Horror movies


From Beyond is a 1986 film based on the story of the same name by H. P. Lovecraft. Richard Band wrote the film score.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB. Hammer Films, UK, 1964. Columbia Pictures, US, 1964. Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland,George Pastell, Jack Gwillim, John Paul, Dickie Owen. Screenwriter-director: Michael Carreras.

   Directed, written (under the credited name “Henry Younger”), and produced by Michael Carreras, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is a Hammer film about well … you guessed it, an archaeological expedition that unearths a mummy’s tomb and becomes the object of the mummy’s revenge.

   Ronald Howard, perhaps best known for starring in the 1954 Sherlock Holmes series, portrays John Bray, a Cambridge archaeologist who seeks to unravel the mysteries of the ancient Egyptian past. After his French colleague is murdered in the desert, he and his would-be betrothed, Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) make their way by boat up the Nile with the intention of returning to London.

   It is on that fateful trip that they encounter Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan), a mysterious Englishmen who inserts himself into their lives and knows far more about ancient Egyptian history than it first appears. But who is he and what does he want with Annette? That’s the crux of the story.

   When compared with Hammer’s The Mummy (1959) that I reviewed here, this later film comes across as a rather tepid and an uninspiring attempt to capitalize upon the former’s aesthetic, narrative, and musical genius. Indeed, without Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the movie just isn’t all that memorable in terms of its actors and their stage presence. But that doesn’t mean that one should completely write off this admittedly clunky mid-1960s horror film as purely derivative and as having no particular intrinsic value as a film onto itself.

   Although this is not a particularly well-crafted film, it’s actually significantly better than its harshest critics would suggest. True, often the art design leaves a lot to be desired and the supposedly ancient Egyptian artifacts look cheap and plastic. And yes, the story takes a well to fully coalesce into a coherent narrative. That said, however, the film does compensate for these flaws by introducing a few new elements and surprises into the mummy film corpus.

   These include a subplot with an inherent critique as to how mummies were often used in the West for cheap thrills and entertainment purposes and (Spoiler Alert) the finale in which it is revealed in which the film’s nominal villain is the mummy’s brother, who is revealed to be Beauchamp (Morgan).

    Due to a curse, he has been condemned to everlasting life as a mortal human being roaming the Earth alone for thousands of years. It’s a curious little twist, one that’s just enough to rescue The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb from the obscurity it that would have befallen it had merely been a weak reworking of the brilliant Hammer original.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE. American International Pictures, 1971. Jason Robards, Herbert Lom, Christine Kaufmann, Adolfo Celi, Maria Perschy, Michael Dunn, Lilli Palmer. Screenwriters: Christopher Wicking & Henry Slesar, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. Director: Gordon Hessler.

   When adapting what many critics consider to be the original modern detective story to film, there’s a temptation to do so in a manner that adheres too closely to the original text.

   That’s definitely not a problem for Gordon Hessler’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, a film that’s so anarchic in spirit that it ends up little resembling Edgar Allan Poe’s locked door mystery. Borrowing as much from The Phantom of the Opera (1943) as from Poe’s tale, this uneven, but still enjoyable, American International production blends gothic horror, an early 1970s Paella Western aesthetic, and a sly commentary on the demarcations between the profession of acting and living in “real life.” The movie also benefits a rather unique score by the Argentine composer and conductor, Waldo de los Ríos.

   The plot revolves around an early twentieth-century Parisian theater troupe of the Grand Guignol variety. Led by the mercurial Cesar Charron (Jason Robards), the troupe includes a myriad of colorful members. In the midst of their theatrical run of a stage adaptation of Poe’s eponymous story, Charron finds that his cast and crew, both former and present, are being targeted for murder.

   It’s only when the bodies start piling up that Charron begins to suspect that his former friend and rival, Rene Marot (Herbert Lom) is behind the horrific killings. Thing is: Marot is believed to be dead, having taken his own life after murdering Cesar’s wife’s, Madeline’s (Christine Kauffman) mother (Lilli Palmer) with an axe.

   At the end of the day, however, it’s not the convoluted murder mystery plot that makes Murders in the Rue Morgue worth watching. Rather, the film is more an exercise in style and reflective of a certain type of Gothic horror cinema, one in which dreams, flashbacks, and hallucinatory sojourns play important roles in elucidating how the characters’ pasts and presents converge in tragic ways. The movie’s not a horror classic and doesn’t hold up very well when compared with Roger Corman’s Poe films, but it’s the product of a certain type of daring that was a hallmark of 1970s commercial cinema.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         


TERROR IS A MAN. Valiant Films, 1959. Re-released as Blood Creature. Francis Lederer, Greta Thyssen, Richard Derr, Oscar Keesee, Lilia Duran. Screenplay: Harry Paul Harber, based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells (uncredited). Co-directors: Gerardo de Leon (as Gerry de Leon) & Eddie Romero.

