The Shadow (1933)

THE SHADOW (1933)
Article #1126 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-14-2004
Posting Date: 9-11-2004
Directed by George A. Cooper
Featuring Henry Kendall, Elizabeth Allan, Filix Aylmer

Detectives try to track down and capture a blackmailing fiend known as The Shadow in an old dark house on a foggy night.

Those who pick up this movie hoping for something involving Lamont Cranston will find themselves disappointed; what we have here is another take on the “old dark house” genre, this one with a strong British feel that IMDB lists as being from both the United Kingdom and the United States. It’s pretty typical of the genre, with a shadowy figure lurking around the house, two subplots destined to throw you off track, and an extremely British comic relief mystery writer who stutters and jolly well uses the words “frightfully” and “jolly” too frightfully much. This being said, I can’t tell you what the best thing about this movie is, since it involves the ending, but I will go so far as to say that for once the identity of the villain is exactly who I hoped it would be. At any rate, I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how far along I come with this series of reviews, I’m sure there will always be another “old dark house” around the corner somewhere.

Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)

CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (1961)
Article #1125 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-13-2004
Posting Date: 9-10-2004
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Antony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Robert Towne

When Cuban refugees try to flee with the country’s treasury after the revolution, they hook up with gangsters who have decided they want the treasure for themselves. The gangsters begin killing off the Cubans while making it look as if a monster is doing it. Unfortunately for them, a real monster is also on the loose.

Director Roger Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith gave us two little comic gems, BUCKET OF BLOOD and LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, both of which rose above their low budgets to become cult classics. This was a third attempt by the team to put together another comedy, but this one falls flat on its face. It does manage to be sporadically funny, but the script is an unfocused mess; it’s poorly paced and structured, suffers badly from its low budget, and often ends up being just weird rather than funny. Furthermore, the movie was marketed as being a serious horror film rather than a comedy, and this surely disappointed those who were expecting something else. The monster is also very bad indeed; it looks like something you’d find in a Larry Buchanan movie. On the plus side, its topical backstory is a bit unusual for this type of thing, and in some ways it seems to be parodying spy movies before they really became big. Nonetheless, this one is a failure, and those expecting a repeat of BUCKET OF BLOOD or LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS certainly won’t find it here.

The Cosmic Man (1959)

THE COSMIC MAN (1959)
Article #1124 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-12-2004
Posting Date: 9-9-2004
Directed by Herbert S. Green
Featuring John Carradine, Bruce Bennett, Angela Greene

Scientists and the military investigate a spacecraft that comes to earth and hangs suspended in the air. Meanwhile, a resident of the spacecraft is prowling around the neighborhood.

Basically, what we have here is another low-budget stab at THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. It tries to be more mysterious by not allowing the alien to take center stage, but it constantly borrows from its source so as to leave little doubt as to whether the alien is a good guy or not. In short, he comes to earth, and then stays at an inn where he befriends the son of a single mother; he visits the lab of a scientist and solves one of his problems for him, and he visits a national landmark. Okay, I’m stretching the last one, but the saucer does land near Bronson Caverns. When it’s not borrowing from TDTESS, it has scenes of a) scientists talking pseudoscience, b) scientists arguing with military men, and c) really bad romantic scenes. John Carradine plays the cosmic man; he’s either shot in negative or bundled up in clothes and wearing what looks like a pair of gag glasses; they look like the type that Ernie Kovacs wore when he played Percy Dovetonsils. About the only recommendation I can give is that it is more fun than STRANGER FROM VENUS.

Conqueror Worm (1968)

CONQUEROR WORM (1968)
(a.k.a. MATTHEW HOPKINS: WITCHFINDER GENERAL)
Article #1123 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-11-2004
Posting Date: 9-8-2004
Directed by Michael Reeves
Featuring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies

When the father of a soldier’s fiancee is accused of and executed for witchcraft, the soldier swears to take revenge.

I first saw this movie years ago on commercial TV; that the movie was cut to ribbons should be no surprise to anyone who has seen it. This movie does not survive the censorship process; the brutality and violence that permeate this movie isn’t just important to the story; it is essential. This is because the movie is at least partially about the infectious nature of cruelty and sadistic violence and about how hatred and disgust can make us as brutal as those who inspire that hatred and disgust. Even though I don’t quite buy into the implied moral lesson that usually accompanies this theme (since I do not believe that a man who commits a single act of brutality under duress is the moral equivalent of a man who casually engages in acts of brutality on a regular basis), nonetheless, this movie argues its theme very well indeed. Vincent Price has never been more evil, and he’s never been less hammy; you are never given the impression that you are supposed to like him or celebrate his acts, and this is one factor that makes the movie work. The ending is indeed shocking (the protracted scream that almost closes the movie is definitely well-earned), but it is also terribly sad as well; it is no surprise that the soundtrack to this movie foregoes an air of horror in favor of an air of bitter sadness and loss. Unfortunately, the movie isn’t without its flaws; it uses that melody at least once too often before it’s all over, there is at least one day-for-night scene that doesn’t appear to have been fixed in post-production, and the Poe poem in the final moments is out of place. Nonetheless, this bleak horror film packs a punch that will not soon be forgotten.

