Greetings, and welcome to VIEWING THE CLASSICS. Here you'll find capsule reviews of vintage movies from the early days of cinema through the 1970s, with a special emphasis on sci-fi, horror, and mystery movies. Be sure to check out the Pages links, where you can find a Film Index of all my reviews, links to the reviews organized by cast members, directors, and other contributors, and links to my reviews of the films of talented young director Joshua Kennedy.

I also cover vintage television at my sister site, CLASSICS ON THE TUBE , so please feel free to check that out as well.

Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Mad Monster (1942)

Starring Johnny Downs, George Zucco, Anne Nagel, Glenn Strange, Sarah Padden
Directed by Sam Newfield
(actor & director credits courtesy

When a scientist succeeds in transforming his innocent handyman into a werewolf, he plots to use the creature for revenge against his enemies.

Poverty row studio PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) distributed this low budget horror film, but with the underappreciated George Zucco in the lead, and he makes up for much of its lack of production values.  Combining a sinister tone, eloquent diction, and an unsettling stare, the accomplished actor is the perfect mad scientist, and has some memorable dialogue at the film's start, confronting phantom images of the men he blames for ruining his career.  Actor Glenn Strange, who would later play the Frankenstein monster for Universal, essays the werewolf, delivering some fine snarls in makeup that's not all that bad, although it might have been more fearsome had his character not remained garbed in overalls.  As I read in a film encyclopedia some years ago, the movie "borrows" a number of plot details from Universal's 1941 vehicle for Lon Chaney Jr., Man Made Monster, and even features Nagel in an similar role to hers in that previous film.  It needed to borrow a lot more than that to be truly of quality, but nevertheless in my mind, Zucco's presence elevates the movie to the standing of one of PRC's finest productions.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Fatal Hour (1940)

Starring Boris Karloff, Marjorie Reynolds, Grant Withers, Charles Trowbridge, Frank Puglia
Directed by William Nigh
(actor & director credits courtesy

Captain Street counts on the aid of Mr. Wong to unravel the murder of a fellow cop who was drowned while investigating a smuggling ring.

Oriental detectives seemed all the rage in the 1930s and 1940s, with Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, and Boris Karloff's Mr. Wong all solving mysteries in their own series of pictures.  The Mr. Wong series, distributed by Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures, had Karloff, but had probably the lowest production values of all the series. Although it's difficult to imagine the British horror icon as passing for Chinese today, the actor had been cast in exotic roles for some time before, notably as the sinister Fu Manchu, and to his credit gives a dignified performance uncouched in stereotype.   This installment is an at times boring affair, with long drawn out scenes and static photography, although I liked it more than other films in the series, due to the presence of Trowbridge, one of my favorite character actors, and a fairly clever plot device establishing a murderer's alibi late in the film.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Revolt Of The Zombies (1936)

Starring Dorothy Stone, Dean Jagger, Roy D'Arcy, Robert Noland, George Cleveland
Directed by Victor Halperin
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young archaeologist travels to the fabled city of Angkor in Cambodia to try and find the secret of turning men into zombies, and when he does, uses the power to take what he wants from others.

Another zombie film from the Halperins, who produced and directed the famed White Zombie, is a welcome find, but this movie falls far short of being a worthy followup to the Bela Lugosi classic.  Nevertheless, it's interesting viewing on several levels, for casting future Oscar-winner Jagger, for the insertion of the images of Bela Lugosi's eyes from the first film whenever Jagger has to possess someone, and for a story that tries to go in a different direction.  I thought Jagger imbued a bit of life into his nervous and unsure character, somewhat blandly written, who then becomes brash and confident with his zombies backing him up.  I also appreciated the scenery and sets, which try to recreate what must have been a largely unknown land on the screen, and the climax in which Jagger relinquishes his control makes for a fine and well-filmed denouement to the film.  However, Lugosi's presence is greatly missed, and I found myself wishing the filmmakers would have played up Roy D'Arcy's villain more to create more conflict in the story.  Still, I'm glad the Halperins returned to this well, and the picture does offer an evocative mood that I found worth remembering.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Terror (1963)

Starring Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, Sandra Knight, Richard Miller, Dorothy Neumann
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy

After being separated from his regiment, a French soldier falls for a beautiful young woman, whom he learns is supposed to have died over twenty years ago.

The pairing of horror icon Karloff with Nicholson early in his career, who has since become an icon in his own right, sounds more attractive than it unfortunately is.  This is a low budget production with a dreary and meandering story, borrowing Karloff and the sets from Corman's filming of The Raven, which is a far better movie than this one.  It does have an excellent atmospheric music score from Ronald Stein to its credit, and Karloff and Nicholson are quite watchable.  However, they deserve a better showcase than this one.  Corman often worked wonders on a shoestring budget, and there's some worthy elements scattered throughout the picture, but they're just not integrated well enough to call this entertaining.  Still, at the very least, Peter Bogdanovich was able to reuse the footage from this movie in his excellent film Targets, which contains one of Karloff's best final performances.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Beast Of Yucca Flats (1961)

Starring Tor Johnson, Douglas Mellor, Barbara Francis, Bing Stafford, Larry Aten
Directed by Coleman Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy

A defecting Russian scientist is caught in an atomic detonation which transforms him into a maddened murdering monster.