   The long shadow of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau hangs over the incredibly bleak Filipino-American film Terror is a Man (aka Blood Creature). Produced in stark black and white, the movie feels more like a late 1930s or early 1940s horror film than one made at the tail end of the 1950s. This is a film that, with modifications, could have just as easily been made by John Brahm at the height of his creative output.

   Co-produced by Eddie Romero, the esteemed Filipino director whose vast corpus of work includes of a series of English-language exploitation and horror films in the 1970s, Terror is a Man features Francis Lederer in a leading role. He portrays Dr. Charles Girard, a mad scientist clearly inspired by Wells’ eponymous Dr. Moreau. He’s a man guided by both a zealous quest for knowledge and a desire to create a new kind of man, one unburdened by the effects of natural evolution. Indeed, his quest is not, in itself, malicious. Rather, it is a noble quest, but one that deliberately goes against the laws of nature.

   The plot of the movie is rather straightforward. William Fitzgerald (Richard Derr) is an American sailor who washes up on a South Pacific island. His ship went down and he’s the only survivor. It’s up to Dr. Charles Girard and his beautiful blonde wife (Greta Thyssen) to make a home for the stranded Fitzgerald.

    It doesn’t take long for our intrepid sailor to discover that there’s a panther on the loose on the island. He soon discovers that Dr. Girard’s experiments have something to do with the panther’s lethal behavior and – oh yes – that the panther may actually be a man!

   All of the tension that’s built up during the exceedingly talky first hour of the film ultimately comes to a series of catastrophic and violent clashes between the panther-man and the main characters. If the movie could be faulted for anything, it’s that it takes a little too long for any real action to occur. But when it does, it’s handled skillfully and with a genuine sense of impending doom.

   All told, Terror is a Man is a better horror movie than you might expect. True, the movie feels a little slow going at times and it wears its message of not tinkering with the laws of nature on its sleeve. But it’s much better than a lot of the American horror movies released at the time, particularly those derivative productions that blended horror with science fiction and atom age anxieties.

   What makes Terror is a Man a true horror film, as opposed to a work of science fiction, is that the real beast in the movie isn’t the panther-man, but his creator. Recommended for those viewers who don’t mind an occasionally stagey production and especially for admirers of Francis Lederer as a leading actor.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:


BURN, WITCH, BURN. Anglo-Amalgamated Films, UK, 1962; American International Pictures, US, 1962. Originally released in the UK as Night of the Eagle. Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon, Kathleen Byron. Screenplay by Charles Beaumont & Richard Matheson (and George Baxt uncredited), based on the novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber. Director: Sidney Hayers.

   At times Burn, Witch, Burn, aka Night of the Eagle, feels as if it’s an extended and psychedelically revved up episode of The Twilight Zone. I suppose that’s not all that surprising given the fact that Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, both of whom contributed to the famed CBS series, co-wrote the screenplay for this offbeat supernatural horror film. Although filmed in a noticeably flat black and white, making it highly adaptable to television screens in the early 1960s, Burn, Witch, Burn retains a Gothic, strikingly off kilter atmosphere that I found to be quite effective.

   Adapted from Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife (1943), the movie stars Peter Wyngarde as Norman Taylor, a sociology professor at a British medical college who discovers that his wife has taken to witchcraft. This is especially troubling for Taylor as he vehemently denies the existence of the supernatural. After he forces his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair) to part with her magical paraphernalia, things start going really badly for the both of them. Could it be that Tansy was correct that her spells were protecting him from a greater evil in their midst? If so, what does that mean for Taylor’s skepticism, let alone their marriage?

   Alternatively creepy and self-consciously ludicrous, the film also features another character, albeit a decidedly uncredited one: a stone eagle statuette perched on top of the college where Taylor works. Perhaps the less said about that mighty bird the better. Keep in mind that when there are witches afoot in England, inanimate objects don’t always stay inanimate — especially at night.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


CRUSH THE SKULL. 2015. Tim Chiou, Chris Dinh, Katie Savoy, Chris Riedell. Director & co-screenwriter: Viet Nguyen.

