Horror movies


SELECTED BY MICHAEL SHONK:


   Lalo Schifrin was the original choice to do the soundtrack for the film The Exorcist. YouTube claims this was his original theme:



   Director William Friedkin rejected Schifrin’s work turning to Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” for the theme:



   The history behind this has always claimed Schifrin’s soundtrack scared test audiences too much and the studio asked to have it toned done. Hard to believe after listening to that theme, but when you listen to this recording of Schifrin’s soundtrack the problem of intensity is more obvious.

Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS


THE MUMMY LIVES. Global Pictures, 1993. Tony Curtis, Leslie Hardy, Greg Wrangler, Jack Cohen, Mohammed Bakri. Suggested by the story “Some Words with A Mummy” by Edgar Allan Poe. Director: Gerry O’Hara.

   To say that Tony Curtis was miscast in the schlocky, ridiculously plotted The Mummy Lives is to miss the point entirely. Indeed, without Curtis in this overall forgettable mummy film, there’d be no reason to watch it whatsoever.

   But with Curtis, it’s an entirely different story, for there’s nothing – and I mean nothing – quite like hearing a thick Bronx accent coming from the mouth of a character named Dr. Mohassid. The thing you really need to know about the good doctor is that he happens to be – you guessed it – the resurrection of an ancient Egyptian named Aziru, a guy who was sentenced to death and mummification for his illicit love affair with Kia (Leslie Hardy), a lovely, dark haired concubine.

   When he doesn’t look completely bored, Curtis plays it for laughs, almost winking at the audience as if he were Vincent Price. The Mummy Lives may not be a good movie, but it has its moments. At its worst, it’s a throwaway cheap horror film that doesn’t work. At its best, it is pure camp, a celebration of the ridiculousness of Hollywood’s mummy curse mythology.

   I wouldn’t recommend anyone going out of the way to see this one, but I’d love to see it programmed as a midnight movie somewhere.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF on


BLACK FRIDAY. Universal, 1940. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Stanley Ridges, Anne Gwynne Anne Nagel. Written by Curt Siodmack and Eric Taylor. Directed by Arthur Lubin.

   An odd confluence of horror movie and gangster film, done up with the usual polish of Universal’s upper-case monster movies, but sadly unfocused.

   Boris Karloff stars as (surprise!) a Mad Scientist, and Bela Lugosi gets second-billing as a bad guy, but the meatiest part goes to Stanley Ridges as Karloff’s friend, a likable old professor of the Walter Albert type, who gets run over by a bank robber (also Ridges) in mid-getaway who then conveniently cracks up his car, leaving Karloff with two men on his hands who will quickly die unless he tries his unconventional theories….

   With Curt Siodmack’s name on the credits, the knowing horror buff won’t be surprised to see a brain transplant in the offing. In this case, Karloff sews part of robber/Ridges’ brain into professor/Ridges’ noggin, resulting in a mild-mannered professor who morphs into a heartless killer from time to time as the plot demands.

   Well we all had a few teachers like that in College, didn’t we? In this case though, Karloff figures out that robber/Ridges knows where all sorts of stolen loot may be hidden, and means to get his hands on it—another instance of the sad decline of Universal’s monsters that I mentioned earlier, in my review of Spider Woman Strikes Back.

   Anyway, to further his ends, Karloff sets about bringing more and more Crook out of the Academic, at which point Black Friday turns into a Warners-style gangster pic, with molls, shifty miscreant and a rival gang boss, played by poor Bela.

   It was about this time someone at Universal decided Lugosi was never going to get another decent part there. With the arguable exceptions of his Ygor reprise in Ghost of Frankenstein and the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, his career there was consigned to a series of sinister butlers and indifferent red herrings, with good billing but nothing very much to do.

   Karloff on the other hand, looks marvelously sinister in this, and Stanley Ridges is very effective in an underplayed star turn, equally convincing as the gentle academic and the nasty desperado, and really except for the sad sight of Lugosi languishing on the sidelines it’s an enjoyable film. Just one thing has always puzzled me about it though:

   Black Friday opens on Karloff in a jail cell awaiting imminent execution, spinning his tale in flashback. But when I got to the end of the film I couldn’t figure out what he even got arrested for; in fact, he never doers anything particularly criminal in this film –- not in front of witnesses, anyway — and as THE END flashed across the screen, I wondered if perhaps the writers had thought this thing out all that carefully.