This isn't a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, although it's more watchable then some of Francis' other films.  It's probably most notable for Johnson, the hulking bald wrestler who appeared in a number of notorious director Ed Wood's productions.  This is likely Johnson's biggest role in any movie, but he is only credited as a "guest star" here.  He's still kept off camera for most of the film, which given his limited acting ability was a wise move, but that doesn't keep the rest of the movie from dragging.  A curious oddity about the film is the fact that all the dialogue is dubbed over long shots or scenes where we can't see people's lips moving.  More than likely this was due to problems with sound recording, but the way the film is edited, it certainly is a creative solution, and does give the movie a different kind of vibe to it.  Not enough happens, and there's a number of repetitive scenes, but nonetheless, I can't completely pan the picture, which has a stark and gritty tone to it, well suited to the craggy scenery of Yucca Flats.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Nosferatu (1922)

Starring Max Schreck, Gustav von Wangenheim, Greta Schroder, Georg H. Schnell, Ruth Landshoff
Directed by F.W. Murnau
(actor & director credits courtesy

A real estate agent sells the house across from his to the foreign Count Orlok, who is in reality a vampire who brings pestilence and death to the agent's homeland.

This was the first screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, but an unauthorized one that per Wikipedia bankrupted its studio due to copyright infringement litigation.  It is nonetheless a brilliant film from acclaimed director Murnau, with wonderful shadowy photography and a striking performance and makeup for Schreck as the undead count.  The story does depart quite a bit from the Dracula text, changing the character names, and setting up a noble sacrifice by Schroder's character at its climax to bring Orlok's crimes against humanity to an end, instead of utilizing the more familiar confrontation between the villain and the novel's Van Helsing.  That makes the picture somewhat unique among all the Dracula adaptations, and the German Expressionist imagery contained within has kept it a cinema treasure in perpetuity. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Screaming Skull (1958)

Starring John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway, Tony Johnson, Alex Nicol
Directed by Alex Nicol
(actor & director credits courtesy

A newly married couple move into the home he inherited from his deceased first wife, and the bride is disturbed by her mysterious death and terrible visions she experiences of a disembodied skull.

Although the picture is far from being truly horrific, despite an opening scene promising to pay for the funerals of audience members who die from fright, there is still a bit of craft in the film's construction, and distinguished radio actress Webber has a memorable presence.  Composer Ernest Gold mixes the familiar "Dies Irae" chant into a foreboding main title, and provides some other eerie melodies which are effective.  As a whole however, the film is perhaps a bit too low budget and flatly photographed to rank favorably among other psychological horror films of this type, and comes off as a bargain basement version of The Haunting or The Innocents, although I admired some of the visuals, particularly when a ghost manifests itself at the movie's climax.  Director Nicol also plays the role of the mentally retarded gardener.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Attack Of The Giant Leeches (1959)

Starring Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard, Michael Emmet, Tyler McVey
Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
(actor & director credits courtesy

A backwoods community is shaken by the deaths of people attacked in the swamp by giant mutated leech monsters, but the local game warden gets no help in proving the creatures exist.

Roger Corman's brother Gene produced this effective picture which I don't think gets the respect it deserves, well photographed and directed in a unique setting for the genre, especially at the time it was made.  The creature design holds up pretty well, and their bloodsucking attacks on their victims while trapped are in an underwater cave are definitely unnerving, following a similar template as used in the Corman-produced Beast From Haunted Cave the same year.  The backwoods characters in the cast, while trading in on some familiar stereotypes, are anchored by Bruno VeSota's general store proprietor, who elicits sympathy as a man detested for his girth by his beautiful and philandering wife, played by Vickers.  They're joined by a capable supporting cast, and Leo Gordon's screenplay does a good job of illustrating the ethical dilemmas facing Clark's game warden while pressure mounts to stop the creatures before their next attack.

Friday, September 8, 2017

White Zombie (1932)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron
Directed by Victor Halperin
(actor & director credits courtesy

A wealthy man on the island of Haiti falls for a young bride-to-be and recruits a sinister master of zombies for help in possessing her.

Lugosi stars in this legendary horror film, made independently but lensed on the Universal studio's lot, taking advantage of the existing sets built for their horror classics.  It contains a fine and unique performance from the actor, portraying the voodoo master Murder Legendre as both cultured and sinister, with penetrating eyes under oddly block-shaped eyebrows.  There are similarities to Dracula of course, with Halperin utilizing familiar closeups of the actor's eyes and fingers as in that film, but it's a different character, and Lugosi seems very comfortable in the role as a more calculating villain.  The picture is well photographed by Arthur Martinelli, using some clever staging of shadows in a sequence where Harron sees visions of Bellamy, and some memorable music is tracked into the scenes where Lugosi puts his hypnotic powers to work.  The stiff slow moments of the zombies, and the haunting look of their blank expressions, especially the bulging-eyed former executioner, lends much power to the film, giving it a shocking realism that is still unsettling today.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

One Body Too Many (1944)

Starring Jack Haley, Jean Parker, Bela Lugosi, Blanche Yurka, Lyle Talbot
Directed by Frank McDonald
(actor & director credits courtesy

An insurance salesman calls on a millionaire with dreams of selling him a policy, only to find him deceased and his heirs scheming to abduct his body to get a better inheritance.

