Friday, October 30, 2009

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A ditzy chick (Judith O'Dea) and her duche-bag brother (Russell Streiner) drive several hours to put flowers on their grandfather's (or father's) grave. Bro starts teasing sis that the boogie men are out to get her, when whadda ya know. They ARE out to get her. Johnny saves Barbra, but, alas, gets eaten by the zombie.

Barbra runs into a house and more zombies come around. Enter: heroic black man. He kills a couple zombies then boards up the house, while sissy runs around like a lunatic. This goes on for a while when I realize that my eyes are closed. I open them and wonder if I missed anything. Can't tell. Main characters run around, while the zombies slowly advance on the house. I nod off again. Hey, there are more people in the house? Where did they come from? Oh, they were in the basement. They argue. I nod off. Some of the people are gone. I guess they were eaten. Whatever.

I was awake to see the famous ending. Man, this movie moved slower than the zombies. I feel I should see it again to see what I missed (some important parts, I understand) but I just don't want to. I know it's a cult classic, I found it a bit of a bore. This sucker is in the public domain because George Romero forgot to include a copyright notice. That's gotta suck. AMRU 3. You have weird dreams when you fall asleep to a zombie movie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), an eccentric millionaire, rents a spooky mansion to throw a party for his wife and five strangers. If they stay the night, they each will get $10,000, which was serious coin back in the day. The house was the scene of a brutal double murder.

The film opens with a black screen and a blood curdling scream followed by ghostly noises. We are left to our imagination. Next we see the disembodied head of Watson Pritchard (Eliza Cook, Jr.) who explains a little bit of the background. His brother was murdered in the house and since then he has owned it.

Loren's head appears next, explaining a little about the party. It was his wife's idea, but he chose the guests. With the simple turning of the phrase "She's so amusing", we have great insight into their relationship. Vincent Price was simply amazing. The guests arrive in funeral cars.

Carol Ohmart plays Annabelle Loren, Price's hot trophy wife. She's still alive.(Edit: Nope! Died in 2002!) Richard Long is hunky test pilot Lance Schroeder. Maybe you remember him from Big Valley. I did. He died of multiple heart attacks at age 47. Alan Marshal is Dr. David Trent, a psychiatrist. Perhaps you remember him from guest appearances in 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside 6. I sure don't. He died of a heart attack at age 52. Julie Mitchum plays Ruth Bridges, a newspaper columnist. Perhaps you remember her as the sister of Robert Mitchum. That's probably the most interesting thing about her. This was her last film. She lived to the ripe old age of 88, outliving her baby brother by five and a half years. Carolyn Craig is Nora Manning, a young office worker. Isn't she pretty? Perhaps you remember ... no, you don't. Trust me. She died at 36 from gunshot wounds.

Director William Castle (dead of a heart attack at age 63) loved gimmicks. When shown in theaters, a skeleton would fly across the cinema at a critical point. That aside, the film had enough gimmicks on screen. Scary hands from behind the door, pianos playing without anyone at the keys, scary people jumping out at you. Matinee (1993) was based on him.

So, what is going on? Is Loren trying to kill the Mrs, or the other way around? Are there really ghosts like Watson Pritchard keeps saying, or are the spirits haunting him the bottled kind? Is Lance Schroeder trying to find out what's going on, or is he trying to get into Nora's pants? And maybe the Mrs. Lorens too? While the movie works the second time around, the story in large part doesn't, but that's ok. The atmosphere is great and the dialog is sharp. It's a fun movie.

Here's what doesn't work. The exterior of the house is about as un-haunted house looking as possible. A Denny's looks scarier. The Frank Lloyd Wright abomination was 35 years old at the time. Even worse, there's a scene at the beginning where you see downtown Los Angeles in the background. Thank god the majority of the film is interiors.

Nora Manning, who works for Mr. Loren, was invited because she needed the money. Or so he says, but maybe was was intended to get the Mrs. jealous. Her acting was horrible. She plays the young woman who is frightened of everything. Not a tall order. To watch her struggle and do it standing next to Price was plain weird.

A little silly, yes, but watchable, interesting, and fun. I could say it's AMRU 5 because I did buy it, but that's only because it cost a buck. How did this film end up in the public domain? I love Haunted Hill, flaws and all. One of the best B horror films. AMRU 4.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Ya know, I'm sick of crappy horror movies. Without a decent one at my disposal, I popped in last year's Christmas gift.

