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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Murder by Television (1935) - Clifford Sanforth

With a plot just as muddled as the audio. This forgettable film can stay that way. A mystery movie with horror overtones and starring Bela Lugosi. On paper the movie looks like its going to be fantastic! However, the product is sub par even for it's time. Not that this movie is great but it still deserves it's day in the sun. Swallowed by time and overshadowed by true classics like The Bride of Frankenstein, Mad Love, and Werewolf of London. 

Television hadn't been widely distributed by the time this movie was made. It actually features a concept of a home television that was being developed in Hollywood. Although interesting. The praise ends there. This movie is in no way a benchmark for Lugosi and serves as a lukewarm achievement in his career. June Collyer returns to the horror genre in a usual role as the daughter of the late James Houghland, a television inventor invested in a vicious feud with a rival TV inventor. Not even the humor from Hattie McDaniel and the rest of the "help" could save this movie. 

Overall, this movie is forgettable. However, I feel really bad about it. I want to like the movie. Although it's boring and flat. The movie is really inventive and fun. It's an original twist on the usual boring fare. These mystery horror mash ups are a dime a dozen in the thirties. Unfortunately they get swept under the rug. In a few years people might even stop talking about these old pieces of cinema history. 

Don't mind Ah Ling. He has a mania for quoting Confucius... and Charlie Chan.
  • For the scenes showing television equipment, the filmmakers borrowed it from L.A.-area researchers who were working on experimental TV. The equipment they borrowed was worth $75,000 - over twice the $35,000 production budget for the film.
  • When Isabella (the cook) finds the body at the top of the stairs, she simply disappears into thin air. (This may be due to missing footage in the extant print, rather than an error by the original filmmakers.)
  • Stars Bela Lugosi, June Collyer, and Hattie McDaniel... all stars. Quite the star studded cast for such a bad movie. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mark of the Vampire (1935) - Tod Browning

1927 saw London After Midnight, a movie starring Lon Chaney as a Vampire that's actually a detective in heavy disguise. This movie follows along the same path and is considered to be a remake of that long, lost, horror classic.This version stars Bela Lugosi and Lionel Berrymore, both turn in a usually decent performance that gets overshadowed by the fun and corniness that is packaged along with it.

After finding a few victims with bite marks on their necks, a rumor of a vampire starts to circulate. They instantly blame the weird ghoulish family Count Mora (Bela) and his daughter Luna (Caroll Borland) who are a bit close... if you get my drift. Apparently this caused a rift with the studio, MGM, which cut the movie down to a very shortened version. The movie is chock full of campy humor some of which still carries over  for today's audiences. 

No doubt this movie had really heavy cuts. Some ideas just seem to pop out of nowhere. Certain things don't make sense but you can still piece it together pretty easily. Left in tact however, is the twist ending that I feel is just shy of breaking the fourth wall. It turns out that the "Vampires" are actually just actors. It's a comedic scene that leaves many critics to believe this isn't actually a horror movie at all. I would have to disagree. 

This movie is horror through and through. One of the best I have seen up to this point. Visually, Mark of the Vampire is quite brilliant. The shots of Bela running at you in full death makeup is magnificent. The scenes of the 'undead' and the makeup used on them is incredible for such and early venture. Tod Browning always delivers quality work and this no omission. His characters are always lively and drive the story along with such incredible tact and professionalism. It's as if his actors have been in talkies for the past twenty years. 

Tod Browning is definitely among the greats of this time. He and James Whale are the true heavyweights turning in spectacular tales that stick with you through time. I profoundly advocate any of their movies for your enjoyment. I haven't been disappointed yet. 

Did you watch me? I gave all of me. I was greater than any real vampire!

  • The film was banned in Poland, and censors in Hungary excised the screams, shots of bats and other gruesome scenes.
  • There was a remarkable degree of difficulty in shooting the scene where Carroll Borland flies like a bat. A jockey initially doubled for her but became nauseated on the wires. A bar was placed down the back of her dress running from her neck to her ankles, but it took some time for her and the handlers to get this right. The single shot took three weeks to work (all of this for a scene where Borland is supposed to be an actress pretending to be flying).
  • When director Tod Browning revealed late in the filming process that the plot dictated that the vampires were really just actors pretending to be vampires, he met with much resistance from the cast and crew. Nobody was more incensed than Bela Lugosi, who pleaded with Browning to let him play a real vampire.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Phantom Ship (1935) - Denison Clift

This historical mystery piece thats brought to us from Hammer films is based on a true story. The story of the Mary Celeste, a ship that was found with the entire crew missing. Bela Lugosi, note the credit on the poster as Dracula, brings the best performance of his career. Aside, of course, from Dracula. 

