Horror movies


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE WOMAN EATER. Eros Films, UK, 1958; Columbia Pictures, US, 1959. George Coulouris, Vera Day, Peter Wayn, Joyce Gregg, Joy Webster, Jimmy Vaughn. Director: Charles Saunders.

THE WOMAN EATER

   The Woman Eater is the risible title of a remarkable little film which no doubt inspired (if inspiration had anything to do with it) the better-known Little Shop of Horrors (1960).

   George Coulouris, best remembered as young Charles’ guardian in Citizen Kane, here plays an intrepid explorer/scientist, and tries hard not to look embarrassed as he journeys deep into the Amazon Jungle where he sees a lot of stock footage and Marpessa Dawn (who would go on to Black Orpheus) being sacrificed to a giant thing that looks like a cross between a hairy Muppet and Mr. Tree — truly one of the most unintentionally amusing monsters of the 50s, and one you should not miss.

   Five years later (a title tells us) he’s back in England with the plant and a cringing native catamite/assistant called Tanga, convinced that the tree secretes a sap that will revive the dead. Of course to get the sap he has to sacrifice young women to the damn thing, so it seems like a zero-sum game to me, but hey, he’s a scientist I’m sure he must think he knows what he’s doing.

   At one point he tests things out by injecting the sap into what looks like a giant chicken heart, which makes one question his priorities, but it doesn’t work and that’s the last we see of the giant chicken heart, which is rather a shame because I thought it was a good part, even if we never learn exactly what it was, where it came from or why. Obviously a film to challenge us with existential questions about the meaning of it all.

   Anyway, the story gets a little strange at this point, as George’s housekeeper says she’s madly in love with him (with George Coulouris???) the young heroine recently employed by George insists there’s something evil in the house (even though they forgot to shoot any scenes of her hearing strange noises or such) and George announces he’s madly in love with the heroine, whom he met the day before. We get the usual climactic conflagration, and all ends, if not well, at least promptly in a film worthy to stand beside classics like Jungle Captive and The Spider Woman Strikes Back.

   As Walt Kelly used to say: it’s enough to make a man think.

THE WOMAN EATER

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


BLUEBEARD John Carradine

BLUEBEARD. PRC, 1944. John Carradine, Jean Parker, Nils Asther, Ludwig Stössel, George Pembroke, Teala Loring, Sonia Sorel. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.

   John Carradine plays a disturbed puppeteer dubbed “Bluebeard” by the Parisian tabloids in this stylish, low-budget film. In the twenties Ulmer worked as a production designer on films directed by F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang,and the theatrical-looking studio sets (including what appears to be a cardboard cutout of Notre Dame) are appropriate to this study of a deranged artist.

   The most striking visual effect is a shot of the puppeteer’s eye peering out balefully at the audience in the park- and, coincidentally, at the theater audience. It reminds me of a shot in Lang’s You Only Live Once (1937) in which the blind covering the rear window of a menacing black automobile parts to reveal a pair of eyes, the face covered as if by a mask in an imaginative use of the melodramatic convention of the hooded villain.

   Carradine plays the role of the artist/murderer with great restraint, and his long face and mournful eyes, wedded to his rich but monochromatic voice, give to his performance the haunting — or haunted — look of a fallen angel.

– From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1982.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


a donna del lago

LA DONNA DEL LAGO [or THE LADY OF THE LAKE]. B.R.C. Produzione S.r.l., Italy, 1965. Released in the US as The Possessed. Peter Baldwin, Salvo Randone, Valentina Cortese, Pia Lindström, Piero Anchisi, Virna Lisi. Directors: Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini.

   Not too long ago I saw a movie I’ve been trying to see again for nigh unto thutty year: The Lady of the Lake — NOT to be confused with The Lady in the Lake, Robert Montgomery’s pretentious film of Chandler’s novel. This is an Italian movie from 1965, written and directed by Luigi Bazzoni, whoever-the-hell he is.

   I first saw it on TV in the godless hours of the morning between Three and Five, sometime in 1973, badly dubbed, under the unlikely title Love, Hate and Dishonor. I was quite drunk at the time, and I remembered the film as a perversely fascinating mix of Hard-Boiled Mystery and Surreal Story-Telling, tinged with Uneasy Kinkiness — a bleary conviction piqued over the years when I found no mention of the film in any reference book, no repeat viewings of it on TV, or even anyone else who professed to have seen it.

a donna del lago

   So Love, Hate & Dis remained a personal fetish till I finally saw La Donna Del Lago panned in Phil Hardy’s Encyclopedis of Horror Films and recognized the story and stars. An Ethan-Edwards-like search of film conventions and the Net finally yielded up a watchable copy from a Miami dealer, and I returned at last to this relic of my mis-squandered youth.

