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Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Vampire Bat (1933) - Frank R. Strayer

The Vampire Bat is not at all scary. Not by any sense of the word. It is, however, actually pretty boring. I've seen a lot of horror movies from the thirties now and this one is the bottom of the heap. There are very few positives about this movie, one of them being Dwight Frye. This man is a horror legend from the 30's. He single-handedly makes this movie bearable. I thought the inclusion of Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill would help things out but they actually came off as pretty bland and basic. Not really one of THEIR best movies. The copy that I watched was very well preserved. I had an easy time understanding it and the picture is pretty decent, albeit from the thirties.

The story is pretty straightforward. People in a small town start showing up with their blood being drained from their bodies. No one knows what's going on, so they instinctively attack the one that is different. They go after the dimwitted town pitty case Glieb. Glieb being portrayed to perfection by Dwight Frye. They throw in some mystery and then slap it in front of you. Is it Glieb? Is it something more sinister?

Director: Frank R. Strayer
Producer: Phil Goldstone and Larry Darmour
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, Dwight Frye and Maude Eburne
Studio: Majestic Pictures
Release date: January 10, 1933
Country: USA 
Did ya Know: Film is one of many made during the American Great Depression. Filmed at night on Universal's European village set. The interior of Lionel Atwill's house is the set from The Old Dark House.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) - Michael Curtiz

Ivan Igor was once the worlds greatest wax sculptor. That is until an attempt on his life burned his hands and melted all of his life's work. Now, confined to a wheel-chair and unable to work with his hands, he returns to reclaim his spot as the worlds greatest sculptor by directing a group of young artists to bring back his greatest creations. Quite mad and power hungry, Ivan Igor will not let anyone step in his way however, things begin to go awry for the unbalanced artist when a young journalist discovers that there is more than just wax going into the creation of his sculptures.

This film is littered with crazy-fast talking and funny quips. It reminds me of that Fast Talking and High Trousers bit that appeared in the Family Guy television show. The movie stars Lionel Atwill again as the protagonist Ivan Igor. Glenda Farrell and the original scream queen Fay Wray round out a pretty stellar cast and bring a great deal of horror and humor to an already creepy flick.

The movie really grabs you and doesn't let go. Unlike a lot of its early 30's counterparts this movie has a very quick pace and is constantly bringing you action and scares. The protagonist uses some really creepy looking make-up and even has some really cool effects that are used at the end of the film. It is an incredibly unusual horror movie for its time and because of that it stands up with some of the best of its day. However, the writing and the story are completely ludicrous and it can loose you in some places if you are not paying attention. You really need to sit down and devote the hour and fifteen minuets to watching this.

Mystery of the Wax Museum is rare in the fact that it was filmed in the two-color Technicolor film process. The only other film to use this process was  Doctor X from 1932. Also, once again this movie deals with themes that were deemed controversial for its time; these being drug use and sex. In my epic quest to review every horror movie ever I am getting close to the year when the MPAA stepped in and made these movies no fun anymore (at least until the late 50's early 60's, or something like that). This movie has also spawned two remakes: one in 1953, and the other in 2005 with Paris Hilton.

It could have been a lot better in some parts, but it can definitely go toe to toe with the other little known gems of its time. I would recommend watching this movie back to back with Doctor X if you are a fan of old horror.

As I live and breathe and wear spat the prince.

  • This movie was considered lost until someone stepped up with it in the 60's
  • The original title was just "Wax Museum"
  • The film has the same opening music as Doctor X

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Supernatural (1933) - Victor Halperin

Supernatural is the "unsuccessful" follow up to White Zombie for director Victor Halperin. Personally, this wasn't that bad of a movie. Streets beyond White Zombie. This one is entertaining. The camera work is neat and reminiscent of Dracula. The story is really well written and preformed as such. Carole Lombard does a great job in her roll of Roma even though critics seem to pan her character. I thought that if flowed fairly well but snagged in a few areas. Nothing that drives it away.

The movie is about Roma. A girl that is duped by a psychic into believing that he can contact her deceased brother. The psychic isn't the only antagonist at play. We also have Ruth Rogan, a bad to the bone Black Widow that has offed three lovers. Rogan is executed by electric chair and somehow possesses our young heroine. She then runs off with the psychic and begins her reckless and bloodthirsty life all over again!

The cinematography is fantastic. Really interesting and beautiful scenes throughout. They do a fine job of minding the detail in the work. Didn't seem daunting to watch and it looked pretty decent too. I recommend this one to anyone that wants to follow up White Zombie with another good horror. I understand everyone loves White Zombie, I am just not that into it.

Treat all supernatural beings with respect but keep aloof from them.

