Archive for the Mystery Category

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“.

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.

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 Woman in Black

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

As an old school horror fan I’m happy to see the haunted house come back as a sub-genre in scary films. Even better, I’m very happy to see a haunted house story being produced by legendary horror film studio, Hammer Films.

Their latest production is called The Woman in Black starring Daniel Radcliffe as  young Victorian lawyer, Arthur Kipps, sent to a remote village to settle the affairs and sell off the notorious Eel Marsh house. Kipps begins to learn hidden secrets of the village as well as the truth that children are dying under mysterious circumstances.  While in the house, Kipps is tormented by ghostly visions and demonic appearances while his family finds themselves threatened by a shadowy woman in black.

The movie also stars veteran character actor, Ciaran Hinds.

The film is to be released in February 2012.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows

Posted in Mystery with tags on December 13, 2011 by mike k

Compared to the stories, the film is much more action oriented but as I love the character of Sherlock Holmes and am a fan of Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law I am really looking forward to seeing the movie.