Color Me Blood Red (1965)

COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965)
Article #1122 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-10-2004
Posting Date: 9-7-2004
Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis
Featuring Gordon Oas-Heim, Candi Conder, Elyn Warner

In order to win critical acclaim, an artist tries to find just the right shade of red for his paintings. He discovers that blood provides that shade of red.

After watching the movie, I caught the trailer for this Herschell Gordon Lewis gorefest, and discovered that it used the “It’s only a movie” catchphrase seven years before it was adopted for LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. Still, I don’t think audiences ever had to worry about this one. the poor set designs, rotten sound quality and occasional horrible acting all combine to perpetually remind you that you are indeed watching a movie rather than experiencing a real life horror.

On the other hand, either I’ve just gotten used to Lewis’s directing style or this movie is a somewhat better than BLOOD FEAST or GRUESOME TWOSOME. He doesn’t seem quite as obsessed here with just throwing blood and gore on the screen; he actually seems somewhat interested in the way the plot unfolds. Furthermore, the acting is generally better than in those other movies (on the average, that is; there are still some very bad moments) and he actually seems to be making some focused satirical statements; when the artist turns to the critic and says “I hope you’re satisfied.” at one point, the irony actually has an impact. Furthermore, Lewis does have a sense of humor, and even if he doesn’t work it very well, he still managed to get a laugh out of me at one point (the last line). It’s still not what I would call a good movie, and he still tries to disgust from time to time, but the movie proved to be less unwatchable than his other fare. Still, I myself can’t help but appreciate the irony that whereas Lewis added gore to his movies to make them more commercially viable, the artist in the movie engages in bloody murder in order to be gain critical acceptance. There may have been more to Lewis than meets the eye after all.

Cat Girl (1957)

CAT GIRL (1957)
Article #1121 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-9-2004
Posting Date: 9-6-2004
Directed by Alfred Shaughnessy
Featuring Barbara Shelley, Robert Ayres, Kay Callard

A woman returns to her ancestral home to discover that she is under the family curse involving a leopard.

One of the most interesting aspects of this movie is that the woman is not a were-cat, despite the fact that she dreams she is at one point in the proceedings. Rather, she seems to share her soul with a leopard who does its killing at her bidding. This, combined with some good atmosphere and a decent performance by Barbara Shelley are the strengths of this movie, which is for the most part a rather weak recycling of Lewton’s THE CAT PEOPLE. I think it’s interesting to compare the two movies; in particular, I couldn’t help but notice that though both movies share the plot element of a troubled marriage, in the earlier movie, the marriage is a direct result of the curse and is inextricably tied to the central theme. Here the marriage is troubled before the curse manifests itself, and largely exists to set up an excuse for the first leopard attack; it’s incidental to the plot and could be easily replaced by some other element. The story here seems a little confused; I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to sympathize with the Shelley character or merely see her as a threat; this impression changes depending on which scene it is in the movie. I also have no confidence in the brainpower of the Robert Ayres character in this one; he’s fully aware that the “cursed” (or “mentally disturbed”) woman is in love with him and is jealous of his wife, yet he decides that the way to return her to normalcy is to have her spend an unsupervised day with his wife. It doesn’t matter whether he believes in the curse or not here; it’s just a really stupid thing to do.

Alucarda (1978)

ALUCARDA (1978)
(a.k.a. SISTERS OF SATAN)
Article #1120 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-8-2004
Posting Date: 9-5-2001
Directed by Juan Moctezuma
Featuring Claudio Brook, Tina Romero, Susana Kamini

Two young women staying at a convent become worshippers of Satan.

