Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

HOUSE OF WAX. Warner Brothers, 2005. Elisha Cuthbert, Chad Michael Murray, Brian Van Holt, Paris Hilton, Jared Padalecki, Jon Abrahams, Robert Ri’chard, Dragitsa Debert. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra.

   For a movie that has more than its share of borderline amateurish acting, a plot with holes you could drive through, and characters that are essentially horror movie archetypes come to proverbial life, House of Wax is nevertheless a thoroughly entertaining, if absurd, thrill ride.

   Under Jaume Collet-Serra’s skillful direction, this occasionally graphically violent horror movie retains an atmospheric sense of impending doom, dread, and sheer creepiness. Top notch production design, along with the movie’s implicit inter-textual references to past horror films, makes it one of the more unusual horror movies I’ve seen in a while. That’s not to say it’s an excellent movie. It’s not. But it’s at least trying to do something different, and, in a world where so many contemporary horror films feel the same, House of Wax stands out from the pack.

   The plot. You’ve surely seen this before: a group of college students on a road trip find themselves stranded in a rural area. Soon enough, they realize that they’re trapped in a sparsely populated area and that there’s a serial killer hunting them. What you haven’t seen before are the two primary villains who are the movie’s antagonists. They’re not quite like anything I’ve seen in a horror movie apart from maybe Chuck Conner’s character in the 1977 cult classic Tourist Trap (reviewed here ).

   Two twin brothers, one of whom wears a wax mask covering his disfigured face, run a wax museum in an abandoned small town somewhere in the Deep South. It comes as no surprise that the wax figures are or, better yet, were once human. Somehow – it’s never explained – these maniacs have been able to hole up in a small town that law enforcement doesn’t even know exists. Make of that what you will.

   You also have the final girl trope – because of course. The attractive, feisty college student who defeats the monster here is Carly Jones (Elisha Cuthbert who many will recognize from her portrayal of Jack Bauer’s daughter on 24) who, along with her twin brother Nick (Chad Michael Murray), defeats the monsters. Their friends are not so lucky. But make no mistake about it. You want to root for Carly all the way. And she lives up to your hopes.

Reviews by L. J. Roberts

NICK PETRIE – The Drifter. Peter Ash #1. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, hardcover,January 2016; paperback, March 2017.

First Sentence: He walked into Harder’s Grange, announced by a chrome-plated bell mounted to the doorjamb.

   Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Peter Ash suffers from PTSD and severe claustrophobia which manifests as a loud buzzing in his head. While helping out the widow of a fellow-Marine he finds a huge, mean dog under her porch, and a suitcase filled with cash and explosives. Investigating their source could kill him.

   From the very outset, there is no question that there’s going to be trouble— “It was dark and musty under the porch, the smell of wees and forgotten things, with an animal stick on top. Not a dog smell, but something wilder. Something feral. The smell of the monsters in the oldest of fairy tales, the ones where the monsters sometimes won.” And if that doesn’t catch one’s attention…

   There is a good twist right at the beginning. However, rather too much is made of Peter’s warewolf eyes, constant motion, and feeling of static at the back of his brain. Although one understands the author trying to convey symptoms of PTSD—“How fucked up was it that walking inside freaked Peter out, but the prospect of a fistfight or shoot-out calmed him down?”—a better editor was to be desired for several reasons.

   Petrie does have a very good, captivating voice. Within all the suspense and violence, there is also humor, particularly from the dog, Mingus— “He would have a nice bruise tomorrow. It was traditional to put a steak on it, but Mingus would just eat it, then lick him to death. A bag of frozen peas would be better. The dog was not a vegetarian.”

   The characters, and there are quite a lot of them, good and bad, do all come to life. They are interesting and complex. It is nice always refreshing that they also don’t all play to stereotype. A word of caution for those to whom it matters, there is also a lot of profanity. It’s realistic considering the characters, but perhaps not to everyone’s taste.

   The Drifter definitely keeps one reading, although the ending seemed abrupt. But it’s an exciting ride.

