My Favorite Older Horror Experiences Of 2019

Thanks to an email from one of my editors, I realized it was New Year’s Eve! Funny how that works out. These might be coming out a bit later than the norm, but I figured I would jump in on the whole “End of the Year” list thingy. First up, I’m going to cover my favorite horror viewing experiences of films that came out several years back!

Continue reading My Favorite Older Horror Experiences Of 2019

Halloween Scene: The Raven (1963) & The Tower Of London (1962)

Over the weekend I found myself in an increasingly rare place: looking for something to watch on a Saturday night. Of course, I flipped through Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu trying to figure out what to watch, but it was a trip to my trusty DVD rack that finally helped me figure out what to put in my brain: Vincent Price flicks!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Raven (1963) & The Tower Of London (1962)

Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman

shock-valueIf you’re keeping track, and I’m not sure why you would be at this point, I’m still muddling through Stephen King’s The Stand. And yet, I stray away from time to time to check out other books like Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value, which I stumbled across while looking for various horror films in my library’s database. With a subtitle like How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Gabe Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, And Invented Modern Horror, how could I not bite, especially around Halloween! Continue reading Halloween Scene: Shock Value By Jason Zinoman

Halloween Scene: Universal’s Wolf Monsters

chaney-wolf-manI might have to rethink my position on werewolf movies. For a while, they just didn’t click with me, but after loving An American Werewolf In London and four Universal Monsters movies revolving around lycanthropes, I might be changing my tune! And thanks to picking up the big UM DVD set, I’ve been able to do a pretty deep dive on all (or most) things wolf from that era. Continue reading Halloween Scene: Universal’s Wolf Monsters

Halloween Scene: Frankenstein (1931)

Frankenstein is the Universal Monster movie I’m most familiar with. When I first got into horror back in high school I remember asking for copies of some of the flicks on VHS for Christmas and wound up with this one and Dracula, though I didn’t exactly wear either tape out, only watching each a time or two. As you surely know, Frankenstein follows the name of the title scientist as he and his assistant Fritz (not Igor, as many assume) try to bring a man assembled from various body parts to life. Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t know that his helper grabbed a criminal’s brain, though, and a series of misunderstandings lead to Frankenstein deciding to end the monster. Understandably freaked out, the monster makes a break for it and accidentally kills a young girl named Marie who tried to befriend him. This leads to the usual UM mob attacking the monster and a very abrupt ending.

Also like the other Universal Monster movies I’ve watched recently (The Mummy, The Invisible Man and Phantom Of The Opera), there’s a lot of scenes of old white dudes standing around talking about things. I actually expected more of an accidental rampage from the monster and was surprised that that’s not really the case until the very end.

But whatever, the reason this movie is so awesome and still considered  classic is because Boris Karloff is ridiculously great in the role of the monster. Even with a pretty limited ability to move his face, he does some amazing things that make you really feel for his character. He’s basically a scared child who doesn’t know his own strength. He just wants to be safe and find people who are nice to him, but doesn’t know how to actually act. He’s the classic misunderstood monster and he nails the role like an expert carpenter.

With a few of these other classic horror movies I’ve said that the proliferation of parodies, rip-offs and homages have diluted the originals. You know what’s happening in Dracula, so it might not be as fun to watch. And some people might feel the same way about Frankenstein, but I think there’s enough in Karloff’s performance to keep you interested even if you know most of the story beats. Oh, and I’m sure it’s because I’m a dad, but few things I’ve watched this October have been as chilling as Marie’s distraught father carrying her limp corpse through the town as their festival slowly turns into a violent mob. Top notch.

Halloween Scene: The Mummy (1932)

I really wish I had watched The Mummy before Dracula. Not only do both movies follow the Universal Monsters equation I mapped out in that previous review, but Mummy was modeled after the plot and structure of Dracula. Had I watched Mummy first, I would have still been pretty bored with Dracula, but I would have enjoyed this movie even more because it would have felt a lot more fresh.

Which is to say that I really enjoyed The Mummy, I just had an idea of where it would go based on the other flick. The story, which I wasn’t overly familiar with, follows Imhotep, a mummy who gets dug up, comes back to life and turns into Boris Karloff. He’s running around looking like a regular dude (or as regular as Karloff can look) and happens to find this lady named Helen who looks just like his ancient Egyptian wife. There’s some stuff in there about reincarnation and we actually get to see flashbacks on a TV screen of sorts which is funny.

