Archive for the horror films Category

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.

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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.

White Zombie (1932)

Posted in horror films, Mystery with tags , , , on December 22, 2011 by mike k

I have to admit that, even as a horror film fan, outside of Dracula, I am mostly ignorant of the film work of legendary actor, Bela Lugosi.  I also love old horror films so I was looking forward to watching a film that is considered to be one of the very first movies about zombies.  With great expectations, I sat on my couch with popcorn and soda in hand and pressed play on my DVD player only to be sadly disappointed with the film on some levels and liking it on others.

White Zombie was made in 1932 by Halperin Pictures (now owned by United Artists) and stars Bela Lugosi (Dracula) as a Murder Legendre, an evil voodoo master (is there ever a good voodoo master?) living in Haiti who runs a small army of zombies who do his bidding.  A young American couple, Madeleine and Neil Parker, (played by Madge Bellamy and John Harron) arrive in Haiti by invitation of a young French plantation owner named Beaumont. Beaumont is infatuated with Madeleine and asks Murder to change her into a zombie so she will stay with him forever. Murder complies with Beaumont’s wishes and after faking her death drugs her so that she becomes a zombie.  Meanwhile, Neil, distraught over his beloved’s death,  visits Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn), a local Christian missionary who is also an expert in the study of voodoo and zombies (I didn’t know you could get a degree in zombie studies?).  Dr. Bruner comforts Neil and tells him that Madeleine is not dead at all but is a slave of Murder Legendre.

Back at the plantation, Beaumont is not pleased with Madeleine’s conversion to one of the walking dead for it appears that “there is no life in her” and he asks Murder to change her back to her previous self.  Murder initially agrees and while drinking a toast to the return of Madeleine’s formerly lively self, he drugs Beaumont. Realizing he has been tricked, Beaumont staggers while Murder tells him that he has had eyes on his plantation and that Beaumont will make an excellent addition to his zombie army.

Dr. Bruner and Neil arrive to save Madeleine. Murder commands Madeleine to kill Neil but her love for him is stronger than Legendre’s zombie potion and she drops a knife meant to kill Neil. There is a brief struggle and chase between Dr. Bruner, Neil and Murder,  however, it looks as if Murder will get away but not before Dr. Bruner knocks out Murder which breaks his hold over his zombies. Without direction, the zombies wander aimlessly and fall off of a cliff and into the sea. Murder awakens and escapes Dr. Bruner and Neil only to be confronted by Beaumont who also pushes Murder off of the cliff and into the ocean with the rest of his zombies.

The quality of the film I watched was bad and some of the acting by the supporting cast was overdone, overblown and overplayed. Lugosi actually did  a fine job with his character despite the crazy sets and some poor lighting.  The best actor in the movie, however, was not Lugosi but African-American actor, Clarence Muse, who did an uncredited role as the carriage driver. He has he best one-liners in the whole film “No. Not men. Zombies” and “They are not men, madame, they are dead bodies”.

I’m not saying it is a bad film for it is not. There are some interesting lines in the film which openly explore some of the prejudices of White America during the 30s. For instance, when Neil is talking to Dr. Bruner about leaving Madeleine’s body behind in Haiti, Neil is shocked that she might be alive and alone with the local natives.  Neil exclaims that he would rather see Madeleine dead than left in the clutches of dark natives. The zombies themselves barely make an appearance in the film and the makeup was so-so (although, in its defense, this was the 1930s). On the other hand, there were some pretty good zombies in the film. (see below).

If you are interested in film history, then White Zombie is right up your alley. If you are looking for scares, then you might want to avoid this film and watch Night of the Living Dead instead.

The Fiendish Ghouls

Posted in horror films with tags , , , on December 18, 2011 by mike k

The Fiendish Ghouls aka The Flesh and The Ghouls and Mania

Every once in a while I come across what I call a real video nasty. By video nasty, I don’t mean that the film is extremely gory or violent but that its the kind of movie that grips my attention by the first scene and never lets me go until the very end. The Fiendish Ghouls is that kind of film.