  • This was sold from Paramount to Universal in 1958. This was one of over 700 films. 
  • Carole Lumbard got in heated arguments with Victor Halperin during the filming of this. 
  • An earthquake struck during filming. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Murders in the Zoo (1933) - Edward Sutherland

Next on my list is Murders in the Zoo from 1933. This movie is really something. The movie stars Lionel Atwill and Charlie Ruggles along side starlets like Kathleen Burke and Gail Patrick. Kathleen Burke has also starred in The Island of Lost Souls while Atwill starred in Dr. X.

Eric Gorman, played wonderfully by Atwill, returns from a expedition in Indo-China, and brings back with him a number of vicious animals: lions, tigers, and a rare Green Mamba. The movie opens with Gorman gruesomely sewing a mans mouth shut and leaving him to die in the jungle. We learn that Eric Gorman's wife Evelyn Gorman (Played by the beautiful Kathleen Burke) has been cheating on him. This serves as the main motive of Eric Gorman's killings. He doesn't kill by his own hands though. He uses his animals and makes the deaths look accidental.

The movie is directed by Eddie Sutherland, a comedy director by trade, he brings a ton of laughs in the form of a recovering alcoholic. This character is a perfect comic relief to contrast the viciousness of the animals and Gorman himself. The movie is also Pre-Code which means that the film has no boundary's about what can be talked about. They actually talk about "Making Love" which is unheard of in its day and age.

The movies deaths are all at the hands, or paws, of animals. Tigers, mamba's, alligators, and *SPOILER* for Mr. Gorman himself, an anaconda. They are all equally brutal save for the tiger who we only hear about. It has a few flaws, mostly the running time, which is about 15 minuets too short. The movie is extremely creative but it just feels like it sags in certain areas. Rent the film if you are a classic horror fan.

Why is it that everyone smokes in these movies? The most common line in all of these is "Would you like to have a cigarette?" weird.

  • The movie was made by Paramount Pictures and sold to Universal for distribution
  • Has not yet been released on DVD
  • Animals actually fought each other for the finale of the film. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Invisible Man (1933) - James Whale

The Invisible Man from 1933 is a heavyweight horror movie. James Whale and Carl Laemmle Jr. team up once again to bring you a story written by H.G. Wells. If that line-up isn't enough to get you running out to see the movie then maybe the special effects will. This movie is not scary, however it does have a mad scientist

James Whale is definitely one of the pioneers of early Horror cinema. Like Tod Browning before him, Whale can really bring the goods. Whale has directed movies like Frankenstein and The Old Dark House, but this has got to be his crowning achievement. He is definitely one of the greatest horror directors of all time.

The movie is about a scientist that has gone off his rocker, played by Claude Raines, who designs a potion that can make him invisible. Of course this potion drives him right out of his mind and makes him incredibly power hungry, uttering the phrase "The world will grovel at my feet."

The movie was incredibly successful upon its initial release and is noted for its numerous special effects and cameos from other horror actors including Dwight Frye. There is one particularly memorable performance from Una O'Connor whose shrill voice can be heard in such movies as The Informers and Bride of Frankenstein, which is also directed by James Whale.

This movie is a testament to all of Universal horror franchises. I had never seen the movie before today and I am very happy that i have seen it now. The movie almost takes top honors on the 1001 horror movie list. The only thing holding it back is the ending and the lack of good scares.

"...and Claude Raines as the invisible man."
  • The beginning of the movie supports the NRA, it has a weird NRA title card. 
  • There is a lyric in "Science Fiction/Double Feature" from Rocky Horror Picture Show that references this movie. 
  • Claude Raines took his daughter to see the movie. When he bought the tickets at the booth it was a very cold and windy night. He was dressed in a fedora and long jacket, he covered most of his face. When he ordered the tickets the attendant recognized his voice and offered to let him into the theater for free. Claude Raines demanded to pay full price. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Monster Walks (1932) - Frank R. Strayer

For some reason back in the heyday of making movies the producers and writers thought that Gorillas were extremely scary. In this hour long snooze fest the antagonist is supposedly a giant gorilla. The Monster Walks from 1932 is a terribly acted and even worse, terribly scripted movie. The characters go nowhere and the terrible excuse for an ending is horrible. The movie is, from beginning to end, talking. Just five people and jive talking driver talking for an hour.

The movie is about a girl who inherited an estate from her dead father. The girl's uncle and cousin come to the house to do something to try to get the house. The Uncle has some sort of weird thing going on with the girl, it is apparent in many scenes, its weird. There is something about an ape going crazy and getting out at night and strangling people. I wont ruin the movie for you but it is a weird and crazy story.

The acting is atrocious, i cant put my finger on what it is exactly. I don't know if either the acting is to blame or if the writing is horrible. Maybe its a combination of the two. The actor who portrays Hanns, if he can even be considered an actor, is the worst person to read from script. I have never seen anyone as stiff as that guy!

The movie fell short in a ton of areas and never picked up. Maybe better luck next time.