   And oddly enough, it seemed just as remarkable to this sober nearly-middle-aged man as it did to the drunken tad of whom I am a biological extension. The plot is a simple affair: A disaffected writer breaks up with his girlfriend and decides on a whim to revisit the resort where last Summer he had a pleasant romp with a hotel maid, Tilda (Virna Lisi).

   Only it’s Winter now, the Hotel is near-empty, Tilda’s dead, and as the wind howls across the icy lake, our hero wanders through a gaudy ghost town, and he learns that her death was ruled a suicide — in the same coroner’s report that says she died a virgin.

a donna del lago

   From a fairly standard tale of murder-and-cover-up, Bazzoni crafts a truly mysterious film, full of tricky imagery and shifting narrative. A walk through a snow-capped graveyard suddenly morphs into a flashback that gradually resolves into a dream. Bit-players ooze about with eerie unction, just on the verge of saying too much, and something always seems to be happening, or about to happen, somewhere in the background, just almost out of sight.

   It’s easy to see why Hardy included this in his Horror Films book — though it offers no ghosts, monsters, blood or violence — and just as easy to see why he failed to come to terms with its unique style of tale-spinning. There aren’t many things that look just as good on the sober Morning After, but this is one I’ll come back to.

a donna del lago

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET

THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET. Universal, 1942. Una Merkel, Lionel Atwill, Nat Pendleton, Claire Dodd, Anne Nagel, Hardie Albright, Richard Davies. Director: Joseph H. Lewis.

   There`s a certain art to making an enjoyable bad movie, to which The Mad Doctor of Market Street bears witness. Directed by the redoubtable Joseph H. Lewis and written by someone named Al Martin (not exactly a name to conjure with, but he deserves his due) this one offers the eponymous medico-maniac (ably impersonated by Lionel Atwill, the second-greatest mad doctor of his time) against backdrop of a delightful studio-made luxury liner, followed by an equally bogus tropical island.

   Native Devil-Worship, shipwreck, unconvincing leading players (Claire Dodd and Richard Davies, admirably stiff as cardboard cliches) and capable comedy relief provided by Una Merkel and Nat Pendleton.

   The show really revolves around Lionel Atwill as a self-styled genius whose ground-breaking experiments in suspended animation seem to be breaking ground only in cemeteries. After a particularly egregious cock-up, Atwill takes it on the lam and ends up shipwrecked on a tropical island with the rest of the cast, where the natives decide he’s the God of Life and Death, with all the privileges and perquisites pertaining thereunto.

THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET

   None of this is to be taken seriously for moment, but everyone involved really seems to act their little hearts out, putting commendable pace and energy into what is, after all, a forgettable time-killer. Director Lewis throws in the odd camera-angle and an occasion bit of mood one doesn’t expect in this sort of thing, and it emerges as quite a worthwhile effort.

REVIEWED BY WALTER ALBERT:         


MURDER BY THE CLOCK

MURDER BY THE CLOCK. Paramount, 1931. William (Stage) Boyd, Lilyan Tashman, Irving Pichel, Regis Toomey, Sally O’Neil. Based on the novel by Rufus King (Doubleday/Crime Club, 1929). Director: Edward Sloman. Shown at Cinefest 19, Syracuse NY, March 1999.

   This was an end-of-day screening (after 11 p.m.) that I would probably have skipped had the notes not pointed out that the film is “celebrated” by William Everson in his Classics of the Horror Film.

MURDER BY THE CLOCK

   Tashman had a brief Hollywood career (she died shortly after the release of this film, according to the notes), but she was worth staying up for. She’s the sultry villainess who masterminds three homicides and appears to be getting off Scot-free until Boyd upstages her in the final minutes of the film.

   This is an old-house mystery with a crusty dowager heiress who rigs her coffin in the family crypt so that an alarm can be sounded if she’s buried alive. As indeed, she appears to have been. Pichel (whose most memorable screen performance was as Gloria Holden’s minion in Dracula’s Daughter) has a hoot playing a deranged legatee and he almost manages to steal kinky acting honors from Tashman.

   An improbable but delicious early sound romp among the corpses.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM

HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM. American-International Pictures, 1959. Michael Gough, June Cunningham, Graham Curnow, Shirley Anne Field, Geoffrey Keen, Gerald Anderson, John Warwick. Director: Arthur Crabtree.

    Horrors of the Black Museum is a gaudy comic book of a movie, best enjoyed if you park your good taste and critical faculties with the gum under your seat. The story, by Herman Cohen and Aben Kandel (the team that brought us such classics as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and Berserk) posits that a best-selling True Crime writer (Michael Gough, masticating the scenery with sadistic relish) gets his insights by committing the crimes himself — or having them committed by a young assistant in hypnotic thrall to him.

HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM

    The murders themselves are fairly grisly, including the opening bit (featured in all the previews) with a pair of booby-trapped binoculars, and are all practiced against lissome young ladies, but they have the redeeming value of being so far over the top (like Gough’s acting) as to provoke the odd chuckle.

    At one point, for instance, we are asked to believe that the killer snuck into a woman’s apartment and built a guillotine over her bed which she doesn’t see until she lies down in just the right position for it to — well you get the idea. Even better is Gough’s sanctum sanctorum, filled with acid vats, S/M apparatus and some sort of machine mounted with dials, lights and levers that seems to serve no function at all.

    Okay, admittedly the writing is perfunctory, and the acting mostly capable but undistinguished. There’s also some fairly prominent homophobia running through all this, what with the tastefully appointed bad guy keeping his handsome young assistant enslaved so they can victimize women. But I found Horrors suffused with a redeeming energy and engaging carelessness that kept me entertained throughout.

HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


JESSIE DOUGLAS KERRUISH – The Undying Monster. Heath Cranton, UK, hardcover, 1922. Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1936. Reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1946. Award A351S, paperback, 1968. Lulu Press, POD softcover, 2013.

THE UNDYING MONSTER

THE UNDYING MONSTER. 20th Century Fox, 1942. James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, Heather Thatcher, Aubrey Mather. Director: John Brahm.

   The Undying Monster by Jessie Douglas Kerruish was first published in England in 1922 and is considered by some a classic tale of lycanthropy. I considered it a wanton squandering of my precious youth, but there you are. Thinking back, there were probably some inventive bits in the tale, but for me they were ruined by…. But I can’t yet tell you why. Read on:

   Undying starts out promisingly with a family curse, murder in the moonlight and all sorts of delicious Victorian nastiness. It seems that the Hammand family (local gentry with an imposing manor house and a coat of arms that goes back to the Flood) is periodically stalked from time to time by a horrendous but unseen thing that rips some of them limb from limb and scares others into gibbering madness.

   Good so far. But when Oliver Hammand, latest in line to inherit the family unpleasantness, encounters the thing in the dark, he gets off with a few bites and a case of amnesia while his companion is mauled to near death and his loyal dog is spread all over the countryside. Naturally concerned, Oliver’s sister calls in female paranormal investigator Luna Bartendale, and that’s when things get gummy.

THE UNDYING MONSTER

   Luna Bartendale is probably the most irritating character ever consigned to printed page. She hasn’t been on the case for more than a few paragraphs before she’s saying things like, “I have some theories but I won’t discuss them until….” and then “This confirms what I was thinking but before I say more I must…..” followed by “I know why, but I can’t reveal it to you yet,” and “There’s a very good reason why I can’t tell it to you.”

   Now I got nothing, against foreshadowing, but a man gets tired of that kind of talk all the time. No one likes the guy who says “I told you so,” but even worse is one who says “I could tell you so — if I felt like it,” and Luna Bartendale, for all her groundbreaking appearance as fiction’s first female paranormal detective, says very little else. By the time the plot reached the point where Good and Evil were locked in what should have been a horrific struggle, I was hoping merely that the superannuated boogeyman of the title would gobble her up but (SPOILER ALERT!) no such luck.

   All the sadder then that there are glimmerings of a good story here. So good in fact that 20th Century Fox made a movie of it in 1942 — kind of. Writer Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby replaced the annoying Ms Bartendale with cowboy star James Ellison playing a Scotland Yard investigator — and doing it surprisingly well.

THE UNDYING MONSTER

   He’s aided by Heather Thatcher as a plucky distaff-Watson, but his attentions are focused primarily on Heather Angel as the distraught sister of poor Oliver Hammond (They changed the spelling for reasons best known to themselves.) played by John Howard, who had already been paired with Miss Angel in the Bulldog Drummond series over at Paramount.

   Undying Monster is a stylish affair, thanks largely to director John Brahm, who brought similar gothic elegance to The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945) and cinematographer Lucien Ballard, who will be remembered for The Wild Bunch. Together they impart an atmosphere not unlike the Sherlock Holmes series over at Universal, with evocative fog, looming shadows, and a general sense of mystery — rudely dissipated when we finally see the rather unprepossessing monster.

   And I should add a bit of trivia beloved of bad-movie buffs: the opening shot of Undying Monster is repeated exactly in a later, cheaper Monogram film, Face of Marble (1946). Understandable, since Michael Jacoby, who toiled at or near Hollywood’s bottom rung for his whole career, worked on both films. But one wonders with what weary desperation poor Jacoby found himself re-typing his own work in such reduced circumstances.

THE UNDYING MONSTER

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