The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Posted in horror films with tags , on February 29, 2012 by mike k

The silent film, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, “gets no respect” and that is a shame for there are hundreds of really good films made during that era (1894-1929) which are largely ignored by today’s movie going audience. Among those unheralded treasures one will find producer Carl Laemmle’s masterpiece, The Phantom of the Opera.

The film starred legendary actors, Lon Chaney, as the Phantom, and Mary Philbin, as Christine Daae and is considered the best version of Leroux’s gothic novel. The story is well known, a shadowy specter haunting the Paris Opera house falls in love with a young singer named Christine. The Phantom becomes mentor to Christine as well as guardian angel ensuring through murder and trickery that his young protege becomes the lead in the Opera house.

The Phantom, known as Erik, is a tragic figure. Horribly disfigured at birth, he hides his face behind a mask. Because of his ugliness, he is unable to either reveal or to consumate his growing love for Christine. A talented composer, The Phantom is the author of a beautiful piece of music entitled, “Don Juan Triumphant”.

Christine falls in love with a young man named Raoul which sets off the Phantom and he throws a temper tantrum and kidnaps Christine.  Christine begs the Phantom to let her go and in a struggle, she rips off his mask to reveal his hideously scarred face. The de-masking of the Phantom is considered one of the greatest scenes in cinematic history.

With the help of the Paris police, Raoul rescues Christine. The Phantom now realizes to his dismay that Christine truly love Raoul and he lets her go to retreat underground back to his hidden lair where he dies of a broken heart.

The silent version of The Phantom of the Opera is in remarkably great condition. The music for it is very good and even if you are not a classical music fan, I can assure you that you’ll find the music of this film to your liking. The Phantom’s makeup was created by Lon Chaney himself. When audiences first saw Chaney’s Phantom unmasked, it is reported that many fainted at the Phantom’s skull-like visage. Lon Chaney is known in theater as “the man of a thousand faces” and would play other horror roles such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and London after Midnight (1927). His son, Lon Chaney Jr, became famous for portraying the lead character, Lawrence Talbot,  in Universal studios, The Wolfman (1941).

Lon Chaney unmasked

You can find the full version of the 1925 silent film on YouTube here.

The Veil (1958)

Posted in horror films, Mystery with tags , , on January 22, 2012 by mike k

Boris Karloff’s introduction to The Veil

The Veil was a 1958 anthology television series starring Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) and produced by Hal Roach who had made such successful comedy series as Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang during the 1930s. Only 10 epsiodes were filmed and for various reasons due mostly to studio troubles, The Veil was never broadcast but has been hailed by TV critics as “the greatest television show never seen”. The series can, however, be found on DVD and now includes 2 missing episodes not originally part of the series but were purchased by Roach Studios and made part of it.

The original 10 episodes are “Vision of Crime,” “Girl on the Road,” “Food on the Table,” “The Doctors,” “The Crystal Ball,” “Genesis,” “Destination Nightmare,” “Summer Heat,” “The Return of Madame Vernoy,” and “Jack the Ripper”. The two additional episodes are “Peggy” and “Vestris“. Vestris, ironically, was also the original production name for The Veil.

Although not set specifically during the Victorian era, there are several episodes set during the period.  For an early television series, The Veil is a very well written, acted and produced show which was the forerunner of another Karloff starred anthology series, Thriller. Each show is introduced by Karloff (just like Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone), who makes an appearance in all but one episode (Jack the Ripper) and deals with supposedly true tales of the supernatural happening to ordinary everyday people.

Karloff’s career
It is always a rare treat to watch Boris Karloff in action. A great actor who in film was typecast as the sinister villian was, in real life, a very kind man who was known to dress up as Father Christmas and visit sick children in hospitals on Christmas Day. Born Henry Pratt on November 23, 1887 in London, England Henry emigrated to Canada in 1909 and took up various odd jobs before falling into acting on stage.  Not long after starting his acting career, he changed his name to Boris Karloff after a character in a novel. His breakthrough role was, of course, Frankenstein (1931). He starred in two sequels to the original film, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). He originated the role of Imhotep in The Mummy (1932) and the Mask of Fu Manchu (1933).  Karloff was also well known for playing mad scientists such as the one he played in House of Frankenstein (1944) and other notable horror roles such as The Black Cat (1934), The Raven (1935) and The Tower of London (1939). Karloff played the role of the gangster in the original theater production of Arsenic and Old Lace (1941). He continued his acting well into the 1960s with Roger Corman’s The Terror (1963), which also starred a very young Jack Nicholson, as well as voicing the Grinch in cartoon version of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1968).