Michael Rennie was ill The Day the Earth Stood Still, but he told us where we stand. Actually, while he was shot, he had gotten better by the time he made the earth stand still. And by the time he got around to letting us know where we stand, well, let's not get into that ...

A space ship lands in Washington DC. Out comes Klaatu bearing gifts. The military shoots him, then takes him prisoner. He has a message to give to the world, but he must speak to all leaders, not just some. This proves impossible. So, he goes out on the town.

He rents a room at a boarding house and meets a single mom and her son (Patricia Neal and Billy Gray). Stuff happens, they tour DC, he meets a scientist, Neal's douche bag boyfriend tries to turn Klaatu in, Gort goes berserk, then Klaatu makes his grand speech.

Of all the B Sci-Fi movies, this one is my favorite. When I spoke earlier how dark and light can be used as effective elements in a black and white film, here is the evidence. Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter (Jesus reference!) stands in darkness at the boarding house. The others, transfixed by the news story of the saucer landing, suddenly notice him. Slowly he enters the light and inquires about a room. The scene is close to perfection.

Later in the film, Neal and Rennie are driving through DC and the military is at every corner. The actors were filmed in California and were spliced into Washington DC footage. Not only do the scenes match, the route driven (I am told) actually makes sense. The attention to detail and level of craftsmanship is unparalleled in B movies.

Say what you will about the preachy ending, this movie is a gem. Not flawless, but truly excellent. I'll sign off with my favorite line from the movie.
"You'll feel different when you see my picture in the paper."
"I feel different right now."
AMRU 5. You thought I'd say "Klaatu, barada, nikto", didn't you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Bat (1959)

Three years ago I was given a collection of horror movies. Fifty horror "classics" on 12 DVDs. Of course, all of those movies are in the public domain, and some are not by any stretch of logic "horror" films. The Bat is one, regardless of how IMDB categorizes it.

A mystery writer (Agnes Moorehead) rents a spooky old mansion deep in the woods. Rumors of a murderer named "The Bat" scare most of the servants away. Vincent Price plays a doctor. Sounds like horror so far.

A million dollars was embezzled from the local bank and everyone thinks it might be stored in the house. The Bat sneaks into the house looking around and scares the writer and her maid. We have several suspects, including the butler, Dr. Price, and maybe even the new cook. False clues lead us all around.

Now knowing who the killer was, the movie makes less sense. We know what the killer's objective was (the loot) and what he knew, and when. His course of action simply doesn't make any sense. Many mystery stories don't stand up to that kind of analysis, but that doesn't mean I should give them a free pass.

Spooky? Not really. Suspenseful? Somewhat. Horror? Please. The killer was a thief wearing a fancy costume. No insanity, nothing supernatural, just a mystery. Not a bad mystery on the whole, but by no means horror.

Darla Hood of Our Gang fame made her last appearance in a motion picture, and a forgettable one at that. While working on a Little Rascals reunion in 1979 she had minor surgery. She contracted acute hepatitis then suddenly died.

This is a well made film all around. Vincent Price always makes a movie better. Not much of a horror movie, but judging it as a mystery, it's a fair film. AMRU 3. Watch it here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dead Men Walk (1943)

The Evil Elwyn Clayton is dead, murdered by his twin brother, the good doctor Lloyd Clayton. But evil doesn't stay dead long. Elwyn rises, with help from his faithful servant Zolarr, as a Vampire! Dr. Clayton's niece Gayle, played by the hot Mary Carlisle, is in danger. She is to be married to the wooden Dr. Bently, but o'll dad has plans to make her his vampire servant.

After Dr. Clayton realizes his Evil brother is a vampire, he knows he must find the body during the daytime and burn it. He does everything he can, including searching the entire town for the body. No, wait. Everything EXCEPT actually search for the body. Instead he just rubs his chin. Until the end, that is, when he searches for it AT NIGHT! Way to go, Doctor Action.

This film has a lot going for it. George Zucco as both Claytons, the hot Mary Carlisle in the last movie of her career, and even Dwight Frye (Dracula's Renfield) as Zolarr. Less than seven months after this film came out, Dwight would be dead, another happy customer of the Christian Science Healthcare Plan. One wonders if health concerns explain his muted performance. Fern Emmett, looking like a simple minded and good intentioned Elmira Gulch, was a crazy townswoman who knew Elwyn had risen. Three and a half years later, she too would be dead.

