Monthly Archives: October 2013
“House of Wax” (1953)
The remake of 1933’s “Mystery of the Wax Museum,” which starred Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. The updated version was directed by Andre de Toth and presented in 3D. My review will unfortunately be in 2D. Vincent Price plays Professor Henry Jarrod, a quite brilliant sculptor and co-owner of a wax museum. The museum is struggling financially because Jarrod refuses to cater the morbidly curious. He features no chamber of horrors, but his competitors do. His business partner, Matthew Burke, played by Roy Roberts, is not a patient man and burns their wax museum down for the insurance money. Jarrod is inside when it happens and is presumed dead. All of Jarrod’s wax figures are destroyed, including his Marie Antoinette, his pride and joy. Matthew feigns grief over the death of Jarrod. On the day he receives the insurance money, Matthew is murdered by a man cloaked in black, who limps and has a deformed face. The man in black makes it look like a suicide by hanging Matthew in an elevator shaft. Matthew deserved his fate, but this man in black also murdered his ditzy fiancé, Cathy Gray, played by Carolyn Jones. Her roommate, Sue Allen, played by Phyllis Kirk, witnesses the crime. A chase ensues and Sue seeks haven in the home of Scott Andrews, played by Paul Picerni. The body of Cathy is then stolen from the morgue, by not one, but three men cloaked in all black. It is revealed that Professor Henry Jarrod is still alive, but confined to a wheelchair. Due to the burns his hands suffered in the fire, he is no longer capable of fine work. He must rely on his two protégés. One is named Igor. This actor is billed as Charles Buchinsky, but it’s really Charles “Death Wish” Bronson. Jarrod is seeking financially backing for a new wax museum from Sidney Wallace, played by Paul Cavanaugh. This time, Jarrod will give the public what it wants. The macabre. A chamber of horrors. His new method for creating wax figures is to douse plaster bodies with boiling hot wax. Or, at least he claims that the bodies are made of plaster. After a brief intermission, Sue visits the new wax museum and recognizes Cathy in the face of the Joan of Arc figure. Jarrod claims to have modeled the figure after photographs of Cathy that appeared in the newspapers following her murder. Jarrod also becomes entranced with Sue since she is reminiscent of his Marie Antoinette figure. The deformed man in black begins to stalk Sue and she becomes suspicious of Jarrod. She informs the police, but they think little of her claims at first. They make further inquiries and Jarrod’s other assistant, Leon Avery, who is an alcoholic, snitches, admitting to the police that Jarrod has been covering dead bodies in wax. Sue returns to the museum after hours and discovers that the Joan of Arc really is Cathy. She is confronted by Jarrod and Igor. She tries to defend herself and shatters the wax face of Jarrod, exposing him as the deformed murderer. The most famous scene in both the original and the remake. Jarrod is intent on turning Sue into Marie Antoinette, covering her with boiling hot wax while she is still alive. Scott tries to save her, but Igor sticks head in a guillotine. The authorities arrive and rescue Scott first. Then, they have a confrontation with Jarrod, who has inexplicable strength, fighting off many policemen before he gets thrown into the vat of boiling hot wax. Presumably, meeting his demise. Sue is saved and poor Igor is incarcerated. Even with the 3D gimmick, I find this to be a sophisticated horror flick. I will not even acknowledge the 2005 “House of Wax” with Elisha Cuthbert and Paris Hilton as a genuine remake. We went from Fay Wray to Paris Hilton? Shame on you, Hollywood.
“The Tingler” (1959)
Vincent Price is reunited with William Castle, producer and director of “The House on Haunted Hill.” William Castle also introduces this film, warning the audience that they will literally have to scream for their lives. Vincent Price stars as Dr. Warren Chapin, a pathologist with a peculiar hypothesis. That a parasite attached to the human spinal cord feeds on fear, but he is unable to substantiate this theory. In a roundabout way, Warren becomes acquainted with the sister of an executed convict he performed an autopsy on, Mrs. Higgins, played by Judith Evelyn. A deaf-mute, who fainted at the sight of blood since she cannot relieve her tensions by vocalizing. Warren is married to Isabel, played by Patricia Cutts. Isabel is unremorsefully unfaithful, a recurring theme in these Vincent Price / William Castle collaborations. She also will not permit her younger sister, Lucy, played by Pamela Lincoln, to wed Warren’s helper, David, played by Darryl Hickman. Warren decides to perform an experiment in fear on Isabel by shooting her with a blank, then taking an x-ray, capturing an image of this parasite, which he dubs “The Tingler.” Warren experiments on himself next, shooting himself up with panic educing drugs. He learns that the Tingler can be held at bay with high pitched screams. The ideal candidate for all further testing would be Mrs. Higgins because she is incapable of screaming and thusly defenseless against the Tingler. Warren treats Mrs. Higgins for insomnia, but she wakes up and finds that her apartment has now become a spook house. The implication being that Warren drugged her and she is hallucinating. I believe the monster hand from “The House on Haunted Hill” even makes a cameo. Though a black and white flick, red blood poured from faucet in the bathroom sink and the tub is filled with blood. A cool and surreal moment. Mrs. Higgins is literally scared to death. Her husband Ollie, played by Phillip Coolidge, brings her dead body to Warren for examination. Warren surgically removes her Tingler, which looks like a giant centipede. Gross. Isabel sees this as her opportunity to rid herself of Warren. She drugs him and she leaves the Tingler with his unconscious body. It begins to strangle him. Luckily, Lucy comes home and screams, which temporally subdues the creature. Warren and David try, but the Tingler seems to be indestructible. Warren decides that the best course of action is returning the Tingler to Mrs. Higgin’s corpse, where hopefully it will become microscopic again. A hitch in that plan is that Ollie never reported his wife’s death to the authorities. Warren realizes that Ollie killed his wife. Other reviews of “The Tingler” omit this plot point, which has given some the false impression that Warren killed Mrs. Higgins. Yes, you are suppose to be suspicious of him at first, but he really was just trying to treat her insomnia. The Tingler then becomes loose in the movie theater owned by Ollie. This was the audience participation gimmick where you as a viewer are suppose to scream to help combat the creature. The Tingler gets captured in the projectionist’s booth. Warren will inform the authorities that Ollie is a murderer, but Mrs. Higgins rises, apparently the Tingler is her puppeteer, and Ollie is scared to death. Maybe this film doesn’t stand the test of time as well other Vincent Price cinematic opuses, but it was a hoot for my father’s generation.