I enjoyed this mystery-comedy with plenty of "Old Dark House" elements, from secret passages to a mysterious murderer among the heirs to a storm that strands the participants in the spooky mansion.  Haley offers a fine comic lead performance, Parker is appealing as the noblest of the heirs, and Lugosi is well-cast as the sinister butler who may or may not be trying to poison the coffee he serves to the mansion's guests.  However, I've never been able to find a copy of this film in an acceptable print, so the image on the DVD I viewed is very murky with many dark scenes hard to view, and inexplicable bright triangle shapes that pop up on screen at regular intervals.  I hope to see a more pristine version of the film someday, but still find it worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Invisible Ghost (1941)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire, Clarence Muse, Terry Walker
Directed by Joseph H. Lewis
(actor & director credits courtesy

No one suspects a kindly doctor in the mysterious murders on his estate, but whenever he sees his long-lost wife lurking on the grounds, he loses control of his mind and strikes.

The first of Bela Lugosi's nine films for "Poverty Row" studio Monogram Pictures is by far the best of them and a worthy showcase for the horror icon, playing a character far different from the fiends and monsters he's most often associated with.  As the sympathetic and endearing Dr. Kessler, even though he is the villain of the piece, he's completely convincing as a good man afflicted by a temporary but always deadly insanity.  This film was recently discussed on the Monster Kid Radio podcast by host Derek M. Koch and film historian Troy Howarth, and they offered some meaningful insights into the film, including the unusually positive portrayal for the era of the African-American butler played by Clarence Muse, and also noting that director Joseph H. Lewis brought camera movement and interesting staging to the story, not usually a hallmark of Monogram productions.  On this viewing, I also noticed creepily effective lighting on Lugosi as the madness seizes him as well as penetrating closeups of the distinguished actor, allowing him to sell the transformation with his eyes and his expressions, without any special makeup or dialogue.  It's too bad that more Monograms didn't take advantage of Lugosi's talents in this way, but that makes this film a special one, and I had to chuckle at George Pembroke's portrayal of a police lieutenant, speaking the majority of his dialogue without ever removing the fat cigar clenched in his teeth.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Black Dragons (1942)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Joan Barclay, George Pembroke, Clayton Moore, Robert Frazer
Directed by William Nigh
(actor & director credits courtesy

Double agents engaging in sabotage of America's industries are stalked down one-by-one by a mysterious assassin, who leaves a Japanese dagger by each body.

One of the films on Lugosi's contract with low-budget Monogram Pictures, this is more a propaganda piece than a horror film, but Lugosi is fun to watch as the assassin, almost gleefully disposing of his victims, and delivering grim warnings to those trying to learn too much about him.  The plot's a bit far-fetched, but although there's pretty much only standard camera setups on display, the film certainly moves along well enough, and delivers a nice hook in keeping us from seeing exactly what's happened to Pembroke until the movie's final moments.  Barclay and future Lone Ranger Moore are interesting enough as Lugosi's main supporting players, and I was relieved that the script largely steered clear of racial stereotypes, but there is some blatantly sexist commentary in the script that took me by surprise, even for a film of this era.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Creature From The Haunted Sea (1961)

Starring Antony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Edward Wain, Beach Dickerson, Robert Bean
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy

An American gangster aids deposed Cuban authorities in smuggling their treasure out of Cuba in his boat, but schemes to seize the treasure for himself with the help of a sea monster he invents.

This was one of Roger Corman's many quickly filmed movies in the first decade of his career, using similar cast and crew from other films he made in the same location.  The picture follows in the footsteps of The Little Shop Of Horrors, using another comedic script from Charles B. Griffith, adding elements like a bumbling American spy and a crewman who enjoys making animal sound effects to the espionage and horror content.  I didn't find it hilarious, although the monster certainly looks goofy, and Corman and crew manage again to make a picture that holds your interest on what had to have been a shoestring budget.  Wain of course is better known today as Robert Towne, an award winning screenwriter behind hits like Chinatown and Mission: Impossible, but showed himself to be a capable actor in films like this one and Last Woman On Earth, also for Corman.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Atom Age Vampire (1960)

Starring Alberto Lupo, Susanne Loret, Sergio Fantoni, Franca Parisi, Andrea Scotti
Directed by Anton Giulio Majano
(actor & director credits courtesy

A scientist heals the facial scars of a woman with an experimental serum, but when it wears off and the scars return, he turns to murder to restore her beauty.

This Italian horror picture is not a great film, but still fun, with Lupo's scientist covering his murders by disguising himself as a hideous monster through use of another serum that creates scars upon his face and hands.  The screenplay borrows plenty of material from past horror pictures, notably Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde and Bela Lugosi's Monogram films, but I liked the creature makeup and Parisi as Lupo's assistant whose dreams of romance with him, and listening to records together (!), are spoiled by his obsession with his beautiful patient.  The copy of the film I saw, from one of Mill Creek's 50 Movie Pack series, appeared to be heavily edited, so would welcome a chance to see the film uncut someday.  It doesn't rank with the greats of Italian horror, but is an enjoyable enough romp through the genre.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Carnival Of Souls (1962)

Starring Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison, Stan Levitt
Directed by Herk Harvey
(actor & director credits courtesy

A professional organist, after surviving a terrible car crash, takes a job playing for a church in another town, but is haunted by visions of a terrifying man stalking her.

