Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Sir Karoll has been killed and the locals conclude it's the work of a vampire. The police inspector (Lionel Atwill) isn't so sure. But local professor (Lionel Barrymore) is convinced by the initial diagnosis. Together, they investigate. Wait, didn't I just see this one? It even stars Atwill! Ok, so the set-up is very similar to The Vampire Bat, but it diverges soon enough. Promise.

Also in the mix is the Barron and executor of the estate, the victim's daughter and inheritor, and her best-bo who stands to become rich. Also there is Bela Lugosi wearing his Dracula garb with his proto-Morticia daughter. Might want to check out his creepy castle while they are at it.

So, what exactly is the Vampire's mark? Maybe it's the fang marks on the victim's neck. Or maybe it's the unexplained mark on Bela's right temple (there's an unfilmed back story). Either way, it doesn't appear to play into the story. I like to pretend Mark was Count Mora's first name. Lots of standard gothic horror elements, the level of acting you'd expect from this crew. No soundtrack, which is a drag.

At times you'd think Tod Browning was trying to re-do Dracula. The vampire passing through the giant spider web thing was done again here. As were the creepy-crawlies dancing around Mora's castle. Irena and Fedor are Mina and Jonathan, Zelin is Van Helsing, only thing missing is Renfield.

Browning would direct only two more movies, his reputation apparently tarnished by the unsavory Freaks. I think he wasn't all that great of a director, at least in the sound age. Interesting fact: his uncle was old-timey baseball great Pete Browning.

For the most part this plays out like a standard gothic horror, but Browning does play a bit. In actuality it's a remake of the now-lost Lon Chaney movie London After Midnight. The principle difference, I understand, is the Vampire angle. There are apparently lost or deleted scenes which explain some of the story, but i think it works well enough at the shorter length. Browning could never match his Dracula success (although The Unknown was by far his best work), Mark of the Vampire was in many ways a better technical effort. It works as intended. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Vampire Bat (1933)

A small European village in an indeterminate time period has a problem. Locals think the town is cursed by vampires! I mean, look at all the bats! The police chief (Melvyn Douglas) thinks there's a bad man at work. Much to his surprise, the scientist boss (Lionel Atwill) of his hottie girlfriend (Fay Wray) lends scientific credence to the locals wild superstitions.

Hey, look! A vampire movie! Back to my theme, and just in time. I requested a collection from the library containing the rest of the Universal Dracula collection back in September, and may get it before Christmas. Can't wait to put this franchise to bed.

It appears that I've seen this before. I remember the tragic simpleton whom the locals first suspect. This well may have been Dwight Frye's best performance, and remember how much I liked him in Dracula. He was completely believable in the role. Atwill and Wray were teamed up again (they did three together) because of their previous success. Strange pairing actors like that when the characters are never a couple, but that's what they did.

What's interesting? Not a whole lot. Eastern European town fears the supernatural, modern thinkers try to convince them otherwise, typical investigation, typical climax, roll credits. Not entirely to formula, but close. A fun B-horror for Halloween.

TCM typically has the better copies and the poor quality of The Vampire Bat implies that this is the best out there. It was very viewable, and apparently complete, but the soundtrack was a long, annoying hiss. Not sure if a pristine copy would have made this more memorable. Interesting, short, no major flaws. AMRU 3.

"No, no, no, no! Bats no do! They soft, like cat. They not bite Herman!"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Ghost Ship (1943)

A young officer gets a job on a merchant ship as third officer. But this is a cursed ship. One might call it a "Ghost Ship". Others would just call it a bore.

Not much with the story. Is the captain coo-coo, or is the new office overreacting? No supernatural element, no mystery, no suspense. What we have is a well constructed movie with a poorly constructed story. It came on the same DVD as The Leopard Man, and being just over 60 minutes, I had to watch it before returnage. Plus it's a Val Lewton movie and I previously acknowledged that I will watch them all. This is the poorest effort so far.

One of the crewmen is mute and he observes the action and partially narrates with an disembodied voice. That is a device that could work. Unfortunately, it didn't. Additionally, it may have raised our expectations way beyond what the narrative could deliver. Our first impression is we are in for a story of supernatural mystery, of otherworldly adventure. Not even close. Plus, it was hard to sympathize with the third mate nor fear the captain. The dialog, while never completely failing, is weak at best. This Caine Mutiny on the Bounty lacks both thrill and drama. Without an angle, without great dialog, without any kind of hook, the only thing it had going for itself was the nice sets and photography, and it was short. Not enough to live off of. AMRU 2.5.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Leopard Man (1943)

The boyfriend-publicist of a backwater New Mexico entertainer comes up with a great stunt. He rents a tame panther for her to appear with to get attention and to disrupt the act of her castanet clapping rival. This works great for about two seconds before the panther escapes. Later, a poor girl is brutally murdered by the animal. Boyfriend-publicist can't help but think he must be somehow to blame.

Well, more girls are brutally murdered and boyfriend-publicist thinks they weren't done by his stunt-gone-wrong. He figures some sicko must be out there trying to make him look bad. What a dirty trick. Well ... watch the movie.

Beautifully photographed, solid acting, good script, and overall, a well put together film. I have become a fan of Val Lewton, and I suppose director Jacques Tourneur as well (he also did the excellent Night of the Demon). This is the third and last the two did together and I've loved them all. Lewton died young (my age) and only produced fourteen films, and I've seen eight of them (including the next one). Yet another will be on my DVR soon, and I expect to see them all.