“Tower of London” (1962)
Directed by Roger Corman and set in 1483. Vincent Price appeared sans his trademark mustache. A remake of the 1939 film of the same name, chronicling Richard III and his treachery, stealing the throne of England following the death of his brother, Edward IV. Richard murders his brother Clarence, literally stabbing him in the back with a dagger adorned with the family crest of Queen Elizabeth. Richard justified his deceitful actions by convincing himself that a “man of books” like Clarence could not rule. The ghost of Clarence appears to Richard and foretells that Richard will die by the hand of someone already dead. The name “Bosworth” is mentioned the second time that Richard sees the apparition of Clarence. There are those still loyal to Queen Elizabeth and her two sons, the eldest of which is the heir to the throne, so Richard spreads a rumor that the princes are illegitimate, discrediting their birthright. The original “Game of Thrones.” Richard also tortures their mistress (nanny) to death. The ghost of the mistress soon joins in the torment of Richard, taunting him because he is a hunchback. Richard, in a fit of anger, believes he is strangling the mistress, but he is actually killing his wife, Anne, the only person who had any real love for him. Richard’s villainy knows no bounds as he has his nephews imprisoned and murdered in their sleep. The ghosts of the princes appear and invite Richard to come play with them, and he nearly walks off the edge of the tower in a confused state of mind. Richard’s coronation ceremony goes on without the blessing of the archbishop. Richard is uninterested, but the ghost of Edward is seen in a mirror, laughing at his brother. Richard learns that all his enemies are rallying near the small village of Bosworth. Richard defies the prophecy by sending in his army. It seems like he should have outsmarted the prophecy by trying to coerce his enemies into having the battle on a different field. The bloody conflict ensues at Bosworth. Afterwards, Richard finds himself all alone on the battlefield. He seems to have proved the prophecy wrong, then all his victims appear to him for a final time. He panics and while trying to escape, he falls onto the battleaxe of a fallen soldier. He did die by the hand of someone already dead. Justice. Where they really ghosts or just manifestations of his guilty conscious?
“The Raven” (1963)
A loose adaptation of the immortal poem by Edgar Allen Poe, directed and produced by Roger Corman. I cannot stress how loose of an adaptation it is. It was actually a tongue-in-cheek dark comedy. Vincent Price played Dr. Erasmus Craven, a magician mourning the death of his wife, Lenore. A raven comes tapping at his chamber door. A talkative raven with the distinctive voice of Peter Lorre. This raven is actually a fellow magician, Dr. Adolphus Bedlo. Bedlo lost a duel with a more powerful magician and was hexed to become a raven. Craven concocts an elixir which will turn Bedlo back into a man, then Craven receives warnings from his deceased father. “Beware.” Bedlo intends on settling the score with the magician who bested him, Dr. Scarabus. Scarabus had been a rival of Craven’s father. Also, Bedlo claims to have seen Lenore at Scarabus’ castle. Craven is worried that Scarabus has possessed the spirit of his Lenore. Craven and Bedlo plan on confronting Scarabus, then are attacked by Craven’s servant, who is under a trance and wielding an ax. Craven uses his powers to subdue the servant. They travel to the castle of Scarabus with Estelle Craven, played by Olive Sturgess, and Rexford Bedlo, played by Jack Nicholson. Rexford also becomes possessed while driving their carriage and nearly kills them, driving like an absolute madman. An early onscreen Jack Nicholson mental disturbance. They make it to the castle in one piece and are greeted by Scarabus, played by Boris Karloff. How epic is this? Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Jack Nicholson in the same scene. Three generations of legends. Scarabus comes across as a quite pleasant individual. Still, Bedlo challenges Scarabus to a rematch and apparently gets killed with a bolt of lightning. Scarabus invites the others to spend the night since there is a violent storm raging outside. Craven sees Lenore, played by Hazel Court, but she is not a ghost. She had faked her death, so she could be with Scarabus. She is only attracted to his wealth and power. Bedlo is also alive. It has all been a plot on the part of Scarabus to steal Craven’s powers. Bedlo has second thoughts when he discovers that Scarabus will use Craven’s daughter Estelle as leverage. Craven is heartbroken when he learns that Lenore left him for his father’s adversary. Bedlo begs Scarabus to be turned back into a raven, but only so he can help his friends escape from the dungeon. Craven is freed, so it will be a fair fight. The main event is a duel to the death. Dr. Scarabus vs. Dr. Craven. Boris Karloff vs. Vincent Price. I won’t list all of the tricks they use against one another, just a few. Craven levitates. Scarabus turns into Craven’s departed father and hurls fireballs. Their showdown causes great destruction to the castle. It crumbles and burns around them. A standoff ensues where they project some form of energy at each other. It is Scarabus who falls. The duel is over. Boris Karloff’s reign of terror (I mean that as the sincerest of compliments) is over and Vincent Price is the new master of horror. Lenore comes crawling back to Craven, but is left behind with Scarabus to be crushed by falling debris. Craven, Estelle, Rexford, and Bedlo the raven escape. Since it is a comedy, there is scene that shows that Scarabus and Lenore survived underneath all the rumble. Bedlo assumes that Craven will turn him human again, but Craven decides to have some fun with him and takes away Bedlo’s ability to speak. “Quoth the raven… nevermore.”
