructible Man.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Strange Door (1951)

Starring Charles Laughton, Boris Karloff, Sally Forrest, Richard Stapley, William Cottrell
Directed by Joseph Pevney
(actor & director credits courtesy

A cruel French lord holds a young scoundrel in his castle with a vengeful scheme in mind to marry him to the daughter of the brother he despises. 

Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, this is something of a curious relic, a costume drama with horror elements, produced by Universal Pictures five years after ending their famous series of horror films.  If nothing else, it's a fabulous showcase for Laughton, who is perfectly cast as the vile Sire de Maletroit, and seems to relish the evil character, although the film doesn't quite follow through on a number of opportunities to make him really depraved.  I've read the short story, and there's a beauty in its language that isn't successfully captured in Jerry Sackheim's screenplay, and the sequence in which its young people fall in love, although intact in the film, is not particularly well acted or presented.  Nevertheless, the movie does offer a fun adventure with some worthy dark moments and fine character turns by Alan Napier and Paul Cavanagh, although Karloff seems miscast as an aged knife-brandishing servant, a role unworthy of his talents.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Silent Running (1972)

Starring Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint, Mark Persons
Directed by Douglas Trumbull
(actor & director credits courtesy

When the Earth decides to scrap a plan to grow vegetation in carriers in outer space, a man assigned to one of the carriers defies orders to save it from destruction.

Most notable for providing the directorial debut for Trumbull, who designed the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey and other science fiction classics, the picture is unique and different and worth seeking out.  Dern gives a memorable performance, as do the amputee actors inside the robot drones who become his primary co-stars for most of the film, and there's an elegance and beauty to their relationship.  Although Trumbull, who also supervised the special effects, doesn't offer any visuals on par with 2001, they are serviceable and appropriately secondary to the actors' performances.  The screenplay does leave a great deal unexplained to the movie's detriment, and more action or mystery in the film's second half could have added excitement, but it remains a distinctive and significant piece of work in my mind.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Climax (1944)

Starring Boris Karloff, Susanna Foster, Turhan Bey, Gale Sondergaard, Thomas Gomez
Directed by George Waggner
(actor & director credits courtesy

A talented young opera singer lands a coveted role with a prestigious opera house, but the company's psychotic doctor has plans to silence her voice forever. 

This attempt to recapture the success of Universal's remake of Phantom Of The Opera released the prior year, was per Wikipedia a box office disappointment, and it's not difficult to see why.  Although the film returns Foster from the previous production, alongside Karloff and a talented cast, and features some pleasing music, it doesn't offer a story anywhere near as dynamic as Gaston Leroux's classic tale.  While Karloff is an inspired choice to follow Claude Rains' Phantom, the actor is not able to do much to enliven a standard psychological thriller plot.  The film is especially disappointing considering the craftsmen behind the camera- director George Waggner and screenwriter Curt Siodmak both worked on The Wolf Man, but aren't able to work the same magic here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Tower Of London (1939)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barbara O'Neil, Ian Hunter, Vincent Price
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
(actor & director credits courtesy

Richard of Gloucester plots his ascension to the English throne through trickery and murder with the aid of a loyal executioner.

After teaming earlier in the year for Son Of Frankenstein, Rathbone, Karloff, and producer/director Lee return for this costume drama retelling the cruelties of Richard III, playing it up like a horror movie by tracking in the title music from their previous film.  It's a marvelous showcase for Rathbone as the villainous Richard, who brings across icy stares and cruel sneers as well as phony airs of sympathy and sincerity to achieve his aims.  He also, despite his debauchery, is the character to root for in the film, opposed by bland heroes played by John Sutton and Ralph Forbes.  Karloff has a marvelous opening scene in which he's introduced as the club-footed executioner sharpening an axe with a raven on his shoulder, but disappointingly doesn't have much more to do in the film than obey Richard's orders.  To be honest, this isn't among the better films of its type, but I enjoy it, and there's a wealth of character actors on display from Miles Mander to Lionel Belmore to Leo G. Carroll, and even a young Vincent Price, who would take on Rathbone's role in the 1962 remake.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Night Key (1937)

Starring Boris Karloff, J. Warren Hull, Jean Rogers, Alan Baxter, Hobart Cavanaugh
Directed by Lloyd Corrigan
(actor & director credits courtesy

An aging inventor, after being cheated out of the chance to implement his new burglar alarm system by the man who swindled him of his previous system, plans a scheme to discredit him.

After Universal Pictures turned their back on horror films in the mid 1930s after their prior successes, Karloff was cast in this comedy/drama, which is still somewhat enjoyable in its own right, but had to be a disappointment to his fans.  Playing an elderly scientist going blind, the actor turns in a distinguished performance, but there's not much heft to the story, nor enough original material to enliven the picture.  There's a fine supporting cast with Cavanaugh memorable as a petty thief who teams up with Karloff, Baxter as a soft-spoken but villainous gangster, and Rogers of the Flash Gordon serials as Karloff's beautiful daughter, and the film was intriguingly directed by Corrigan, who became better known as a character actor in later pictures.  However, as my friend Dan Day Jr. pointed out, it's frustrating to imagine what could have been had the studio backed Karloff in another horror picture during their glory years rather than this light entertainment. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Theseus And The Minotaur (2017)

Starring Marco Munoz, Joshua Kennedy, Jamie Trevino, Gus Kennedy, Brian Warren
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

After the wicked magician Minos takes the throne of Athens, and sacrifices innocent victims to a supernatural beast, the populace wait for a destined hero to deliver them from Minos' tyranny.

Perhaps Joshua Kennedy's most epic adventure, this production with a grand scale and the talented stop-motion animation of Ryan Lengyel, is a loving homage to the works of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen.

Springing from the well-known tale from Greek mythology of Theseus, Kennedy makes a few changes story-wise, but all the hallmarks are still here, from the legendary beast, to the impossible maze of Minos' labyrinth, to the beautiful Ariadne who aids Theseus in his quest.  Although this story was never brought to life in a Ray Harryhausen production, Josh borrows visual and narrative elements from other Harryhausen films that bring back nostalgic memories of films like The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad among many others.  In keeping with the presentation of this classic legend, Kennedy has crafted his dialogue, although not in verse, to have a poetic quality, assisted by acclaimed author Stephen D. Sullivan who contributed to the screenplay.

The director also gets wonderful performances from his actors, including Marco Munoz as Theseus, who looks the part of the swashbuckling hero, bringing a determined stare, and a talent for swordplay to the role.  Jamie Trevino's Ariadne is given a backstory never included in the myths and brings both beauty and righteousness to her character.  Josh's father Gus Kennedy is given a wonderful part as the blinded Gregorios, bringing sensitivity and nobility to the character in a selfless portrayal, and his son has the juicy role of Minos.  With a demonic expression, a scruffy beard, and a wildness in his eyes, Kennedy presents a unique villain, assembled from aspects of the fine actors who portrayed evil masterminds in the films of Harryhausen.

I said this film might be Josh's most epic, and visually it's definitely his most appealing, with Theseus' journey depicted against the background of a vast panoramic desert, a gift to any filmmaker apparently located in Kennedy's home state of Texas.  It gives the film scope, but there's compelling photography and visual compositing on display here as well, showing the torment of Theseus and his companions by the seductive sirens of myth, and allowing Minos to turn into a being of energy jumping across the screen as Theseus attempts to battle him.  The filmmaker of course can't deliver the elaborate interior sets of a Hollywood film on his budget, but creatively uses shadow to his advantage in depicting the insides of Minos' palace and the labyrinth, which is well-suited to the dark events transpiring within.  I also greatly enjoyed the rich palette of colors in the film, with red-garbed Theseus, white-costumed Ariadne, and black-clad Minos interacting against a bright tapestry of images.

The strong visuals and epic story make a worthy foundation for the stop-motion effects that the audience has been waiting to see, with animator Ryan Lengyel delivering two unique creatures constructed by hand over armatures as Harryhausen so memorably did throughout his career.  The Stymphalion Bird has a memorably creepy appearance, and is intriguingly integrated into the story as the deliverer of the black feather that will doom a person to death by the Minotaur.  The Minotaur itself is a triumph of design, resembling artistic depictions of the creature, but with unique details like a formidable jaw of crooked teeth exposed when the beast roars.  Lengyel may not be on the same level as Harryhausen, but his animation is still very impressive, and the fact that he and Kennedy could make their two worlds come together visually on an independent movie budget is something to behold.