One of the most memorable independent films I've seen, the picture is a genuine horror classic, with a talented performance by Hilligoss, and unnerving direction by Harvey.  Although the film has plenty of dialogue, its most effective scenes unfold without it, as we study Hilligoss and her emotional state as she's entranced by a mysterious abandoned carnival and repelled by the frightening ghoul only she seems to see.  Gene Moore's music is the perfect accompaniment for the stark black and white visuals, using unsettling organ notes to build a musical tapestry of horror.  The cinematography and editing are also of a greater quality than you expect to see in an independent movie, building suspense through talented intercutting and intense close-ups of Hilligoss.  Harvey's attention towards the composition of each shot should also be lauded, with the actors perfectly captured in each frame, and eerie long shots, particularly of the palatial carnival setting, adding an exquisite feeling of mystery to the horror.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Fear In The Night (1947)

Starring Paul Kelly, DeForest Kelley, Ann Doran, Kay Scott, Charles Victor
Directed by Maxwell Shane
(actor & director credits courtesy

A mild-mannered bank teller dreams of committing a murder, and becomes shaken after awakening when he finds evidence from the crime in his room.

A low budget film noir of sorts, it's nonetheless a very good one, with an interesting role for a young Kelley, twenty years before being cast as the irascible Dr. McCoy on the classic Star Trek TV series. For those who haven't seen him as anything but McCoy, this is a very different role, and he's earnest and believable as a meek but shaken young man who thinks his life is over.  I'm a person of the same temperament, so I really identified with his character.  Paul Kelly is very good as his detective brother-in-law who's character is cut more from the hard-boiled characters of film noir, and he and Kelley have a compelling on-screen relationship that I found fairly unique.  Maxwell Shane adapted Cornell Woolrich's story and also directed, and employs some interesting visual transitions that echo some higher-budgeted noirs but also make it distinctive on its own.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Creeping Terror (1964)

Starring Vic Savage, Shannon O'Neil, William Thourlby, John Caresio, Norman Boone
Directed by A.J. Nelson
(actor & director credits courtesy

An alien spaceship sets down near a small Southern town and ravenous monsters aboard set out to swallow alive whatever human victims they come across.

This film's been ridiculed for years, and let's face it, even for a movie made by amateurs on a shoestring budget, it's pretty rough.  Largely filmed without audible dialogue, probably due to the unavailability of sound equipment, a narrator explains to us what's going on, while the story focuses on Savage's small-town sheriff (aka director A.J. Nelson), who spends most of the film not doing much of anything except making out with his on-screen wife.  The alien creatures, often dubbed "the carpet monsters," are far from convincing, but are certainly unique, and their swallowing of people whole by pulling the actors within the creature's orifice becomes even more amusing when they seem to have trouble finishing the job.  Frederick Kopp's eclectic musical score probably reaches its high point with some unexpectedly catchy but cheesy rhythms for a sequence in a dance hall, in which a number of the dancing patrons seem to need many more lessons.  As with many amateur productions, the film isn't exactly edited with care, leaving in a number of tedious scenes with no relevance to the plot.  Still, for all its faults, and despite Savage/Nelson's reputation as an odious individual, there's definitely some entertainment value to be had here.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Bloodlust! (1961)

Starring Wilton Graff, June Kenney, Walter Brooke, Robert Reed, Gene Persson
Directed by Ralph Brooke
(actor & director credits courtesy

Young people on a boating vacation decide to explore a mysterious island, and become the captives of a madman who has turned to hunting human beings for his own amusement.

Although not credited as being based on Richard Connell's famous story, The Most Dangerous Game, the movie obviously is and can't compare to the classic 1932 film adaptation.  That doesn't mean it's not fun however, and while Graff is not as memorable as Leslie Banks was in the previous film, he does give a believable performance as the deadly serious hunter.  Robert Reed, the future patriarch of TV's The Brady Bunch, leads the quartet of young people who would seem to be playing teenagers but were actually all in their late 20s or early 30s when this was filmed.  The film was photographed by Richard Cunha, and it fits in well with the four sci-fi/horror shockers he made in the late 1950s, with some grisly scenes of Graff's victims and dark atmospheric music.  Per IMDB, Walter Brooke, who plays another resident of the island trying to escape, would go on to utter the immortal "Plastics" line in The Graduate.

Terrified (1963)

Starring Rod Lauren, Steve Drexel, Tracy Olsen, Stephen Roberts, Sherwood Keith
Directed by Lew Landers
(actor & director credits courtesy

A college student writing a term paper on terror is shaken by the crimes of a maniac out to terrify people to death, but ends up confronting the villain in a deserted ghost town.