*Volume 3 will include…
“The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961)
“The Haunted Palace” (1963)
“The Masque of the Red Death” (1964)
“The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1971)
This will be the first time I review an adaptation Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and My. Hyde, since I neglected to include 1953’s “Abbott & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” in my Universal Classic Monsters section. The reason for the omission was because it was not a classic like 1948’s “Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein” and because Boris Karloff only played Dr. Jekyll. Due to his age, a stuntman needed to portray Mr. Hyde in a pullover mask. I also usually review films in chronological order, but I already posted an article about “The Curse of the Werewolf,” which was released a year later, so you can read this article first, then scroll down.
Terence Fisher (who else?) directed. Paul Massie stars as Jekyll and Hyde. Dr, Jekyll’s wife, Kitty (Dawn Addams), is cheating on him with Paul Allen (Christopher Lee). One of the first times since “Horror of Dracula” that Lee was cast a suave villain as apposed to a traditional lumbering brute-type monster. Unlike most adaptations, Dr. Jekyll does not become a hideous fiend, but rather a much more handsome and debonair version of himself, Mr. Hyde.
Mr. Hyde begins to socialize with Kitty and Paul, claiming to be an acquaintance of Dr. Jekyll. Hyde and Paul get into a drunken scuffle with Oliver Reed. When he turns back into Jekyll, he experiences and existential crisis. He doesn’t know who he really is and he isn’t sure if Hyde is the man he wants to be. Hyde and Paul become buddies, which makes for a bizarre love triangle. Hyde seems to enjoy that Kitty is cheating on Jekyll even though they are supposedly one in the same. Paul has great gambling debts. Hyde offers to bail him out of his financial jam in exchange for being introduced to the seedy side of life. Hyde and Paul go on a bender and they end up in an opium den. Hyde then makes an inappropriate request. He wants Paul to “lend” him his mistress. He wants his wife to cheat on him… with himself. Mr. Hyde is one sick puppy, so Paul refuses.
Dr. Jekyll needs to exercise his demons, but Mr. Hyde has other plans. He will have his revenge on behalf of Jekyll. Hyde kills Paul first with a poisonous snake, then he forces himself on Kitty. He also strangles a sexy belly dancer he has been sleeping with. Kitty awakes, dazed, perhaps drugged, and falls over a railing to her death, crashing through a glass ceiling. Jekyll finally has a conversation with Hyde via his reflection in a mirror. Something a lot of Spider-Man villains seem to do nowadays. Apparently, this town is not big enough for the both of them. Hyde fakes the death of Jekyll by burning down his laboratory. Hyde’s crimes are pinned on the late Jekyll, but after an inquiry, Hyde turns back into Jekyll. Jekyll will face the consequences for all of Hyde’s offenses, but seems confident that Hyde will not return.
Not a horror movie in the traditional sense since Mr. Hyde was more of a sexual deviant than a monster. This film was major box office bomb, but I give director Terence Fisher credit for his decision to make a thriller that would appeal to an older demographic. He also allowed Christopher Lee a reprise from being typecast.
“The Fly” (1958)
Based on the short story by George Langelaan, adapted by screenwriter James Clavell, and directed by Kurt Neumann. Presented by Twentieth Century Fox, “The Fly” is one of the most famous monsters, along with George Romero zombies, not to be part of the Universal Studios Classic Monster stable. Vincent Price plays Francois Delambre, who is shocked to learn that his sister-in-law, Helene, played by Patricia Owens, has killed her husband, Andre. She crushed him at the family owned factory. Helene is presumed to have lost her mind since she is so calm when being questioned by the authorities. She only looses her composure when in the presence of a housefly. For some reason, Helene also pretends to not know her own son, Philippe, played by Charles Herbert. Francois is in love with Helene, but never resented her for favoring his brother. Francois looks after Philippe, who tells his uncle about a peculiar fly with a white head. Francois lies about having captured the fly, so that Helene will finally reveal the truth to him and Inspector Charas, played by Hebert Marshall. A flashback shows the tragedy of Andre, played by David Hedison, a scientist who has been constructing teleportation devices in secret. At first, only inanimate objects can be teleported. When Andre attempts to transport their cat, the furry little feline vanishes into thin air. Meow. Andre then becomes obsessed with his experiments. He spends most of his time in his laboratory. He finally perfects his device, successfully teleporting a guinea-pig. Helene is distressed by the potential danger in her husband’s invention. Andre does not attend a lunch with his brother. This was when the mysterious fly with a white head was first spotted. He slips Helene notes underneath the door to his lab, letting her know that he has had a terrible accident and is unable to speak. He allows her inside. He keeps a towel on his head and his hand in his lab coat. He needs the fly with a white head, but Helene had already told Philippe to set it free when he caught it earlier. Helene catches a glimpse of Andre’s hand, which was now a hairy claw. Helene tries desperately, but cannot catch this elusive fly. Andre had tested his teleportation device on himself, but he wasn’t alone. A fly was with him and they swapped parts. Andre will commit suicide rather than live as a monster if the fly is not caught. He is beginning to lose his humanity. The insect is taking over. Helene begs Andre to teleport himself again. He reemerges and she removes the towel, revealing his horrific fly head. She faints and he destroys his laboratory, burning research papers. No hope remains. They go together to the factory and she crushes him to such a degree that his fly head and arm will me unrecognizable. The flashback ends. Francois and Charas humor Helene, but believe her to be mad. That is until they discover the fly with a white head. It is calling for help while trapped in a spider’s web. Charas panics and crushes it with a rock. Such a freaky scene. Since no one would believe their story, Francois and Charas opt to label Andre’s death as a suicide. Helene is set free. They explain the death of Andre to Philippe as noble sacrifice in a quest for knowledge. “The Fly” was remade in 1986, directed by David Cronenberg, and starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. It was perhaps the greatest horror / sci-fi remake of all time, along with John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Bart Simpson also became the fly on a “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween special.