  • Filmed in Hollywood on a set the entire time.
  • The movie is public domain now that the Copyright has lapsed

Friday, July 12, 2013

Chandu the Magician (1932) - William Cameron Menzies

I waited, like a child anticipating a Christmas gift, for Chandu the Magician to arrive in the mail. When it came it was better than I could have imagined. The DVD has some awesome features including (drum roll please) commentary from Bela Lugosi's official biographer. You heard it folks. Official biographer. The movie feels like a fun, Indiana Jones type adventure with amazing effects and some really creepy scenes. However, it doesn't even scratch the surface when it comes to horror. 

The movie follows the incredibly powerful magician/yogi Chandu and his exploits while battling his nemesis Roxor, a dark wizard/yogi. Their battles and struggles are really entertaining to watch. The movie tries to bite off a little more than it can chew. I have no problem with the plot revolving around magic users. That part is neato but I do have a problem with them bringing technology into the fold. Technology takes the form of a giant Super Laser that Roxor wants to use to destroy the city he holds hostage. That part is a little much. 

I suppose they wanted to categorize this movie as best they could without stepping on too many toes. Hence the Mad Scientist angle. But, the movie works on so many levels without that unnecessary Laser. If they wanted to go back and remake this, I would advise leaving that out. The set design is amazing. They did a great job with costumes and the creativity behind the production. The script seemed to be lacking in the dialogue department and the acting left a lot to be imagined. It still stands pretty tall when it is lined up with these other jokers. Chandu the Magician is not a bad movie, check it out if you can. I had to buy this one as it is pretty rare. 

Country: USA

Did ya know...
This movie was based on "Chandu the Magician," a radio show that was airing at the time. Chandu was the basis for many of the later magician characters, including DC's Sandor the Mystic and Marvel Comics's Dr. Strange.
Nigel De Brulier's yogi was the model for the sorcerer in Disney's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."
Cost-conscious Fox studios paid $40,000 for the rights to Chandu. Lugosi received $2500, Ware $1250, Hammond $100, Walthall $1000, and Stuart $300.Filming was completed July 1932. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) - Charles Brabin

The Internet Movie Database lists this as a horror movie. I don't find it to be that exactly. Boris Karloff churns out a pretty chilling performance as the evil and sadistic Dr. Fu Manchu. A doctor with a touch for the dramatic and a love for torture. He gets a lot of pleasure out of torture. It may not be a true-to-the-color horror picture but it is a decent delve into the terror realm.

A group of scientists, on an expedition are searching out the sword of Genghis Khan for study. However, Fu Manchu want's to get his grubby hands on the sword so that he can raise Khan from the dead and he would come destroy the entire Western World, especially the white dudes. Manchu really doesn't like white people in this movie. He actually says in a speech to his followers "Kill the white man and take his women!"

The effects were really good, they did a cool Tesla Coil thing in Fu Manchu's laboratory. They made the movie look really neat and clean. The copy I watched wasn't that bad either. Of course Karloff did a decent job of carrying the movie. The other actors really come up short in a number of scenes. The acting isn't the high point though. Check it out. The effects are enough for you to really sit through it.

Kill the White Man and take his Women!

  • The Chinese government criticized this movie when it came out. 
  • This is a pre-code movie and walks the line when it comes to decency. 
  • Filmed in Culver City, CA. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Old Dark House (1932) - James Whale

James Whale, Carl Laemmle, and Boris Karloff all come together for the best forgotten gem. This team already brought you one of the biggest horror movies in Frankenstein. So you know your getting yourself into some quality. The movie is a parody of the horror films that had come before it in previous years. It's comedy is really smart and the horror element is perfect. The Old Dark House stands tall next to Frankenstein. It joins the ranks of the best films of the 30's. 

On a stormy night, three young people seek refuge in an old dark house. It is inhabited by a scary couple of old people. An old man and woman. The woman has a voice like a paint scraper. The ghoulish people have a Butler that looks friggin' insane. Then they are joined by two others. The whole group is being terrorized all night by that crazy butler who chases people around. Then he lets his pyromaniac brother loose. Hilarity ensues. The whole movie has this really weird vibe to it you can feel the tension building. It must have been a favorite of a young Tobe Hooper. The pacing and ambiance remind me of his movies.

This movie has a good example of early sex in Hollywood due to censorship laws. People would discuss sex through various innuendos and codes. An embrace could not go any further than a really intense hug. In this day and age it is pretty funny to witness. This movie also has one of the craziest old woman I have ever seen. She has a crazy beard! Its nuts! She looks like Schang Tsung!

The real antagonist in the movie is alcohol. I wonder if this was pro-prohibition movie. This movie is really pretty scary, the actors are pretty good at putting out this creepiness. I could see myself being actually inspired by this to make a movie.