Some of Harryhausen's finest moments on film came accompanied by the music of talented composers like Bernard Herrmann, and although the film does not have the advantage of a score delivered by a master like Herrmann, Josh has picked some thrilling themes from classical symphonies which bring excitement to his cinematic adventure.  As a fan of film music himself, Josh knows the importance of the aural component to the visuals he's presenting, and it's wonderful to see both come together.  Of all of Josh's films, I think the soundtrack here sounds the most like a unified orchestral score, and he should be credited for his fine selections.

This may not be a new Harryhausen classic, but it's the closest thing to it many of us will see in our lifetime, with stop-motion rendered the same painstaking way Ray did, and bright and colorful characters taking us back in time to a fantasy world like those visited by Sinbad, Jason, and other fantastic heroes.  Save perfectly rendered CGI creatures without heart and soul and grungy cinematography for the box office bombs that dwell in our cineplexes.  I'll take this wonderfully realized dream of true Harryhausen fans instead.

The St. Augustine Monster (2016)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Kat Kennedy, Gus Kennedy
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

A doctor discovers the washed up body of a giant cephalopod, and in the course of studying it, he becomes dominated by the creature's evil mind who wants to consume the blood of the living.

Although the plot of this feature may sound inspired by films like The Little Shop Of Horrors and Donovan's Brain, and it may well have been, Kennedy has produced the film as a silent feature with a visual design paying tribute to the 1919 German expressionist classic, The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.  Utilizing hand-drawn backgrounds by his mother, Ana Kennedy, in the same way that made Robert Wiene's film so memorable, Kennedy brings to life his story, apparently filmed between semesters with family and friends during his final year at Pace University.

The story of St. Augustine's monster is a true one, if lacking the supernatural overtones Kennedy adds to his narrative.  According to Wikipedia, the remains of a giant creature did wash ashore near St. Augustine, Florida in 1896, and was thought to have been a giant octopus, although later studies have concluded it might have been the remains of a whale.  Josh's creature is certainly the former, and could not have been otherwise given the young filmmaker's fondness for the eight legged marine animal.  The monster is given a three dimensional visage through cylindrical tentacles attached to the drawn body that are animated when the beast regains evil life.  Although these effects are elementary, they fit in well with the film's design and are particularly effective in the dark corners of a lighthouse that becomes the monster's lair.

Kennedy takes center stage as the doctor, who when consumed by the cephalopod's madness, takes on disturbingly obsessive characteristics, well displayed by Kennedy's rolling of his pupils back and forth, a mirthful grin, and dark makeup around his eyes.  There are visual cues back to Caligari in some sequences when Kennedy dons a dark bodysuit like that of the 1919 film's Cesare, but the actor/director brings his own characterization into the mix as well.

Josh is supported by sister Kat Kennedy, as his on-screen sister, father Gus Kennedy as an ill-fated police inspector, Aleyda Aguirre as a female victim of the doctor's evil persona, and Tom Pearson as the priest who will restore order at the film's climax.  Each play their roles convincingly with limited movement, making Josh's exaggerated gestures stand out all the more, effectively displaying his character's madness.

This may be Kennedy's shortest film, at a brief 19 minutes, but feels the perfect length, bridging an engaging narrative across limited sets with a memorable look and feel.  His musical selections are well-suited to the story and help transport us back to not only the period of the 1896 discovery, but the era of silent cinema.  It's a wonderful tribute, but an involving film all its own.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Blood Of The Zombie (1961)

Starring John McKay, Linda Ormond, Monica Davis, Clyde Kelly, Darlene Myrick
Directed by Barry Mahon
(actor & director credits courtesy

A honeymooning couple visit the plantation he's inherited, where his cousin is plotting to murder the bride by bringing her dead brother back to life through voodoo rites.

Perhaps better known by its alternate title The Dead One, this picture has a decent zombie makeup and an effective stilted performance by Kelly as the creature to its credit, but not much else.  Static camera setups and inconsistently lit night scenes are to the film's detriment, as is Monica Davis' flat vocal delivery and over-the-top screaming as the film's villain, although that does provide some amusement and entertainment value.  A mobile camera or some more exciting editing would really have provided some much needed energy here, and the lack of that makes even the appearance of some talented New Orleans jazz bands who perform at the beginning of the picture hard to sit through.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Blob (1958)

Starring Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut, Earl Rowe, Olin Howland, Stephen Chase
Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy

A teenager and his girlfriend try to convince a small town's authorities that a growing monster that swallows people whole is genuine and threatening the town.

Although the special effects haven't aged well, this remains a charming and compelling film with memorable imagery for "The Blob" that later spawned a sequel and a remake.  The familiar message at the heart of the picture of teenagers not being respected or listened to by adults was not new when this film came out and was probably better presented in other films, but McQueen and Corsaut's performances as noble and decent young people sets the film apart.  McQueen of course went on to a distinguished career starring in some of the most highly regarded films of the 1960s and 1970s.  This was also the first of an interesting trio of science fiction pictures from director Yeaworth, followed by 4D Man and Dinosaurus!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Black Sleep (1956)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Bela Lugosi
Directed by Reginald LeBorg
(actor & director credits courtesy

A reputed surgeon fakes a young doctor's death to save him from the gallows and employs him as his assistant, but the young man objects when he learns of the doctor's cruel experiments on the living.

This film was for a long time unavailable on home video, and I had long wanted to see it, as ten years after the death of Universal's classic horror films, it reunited several of their stars, as well as LeBorg, one of Universal's directors during that period.  The movie doesn't quite recapture the fun of those pictures, and with Chaney and Lugosi playing mutes, it doesn't afford them choice roles, but I still enjoy the film, and it still offers some eerie chills.  There's a well-utilized and photographed castle set, a mysterious and foreboding musical score, and a number of scenes that would have been pretty shocking in 1956, as well as a quality performance by Basil Rathbone anchoring the film.  It's not a worthy tribute or followup to the great Universal horror films, but for me it is worthwhile entertainment, if only a shadow of what it could have been.  

Friday, June 30, 2017

Black Friday (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Stanley Ridges, Anne Nagel, Anne Gwynne
Directed by Arthur Lubin
(actor & director credits courtesy

A doctor uses a gangster's brain tissue in a life-saving transplant for a dear friend, but when he sees traces of the gangster's memories in the man's mind, he tries to unlock them to find a hidden fortune. 

The final teaming of Karloff and Lugosi for Universal is an entertaining film, but disappointing as the two horror icons are on far from equal terms, as Lugosi plays the minor role of a rival gangster.  I've heard Lugosi originally was to play Karloff's part as the doctor before Karloff decided to take over that role, and Universal must not have had enough confidence in the actor to give him the part of the dual-minded college professor, eventually played by Ridges.  I think it would have been fascinating to have seen Lugosi play either of those roles instead of the one he does play, but it's still good to see him here.  Despite all this, Ridges gives a fine performance, convincingly creating two different characters, with a little help from the makeup department, and Boris is always fun to watch, even if this is not one of his better parts.  The film's story is not all that unique, borrowing from both Jekyll And Hyde and The Hands Of Orlac to a certain degree, but the cinematography is well-polished and it certainly moves at a snappy pace.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame, Michael Coles
Directed by Alan Gibson
(actor & director credits courtesy

In modern day London, a young man succeeds in bringing about the reincarnation of Dracula, but a descendant of the vampire's greatest foe is ready to challenge the monster.

After their remarkable success at creating quality period productions in their horror films, the British Hammer studio tried something new, bringing the classic Dracula character into modern times.  Some purists might have been offended by this tactic, but this is a hard film to dislike with a number of winning elements, including the return of Peter Cushing who plays two Van Helsings in the film, again providing a dynamic counterpoint to Christopher Lee's evil count.  Absent from the Hammer Dracula series for 12 years, while a number of blander leading men filled in, Cushing is wonderful to see back, and though he's aged and not the man of action he was in Horror Of Dracula and Brides Of Dracula, he gives a dextrous contemplative performance in keeping with his age, and cinematographer Dick Bush does a masterful job of capturing Cushing's still piercing blue eyes and the intelligence behind them.  While Christopher Lee does not have a whole lot to do, he's fierce and elegant at the same time, and Neame is quite good as the young rabble-rouser who covets Dracula's immortality and power.  Don Houghton's screenplay should be credited with introducing the count to 1972 without changing the character or relying on culture shock humor, and Michael Vickers' rock-tinged score adds catchy accompaniment and excitement while still heightening Dracula's menace.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bride Of The Gorilla (1951)

Starring Barbara Payton, Lon Chaney Jr., Raymond Burr, Tom Conway, Paul Cavanagh
Directed by Curt Siodmak
(actor & director credits courtesy

The foreman of a jungle plantation murders the owner in order to have his attractive young wife, but is then cursed by a native servant into becoming something far from human.