“The House on Haunted Hill” (1959)
Vincent Price plays Frederick Loren, an eccentric millionaire hosting a haunted house party in honor of his treacherous wife. $10,000 is the reward for any guest who spends twelve hours in this spooky domicile. Frederick invites desperate people, who are likely to risk their lives for the money. The guests arrive in hearses and are greeted by a falling chandelier. A clichéd scare, courtesy of producer / director William Castle. Frederick is on wife number four, Annabelle, played by Carol Ohmart. He suspects her of adultery and even attempting to poison him once. Watson Prichard, a drunkard played by Elisha Cook, is the only character who truly believes the house is haunted. The house is locked down at midnight. Escape is impossible and there are no telephones, so no calls for help can be made. There are supposedly seven ghosts, four men and three women, so one for each party guest. The ceiling bleeds and there is a vat of acid down in the wine cellar. The best scare is when Nora Manning, played by Carolyn Craig, is confronted by an old hag, witch like lady, who then floats out of the cellar. On Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments of All Time, Tom Savini aptly described his reaction to this scene as “Fuck me.” The old woman turns out to be the blind wife of the caretaker. No explanation was given as to how or why she floats. Annabelle subtly accuses Nora of being Frederick’s mistress. Nora becomes the focal point of the scares as someone plants a severed head in her suitcase. Handguns are distributed, but Annabelle refuses to accept hers, then she is found hung atop the staircase. It is deduced that she committed suicide, which seems the most unlikely scenario given these circumstances. Soon, Frederick becomes the red-herring. Secret passages are uncovered and the torment of Nora continues. She sees the ghost of Annabelle hovering outside her bedroom window and a monstrous hand tries to strangle her. A pipe organ plays by itself. More cheap, but effective scares. Frederick searches the house with Dr. David Trent, played by Alan Marshal. It gets revealed that Annabelle is still alive and having an affair with Dr. Trent. Their plan is to drive Nora into such hysterics that she will shoot Frederick, making his murder seem like a prank gone terribly wrong. The plan works and Nora shoots Frederick in the cellar. Dr. Trent disappears while admiring his handiwork. Then, a skeleton emerges from the vat of acid and literally scares Annabelle to death, chasing her into the vat. The skeleton was being controlled by Frederick like a marionette. He was one step ahead of his deceitful wife and her lover the entire time. He loaded Nora’s gun with blanks. The house was never actually haunted… Or was it? “The House on Haunted Hill” was remade in 1999 with Geoffrey Rush in the Vincent Price role and visuals which were quite impressive, but it was an instance of style over substance with sequences cut like a music video. The film was trying too hard to be hip and not hard enough to be genuinely chilling.