We have here a low-budget shocker, but one competently directed by Lew Landers, the veteran director with over a hundred credits, and this per IMDB, was apparently his final film.  The ghost town isn't a bad setting for a horror film, and the story is compelling enough, but I didn't find the cast or the screenplay strong enough to make the film truly memorable.  Additionally, while there's a good deal of darkly lit scenes, the photography doesn't make too creative use of them, and while I liked some elements of Michael Andersen's music score, it didn't exactly leave me on the edge of my seat.  As a whole, it's not bad, and held my interest, but for a film about terror, there's too little attention paid by the filmmakers to creating chills within the audience.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Madmen Of Mandoras (1963)

Starring Walter Stocker, Audrey Caire, Carlos Rivas, John Holland, Marshall Reed
Directed by David Bradley
(actor & director credits courtesy

Enemy agents kidnap a professor who's invented an antidote to a deadly gas, and take him to a foreign nation where one of history's greatest villains may still be alive. 

The main point of interest in this movie is the identity of the supposed man behind the plot, which I won't reveal here, but will say the film was later re-released with added scenes and a new title that gave his identity away.  The scenes without that villain and the sci-fi premise behind his preservation are pretty routine, and a largely unknown cast and an uninspired screenplay don't help matters.  It was good to see familiar 1950s character actors Rivas and Nestor Paiva, and the premise is a good one, but would have made a much better movie in more skilled hands.  It's still worth checking out if you've never seen it, but for me, it just wasn't a highly entertaining film.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

House Of Dracula (1945)

Starring Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Martha O'Driscoll, Lionel Atwill, Onslow Stevens
Directed by Erle C. Kenton
(actor & director credits courtesy

A scientist tries to cure Count Dracula and The Wolf Man of their afflictions, but is transformed into an evil creature himself, and determined to revive the Frankenstein monster.

The final Universal horror rally film before the studio's most popular monsters were teamed for one last hurrah with Abbott & Costello, it's a somewhat lackluster production, following the blueprint of the previous year's House Of Frankenstein a little too closely.  Once again we have Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's monster, a mad scientist, and a hunchback, and although each has their own story and some respectable moments within the film, none of the monsters end up fighting each other.  I still was engaged, enjoyed the performances of Stevens and Carradine, as well as those great Universal music cues, but didn't find the film to be a fitting coda for the long running series.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1941)

Starring Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter
Directed by Victor Fleming
(actor & director credits courtesy

The brilliant young Dr. Jekyll risks his impending marriage and standing in society in experiments to unleash his own dark half, a hideous alter ego who is as depraved as Jekyll is good and decent.

The 1941 version of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story isn't quite the film that the 1931 adaptation with Fredric March is, and suffers a bit due to modifications that must have been made to please the Hays Office, giving the movie's predecessor an edge due to its Pre-Code status.  In this version, despite his fantastic theories, Jekyll is a clearly defined Christian, and his atrocities as Hyde are mostly hinted at and kept off screen.  Nevertheless, an early fantasy sequence in the film almost makes up for some of the whitewashing with some very daring imagery.  The picture may be best remembered for its unconventional casting with Turner and Bergman playing the opposite roles one would expect based on their careers.  The film also takes a chance in giving Tracy a somewhat subtle makeup as Hyde, but I think the actor pulls off the role with polish and panache.  It's definitely not as exciting a film as the 1931 version, but it certainly looks impressive, with good photography and some elaborate sets, and does have the advantage of a musical score by the great Franz Waxman.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1931)

Starring Fredric March, Miriam Hopkins, Rose Hobart, Holmes Herbert, Halliwell Hobbes
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
(actor & director credits courtesy

The brilliant young Dr. Jekyll risks his impending marriage and standing in society in experiments to unleash his own dark half, a hideous alter ego who is as depraved as Jekyll is good and decent.

For my money we have here the best adaptation ever of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel, and there have been quite a few, but March's exceptional performance and the excellent photography of Karl Struss make this one rise to the top.  Many actors have played Jekyll and Hyde, and many brilliantly so, but March is so unrecognizable as Hyde, another actor could have been credited with Hyde's performance, and I think all would have believed it.  It's true that March's features are hidden under the ape-like Hyde's makeup and toothy grin, but his voice, his mannerisms, and his obsessive stare are so different from what we've seen from March as Jekyll or in his other films, it's no wonder he won the Oscar that year (tied with Wallace Beery).  Struss' camerawork adds excitement to the film, opening with a long sequence where we see through Jekyll's eyes alone, in counterpoint to the coming emphasis on how characters see him and his alter ego, and the visual trickery Struss and editor William Shea employ during the Hyde transformation sequences make them seem vibrantly real.  The picture also has excellent art direction, a talented supporting cast, and Hopkins' pre-Code attempted seduction of Jekyll in the film's early moments still packs plenty of heat.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Devil's Partner (1961)

Starring Ed Nelson, Edgar Buchanan, Jean Allison, Richard Crane, Spencer Carlisle
Directed by Charles R. Rondeau
(actor & director credits courtesy

A bitter old hermit sells his soul to the devil and in return is given youth, which he uses to pass himself off as his own nephew, and the power to possess the bodies of animals.

