Friday, November 9, 2018

Strangler of the Swamp (1946)

The ghost of the bayou ferryman, executed for a murder he did not commit, haunts the swamp. Before he died he cursed everyone responsible and their descendants. When people turn up strangled, the old wives know who is responsible. Pretty and strong willed Maria, grand daughter of a strangled, returns to her old town to take the now vacant job of ferry-person. She doesn’t buy into any of this superstitious nonsense. Know who else doesn’t? Young Chris (Blake Edwards - Yes, THAT Blake Edwards) who also returns to town and strikes up a fancy for pretty and strong willed Maria.

The entirety of this no-budget thriller takes place in three locations: The ferryman’s cabin, the ferry itself, and rich Chris’ rich dad’s fancy house. They spoke of other places, but we don’t get to see them. Sets cost cash, you know. Blake Edwards used to be an actor, apparently. He did a lot of uncredited background work before becoming one of the best writers in history. Charles the Merciless Middleton played the haunted ferryman.

Short and atmospheric, Strangler of the Swamp isn’t bad for what it is. What it is, however, is somewhat dull and predictable. AMRU 2.5.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Walking Dead (1936)

A judge who convicted a gangster is murdered, and a simple ex-con (Boris Karloff) is framed for it. Testimony from two young lab assistance could exonerate him, but they come forward seconds too late. So their scientist-boss (Edmund Gwenn) gets custody of the body (all you need to do is ask, apparently) and brings him back to life. Seems revived Boris knows things that pre-dead Boris didn’t. Santa is anxious to learn how.

This Warner Brothers gangster/horror film was directed by Michael Curtiz who directed a dozen films a year from the early teens until he dropped dead, of exhaustion I presume. Karloff is fantastic as the understated simpleton raised from the dead. Santa was Santa as always.

The studio was clearly banking on the Frankenstein associations. Karloff Frankensteined his way after the gangsters and Gwenn even gave a “He’s Alive” upon his revival. The gothic trappings were not present (well, there is that one graveyard scene) but studios know how to sacrifice originality for ticket sales. But don't judge them too harshly. Karloff was something of a phenomenon at the time and money is money.

All in all, The Walking Dead is a plus horror film. There is a bit more going on than risen-monster-seeks-revenge. There are a few elements at play and Karloff showed some unexpected range. Make no mistake, it's still a B picture, but a well done one. AMRU 3.5.
“The Lord thy God is a jealous God!”

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Astounding She-Monster (1957)

A rich socialite is kidnapped by a band of misfit criminals and taken to a cabin in the woods where a hunky geologist lives. But unbeknownst to them, a glowing hot chick from space with outrageous makeup is stalking them. Yea, that just about sums this one up.

I was no more than ten minutes into this film before I realized that I was in for a treat. No, not treat. The opposite. Torture? Yea, lets go with that. For starters is the smarmy narration and clearly dubbed voices. I thought I was watching the second coming of the film which mustn’t be named. I was somewhat relieved when it progressed to actual dialog. Somewhat.

This low budget release is mostly six actors in one location. The dog, actually, is one of the actors actual dog. Apparently our glowing dominatrix ripped her costume in the back and had to walk backwards out of some scenes because they couldn’t fix it. Her costume was supposed to make her appear naked for sexually frustrated 1950’s audiences. Sadly for sexually frustrated modern audiences, the effect wasn’t very successful. She just slowly walks around, appears out of nowhere when the plot requires it, and kills with one touch of her glowing, radioactive hand.

Not original, poorly acted, not terribly interesting, and ladened with high-minded exposition. The lack of budget and creativity is apparent in every frame. A definite skipper. AMRU 2.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Black Room (1935)

Family history has it that the de Berghmann family started when twins were born and the older murdered the younger in The Black Room. Consequently, the family would end the same way. For this reason the Black Room is sealed up. Enter Gregor and Anton.

The evil Baron Gregor (Boris Karloff) is much despised by his people. Something about young women disappearing, although that is never fully explained. Good brother Anton returns (also Boris Karloff, but with a paralyzed right arm) and ties to mend old grudges. Grumpy Gregor has his eye on hot young Thea. When another young woman disappears the townspeople storm the castle for Gregor’s head. Instead Gregor abdicates his position to gentile Anton, whom everybody loves. And everyone lives happily ever after, and there is definitely no comeuppance, prophecy be damned.

While the split screen effects were not extensive, they were very well handled, especially considering the year. And whomever played the back side of Karloff’s head while talking to him definitely looked the part. Low budget horror is rife with examples of poor stand-in choices (I'm looking at you, Plan 9!). Also, Karloff was enough of an actor to pull off two characters.

The movie plays like a costume period piece with horror overtones. Predictable but atmospheric and short, and is one of Karloffs highest rated thrillers. Better than the prior two, but still AMRU 3.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Some rich dude (Christopher Lee) and his buddy Rex discover that a young friend has joined a satanic cult. Our hero uses every method illegal to save him from a fate worse than freedom of religion. He calls up all sorts of arcane knowledge and artifacts to rescue him. And some chick.

