Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Werewolf of London (1935)

Doctor Glendon (Henry Hull) is a dedicated botanist who doesn't go in for that society life stuff that scientists are frequently thrust into. He leads an expedition into Tibet to find the mysterious mariphasa, a plant that blossoms only by moonlight.

The good doctor does find said plant, and brings it back to London. Yea, maybe he was bitten by a half man, half wolf beast, but who cares? This plant is cool!

Night after night he studies the plant all the while dutifully ignoring his young, hot wife (Valerie Hobson). He meets the strange Doctor Yogami (Warner Oland), who claims to have met him in Tibet. He too was searching for the mariphasa plant but came up empty. It seems the blossom of the mariphasa is the only way to keep the victim of a werewolf bite from transforming. Doctor Glendon doesn't care about that, he's got this awesome plant to look at! And he's got this awesome dentist's lamp to look at it with, too! His young hot wife (remember her?) doesn't mind. Her long lost hunky childhood friend is around to keep her, ahem, entertained.

This was the first werewolf movie. Well, the first talkie werewolf movie. A good movie, but it failed when it came out. People thought it too similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which I still haven't seen. Bela Lugosi was considered for Dr. Yogami, who would have been awesome in the role. Though, Warner was pretty good as well. Over the next three years he would play Charlie Chan nine more times then die of pneumonia. I bet he was way better than Sidney Toler. He sucked.

The "werewolf" character took a six year hiatus until reinvented by Creighton Chaney in The Wolf Man. I prefer calling the thing a "wolf man" rather than a werewolf, because historically, a werewolf was a man who made a pact with the devil to gain the ability to transform into a wolf. Not someone cursed to change into a man-wolf hybrid. Whatever. Too many history and folklore classes, I suppose.

Nevertheless, it's a good movie. AMRU 3.5. But it's not the FIRST werewolf movie. According to IMDB, the oldest movie with werewolf as a keyword was Nosferatu, which I've seen, but I don't remember the wolf. I will see a restored copy soon, so I'll keep an eye out.

The oldest surviving "werewolf" movie is called Wolf Blood (1925). You'll hear about it soon.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bride of the Monster (1955)

Edward Wood, I think, tried to make the same kind of movies I would want to make. Lots of gothic elements and creepy settings. Unfortunately he couldn't, or wouldn't execute them, and I have no theatrical experience whatsoever. He didn't care about things like acting or script, things that are crucial to building atmosphere. Can't do that when your actors are screaming at each other. Add to the fact that he didn't have the budget for props or a proper score, well ...

People are disappearing near a swamp where it's always night. The cops are unable to solve the mystery and the idea of paying a visit to the spooky mansion owned by a crazy scientist never occurs to them. When the kinda hot reporter girlfriend of the worlds worst cop does some "investigations", she decides to visit said spooky mansion alone, at night, and armed only with her high heels and razor sharp wit. Crazy Scientist (Bela Lugosi), of course, captures her. Cop boyfriend decides to go looking for her. Still not suspicious of the spooky mansion owned by the crazy scientist, he plays with the alligators.

Not really a lot to the story. Bela is using radiation trying to turn people into supermen, but usually kills them. The movie is notorious for the rubber octopus Wood allegedly stole from a studio. Actors had to shake it to make it look like it was moving. It didn't.

Octopus aside, this was not a bad effort. It's said to be the only of Wood's films that wasn't a box office disaster. Bad acting, weak story, poor dialog, but not as bad/weak/poor as Plan 9. Not nearly so. It was, however, uninteresting. A sad way to end Bela's career. AMRU 2.5.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

I saw this as a kid. I remember Boris Karloff in a wheelchair. I remember a tarantula. And I remember something about a green, glowing rock. I didn't remember that it was in color. Maybe I watched it on a B&W set.

Hunky Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams) visits the remote mansion estate of his girlfriend, the hot Susan Witley (Suzan Farmer). The townspeople refuse to assist him, or even let him rent a bicycle to get there. Nor will they tell him why. So, he walks. The land around the mansion is strangely dead and black.

O'll dad (Boris Karloff) gives him a rather hostile reception, but it wasn't Susan that invited him. It was her mom. Mom is bed-ridden and hides behind curtains. Her instructions: take Susan away from there.

Susan doesn't want to go while her mom is sick, dad acts strange, and the butler bursts into flames. Maybe the answer is in the greenhouse! I'll spoil no more.

Much of the logic of this story is best ignored. That said, it stays fairly true to it's roots of gothic roots. Spooky mansion, deep in the country, suspicious townspeople, and references to satanism. Boris was clearly on the back nine of his career and life. Less than four years later, he'd be gone. Still, he doesn't disappoint. Nick Adams was well cast in his role, and he would be outlived by Boris by a year. Drugs are bad, hmmm ok?

I will quibble about the title. Die, Monster, Die? Sounds like Russ Meyer's version of a Godzilla film. Online sources call Susan Stephen's fiance', but I don't recall that ever being established. At first they just seemed like college friends.