Written and directed by Curt Siodmak, who wrote several screenplays for the classic Universal horror films of the 1940s, the picture has been compared by film historian Tom Weaver to The Wolf Man, which Siodmak also scripted, as I recall from a commentary where he noted a number of interesting parallels between the two productions.  This movie is not in the same league as that film, but Burr has a brutish presence that works for his character, and although Chaney is not ideally cast as a native police commissioner, he approaches the role seriously and pulls it off with distinction.  Payton as the film's star is lovely to look at but her performance didn't make much of an impact on me- I thought she was a bit better in Four Sided Triangle.  For my money, Siodmak wasn't as talented a director as he was a writer, and that may hurt this film a bit, which drags here and there, but thought he was successful in creating a memorable jungle setting and atmosphere.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Missile To The Moon (1959)

Starring Richard Travis, Cathy Downs, K.T. Stevens, Tommy Cook, Nina Bara
Directed by Richard Cunha
(actor & director credits courtesy

On the verge of losing control of his planned spaceflight to the moon, a scientist takes off with two escaped convicts as his crew, and on landing, they find the moon inhabited by gorgeous women.

The last of Richard Cunha's four low-budget science fiction thrillers he directed in the late 1950s, this one is also something of a remake of 1953's Cat-Women Of The Moon, and has the same kitschy charm, although there's plenty of sexism on display.  Each of the moon women is costumed in outfits meant to attract the male gaze, which they try not to let us forget, overemphasizing their chests to an almost incredible degree.  That doesn't mean the picture isn't fun, with clunky rock monsters and giant spiders on noticeable wires menacing the Earth astronauts and entertaining us.  The film also adds the new story element of a power struggle between the moon's aging queen and her upstart lieutenant, which doesn't have any depth to it, but adds some witchy conflict where its sorely needed.  Alert viewers should notice stock footage from several other science fiction adventures, and Cunha clearly made this on a shoestring, but it's a shame his series of entertaining cult favorites had to end here.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Meet Boston Blackie (1941)

Starring Chester Morris, Rochelle Hudson, Richard Lane, Charles Wagenheim, Constance Worth
Directed by Robert Florey
(actor & director credits courtesy

Former safecracker Boston Blackie finds the police on his trail when he returns home to New York, which is complicated when he's suspected in a pair of murders tied to an espionage ring.

The first "Boston Blackie" film in Columbia's long series starring Chester Morris as the ex-con trying to help others while keeping the police at bay, this is a more dynamically filmed adventure than I expected, perhaps due to the presence of innovative director Florey at the helm.  There's some clever exchanges in the screenplay, an exciting car chase, and Hudson is very cute as the young lady who's driven into trouble by Morris, but falls for him anyway.  It's fun to spot some of the familiar character actors who have very brief cameos in the film, including Byron Foulger and Nestor Paiva, and although the espionage plot is not a terribly unique or interesting one, the picture held my interest, and I found it very entertaining.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Invisible Ray (1936)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Frances Drake, Frank Lawton, Violet Kemble Cooper
Directed by Lambert Hillyer
(actor & director credits courtesy

An obsessed scientist discovers a powerful new element in Africa which makes his touch poisonous, and when it is taken from him and his wife falls for another man, he plots a deadly revenge. 

The third pairing of Karloff and Lugosi features Karloff in the showier part (which apparently originally was supposed to have gone to Lugosi), but the Hungarian actor gives a fine performance as the distinguished scientist Doctor Benet, although it's far from an ideal showcase.  Karloff is more memorable as Janos Rukh, whose weary movements and penetrating stare create a believable character whose brilliance has been overshadowed by those have scoffed at his theories.  The film rather closely parallels Universal's earlier effort, The Invisible Man, casting Karloff as another killer maddened by his greatest discovery, and like that film, features some breathtaking special effects.  Depictions of planets moving through a starfield captured by Rukh's astral projector are of greater quality than similar scenes from productions made decades later, and the visuals depicting a character's demise at film's end are utterly unforgettable.  Franz Waxman, who created one of horror's best film scores for Bride Of Frankenstein, also contributes effective cues for this movie's soundtrack, including both menacing themes for Karloff's attacks, as well as some lovely music for Frances Drake's leading lady.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Giant Behemoth (1959)

Starring Gene Evans, Andre Morell, John Turner, Leigh Madison, Jack MacGowran
Directed by Douglas Hickox & Eugene Lourie
(actor & director credits courtesy

The discovery of countless dead fish and a gruesome murder near a British port is investigated by atomic scientists, who discover a giant radioactive sea monster is to blame.

This British piece of sci-fi, very similar in form to Lourie's earlier picture, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which showcased the stop-motion animation of Ray Harryhausen, is probably of most interest for effects work by Harryhausen's mentor, Willis O'Brien.  However, the creature in this film doesn't actually show up in animated form until about an hour into the picture, with earlier shots of the monster apparently accomplished via a puppet that is not animated.  Nevertheless, it's a more than effective film, with stalwart leads in Evans and Morell, inventive sound effects, and plenty of satisfying monster action.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Boy And The Pirates (1960)

Starring Charles Herbert, Susan Gordon, Murvyn Vye, Paul Guilfoyle, Joseph Turkel
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young boy, enamored with the historical exploits of famous pirates, encounters a genie in a bottle that transports him back in time onto the ship of the legendary Blackbeard. 

Bert I. Gordon, the producer/director and creator of special effects for 1950s sci-fi classics like The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack Of The Puppet People, tries his hand at a fantasy film with this time travel adventure starring Charles Herbert, the young actor from movies like The Fly and 13 Ghosts.  It's charming, but probably among the least of Gordon's films in my opinion, with a meandering story and some less than satisfying visuals.  The pirates, led by Vye's Blackbeard, are colorful, but their attacks on other vessels aren't very dynamic or exciting, and the bulk of the film focuses on weak humor in Herbert's exposure of the pirates to modern technology like safety matches and bubble gum.  Those faults aside, I still enjoyed the film, but it's a pale imitator of other fantasy classics.  The director's daughter Susan appears as a young victim of the pirates that Herbert rescues.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Return Of Doctor X (1939)

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Rosemary Lane, Wayne Morris, Dennis Morgan, John Litel
Directed by Vincent Sherman
(actor & director credits courtesy

When a newspaper reporter loses his job after mistakenly reporting a famous starlet dead, he recruits a doctor to help him discover the truth, and are led to a blood specialist and his sinister assistant.  

Humphrey Bogart's only horror film, which I've heard was a "punishment" levied on the actor by his studio's bosses, need not be looked at a low point in the dramatic actor's career, as I feel it's a gripping and enjoyable movie.  The cast is well worth watching, with Bogart joined by Wayne Morris in an entertaining performance as the glib reporter, a young Dennis Morgan as the noble but inquisitive doctor, and John Litel, who is underrated as the mysterious Dr. Flegg.  Huntz Hall, better known for his dimwitted persona in the East Side Kids and Bowery Boys movies, even shows up as an office boy at the newspaper.  Although Bogart's character is key to the story, the actor is essentially playing a supporting role here, but strikes the right eerie notes, with a creepy vocal delivery and a menacing walk.  Although Warner Brothers didn't venture into the horror genre often, they clearly looked at rival studio Universal for a template for their film, with a screenplay that calls upon elements of both Frankenstein and Dracula, and a Bride Of Frankenstein-like white streak through Bogart's hair.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Murder Ahoy (1964)

Starring Margaret Rutherford, Lionel Jeffries, Charles Tingwell, William Mervyn, Joan Benham
Directed by George Pollock
(actor & director credits courtesy

After Miss Marple's family lineage allows her to join the trust of a historic maritime vessel, she's intrigued by the mysterious death of one of the trust's members, and decides to investigate the ship. 