The movie was really well done and the acting was fair. What a crazy find, I didn't know this would be that good. I highly recommend this movie on a late night, or Halloween.

  • The movie was thought lost... at one time but now it is found. 
  • Filmed right in Hollywood, CA... Well Studio City. 
  • Just a weird weird horror movie

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Doctor X (1932) - Michael Curtiz

Michael Curtiz and First National/Warner Brothers pictures brings you the first color horror film. From 1932 we have Dr. X, this obscure and rarely appreciated feature stems from a time when motion pictures were just beginning to be regulated. Tons of these movies came out that didn't have to sign a censorship clause. This movie is supposedly one of these movies. Rape, Cannibalism, and Murder are all examples of what we are dealing with. Something all sorts of weird and ahead of it's time.

The plot is simple enough. Someone is stalking and killing people in New York, he is dubbed the Moon Killer. A campy thirties journalist is hot on the case and begins digging up all sorts of trouble. The movie has its really intense points and dull ones as well. It is truly a testament to the dialog in the era. 

So, this is a horror/comedy that follows in the footsteps of the one's that came before it. It isn't the comedy that drags people in. Hell, it isn't even the suspense. No. It's the color. This is a really early picture and it was filmed in a rare color process. It should be appreciated way more than it really is. The process was so rare. It made the movie that much more interesting.

Lionel Atwill leads us here in a pretty decent performance. Everything else is completely overacted and really campy. That adds to the quality of the picture though. The period dialect and the over the top mannerisms are something that I have come to love in my journey though the celluloid. Good movie. 

Dr. X is another movie referenced in Rocky Horror Picture Show's intro. It should be more widely regarded as such. However, it doesn't look like it gets it just desserts. Enjoy this movie with your friends. It's not a snoozefest.

Dr. X will build a creature

  • Contrary to Technicolor's edict, Warners shot a black-and-white version of "Doctor X." At least two scenes in the black-and-white version use different takes than the color one: the scene with Lee Tracy and Mae Busch in the house of prostitution scene and the sequence with Tracy in the skeleton room. 
  • The play opened in New York City, New York, USA on 9 February 1931.
  • For a time Warner Brothers did not have a print of the original Technicolor version and it was assumed to be lost. The Technicolor version was finally discovered and restored by the UCLA Archives.


Friday, July 05, 2013

The Mummy (1932) - Karl Freund

Now we get to The Mummy from 1932. Not to be confused with the Brendan Fraser comedy series that goes by the same name. No. This movie is one of those "Original Monster" movies from Universal Pictures. Carl Laemmle Jr. and Boris Karloff are responsible for the bringing this classic tale to the silver screen. The Mummy is a great old movie that was followed up by a ton of useless sequels. So far the movie has been remade a couple of times, once in 1959 by Hammer Horror and in 1999 with Brendan Frasier.

This film, starring the amazing Boris Karloff as Imhotep begins with him being resurrected accidentally by two archaeologists. In one pretty laughable scene, Imhotep who is newly risen from the grave, passes through a scene prompting one of the archaeologists to nearly die laughing. They try to stop him but Imhotep escapes into Cairo. Then posing as a modern Egyptian man, he finds two other archaeologists and has them begin to dig where his ancient lover was buried to unite the two forever!

An expedition digs up a mysterious box and sarcophagus, while out on an archaeological dig. In the sarcophagus they find the mummified remains of Imhotep. That is still a really cool name. Things lead to things and a goofy sidekick character summons Imhotep back from the dead. Cut to ten years later. The expedition is being called off and most of the team is returning to London. No one speaks of Imhotep's returning from the grave. A strange patron that looks like the Mummy leads the Brits to a new dig site. That of the princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. Now Imhotep, disguised as the patron is out to get his princess back and will stop at nothing to do so. Just about.

This movie is a true classic. The acting, the sets, this movie had it all. It even had KARLOFF! Boris Karloff's career had become so bloated by this time. Just one year after Frankenstein and he is being credited as KARLOFF only. That factoid is laughable. My only problem with this movie was the quick ending. They had quite the lead up that could have lead to an amazing fight but petered out and just went to credits.

Not really horror, but I am highly recommending it to anyone that wants a good tale. It has a good deal of suspense though-out and Karl Freund does a great job of creatively capturing some really cool shots. The story is really interesting too and holds your interest. Its really wordy and kind of drawn out in parts. I could think of a thousand ways that this would of been scary but it never really took those routes.

Director: Karl Freund
Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Writer: John L. Balderston, Nina Wilcox Putnam (Story), Richard Schayer (Story)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward van Sloan and Arthur Byron
Studio: Universal Studios
Release Date: December 22, 1932
Country: USA
Did ya know: The Film was shot in the Mojave Desert and Cantil, CA. This was Boris Karloff's biggest role after Frankenstein. The original film poster is worth $453,500.00