Horror movies


THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET. Universal, 1942. Lionel Atwill, Una Merkel, Claire Dodd, Nat Pendleton, Richard Davies, Noble Johnson, Ray Mala. Produced by Paul Malvern. Written by Al Martin. Directed by Joseph H. Lewis.

   The good news is that this predestined 2nd-feature was done by people who knew their way around cheap movies. Producer Paul Malvern started out at Monogram with Duke Wayne’s Lone Star series, and went on to memorable kitsch like House of Dracula (far from the best in the series, but showing fine use of stock footage and contract players).

   Writer Al Martin’s resumé is less distinguished, but director Joseph H. Lewis (who would go on to Gun Crazy and beyond) had lavished bizarre camera angles and punchy editing on low-budget movies for half a decade by the time this trifle fell onto his plate.

   And then there’s the cast: Lionel Atwill at his supercilious best; Una Merkel ditzy as ever; Nat Pendleton clueless as always, and Noble Johnson playing a nasty Native Chief as one to the manner born. The only downside is that the film itself isn’t much good.

   That is to say, I enjoyed it, and you might too, but there are definitely some Quality Control issues here. For one thing, there’s no Monster in this purported Horror Film, and that’s always a bit of a let-down for those of us who used to stay up late watching “Shock Theater” or the local equivalent thereof – indeed it was not until my later years, with mature critical sensibilities, that I learned to appreciate this work on its own terms, such as they are.

   For another thing, Merkel and Pendleton are fine comedy performers, but they don’t have a funny line between them. And finally, the story tends to meander a bit, starting with a bit of Mad Doctoring in Frisco, then the hunt for a fugitive killer aboard a luxury liner, a little dab of shipwreck, and then some testy diplomacy with Island Natives who evince a taste for human sacrifice.

   Well. it certainly moves around a lot, and like I say, Mad Doctor of Market Street carries this nonsense with a certain amount of style. There’s a particularly fine second or two toward the end, when Lewis’ camera pans in on Atwill’s terrified expression as he realizes the jig is up, a perfect confluence of fine acting and skillful direction. And if it seems wasted on a dumb picture like this, well, like I say: It’s still fun.

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.


NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Columbia Pictures, UK, 1957. Columbia Pictures, US, 1958; released as Curse of the Demon and shortened by 13 minutes. Dana Andrews, Peggy Cummins, Niall MacGinnis, Maurice Denham, Athene Seyler. Based on the story “Casting the Runes” by M. R. James. Cinematography by Edward Scaife. Director: Jacques Tourneur.

   The plot may be hopelessly incoherent, but the photography is amazing. Now, amazing isn’t usually a word that I would use when discussing cinematography. But it fits. With director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Out of the Past) at the helm and cinematographer Ted Scaife (Khartoum, The Dirty Dozen) behind the camera, Night of the Demon is elevated from what would have been a mediocre B- horror movie into a visually stunning work of horror cinema, albeit one that is not well served by its, confusing and disjointed story line.

   Psychologist and professional skeptic Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) arrives in England for an academic conference wherein he hopes to disprove the existence of the supernatural and the theories of occult leader Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Unfortunately, just prior to Holden’s arrival, the viewer learns that the world of black magic is all-too-real — at least in this movie.

   Rather than hinting at the possibility of the occult, or teasing the audience a bit, the filmmakers behind Night of the Demon evidently decided to show the audience the fire monster within the first ten minutes of the movie. The problem with this, of course, is that it takes away a great deal of suspense and makes Holden’s incessant arguments with his late colleague’s niece, Joanna (Peggy Cummins), about why witchcraft is all just a bunch of hokum even more tedious. And believe me, it’s not merely once or twice than Holden segues into a monologue why he is not superstitious.

   But lest you think I didn’t enjoy the movie at all, I assure you that, in many ways I did. There’s something cinematically magical about black-and-white horror movies like Night of the Demon. It’s in the way in which they create a whole universe all its own. An off-kilter world, a land of shadows and madness, the England that Dr. Holden finds himself in is a land that harks back to its pre-Christian past.

