Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Black Sabbath (1963)

Black Sabbath (originally "I tre volti della paura", or "The three faces of fear") is three separate stories of terror, introduced by Boris Karloff. The first is "The Drop of Water".

Just as she is retiring for the evening, a chubby MILF nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) gets a frantic call. The elderly medium who she is nursemaid for has passed away and the housekeeper wants nothing to do with preparing the body, what with her strange ways and all. So, she goes back to take care of things. While changing the clothes on the corpse, she notices a nice ring. No harm in taking a souvenir from the dead, is there? Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Part two is called "The Telephone". Hot chick (Michèle Mercier) returns home and starts receiving threatening calls from a man she knows is dead. She calls a friend she is estranged from for comfort. The friend comes over and gives her a tranquilizer to help her sleep. Dead guy pays them a visit.

Part three is "The Wurdalak", where a traveller (Mark Damon) finds a headless horseman (like on the poster, except he was very dead), removes a knife from his back (thus contaminating the crime scene), and visits a local inn. There he learns all about the terrible wurdalak (or "vampire") that has been terrorizing the village. Dad (Boris, again) went out to kill him (apparently successfully) but warned that if he returned even a minute past 10 PM on the fifth day that he too would be a wurdalak. So, pops returns a minute past 10 on the fifth day and is acting strange. Our traveller has other things on his mind, principally hot sister Sdenka (Susy Andersen).

There are differences between the American version and the original Italian. In "The Telephone", for "a man she knows is dead" substitute "a man she thinks is in jail", for "friend she is estranged from" substitute "lesbian lover", and "hot chick" you can substitute "whore". Really makes no difference to the story, agree? Must protect our delicate American sensibilities.

Karloff's introductions were rather comedic in nature and apparently were much longer when filmed, but AIP decided to cut them. The metal band got their name from this movie's title because there were more people in line to see it than their show. The American title itself was an homage to Black Sunday, Mario Bava's masterpiece. I'm just thankful they didn't title it Black, Sabbath, Black.

Not bad. Atmospheric and good looking, and the segments weren't long enough to become tedious. One more interesting piece of trivia: This is the only film where Boris Karloff appears as a vampire (or "Wurdalak"). AMRU 3.
"What's the matter, woman? Can't I fondle my own grandson?"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kill Baby, Kill (1966)

Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) orders the autopsy of an apparent suicide victim against the wishes of the townsfolk, who wants her body in the ground as soon as possible. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) is called in to perform the operation. Hot chick Monica (Erika Blanc), returning home after many years, serves as witness. Together they find gold coins inside the victim's heart. Strange indeed!

Well, apparently when the ghost of a little dead girl appear to people, they will die soon. The village witch (Fabienne Dali) and the Burgermeister (not Yul Brynner) do their best to save them. Story has it that years ago the little girl died and the horrible townsfolk didn't stop to help her. Doctor Eswai and hot Monica investigate.

I realize Mario Bava is a legend, and this is among his more respected movies, and that Hollywood insisted on tinkering with movies for the American release, and that acting performances are at best muted by the dubbing process, but I have to review what I see on the screen. And what I saw was rather lackluster. The story came across as convoluted and uninteresting. Sorry Bava fans.

Here's what was interesting. The creepy looking girl ghost was played by a creepy looking boy. There is no credit for him. The producers ran out of cash less than half way through so Bava and the cast finished it without being paid. The original title in Italy was "Operazione paura" which appears to translate to "Operation Fear". Not a very good title, so you can see why they went with the completely stupid Kill Baby, Kill.

This marks the third "Imperative, Noun, Imperative" film titles I've done, and I imagine it'll be a while before I do another (Scream, Blacula, Scream won't be watched anytime soon). Without giving too much away (there really is a lot more to the story), I have to admit the title is functional. AMRU 2.5.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Faust (1926)

A German Folk Tale

The demon Mephisto (Emil Jannings) wants dominion over the Earth. An Archangel makes a bet with him that if he can corrupt the soul of the elderly alchemist Faust (Gosta Ekman), he may rule the Earth. Not much of a downside for Mephisto.

