Earthbound (1940)

Article #870 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-2-2003
Posting Date: 12-30-2003
Directed by Irving Pichel
Featuring Warner Baxter, Andrea Leeds, Lynn Bari

A man is murdered by an ex-lover, and his ghost tries to help his wife unravel the murder.

Title check: Since a ghost who can’t go to heaven is indeed earthbound, the title is appropriate. Unfortunately, the title reminds me of a stupid science fiction movie from the early eighties, which is, of course, not this movie’s fault. It just reminds me that I’ll have to cover that movie some day.

This is a remake of a movie from 1920 of the same name. It starts out strong, but once the murder occurs, the movie loses a bit of steam. I get a bit annoyed at how long it takes for the murder victim to figure out he’s a ghost, and ultimately the movie never really finds novel ways to handle the concept. Granted, this one predates some other movies with similar plots, but they tend to be a bit more creative with their concept than this one is. It may be of interest to fans of ghost movies, but you may want to keep your expectations at a reasonable level.


Demons of the Mind (1972)

Article #869 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-1-2003
Posting Date: 12-29-2003
Directed by Peter Sykes
Featuring Patrick Magee, Robert Hardy, Shane Briant

A depraved Baron keeps his children prisoner for fear that they have inherited his own sickness.

Title check: Actually quite appropriate, as the horror is somewhat mental in nature, as well as the fact that the deaths in the area are thought to be the work of demons by the peasantry.

Was this Hammer’s last great movie or is it self-indulgent twaddle? This seems to be a question that arises when this movie is discussed; the movie has its ardent supporters as well as its critics. Visually, it’s intriguing enough, and it’s always fascinating to look at. The story remains obscure for a lot of the movie, though, and you need to keep on your toes and pay attention to key scenes to figure out just what’s going on. Being a Hammer movie from the seventies, there is a lot of blood (the nastiest scene is a suicide sequence that is only seen in obscurely-shot flashback sequences) and an excess of nudity; there is at least one nude sequence that is completely gratuitous. I found it all quite fascinating, but it may be of more interest to fans of art film than to horror fans. Use your judgment on this one.

Dead Eyes of London (1961)

Article #868 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-31-2003
Posting Date: 12-28-2003
Directed by Alfred Vohrer
Featuring Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin Baal, Dieter Borsche

A series of murders of wealthy men who have taken out recent insurance policies comes under the investigation of Scotland Yard, and a sinister home for the blind comes under suspicion.

Title check: Another nice title, and an exact translation of the German title, DIE TOTEN AUGEN VON LONDON.

This is the first of the Edgar Wallace series of movies from Germany that I’ve seen. This same story was also filmed in the thirties as THE HUMAN MONSTER, with Bela Lugosi, and if you’ve seen and remembered that movie, it will clue you in on a few of the revelations that pop up in this one. The movies are far from identical, however; the plot of this one is much more involved (I have to admit I was left in the dust plotwise at several points). However, the movie is worthwhile enough to merit a second look to figure out certain points of the story, as it is packed with interesting and offbeat characters (the Scotland Yard sergeant who knits, for example) and memorable moments (I love where Judd keeps his cigarettes). The death scenes are very memorable, and it may be a while before you peek through any holes in the walls after seeing this one. Klaus Kinski has a pivotal role as an assistant to Judd. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of these.

Dark Waters (1944)

Article #867 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-30-2003
Posting Date: 12-27-2003
Directed by Andre de Toth
Featuring Merle Oberon, Franchot Tone, Thomas Mitchell

A woman recovering from a traumatic boat accident ends up staying with relatives in a Louisiana bayou, when strange things begin happening.

Title check: An extremely good one, as it does triple time meaning the dark waters in which the heroine’s parents died, the dark waters of the Louisiana bayou, and the dark waters of the mind.

Screenwriter Joan Harrison wrote this one, and she’s also written several scripts for Alfred Hitchcock. Maybe if Hitchcock had directed this one, it might have kicked it into the suspense overdrive it needed. As it is, it’s a passable GASLIGHT variation, helped a little by the fact that for once the female victim of the plot is suffering from something more than just some vague mental illness (she’s suffering from what I believe is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder brought about by a tragic boat accident that killed her parents), and there are several familiar character actors to brighten the proceedings, like Thomas Mitchell, John Qualen, Rex Ingram and Elisha Cook Jr. I wonder what psychologists would think of the ending, where the heroine is spontaneously cured of all her mental illnesses.

By the way, this is an excellent movie in which to play the “How long will it be before Elisha Cook Jr. dies?” game, especially if played with an added game of figuring out how he’s going to die. If you’re alert, you should be able to figure out the method of death long before it actually occurs.

The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938)

Article #866 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-29-2003
Posting Date: 12-26-2003
Directed by William Witney and John English
Featuring Lee Powell, Herman Brix, Eleanor Stewart

Two marines seek out an evil villain known as The Lightning.

Title check: Devil Dogs appear to be marines in this case. Maybe they didn’t want to call it THE FIGHTING MARINES to avoid it being confused with the 1935 serial of the same name, which this one somewhat resembles.

Republic always seems to add that extra touch of decent production values to their serials that make them more watchable than a lot of the competition; the spectacle is usually pretty good, and they know how to use music effectively. This one is pretty solid, and the electric torpedo used by The Lightning makes for a nice effect (though I have to admit, I kept thinking the villain should have been called The Lightning something-or-other rather than just The Lightning). Episode seven is another one of those annoying ones that mostly consists of footage from episode one, and I know I’ve seen the cliffhanger from episode eight in at least one other serial (a man is almost crushed in a motorboat as he tries to steer it between two ships moving close to each other), but since I can’t remember which serial that was, I don’t know if this one lifted it from that serial or vice versa. Nevertheless, it has a good variety of action and is entertaining enough; all in all, a better-than-average serial.