   England may be modern, but there’s an Anglo-Saxon past just underneath the surface. After all, the people who wrote cryptic manuscripts in runes had their own ways of thinking well before scientists like our protagonist Dr. Holden came along.

by Dan Stumpf

  RASPUTIN. (Dial Press, 1927) by Felix Yusupov.

  RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS MGM, 1932. John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore, Ralph Morgan, Diana Wynyard and Edward Arnold. Written by Charles MacArthur. Directed by Richard Boleslavsky.

  THE NIGHT THEY KILLED RASPUTIN. Cino Del Duca, 1960. Also released as Nights of Rasputin. Edmond Purdom, Gianna Maria Canale and John Drew Barrymore. Written and directed by Pierre Chenal.

  RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK. Hammer, 1966. Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Richard Pascoe. Written by Anthony Hinds (as “John Elder”.) Directed by Don Sharp.

  RASPUTIN IN HOLLYWOOD (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990) by Sir David Napley.

   Prince Felix Yusupov’s RASPUTIN (Dial Press, 1927) is something of a rarity: a biography written by the assassin of its subject. Indeed, the only antecedent I can recall is Pat Garrett’s AUTHENTIC LIFE OF BILLY THE KID, which was largely ghost-written. This may have been ghosted too, for all I know, but it reads with the self-serving simplicity of One Who Was There.

   Maybe some faint controversy still sputters over The Mad Monk, but there’s no denying his role as the 20th century equivalent of the Queen’s Necklace: the catalyst in the fall of a (tottering) monarchy that ushered in a whole new age — and did it with a tawdry stylishness that has all the elements (according to the old joke) of a great novel: Religion, Royalty, Sex and Mystery. No wonder he’s been the subject of a dozen books and movies.

   But this book, as I say, was written by the guy who killed him, and it has its moments. The background on Rasputin is sketchy and one-sided as one expects, but it’s interesting to read Prince Felix, writing ten years after the Russian Revolution, anticipating the imminent fall of the Communist government.

   His take on the Great War and the chaos of Imperial Russian politics is also fascinating, but the book really comes to life when Yusupov gets to his own encounters with Rasputin, and his growing resolve to kill him, then the bloody deed and its aftermath. These chapters have all the impact of a really fine crime story, and if it’s not told with quite the edgy panache of Charles Williams or Jim Thompson, it’s still a fine, riveting read and a fascinating reflection of an age gone by.

   The whole affair was done up with suitable splendor by MGM in 1932; RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS offers a stellar cast, crowds of extras, sumptuous sets and appropriate disregard for history. John Barrymore looks a bit ticked off at not getting to play Rasputin (his brother Lionel gets that plum part), but he puts commensurate enthusiasm into the scene where he poisons, shoots, clubs and drowns his sibling, and the rest of the cast handles things with equal enthusiasm.

   There is some interest in seeing Barrymore Jr in THE NIGHT THEY KILLED RASPUTIN essay the part his daddy had, but that’s the sole attraction of this effort, at least as released here in the US. It may have been more appealing in color, but it showed up here in badly-dubbed B&W. Hence. I cannot fairly judge the acting except to say it sounds like they had two or three voice-over artists doing all the parts, and it ends so abruptly I suspect someone just lost interest. I know I did.

   RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK is rather more spirited but somewhat misses the high-water mark set by Hammer Studios at their best. Blame the by-the-numbers direction by Don Sharp, a confirmed second-stringer, or the penurious production from Hammer, who did this back-to-back with DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, using the same sets and much of the cast. There’s a spirited performance from Christopher Lee, relishing a bravura speaking part for a change, but everyone else seems to act like they’re wasted in Nothing Parts — which they pretty much are.