Anyway, there’s still a lot of old dudes standing or sitting around talking about the bad things happening, but this movie just held my attention a lot better than Dracula did. Bela Lugosi definitely had presence, but he was about it, no one else in that movie aside from maybe Renfield was ultra interesting. In this movie you’ve also got the captivating Zita Johann as Helen who looks kind of like Christina Ricci. And, man, Karloff looks rad even as just himself, but him as the mummy is still creepy as hell.

I think I can safely say, having watched Dracula, The Mummy and The Invisible Man relatively recently, I can say Mummy is up there with Creature From The Black Lagoon as my favorite Universal Monster movies. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Frankenstein and I have zero experience with the sequels, but will hopefully remedy that later this month. I gotta say, these movies are great for me because they’re short and they’re not super scary so I can watch them with Lu up, which doesn’t work for some of the more modern flicks. Assuming they’re on Netflix Instant, which sequels should I focus on?

Halloween Scene: I Walked With A Zombie (1943) & The Body Snatcher (1945)

I haven’t seen a lot of horror movies from the 40s or 50s. Sure, I’ve seen Frankenstein and Dracula and a few others here and there, but there are lots and lots I haven’t seen. On the list of classic oversights are the films of Val Lewton a producer I just discovered recently who worked for RKO back in the 40s. There’s a nine movie DVD set out that collects his horror flicks which, from what I’ve seen and read, went more for atmosphere than all-out terror. I moved one of those DVDs to the top of my queue and it made the perfect double feature, starting with I Walked With A Zombie.

Now, even though I checked off the “Zombies” category box, this isn’t your average brain-craving zombie. Instead, it’s the more traditional, voodoo-inspired, walking dead kind of a thing with an island plantation owner’s wife afflicted with the “disease” and a young, imported Canadian nurse taking care of her.

I wound up really liking this film. The different take on the zombie concept was fun and super creepy, especially with the nurse taking the woman to the voodoo jamboree. There was even some melodrama as the nurse started to fall for the plantation owner, but that got interrupted by a local singer singing a folk song about the owner, his wife, his previous wife and all the strange things that had been going on with those women. I can’t quite say how it was all connected or what explanation they gave for the wife’s condition, but I absolutely loved that they used a singer to convey a lot of that knowledge, especially later when he comes out of nowhere singing just to the woman on an abandoned street.

I like these movies because they’re short and sweet and get to the point without bothering with too much nonsense and yet still have a lot going on. Good stuff.

Like I said above, I’ve seen Frankenstein and Dracula and every horror fan worth his salt knows about Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. However, I didn’t know that both men were in The Body Snatcher, which is actually based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short story and has nothing to do with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This one’s a period piece set in Scotland though curiously devoid of the trademark Scottish brogue we all know and love. A doctor uses Karloff to get him bodies so he can learn how the human body really works. The doctor has an assistant played by Lugosi and a young medical student who wants to help cure a little girl.

I mentioned Pollyanna in my review of Murderer’s Row because of Karl Malden’s involvement in that film. Well, The Body Snatcher feels like a horror sequel to that movie, which is really funny because not only did this movie pre-date that one (it came out in 1960), but the RLS short story (1884) came out well before the Pollyanna book (1913). Pollyanna ends with the titular character crippled and heading off for treatment while this one starts with a girl who can’t walk and a couple of doctors operating on her. This time around, though, it’s a white horse that draws her attention instead of a doll, but the similarities are there. There’s even musical cues that reminded me of Pollyanna.

Anyway, this story has been retold over and over both officially and unofficially and played out pretty much how you would expect it to with the corpse-finder vaguely threatening the doctor, the student finding out, the doctor confronting the corpse-man, etc. SPOILER ALERTS FOR A 70 YEAR OLD MOVIE (can’t say I’m not careful). Towards the end, the doctor kills the corpse man (after he kills Lugosi, that’s right, Frankenstein’s monster aced Dracula with his bare hands!). For some reason I don’t recall, he and the student go and dig up a woman of their own, but the guilt of killing someone gets to the doctor on the rainy night that they’re returning to their office. He starts hearing Karloff’s voice repeating something over and over and over and over. Then, the student gets out and the horses take off with Karloff’s body (somehow switched with the woman’s!) sits exposed and half naked, leaning on the doctor seemingly reaching out for him. Then the horse breaks away and the carriage tumbles off a cliff (I almost expected it to blow up thanks to too many movies). The student climbs down to examine the scene only to discover that the body really was the woman and the doctor had just lost his mind! It’s a great sequence that ranks up there in my all time brainbank of closing horror movies scenes.