Many films, even modern big budget movies, will have some rough patch. A spell of terrible acting or gawd-awful dialog. A draggy part or a scene that just didn't work. Not so with Lewton films. They lack huge budgets, special effects, or even great dialog, but they work front to back. Here I particularly liked the minor characters. They get little screen time but seem fully fleshed out. The craft of film making, at least B-Movie film making, at it's finest. The first death scene is completely non-graphic but wonderfully effective.

Billed as horror, but this is not. It has the feel of horror but lacks the elements (must have both, says me). Thriller, who-done-it, sure, but not horror. Still, great atmosphere and a wonderful film. At 66 minutes, it left me wanting more. AMRU 4. So, someone might be killing women pretending to be a panther. Then, why is it called "The Leopard Man"?
"This is a bad town for blonds"

Monday, October 14, 2013

Carnival of Souls (1962)

A car full of young boys challenge a car of girls to a race. It ends with the girl's car falling off a bridge. Several hours later rescuers are still searching for the car when they are surprised to find one of the occupants alive and unhurt. Seemingly unaffected by the incident, she leaves for her first job as a church organist.

Along the way she sees an abandoned carnival and is strangely drawn to it. She is frightened by the ghoulish face of a man that others cannot see. She comes to realize that the traumatic incident appears to have transformed her. She feels disconnected from other people. Strange things happen to her. I will say no more.

This must be the lowest of the low budget movies I've reviewed. And among the best. The acting ranges from serviceable to revolting. The dialog is forgettable. Some of the scenes, the opening car chase in particular, are terrible. Clearly 17k didn't go very far back in the early 60's.

The movie appears to have been done as a lark. Writer/Director/Producer/Principle Ghoul Herk Harvey was a maker of educational shorts (who can forget the classic "Why Study Home Economics?") when he saw the abandoned Saltair grounds and thought it would make a great setting. Three weeks later the movie was in the can. It is Harvey's only feature film. A financial flop, it also may have stunted the career of the lead actress Candace Hilligoss (her agent dropped her after seeing it).

So why do I love it so much? The story line is very original, the scenes (particularly the ones without dialog) are very well done, and it's absolutely creepy. It demands to be remade, and I don't mean that steaming pile of crap from 1998. Take the original story, film it in black and white, set it at the same time period, but rewrite much of the dialog. Get some good actors, do a good opening scene, but leave much of the framework in place (I'd lose the doctor character). Oh, the things I'd do had I money to piss away.

We have a flawed gem that works despite of, and sometimes because of it's flaws. What better way to express feeling disconnected from people than to act like a piece of wood? So I leave you with a question. Zombie movie? Ghost movie? Both? Neither? I have my opinion. See the film. AMRU 4. The TCM copy looked better than the PD version.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Valley of the Dragons (1961)

A Frenchmen and an American are in Iran dueling over a woman, when along comes an intense wind storm. When it's over our duelees find their friends have been blown away and they aren't sure where they are. They put their quarrel aside for the moment to find out what happened.

Long story short, they discover that they've been swept away by a comet to a land inhabited by close-up shots of normal sized animals. All perfectly sound, scientifically speaking.

Well, our American and Frenchmen are separated and end up living with competing tribes, each earning the affection of a hot young cave girl. When Frenchman's hot blond cave girl is captured by the American's tribe, our hero realizes his former adversary is still alive and goes with her to reunite them. When a volcano erupts trapping some of the American's tribe in a cave blocked by close-up shots of normal sized animals, the grateful Frenchman rallies his tribe to the rescue. He invents gunpowder to kill the Gorn. Hope he doesn't get tinnitus. Body count: 2.

So, what have we learned here? We've learned that people from different nations can live in peace so long as they have equal numbers of hot cave girls. Also, modern humans can gain status in primitive tribes using their superior intelligence, even though they lack all the skills required to survive in a primitive world.

What a plucky little film! Fun, imaginative, well-paced, short, brain-dead, all the things I look for in B horror and sci-fi movies. Don't confuse it for an important or influential piece of cinema, but do take a look. If for nothing else than the gratuitous swimming scene. AMRU 3.5.
"Go Sox!"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962)

or "Gritos en la noche" - Screams in the Night. I always like the original title better.

Pretty women go missing. Because they are of questionable virtue, the coppers don't care. When a young-ish and ambitious detective is assigned to the case, he takes it seriously. Oh, and he is newly engaged to a hot, young ballerina. That plays into this.

It appears the Awful Doctor is doing nothing more than trying to save his poor daughter. Seems she was terribly scarred and in order to save her, he must make her beautiful again. It's a medical fact. So, what does the doctor order? Dead chicks from which he must harvest their skin. Apparently he never heard of that Olay crap.

Anyhow, he doesn't do the killing himself. That would be terribly risky. Instead he sends his blind mute simpleton assistant, Morpho. He simply stands in front tapping his cane so Morpho knows where to walk. Orloff saved Morpho years earlier from prison by making him temporarily dead. Being the prison doctor at the time made that fairly simple.

Let's talk about dubbed movies. Does it seem sometimes the people voicing the English dialog have no regard for the movie they are working on? The goofy intonation occasionally took me completely out of the picture. I wonder if the original sounded like that, or if the American voice-over actors were trying to get as many movies in as possible before lunch.

Creepy setting, nice sets, good story, and very much appreciated, totally gratuitous nudity. Morpho's makeup was both cheesy and creepy. Clearly they made a false face and applied it making it appear like it was stitched on. It both worked and didn't at the same time. I'll call it a success, considering the genre. AMRU 3. If the dubbing was done well, it might have scored a half point higher.

Seems I got a false start on my October horror-fest. The theme this year is Dracula and Dracula-esque movies, but I don't seem to be able to get my filthy hands on them. But fear not. TCM to the rescue. In the meantime, I am plopping off what I can find.
"Morpho only pawn in game of life."