The blurb that graces the cover of the DVD of this movie is from the Psychotronic Film Guide, and describes the movie as having “More blood, loud screaming and nudity than any horror movie [he] can think of”. That’s probably a fairly accurate description, though the fact that the quote appears on the front cover of the DVD is a sign that those marketing the movie aren’t exactly aiming for the audience that appreciates subtlety. For those who are curious, yes, there is quite a bit of full-frontal female nudity in this one. There is also a LOT of screaming, and I’m glad I took the cautious step of listening to the movie over headphones, else I would have annoyed and alarmed the neighbors, not to mention my wife. There is also a wealth of blood, but this is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the movie; I couldn’t help but notice that the blood occurs in almost equal measure on both sides of the struggle between good and evil; the blood ceremony and the dead woman who rises from a blood-filled coffin on the side of evil, while on the side of good, we have a bloody exorcism, stigmata, and flagellation, not to mention the fact that the (white) gowns of the nuns of the convent all look like they have blood stains on them. However, despite the occasionally effective use of sound, a nice visual sense, the occasional interesting idea and it’s intense desire to shock, I’m afraid that the movie didn’t have any real impact on me; once it was over, it was over. All in all, the effect was akin to watching a Jean Rollin movie with the artiness level turned way down, and though I’m no big Rollin fan, his movies do linger in way that this one doesn’t. The movie isn’t without interest, but I do think it is primarily for those who would be impressed by the blurb on the front cover.

Tower of Terror (1941)

TOWER OF TERROR (1941)
Article #1119 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-7-2004
Posting Date: 9-4-2001
Directed by Lawrence Huntington
Featuring Wilfrid Lawson, Michael Rennie, Movita

A mentally unstable hook-armed lighthouse keeper, an escapee from a concentration camp, and a British spy find themselves thrown together on an island just off the coast of Germany.

This British spy drama starts off with an intriguing premise, as the three central characters are such an interesting combination that one truly wonders where the story will lead. Unfortunately, the story becomes less interesting and a little far-fetched as it progresses, with certain revelations that feel unnecessary (the true fate of the lighthouse keeper’s wife would have worked better in another story), and certain events make no sense to me (in particular, I can’t really understand why the Germans find it necessary to bomb their own lighthouse). As it is, the movie is mostly notable for providing us with an early performance from Michael Rennie. For the most part, the movie is a spy melodrama, though it steers into horror in the final moments when one character goes completely mad.

A Study in Terror (1965)

A STUDY IN TERROR (1965)
Article #1118 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-6-2004
Posting Date: 9-3-2001
Directed by James Hill
Featuring John Neville, Donald Houston, John Fraser

Sherlock Holmes finds himself on the trail of Jack the Ripper.

The fact that someone would come up with a story in which Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper seems inevitable to me; both are icons of their own types inhabiting roughly the same milieu, and the appeal of the greatest fictional detective of them all matching wits with the most notorious perpetrator of a series of unsolved murders is an irresistible concept. This isn’t the only time they’ve been set against each other, but it’s a good one. The story feels legitimately Holmesian, and the casting is exquisite; John Neville makes for one of the finest Holmes I’ve ever seen, Donald Houston plays Watson with just the right amount of stuffiness without descending into the comic antics of Nigel Bruce, and it is a treat to see Robert Morley take on the role of Mycroft. In fact, the whole cast does beautifully, especially Anthony Quayle and Frank Finlay. If the movie has any real weakness, i’d say it would be that it can’t resist the exploitational nature of the story; it spends a little too much of its running time dealing with prostitutes plying their trade in low cut gowns (which has its appeal, I will admit, but it does slow down the story). The movie’s executive producer was Herman Cohen, and it may be the finest movie he was ever involved with.

Genius at Work (1946)

GENIUS AT WORK (1946)
Article #1117 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2004
Posting Date: 9-2-2001
Directed by Leslie Goodwins
Featuring Wally Brown, Alan Carney, Anne Jeffreys

Two radio detectives find themselves targets of a murdering fiend when their on-the-air recreations of the murders prove to be too accurate.

The last time I saw Lionel Atwill and Bela Lugosi team up for a comedy was for THE GORILLA (1939). I find the sense of deja vu pretty strong here; like that one, I felt that the horror and suspense elements were a lot more successful than the comedy. I don’t find Brown and Carney to be as desperately unfunny as the Ritz Brothers were in that earlier movie, but that’s only because they were less strident; whereas the Ritzes came across as potentially funny comedians who simply didn’t have any material to work with, Brown and Carney come across as merely lukewarm imitations of Abbott and Costello. Incidentally, Brown and Carney are playing characters of the same names as the ones they played in ZOMBIES ON BROADWAY (also with Bela Lugosi), though I can’t really say whether they were supposed to be the same characters. Fans of Atwill, Lugosi, or that earlier movie might like this one; me, I’d opt for the movie in which Lugosi teams up with the real Abbott and Costello than this one.