The last of Margaret Rutherford's appearances as Miss Marple in MGM's adaptations of Agatha Christie's novels, this one actually isn't an adaptation at all, but features an original screenplay by David Pursall & Jack Seddon.  It's a charming mystery with Miss Rutherford in fine form as the inquisitive and clever sleuth, with plenty of comedy along with the sinister goings on.  At times I felt it was a little too intricately plotted, with a number of different criminal enterprises transpiring aboard ship that weren't quite clear to me by film's end, but it was good fun well presented, with a talented cast of British thespians.  Hammer Films fans might be interested to know that familiar actors Miles Malleson and Francis Matthews are in the cast.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Panic In Year Zero! (1962)

Starring Ray Milland, Jean Hagen, Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchel, Joan Freeman
Directed by Ray Milland
(actor & director credits courtesy

A family traveling away from Los Angeles on a fishing trip learn that their city has been wiped out by a nuclear attack, and the father takes desperate measures to ensure they will survive.

Familiar leading man Ray Milland stars and also directs this engaging piece of sci-fi that delves into how society might be torn down in a nuclear crisis.  Although the budget is low, and an effects shot of the nuclear fallout isn't very convincing, Milland turns in a gripping performance on par with his better roles, and delivers a worthwhile film.  The screenplay unfortunately doesn't flesh out the other characters quite as well, and the return of antagonists from the first half of the movie in the second half struck me as a bit too coincidental.  I also thought that Les Baxter's score, dominated by some jazzy themes, might not have been the most appropriate choice.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the picture, and it's a good reminder that Milland was still turning in quality work well after his more famed successes in the 1930s and 1940s.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero (1965)

Starring Nick Adams, Akira Takarada, Jun Tazaki, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno
Directed by Inoshiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy

Aliens from the mysterious Planet X ask the Earth for the help of their giant monsters, Godzilla and Rodan, to save their world from "Monster Zero," but they may have other motives as well.

Although the film features quite a bit of giant monster action, the creatures are almost a sidelight, with the main conflict being between the sinister aliens from Planet X and the space pilots (Adams & Takarada) who are wise to their covert shenanigans.  Although Adams is one of the film's protagonists, he adds quite a bit of humor to the film as well, with an at times outlandish Brooklyn accent.  The special effects by Eiji Tsubaraya are again first rate, with not only Godzilla, Rodan, and "Monster Zero" showcased, but also some impressive flying saucers, although some wires are visible.  When the monsters do fight, it's entertaining and the devastation they cause is balanced with lighter moments like Godzilla jumping for joy after driving off an enemy.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Mind Benders (1963)

Starring Dirk Bogarde, Mary Ure, John Clements, Michael Bryant, Wendy Craig
Directed by Basil Dearden
(actor & director credits courtesy

A scientist goes through an isolation experiment to prove a colleague was not responsible for selling secrets, and is tested through brainwashing that challenges his devotion to his wife.

Although not truly a science fiction or horror film, as it's sometimes been described and marketed, this is a compelling drama with something profound to say about isolation's effects on the human mind.  Structured around an excellent performance by Bogarde, the actor is very convincing in conveying his trauma through anguish and violence in his voice while confined for hours underwater, and in portraying his relationship with Ure that ranges from passion to cruelty and indifference after his brainwashing.  The rest of the cast also give good performances, including Ure as the wife who silently endures her husband's hurtful treatment, and Clements as the hardened military officer supervising the experiment.  However while the screenplay contains some insightful dialogue, for me it takes some giant leaps that are a little too hard to believe, and a subplot concerning Bryant's pining for Ure's character isn't particularly well-integrated into the story.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Innocents (1961)

Starring Deborah Kerr, Peter Wyngarde, Megs Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Martin Stephens
Directed by Jack Clayton
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young woman takes a job as governess to two children at a large estate, but after witnessing ghostly visions there, fears the children have become corrupted by evil.

A faithful adaptation of Henry James' novella, The Turn Of The Screw, the picture is beautiful to look at, with vivid atmospheric scenery, and Clayton and his crew skillfully build a feeling of unease that helps escalate suspense.  Cinematographer Freddie Francis, who would later distinguish several future British horror films as their director, shows a talent for defining the visuals of the genre in eerie imagery and effectively fluid tracking shots, while still capturing the actors beautifully.  The cast is also first rate, with Stephens and Pamela Franklin beguiling as the titular children, Jenkins warm as the kindly housekeeper, and Kerr of course accomplished as the governess who may be as righteous as she thinks she is being, or possibly on the edge of losing her sanity.  I read on Wikipedia that the truth of whether Kerr's character has insight into evil or is overreacting has been much debated by scholars, so it seems appropriate that Clayton and his screenwriters, including the famed Truman Capote, have chosen to leave her character's actions for the audience to judge.  Viewers expecting a conventional ghost story with shocks and moaning spectres should be warned this isn't that type of film, but it is a beautiful production with more and more to notice upon each viewing.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Starring Yosuke Natsuki, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Akiko Wakabayashi, Emi & Yumi Ito
Directed by Inoshiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy

After escaping an explosion aboard her plane, a royal princess claims to be an alien from the planet Mars, and predicts attacks by Godzilla, Rodan, and a terrifying new monster.

This was the first Toho monster rally to the best of my knowledge, which brings Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra together to battle an impressive new menace in Ghidrah, a three-headed flying dragon that spews destructive energy bolts from its mouths.  But before we're presented with the climactic battle, we're introduced to Wakabayashi as the princess who jumps out of her plane before it explodes after a warning from a mysterious voice, and then resurfaces claiming to be a Martian who can predict the future.  That's creative plotting to say the least!  Although there's assassins after the princess, and plenty of death and destruction, the film has a very light-hearted tone, reflected in Godzilla's unorthodox attempts to battle Ghidrah and Rodan by throwing and kicking rocks at them.  Eiji Tsuburaya's special effects are among the best I've seen in a Toho film, with the fast-striking and devastating Ghidrah the definite showpiece of the production.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Godzilla Vs. The Thing (1964)

Starring Akira Takarada, Yuriko Hoshi, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yu Fujiki, Kenji Sahara
Directed by Inoshiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy

A giant storm transports an enormous egg to a Japanese city, which is claimed by greedy industrialists, but its contents are the progeny of Mothra, who will soon face off with Godzilla. 

Although the American title of this film leads you to believe there's a mystery behind the egg, its Japanese title was Mothra Vs. Godzilla and it becomes pretty clear that the egg belongs to Mothra early on, as soon as Emi and Yumi Ito reprise their roles as the tiny princesses of Mothra's island from the creature's first film.  Those hoping for a full-on battle between Godzilla and the flying moth monster may be disappointed as Mothra is weakened and dying during the battle, but there will be others who will carry on.  The filmmakers stage a clever strategic confrontation by Godzilla's foes with some pretty good effects, and the human cast are entertaining, with Takarada returning for his second Godzilla film, although playing a different character.  I haven't yet seen enough Godzilla films to estimate where this ranks in the series, although for me it's clearly behind the original, but still a fun entry, and one of the first to pair off Toho's different kaiju.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Black Cat (1934)

Starring Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Jacqueline Wells, Egon Brecher
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young married couple traveling through Europe become unwitting pawns in a struggle between an evil satanist and a vengeful doctor. 

The first pairing of horror icons Karloff and Lugosi is not exactly the showcase one would have pictured after their triumphs in Frankenstein and Dracula, but is a very worthwhile film, and the two actors give standout performances.  Karloff, in one of his most sinister makeups, cuts a dark menacing figure as the enigmatic Hjalmar Poelzig, whose evil is illustrated largely through shadow and Lugosi's revelations about him.  However, his cool and cultured voice and limited movement fits in perfectly with the images that paint him as a black-hearted villain.  Lugosi also gives a worthy performance as the tortured Vitus Werdegast, kindly at times, maddened at others, a sympathetic hero and villain rolled into one.  Although his character's irrational fear of cats works in the only real reference to the Edgar Allan Poe story the film takes its title from, it doesn't really make sense with the rest of the picture, other than to point out Lugosi's somewhat unbalanced mind.  Ulmer, who also contributed to the screenplay, casts their drama against the memorable art-deco like architecture of Poelzig's home, which makes a striking background, accented by moody themes from the works of classical composers like Beethoven, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Blood And Black Lace (1964)

Starring Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner, Ariana Gorini, Dante DiPaolo
Directed by Mario Bava
(actor & director credits courtesy

The beautiful models of a fashion salon become the targets of a vicious murderer, who assaults and tortures them for the secrets hidden within a scandalous diary.