“Return of the Fly” (1959)
“The Fly” was filmed in color, but its sequel is black and white. I watched an interview once with the late Vincent Price, where he condemned the decision. He loved black and white, but felt strongly that there be uniformity in a film series. Edward L. Bernds was the director. Vincent Price reprised his role as Francois Delambre. Brett Halsey played Philippe Delambre all grown up. Helene Delambre has passed away, but never escaped the controversy surrounding her husband’s death. Inspector Beecham, played by John Sutton, has replaced the Inspector Charas character. Beecham assisted in the cover up of the events in the original film. Philippe has become curious and wishes to follow in the footsteps of his late father. He defies his uncle to do so. Philippe recruits a friend to aid him in these daring experiments, Alan Hinds, played by David Frankham. Danielle De Metz plays Cecile Bonnard, Philippe’s love interest. Philippe, knowing the truth about his father, suffers from a phobia of flies just as his mother did. Francois eventually finds out what Philippe and Alan are up to. He reluctantly agrees to back them financially, so he can protect his nephew. It turns out that Alan is not who he claimed to be. His actual name is Ronald Holmes. He plans on stealing Philippe’s research and having a gangster sell it to the highest bidder. They successfully teleport an ashtray and a guinea-pig, just like Andre Delambre, but this guinea-pig suffers from gigantism. Alan’s true identity is discovered by an inspector, so he murders the inspector and disposes of his body in the teleportation device. The inspector’s corpse reappears with the paws of the guinea-pig. Philippe realizes that Alan is not be trusted. A fight ensues. Alan knocks Philippe out cold and teleports his unconscious body with a fly. What are the odds? Francois has bad timing, arriving just as Alan flees. Alan shoots Francois in the abdomen. Francois is one tough bastard, walking around with a bullet in his gut. Philippe gets reintegrated with a fly head and also suffers from gigantism. Ed Wolff portrayed this giant fly. The head of Philippe is then seen on the little fly. Francois refuses to speak to the authorities while he recovers in the hospital until Inspector Beecham arrives. The big fly makes its way to the funeral parlor where Alan met with his accomplice and kills the gangster. Beecham searches the laboratory and catches the little fly. The big fly waits for Alan to arrive at the funeral parlor. It crushes his neck and leaves him to die in a coffin. Then, like any of the classic mad scientists turned monsters, it searches for the woman it loves. Cecile is woken up by the big fly sneaking into her bedroom. It collapses after taking her by the hand. Beecham helps the big fly down to the laboratory. Francois, still hobbled from the gunshot, operates the teleportation device and Philippe is restored to his natural state. A happy ending. Vincent Price did not appear in 1964’s “Curse of the Fly,” where no one even turned into a fly. That film was about various monstrosities that could be created with the teleportation devices. 1989’s “The Fly II,” starring Eric Stoltz, was essentially a remake of “Return of the Fly,” but just in its basic premise. It was a weak follow up to David Cronenberg’s classic remake with Jeff Goldblum.
“The Last Man on Earth” (1964)
A tale of zombie-vampires, based on the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and directed by Sidney Salkow. Vincent Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, who is seemingly the only individual not yet infected by the plague. Every night, Dr. Morgan’s house gets surrounded by these lumbering zombie like creatures, but Morgan protects himself with mirrors, garlic, and crosses, so traditional vampire mythos apply. It has been three years since the beginning of the epidemic. Morgan leads a life of repetition. He drives around during the day in a hearse, searching for ghouls and driving wooden stakes through their hearts. More classic vampire imagery. Morgan tosses the bodies he slays into a fiery pit. It’s hard to believe that the ghouls can’t infiltrate his home. The garlic must be pungent. Repetition is how he survives, but one day he falls asleep in his daughter’s mausoleum and barely makes it home in time. Dream sequence flashbacks reveal how his wife and daughter succumb to the disease and that his friend and colleague, Ben Cortman, played by Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, is the apparent leader of the ghouls. There is a sequence with a dog that is too heartbreaking to write about. Morgan crosses paths with Ruth Collins, played by Franca Bettoia. Ruth is one of many who are infected, but able to function in daylight due to a vaccine. Apparently, Morgan has also been killing those being treated with this vaccine, so he is considered just as much of a threat as the zombie-vampires. Since Morgan is immune, his blood can be maturated into a permanent cure, but Ruth’s brethren chase him down and murder him inside his daughter’s mausoleum, destroying the last real hope for humanity. I Am Legend was adapted again in 1971 as “The Omega Man,” starring Charlton Heston. “The Simpsons” satirized the premise in one of their classic “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween specials. The most recent adaptation was the CGI vampire catastrophe, 2007’s “I Am Legend,” starring Will Smith. The theme of the last man on Earth being considered the monster from the point of view of the vampires was nixed, making the title of the film absolutely meaningless. All that resonated was Will Smith’s ill-fated friendship with a canine. The doggy stole the show in that film.
*Volume 2 will include…
“House of Wax” (1953)
“The Tingler” (1959)
“Tower of London” (1962)
“The Raven” (1963)
Horror fanatics know the history. German director F.W. Murnau’s unsanctioned silent film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. To avoid lawsuits, the vampire’s name was changed to Count Orlok. The story is set in 1838. Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is the real estate agent dispatched to Transylvania, not Jonathan Harker. He leaves behind wife named Ellen (Greta Schroeder), not a fiancé named Mina. The villagers freak out when they learn that Hutter is traveling to Count Orlok’s castle. They warn him about a werewolf in the vicinity. Remember, a vampire can transform into a bat or a wolf. A hyena seems to be standing in for the wolf. Hutter laughs at their silly superstitions.
Hutter rendezvous’ with a carriage, driven by Count Orlok (Max Schreck), whose rat-like features are mostly obscured. After arriving at the castle is when Count Orlok gets revealed to Hutter. None of this weepy, pretty boy vampires looking for true love trash. Count Orlock is terrifying. If you’ve seen most adaptations of Bram Stoker’s novel, you know how the story unfolds. The Count’s guest accidentally cuts himself while slicing a piece of bread and the sight of blood agitates the vampire. Then, the vampire finds the framed likeness of his guest’s love interest and begins to lust after her. Hutter realizes that his host is one of the undead. Though he is in a far off land, Ellen can sense when Count Orlok preys upon her beloved husband.
Count Orlok departs Transylvania via a schooner, feeding on the crew. The sequence was better executed in this version than in Tod Browning’s “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi. Hutter travels back to his native Wisborg by land, aware that Count Orlok is now after Ellen. Professor Bulwer (John Gottowt) is the Van Helsing of this production. Knock (Alexander Granach), a stand-in for R.M. Renfield, snacking on insects in an asylum, awaits the arrival of Orlok. The deaths of the sailors on the schooner have the locals in Wisborg fearing the plague. If that wasn’t enough, Knock escapes from the asylum and runs amuck.