— For more of LJ’s reviews, check out her blog at :

Bibliographic Notes:   The Drifter was nominated for for both the Edgar and the Barry award in the category of Best First Novel. The next two in the seroes are (or will be) Burning Bright (2017) and Light It Up (2018)

HOLLYWOOD OFFBEAT “The Trial.” Syndicated / Dumont Network / CBS. 11 September 1952 (WJZ). Dates: 30 January 1953 (Dumont). Not aired on CBS. Episode 13 of 13. Series also known as Steve Randall. Melvyn Douglas (as Steve Randall). Guest cast: Olive Deering, Neil Fitzgerald, Steve Gethers, Melville Ruick, Harry Sheppard, Ed Peck. Executive Producer:Marion Parsonnet. Produced by Theodore Lewis. Original story by Frederick Stephanie. Screenplay by James Cavanaugh. Directors: M. Milton Schwarz & Frederick Stephanie.

   All of the information above came from the Classic TV Archive website. The credits themselves I am sure are correct. The complicated history of when the series was on, where, and under what name is perhaps more iffy.

   That this is the final show of the very short-lived series is definite. The premise is that Steve Randall (Melvyn Douglas) is a disbarred lawyer is is now working as a Hollywood PI, but in this episode he is promised by the D.A.’s office that he will be reinstated if he helps persuade a balky female witness to testify in an upcoming murder trial.

   Which indeed he does. The story is somewhat confusing at the beginning, with each of the several characters and the basic story line needing to be introduced all at once, in only a few minutes time. Compounding this are the flashbacks in time used to set the stage for the trial that takes up most of the less than 30 minutes running time.

   Although the names of the cast members were totally unknown to me (other than Melvyn Douglas, of course), I thought the acting was much better than most of similar relics of early low budget TV. The gimmick that cracks the trial wide open is one of the oldest in the books, but all in all, I’d watch another in this series, if there was one that’s available to watch.

   You can see this one at

HURRICANE SMITH. Paramount Pictures, 1952. Yvonne De Carlo, John Ireland, James Craig, Forrest Tucker, Lyle Bettger, Richard Arlen. Screenplay by Frank Gruber, based on the novel Hurricane Williams by Gordon Ray Young (1922).

   Yvonne De Carlo was a special kind of beauty, the kind that turns men’s minds to mush. (If not lust.) She is the only woman in this movie, and when she wears a low-cut of-the-shoulder blouse, there is very little mystery as to what keeps it up.

   And watching her stay inside her clothes provides for about 95% of the suspense involved. This sailing adventure of the South Seas is filled with slavers, sharks, mutineers, and a fortune in buried gold, but of actual story, there is very little.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #24, August 1990. (very slightly revised).

Editorial Update:   Of the book this movie is said to be based on, I have not been able to find an actual copy for sale, only several Print on Demand versions. Hurricane Williams appeared in several short stories and serialized novels in the pulp magazine Adventure between 1918 and 1931, but none with this specific title.

JEOPARDY. MGM, 1953. Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker, Lee Aaker. Director: John Sturges.

   Four years before they were cast as rivals in Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns (1957) (reviewed here ), Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck portrayed a married couple whose dream vacation turned into a living nightmare. Directed by John Sturges, Jeopardy features Sullivan and Stanwyck as Doug and Helen Stilwin who, along with their son Bobby, are headed to a remote area of Baja California for a vacation. Along the way from California to their Mexican destination, they are stopped, for reasons not clearly indicated, by the Mexican police.

   For persons well immersed in the world of crime films and films noir, however, it’s fairly obvious that the police must be looking for someone. And sure, enough, that person happens to be a wily scoundrel by the name of Lawson (Ralph Meeker). An escaped convict on the lam in Mexico, Lawson’s a thoroughly charming villain. He’s a sociopath, to be sure. But he’s also got a soft side, one that Helen Stilwin is more than willing to exploit so as to save her family.