Filmed in 1960 and starring horror legends Peter Cushing (Van Helsing in all of those Hammer Dracula films) and Donald Pleasance (Halloween) the movie tells the true tale of Dr. Knox who runs a medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr. Knox is hindered by both the law and the church in his pursuit to obtain corpses for his students to  practice on during anatomy class.  He finally resorts to hiring two nefarious grave robbers, Hare (Pleasance) and Burke (played by George Rose) to obtain the dead he needs. It is Hare and Burke who quickly become the villains of the film.

Peter Cushing is, of course, the protagonist of the story and he performs extremely well in one of his better, and lesser known, roles. In a rarity, Cushing has several comedic one-liners in the film that are terribly funny.  The viewer is torn between sympathy for Dr. Knox, whose pursuit of science and medicine are being block by narrow minded knuckleheads, and disgust as he employs two murderous grave robbers to obtain his corpses without ever asking where exactly the bodies came from.

A hairy-headed Donald Pleasance, playing his part with a Scottish (sometimes Irish) burr, seems to be taking great delight in his role as Hare. Pleasance is often comedic (he is a rat afraid of rats) in the film but is mostly a slimey character.

There is also a tragic love story in the form of Dr. Chris Jackson (played by John Cairney) and a prostitute named Mary (played arousingly by Billie Whitelaw). Torn between attraction and class driven scorn of a doctor having a love affair with a prostitute, the story of Dr. Jackson and Mary provide an excellent side drama to the horrific murders by Hare and Burke. Sadly, both  will find themselves victims of our two graverobbers which are found out and spell the end, not only of their graverobbing careers, but the career of Dr. Knox as well.

The Fiendish Ghouls has excellent acting, enthralling drama and is a surprisingly well directed and well filmed movie by John Gilling who would move onto Hammer Film Studios to do more excellent work there. There isn’t a bad scene in the entire film. I completely loved this movie. The DVD has 3 different versions of the film: the safe US and UK version and the entralling Continental version seen in Europe which left the nudity and pictures of bloody corpses intact.

The movie can also be found by its other titles: The Flesh and The Fiends and Mania

Nosferatu (remastered edition)

Posted in horror films, music on December 18, 2011 by mike k

You never know what treasures you can find in the bargain bin or at a Flea Market.

In my case, my treasure was found at a flea market at a table being run by a fantasy arts, books and movies dealer. There was an awful lot of vampire related material there; no doubt because of the popularity of role playing games, books and, of course, the Twilight and True Blood series.

Sadly, I’m not a huge fan of either series. I like my vampires to be either (a) scary  or (b) played pretty close to the eastern European legends or (c) and this is the best part — scary and close to legend.

So after rummaging through piles of vampire erotica and romance I happend to chance upon a vampire classic; in fact, its one of the earliest and most famous vampire films of all time: F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu

I know, I can hear modern day horror fans cringing already. Who the hell watches old black and white horror films let alone a silent horror film?

Maybe I am a romantic at heart after all but I love those old films. Max Schrek portrayed Dracula (called Count Orlock in the film) with incredibly orchestrated movements that still play eerily today. The make up is still top notch and if you don’t get a chill down your spine watching this movie then you may not have a spine at all or are paralyzed from the neck down. The film is just downright creepy and along with the classic Carnival of Souls and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead remains one of the scariest black and white films ever made.

F.W. Murnau’s film, banned by Bram Stoker’s widow in a famous lawsuit over copyright infringments, has been digitially restored and has also been given a new soundtrack courtesy of the goth metal band Type O Negative. As an added bonus, the late David Carradine introduces the film.

I know that you can find the original film with its grainy look and symphonic soundtrack on YouTube and Google video but Ive never owned my own copy of the film and I happen to like Type O Negatives music which adds a modern twist to the film. With the new musical score, its like watching a long music video. The music fits the film, especially Black No 1 and Christian Woman, and neither detracts badly nor overly commercializes Murnau’s finished product.

So, if you don’t mind movies without dialogue and enjoy reading placards instead (not to mention listening to the music of Type O) then you will find the new updated version of Nosferatu to be worth the money spent on it (in my case, I spent $5 bucks).

The Time Warp

Posted in horror films, music with tags , on December 15, 2011 by mike k

One of my favorite scenes, and song number, from the 1975 horror film musical spoof, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Hero (square): Barry Bostwick

Heroine: Susan Sarandon

Riff-Raff: Richard O’Brien

Magenta: Patricia Quinn