An extremely stylish Italian thriller from director Mario Bava, it's also a very entertaining one with the killer's identity kept a mystery until late in the film, although Bava gives us some visual hints.  The cinematography by Ubaldo Terzano (and per IMDB, an uncredited Bava) is superb, with a grand and beautiful color scheme, and effective use of a roving camera.  Composer Carlo Rustichelli contributes some haunting themes, and the performances are excellent.  I was entranced from the dynamic opening credits sequence, which has the cast pose like the models of the film, and although I was disturbed by the violence committed against the film's victims, which made me very uncomfortable, I understand how this approach heightened the suspense and made the killer's assaults more terrifying to the audience.  Bava here has crafted a film that not only looks spectacular, but is intelligent and gripping on the same level.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Children Of The Damned (1964)

Starring Ian Hendry, Alan Badel, Barbara Ferris, Alfred Burke, Sheila Allen
Directed by Anton M. Leader
(actor & director credits courtesy

After a pair of scientists discover a remarkably intelligent boy in England, similarly gifted children from across the world are brought to join him, where their dangerous psychic powers are discovered.

A follow-up to Village of The Damned, which itself was an adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, the film is not a literal sequel, featuring no common characters or acknowledgement of earlier events, but could take place in a world sometime after the original story.  I've heard a number of people prefer this movie to the prior film, although I think that version had an eerier quality and a stronger cast.  However, this is still gripping entertainment, well-photographed and directed, and I liked Badel's performance as a geneticist who enjoys asking indelicate questions.  Although the filmmakers try to refocus the original story's themes to point out the evils of nations in an arms race, I think I would have preferred for them to peel back the layers of the mystery of the children, to unravel their origins and purpose rather than re-present the same puzzle we've seen before.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Son Of Kong (1933)

Starring Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack, Frank Reicher, John Marston, Victor Wong
Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack
(actor & director credits courtesy

Bankrupt and fleeing lawsuits after King Kong's disastrous attack on New York, Carl Denham is lured to return to Kong's island by the promise of treasure, and discovers a "son" of the great ape.

A quickie sequel to the 1933 classic, this followup is no match for the original in size and scope, instead focusing on a more juvenile adventure with many comic moments.  However I still found it very enjoyable, with more great stop-motion animated creatures from Willis O'Brien, including not just the son of Kong, but also a couple dinosaurs, some fearsome reptiles, and a giant bear.  The smaller, but still giant, ape is as lovable as the original Kong was fearsome, and several of the crew from the original film return, including composer Max Steiner who adapts his original Kong themes and adds new material.  The romance between Armstrong and Mack doesn't really come off well (there was a 23 year age difference between the two), and Ruth Rose's story could use some more hard edges, but overall the film is charming, and worthwhile for another chance to see the work of O'Brien and his crew in their prime.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Ape Man (1943)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie, Wallace Ford, Henry Hall, Minerva Urecal
Directed by William Beaudine
(actor & director credits courtesy

After a scientific experiment results in giving him the appearance and mannerisms of an ape, Dr. James Brewster is ready to resort to murder to find a cure.

One of Lugosi's nine films for low-rent Monogram Pictures, this is probably his least dignified role among all of them, playing the mad scientist/ape who's covered with fur and bent over like a chimpanzee.  And yet he remains absolutely watchable, playing the role seriously and with a grim malaise as he mourns his condition, becoming excited only at the prospect of killing others to save himself by obtaining their spinal fluid.  Letting his arms sway at his sides like a real primate, we believe him in the part despite the low-budget trappings, and he becomes a true menace when stalking Currie in the film's lively climax.  Currie was one of the more beautiful actresses to appear in a Monogram movie, and although her scenes with Ford mine tired gender humor we've seen a thousand times before, they have decent chemistry and make their characters appealing.  The story's pretty lightweight and Beaudine's direction nothing special, but I enjoyed the music, and above all, Lugosi makes it worth watching.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Mask (1961)

Starring Paul Stevens, Claudette Nevins, Bill Walker, Anne Collings, Martin Lavut
Directed by Julian Roffman
(actor & director credits courtesy

After an ancient mask drives a patient of his to suicide, a psychiatrist examines the mask and becomes captivated by weird visions and dangerous impulses after wearing it.

One of Canada's earliest feature films, this is a distinctive horror thriller with 3-D sequences conceived by famed montage designer Slavko Vorkapich.  It's not a great film, but is well-acted and directed, and the nightmarish imagery in the 3-D scenes, cleverly synched with moments in where Stevens dons the mask, is appropriately eerie.  The mask itself is a triumph of design, capturing the feel of the ancient society of the occult that it's tied to in the screenplay, and is well-utilized in closeups and as backgrounds in the visions Stevens endures.  The story is unfortunately not quite as strong as the visuals, although there are some interesting parallels between wearing the mask and drug addiction, but in my opinion, more exploration into the cult's rituals and their meanings would have engendered more interest in the narrative.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

House Of Wax (1953)

Starring Vincent Price, Frank Lovejoy, Phyllis Kirk, Carolyn Jones, Paul Picerni
Directed by Andre de Toth
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young woman is shaken by her murdered roommate's resemblance to a figure of Joan of Arc in a new wax museum, and wary of the owner, a crippled man who wants her to pose for him.

Warner Brothers' remake of their effective 1933 film chiller, Mystery Of The Wax Museum, features Price in one of his earliest horror roles, and is well-staged by Andre de Toth for the 3-D cameras, its visual depth making the film a winning showcase for the format.  In many ways, I prefer the original movie, but Price is wonderful, bringing elegant charm as well as a disturbing mania to the forefront in his performance, an ironic duality that would prove a highlight of his many future roles.  Kirk is fine if not particularly distinguished as the female lead, outshone a bit by Jones as her more colorful roommate.  The sets are of a wonderful quality, and the production finds some inventively amusing ideas to throw at the camera from a paddle-ball possessing showman to an assortment of leg-baring dancing girls.  Keep an eye out for a young Charles Bronson as Price's deaf-mute assistant.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Haunting (1963)

Starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn, Fay Compton
Directed by Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy

A paranormal researcher invites a pair of women to assist him in studying a genuinely haunted house, but the psychosis of one of the women makes her an attractive target for the ghosts.

Based on Shirley Jackson's famed novel, The Haunting Of Hill House, this is a well-regarded film from Oscar-winning director Robert Wise, and features excellent cinematography from Davis Boulton and an effective score from Humphrey Searle.  It's a well-polished suspenser with very good acting, but it's just not my cup of tea.  Perhaps it's due to the at times overwhelming focus on Harris' character or the reliance on unearthly noises alone to convey the presence of the ghosts.  There are a number of sequences I like, such as doors mysteriously closing, and Johnson's dangerous pursuit of Harris up a rickety staircase, but I just don't find the film all that eerie or nightmarish, which I think is what the cast and crew must have been striving for.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

Starring Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones
Directed by Don Siegel
(actor & director credits courtesy

A small town doctor discovers that people in his community are having their minds taken over by alien beings after duplicates of their bodies are grown in unearthly pods.

Another entertaining sci-fi thriller from the 1950s, the film features a compelling story, adapted by a magazine serial from Jack Finney, noirish photography by Ellsworth Fredericks, and fine performances and direction.  The idea of family, friends, and neighbors being taken over without any obvious outward signs makes for a fascinating hook, and although there's not much in the way of special effects to convince us of the invasion, the dark photography and earnestness of the cast really sell us on the threat.  McCarthy is perfect as the everyman hero, and Wynter very attractive and compassionate as his love interest, with excellent support from actors like Larry Gates and King Donovan.  Siegel, who helmed so many excellent thrillers from The Big Steal to Dirty Harry, layers action and suspense effectively to maintain a tight and exciting pace throughout the film.  Future action auteur Sam Peckinpah has a small part in an acting role.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gojira (1954)

Starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami
Directed by Ishiro Honda
(actor & director credits courtesy

The people of Japan are beset by a gigantic and radioactive lizard monster rising out of the sea that causes devastating destruction, but a scientist may have the one weapon that can stop it.

This was the iconic Japanese monster film that started the long-running Godzilla series as well as the diverse kaju genre, both of which are still continuing today.  Although Godzilla (Gojira in Japanese) would later become the hero of much more light-hearted films, he is a grim engine of destruction in this picture, with a convincing monster suit so well-photographed in stark black and white photography, that the creature is more terrifying here than he's been in any film since.  This isn't just a great Godzilla movie, but also a great movie, with thrilling special effects, a wonderful score from Akira Ifukube, and a realistic look at a threat to a nation, effectively scripted with fine performances.  Although the love triangle between Takarada, Kochi, and Hirata isn't as well-developed as it could be, Hirata stands out as the noble Dr. Serizawa, and we can feel his angst over a weapon he fears could destroy the world.  I first saw this film in the American re-edited version, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, which excised some scenes to make room for explanatory footage with Raymond Burr, but the original Japanese version is well worth seeking out, and packs a more powerful punch.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Schlock (1973)

Starring John Landis, Saul Kahan, Joseph Piantadosi, Eliza Roberts, Tom Alvich
Directed by John Landis
(actor & director credits courtesy

A detective investigating the shocking murders of people throughout a small town by the infamous "banana killer" learns the culprit is an intelligent gorilla, the "missing link" between apes and man.