Although low budget and possessing little in the way of special effects, this is a compelling little horror picture, notable for its cast, and a terrific unheralded music score from Ronald Stein that's among my favorites of his.  Nelson stars in both of the hermit's guises and gives a good performance, making his swift convincing of the townspeople that the kindly nephew is nothing like the cruel old man utterly believable. I liked him and all the cast- reliable character actor Buchanan is also most welcome as the town doctor, and Byron Foulger is almost unrecognizable as a dirty vagrant. As a horror film, I found the movie effective even with much of the violence occurring off camera, and a good bit of humor also featured in the script.  The animal possession sequences are nothing special, and perhaps could have been better with more money, but regardless I think this is fun viewing for any old-time horror fan.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Devil's Messenger (1961)

Starring Lon Chaney Jr., Karen Kadler, Michael Hinn, Ralph Brown, John Crawford
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
(actor & director credits courtesy

As Satan admits new arrivals through the gates of hell, he makes an offer to a suicide victim to spare her punishment by delivering items that will lead new souls down a dark path.

Although there's no mention of this in the film's credits, the movie is a repackaging of episodes from 13 Demon Street, a TV series writer/director Curt Siodmak created and produced, which was filmed in Sweden, and hosted by Chaney.  Siodmak's name in fact is nowhere to be found, although IMDB indicates he directed and/or wrote some of the installments included.  Three stories from the TV series are included, featuring a photographer who kills a woman and is then haunted by her image, a scientist who falls in love with an ancient woman found frozen in ice, and a man informed by a fortune teller he is fated to die at midnight.  I can't say any of the tales are particularly memorable, and there's no notable names in their casts.  Among them, the photographer's tale probably comes off best and has the most visually satisfying conclusion.  I found the wrap around story filmed with Chaney and Kadler to be extremely low budget and it doesn't mesh well with the episodes, but as a whole, the film engaged my interest and has a similar feel to the later (if more superior) horror anthologies put out by Amicus in the 1960s and 1970s.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

Starring Jeff Morrow, Rex Reason, Leigh Snowden, Gregg Palmer, Maurice Manson
Directed by John Sherwood
(actor & director credits courtesy

A wealthy scientist, obsessed with controlling what he owns, including his young wife, plans to recapture the Gill-Man and transform him into an evolved form of life.

The second sequel to Creature From The Black Lagoon is an improvement on the previous film, Revenge Of The Creature, staging much of its action in the Florida Everglades, where the Creature, hidden beneath the murky surface, becomes a predatory threat, with underwater photography to rival that in the original film.  It also takes the story further in a unique direction, with the creature becoming less bestial and more tragic as he is robbed of his gills and forced to live on land.  Although Snowden is given a progressive role as a woman concerned with her own needs and seeking to distance herself from both Morrow's controlling husband and Palmer's obsession with her, it's too bad and rather surprising she doesn't have any meaningful scenes with the Creature.  I think the film's strongest plusses are the speculative screenplay by Arthur Ross and the adept music score which paints a different palette than the past two films, featuring a memorable jazz theme for Snowden, and some terrifically suspenseful cues.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Jason And The Argonauts (1963)

Starring Todd Armstrong, Nancy Kovack, Gary Raymond, Laurence Naismith, Niall MacGinnis
Directed by Don Chaffey
(actor & director credits courtesy

A young hero recruits a mighty crew, and they set off on a bold quest to bring back the fabled Golden Fleece, but must face many dangers and fearsome creatures along their path.

Special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen uses this classic tale from Greek mythology to showcase more of his brilliantly animated creations, including a mighty stone giant, malevolent bat-winged harpies, the legendary Hydra with seven snapping snake heads, and an army of sword-wielding skeletons.  The skeleton sequence in particular stands out as one of Harryhausen's greatest achievements, but all of them are memorable, and Bernard Herrmann's majestic music score adds unsettling motifs for each animated monster.  Armstrong is suitably proud and determined as Jason, and Nigel Green, although perhaps atypically cast as the well-known hero Hercules, makes the character his own and an interesting participant in the action.  Chaffey keeps the story moving efficiently between the creature effects, and the film's bright color palette makes it a vivid rendition of this famous tale.

Revenge Of The Creature (1955)

Starring John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfield, Nestor Paiva, Grandon Rhodes
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy

After the legendary Gill-Man is captured and put on exhibition in a Florida aquarium, an animal psychologist and his beautiful assistant discover the creature can't be tamed.

This follow-up to the classic Creature From The Black Lagoon can't compete with the original, but Agar brings natural charm to his character in one of his first sci-fi credits, despite his cruel attempts to train the creature with a bull prod.  One hopes this was an invention of the screenplay, and not indicative of the methods real animal psychologists used at the time, which makes me shudder if they were.  The rest of the picture offers efficient thrills, Nelson is gifted with some meaningful dialogue as the film's leading lady, and Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning bring the Gill-Man to life as memorably as in the first film.  However, for me the Creature was far more effective in his native environment.  Paiva is the only actor from the original film to reprise his role, as the charter boat captain Lucas, a rogue more colorful than most of the other characters, and it's a shame he's only around for less than the first half of the picture.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Condemned To Live (1935)

Starring Ralph Morgan, Pedro de Cordoba, Maxine Doyle, Russell Gleason, Mischa Auer
Directed by Frank R. Strayer
(actor & director credits courtesy

A kindly professor, revered by his community, fails to realize that during nightly blackouts, he becomes a bloodthirsty vampire who preys on his friends and neighbors.