   It’s safe to say that, even if you don’t much care for horror/comedy mash-ups, you’ll come away feeling that there is something almost magical about the screen chemistry between the two leads in Crush the Skull, a quirky thriller which defies traditional genre categories.

   Directed by Viet Nyugen (iZombie), the film stars Chris Dinh and Katie Savoy as Ollie and Blair, two deadbeat thirty-year-olds who, for money and kicks, disguise themselves as painters and rob houses when the owners are away. There’s something just so natural about these two characters and their witty, occasionally caustic, always lovable banter that make this otherwise uneven, occasionally bewildering, film worth a look.

   Like any good horror story, Crush the Skull begins with a premise that’s also inherently a morality tale pushed to the extreme: What happens if robbers break into a house only to learn that it’s actually a serial killer’s lair and these would-be criminals become captives? It’s certainly an intriguing idea, albeit not the most creative one ever pitched. But if you mix it up with a docudrama style of filmmaking and a deadpan sense of humor – and indeed, fun – you might just end up with something that punches higher than its weight.

   That’s the case with Crush the Skull, or at least it was for me. Truth be told, I don’t care all that much for the “serial killer’s lair” theme, and it took some effort for me to adjust myself to that. We know, to some degree, what motivates serial killers. It’s the supernatural, the unexplainable and unbelievable that’s even more frightening than human evil and which interests me far more.

   But the film does its best to provide the viewer with some twists and turns along with some unanswered questions that aren’t fully resolved until the haunting final frame. All told, I can’t say that this recent feature isn’t without its flaws, including a rather prolonged backstory, but it shows a self-conscious sense of fun that makes it far more memorable than your typical serial killer thriller.

DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL. Allied Artists, 1957. John Agar, Gloria Talbott, Arthur Shields, John Dierkes, Mollie McCard, Martha Wentworth. Director: Edgar G. Ullmer.

   With a title like this, you can probably figure out a fully-formed plot synopsis of your own and have it come out awfully close to the one that powers this one along. Gloria Talbott plays the daughter of you know who, which I’m sure you’ve already guessed from the cast listing, but now as a orphan she goes by the name of Janet Smith. What she does not know is that on her 21st birthday, she will inherit a large estate.

   Her guardian is a gentleman named Dr. Lomas, and as she and her fiancé (John Agar) visit him together in her family mansion, he finds himself duty-bound to tell her in private about her father. Strange events — murderous events — begin to happen the same evening. Can she have inherited her doomed father’s fate of turning into a werewolf at the time of the full moon?

   Well, not a lot of this makes much sense, and maybe the plot you might have put together yourself would have made a better film along these same lines than this one. But as the director, Edgar G. Ulmer manages to keep the action extra spooky, especially indoors, with all kinds of innovative camera angles and an excellent use of black and white lighting. Less effective is the mist effect used in outdoor scenes, which comes off only as if you’re looking through a smeared-up lens.

   One other big plus is that Gloria Talbott never looked lovelier than she does in this movie, made the same year as The Cyclops, reviewed here. This one’s ten times better, if not more, and if you’re so inclined, which I assume you are, having read this far, the movie is well worth searching out for.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW. Made-for-TV movie, CBS, 24 October 1981. Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Claude Earl Jones, Lane Smith, Tonya Crowe, Larry Drake, Jocelyn Brando. Director: Frank De Felitta.

   As an adult, returning to a horror film that scared the living daylights of me as a kid is always a fascinating experience. Before the film even begins, I am asking myself whether it’s going to be as terrifying, vivid, or scary as I remember it being. Is it going to look just plain silly, forcing me to doubt my youthful aesthetic judgment? After all, some kids just know when a movie stinks and when it’s good, right?

   Enter the scarecrow. Dark Night of the Scarecrow, to be exact. As a made-for-TV movie originally aired on CBS, the movie has no particular right to be that good, let alone that memorable. As it turns out, I remembered a lot of it pretty well. Not so much the minor details, but the general atmosphere of suspense and the visceral nature of the revenge-driven plot. It’s a very unsettling movie, both emotionally and visually.

   Then there’s Bubba. Portrayed by the late Larry Drake (L. A. Law, Darkman), Bubba Ritter is a kind, mentally challenged 36 year-old living with his mother on the outskirts of a small rural town. Drake’s performance is, in a word, unforgettable. He is able to convey his character’s childlike innocence, love for his mother, and his fear of the cruelty that surrounds him.