   Anyway, if any of the legions of obscure movie buffs out there remember this one — and if you’ve done your shopping and polished off the leftovers by now, perhaps someone can explain it to me.

Some Morbid Reflections
by DAN STUMPF on:


THE NEANDERTHAL MAN. United Artists, 1953. Robert Shayne, Joyce Terry, Richard Crane, Beverly Garland. Written by Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen. Directed by E. A. Dupont.

   It would be easy to pick at this shabby film for the confused story, wooden acting and choppy continuity — I mean how tacky is it when the movie credits misspell the name of the top-billed actor? And as long as we’re carping, there’s the scene where Beverly Garland walks into the background and is replaced by another actress, or the muddled montage where a sabre-tooth tiger attacks a car, intercut with footage of a bobcat and something hitting the windshield that looks like a suction-cup Garfield. And don’t let’s forget the stiff and unconvincing rubber mask that’s supposed to be a primitive beast-face.

   Robert Shayne is remembered these days as Inspector Henderson on The Adventures of Superman but he did his share of Mad Doctoring in things like Face of Marble and The Indestructible Man. Here he gets to pull out a few stops and rave in the approved Lugosi style as a scientist (in what field I’m not exactly sure, and I suspect the writers weren’t either) who believes Neanderthal Man was our intellectual equal — a motif in some recent TV Commercials — and has developed a serum that will regress stuff.

   As the film opens, he has used this on a house cat and a housekeeper, and when he tries it on himself he turns into the frozen-faced boogeyman of the title, lumbering amok about the countryside trying to make things lively.

   The first disturbing element comes when he carries off a local gal and (it’s pretty clearly implied) brutally rapes her. But later on, after he abducts a waitress and they spend the night in a cave, she comes out in the morning and begs the surrounding posse to spare his life. Which makes one wonder just what went on, but I suspect that here again the writers had no idea.

   For me though, the most unsettling part came earlier, in the standard scene where Shayne is being scoffed at by his scientist-peers after showing them a display that “demonstrates” how Neanderthal was more advanced than Cro-Magnon, and when they ask him for proof, he calls them stupid.

   A silly scene, poorly written, but something about the temper of our times made it resonate with me. There are people coming on national TV these days who publicly boast that they can’t understand Evolution and want us to elect them President.

   There are others who call us stupid if we ask for proof of what they say — as I sat watching the Mad Doctor spouting the same clichés about being misunderstood, I almost expected him to blame the Liberal Media.

   And it got me to wondering if some of the public figures of these days maybe watched too many late-late shows. Or has public discourse moved to the level of a cheesy old horror flick? Which may be the scariest thing we’ll see this Halloween.

   Pleasant dreams, children…..

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK Universal, 1946. Gale Sondergaard, Benda Joyce, Kirby Grant, Rondo Hatton. Written by Eric Taylor. Directed by Arthur Lubin.

   A relic from the declining days of Universal’s Horror cycle, when they seemed to be making monster movies more from force of habit than anything else, this combines elements from their Sherlock Holmes series to little effect.

   The Spider Woman first appeared, fittingly enough, in The Spider Woman (Universal, 1944), pitted against Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes in a rather convoluted scheme whereby she gets men to sign over insurance policies to her cohorts, then drives them to suicide by having a pygmy (Angelo Rossito in blackface!) plant a poisonous spider in their bedrooms, and if that sounds a bit byzantine to you, just wait and see what she hatched for Strikes Back.

   Her minion here is played by Rondo Hatton, the legendary non-actor who first came to prominence in another Holmes film from ’44, The Pearl of Death, and in those days when Universal was crowding its monsters into things like House of Frankenstein/Dracula, it probably seemed like a sure bet to team him up with Sondergaard; too bad they couldn’t come up with some suitable deviltry for them to get into.