John Landis' first feature film uses a familiar science fiction premise to launch a satirical comedy, and he plays the gorilla creature himself, who's far more intelligent than the policemen trying to stop it.  With a cast largely full of unknowns, with the exception of cameos from Forrest Ackerman and acclaimed makeup artist John Chambers, the emphasis is on the comedy, and I found the film very funny.  Aimlessly swerving police cars and a movie theater (showing The Blob and Dinosaurus!) where the creature has to put up with a number of distractions are among the best running gags.  Impressively assembled by a very young Landis (who was in his early 20's at the time), although his screenplay doesn't offer a logical story as much as a series of jokes and comic situations one after the other, but that approach had to have inspired the Zucker brothers' comedies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Peeping Tom (1960)

Starring Carl Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Brenda Bruce
Directed by Michael Powell
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young man obsessed with filming the terrified reactions of the women he murders falls for the young woman renting a room from him, and swears never to film her, as he continues his crimes.

This horror film from Michael Powell was controversial when released but has been greatly acclaimed since, and it deserves those accolades and more.  Boehm's psychosis, explained by cruel experiments performed on him by his scientist father, is chillingly presented, allowing us to see through the viewfinder of his camera via excellent cinematography by Otto Heller.  As disturbing as the images are, the sound that accompanies them is just as expert, with the whirring of Boehm's camera and the mechanical drone of his projector as he plays his films becoming as effective as screams on the soundtrack.  The world of this character is brought vividly to life by Powell's vibrant color scheme, which is beautiful to look at and draws us into the narrative, almost an antithesis of the film's dark content.  Powell also gets good performances from his cast, with Moira Shearer particularly unforgettable as a vivacious dancer, wonderfully photographed by Heller, whom we hope finds a way to escape as Boehm stalks her with his camera in a terrifically suspenseful sequence.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lady In The Lake (1947)

Starring Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames
Directed by Robert Montgomery
(actor & director credits courtesy

Detective Philip Marlowe submits a story to a publishing house, and though he's brought in for an interview with a beautiful executive, she really wants to hire him to find her boss's estranged wife.

Although based on a novel by Raymond Chandler, this film really doesn't rank with the better Marlowe adaptations, as it's a much lighter concoction, with hardly a shadow to be found in the film's photography.  Robert Montgomery stars as Marlowe, and although he provides the appropriate cynical dialogue and narration, it just doesn't sound quite right coming out of his mouth- in fact co-star Lloyd Nolan might have been a better casting choice for Chandler's gumshoe.  Montgomery's also hardly ever on camera, as the film is almost entirely shot from Marlowe's perspective, an intriguing experiment by Montgomery however, as he also directed.  It's not a bad idea, placing the audience in the main character's shoes, although I don't think it quite works well enough, but give him and his cast and crew credit for a distinctive effort.  Totter isn't bad as the woman Marlowe falls for, playing a character not part of the original novel, but she seems all wrong for the story, and would have been better off playing a femme fatale.  Another odd choice was to set the film at Christmastime, and have it open with Christmas carols accompanying the credits, hardly appropriate for a gritty film noir, and David Snell's score utilizing choir singers at suspenseful moments just didn't work for me.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

Starring Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Otto Kruger, Mike Mazurki
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
(actor & director credits courtesy

Private detective Philip Marlowe takes on the case of locating an ex-con's old girlfriend, but soon becomes involved in investigating the theft of a jade necklace, which may somehow be related.

This adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel, Farewell My Lovely, changes the storyline a bit, but the screenplay by John Paxton captures Chandler's more colorful prose, and Powell gives a good performance as the detective who keeps finding his way into trouble.  It's really a landmark role for Powell, stepping aside from his past films as a singing star, and his hard-boiled narration helps sell him as the character.  He's surrounded by a talented supporting cast who play their parts without any grandstanding, and Harry Wild's shadowy cinematography and Roy Webb's dark score establish the picture as a moody film noir.  It's not the best film of its type, but is a worthy entry in the genre, and Dmytryk should be credited for guiding Marlowe onto the silver screen with the literary feel of the character intact.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)

Starring Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Maxie Rosenbloom, Larry Parks, Jeff Donnell
Directed by Lew Landers
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young women buys a dilapidated historical tavern from an eccentric scientist, unaware that he has been performing dangerous experiments in the basement on door-to-door salesmen.

Although usually grouped with Karloff's "mad doctor" films for Columbia, this one's very different in tone and format, a dark comedy with a similar plot to Arsenic And Old Lace, which Karloff had appeared in on the Broadway stage.  Filled with bizarre characters, including Lorre's sheriff/doctor/justice of the peace who keeps a kitten in his coat pocket, Maude Eburne's daffy housekeeper, and Frank Puglia's mad bomber, it's clearly trying to emulate that comedy classic, but falls quite a bit short, and is probably too much of a retread to be valued on its own merits.  Karloff gives another memorable characterization and it's good to see him in a comedic role, one of far too few in his carrer.  Lorre and Rosenbloom have some good scenes, there is a bit of funny dialogue,    and I still found the film entertaining, but it suffers from going to the same well as Karloff's stage success.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Devil Commands (1941)

Starring Boris Karloff, Richard Fiske, Amanda Duff, Anne Revere, Ralph Penney
Directed by Edward Dmytryk
(actor & director credits courtesy

A university science professor is convinced his device for recording thought waves has captured transmissions from his dead wife, and takes desperate measures to try and communicate with her.

Another of Karloff's low-budget "mad doctor" pictures for Columbia, the film may be most notable for being helmed by Dmytryk, who would later be nominated for an Oscar, and also imprisoned in the HUAC attacks on Hollywood in the 1950s.  The story has a great genesis, embracing the worthy idea of scientific communication with the dead, and I enjoyed how it was staged, although Karloff's subservience to Anne Revere's character late in the film could have been better explored and portrayed, rather than focusing on the old chestnut of angry villagers forming a mob against the scientist.  My favorite part of the picture was Karloff's scenes with his screen wife, Shirley Warde.  Not only is she well-cast, bringing a distinguished and vivacious spirit to her character, but she has wonderful chemistry with Boris, who throughout his career didn't get many chances to portray a man in a loving relationship.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Before I Hang (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Evelyn Keyes, Bruce Bennett, Edward Van Sloan, Ben Taggart
Directed by Nick Grinde
(actor & director credits courtesy

An elderly doctor is imprisoned for euthanizing a patient, but is allowed to work with a prison physician to find a cure for the ravages of age, only to err in using a serum from a killer's blood. 

Karloff stars as the elderly physician in a return to old age makeup similar to what he used in Night Key, and his characterization is excellent, giving a very sympathetic portrayal.  Of course this changes, as does his performance when his blood is contaminated, which for me was not as interesting, and a bit too reminiscent of Jekyll & Hyde, and other films of the era that borrowed that formula, like Black Friday and Invisible Ghost.  Nevertheless I still enjoyed the picture and Karloff's supported by some fine character actors, including Pedro de Cordoba, very good as an aging classical pianist, and Edward Van Sloan as the prison doctor, who had appeared before with Karloff in Frankenstein and The Mummy.  Although about the same length as his other "mad doctor" pictures for Columbia, this one seems a bit more slow-moving and drawn out.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Man With Nine Lives (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Roger Pryor, Jo Ann Sayers, Stanley Brown, John Dilson
Directed by Nick Grinde
(actor & director credits courtesy

A doctor who has performed successful experiments in frozen therapy seeks out the scientist who inspired him, and finds him frozen alive in a tunnel beneath his home.