I think I probably like this film best among the many low-budget offerings directed by Frank Strayer. It has similarities to the other "vampire" film he directed, The Vampire Bat, although this entry has a much more substantive vampire than the other movie, and it moves along pretty well.  It doesn't compare to the more polished Dracula movies, but I still found it enjoyable.  Morgan doesn't offer much in his vampire persona other than twisting his limbs and expression, but gives a good performance as his decent other half, convincing us through sensitive line readings of his nobility and his love for the much younger Marguerite, played by Doyle.  Gleason is rather bland as Morgan's competition for Doyle, but Auer in an atypical role as a hunchback, is quite sympathetic and memorable.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

Starring Craig Stevens, William Hopper, Alix Talton, Donald Randolph, Pat Conway
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy

A paleontologist discovers a giant praying mantis has been freed from suspended animation in the Arctic, and is now heading south, feeding on the humans it encounters.

This is a halfway decent "giant bug" movie from the many made during the 1950s, although it is more than a little derivative of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and is plagued a bit by overuse of a large amount of military stock footage.  Nevertheless the special effects are well-done and the mockup of the creature is certainly imposing and frightful, more than likely a cause of nightmares for children of the period.  While the film has a capable enough cast, including Hopper who was to be featured on TV screens the same year as investigator Paul Drake on the Perry Mason TV series, there's not really anything new and different for them to do.  Talton has some moments as a liberated female reporter, but is also saddled with a clunky romance with Stevens her character doesn't seem to be all that interested in.  It's still fun movie monster viewing, but I've seen the same story done far better before.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Land Unknown (1957)

Starring Jock Mahoney, Shawn Smith, William Reynolds, Henry Brandon, Douglas Kennedy
Directed by Virgil Vogel
(actor & director credits courtesy

A naval research expedition to the South Pole brings along a magazine reporter, but they're forced to crash land on a strange tropical plateau where they encounter prehistoric creatures.

An underrated dinosaur film from Universal-International, the picture boasts a number of interesting special effects, and the creature mockups of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and plesiosaur offer excellent and fearsome detail although no animation is used.  Regardless, the dinosaurs look great in close-up, and the monster suits/puppetry used are very effective, framed against a number of artistic and convincing backgrounds.  Even footage of real-life lizards blown up to giant size, although cruelly staged and largely unnecessary, comes off fairly well visually.  There's some dated situations involving Shawn Smith's heroine, but she still comes across as a strong-willed character, and the rest of the acting ensemble deliver believable performances.  Henry Brandon is particularly memorable as the cruel Dr. Hunter, stranded on the plateau for 10 years or more, who considers himself the area's human master, and schemes to take whatever he wants.  A nice mix of sci-fi action and human drama make this a picture very worth seeking out, and the film's strong visual impact adds to the fun.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Monster On The Campus (1958)

Starring Arthur Franz, Joanna Moore, Judson Pratt, Nancy Walters, Troy Donahue
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy

A professor of science brings a giant prehistoric fish to his university but discovers too late the creature's blood transforms anything that swallows it into a savage beast of the past. 

An entertaining sci-fi/horror romp from Universal-International with some worthy creature effects, I've always been fond of this picture, although it's probably one of the lesser regarded films of director Jack Arnold.  It's not on the same level as Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man, but it's a lot of fun, with Franz as the obsessed scientist who cares more about his experiments than his college lectures, Pratt as the no-nonsense police detective who has to start believing in the fantastic, and the always welcome Ross Elliott as his ill-fated partner.  Plenty of great Universal cues are tracked into the music score, including a generous sampling from Son Of Frankenstein once a neanderthal man appears on the scene.  Although the film's somewhat predictable, it's still enjoyable viewing everytime I revisit it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Monolith Monsters (1957)

Starring Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne, Trevor Bardette, Phil Harvey
Directed by John Sherwood
(actor & director credits courtesy

A geologist in a small western town discovers a lethal menace in the remains of a meteor that when combined with water turn into deadly towers of rock.

The "monsters" of the film, tall towers of dark gleaming rock that rise and fall in advancing towards the town, are very unique and make this sci-fi effort from Universal stand out among the alien and giant bug pictures delivered by Universal and rival studios during the 1950s.  Director Jack Arnold, known for helming Creature From The Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man, is credited with contributing towards the story, and the screenplay is well-structured, balancing the investigation of the rocks with the drama of their dangerous effects on people.   Williams and Albright make a cute couple, and Tremayne and Bardette add professional performances that ground the film.  The special effects, which look very convincing, are cleverly showcased in well-edited sequences that build suspense accompanied by menacing music from Universal's uncredited staff of composers, which per music historian David Schecter, included Irving Gertz, Henry Mancini, and Herman Stein.  With so many winning elements assembled together, this makes for fun and entertaining viewing, and a definite departure from the usual.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Starring Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent, Paul Langton, Raymond Bailey
Directed by Jack Arnold
(actor & director credits courtesy

A man finds himself shrinking smaller and smaller after being exposed to a radioactive mist, and his anger and desperation put a strain on his marriage while he waits for scientists to find a cure.