The crew of the Mary Celeste find themselves stuck on board their vessel with a murderer about. The film does a good job of trying to build suspense by putting certain crew members in baited situations. The horror in the movie is really subtle and is laying groundwork for similar films in the future. Nothing really "scary" happens other than the uneasy feeling you get from being stuck on that ship.

This isn't that fantastic of a film. It isn't the worst either. It serves best as a catalyst for some pretty decent character acting. The lead crew members of the ship, including the Captain did a great job. Lugosi, however, takes the cake. His part is so good that it actually propels the film a few notches. It's a shame that this happened to be the first and last Hammer picture that Bela had ever been in. Gunner Moir, a heavily tattooed and brutish sailor, gives a standout performance as well. 

It really could have been a lot worse. Usually horror movies at sea don't fend well. This one unfortunately happens to fall by the wayside. If you are a film student then this is a good movie to catch up on Bela Lugosi's work. Check it out. 

Bela's Best
  • Bela Lugosi shot this feature in England after The Raven (1935) and prior to The Invisible Ray (1936). Filming lasted from mid July-August 1935.
  • Only the second production from Hammer Films, who did just four features in the 1930s before going into hiatus until 1946.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Werewolf of London (1935) - Stuart Walker

I am not a big fan of animals in horror movies. You may have noticed how I get really pissy when there is a killer gorilla on the loose. Werewolves really take the cake, I hate werewolves. I don't like movies like Underworld or the Wolfman. Hell, I hate that Werewolves have to be weaved into TV shows now and teeny bopper movies. There are exceptions though, I am a big fan of American Werewolf in London. Funny side note, that movie is a sort of tribute/remake of this movie. So i guess in turn, I like this movie. 

The movie is about a doctor that is attacked by a werewolf, and yes you guessed it, he turns into one. He can't control it. He knows that every month on the full moon he will turn. Another doctor, that goes by the name of Yogami, finds out that there is a flower that can cure him... The doctor is well to-do in some pretty bourgeois circles.  He even hosts a few parties to try and hold up appearances, so that no one will find out his hairy secret.

There are a couple of things that I really like about this movie. One being the makeup and transformation scenes. The make-up in this movie was actually the same make-up used for Lon Chaney Jr. in the Wolfman. Also this is the first actual commercial Werewolf movie. I like the effects used for the plants and the acting is not half bad. The only downside is that the werewolf stands up right and wears clothes. He just looks like a psychotic really hairy man. I guess the whole thing is that I really don't like werewolves that stand up right. American Werewolf in London got it spot on right. 

Werewolf of London looks great and has a pretty decent storyline. The cast could of used a few more stars. Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi, the latter of which was actually optioned to play Dr. Yogami. As far as werewolf movies go this one is right up there. If you are looking for a classy movie to watch, and sit down with a glass of wine, this is it. 
  • Henry Hull stars in the movie and is 27 years older than the girl that is playing his wife. 
  • The movie was filmed in the beautifully smoggy Universal City, CA. 
  • Warren Zevon has a song that is titled in tribute to this movie, Werewolves of London.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Raven (1935) - Lew Landers

I have been notified by a few people that I need to re-watch this movie. Give it another day in court as a man once said. I don't think I paid much attention when watching it the first time. I will re-watch it and write something again but below is my original review. 

In the 1930's, Boris Karloff seemed to be making a bunch of Edgar Allan Poe pictures. Poe has popped up numerous times throughout the Silver and Golden Age of horror. There have been countless remakes of his work. This one in particular takes the Poe story in a completely different direction. This movie deals with a mad scientist that is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe type torture devices.

Some of the performances are really hard and make me cringe. However, I enjoyed this movie. I wouldn't suggest watching it though unless you are a hardcore Karloff or Lugosi fan. The coolest thing about this movie would have to be the doctor's torture room; He devised a pretty incredible torture chamber with some awesome devices like a pit with a scythe and a shrinking chamber.

The movie was obviously made to just get Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff into another picture together. The movie was produced with nothing but pure greed in mind. That kind of thing is more than okay in my book. I love seeing the gruesome twosome on the silver screen together. They have a sort of mystique when the are preforming together, almost like they can't lose. In fact they kind of remind me of those old tag teams back in the WWF; Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant or Hulk and Macho Man. You knew those teams were never going to lose.