Another entry in the Columbia series casting Karloff as a series of "mad doctors," it follows the blueprint of the series in establishing the actor as a scientist performing dangerous experiments which the authorities try to stop, leading Karloff to take desperate measures.  The actor looks good in the goatee beard he's fitted with in this film, which is effectively showcased in silhouette under the opening credits, and although he's playing much the same character as in the other films in the series, he remains entertaining to watch.  Although much of the picture unfolds in a pair of rooms beneath Karloff's scientist's home, the screenplay is well-structured and Grinde's direction focused enough that it never seems dull or boring.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Starring Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox, Roger Pryor, Don Beddoe
Directed by Nick Grinde
(actor & director credits courtesy

A scientist puts a young man to death to prove that he can resuscitate him, but is arrested before he can, and when he's convicted of murder, he swears his condemners will pay with their lives.

This was the first in a series of "mad doctor" films Karloff made for Columbia Pictures, which were lower budgeted affairs not comparable to his early classic horror movies for Universal, but this entry's a worthwhile film tailored around a fine performance by the actor.  As Dr. Henryk Savaard, he's gifted with several passionate speeches stressing the benefits of advancing science to save lives, and he's compelling delivering them, well showcased in crisp photography from Benjamin Kline.  Of course, we know this will all be for naught, leading to a mad obsession to enact his vengeance, which is well-staged in a climactic meeting in his home that he's rigged with death traps.  The film's brief running time doesn't allow for sustained suspense while Savaard targets his victims, but Grinde delivers an efficient picture with plenty of dialogue for the distinguished actor, who sounds charming even while delivering his threats.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Return Of Sherlock Holmes (2016)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Bessie Nellis, Jonathan Danziger, Amy Zilliax, Jake Williams
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

After surviving his apparent death at the Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes reunites with Doctor Watson and they investigate the mysterious theft and destruction of several busts of Napoleon.

A few years ago, after I had discovered the films of Joshua Kennedy and been greatly entertained by them, I contacted Josh, expressing my admiration and suggested he make a Sherlock Holmes film, impressed by his distinctive voice and strong vocal delivery.  The result of that message was the beginning of our friendship and the film I suggested did indeed come into being, but he and his cast and collaborators deserve all the credit.

After having watched a number of the films Kennedy made during his education at Pace University in New York City, it had not been surprising, with his limited budget and access, to be easily able to recognize university buildings and facilities in the backgrounds of the scenes he shot.  He couldn't rent a real airplane to film Airline '79, nor did he have access to an actual hospital in The Vesuvius Xperiment, nor was he able to construct futuristic sets for Slave Girls On The Moon.  Of course none of that was greatly significant because the strength of his narratives easily made us look past those backgrounds and not focus on them, and Kennedy sidestepped that issue by setting the locales of Dracula A.D. 2015 and The Night Of Medusa on Pace's campus.  However, in this film, he had to recreate the look of period London and thanks to strong location scouting and tightly composited shots, he succeeds, while still filming within the same vicinity of Pace's campus.  There's no background that doesn't look like it couldn't have existed in Victorian London, from streets filled with vintage architecture to a fine recreation of Holmes' lodgings filled with shelves of books and convincing period furniture.  Even a grassy knoll standing in for Reichenbach's environs fits in well.

Kennedy's cast again consists of youthful friends and classmates, but is able to add several more experienced faces to bring credibility to the tale.  Jonathan Danziger is a friendly but doubtful Inspector Lestrade, Michael Rosenfeld and Kennedy's father Gus distinguished gentlemen who own some of the Napoleon busts, and Amy Zilliax is a hoot as the eager to please Mrs. Hudson.  Author Will McKinley makes a dastardly Colonel Sebastian Moran, Mark Holmes has a delightfully wicked grimace as one of the film's other villains, and professional actor Mark Redfield is welcome as the infamous Professor Moriarty in a brief but worthwhile cameo.

The youthful faces however bring weight to their own roles as well as fairly good British accents, enlivening their characters with memorable quirks like those distinctively described in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.  Jake Williams entertains as a very genial shopkeeper, Traci Thomas is memorable as a journalist who also operates a brothel, and Jorge Chapa brings the jovial but not easily impressed manufacturer of the busts to life.

As Sherlock Holmes, Kennedy is everything I pictured when I suggested he'd be a natural as the great detective.  Playing him as energetic and egocentric, his Holmes is great fun to watch, with a glib tongue and an excited manner when plunging into his latest case.  Bessie Nellis, so good in Dracula A.D. 2015 as the Pace teacher who reincarnates the evil Count, is a female Doctor Watson, lovely but cool and logical, making her value to Holmes clearly evident.  Wearing a pair of spectacles with enlarging lenses she slips into place to examine clues and medical matters, and delivering her dialogue in a measured and cultured voice, she's wonderful as the yin to Kennedy's yang.

 The film's screenplay by Kennedy (with additional dialogue provided by Nellis), incorporates adaptations of two Holmes tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure Of The Empty House and The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons, authentically recreating those stories, while inserting a few other elements to add color to the narrative.  Hayden Dabbs' cinematography provides bright hues and well-lit backgrounds, while Kennedy again concocts a memorable soundtrack from some unidentified orchestral sources.

Classic film references are always to be found in a Joshua Kennedy film, with moments from The Hound Of The Baskervilles, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, and Journey To The Center Of The Earth making it into this one, along with probably several more I didn't catch at first, but will on subsequent viewings.  This film, despite its familiar stories and iconic characters, is distinctive thanks to Kennedy's youthful exuberance, Nellis' refined Watson, and its imaginative capturing of a time long ago and a place far away.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Pearl Of Death (1944)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Evelyn Ankers, Miles Mander
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy

Holmes tangles with the clever Giles Conover, a skilled thief who's after the famed Borgia Pearl and employs a savage henchman who breaks the backs of his victims.

One of the best of the Universal Holmes pictures, this entry adapts the familiar tale of Conan Doyle's The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons, but adds several winning elements to expand the tale and heighten Mander's villainy, including the idea of masking his crimes by smashing fine china around some crucial clues, and taking advantage of a rare gaffe by Rathbone's Holmes.  Bertram Millhauser's screenplay also works in a number of the more amusing routines Bruce's Watson had to work with in the series.  Although many of the Universal films had fine supporting casts, this one's particularly special, including Mander, Hoey as Inspector Lestrade, Ankers as Mander's adept female accomplice, and Rondo Hatton as the brutish henchman.  Hatton was probably never as well utilized in a film as he is in this one, kept off camera for most of the film, with Virgil Miller's photography building his menace by capturing his fearsome silhouette.  I also shouldn't forget Neill's strong guiding hand here, whose tight focus on the mystery makes it a very entertaining one.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon (1942)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Kaaren Verne, William Post Jr.
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy

Holmes tries to protect the brilliant inventor of an effective bomb sight from the Nazis, but they have enlisted the aid of the detective's greatest adversary, Professor Moriarty.

A fine script, with many wonderful interchanges between Rathbone and Atwill, and the debut of Roy William Neill as producer/director on the series elevate this installment, making it my favorite of the wartime Universal Holmes films.  Atwill, although minus his traditional mustache, is a fine foil for Rathbone, and has a sinister aura and distinguished voice that make him a great fit for the character of the legendary Moriarty.  His reasoned discussion with Rathbone of how they would eliminate each other is one of the highlights of the film.  Screenwriters Edward T. Lowe, W. Scott Darling, and Edmund L. Hartmann, besides delivering a worthy tale, are able to absorb elements from Conan Doyle's original story, The Adventure Of The Dancing Men, into their screenplay, giving Holmes and Moriarty a worthwhile puzzle to spar intellectually over, and also introduce Inspector Lestrade.  Actor Dennis Hoey, who would make several appearances as Lestrade over the course of the series, begins his memorable characterization, probably the most endearing and likable version of the Scotland Yard detective.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror (1942)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, Reginald Denny, Thomas Gomez
Directed by John Rawlins
(actor & director credits courtesy

Holmes and Watson are engaged by the British defense council to discover the identity of "The Voice Of Terror," a Nazi leader coordinating acts of sabotage within England.

After two excellent films for 20th Century Fox, Rathbone and Bruce reprise their characters in the first of a long series of films for Universal, but the time period is updated to the present day, and Holmes gives up his familiar deerstalker for a more contemporary tweed fedora.  Viewers expecting a classic mystery may be disappointed, as the content here is wartime propaganda with a number of jingoistic speeches, and although Holmes' observant eye is still worked into the screenplay, for me, it's probably the least satisfying entry in the series.  That being said, there's still a great deal to enjoy here, including Woody Bredell's shadowy photography and Frank Skinner's excellent score, which would be re-used again and again very effectively in Universal's followups.  Also, the interplay between Rathbone and Bruce remains excellent, they're joined by an excellent supporting cast, and the distinguished narration that would close many of the Universal Holmes' films, so stirringly intoned by Rathbone, begins here.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Night Of Medusa (2016)

Starring Haley Zega, Carmen Vienhage, Liam Wildes, Joshua Kennedy, Traci Thomas
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

An exchange student from Greece begins classes at New York's Pace University, and is tormented by a cruel roommate and her friends, while haunted by a statue out of classic mythology.