Boris Karloff (Henry Pratt)

I highly recommend watching Boris Karloff as he entertains us with “another strange and unsual story which lies behind The Veil“.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest (2008)

Posted in horror films with tags , on January 13, 2012 by mike k

Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest is the kind of movie whose bark is worse than its bite.  Based, and that is saying it kindly, very, very loosely on the infamous missing chapter in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, the film starts out well but fizzles midway  and then leaves you completely umdead by its end. But I get a-head of myself …

In the beginning we find a pretty young lass by the name of Miss Elizabeth Murray who is crying to herself behind the bars of a cell located beneath a castle in Transylvania (we think).  Along comes our hero, an Irishman named Bram Stoker, who tries to free Elizabeth from her cage but is unable to.  She implores Bram to run away for her captor is none other than Count Vlad Dracula. Bram threatens to kill him but Elizabeth warns him that Dracula is not any mortal man but is an immortal vampire and, to make matters worse, Dracula has had his way with young Elizabeth who is now pregnant with his child.

We are then entertained with several flashback scenes dealing with Bram asking Elizabeth’s father, Admiral Murray, to marry her but he refuses to allow it. Bram is then seen at his employer’s office, a realtor, where he learns that a foreigner, Dracula, is searching for a castle to live in in England (there are plenty there, of course). In the meanwhile, Elizabeth is throwing a Victorian temper tantrum and runs away from home to the London train station. She is wisked away by Dracula (who must have borrowed a transporter from Star Trek)  to his castle in Transylvania (why does Dracula want a castle in England when he has one in Transylvania? I don’t know and neither will you for they never say). Elizabeth doesn’t remember how she got to Transylvania (its a Star Trek thing I guess) but she proceeds to throw her second temper tantrum of the film when she demands that Dracula send a carriage to take her home (which is one hell of a cab fare if you ask me). By this time, Dracula has had enough and tells Elizabeth that she will remain at the castle as his prisoner.

Bram learns of Elizabeth’s kidnapping and makes a journey to go and free her. Along the way, Bram comes across a weird French family of cannibals (they’re French, what can I say?), a German carriage driver who seems to be afraid of the dark,a really hungry Rottweiler with a drooling issue (I guess the film company couldn’t find a wolf?), and a group of blood thirsty lady vampires who like to hang out in an empty cemetary.

Bram makes it to Dracula’s castle and after repeating the opening scene comes across Elizabeth’s father (who, strangely, seems to know everything that has just transpired). It is discovered that Admiral Murray is not a sea captain after all but a notorious vampire hunter who has killed vampires for years. Admiral Murray fights Dracula and cuts off his head. Elizabeth is freed from her cage and hugs Bram, even though it was her Dad who killed Dracula. Admiral Murray isn’t a man to hold a grudge, though, and in a twist, Murray now accepts Bram and tells Elizabeth and Bram to get married (despite her prenatal condition). They all hug and then … here ends the film. Confused? So was I.

Despite sort-of, semi-decent, acting the movie had high production values and was shot well. However, the film  seems to have suffered in post-production and was put together badl. The end result is a movie that is hard to follow and not a scare to be found in the entire film. Bram Stoker’s Dracula’s Guest is kind of a snoozer which makes it good to watch if you are suffering from insomnia.

If you’d like to know, the film was produced and directed by Michael Feiffer and starred Wes Ramsey (Bram), Kelsey McCann (Elizabeth) and Andrew Bryniarski as Dracula.

Do yourself a favor with this DVD, rent it, if only out of curiosity, watch it and then put it in a coffin but be sure to bury it with a stake through its heart. Don’t worry; its a mercy killing.

The Story of the Ghost Story (BBC 4)

Posted in ghosts, Mystery with tags , , on January 10, 2012 by mike k

The ghost story is probably the oldest form of human entertainment. Their telling can be traced all the way back to primitive times when our ancestors huddled in caves shivering in fear  around a campfire which, they prayed, helped keep at bay the unseen things they believed waited for them; evil spirits lurking in the dark forests of the night.  Even now, in what we believe is a more scientific society, we still find ourselves fascinated with the supernatural and tales of ghosts in particular.

Ghosts are still among our favorite frights and we find them everywhere in books, in television, in film and across thousands of websites on the Internet.  Belief in ghosts seem to cling to mankind like our shadows upon the wall. No matter the scientific evidence, either pro or con, man stubbornly continues to be both awed and scared by tales of ghosts.

England’s BBC-4 has produced a very enjoyable documentary on the telling of ghost stories starting with medieval tales through the gothic writings of Edgar Allan Poe, M. R. James, Algernon Blackwood to modern ghostly tales written by Robert Aikman and the appearance of the ghost story in cinema such as Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror and Stephen King’s The Shining.

Turn out the lights and curl up beneath a blanket, so you can safely hide, while  you view the story of the ghost story.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Dressed to Kill (1946)

Posted in Mystery with tags , , on January 8, 2012 by mike k

Although the film is set in the 1940s, the character of the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes, is definitely Victorian. Based, very loosely, on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s  stories ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and ‘The Adventure of Gloria Scott’ Holmes and Watson are hired by Watson’s old friend, Edmond ‘Stinky’ Emery, is the victim of a thwarted robbery at his home. Although his home is filled with valuable, antique, music boxes, the thieves, in question, are more interested in an wooden music box manufactured by prisoners in Dartmoor prison.  Emery is later found murdered and Holmes, while working with Scotland Yard, discovers that the music box is one of three boxes . Each box, it seems, plays a different version of the old Australian tune, “The Swagman”.  Holmes learns that the different versions are actually a hidden code which reveal the location of 5 pound plates which were stolen from a bank seven years earlier.  The rogue who stole them, of course, being the prisoner who made the music boxes.   A gang of thieves attempt to stop Holmes from finding the boxes but they are eventually foiled in their endeavors.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Dressed to Kill is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone as the lead and Nigel Bruce is wonderful as Dr. Watson. The plot is quickly paced and for an old 1940s film, as I know many groan at the thought of watching a black & white film, there isn’t a dull moment to be found throughout.

