Welcome, children of the night! This Blog is for fans of vintage horror films as well as those who are just beginning to discover the joy of these classic movies. I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Invisible Woman (1940)

This one is NOT a sequel to The Invisible Man Returns.  In fact, there's not a moment of horror or thriller in it.  This does not mean it's a bad film.  In fact, it's quite excellent.  The Invisible Woman can best be described as a romantic comedy with touches of Sci-Fi for good measure.  The case includes the legendary John Barymore [Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1920, a brilliant performance] as Professor Gibbs who invents an invisibility machine.  This was one of his last onscreen roles and he is still in top form here.  The one and only Margaret Hamilton [The Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz] is one of his faithful servants.  Her mere presence makes me smile with delight.
The Invisible Woman is played with wit and charm by Virginia Bruce who uses her invisibility to take revenge on the men who have done her wrong.  She settles the score, not with murder, but with humor and ridicule.  It's a fun role and she seems to be having a great time with it.
The screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak and Joe May who also collaborated on The Invisible Man Returns.  They really know how to write a good script and this one is no exception.  The director this time out is not May but A. Edward Sutherland who definitely knows how to pace 1940's comedies.  He keeps things light and fast which works well.
If you're looking for the Invisible Woman to have a tortured evil soul, you'll have to look elsewhere.  If you like those "battle of the sexes" comedies of the 40's and 50's then this one will fit the bill nicely.  Just remember, this is NOT a horror film.
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

Surprisingly, Universal Studio waited seven years to release this sequel which is nearly as great as the original.  The Invisible Man Returns is a classic horror at its best.  First, it starts with a great screenplay whose writers include director Joe May and Curt Siodmak who also wrote The Wolfman (1941), Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943) and House of Frankenstein (1944) among others.  The story works well and begins with the owner of a coal mining operation, Geoffrey Radcliffe, who has been falsely imprisoned for the murder of his brother and is scheduled to be hanged.  He is given the serum to make him invisible by Dr. Frank Griffin who is the brother of the original Invisible Man.  He then sets out on a quest to find the true murder while battling his descent into madness.  Great stuff!!!
The second thing this movie has going for it is a great cast.  Vincent Prince is great as Geoffrey Radcliffe.  He fills Claude Rains shoes rather well as the Invisible Man which is a challenging role since we never see Price's face on screen until the end of the film.  His expressive voice is the perfect choice for this role.  The Invisible Man returns also includes great performances by Cedric Hardwicke [The Ghoul, The Ghost of Frankenstein] as detective Richard Cobb and John Sutton [Return of the Fly, The Bat] as the Dr. Griffin.
Finally, the special effects are really excellent considering the time period of the film.  They did more this time out than they did in the original film and filled the movie with lots of visual delights.  You simply can't go wrong with watching this one.  It's classic Universal Horror at its best and is a joy to watch form start to finish.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Set in the swamps, presumably in the deep South, Attack of the Giant Leeches is a far cry from an episode of True Blood.  This one is a so-bad-it's-funny creature feature from the 1950's by infamous schlock producer Roger Corman.  In its favor, the acting is quite good.  The characters and believable and there are actually a number of good scenes in the film.  However, the giant leeches look like black plastic garbage bags with giant white suction cups sewn on them.  The excellence of Them! (1954) is NOT here.  These monsters look like those designed for an Ed Wood film.  Bride of the Monster comes to mind.
If you like cheese, and lots of it, this movie might actually appeal to you.  It's definitely the kind of stuff they showed on late night monsterfests while I was growing up but it's not something I'm too wild about as an adult.  Attack of the Giant Leeches could have actually been a decent film if they had spent a little more money on the monsters.  It's a shame because this film actually has some potential it never reaches.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Invisible Ghost (1941)

