20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)

Posted in science fiction with tags , , on December 22, 2011 by mike k

Much to my family’s chagrin, I am becoming a fan of the silent film; particularly old science fiction and horror films.  As a child, one of my favorite science fiction stories was Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which told the tale of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus and their adventures under the ocean deep. The film below is a restored version of the 1916 silent film produced by Universal Studios and directed by Stuart Paton. It was one of the first films to depict underwater scenes by using mirrors and watertight tubes to reflect images of underwater scenes staged in shallow, sunlit waters. The film was one of the most expensive of its era and was praised for its special effects (which aren’t bad for an early 20th Century film).

One of the very first ‘steampunk-y’ films. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been remade several times; including a popular 1954 film starring Kirk Douglas and two releases of the film in 1997 starring Ben Cross (Dark Shadows) in one version and Academy Award winning actor Michael Caine in the other.

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

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.

Professor Elemental and Fighting Trousers

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

A bizzare Steampunk song, as steampunk goes that is, which is probably why I really like it.

Professor Elemental