A plague is inflicted upon Faust's village and he is powerless to stop it. After losing all hope, he learns that he can have great power by making a pact with the Devil. He does so, but the villagers distrust him when they learn of his new found Satanist leanings. So instead, he has the demon make him young, rich, and sexy. Woo hoo!

After leading the life of Hefner, he decides he wants to go back home. There he meets young Gretchen (Camilla Horn) and falls hopelessly in love. Mephisto agrees to help and everyone lives happily ever after. Promise.

This is F.W. Murnau's best remembered movie after Nosferatu, but in my estimation, this is his best. A box office flop, it was the most complex German production to date. Early on while watching it I thought it would be ripe for a sound remake (in fact there are many, plus several made prior) but soon I realized there was no need. The barrier presented by silent cinema was lifted by tremendous visual storytelling. The Kino edition was wonderfully restored and a retelling of this interpretation would be an exercise in futility.

Readers may remember Jannings from The Blue Angel. The Nazi sympathizer would continue his successful career until god struck him down with cancer. Young Gosta playing Old Faust was enthralled by the local cuisine of Germany and took home a passionate love of cocaine. Twelve years later he would be dead. Director Murnau survived being a World War I combat pilot only to die in a car accident at age 42. Ingenue Camilla lived to the ripe old age of 93.

Great visual appeal and marvelous storytelling. And there is way more to the story than I am letting on. AMRU 4.5.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Wizened professor Armitage (Ed Begley Jr's dad) is studying the occultist book The Necronomicon and entrusts hot air-headed student (Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee) to return it to the protective glass case. But creepy stranger Al ... I mean Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) wants to paw his hands on it and Dee thinks what harm could it do? Killjoy Armitage arrives in the nick of time and puts an end to playtime.

But Wilbur is not so easily deterred. Young Wilbur wants to complete his Dad's work, that he was summarily executed for. That is, to bring the Old Ones back. All he needs is an evil book of the occult and a hot, air-headed chick. So he uses his blank stare and porn movie fro and stash to charm Nancy into returning with him to his spooky old house in the spooky old village of Dunwich. Armitage to the rescue!

Ed Begley Jr's dad died about three months after the movie's release and old friend Sam Jaffee (from The Day the Earth Stood Still) played Grandpa Whateley, not one of his more memorable rolls. Hey, and Talia Shire (Rocky and some mobster movie) had a small, forgettable roll.

H.P. Lovecraft's famous short story is turned into a Lovecrafty generic horror movie. Dee supposedly had a nude scene but I didn't see it, and wasn't going to rewind to look for it. The unbearably cheesy opening titles set the tone for this draggy and mostly uninteresting film. What? Roger Corman was involved? Couldn't be! AMRU 2.5.

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Married a Witch (1942)

A distant ancestor of aspiring Governor Wallace Wooley (Fredric March) condemned a witch (Veronica Lake) and her father to death and planted an oak tree planted above their graves to trap their souls. Before she died, she cursed the Wooley family to only marry the wrong woman. Centuries later, the tree is struck by lightening and the souls of the witches are freed. Jennifer decides to take on a new body so that she can torment poor Wallace. Susan Hayward played his shrewish fiancee. The magician from The Mummy's Hand played her father.

Way to spoil an ending in a film title! Anyhow, Lake was a huge star back in the '40s and not so much thereafter. Apparently she was very difficult to work with. Despite their on-screen chemistry, she and March did not work well together. She would do things like hide weights on herself for scenes where he would have to carry her. Reportedly, he referred to the movie as "I Married a Bitch." Apparently Joel McCrea (remember him from Bird of Paradise?) was set to play opposite her, but after working with her in Sullivan's Travels, he decided to skip it, saying life is too short to do two movies with Lake.