Although I much prefer to see Holmes and Watson in their native Victorian era, the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series of films are a delight to watch.

See the trailer for the film below:

Casebook: Jack the Ripper

Posted in Mystery, Victoriana with tags , , , on January 6, 2012 by mike k

The world is full of psychopaths and serial killers but no murderer has intrigued criminal historians more than the unsolved case of Jack the Ripper.

Considered to be the world’s first serial killer, “Jack the Ripper”, is a psuedonym used by journalists in 19th Century London to describe the killer of at least five prostitutes in grisly fashion. I say “at least” because no one is quite sure how many women “Jack” actually killed. The murders occurred in Whitechapel, a notoriously overcrowded, extremely poor section of London known for its poverty and its seedy nightlife,  with the first happening on August 31st (Mary Nichols) and the last on November 9, 1888 (Mary Kelley). Despite the best efforts of London’s Metropolitan Police and Scotland Yard, “Saucy Jack” was never captured. The murders shocked the ‘morally upright’ society of Victorian England and helped usher in a wave of social activism to alleviate the plight of the poor in Whitechapel and to aid ‘women of the night’ in finding a better vocation for themselves.

Whitechapel, London, 1905

There have been dozens of films and television series about the Jack the Ripper case (most recently BBC’s Whitechapel and Johnny Depp’s From Hell) and even more books and websites to be found throughout the World Wide Web.

In 2003, I was lucky enough to participate in a walking tour of Whitechapel sponsored by Premium Tours complete with a stop at the Sherlock Holmes Pub for dinner and drinks (English beer, by the way, is superior to our American brands). The tour picqued my interest in the Jack the Ripper case (okay, it became a slight infatuation for a turn) and got me searching the Internet for information.

I don’t usually provide advertisement for websites but in this case the website is well deserving of its accolades.

THE BEST website I found during my search for Jack the Ripper is Casebook which has some of the most amazing files and photographs I have ever seen concerning the murders. There is also a forum you can join but I must warm you the ‘Ripperologists’ in this forum really know there stuff so don’t go in there unprepared for they do not look upon ‘lurkers’ and ‘amatuers’ lightly. Just about anything you would like to know about Jack the Ripper can be found on this website including a nifty little “Jack the Ripper” online store.

So … if you’re willing to take a stroll down the dark, mysterious and somewhat seedy part of Victorian London, Casebook is the place for you.

A Christmas Carol (1951)

Posted in Victoriana with tags , , , , on December 24, 2011 by mike k

It is only fitting and appropriate that, in honor of Christmas, I talk about one of my favorite Christmas films; the 1951 film version of A Christmas Carol.  With nods towards other actors who have portrayed the miser Ebeneezer Scrooge, namely, Sir Seymour Hicks, Albert Finney, George C Scott, Patrick Stewart and Jim Carrey, I believe that Alistair Sims portrayal is perhaps the finest of them all.

Set in the mid-19th Century and written byVictorian-era novelist and social activist, Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol tells the tale of a miser named Scrooge who, on Christmas Eve, is visited by the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley. Marley warns Scrooge that his miserly ways and mistreatment of  the poor and needy will lead him, ultimately, to an eternity of damnation, never knowing the glories of heaven or earth, and to be condemned to wander the world dragging an enormous chain built with the cruelty of his life. Scrooge refutes his ghostly visitor as a “bit of spoiled potato” and a figment of his imagination but he is soon convinced otherwise. My favorite line during the meeting of Marley and Scrooge is when Scrooge tells Marley that he was a good businessman whereby Marley, in a fit of rage, replies, “Business! Mankind was our business!”. Marley departs Scrooge but not before warning him that he will be visited by three ghosts: the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future where will they teach him the true meaning of Christmas.

Each encounter Scrooge has with the ghosts weakens his cruel heart until, finally faced with the truths of his life, he learns to fully embrace Christmas, and his fellow human beings, into his heart.  Scrooge, before his haunting by spirits, was increasingly cruel to his clerk, Bob Cratchett, and it is joyfully tearful to learn, as the story moves on, how Scrooge accepted his sister’s nephew as his own family and took care of the Cratchetts by improving Bob’s salary and seeing that  his lame boy, Tiny Tim, would receive the medical care he needed to live.

The story was very popular during the 19th Century and, especially in the trying times of today, its message should become even more important.

… even to the cold hearted members of the Tea Party.

If you can find a copy on, I highly recommend the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol.

A Merry Christmas to you all and as Tiny Tim declared, “May God Bless Us, Everyone!”