   As the title indicates, the main theme of the film is about persons in imminent peril. Helen finds herself a captive, while her husband Doug finds himself imperiled by the rising tide after a beam falls on him, trapping him on the beach, all the while wondering where his wife might be. If the plot seems somewhat artificially constructed and forced, well that’s because it is. But for a programmer that clocks in at less than 70 minutes, it works well enough to make this a rather spunky, if not overly memorable, entry in the film noir genre.


PHILIP KERR – Dead Meat. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1994; paperback, 1995. First published in UK by Chatto, hardcover, 1993.

   Kerr’s first three novels were about a German PO and set before, during, and after WWII, and his fourth was set in a futuristic England. Now he turns to the new Russia.

   A militia investigator from Moscow is sent to St. Petersburg (née Leningrad) to learn more about dealing with the Russian Mafia, a conglomerate of multi-ethnic gangs becoming an ever-increasing force in Russia. The commander of the [militia] unit there is considered the best in the East at dealing with them. A prominent journalist is found murdered along with a Georgian gangster, and then a gang war breaks out.

   As the investigator from Moscow and the Colonel from St. Petersburg delve into the mess they discover that things are not as they seem; but in Russia they never were.

   I liked Kerr’s German trilogy, feeling that he did a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Germany of the times while creating a fine character in his weary PI. His next, A Philosophical Investigation, I thought an ambitious but thorough failure.

   I’m in between on this one. The mixed first and third person narrative was erratic and somewhat confusing, and the Pasternak-quoting Colonel was the only vivid character, but the feel for post-glasnot Russia was excellent. I got the feeling that Kerr couldn’t decide upon his primary goal: paint a picture of a society, or tell a story.

   It kept me reading, but it seemed more like a lengthy episode than a novel.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #14, May 1994.

MICHAEL CONNELLY – The Late Show. Renée Ballard #1. Little Brown & Co,m hardcover, 2017.

   After 21 books in his Harry Bosch series and six Mickey Haller (“Lincoln Lawyer”) books, including crossovers, plus a handful of other novels over the years, with this book Michael Connelly has begun a new series. Renée Ballard is a L.A. cop, a detective working in the same world as the Bosch books, but in this first outing his name comes up only once, and then only in passing.

   The book is called The Late Show for a reason. Ballard has been transferred to the night shift of the LAPD after accusing her former commanding officer of an untoward pass at her. Unfortunately her partner at the time did not back her up when he could have, and she lost her case. And was transferred to the night squad.

   This one begins as an ordinary police procedural, told in crisp, clear sentences and with lots of authentic police jargon, with Ballard and her new partner balancing several cases at a time — and mostly dropping them off to the day team — but two in particular she keeps to herself. One involves the near fatal beating of a transgender woman; the other is a shootout at a dance club that also kills a couple of the club’s employees.

   Ballard works within the rules, but if you have read any of Connelly’s other books, it will not surprise you to learn that she is also somewhat of a maverick. Investigating on her own also gets her into trouble, of course, including getting some unwanted scrutiny from the brass up above, but one serious scrape she gets into is caused when she gets too close to a killer too soon, and working alone.

   Connelly is an excellent writer with extremely smooth prose that can easily keep you up reading late into the night, which seems totally appropriate to me. The only problem I found is how perfunctory her second case is closed up. Not that it was easy, and keep that i mind, but I was expecting an extra twist or two, and there wasn’t one. I was left wishing for more.


THE LONELY MAN. Paramount, 1957. Jack Palance, Anthony Perkins, Neville Brand, Elisha Cook Jr. Claude Akins, Lee Van Cleef and Elaine Aiken. Written by Harry Esex and Robert Smith. Directed by Henry Levin.

   A pretty good film that should have been great.

   I mean look at that cast, and all of them with good parts written by the author of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Sons of Katie Elder, with photography by Lionel (The Manchurian Candidate) Lindon. So where did they go not-great?

   We’ll leave that for later. Right now let’s start with the basics: Jack Palance stars as Jacob Wade (called Jake by his friends, but that movie wouldn’t come along till next year) a notorious gunfighter/outlaw trying to make his peace with the world and particularly with the son (Tony Perkins) he hasn’t seen in nigh unto twenty year now. Turns out Tony blames Jack for the ostracism and death of his mother, and when Jack gets run out of town, Tony goes along just out of adolescent angst.