Ellen is metaphysically in tuned with Count Orlok and learns that only a woman “pure in heart” can vanquish a vampire. Orlok becomes mesmerized with her beauty. Ellen is aware that the evil which is Orlok must be destroyed and sends Hutter away when she can sense Orlok approaching. He enters her bedroom. His shadow reaches for her and clutches her heart. She faints and he begins to drain her. Meanwhile, Knock is captured as Hutter seeks the aid of Professor Bulwer. Orlok spends the better part of the night feeding on Ellen. Obviously, he is enjoying her and not just looking for sustenance. The sun rises while Orlok sucks the life out of her. The distraction of her beauty was his undoing as she hoped it would be. She sacrificed herself. He evaporates when touched by the sunlight. The monster is dead. Ellen lives just long to die in her husband’s arms.
Before the introduction of talkies, filmmakers had to rely primarily on the visuals to tell their stories. There are so many iconic images in this film. Almost every shot was awe-inspiring. “Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horrors,” though unofficial, was the first of the five definitive theatrical adaptations of Bram Stoker’s immortal fable. Max Schreck was succeed by Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, and Gary Oldman.
A remake, “Nosferatu the Vampyre” was released in 1979, directed by Werner Herzog, and starring Klaus Kinski. This time, the name Dracula was permitted. 2000’s “Shadow of the Vampire,” starring John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau and Willem Dafoe as Max Schreck, played up on the urban legend that Schreck actually was a vampire. Too cool. Sure, it’s all hokum, but what a great premise for a fright flick.
My sixth consecutive NY Comic Con experience…
DC Comics – Batman
Catching up on events in Gotham City.
Star Wars Rebels: The Might of the Empire
A preview of a series taking place in between Episode’s III and IV.
Artist Alley, Booth W2: Division
Synopsis: Fiction is an agent of The Division of Paranormal Investigation, hunting the supernatural. The Neo Mortem. But upon his death, he’s given one last mission: find his killer before the Division finds him.
Created by Tom Kirrane-Martinez,
Lines and inks by Melissa Martinez,
Colors by Tom Kirrane-Martinez,
Written by Josh Breidbart.
Green Lantern – Lights Out!
Catching up with the Green Lantern Corps.
*Bummed that I missed the “Archer” panel and couldn’t get a good pic of Hulk Hogan.
“They’re back from the grave and ready to party!” I’m obviously a huge fan of George Romero’s zombie films, especially “Dawn of the Dead,” but I really grew up with Dan O’Bannon’s “Return of the Living Dead.” Loosely based on the novel of the same name by John Russo, writer of “Night of the Living Dead.” John Russo and George Romero had went their separate ways and an unique court ruling allowed each to produce their own sequels to “Night of the Living Dead.”
Since George Romero beat John Russo to the punch with “Dawn of the Dead,” director Dan O’Bannon, who had written “Alien” and was now replacing Tobe Hooper on this movie, wisely took a satirically approach to the material. These zombies were fast and could even vocalize. It did not matter if you destroyed their brains. In fact, they feed solely on human brains… Brains! Brains!
Frank (James Karen) is mentoring naïve Freddy (Thom Matthews) in a medical supply warehouse, run by Burt (Clu Gulager). Frank enjoys frightening Freddie and explains to him that “Night of the Living Dead” is based on true events. While showing off, Frank accidentally unleashes 245 Trioxin, a chemical which can reanimate corpses. They are also knocked unconscious by breathing in the Trioxin. After they awaken, they call Burt for assistance in dealing with the zombie they have cold storage. They assume that the rules of George Romero movies will apply, but destroying the brain does nothing to this zombie. The entire carcass must be obliterated, so they go across the road to a mortuary and ask Ernie (Don Calfa), the mortician, if they can use his crematorium. Though this is never mentioned in the film, over the years it has been deduced that Ernie is a Nazi in hiding. An odd creative choice for a comedy.
Meanwhile, Freddy’s demure girlfriend Tina (Beverley Randolph) and their punk rocker pals, Spider (Miguel Nunez), Trash (Linnea Quigley), Suicide (Mark Venturini), Chuck (John Philbin), Casey (Jewel Shepard), and Scuz (Brian Peck) are all hanging out at the nearby cemetery. Trash stripteases on top of a crypt as they pass the time. Tina is in no way impressed by Trash’s performance and goes by herself to the warehouse to see if it is the end of Freddy’s shift yet. There, she encounters a real slimy zombie known as the Tarman (Allan Trautman).
Ernie disposes of the zombie in the crematorium. Then, smoke from the chimney above causes acid rain, spreading Trioxin all over the cemetery. The punks seek haven from the rain and run to the warehouse. Tarman kills Suicide and they retreat to the cemetery, where dozens of zombies are waiting for them. Trash gets engulfed by zombies, which is ironically how she fantasized about dying, while the others split up. Chuck and Casey hold up in the warehouse. Spider, Tina, and Scuz go to the mortuary.
Freddy and Frank are showing signs of infection. Paramedics have been called and it is revealed that Freddy and Frank are already dead even though they are conscious. These paramedics are killed by the zombies outside, then Burt, Ernie, Spider, and Scuz secure the mortuary. Tina is hysterically because of Freddy’s condition. Scuz is the next to bite the dust. Ernie ties the decayed female zombie, which killed Scuz and has had its lower body severed, to an examining table. The zombie explains that eating brains relieves the anguish of being dead. An eerie scene. Suicide and Scuz remain dead, but Trash comes back as zombie and eats the brain of a hobo.
