The Blue Light (1932)

Article #620 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-25-2002
Posting date: 4-20-2003

A strange blue light shines in a mountain and lures men to their deaths. The only person who can come close to it is a woman who is ostracized for being a witch. A stranger falls in love with her.

This movie qualifies for fantastic cinema by the rather compelling mystery of its central premise; we don’t know what the blue light is, but we feel it has a mystical pull to it, and this sucks us into the tale. Ultimately, it is all explained away in non-fantastic terms, so the movie becomes less fantastic as a result; still, this isn’t a whole lot different than many a movie that promises a monster and fails to deliver one in place of a mundane explanation. My print runs a little over fifty minutes; I’ve seen it timed from anywhere to seventy to ninety minutes, so it is quite possible my print is incomplete. It was directed by Leni Riefenstahl, who also plays Junta, the central character; Hitler was so impressed with this movie, he put her in charge of making propaganda movies for the Third Reich; one can only wonder what direction her career might have gone if this had not happened. I could see why he was impressed; there are some breathtaking moments here. It’s also a little slow and confusing at times, but not fatally so, and if I do have an incomplete print, that may be the reason.


Phantom of the Opera (1943)

Article #619 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-24-2002
Posting date: 4-19-2003

An understudy of the Paris Opera must choose between her lovers (a baritone with a pencil-thin moustache or a policeman with a pencil-thin moustache) or a career as an opera diva. She is also being stalked by a phantom.

If the above description spends more time on the soap opera aspects of the story rather than the horror content, there’s a reason for that. In fact, to further labor the point, I’m going to eschew my usual habit of capitalizing movie titles in their entirety to make a point; whereas the silent version of the story could be titled “PHANTOM of the Opera”, this version could be titled “Phantom of the OPERA”. The movie seems to want to avoid letting on it’s a horror movie; most of the running time is taken up with the above silly soap opera plot, tepid comic relief and opera (admittedly, the opera is pretty good for what it is, but you still have to be a fan of it); most of the time spent on the phantom is in his backstory rather than his haunting of the opera. Which is not to say that Claude Rains doesn’t do well; he’s easily the most compelling character in the movie, particularly during the backstory sequence. However, you’ll notice he only received third-billing; Nelson Eddy (as the baritone) receives top billing, and he sings quite a bit. The movie gives me the feeling that Universal was more than a little embarrassed by its horror roots and tried to become a class act by emphasizing opera; after all, what could be classier? Give me the Lon Chaney version, please.

The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Article #618 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-23-2002
Posting date: 4-18-2003

A newly-married couple become stranded on their honeymoon, and encounter a friendly nobleman who turns out to have vampiric plans for the bride.

A single glimpse at the title tells you it’s about vampires, and if it played out all the usual vampire scenarios and trappings I wouldn’t have a great deal of use for the movie. However, that is not the case; the vampires here have a social structure of sorts which makes their modus operandi a very different thing than you usually find in movies of this ilk, and the movie gets a great deal of mileage out of carefully drawing you into their methods. Furthermore, there are some interesting characters; the Van Helsing type may be a hero, but he is also a grief-stricken drunkard, definitely not the usual hero type. In fact, personal loss and tragedy plays a strong role in this movie, making it more immediate and compelling, more sad and more real. The only unfortunate part of the movie is that the ambitious ending is marred by less-than-convincing special effects, but I’m willing to forgive the movie this, if for no other reason that it works so strongly, sadly and beautifully up to that point. Though I am not a particular fan of Hammer, this one has very quickly become one of my favorites of theirs.

Horrors of Spider Island (1960)

Article #617 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-22-2002
Posting date: 4-17-2003

A troupe of dancers is stranded on an island, and their manager is bitten by a giant spider and turns into a hideous monster.

The original name for this foreign film was EIN TOTER HING IM NETZ, which translates as “A body hangs in the web”; yes, there is a body hanging in a web, and this kicks off the horror part of the story, but this is one of those movies where you wondered why they bothered with the horror at all. Actually, of all the titles, IT’S HOT IN PARADISE is the most accurate; the movie is a lot more interested in the dancers in various states of undress than in any monster. The DVD notes describe the movie as almost being a nudie, and it’s an apt description. The movie largely consists of badly dubbed dancers talking, fighting, dancing, etc. And for anyone who thinks this sounds like a real treat, I do feel the need to point out that the guy who cast this likes his women big; there’s not a Twiggy in the bunch here. In fact, they don’t look so much like dancers as they do female wrestlers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but you might find yourself disappointed if you don’t share his tastes.

Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966)

Article #616 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-21-2002
Posting date: 4-16-2003

A priceless opal turns out to be the egg of a fierce monster that has the ability to freeze things with his tongue and shoot deadly rainbows from his back. Gamera comes to the rescue.

The best way to watch a foreign movie is in a subtitled version, but if dubbed versions are all that is available to you, you have two choices here; the version entitled WAR OF THE MONSTERS is an AIP version from the sixties, while GAMERA VS. BARUGON is the Sandy Frank version. The latter version is longer, but the dubbing is horribly substandard; the earlier AIP version actually shows a lot more care in that regard, and the main scenes that it seems to be missing are some meetings with military officials that are easily covered in short narration segments. Gamera movies (from the sixties) were low-rent versions of Godzilla movies, but there are points of interest in this one; for one thing, it was probably the most adult movie of the series, with a stronger dose of violence than the others (among the humans, that is). It’s still pretty silly, with Barugon a highly improbable creature, but the whole thing takes itself quite seriously indeed. And there’s not a single six-year-old in short pants to be found!

One side note: Gamera must have a really bad publicity agent in the states; not only did they misspell his name in the first American version (GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE), but in the WAR OF THE MONSTERS version, they mispronounce it, with the middle syllable accented (guh-MARE-uh) instead of rhyming with camera.