   And then there’s the book RASPUTIN IN HOLLYWOOD, by noted British author/solicitor Sir David Napley, dealing primarily with the lawsuit Prince and Princess Yusupov brought in British courts against MGM for suggesting in their movie that the princess had an improper encounter with the mad monk.

   This is hardly the stuff of gripping drama, but Napley handles it (mostly) well. There’s some enjoyably concise background on the principals in the story: I never knew the Prince did a drag act in nightclubs, and he was about the least likely person to pick for the job of assassinating a bear of a man like Rasputin; in point of fact, the monk was finished off by others in the plot.

   Be that as it may, the Yusupovs escaped the Bolsheviks, spent all their money, and when the MGM film came out, either gasped in horror at seeing the princess’ name besmirched, or licked their chops seeing the chance for more lucre. Take your pick. Napley remains impartial as he goes on to describe the trial in detail, telling us about the opposing strategies, explaining the strengths and weaknesses and all the hits, runs and errors in a very expensive game.

   It ain’t exactly ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but he keeps it interesting and fun—which is more than I can say for some of those movies.


MAD LOVE. MGM, 1935. Peter Lorre, Frances Drake, Colin Clive, Ted Healy, Sara Haden, Keye Luke. Based on the novel Les Mains D’Orlac by Maurice Renard (The Hands of Orlac). Director: Karl Freund.

   Directed by Karl Freund (The Mummy), Mad Love may not be the greatest horror movie released in the 1930s, but it’s a must-see for Peter Lorre fans. In his Hollywood debut Lorre portrays Dr. Gogol, a strange bald man fixated on Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake) an actress at a Grand Guignol-type Parisian theater. His romantic infatuation with the married Yvonne will plunge him deep into a living nightmare, one in which he will commit coldblooded murder to possess her like an object.

   Adapted from Maurice Renard’s Les Mains d’Orlac (1920), the plot follows Dr. Gogol’s attempt to win Yvonne’s affections by performing a radical experimental procedure on her husband, Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive). Orlac, a concert pianist, had his hands crushed in a train accident. So Gogol, in hoping that he can win Yvonne’s heart by performing surgery on her husband’s hands, does the unthinkable. He replaces Orlac’s hands with that of a newly deceased convict, one whose life has recently been taken by the guillotine. As one might imagine, this does not work out well for Stephen Orlac. Having the hands of a murderer isn’t exactly conducive toward rebuilding his career as a musician.

   But it’s not the plot that makes Mad Love worth a look. Rather, it’s Lorre’s performance, coupled with Freund’s direction and the general atmosphere of creepiness and dread that permeate the film’s aesthetic. Between light and shadow and close ups of Lorre’s deranged facial expressions, this movie captures what psychological horror ought to look like on screen.

   Although there’s some lighthearted relief in the form of Dr. Gogol’s inebriated housekeeper, the movie takes place in an off-kilter world, a land of mirrors and madness. Call it post-German Expressionism or proto-noir, if you will. And Lorre, as in Fritz Lang’s M (1931) and John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941), gives an unforgettable performance.


THE QUEEN OF SPADES Associated British-Pathé, UK, 1949; Monogram Pictures, US, 1949. Anton Walbrook, Edith Evans, Yvonne Mitchell, Ronald Howard, Anthony Dawson, Miles Malleson and Ivor Barnard. Written by Rodney Ackland and Arthuir Boys, from a story by Alexander Puskin (first published in the literary magazine Biblioteka dlya chteniya, March 1834). Directed by Thorold Dickenson.

   Probably the most splendid ghost story ever filmed: lavishly produced, directed with moody elegance, intelligently written, and acted to a fare-thee-well, this is a film I can recommend to anyone who loves a fine, gothic chiller, with ghosts, obsession and satanic bargains. And it also has a used book store.