On set behavior aside, I can see how the diminutive Lake became a star. She was both charming and adorable. Her film roles dried up in the later part of the decade as her difficult reputation grew, and she went into television. She did two more movies, one in '66 and another in '70 to no particular acclaim. She died in '73 of hepatitis at age 50, alcoholism and unstable behavior hastening her end.

The movie was bright, cheerful, and entertaining. Internal drama aside, Lake and March worked well together. AMRU 3.5.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

Hansom Professor Norman (Peter Wyngarde) is quickly making his name at a private college, but his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) isn't socializing very well. It seems she spends way too much time at the cottage rather than playing bridge with the other professor's wives. Turns out in order to ensure hubby's continued success, dear Tansy has turned to witchcraft.

Now Norman here is a Psychology professor and a science-minded type, and the use of superstitious charms simply will not do. No siree bob. He makes his wife get rid of all her magic and nothing bad will happen.

Act II: Bad stuff happens. Nuff said.

This movie was originally Night of the Eagle, but when brought to America, they wisely decided that this title simply would not do. They needed something that still described the film yet appealed to America's particular Retarded quality. Hence Burn, Witch, Burn. Describes the movie perfectly. There is fire, a witch, and more fire. The poster too is perfect. There's no graveyard scene, and there are no demons from hell, and the world isn't terrorized, nor is there a dark menacing figure in the background, but Tansy did wear a nightgown to bed and they spelled the actors names properly. Perfect fit once again.

Here are a few interesting things. The hot college student who has a crush on our hansom professor was played by an actress four years older than him. His hot wife was a full twelve years his senior. Also, the movie follows a custom followed by The Wicker Man, but I won't say what for fear of spoilage. One more thing about Wyngarde who plays Norman, it seems his career hit the skids when he was arrested with a truck driver in a bus station bathroom. Didn't say what he did. I'm guessing insider trading.

Interesting also is that the conflict isn't witchcraft verses Christianity. It's superstition verses science. Modern religion is never brought up. Also, this is an excellent example of "wouldn't it be cool if you had a hot witch for a wife?" Well, yes it would, if you would just shut up and let her do her job. Don't be a Darrin.

Superb acting, good story, nice job all around. AMRU 4.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Wicker Man (1973)

Sergeant Howie from the mainland (Edward Woodward) receives an anonymous letter that a child on Summerisle has gone missing and nobody appears to care. He flies in to investigate.

At first the locals deny the girls existence, then when he finds out she does, he is told she has died. And the mystery deepens from there. But what concerns Howie most is the strange, unchristian behavior of the locals. Christopher Lee plays Lord Summerisle in a silly wig and sideburns, and Britt Ekland is hot dancing naked.

The main point of conflict here is Howie's tightly wound Christian beliefs against the pre-Christian sensibilities of the island folk. His authority is clearly limited to the investigation at hand but his judgement of the people rises above that.

Every now and again, I am pointed to The Wicker Man as a seminal work of horror. IMdb gives it high marks, and if you listen to the actors, they declare it one of the greats. Cinfantastique magazine called it the Citizen Kane of horror, which is more than a stretch. I don't count Kane as the greatest film ever, but it's flawless movie making was remarkable. There were more than a few flaws in Wicker. Lucky for it, the story was more interesting.

But maybe the movie would have been better had the original negatives not been immediately destroyed and the film cut to ribbons upon release. Apparently, British Lion was sold during the production of the movie and the new owners hated the film. Much has been restored, but there are apparently still missing scenes and significant film and audio quality issues.

I think what interests people most, apart from the delightful nudity, is it's ambiguity. Who exactly is the villain? The pagan island folk or the moralistic cop? Maybe a matter of opinion. Also, this may be the first film to accurately depict pre-christian culture and ceremonies.