Bela Lugosi stars as Charles Kessler, a man living with his daughter while hoping for the return of his wife who ran away.  While with another man, she was injured an a car accident and lost her mind.  These days she's locked up in a barn close by where she is being taken care of by the gardener… but she gets out at night all by herself to wander the property.  Every time Kessler sees her, he falls into a maniacal trance and murders someone.  Sounds a bit confusing?  You're not alone.  It like one, big awful soap opera story.
The Invisible Ghost doesn't make much sense.  Too many things are left unexplained and while watching the film I was dumbfounded that no one could figure out that Kessler was behind the murders.  Lugosi is O.K. in this film but it is hardly one of his better performances.  He doesn't have much to work with and doesn't bring much to the table.  The rest of the cast is adequate, although I had a special fondness for Clarence Muse as Evans the Butler.  He gives the best performance in the film and has a rather lengthy list of acting credits in IMDB.  Muse stays away from black stereotypes that are so prevalent in films of this era and opts for a household domestic who is smart, observant and hard working.
In spite of the title there aren't any ghosts here.  Nor are there any horror elements.  The Invisible Ghost is a not-so-thrilling thriller.  Your time is best spent elsewhere with other great films from this era.  This one is strictly for Lugosi fans only.
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Black Dragons (1942)

Black Dragons is a short war era thriller starring Bela Lugosi as Dr. Melcher/Monsieur Colomb.  It is one of the earliest of Hollywood's responses to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and involves a group of Japanese "Black Dragons" who, through the help of the good doctor, undergo plastic surgery to look like prominent American Industrialists.  Their goal, of course, is to sabotage America's war effort.  However, one by one they are being "mysteriously" murdered.  Wonder who?  Well, there's no need to guess and no surprises in this film.  The bad guys are killed and America is safe again.  [Cue the waving American flag and the closing credits.]  
Lugosi gives a lack luster performance here.  This is probably due to his addiction to morphine as well as crippling arthritis.  However, I can;t fault a guy for trying to earn a living!  Even for Lugosi fans, this one can be skipped over for much finer performances from the same era such as The Return of the Vampire (1945).
RATING: Fair.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Monday, September 5, 2011

C.H.U.D. (1984)

C.H.U.D. [Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers] feels like a 1950's creature feature that is draped in the worst of 80's music and fashion.  Ditch these two elements, turn off the color and we have a film similar to the classic Them! (1954) but not quite as good.
C.H.U.D. is a bit of a slow burner at first.  It's the perfect movie for a lazy Sunday afternoon where, if you dose off for a few minutes, you can pick up where you left off.  In classic Hitchcock fashion, director Douglas Cheek knows that what you don't see on screen can be scarier than what is seen on screen.  Therefore, we only see bits and pieces of the CHUD-ites until the end of the film.  This is a good thing because the actual site of these creatures produces more laughter than screams.  It's good fun though and the CHUD-its are well made and imaginative.  
C.H.U.D. is also enhanced by the acting talents of John Heard [The Seventh Sign, Big, Home Alone] and Daniel Stern [Home Alone, Whip It] who are front and center in this film.  Both of them usually give solid to excellent performances on screen and they do a good job here.
If you like B-movies, you will definitely enjoy this one.  It's not one of the best horror movies of the 80's but it is far from the worst.
RATING: Very Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Return to Horror High (1987)

Many great and inventive horror films were birthed in the 1980's.  Return to Horror High is not one of them!  It's a dismal affair that is not nearly as funny nor scary as it thinks it is.  Let's start with the director, Bill Froehlich who only has three director credits to his name...there's a reason for this.  He is also credited as the producer of Children of the Corn 2 which is a terrible film in its own right.  Bless his heart, as we say in the south.  This movie is a mess with stiff performances from his actors and a plot that is a bit hard to follow at times, especially toward the end of the film.
Second, RTHH looks and feels like a cheap imitation of classic serial killer movies from the late 70's and early 80's.  It makes the audience long for Freddy, Jason or Michael to show up and add some life, or shall we say death, to this barely simmering film.  Thankfully, Chucky would come along in 1988 [Child's Play] to remind us that the genre was not dead yet.
What more needs to be said?  Even veteran actors George Clooney [Yes, I said George Clooney] and Maureen McCormick [Marsha, Marhsa, Marsha] couldn't save this sad little film.  I wouldn't watch this one again even if it was the last video left on the shelf at Blockbuster.
RATING: Bad.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Black Sabbath (1963)