   Case in point: the local men inhabiting this festering hole of bigotry are pieces of work. In particular, there is the morally repugnant Otis P. Hazelrigg (an exceptionally well cast Charles Durning), a loathsome bitter man who hates Bubba and loathes his friendship with Marylee Williams, a local girl (Tonya Crowe). When it looks as if Bubba may have been responsible for the girl’s murder, Hazelrigg and three other men exact vigilante justice on the terrified Bubba, shooting him dead in cold blood trembling for his life in a cornfield.

   After the men are acquitted, things begin to get downright strange in the town. A mysterious scarecrow starts appearing, haunting the guilty consciences of the men responsible for Bubba’s death. It is a supernatural occurrence or a prank designed into frightening the men into confessing their crime? After all, Bubba’s mother vowed that that there are other forms of justice than that dished out in courthouses. The violent deaths meted out to largely unsympathetic Bubba’s executioners in Dark Night of the Scarecrow demonstrate just how right she was.

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN. United Artists, 1958. Richard Anderson, Elaine Edwards, Adele Mara, Luis Van Rooten, Gar Moore, Felix Locher. Screenplay: Jerome Bixby. Director: Edward L. Cahn.

   There are two primary ways of looking at Curse of the Faceless Man. Either it’s a hodgepodge of horror film tropes with more than a smidgen of themes generously, um…. borrowed from Karl Freund’s The Mummy (1932). Or it’s a loving, living homage to Universal’s entire Mummy series, modified to a Southern Italian setting in which the mystical Etruscan and Roman past loom large over the scientific present.

   As an admirer of director Edward L. Cahn’s ability to make the most out of what are admittedly low-budget productions, I’m more akin to give the film the benefit of the doubt and call it an homage, albeit one clearly designed to exploit interest in the mummy film sub-genre and to make a quick buck off of it. To paraphrase the famous saying from Seinfeld: not that there’s anything wrong with that.

   Richard Anderson, who went on to feature in The Six Million Dollar Man, portrays Dr. Paul Mallon. He, along with his fiancée, Tina Enright (Elaine Edwards), is residing in modern day Italy in the outskirts of the town that was once the Roman city of Pompeii.

   After an archaeological dig discovers the remains of a faceless mummy-like man in the ruins, strange things begin happening. First, the driver tasked with transporting the mummy is mysteriously killed. Second, and more significantly for the story, Tina begins to have visions of the faceless mummy, as if she has some unexplainable connection to him and to the distant past (shades of The Mummy).

   But what could it be? Is she the reincarnated descendant of a Roman elite family? And who is this faceless man and what does he want? Dr. Carlo Fiorello (Luis Van Rooten) and his daughter, Maria (Adele Mara) are both on the case. Working at the local museum, they’re determined to unravel the mystery of the faceless man once and for all!

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT. New World Pictures, 1971. John Ashley, Mary Wilcox, Leopoldo Salcedo, Eddie Garcia, Ken Metcalfe, Vic Diaz. Screenwriter-director: Eddie Romero.

   It’s never a good sign when, fifteen minutes or so into a movie, you decide to pick up the DVD case and read the back of it to help you figure out what in the world is going on. Unfortunately, that’s what I felt compelled to do watching the opening of the Eddie Romero’s Filipino/American horror production, Beast of the Yellow Night.

   Sure, it’s a low budget horror film, but the plot seemed so incredibly muddled and the picture quality (Alpha Video) was pretty low, so I needed some context as to what was transpiring in front of my very eyes.

   That said, once I had some idea of the basic plot and once the movie finally started to make a little more sense, I began to appreciate — ever so slightly – Beast of the Yellow Night for what it is: namely, a grindhouse film that tries to be philosophical and one which occasionally succeeds in elevating a forgettable werewolf film into something bordering on the thoughtful, admirably so, and yet one which mainly falls flat.

   Former pop sensation John Ashley portrays two characters. The first, Joseph Langdon, is an American soldier who deserted his unit in the Philippines and engaged in all sorts of nefarious acts. In order to save himself from Filipino soldiers hot on his trail, Langdon makes a devil’s bargain – literally – with Satan (a grinning, scenery chewing Vic Diaz).

   Some decades later, Langdon returns to life in the guise of American businessman, Philip Rogers. Satan wants Rogers to do his nefarious bidding, but when Rogers refuses, he soon learns that he’s cursed. Disobey the devil and you turn into a hideous beast, or so it would seem. That’s about all there is to the movie.

   And one more thing: Joseph Langdon may be a tortured soul, but he’s no Larry Talbot.

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