The Citizen Kane of nothing, but still a movie very much worth watching. AMRU 3.5. Britt Ekland was hot.
"Sergeant Howie: Your lordship seems strangely... unconcerned.
Lord Summerisle: Well I'm confident your suspicions are wrong, Sergeant. We don't commit murder here. We're a deeply religious people.
Sergeant Howie: Religious? With ruined churches, no ministers, no priests... and children dancing naked!
Lord Summerisle: They do love their divinity lessons.
Sergeant Howie: [outraged] But they are... a-are NAKED!
Lord Summerisle: Naturally! It's much too dangerous to jump through fire with their clothes on!"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

A down-on-his-luck anthropologist (Dick Foran) comes across an ancient vase in a bazaar that may hold the key to the location of the tomb of a princess. He convinces his good buddy (Wallace Ford) to buy it and they take it to the Cairo Museum, but it is declared a fake by Dr. Andoheb (George Zucco). Turns out, however, that the good doctor moonlights as the newly anointed High Priest of Karnak and isn't too keen on whitey pillaging the sacred artifacts of his homeland. Not to be deterred, our heroes con a magician (Cecil Kellaway) into financing their expedition.

Let's have some mummy back story, shall we? Way back when Kharis (Tom Tyler) tried to steal the sacred Tana leaves in order to bring his true love, Princess Ananka, back to life. He is caught, buried alive, and said leaves were used to keep him that way to ensure his torture. The tomb our heroes are looking for is hers, but the mummy they find is his. And Andoheb gives it a mega-dose of Tana to turn him into "an uncontrolled monster, a soulless demon with the desire to kill and kill".

It's a comedy, ladies and gentlemen. Not a pure comedy, but certainly played for laughs in equal measure to thrills. Ford played something akin to Costello to Foran's not Abbot. Foran is more leading man then straight man. Gosh, think he'll hit it off with the magician's pretty daughter? Yes, of course. Don't be stupid. Perhaps you remember Ford as Phroso the Clown in Freaks.

Why did it take eight years for a sequel? I'm guessing the Frank and Drac show ran a bit thin and they needed to expand their horror horizons. Here's where they'd use the word "Reboot" had it existed. Why his 'hand'? Not sure. Maybe because he would get more use of his arm and foot once he got more of that luscious tana oil. Not much for laughs or thrills, nor much originality in the story. Maybe I should try to track each time the lumbering monster carries away the fainted maiden leaving the heroes to frantically search for her. Still, it was worth watching. AMRU 3.

Word of note: when planning the "theme" for this October, I had decided on vampires. Then I thought Mummies. Finally I decided on witches. Then I watched this. Way to stick to a plan, Fred.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Three on a Match (1932)

Three women who went to school together serendipitously meet up again. Mary (Joan Blondell) was the bad girl who spent time in reform school, Ruth (Bette Davis) went to secretary school, and Vivian (Ann Dvorak) who went to finishing school and married rich. Vivian has a bit of a crisis and runs off with a dashing young neer-do-well. This troubles here newly refound school chums greatly.

Viv's new beau (we'll call him Michael) has run up some gambling debts, so he tries to blackmail her ex by threatening to tell the press that his new wife was a bad girl who spent time in reform school. This doesn't work so he decides to kidnap their son. When the gamblers find out what Michael has done, they take over and raise the stakes.

Pronoun trouble, I know. It all makes sense on screen. Anyhow Bogart was one of the heavies. The two biggest names had fairly small parts. Bogie had five more years before anyone took him seriously. About the same for Davis.

Joan Blondell was a total hottie back in the day. I had seen her in a couple other movies during her old and fat days. Dvorak was a rising star back in the day but tried to have her contract terminated when she found out that she was being paid the same as the actor playing her 5 year old son. Davis was almost an afterthought here, not really playing a part in the story.

Well, this pre-code gem was supposed to be something but I didn't find it terribly interesting. Pre-code because it dealt with adultery, drug addiction, and briefly in a montage sequence it showed two women dancing. Horrors! Something of a snooze-fest, actually. AMRU 3. Speaking of horror ...