Many horror anthologies from Tales of Terror (1962) to the modern classic Trick r' Treat (2010) use a creative mix of humor and horror to keep their audiences thoroughly entertained.  I am a big fan of this mix and delight in the kind of dark humor contained in the EC Comics of the 1950's as well as George Romero's horror movie anthology Creepshow (1982).  Black Sabbath, by Italian director Mario Bava, has no humor in it whatsoever.  This, I believe, is its downfall.  It simply takes itself far too seriously.
Boris Karloff is the host in this collection of three supernatural vignettes.  Unfortunately, he doesn't show up in the actual stories until the final act.  The first tale is a simple ghost revenge story whose central character's acting style is way over the top.  Jacqueline Pierreux plays nurse Helen Chester who makes a bad decision regarding a client and dies to regret it.  Her acting style reminds me a great deal of Barbara Steele but not quite as talented.  
The second vignette is even simpler.  It's the classic stalker on the telephone.  I found it to be the weakest of the three.  Michele Mercer is the central character in this one.  Her performance is more subtle than Pierreux's but the story line is so predictable that the audience knows exactly where this one is headed from the first phone call. Ho-hum.
The final segment is the strongest of the three, offering a vampire tale based on a Tolstoy novel.  Stylistically it looks like a Hammer Horror production but also has a strong Italian vibe.  Thank God Karloff shows up and gives Black Sabbath what it needs...a riveting performance.  His character also reinvents the old saying that "Children shouldn't be seen nor heard...they should be eaten."  You'll have to see it for yourself!
I could rate this one "very good" if the vampire segment stood on its own.  However, taken as a whole, this Mario Bava trilogy is just O.K.  It's nor terrible, but it's not great either.
RATING: Good.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Man does not live by Fred alone.  After the smashing success of A Nightmare of Elm Street (1984) and four sequels, Robert Englud was probably looking for a different role to play.  He found it in Erik Destler, the Phantom.  Granted The Phantom is Freddy Krueger-esque.  However, the character is much more complex than his Elm Street cousin. Englud does a superb job in bringing The Phantom to life, imbuing the character with a sense of menace, passion and just a touch of crazy.
21 Century Film Corporation obviously had a big budget to work with.  This version of The Phantom of the Opera is beautiful to look at, filled with rich imagery and lots of dark touches.  Kudos to director Dwight H. Little [Halloween 4, Free Willy 2] for establishing a dark and ominous mood throughout the film that is filled with tons of artistic flourishes as well.  This version of The Phantom of the Opera has much more in common with Lon Chaney's monster (192) than it does with its Broadway incarnation.  Englund brings the evil big time and it suits the story well.
The film cleverly starts out in modern times with a cameo by Molly Shannon [Saturday Night Live] who is the accompanist for Christine.  Christine is auditioning for an opera company when a freak accident at the theater results in her being hit on the head.  This transports her to an older place and time where most of the story takes place.  Jill Schoelen is good as Christine.  However, we is no match for Englund.  I would have much rather seen another 80's actress in this role who may have brought more passion and power to the role.  I was also pleased to see a young Bill Nighy [Underworld] make an appearance as well.  He's usually a commanding presence on screen and his role in Phantom is no exception.
Kudos to the make up and special effects department for lots of gory and squirm-worthy touches.  It's nice to see that the makers of this film realize how dark a story this actually is.  Yes, there is romance but it borders more on obsession than love.  I think this film has been underrated by critics and deserves to be seen by more people.  It is a lost gem of the 80's.  Don't miss it!
RATING: Excellent.
For more info check out the film's entry in IMDB.