Screenwriter Richard Matheson adapts his own novel, and in the hands of director Jack Arnold and a talented crew, they deliver an intelligent sci-fi drama with some very memorable visual effects.  Some of the shots integrating a tiny Williams into a giant world show their age, but once the story shrinks him down under a foot tall, the combination of rear projection and oversized props is executed very impressively as the film builds to a final climax.  This is probably Williams' best role and he does his part to sell the audience on the fantasy the film presents as if it were a real-life drama.  However I've always been a little disappointed in the film's metaphysical ending which doesn't seem to reward the audience for their investment in these characters.  I understand the reasoning behind it, and wouldn't necessarily have preferred a happy ending, but it just strikes me as a bit insufficient.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The City Of The Dead (1960)

Starring Dennis Lotis, Christopher Lee, Patricia Jessel, Tom Naylor, Betta St. John
Directed by John Moxey
(actor & director credits courtesy

A college student travels to Whitewood, Massachusetts to do research on its past as a site of a historical witch burning, not realizing that a coven of witches still reside there.

This early horror film from writer/producer Milton Subotsky before co-founding the Amicus studio offers effective thrills and chills on a tight budget, as well as truckloads of fog to make the setting even more mysterious.  It would be a very enjoyable watch for any horror fan with excellent black and white cinematography from Desmond Dickinson, and although he's not the central character, Christopher Lee offers the proper notes of menace as an ancient warlock.  It's interesting how the plot somewhat mirrors Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, with Venetia Stevenson meeting her fate in the movie's first half, prompting her brother, played by Lotis, to come to Whitewood to investigate.  The supporting cast is also fine, with Norman MacOwan in particular a standout as the elderly blind priest who warns the coven's victims-to-be in a perfect performance.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Curse Of The Cat People (1944)

Starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Eve March
Directed by Gunther V. Fritsch & Robert Wise
(actor & director credits courtesy

The lonely young daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed takes on an imaginary friend who appears to her in the form of Irena, Reed's ill-fated first wife.

Although a sequel to the 1942 horror classic Cat People, and returning Simon, Smith, and Randolph, there are no references to Simon's curse from the first film, and the focus is on the screenplay's childhood drama, brought to vivid life in a believable performance by young Ann Carter.  That's not to say there aren't dark moments or fantasy elements, with the film set in the legendary Sleepy Hollow, and Simon's appearances well captured through Nicholas Musuraca's excellent photography. Part of me is regretful that producer Val Lewton didn't see fit to crafting a more direct horror sequel to Cat People, but what he's brought to us instead deserves many accolades as a finely etched portrait of a child's imaginative spirit.  Another plus is the performance of calypso singer and RKO contract player Sir Lancelot, who has one of his most charming roles for the studio as the Reeds' kindly housekeeper.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cape Fear (1962)

Starring Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Martin Balsam
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
(actor & director credits courtesy

A dangerous ex-convict stalks the lawyer whose testimony sent him to prison, driving him and his family on edge, convinced he's planning a violent revenge. 

Thompson delivers a great suspenseful thriller, with Mitchum echoing his psychopathic turn in The Night Of The Hunter in another memorable performance, as the clever and villainous Max Cady.  Based on John D. McDonald's novel, The Executioners, the film is not only well-directed by Thompson, but is highlighted by terrific photography by Samuel Leavitt and excellent editing by George Tomasini, augmenting Mitchum's creepy performance.  Bernard Herrmann's score is dark and atmospheric, and so cleverly used throughout the film.  A highlight is the scene in which Lori Martin, as Peck's young daughter, flees from Cady through an abandoned schoolhouse, and Herrmann's score fades in and out to showcase the sound of footfalls echoing closer and closer to her.  The unsettling undertones of the story are captured with palpable tension in this nightmarish film which for me is far more effective than Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bride Of The Monster (1955)

Starring Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy, Loretta King, Harvey B. Dunn
Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy

Local police try to investigate the mysterious disappearances of several people in a swamp, not realizing a mad scientist trying to create atomic supermen is behind it all.

Notorious writer/director Ed Wood was behind this often ridiculed science fiction thriller, and there's plenty of his hallmarks here, perhaps best summed up by the inanimate octopus prop that "murders" its victims, and the clumsy integration of it with live octopus footage.  There's also some less than talented actors in the film, led by Loretta King, who gives an overblown performance as a smarmy newspaper reporter.  However, this is also just about the last starring role for Bela Lugosi, and it shouldn't disappoint his fans, for although he's over the top at times, he sure seems like he's giving it his all as the demented Dr. Vornoff, who hypnotizes King with probing eyes and extended fingers in scenes right out of Dracula.  Some of the dialogue Wood and co-writer Alex Gordon give him is ludicrous, but the actor somehow maintains his dignity.  I have to say that I enjoy Wood's films, despite the low-budget trappings and often inept staging, because they're certainly never boring, and have their own goofy charm.  And in this one, it's clear that a love and respect for Lugosi fashioned the role of one last mad scientist for the aged actor to play.

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.