Good movie. It had atmosphere, good suspense, and interesting story line. AMRU 3.5.

This the first Karloff movie I've done? Seriously?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

D.O.A. (1950)

I know it's October and should be doing horror, but I watched this back on the first or second of the month and was really interested in seeing noir. Here until Halloween I'll be doing horror, and if I don't quicken my pace, I'll be blogging about them through Thanksgiving.

Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien) has been murdered, and he wants to know why. He takes a vacation to San Francisco to think over his relationship with his girlfriend and bumps into some strange folks. During the night, someone slips him poison in a drink and later he learns he is going to die.

From there he goes on a frantic journey to find out who did this, and why. A man calls the office desperate to speak with him and him alone, but he is on vacation. When Frank learns of his fate, he tries to call back only to find out the mystery caller has died. Everyone he meets sends him in a different direction and he isn't sure he can trust any of them. The story is told in flash back to the police.

I'll tell no more of the story. It kept me guessing to the end and did not disappoint. But despite what they say, luminous toxin is made up. AMRU 3.5. Wow, I didn't have too much to say about this one!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

How sexy horror is done right. Well, mostly. Ingrid Pitt is a vampire that somehow gets entreated into the home of rich people with hot daughters. She gains the trust of said daughter, then proceeds to get it on, Vampire style. Mostly that means bite her and make everybody wonder what is making their precious daughter so sick. Peter Cushing plays dad #1.

I'm sure I've seen others, but since blogging this is the first Hammer film. Lush but cheesy sets and costumes, clumsy dialog, sexy sub-plot. I watch worse. Controversial when it came out because of the lesbian subtext (she bites girls on their boob!), it is barley soft core by today's standards.

Here are a few things I want to make fun of: Ingrid Pitt (Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla), while hot, was way older than the 19 years her gravestone had her out. Vampirism takes a bit out of you, I suppose. The title presumes that two vampires are in love. Actually one vampire is trying to seduce the daughters, but their real motive is blood. Am I being picky? Am I? Yes, Fred, you are being picky.

I enjoyed it, but have to say if fell flat in the horror department. It read more like a costume drama with bad dialog. Still, I give it an AMRU 3.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pride and Prejudice (1940)

I tried to play something of a trick on my wife. She loves historical, romantic costume dramas like North and South and whatnot, and her absolute favorite is the 1995 BBC version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Yes, she has the 40 DVD set with the 4,007 hours of commentary and outtakes, and she's read the book eleventy-eleven times, backwards even . So, I reasoned, I should order the 1940 version from Netflix.

Well, she saw it coming and pushed it down the queue. Eventually it came in and I made her watch it using brutal force.

What the '95 version crammed 500 pages of witty dialog and formal societal behavior into 300 minutes, the 1940 edition crammed it into 118. With that kind of compression, you are bound to have lost scenes, changed plots, and missing characters (Where are you, Tom Bombadil?) My wife braced herself. My take is: not bad.

Now, all I can compare this to is the '95 version as I'd rather take a bullet than read Austen, but I have to say, and my wife agrees, they did not cut the story. It's all there. The major characters, the most important dialog, plot points, everything. Of course when you do compress a story like that, there are some silly side effects. Events that happen months apart take place the same day.

Story synopsis time! Mister and Missus Bennet have five silly daughters. As the Bennet's have no male heirs, their humble home will go to the next male in the family, Mister Bennet's cousin, the revolting Mister Collins. Oldest and prettiest daughter Jane catches the eye of fabulously wealthy Mister Bingley. Bingley's friend, the fabulously MORE wealthy Mister Darcy, is grumpy and dismissive. Protagonist second daughter Elizabeth is not amused by him, and they proceed to jab at each other in a very Sam and Diane season one sort of way. Bingley ditches Jane, who is heartbroken, and it turns out Darcy is to blame. Lizzy considers the horizontal mambo with Darcy's arch nemesis Wickham, who runs off with youngest and silliest daughter Lydia, and, well Darcy shows his honor, Elizabeth shows her appreciation, and Jane and Bingley get it on again, and everybody is happy, even Mister Collins who beds down Lizzie's best friend.

Ummm, Spoiler alert!

What was my wife's take? Add hoops to the skirts and it's Gone With the Wind. Very close to the truth, it turns out. The dresses were borrowed from Gone With the Wind and everything was styled as late Victorian rather than late Elizabethan. But it don't stop there! Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were actually considered for the lead roles!

She thought it was ... ok, I guess. High praise indeed, as Sir Laurence can no way compare to the absolutely hunky Colin Firth. Here's a few other things I noticed. 20 year old Lizzy Bennet was played by 35 year old Greer Garson. Big sis Jane was played by 29 year old Maureen O'Sullivan.

This was a fairly big movie in it's day, but it could have been bigger. Had it been filmed in Technic(ly)color, it would have been easier to watch. I'm glad I watched it, and my wife felt the same. AMRU 3.

By the way, the 2005 version, despite Keira Knightley's hotness, totally blew.