   Okay, so the story here is that Sondergaard lives in a creepy old house outside a farming community and she pretends to be blind so she can hire young girls as nurse/companions (the latest being Brenda Joyce, as the film opens) and slowly drain the blood out of them to feed to a poisonous plant, then have Rondo sneak out at night and feed some of the deadly vegetable to the livestock on nearby farms — you with me so far? Well the idea is that when the cattle die, the farmers will abandon their farms and then she can buy up the land at bargain prices.

   Oh, how the mighty are fallen. I mean back in the old days, Im-Ho-Tep was trying to revive his centuries-old beloved; Victor Frankenstein strove to create life, and the Invisible Man dreamed of World Domination. But all the Spider Woman can come up with is a Real Estate deal. The discerning critic can only say “Big Whoop,” and weep by the waters of Babylon.

   It doesn’t help either that this picayune plot unfolds at a near-imperceptible pace in a film remarkable only for the fact that no one really dies in it except (SPOILER ALERT!) the bad guys. The only casualties are cattle, leading me to wonder if this was in fact intended as a scary movie for cows.

   It certainly won’t do much for humans.

CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN. Columbia, 1955. Richard Denning, Angela Stevens, S. John Launer, Michael Granger, Gregory Gay, Linda Bennett, Tristram Coffin. Story & screenplay: Curt Siodmak. Director: Edward L. Cahn.

   This one starts right out in third gear as soon as the credits have been shown, with an obvious gangster being killed in his office — shown in silhouette his spine is being snapped by what’s apparently a dead man who has climbed through his window — and the story and the action never let up for the full run of the movie, some 70 minutes long.

   The next to die at the hands of one of these radio-controlled atomic-powered zombies (for that is what they are) is the District Attorney. What do the two victims, most definitely on opposite sides of the law, have in common? Will there be more? That’s the question that the head of the police laboratory, Dr. Chet Walker (Richard Denning), must answer, with the use of good logic and handy Geiger counters.

   One can easily forget that Denning did make a few movies of this type after being Mr. North for a while then becoming Mike Shayne for a while after that, finally ending up in the governor’s office on Hawaii Five-O. His youthful earnestness stood him in good stead in these 50s monster thrillers, I think, for those very reasons.

   This one was a lot of fun to watch, crisply filmed with solid plotting and lots of snappy action. A week later now, most of what I saw has started to disappear, noticeably so. Chinese food for the mind, I think.

I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF. American International Pictures, 1957. Michael Landon, Yvonne Lime, Whit Bissell, Barney Phillips, Guy Williams. Director: Gene Fowler Jr.

   I watched this movie last week — available only on collector-to-collector DVD — and I deliberately put off writing this review until now. I might have seen this movie back when I was in high school, but if I did, I found only the first five or ten minutes to be even remotely familiar. After that I remembered only nothing.

   And I was disappointed. The movie made its makers millions of dollar on only pocket change, and it’s a cult classic right up there with the best of them. And I was disappointed. What’s all the fuss about, I wondered. The acting is straight out of high school drama productions, and the story is stalled in first gear for most of the first half.

   The special effects are OK — i.e., the werewolf costume — but no better than that, and the story simply that of high school rebellion, if not incipient juvenile delinquency, both themes that were very common in second-rung movie theaters and drive-in’s of the day.

   Maybe you had to have seen it back then, I thought, and there’s probably some truth to that.

   But here it is a week later, and many of the scenes are still with me, vividly so — flashes of the movie here and there, even the parts that I thought were slow and unwieldy. The sudden outbursts of anger on the part Michael Landon as Tony Rivers, the teenager of the title. The smugness of Whit Bissell, as the town psychiatrist who thinks that Tony will make a good subject for his experiments in regressing patients to the past by means of a serum he has developed. The innocence and unwavering crush on Tony by Yvonne Lime as his high school sweetheart. The matter of factness of Barney Phillips as the police detective who handles the case in solid nuts-and-bolts Dragnet-style.

   Filmed for peanuts and against all of the odds, the men and women who made this movie somehow managed to trap lightning in a jar. It took me a while, but now I’m convinced. This one’s a classic.

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