Freddy and Frank finally become full fledged zombies. Freddy is intent on eating Tina’s brain, but Ernie throws acid in his face, dissolving his eyes. There is still humanity left in Frank. He removes his wedding ring before committing suicide in the crematorium. Burt and Spider escape in a squad car, forced to leave Ernie and Tina behind because of the sheer number of zombies, and go back to the warehouse, where they find Chuck and Casey. Burt decapitates Tarman with a baseball bat and calls the police, who are being overrun by zombies, including Trash. Burt then calls the military on an emergency line. The number was on the side of the tank that stored Tarman. Colonel Glover (Jonathan Terry) is in charge of keeping the existence of Trioxin under wraps and will succeed by any means necessary.
The military responds by dropping a bomb on the city. Freddy had just busted into the attic where Ernie and Tina were hiding when the devastation begins and every character is wiped out. All the military accomplished was to cause more acid rain and spread the Trioxin. Likely, this grim ending was not meant as setup to a sequel, but rather an ironic conclusion to this punk rock / horror / comedy. “Return of the Living Dead” was more successful than George Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” so Dan O’Bannon had bested the father of modern zombies at his own game in 1985.
Clu Gulager co-starred in “A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge” that same year. Thom Matthews starred in “Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives” and both he and James Karen returned for “Return of the Living Dead, Part II,” playing different characters. The sequel was released in 1988 and was not nearly as clever as the original. The humor was more on the nose this time. There was even a Michael Jackson look-a-like zombie featured during the climax. “Return of the Living Dead, Part 3,” which was released in 1993, is a zombie romance. Melinda Clarke starred as a young woman killed in a motorcycle accident and brought back to life by her boyfriend with the Trioxin, but now she feeds on human flesh. Two straight to basic cable sequels premiered in 2005 and starred Peter Coyote, but I’ve never watched them as each sequel became less and less comparable to Dan O’Bannon’s original.
Rest in Peace, Dan O’Bannon 1946 – 2009
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“An American Werewolf in London”
This is one of my favorite films. Probably my favorite horror flick not directed by John Carpenter. “An American Werewolf in London” was the reason I went trick-or-treating as a werewolf in the third grade. I was really looking forward to seeing John Landis at New York Comic Con 2011, but he cancelled his appearance, but it was cool because I made a good friend while waiting in line.
David Naughton and Griffin Dunne starred as David and Jack, two American teenagers backpacking across Europe. Trekking across the Welsh moors, they enter a foreboding pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. They receive an unkind welcome from the locals and get booted when they question the pentagram etched on their wall. David and Jack are warned to stick to the road, advice they do not heed. They hear eerie howls and realize that they are being stalked by something unknown in the darkness. Such a scary scene. A beast attacks and Jack is savagely killed. David is badly injured, but gets rescued by the patrons of the Slaughtered Lamb, who had a change of heart. The beast is shot dead, but only the body of a nude man is visible to David before he loses consciousness.
David awakens in a London hospital. Despite being greeted by an attractive nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), he suffers from horrific nightmares. Then, he is visited by the mangled remains of Jack, who is quite jovial considering his circumstances. Jack informs David that their attacker was a lycanthrope, a werewolf, and that David is cursed to turn into a wolf during the next full moon. Jack will remain in limbo until the wolf’s bloodline is severed, meaning that David must die. A grim prognosis, but David is able to distract himself until the next full moon. Alex invites David to stay with her while he continues to recuperate and they hop in the sack almost immediately. Clearly, David has the best health insurance ever as very few hospital stays end with the patient being seduced by a sexy nurse.
Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda and Miss Piggy, cameos as a delegate from the American embassy. Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) takes it upon himself to investigate the validity of David’s story, making a pilgrimage to the Slaughtered Lamb. Hirsch is greeted with same surliness which David and Jack had received. Prominently featured in the pub are a chess player played by Brian Glover and a barmaid played by Lila Kaye.
Jack continues to pester David, looking more decomposed than he did before. David is still in his state of denial, shrugging off Jack’s appearances as a mental disorder of some kind. Alex is working the nightshift at the hospital when the full moon rises and David painfully transforms into a wolf, the most celebrated scene in the entire movie. Special makeup effects were designed and created by Rick Baker. *hold for applause* Baker’s hope was for a bipedal werewolf in the tradition of the Lon Chaney, Jr. makeup created by Jack Pierce, but John Landis insisted on quadruped, a demon dog, a hound from hell. David’s killing spree includes three hobos, a yuppie couple, and snooty businessman.
David finds himself in the wolf cage of a zoo the next morning and has a hard commute to Alex’s apartment (or flat as they call it across the pond) because he is buck naked. He hears about the killings and finally accepts the horrible truth. He decides to take his own life by slitting his wrists, but he cannot go through with it. He then meets up with Jack, who is practically just a skeleton at this juncture, in the back of a Picadilly Circus porno theater. All of David’s victims are present and stage an intervention of sorts, dependent on him to commit suicide. Apparently, he wouldn’t require a silver bullet to accomplish this feat. Too little, too late as the full moon rises and David transforms again, going on a rampage through Picadilly Circus. He is cornered in an alley by a S.W.A.T team. Alex races past the police barricade and tries to reason with the beast, but to no avail. Just as the werewolf is about to attack her, the police gun it down. Alex sees the wolf turn back into David and she breaks down in tears.