While neither of these movies will take over for any of my previous all-time favorites, they were both good flicks that I’m glad I watched. Makes me want to go through the rest of that set and move onward from there.

Final Girl Film Club: Black Sabbath (1963)

I hope anyone who comes here for regular horror reviews is familiar with Stacie Ponder’s Final Girl blog. If you’re not, go check it out. Every month or so, Stacie picks a movie and tells her readers about it, encouraging them to watch it, do their own reviews and send her a link so she can post them all on her blog. This month’s choice was Itallian director Mario Bava’s Boris Karloff-starring anthology film Black Sabbath from 1963. I actually got the disc from Netflix about a week (maybe two) back, popped it into the DVD player expecting to be able to watch it like I do everything else (while looking at nonsense online), but it turned out the version I got only had English subtitles, not a dub. Bummer. So, I put it off until the last minute (right now).

I’m not a big fan of anthology films because the rarely keep their quality through all the separate parts and, unfortunately, Black Sabbath falls into that trap. The first story, “The Telephone” had a really creepy and claustrophobic vibe to it with a woman being terrorized by a voice on her phone threatening to kill her while she also discovers that her ex-boyfriend, who she turned in, just escaped from jail. For some reason, she then calls her friend who recently turned into an enemy, Mary, to come help her (does she have no other friends?). Turns out SPOILER, that Mary was really the one making the calls. Her and Rosy (the main character) used to be an item, but Rosy’s boyfriend didn’t like that. In the end, the boyfriend comes back and kills Mary, then goes to kill Rosy, but Rosy kills him with the knife that Mary hid under the pillows (I would have cut myself silly with a knife under my pillow). I like that, in a short period of time, the movie changed what I was afraid of. First off, you’ve got the unknown lurking outside who knows everything going on inside the room. Then, after the reveal, it’s even closer looming doom with the potential killer locked in the room with the victim. And finally, it’s the danger of the boyfriend standing in the room killing people. I’ve seen features with less interesting and complicated plots.

The second story, “The Wurdalak” left me wanting. It stars Karloff as some kind of zombiemonsterthing going after a household somewhere. See, he’s not supposed to be dead, but he is. Or something. I really got bored with this one as it quickly turned into a “monster in our midst” movie. Maybe if I had seen this back in ’63 and not seen a hundred other horror/monster movies, this would have been more effective, but it just didn’t grab me. Karloff looked rad in it though (that’s his giant head there on the poster).

The last story, “The Drop Of Water” I liked a lot. This one was about a woman who came to take care of a woman who died in a seance trance. I loved that concept. It’s something you always hear in movies, but rarely see: “Don’t disturb her while she’s in the trance or terrible things will happen!” Well, now we see what happens, you turn into a super ugly zombie bent on getting your stolen ring back. The scene where the old lady zombie sits up in bed reminded me (in a good way) of my favorite scene in Halloween. Then, the body keeps popping up all over the place. Great stuff. Not gory or anything, but it looked great and creepy. And then the real world explanation for the ring thief’s death (self strangulation!) made me chuckle.

All in all, the movie was 2/3 interesting both in story and visually (maybe it’s all the Doctor Who I’ve been watching, but I’m bored with old houses and towns). I also really liked the very last bit, where Karloff is riding on a fake horse and talking to the audience (remember, he was talking specifically to theater going audiences as there was no other way to watch movies, except for maybe on TV). He gives a warning and then rides off, but the camera pulls back and you see the studio where it’s being shot and exactly how they shot it. I especially liked seeing dudes with branches running around to make it look like he was riding through the forest. According to IMDb, they filmed intros to each segment that Karloff loved, but the studio cut them. Bummer. So, yeah, I don’t know if I would recommend this one. Maybe just watch the first and last segments or just read, er, watch the whole thing, it’s only an hour and a half.