One of Joshua Kennedy's most original movies, although it abounds in classic film references, is one of his greatest works, a memorable tale of an innocent girl abused by those around her, who will receive their comeuppance thanks to her connection to a legendary monster.

Kennedy has gone on record time and again professing his love for his favorite film of all time, Hammer's 1964 production of The Gorgon, which involved the discovery of one of the legendary sisters of Medusa turning victims to stone in an English village.  In Kennedy's audio commentary for his production, he mentions borrowing character and crew names, as well as camera setups from Terence Fisher's film, and impressively also works in references to The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, Carrie, The Empire Strikes Back, and many others.

However, as stated before, this is a very original effort from Kennedy, "a dark fairy tale," as he describes it on his commentary, with two lovely and wonderful actresses, Haley Zega and Carmen Vienhage, playing polar opposites, dressed throughout the film in bright and dark clothes to illustrate this further.  Vienhage had appeared in a few other Kennedy productions as bubbly blondes, but shows her dramatic range here, playing a selfish and morally bankrupt student who's eager to humiliate her roommate.  Zega, as the victimized Elaine Carlisle, is as sweet and innocent as Vienhage is cruel and we feel her torment and confusion through a fine performance, which ultimately leads to a quest for vengeance.

Also in the cast is Liam Wildes as a handsome paramour for the inexperienced Elaine, who has his own ulterior motives, and Kennedy himself, playing the mysterious Count Saknussemm, whose name comes from the 1959 filming of Journey To The Center Of The Earth, but as Josh points out in his commentary, is modeled after a number of cinema icons, with a beard tailored to resemble Peter Cushing's in The Gorgon. A mixture of familiar faces from Kennedy's past productions and new ones fill out the cast, with Traci Thomas memorable as Carlisle's loquacious resident advisor.

The film's soundtrack commences with a stirring organ piece by Tom Milligan, preparing us for a unique experience.  In addition, Kennedy assembles a number of memorable classical music selections, including portions from Swan Lake and Tristan und Isolde to create a neoclassical background for his "fairy tale," which are well utilized in scenes including the Perseus & Medusa statue and other classical statues shot at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Although the film is very much contemporary in focus, with cell phones and an Instagram site providing important plot points, the music, the scenery, and Kennedy's clever use of primary colors give it a nostalgic feel.  Night scenes shot on the streets of New York and within Central Park under a full moon recall the Hammer Gorgon production and contribute outstanding atmosphere.

Kennedy doesn't have the budget for an elaborate creature makeup or special effects capturing characters turning to stone, but visually composites live snakes filmed at a local pet store effectively enough, and uses camera tricks and sound effects to cleverly create the stone transformation.  He also wisely uses them in only limited glimpses as first, as he unravels Carlisle's connection to Medusa slowly and mysteriously, as done in The Gorgon and other classic creature films.

Nominated for The Rondo Classic Horror Award for Best Independent Film this year, The Night Of Medusa is an entertaining mix of the classic and contemporary and another fine Hammer tribute in the same spirit as Kennedy's excellent Dracula A.D. 2015.  However it stands on its own as a compelling original story and an affecting and moving film.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Wasp Woman (1959)

Starring Susan Cabot, Fred Eisley, Barboura Morris, William Roerick, Michael Mark
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy

The aging executive of a cosmetics company trusts in a scientist's injections of a queen wasp's royal jelly that transform her into a youthful beauty, but they have an unforeseen side effect.

This low-budget monster movie from Roger Corman has a surprisingly clever story by Kinta Zertuche, commenting on the dark side of the quest to recapture youthful looks by women and their cosmetics alike, as well as a fine performance by Cabot in the title role.  Although the monster scenes are too darkly lit and the creature makeup is a bit too minimal, it's an entertaining enough film with an interesting score by Fred Katz, and is one of my favorites among Corman's sci-fi entries.  Michael Mark is memorable as the eccentric scientist, as is William Roerick as Cabot's cynical staff member with an ever present smoking pipe.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Leech Woman (1960)

Starring Coleen Gray, Grant Williams, Phillip Terry, Gloria Talbott, John Van Dreelen
Directed by Edward Dein
(actor & director credits courtesy

A cruel endocrinologist who has driven his aging wife to alcoholism brings her along when he learns of a drug that reverses aging in the African jungle, but she will soon turn the tables on him.

With a plotline remarkably similar to The Wasp Woman, Roger Corman's sci-fi shocker that also involved a woman who recaptures her beauty at a terrible price, this isn't a particularly good picture, but it is a fun one, with Gray revenging herself upon Terry, and stalking men in order to maintain her youthful beauty.  The makeup on Gray for both her aged and youthful selves is well-done and convincing, so that when her transformation does take place, it's striking and memorable, although masked by clouds of white smoke.  While Gray's not bad, Estelle Hemsley, as the ancient woman who reveals her secrets to Terry's sleazeball doctor, probably gives the best performance in the movie, projecting dignity and grace, something not present in any of the other characters.  Notable as the film that brought Universal-International's science fiction movies of the 1950s to an end, it doesn't compare to their earlier triumphs, but I still enjoy it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Cult Of The Cobra (1955)

Starring Faith Domergue, Richard Long, Marshall Thompson, Kathleen Hughes, William Reynolds
Directed by Francis D. Lyon
(actor & director credits courtesy

A group of Air Force men deployed in Asia disturb a ceremony of a cult of snake-worshippers, and in retaliation, the cult sends a woman who can transform into a snake to murder them one by one.

I'm really fond of this movie, an entertaining thriller from Universal-International with a decent performance at its center by Domergue, as the snake-woman who falls in love with one of her victims.  Her scenes with Thompson hold the picture together and she never seems like a cold-blooded killer, but sincerely comes across as a victim herself, bound by the power of the cult.  I do think it's unfortunate that the filmmakers didn't take the opportunity to create a human-size creature for her attacks instead of transforming her into a regular size cobra, especially with this release coming so soon after U-I's success with the Creature From The Black Lagoon.  The script is also somewhat predictable, but nevertheless, I found the film fun viewing, augmented by some atmospheric music cues.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Mesa Of Lost Women (1953)

Starring Jackie Coogan, Allan Nixon, Richard Travis, Mary Hill, Robert Knapp
Directed by Ron Ormond & Herbert Tevos
(actor & director credits courtesy

A scientist experimenting with glands in insects and humans succeeds in creating giant monster spiders and indestructible women, and uses them to capture more subjects for his experiments.

A crazy offbeat mess of a movie, the picture's certainly different but with many ludicrous elements including a bizarre dance performance, a man inexplicably driven insane who quotes scriptures while threatening people with a gun, obnoxious narration by actor Lyle Talbot, and a relentlessly monotonous jangly guitar/piano score.  Ironically the composer of the score, Hoyt Curtin, would probably go on to the greatest success, writing cartoon themes for the Hanna-Barbera animation studio.  Per IMDB, the film was assembled from a movie called Tarantula made by Tevos that was never released but later purchased and combined with new scenes by Ormond, which probably explains the meandering story.  The result is something less than a cohesive film, but you'll certainly never forget it.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Uninvited (1944)

Starring Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, Gail Russell, Donald Crisp, Cornelia Otis Skinner
Directed by Lewis Allen
(actor & director credits courtesy

A composer and his sister move into a charming house in the English countryside, only to discover it's haunted, and try to solve the mystery behind the ghost and her connection to a lovely young woman.

This atmospheric mystery has probably lost some of its power over the years due to consequent ghost films, as it seems neither creepy nor frightening today, but there's a definite beauty to it, with polished cinematography by Charles Lang and a fine screenplay by Dodie Smith and Frank Partos (adapted from Dorothy Macardle's novel).  A romance between Russell and the much older Milland doesn't come off as believable, but the staging of the ghost scenes and special effects are just about perfect, and veterans in the cast like Crisp, Skinner, and Alan Napier lend potency to the story and elegance to the dialogue.  Although I feel Victor Young's music score doesn't quite create a mood quite chilling enough, his "Stella By Starlight" melody representing both Russell's character and the mystery of the house is absolutely beautiful.