Seldom did Lee play the hero (although I’d argue he was the hero of The Wicker Man) and here I could argue he was the villain playing a confidence game convincing his dim-witted friends and relatives of a non-existent danger. He asserts with authority how every action and object is part of satanic activity without providing much evidence, and bullies the doubters. Of course Satan IS at work. Hammer isn’t that deep, but for a while I was tempted to doubt the premise.

Renamed “The Devil’s Bride” for American audiences so we wouldn’t think it was a Western. Here as the lead satanist is Charles Gray who also played Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever (1971) and a Criminologist in some other film.

The Devil Rides Out was released at the start of a satanic panic that spanned the 1970’s and 80’s. Fanatical Christians went crazy seeing the work of the devil behind every activity, starting baseless lawsuits and ruining reputations. Mediocre films like this fed into the nonsense that sometimes rears its ugly head today.

But to be fair, it’s not a terrible film. It had a larger budget than most Hammers and Lee’s favorite of his films. But it is very two dimensional story-wise. Bad guy is bad, good guy is good, and the action is moved forward by the other characters being stupid. Also, they are menaced by a spider that is translucent in the wide shots. In the tight shots they did a close up of a tarantula crawling on a miniature set, which looked exactly like a close up of a tarantula crawling on a miniature set. Sometimes it’s better to forgo the effect if it doesn’t work.

Not scary, not terribly interesting. Just passable by my standards. AMRU 3.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Countess Dracula (1971)

The aging Countess Elizabeth (Ingrid Pitt) gets the hots for a young soldier at her husband’s funeral. Soon she discovers that the blood of a virgin girl makes her skin look young again (by apparently washing away her silly-putty makeup) so she decides to impersonate her own daughter and woo the young man. Complications arise when she learns she must frequently re-apply the virgin-girl-blood, which villagers aren’t very keen about. They weren’t fond of her to begin with.

The main conflict resolves around General Dobi, who loves Elizabeth as she is (rich), the young soldier Imre Toth, who loves who he thinks is the Countess’ daughter, and Elizabeth herself, obsessed with youth and sexy-time. Toth is the closest thing we have to a protagonist so we kinda root for him. But Dobi, cruel and self serving as he is, isn’t without virtue. And we can even relate to Elizabeth’s obsession. Also, sexy-time.

Most of your Hammer Horror weapons are at play here, most notably copious blood and the flashing of cleavage. What doesn’t work are the set which look like that of a stage play, and the makeup and costumes, which are about as convincing as your average Monty Python skit. At one point I could see the tape holding a character’s beard on. And while the 30-something Pitt was quite fetching, I don’t think anyone would mistake her for a nineteen year old. See The Vampire Lovers for context.

Our Countess Elizabeth is a version of the historical Elizabeth B├íthory from Hungary and not related to Dracula nor a vampire at all. Much like Pitt’s previous film, it reads like a mediocre costume drama with minor horror elements and brief nudity. By no means a waste of time, but between the two, Vampire Lovers is slightly better, and I’d rewatch neither. AMRU 3.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Night of Terror (1933)

A maniac is killing people with a comically large knife and the police are hapless to stop him. Not a typo. Now the killer is near the Rinehart estate where lots of other things are going on.

Old man Rinehart has a strong willed daughter who insists on going the the theater with random newspaper reporters despite the presence of a killer in the neighborhood, and a nephew Arthur who is working on a groundbreaking discovery that save countless lives. A serum that will allow someone to live without oxygen for several hours without harm. He has an experiment planned where he is buried in a coffin for eight hours to prove it works. Also, nephew and daughter are engaged. #FAMILYSECRETS.

Well, our friendly neighborhood maniac offs good ‘oll dad and random-other-guy and the police come in for more comic relief. Once finished bumbling, Artie goes on with the experiment. That very night! No need for grief to wreck your plans. Enter the household is dad’s brother and niece, heirs to the Rinehart estate. Also we learn that the house servants are included in the will, making them suspects. First is the fearful stereotype chauffeur, whom we can dismiss because of his fearfulness. Also are Degar (Bela Lugosi) and Sika who seem not to have a role to play except to behave strangely. The Bela Lugosi character is particularly suspect because he’s played by Bela Lugosi.

But we don't seem to need another suspect. We see the maniac murder people, seemingly out of the sheer love of murder, but we know that there is. The reporter, would be love interest, and sexual assault perp (I calls them as I sees them!) is played by Wallace Ford, whom old friends may remember as a clown in Freaks (1932). Ingenue Sally Blane played ingenue Mary Rinehart. Mr. Maniac is played by Edwin Maxwell, mostly, maybe, we think. Seems that nobody is entirely sure.

Early in the sound era audio equipment wasn’t all that great and the quickie B pictures like this didn’t get to use the best the studio had. As such the actors had to annunciate at the top of their vocal range just to be picked up, and we get a fairly difficult to watch film. The scratchiness of the print made matters worse.

What partially saves Night of Terror is the better than fair ending. Everything is bundled up nice and neat. Plus we have Lugosi near the top of his game. AMRU 3.