The story was fair, the script ok, the setting good. Why was the movie so ... flat? First might be the quality of this public domain film. The contrast seemed a little weak. A good filmmaker can do wonders with black and white, shadows and highlights. See The Day The Earth Stood Still. This movie didn't have any of that. A black screen is good for dark, brooding dialog, but no good for fight scenes. I also think it could have been edited a little better.

What it was truly missing was a proper score. A good score goes a long way to build suspense and creepiness. The score was a total dud.

I fell asleep during parts of Dead Men Walk, so I watched it again online, skipping the parts I saw. I wanted to like this movie, but I never felt involved with the characters. George Zucco was great, but his vampire fell flat. Put a proper soundtrack on this film and clean it up, and you'd have a real good movie. I wanted to give it a 3, but as it is now, the best I can do is a 2.5.

Watch it here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

Young women are mysteriously dying at their wedding alter. Stranger still, their bodies are stolen before they get to the morgue. The police, brilliant as they always are in old movies, are clueless how to stop it. Fortunately, a society reporter who covered one of the weddings, is on the case.

Cub reporter Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) finds a strange orchid at the alter and decides to ask the creepy Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi) who lives in a creepy castle miles from town. You can guess the rest.

It's well known that if you extract ... something out of the neck of beautiful young virgins (they were taken before their wedding night, you know ...) and inject it into the neck of your old, vain, and creepy wife, she becomes young and beautiful again. It's a scientific fact. Of course you'll need a steady supply of hot young virgins because it wears off over time.

Bela sleeps in a coffin and has a dwarf and gimp as servants, so they tried to pump up the creepiness. I'll give them some credit, but not too much. So Bela Legosi draws the life force out of young women like one of those ... what do you call them? I forget. Bela in the role he was born to play, and had to continue playing even after he died.

Not scary, not funny, not thought provoking. Mostly forgettable. AMRU 2.5. See for yourself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

King of the Zombies (1941)

Three people on a plane over the Caribbean are blown off course and land when they hear a radio broadcast. They become the guests of the mysterious Dr. Sangre. The passengers manservant, played by old friend Mantan Moreland, becomes convinced the mansion is crawling with zombies.

Mostly predictable story. Not too funny, not very original, not at all scary, it would seem this film has little going for it. The one thing it does is Mantan. He has quickly become my favorite racial stereotype. Another good point is Marguerite Whitten, who plays a maid who feeds Mantan zombie stories and pie. The whities in the story, mostly forgettable. The poster doesn't show the darker actors, so I have to include a photo of the people that made this thing work.

Here is what sticks in my memory: Dr. Sangre requiring Mantan to sleep in the servants quarters. It seems that the movie makers wanted to take half a stand against racism. A forgettable film if it weren't for the black actors. Shockingly enough, this movie was nominated for an Oscar. So, where do I put it? 2.5? 3? I'm a bonafide fan of Mantan now. AMRU 3.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Here's a breakdown of the story: upstanding scientist does research on the dark side of man's nature, and creates a potion that transforms him into a bad guy. What happens next? Read the book. Seriously. It isn't that long, and it's good. Look into it.

This silent version stars John Barrymore. His transformation from upright scientist-gentleman to ugly hedonist was remarkable. I wasn't sure it was the same actor. But here's where my biases come into play: I don't like silent films. When I started watching it, I didn't realize it was that old. There is a 1931 version that I understand is very good.

I watched the unimproved public domain version and found it rather tedious. The music track was terrible and never matched the action on screen. I turned the volume down almost all the way. Ten minutes shorter would have been ten minutes better. I don't think a fully restored copy with a new score wouldn't have made the difference for me. I should have skipped this one. AMRU 2.

Still interested? Watch it here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

What is the best Sci-Fi/Horror hybrid movie ever made during the 1950s and financed by a Baptist Church? If you said Plan 9 from Outer Space, then you probably read the title.

Plan 9 has to be the most famous, obscure, low budget film ever. It is known for it's sloppy editing and lousy acting and has become a cult favorite for those reasons exactly. Allow me to sum up the plot:

Aliens are afraid that Earth will create a Solaranite bomb, which will destroy the sun and all planets that suns rays reach. Their plan (numbered 9, in case you were curious) is to raise the dead to kill off ... all humans? You know, I'm not really sure how that would work. They only raised three bodies. Maybe it was a proof of concept test. An airline pilot, an Air Force colonel, and a detective investigate and eventually find the saucer.