   Meantime (as they say in Westerns) Neville Brand is plotting revenge for a near-fatal wound Jack gave him sometime before the movie started. And not just him; Brand is abetted by fellow no-goods Lee Van Cleef and Elisha Cook Jr. And not just them; Robert Middleton is skulking around with suspect intentions and shady links to an outlaw band run by Claude Akins. (Here billed for some reason as “Claude A. Akins” though his actual middle name was Marion!)

   With all this going on, one expects a lot of action, but in fact this is a rather leisurely film as Jack and Tony hole up on a ranch with the pert Ms. Aiken (a stage actress of note who did too few films) and chase wild horses around until the bad guys come calling. Elaine loves Jack, and Tony has a yen for Elaine, but there’s a lot of complex emotional issues to resolve, and director Levin seems disinclined to hurry things along.

   Therein lies the problem. I wouldn’t mind a bit of emotional conflict, but director Levin never seems to put any passion into it, giving the feeling that we’re just marking time here. And in the year that gave us emotionally resonant westerns like The Tall T, The Halliday Brand, Fury at Showdown and Forty Guns, that just won’t wash.

   On the plus side, The Lonely Man has lustrous photography of some breathtaking locations, fine action scenes, and writers Essex and Smith took the time to work things out intelligently. This film is worth your time, but I can’t help wishing….

  I’M THE LAW “The Killer.” Syndicated; Cosman Productions / Television Corporation of America. 3 July 1953. (Season 1, Episode 21). George Raft (Police Lt. George Kirby). Guest Cast: Lawrence Dobkin, Nestor Paiva, June Vincent. Screenplay: Jackson Gillis. Director: Robert G. Walker.

   I’m the Law was a syndicated mystery series starring George Raft that ran for 29 episodes in different markets in 1953. Raft played a New York City police lieutenant who wore a hat and a a bulky overcoat no matter the weather, inside and out (if this one episode I recently happened upon typified the rest of the series).

   And let me say up front that this particular episode is not very good. It begins with a public stenographer being bumped off by a mobster because she was given too many secrets to type up. And whose fault is that? Her death is made to to look like an automobile accident (I think), but the marks on her neck indicate right away that she was strangled.

   The black and white photography is good, and it’s always fun to see familiar actors’ faces again, but you can turn your mind off while watching rest of this one, in case you ever do. George Raft is no better (or worse) than many similar roles he played over the years.

CARTER DICKSON – The Punch and Judy Murders. Sir Henry Merrivale #5. William Morrow & Co., US, hardcover, 1937. Pocket #219, US, paperback; 1st printing, March 1943. Berkley, paperback, April 1964. International Polygonics, paperback, 1988. First published in the UK as The Magic Lantern Murders by Wm Heinemann, hardcover, 1936.

   There is no locked room or impossible crime in this early adventure of Sir Henry Merrivale, but there is certainly everything else but. Two men being watched by the police die simultaneously, 70 miles apart, poisoned by strychnine. Psychic research is hinted at.

   I really enjoyed this one. On page 185 (of the Pocket edition) even though many of the apparently unexplainable happenings have already been explained, there is what amounts to one final “Challenge to the Reader,” wherein H. M. invites both of his fellow investigators to name the killer. Each of them names another person, and each of them has a finely worked set of motives and opportunities to support their suggestions.

   They’re both wrong, of course, but not Merrivale. He’s right on the money. Me, I wasn’t even close. Fooled again, and I think it’s terrific! There are so many things going on, and so quickly, that the short summary that takes up all of page 67 is a must. This is detective fiction for dyed-in-the-wool detective fiction fans at its finest.

   What’s more, what I think is also unique about John Dickson Carr’s work is that while he always wrote rationally based detective fiction, his stories always seem to take place in a setting and an atmosphere producing more shivers and chills than any other mystery writer I know.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File #23,, July 1990. (considerably restructured and revised).

Next Page »