The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)

Article #615 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-20-2002
Posting date: 4-15-2003

A woman trying to blackmail several men is murdered during a party, and a man under suspicion by the police must solve the mystery before the police arrive, or else be arrested himself for the murder.

This enjoyable mystery thriller (with some distinct horror elements; in particular, the method of murder and the existence of a possible ghost of a man who committed suicide) has an interesting story behind it; it was apparently the final episode of a radio serial and those who were following the serial had to come to the movie to see the solution to the mystery. Those who did not follow the serial need not worry about coming in the middle of the story; it pretty much holds up on its own as a movie, though I do sense a more elaborate framework of story than I see here. Nonetheless, it’s a very entertaining mystery; the horror elements are solid and satisfying, the investigation takes an impressive number of twists and turns, and there are a lot of fun character roles to keep the interest level high. The flashbacks in particular are well-handled and sharp. The movie isn’t particularly well-known today, but it’s worth a look for anyone interested in hunting it out.

Orgy of the Dead (1965)

Article #614 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-19-2002
Posting date: 4-14-2003

A writer and his girlfriend become prisoners of creatures of the night who force them to watch striptease dances in an old graveyard.

The movie ED WOOD didn’t cover Wood’s declining years, when he ended up making pornographic movies, and finally couldn’t even find work there. This movie hovers somewhat between those two phases; it’s a nudie rather than full-blown pornography, and was directed by A. C. Stephens from a script by Wood based on a novel written by him. Criswell is on hand as the prince of darkness. The dialogue is hilarious and the acting is horrible, but what would you really expect? Yet ultimately, the story only exists as an excuse for an endless parade of striptease dances, and though this may sound like it might have a certain appeal, the sad fact of the matter is that a little goes a long way, and I found it hard to keep awake during this one. It doesn’t help that there’s so much fog that it obscures the “action” much of the time. Nor does it help that the music doesn’t sync up with the dancing; you can tell the strippers are dancing to something, but it’s obviously not the music you’re hearing. After a while, I just found myself waiting for the moments between the dances, when the characters (including a mummy with a fear of snakes and a werewolf) engage in their discussions of the action. A curiosity, to be sure, but you’ll need to keep some caffeine (or the fast forward) on hand. Incidentally, Criswell’s opening dialogue is the same speech that opened Wood’s NIGHT OF THE GHOULS.

Nightmare Castle (1965)

Article #613 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-18-2002
Posting date: 4-14-2003

A scientist tortures and murders his wife and her lover, uses the blood to restore the youth of his lover, and then marries his former wife’s sister in order to get the inheritance.

One of the aspects of Italian horror movies that made me feel somewhat ambivalent about trying them out was their obsession with sadism; they seem to linger on long sequences of torture (especially against women) with emphasis on pain, and these tend to make their movies very unpleasant. In the hands of someone like Bava, it has its uses (quite frankly, he does an amazing job with the theme in THE WHIP AND THE BODY), but it’s movies like this one that generally drive me away. I feel the need to point out that my print of the movie is none too good, and the dubbing on it is even worse than usual for this type of movie, so this may color my feelings about it, but there’s not much here to make me feel that a subtitled print would raise it to the level of a movie that I would like. The story feels overly familiar, as if there’s nothing I’ve seen here that I haven’t seen in other (better) movies, and the unpleasant first ten minutes just makes the whole thing a rather nasty affair. Most likely, I won’t bother with this one again unless I’m given reason to believe that a subtitled version is clearly several times superior.

The Night Stalker (1972)

Article #612 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-17-2002
Posting date: 4-13-2003

A vampire is loose in Las Vegas, and an ambitious reporter attempts to get the authorities to realize what they are dealing with.

The first time I had a chance to see this in its entirety was long after I had been familiar with the Kolchak character throught the TV series, and I found certain aspects of the original TV-Movie to be somewhat jarring, particularly the fact that Kolchak had a girlfriend; this has more to do with the nature of a TV series (where you gain a certain intimacy with a character who you see week after week) versus that of a movie (in which your total experience with a character is most likely for the length of that movie). Produced by Dan Curtis, and with an excellent script by Richard Matheson, this movie took an unusual approach to the vampire story, putting special emphasis on the aspects of how the police and the government would handle a series of murders that belong more to the world of legend rather than the more mundane criminals they usually deal with. Still, it is Darren McGavin who steals the whole movie, with a character who is something of a modern version of the wise-cracking reporters so common in the thirties, but updated and given dimension to flesh him out; he is unforgettable. The movie also establishes Kolchak’s perpetual boss/antagonist, Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo, his editor, who, though something of a minor character here, would be the only character in the movie that would follow Kolchak through his later investigations. The vampire is played by Barry Atwater, and I couldn’t help but note that one of the many aliases of the vampire was Bela Blasko, the true name of Bela Lugosi.

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Article #611 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 11-16-2002
Posting date: 4-12-2003

A man comes down from outer space carrying the embryos of an alien life form.

This American International cheapie has some interesting ideas, and the story seems somewhat like a cross between two pictures from Executive Producer Roger Corman, notably, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS and IT CONQUERED THE WORLD. Unfortunately, both of those movies have better acting and a more solidly realized script; this movie suffers from poor exposition, lackluster direction, and uninspired performances, all of which contribute to making the movie a lot duller than it should have been. Certainly, the idea of a man being made the host for the fetuses of aliens would get better use in ALIEN twenty years later, but this is probably the first time the idea was used. It’s a little sad; with a little more work on the script, more care and a better cast, this one could have been a winner rather than a disappointment. This was not AIP’s finest hour.