“An American Werewolf in London” proves that a horror / comedy can truly do justice to both genres. John Landis successfully provided the audience with laughs and scares. There was a pseudo-sequel in 1997, “An American Werewolf in Paris,” which could do neither. And, even though is was sixteen years later, the special effects were inferior to the original.
As I kid, I held “The Howling” in low regard compared to “An American Werewolf in London.” I needed to mature a bit before I could appreciate Joe Dante’s film based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner. Joe Dante initially pegged Rick Baker to create the special makeup effects, but Baker resigned so to work with John Landis on his lycanthropic opus, which he had committed to several years prior. Rob Bottin, who had previously worked on John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” playing Blake, the head ghost pirate, was a more than antiquate replacement. Rick Baker was still billed in the credits of this film as a “consultant.”
Karen White (Dee Wallace), a popular news anchor, is being used as bait by the police to apprehend her stalker, known only as Eddie, who they suspect is also responsible for a series of savage murders. Eddie (Robert Picado) uses smiley faces as calling cards and lures Karen to a peep show. Eddie undergoes a metamorphosis before being shot dead by the police. Karen suffers from post traumatic stress disorder following this encounter and cannot recall what she saw. Kevin McCarthy plays the real unsympathetic head of her network, who puts Karen on the air in hopes of boosting ratings, but causes her to have a public freak-out. Karen’s husband Bill Neill (Christopher Stone), a former collegiate athlete, is helpless to help her though this crisis. Dr. George Waggner (Patrick MacNee) recommends that Karen and Bill spend time at his wilderness self-help commune. This character was name after the director of “The Wolf Man.”
Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski), romantically involved colleagues of Karen’s, are digging up dirt on Eddie. His full name is Eddie Quist. Terry’s last name is Fisher, named after Terrence Fisher, director of “Curse of the Werewolf.” Eddie’s body has mysterious disappeared from the morgue. They do further research and learn about werewolves from a bookstore owner played by Dick Miller. According to this version of the legend, a shape-shifter can transform day or night and is in no way reliant on full moons, but silver bullets are still effective, along with fire. “An American Werewolf in London” followed rules which were in direct opposition. Full moons were required, but silver bullets were not necessary. Any old bullet would suffice.
Karen and Bill are introduced to some bizarre folks up at the commune. John Carradine, who had portrayed Count Dracula back in the 1940s, plays a suicidal elderly gentleman. Marsha (Elizabeth Brooks) is the resident vixen, with eyes on Bill. Her borderline feral brother, T.C. (Don McLeod), drools over Karen. It is painfully obviously to Karen that they need to leave this place, but Bill is attacked by a wolf. Dr. Waggner advices them to wait until Bill recovers before they travel. Bill gets drawn by instinct to Marsha since she was the werewolf who bit him and they engage in the most unnerving love scene in cinematic history. The unbridled lust of these beasts was a strong theme in the original novel and meant to serve as the main appeal to life as a werewolf.
Terry visits Karen and Bill at the commune, which I think is the scariest sequence in the movie. Even as a kid, I had a strong feeling that Terry was not going to survive, so I just kept waiting for the moment of terror. She discerns from artwork left behind that Eddie Quist had spent time at this commune. She also learns that Marsha and T.C. are Eddie’s siblings. While on the phone with Chris, Terry gets attacked and killed by an enormous werewolf. This wolf turns out to be Eddie. Karen discovers Terry’s body, then she gets cornered by Eddie, who begins the transformation again. It’s hard to measure up to what Rick Baker created in “An American Werewolf in London,” but Rob Bottin still did an amazing job. Karen waits until the transformation is completed before she throws acid (?) in his face.
Chris comes to her aid, armed with silver bullets. His first confrontation is with Eddie, whose face is almost dissolved down to the bone. Eddie refers to Chris as “bright-boy,” a moment parodied in Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.” Next, Chris saves Karen from the rest of the werewolf colony. Dr. Waggner had tried using self-help techniques to modernize his brethren, but a revolt is underway. Chris backs them into a barn with his rifle, locks them inside, and sets the barn ablaze. Karen and Chris escape, but not before she gets bitten by a werewolf who turns out to be Bill. Karen opts to go out in a grand fashion, turning into a werewolf on live television. Unlike all the other werewolves in this film, Karen looked like a cute shih-tzu when in werewolf form. Chris shoots her with a silver bullet before the feed gets cut. Some viewers believed what they had seen while others thought it was just a hoax. It was left unclear whether or not Karen’s death was in vein, but Marsha is revealed to have survived the inferno in the barn.
Thus far, there have been seven sequels to the “The Howling” and they are all terrible. Joe Dante went on to make “Gremlins” while Rob Bottin worked with John Carpenter again on “The Thing.” Whenever I would see Robert Picado as the hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager,” it was hard to connect that performance with Eddie Quist, the deranged and perverted werewolf from “The Howling.”
*I was initially going to pen an article entitled “Werewolves of 1981,” which would have included “Wolfen,” starring Albert Finney and Edward James Olmos, but I could not get myself motivated to critique that particular film at this time. I also neglected to declare a winner between “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London” as each individual reader can reach their own verdict.
**Forrest J. Ackerman, the famed collector of movie memorabilia, cameos in “The Howling” during the bookstore scene. Ackerman also cameos in the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video, in the theater watching a werewolf movie. “Thriller” was directed by John Landis and special makeup effects were created by Rick Baker, the men behind “An American Werewolf of London,” so Ackerman has six degrees of separation thing happening here.