Anyhow, that's it in a nutshell. What worked: The story. It's no worse than many B sci-fi movies of the day. Also, the special effects and makeup. Really, they were on par. You could see the strings on the space ships, but most low grade sci-fi films never even tried to show the ships in motion. And Tor Johnson's makeup was rather scary looking.

What didn't: the script. Writer/Director/Producer Edward Wood had no talent for writing dialog. There are times where the sentences seemed to be out of sequence. The entire conversation simply made no sense. In at least one scene the actors ad libbed because the script was so bad.

The acting. If you go to an amateur community theater and the acting was this bad, you'd be disappointed. Did they even rehearse? Even the "real" actors in the movie seem to have forgotten how to act.

Combine those two fatal flaws with Wood's refusal to reshoot scenes when there was a flaw and his rather poor use of stock footage, and you get Plan 9. I contend that one could recreate an almost scene for scene version of this film, completely rewriting the dialog and upgrading to mediocre actors and you would have a successful movie. Not a great one, but good enough. Oh, yea, and lose the narrator. In fact, two remakes appear to be in development right now. Grave Robbers from Outer Space (the original title) and Plan 9. I am somewhat curious.

All that said, Plan 9 is a very watchable movie. The flubs become Easter Eggs and for some adds to the enjoyment. My version was colorized, which annoyed me initially, but does make it more accessible to the younger ones in the family.

I watched Plan 9 as a boy on late night television. I've seen it lampooned over and over again in works like It Came from Hollywood and the like. Regarding the visual flubs, I remember Wood being quoted as saying that nobody notices those things. Maybe that was in the movie Ed Wood. In fact, he might not have been far off. As a boy I didn't notice them. I remember liking the movie. As an adult, I think I've seen it enough. AMRU 3.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grand Hotel (1932)

1933's Best Picture about the Grand Hotel in Berlin was very Grand, and very ... hotely. For the first time ever, an ensemble cast of top actors was brought together.

Greta Garbo, the prima donna actress who was not as good as she thought she was, plays a prima donna ballet dancer who is not as good as she thinks she is. John Barrymore plays a "Barron". I don't want to spoil anything, but since when as a character introduced as a Barron actually BEEN a Barron? Let's pretend, shall we?

John's slightly older brother Lionel plays the aged Otto, an office worker with an unnamed terminal illness (AIDS? Nawww ...) who is blowing his life's savings to enjoy himself, for once. Wallace Beery (Uncle of Noah Beery Jr from Inherit the Wind) plays Otto's boss, The Angry German Giant, who is trying to make a very important business deal. Joan Crawford is his hot young stenographer who spends much of the time scrubbing toilets and screaming about coat hangers.

The Giant wants to plow Joan, who might be willing because she "needs the money". But Joan would rather be plowed by the Barron, who was initially very agreeable. But the Barron instead falls in plow with Garbo, who charmed him with her mediocre looks and bad acting. Garbo falls for the Barron because his mother used to call him "Flix". This made sense in 1932, I'm guessing.

The Barron, who also needs money, finds it easier on his conscience to steal it rather than accept hand outs from Otto and Garbo. Doing the Giant is entirely out of the question. Then we have a climactic scene, comeuppance comes up, situations are mostly resolved, and no one gets plowed. I think. Oh, yea, and there's this morose doctor who bookends the film by saying "People come, people go. Never ever happens." That's called irony, boys and girls.

First let's chat about Joan Crawford. I'm old enough to remember the OLD Joan Crawford from the 1970s. Nasty, ugly, severe. I didn't expect to like her. But the young Crawford was hot and charming on screen. I had never seen Greta Garbo before except in very short clips. Clearly she cut her acting teeth during the silent film days, where over-the-top acting was de regueur. 1932 audiences certainly ate this up, but I found it comical. It is in this film that she recites her signature phrase "I want to be alone".

John Barrymore was a stage actor, so he knew how to talk on stage. He's the grandfather of Drew Barrymore, so forget what I said in "You Can't Take it With You". Lionel seems to play the same character. Old and amicable, even though he was only a couple years older than the dashing Barron.

There's a lot of scuttle about the film. Because Joan and Greta did not get along, they had no scenes together. The director feared they would try to upstage each other. A fearful arms race to be sure. Beery initially rejected the assignment, but was convinced to stay because his character would be the only one with a German accent, even though ALL the characters except Garbo were German. This also stands as the only Best Picture winner that didn't get nominated for any other award.

Grand Hotel is a good film and I'm glad I watched it. I don't see renting it again. AMRU 3.5. Hey, it's October. I'm going to stick to horror for now.