Greetings!


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!


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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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 IMDB.com)

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.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Dracula A.D. 2015 (2015)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Xander Pretorius, Bessie Nellis, Kat Kennedy, Jeremy Kreuzer
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A teacher at Pace University in New York City succeeds in bringing about the reincarnation of Dracula, but one of the university's professors is well versed in combatting vampires.

Hammer horror films are among the favorite productions of Joshua Kennedy, and he pays homage to them in this clever amalgam of moments from all of Hammer's Dracula films, united in a screenplay restaging them on his own university campus, with Kennedy playing the vampire hunter after Pretorius' Dracula.

The story from one of Hammer's last Dracula movies, Dracula A.D. 1972, provides the primary outline for Kennedy's film, smartly adapted to fit the college setting and scenes in which modern conveniences like cellphones and online chatrooms help drive the story forward.  Kennedy uses the main title theme from that film to set the stage, and was able to utilize one of its actresses, Caroline Munro, who has a vocal cameo and therefore ties the two movies together.  Although Kennedy's vampire hunter, Terence Fordyce, is a new character not appearing in the earlier film, he's clearly modeled after Peter Cushing who played two different generations of Van Helsing opposing Christopher Lee's Dracula,  who is the clear template for Pretorius' performance.  Pretorius doesn't exactly replicate the great Christopher Lee, but he does show glimmers of Lee in his icy stares and nuzzling of Dracula's victims before he bares his fangs.

Josh's friends and classmates provide color to the supporting cast, with Kat Kennedy playing the confused and frightened Jennifer, (Dracula's primary target), Cody Alvord portraying her fun-loving but faithful boyfriend, Jeremy Kreuzer bringing to life a version of Renfield harkening back to the original Bela Lugosi film, and Hannah Rose Ammon, Madelyn Wiley, and Claire Daniels adding the right touches as victims who succumb to the vampire's bite with relish.  However, standing out among them is Bessie Nellis, in one of her best performances for Kennedy, as the teacher who brings Dracula to the university, and ends up becoming a vampire herself.  Although Nellis' role is based on Christopher Neame's in Dracula A.D. 1972, she makes it her own with a compelling creepy gaze and a grim voice that unsettles her friends and the audience.

While Kennedy's adaptation of Dracula A.D. 1972 provides his narrative thrust here, it's far from the only film referenced.  Scenes from Horror Of Dracula and Brides of Dracula fuel Kennedy's confrontations with Pretorius, while dialogue from the other Hammer productions permeate the screenplay, and selections from many of their scores layer the soundtrack.  The athletic pursuit of the fleeing Dracula by Peter Cushing in those films inspires dynamic scenes where Kennedy rushes through New York streets, leading to a memorable conflict aboard a subway train.  I'm sure it would be entertaining to hear how Kennedy requested permission from the proper authorities and explained what he would be shooting for this sequence.

Horror Of Dracula of course also provides the framework for the film's finale, in which Kennedy and his crew recreate that movie's denouement with homegrown special effects that are very reminiscent of the originals.  The effects throughout the film are staged that way with smoke and flying dust and fades recapturing that Hammer feel, while Kennedy and Pretorius match Cushing and Lee's expressions and reactions, to create a thrilling tribute to one of the studio's most memorable climaxes.

While I enjoy all of Kennedy's productions, I have to say this is my favorite of the bunch, as Josh's love of the subject matter is more than evident not only in the look of the film and its staging but in his vibrant performance, in which he gets to play hero against one of cinema's greatest villains.  He's not Peter Cushing and can't bring the exact same gravitas and weight to the lines he quotes from that great actor's dialogue, but he does a fine job in capturing the nobility of Cushing, and representing to the audience those classic moments that we all love to relive.  The film itself is one of his most exciting productions, with suspenseful stalkings, action-packed chases, and some fun original humor as well.  Although the Hammer films inspired the the highlights of this picture, their packaging into such an entertaining product is perhaps Kennedy's greatest triumph.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970)

Starring Christopher Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Gwen Watford, Linda Hayden, Peter Sallis
Directed by Peter Sasdy
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After boring of pleasures of the flesh, a group of men agree to participate in a black mass for new thrills, but when they bring about the reincarnation of Dracula, their days become numbered. 

Christopher Lee returns for his fourth Dracula film with Hammer, and though it features beautiful photography by Arthur Grant, a fine score by James Bernard, and a distinguished cast, the script is sorely lacking.  Lee plays a smaller role in the film than previously and has little dialogue, recruiting some young maidens to do most of his dirty work in this picture, and while he still has an imposing presence and gives a frightening bestial performance, he doesn't have many meaningful scenes.  The climactic showdown between Lee and Anthony Corlan also disappoints.  I liked the performances by Linda Hayden, and especially Isla Blair, who is very beguiling when turned by Dracula to a vampire, and fans of Hammer should find elements to enjoy, but the studio's done far better.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Return Of Dracula (1958)

Starring Francis Lederer, Norma Eberhardt, Ray Stricklyn, John Wengraf, Virginia Vincent
Directed by Paul Landres
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Count Dracula settles in a small American town, posing as the visiting foreign cousin of a local family, while a group of vampire hunters try to follow his trail.  

Although modestly budgeted and possessing little in the way of special effects, this independent production has much to offer, thanks to skilled direction by Landres and a strong performance by Lederer as the legendary Count.  Costumed in a tailored suit, without the typical cloak or aristocratic bearing of other screen vampires, Lederer still makes the character come alive with wonderfully piercing eyes, and a natural charm that makes his guise as an oppressed artist believable.  Landres doesn't have the financial resources for onscreen transformations of the supernatural figure, but employs smoke and fog to suggest what he can't show, and gets convincing performances out of the rest of his cast.  Gerald Fried adds an effective score to amp up the horror, with a title theme adapting the famous hymn "Dies Irae" into dark and foreboding music for Lederer's character, as well as several eerie passages accompanying Dracula's stalkings of his victims.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Blood Of Dracula (1957)

Starring Sandra Harrison, Louise Lewis, Gail Ganley, Jerry Blaine, Heather Ames
Directed by Herbert L. Strock
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A troubled teenage girl is shipped off to boarding school by her disinterested parents, where a chemistry teacher eyes her as the subject of an experiment that will unleash a vampire.

This is probably the weakest of writer/producer Herman Cohen's teenage monster movies, as it borrows heavily from the formula established in I Was A Teenage Werewolf, although it's still fun, and fans of Cohen's work should find enough to enjoy here.  The presence of cruel school cliques and Lewis' turn as the villain trying to prove herself in a "man's world" offer some freshness even though hers and Harrison's characters are essentially copies of Whit Bissell's and Michael Landon's from the previous film, and a musical number plays exactly like the one in Werewolf.  The monster makeup for Harrison, also somewhat derivative of Landon's, is among the most grotesque for any cinema vampire, which was what Cohen and Strock were probably aiming for, but the vampire attack sequences are largely uninspired with routine staging.  I still enjoy this picture and like that Cohen tried to build a female monster movie in a fairly fresh setting for a horror film, but it's not original enough to stand on its own legs.