Director: Lew Landers
Country: USA
Style: Mad Scientist Torture Horror

Did ya know...
Bela Lugosi didn't attend the premier! It was filmed in Los Angeles and Universal suggested that cinema owners write letters to high schools and colleges, so their teachers would suggest the film to students.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Condemned To Live (1935) - Frank Strayer

Haphazardly thrown together horror movies have been dripping out of Grindhouse theaters for decades; movies like this one which was shot in about a week and pushed out to make a quick buck. The acting is horrible and the actors look as if they are wearing found clothing; the picture is extra blurry and cuts in weird places as if they were filming it on scraps of reel tape. All of these quirks make it beautiful in its own way.

When examining Condemned to Live it is apparent that Frank Strayer came right off of the success of Vampire Bat (1933) and decided to repackage the movie and put it out again. The movie has no real "Monster" to speak of, in fact the villain (known as "the Fiend" in this picture) is more of a repackaging of a psychotic with vampiristic overtones; Professor Kristen doesn't ever actually drink the blood of his victims but he does gnaw on their necks. The village in the movie is taken right out of "The Bride of Frankenstein" and they even throw in a hunchback to drive home the fact that this is a horror movie. He isn't even needed.

The movie is pretty tame and most of the killings are done off screen and didn't hold up my interest very well. The movie is bland and feels like it needs a shot of something to keep it on its toes. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone, but I wouldn't complain if it fell into a horror movie marathon at a local theater.

What good can there be in a hunchback?
  • Shot in 10 days
  • Used costumes and sets from The Bride of Frankenstein
  • Used the same music and a few sets from The Vampire Bat

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Black Room (1935) - Roy William Neill

The Black Room is a magnificent little movie from 1935 starring one Boris Karloff. He really hits a home run with his performance in this one. He plays the treacherous Gregor and even-keeled Anton, twin brothers prophesied to bring about the end of their lineage through murdering each-other. The story is set in the eighteenth century and has amazing design. The shots are vivid and beautiful for such an early production. I am so used to watching these low budget productions I sort of forget what a mainstream picture actually looks like. 

Like I said above, this movie is all about Boris Karloff's performance. It's perfect for anyone studying film or anyone that's curious about Karloff's work away from his usual fare. Acting as a twin isn't something that's that fantastical. However, it is something that is butchered a lot. No one beats Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. Karloff does a great job of keeping the same essence with the characters but having little details changed as well as the overall evilness that is Gregor. Prophecy tells that a family that started with two twin brothers murdering each-other in a black room and will end in the same fashion.

The film is really well paced and fits a lot into a short amount of time. However, if you are looking for something truly fiendish then look further on. This movie is a bit long winded and the action is very minimal. A quick carriage chase and a few screams. This movie is really tame for a horror feature and leans more on the side of period drama. 

If you are interested in other Karloff pieces that feature his acting. I would suggest The Raven and The Black Cat. Both are really entertaining and his characters are fantastic.

Perhaps you will come back from the dead to kill me?

  • Shooting began May 6, 1935, finished June 7, released July 15, 1935. Boris Karloff completed his scenes for "The Raven" one month earlier, on April 5.
  • Karloff's performance was voted runner-up to the best performance for the month of August, 1935 by the Screen Actors' Guild. Henry Fonda in "The Farmer takes a wife" and Will Rogers in "Steamboat 'Round the bend" tied for the top award.
  • Part of the SON OF SHOCK package of 21 titles released to television in 1958, which followed the original SHOCK THEATER release of 52 features one year earlier. This was also one of the 12 Columbia titles, the other 61 all being Universals.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - James Whale

One of the biggest films that James Whale ever directed was 1931's Frankenstein. The movie was so big that Universal Pictures asked Whale to come back and helm a sequel; thus The Bride of Frankenstein was born. This film is filled with suspense and terror, cheers and jeers. The Bride of Frankenstein is a rare type of movie; this is a sequel that actually holds its own when it goes toe to toe with its predecessor. 

I have been watching a lot of James Whale horror movies lately; he must have been one of the hardest working horror directors in the 30's. This movie is very special and acts as sort of a platform for Whale to express his sexuality. Although not outlandishly displayed it is speculated that the movie has huge homosexual overtones: The relationship between the hermit and the monster, and the relationship between Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Pretorius are two overt examples. This movie has been torn apart by modern film scholars. 

The movie starts right where the last movie left off. The monster escapes the fire and Dr. Frankenstein is found alive. The plan for this movie is to get a girl for Frankenstein's monster to mate with so they can make a race of weird zombie kids? Who knows?