The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Article #865 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2003
Posting Date: 12-25-2003
Directed by Nick Grinde
Featuring Boris Karloff, Lorna Gray, Robert Wilcox

A scientist who is experimenting with an artificial heart is arrested by the police when he kills a student in order to bring him back to life with the heart. He swears revenge on the judge and jury who condemn him to be executed.

Title check: Actually, the title is not true; though he does come back to life, they certainly were able to hang him. Still, the title has a nicer ring to it than THE MAN WHO WOULDN’T STAY DEAD.

This was the first of the Columbia Mad Doctor movies Boris Karloff made for the studio. It’s pretty standard, starting out as fairly ordinary mad scientist fare and then turning into a sort of ‘old dark house’ variant where people trapped in a room are picked off one by one. Nevertheless, it’s not bad; Karloff gives a strong performance, and there are several touches here and there (particularly near the end) that I quite like, especially a moment where Karloff’s daughter gambles on her father’s affection for her in a bid to save the trapped people. Though I don’t think the story is as interesting as the one in THE DEVIL COMMANDS, I did find it somewhat more compelling than BEFORE I HANG.

The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962)

Article #864 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-27-2003
Posting Date: 12-24-2003
Directed by Maury Dexter
Featuring Kent Taylor, Marie Windsor, William Mims

The family of a scientist in charge of a Mars exploration project begin to find doppelgangers of themselves at the luxurious estate in which they’re staying.

Title check: I’m sorry, but I expect a lot more from a movie with a title like that than this one delivers; they should have called it THE DAY MARS ANNOYED SOME PEOPLE ON A LUXURIOUS ESTATE.

This movie has a good first two minutes and a good last two minutes. Unfortunately, it has a middle, and the middle drags the movie down. The problem is not the basic idea of the story; the doppelganger concept had been used successfully in science fiction at least twice during the fifties (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE); there may be others. It’s just that the movie has to do more with the concept than have people wander about the estate and spot doppelgangers, which takes up most of the running time. In fact, so much time in the movie is spent with people silently wandering around the estate, that I wonder if the movie was actually a real estate film; it’s a beautiful place, and if I only had the money. . ., but a real estate sales pitch doesn’t build suspense, a commodity this movie needs badly. I do wonder if the Martians in this movie are related to the DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, though; like that movie, this one involves people going all fuzzy on occasion. Incidentally, going all fuzzy isn’t scary, either.

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

Article #863 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2003
Posting Date: 12-23-2003
Directed by Sidney Hayers
Featuring Janet Blair, Peter Wyngarde, Margaret Johnston

A college professor discovers that his wife is using witchcraft, and destroys her charms, thus opening the door to supernatural revenge from an enemy.

Title check: Both titles are appropriate, though they don’t make much sense until the end of the movie.

This is the second cinematic adaptation I’ve seen of Fritz Lieber’s ‘Conjure Wife’, the first having been the Inner Sanctum movie WEIRD WOMAN. This one is more ambitious and plays up the horror elements to a much greater degree; it’s also somewhat more hysterical and sacrifices some of the subtlety of the earlier movie. The professor I found to be quite stupid at times, and at others inexplicably perceptive, and some of the scenes that are supposed to be scary actually come across as a bit silly. Nonetheless, it builds up to a much tenser climax than the earlier film, and even if some of the symbolic moments are a bit too obvious (it’s a little too blatant about the word that gets eradicated from the sentence on the blackboard), and the very ending a hair too convenient, it works well enough. It should be interesting to read the original novel sometime to see which of the movies is truer to it.

Things Happen at Night (1947)

Article #862 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-25-2003
Posting Date: 12-22-2003
Directed by Francis Searle
Featuring Gerry Marsh, Olga Linda, Beatrice Campbell

A poltergeist takes possession of a young woman, and a psychic investigator tries to exorcise it.

Title check: Technically, many things do happen at night in this movie, so I can’t find any fault with the title.

I don’t know how many movies were made about poltergeists, but this appears to be one of the earlier ones. Since it’s largely a slapstick comedy, it’s certainly not one of the scarier ones, as this poltergeist’s particular trick seems to be to drop vases on people’s heads. The beginning is confusing, but after you sort out the characters, it settles down, and though it never really becomes hilarious, it’s congenial enough. All in all, a minor but fitfully enjoyable British ghost comedy.

Men Must Fight (1933)

Article #861 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-24-2003
Posting Date: 12-21-2003
Directed by Edgar Selwyn
Featuring Diana Wynyard, Lewis Stone, Phillips Holmes

A woman becomes pregnant by a man who then dies during World War I. When a new war begins in 1940, she tries to prevent her son from going to war.

Title check: The title is quite appropriate in its way, considering the way the story works out.

As far as anti-war movies go, I prefer ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT or J’ACCUSE (the sound version of this one also falls into the category of fantastic cinema); this one has its points, but it is endlessly preachy. It falls into the category of science fiction as it takes place seven years after the year it was made; the Euroasian war of this movie bears a much greater resemblance to WWI than it does WWII, starting off as it does with an assassination. It does explore something of the difficulty of standing up against a war when patriotism runs rampant and pacifism is interpreted as cowardice. There is some footage of New York getting bombed, but it takes up no more than a minute or so of screen time; the rest is stagebound talk. The ending is even a hair ambiguous; we do not learn the ultimate fate of the son, for example. Nevertheless, this movie could be used as an effective starting point for discussions on the nature of war, pacifism, courage and other related issues.