The monster is more ferocious in this movie than he was in the previous. He killed a child in the first movie, however in this film the monster goes for quantity. There are a number of memorable scenes, many of which pushed the envelope of horror cinema in the early days. One such scene involves the monster staring longingly at his bride before she is reanimated; the critics panned this scene for its portrayal of necrophilia 

I really enjoyed the film; I think it flows together well and has an awesome storyline. The Bride was very attractive except for her screeching, and Karloff was incredible in the movie as well. He was really born to play this one part. I don't believe in typecasting, however this is what he should of been doing other than "The Raven". 

Director: James Whale
Country: USA
Style: Classic Monster

Did ya know...
The movie is full of Christian imagery including Frankenstein's monster in a crucifix like pose. The make-up artist paid close attention to the Monster's make-up. If you watch closely the monster's wounds actually heal while you watch the movie. The movie has been though many talks to do a remake. I would personally like to see Tim Burton do this remake with John Depp as the good Dr. Frankenstein. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Chloe, Love is Calling You! (1934) - Marshall Neilan

This movie was wrongly presented to me as a horror feature. Reviews and synopsis' of the film promised Voodoo Zombies. I was hoping for a movie a-la White Zombie and unfortunately I was left with this racist piece of garbage.

The movie is about a young mixed-race girl named Chloe, that returns to the bayou with her mother. Her mother is a voodoo witch named Mandy that has come back to take her revenge on the white plantation owner that killed her husband Sam some years back. Chloe, is being pined after by her handler Jim. A white guy that seems to be employed by Mandy or, for some reason, is just accompanying them on their journey. When Chloe runs into other white men in the movie they portray her as unclean and not pure. The movie has that certain eugenic flair that plagued a ton of American releases from this time. 

I waited for the horror to start throughout the entire movie and it never came. I feel like this was nothing more than a racist romantic comedy that tries to paint black people as horrific monsters or savages. There a numerous instances of Mandy dancing around a fire chanting. She flies of the handle and is painted as the obvious antagonist. Later in the movie when it is revealed that Chloe isn't related to Mandy, she literally jumps for joy. She had been so depressed the entire film about having even a drop of "black blood" in her system. 

Aside from the obvious flaws. The quality of the film has been deeply diminished. Missing frames, scratches, nudges, muddled audio, and over exposed film are all present here. I recommend this movie to anyone that is studying film or writing about movies from this period. It is a prime example of how narrow minded Hollywood used to be. Not that it's any better today.  

  • I watched a 57 minuet version on You should try to find the 62 minuet version. I bet they cut out all the "horror"
  • Produced by Pinnacle Productions, Inc.
  • Marshall Neilan is a well known director from the 20's. He has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Ghost Walks (1934) - Frank R. Strayer

Predictable and over the top. It's another old dark house movie that throws the crowd for a loop with... gasp! Twists! Actually a ton of twists with a lot of shill screaming! That doesn't necessarily equal a thrilling feature that can keep you on the edge of your seat.

The playwright Prescott Ames, his secretary, and Producer get into a car accident and need to find shelter for the night. They come upon Dr. Kent's house and he gladly takes them in. While at the house, Prescott Ames discovers his fiancee there already along with Terry Grey and his psychic sister Beatrice. The latter being treated by Doctor Kent for hysterics. However, something appears to be in the house with the group and it is killing people off left and right. Or is it all an elaborate hoax?  

This movie blends right in with all of the other horror movies released in the twenties and thirties. The old dark house storyline is tried and true. At least to this point in time. I have to hand it to Frank Strayer. He did throw me for a loop. I hadn't read about the film before viewing and I didn't expect the twists and turns. That was a really ballsy move for directors like that in the era. This movie has so many twists it actually borders on the edge of being entertaining. 

The effects are non-existent. Aside from the ending, everything happens off camera. Murders happen when you hear a shrill screech and perhaps a slump to the ground. It isn't scary. So don't worry about that. The movie is actually pretty funny. Our good friend Johnny Arthur delivers the bulk of the jokes. He uses his strongest effeminate act to deliver his humor, and there is tons of it. 

The movie doesn't deliver the scares. It barely delivers the entertainment. A product of it's time. It's hard to understand and at sometimes hard to pay attention to. The twists are actually executed pretty awesomely but the ending feels thrown together. Check out this movie and tell me but I think this movie was the best of the worst, it at least had a few things right.  

Herman Wood: Was tha - was that the clock?
Homer Erskine: Ye - yes, I - I - I guess so. I - I - I think so. It must have been. But it's a union clock.
Herman Wood: What do you mean?
Homer Erskine: Well, it strikes any old time.

  • This was released on DVD as part of a double-feature with A Walking Nightmare.
  • Originally produced by Invincible Pictures Corp.