   Anton Walbrook stars as Suvorin, a frugal Russian Army Captain absorbed by a passion for money and how to get it. It’s a one-dimensional part, but Walbrook plays it with a fruity obsession worthy of George Zucco, which fits perfectly into Director Dickenson’s gothic milieu. Ronald Howard is the less interesting Decent Sort one usually sees played in horror films by John Boles or David Manners.

   Be that as it may, both men are pursuing Yvonne Mitchell, the ward/companion/indentured servant of Edith Evans, a lady of advanced years who looks more like Kharis than anybody’s guardian — she even drags a foot as she walks. Of course Ronnie is in love with the lady, but Anton has his own uses for the niece.

   Did I call Evans a “Lady of advanced years?” In this movie she’s so old, Suvorin finds her mentioned in an old book (found of course in a creepy used book store run by Ivor Barnard, who looks like a cross between Satan and a Pulpfest dealer) and learns that in her youth — sometime in the last century — she was rumored to have sold her soul to the Devil for the secret of wining at cards.

   Consumed with a desire to worm his way into the household and learn the dowager’s secret, Suvorin romances the niece from afar, arranges an assignation, and once inside breaks into Evans’ bedroom and wheedles, cajoles, bargains and threatens her until …

   I won’t give anything else away, but I will say that what follows resonates with surprising emotion, as we explore the feelings of the characters involved. It’s also elaborately creepy, a ghost tale set in magnificent surroundings that somehow add to the macabre atmosphere of the story, and leads to the strangest ending I have ever seen in a scary movie.

   Try this one; you won’t regret it.


THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X. Warner Brothers, 1939. Wayne Morris, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Morgan, John Litel, Lya Lys, Huntz Hall, Olin Howland. Written by Lee Katz and William J. Makin. Directed by Vincent Sherman.

   1939 was the year that brought us Stagecoach, Gone with the Wind, Of Mice and Men, Wizard of Oz… and this, Bogie’s only horror film. He didn’t like it much, but it ain’t all that bad. It isn’t very good, either, but I found it fun.

   Wayne Morris, playing his usual likeable half-wit, is your typical movie reporter of the day: bluff, brassy and smart as a corn cob. As the story opens, he talks his way into an interview with a stage star (Lya Lys, in a rather good sub-Dietrich performance) only to find her dead in her apartment, her body drained of blood—and cue up the ominous music.

   Things take a surprising turn when Wayne’s paper splashes the story across the front page before telling the police, only to have the body disappear when the cops show up… then reappear alive (sort of; she now sports a goth look and talks like Robert Downey in his drug-using days) leading to Wayne getting fired by a typically apoplectic movie-style editor.

   Nothing daunted, our hero hooks up with his doctor buddy (Dennis Morgan) and consults with blood specialist Dr. Flegg (“Interesting stuff, blood!”) who assures him there’s nothing to see here, but….

   About this time we get a look at Dr. Flegg’s assistant, Doctor Quesne, and the jig is up, for it’s no less than Humphrey Bogart, made up like a reverse-Jolson, with pasty white face, dark lips and eyeshadow, with a shock of white in his hair. Doctor Flegg (John Litel, made up with satanic goatee and monocle) explains it all by saying Bogie’s “getting over a shock.”

   It would be easy to say the shock must be appearing in this picture, but as I said, it’s not all that bad. Return is done with typical Warners polish: elaborate sets, glistening photography (by Sid Hickox, of Dark Passage and Colorado Territory) and the usual cast of Warners bit players, all doing their reliable best and keeping a straight face when we learn that Dr Quesne is actually Doctor Xavier, an executed criminal brought back to life and now in need of human blood to keep going.

   I should add however that Return is also heavy-duty stupid. How so? Well for starters, we get a front-page headline of a murder out on the streets before the police can even get to the scene of the crime. Later, a detective tells Dennis Morgan that the coroner has ruled a death by natural causes — while the body is still lying on the floor!

   Further on, our persistent heroes, investigating the supposed death of Dr Xavier, go to the cemetery in the middle of the night and simply have the caretaker dig up the grave, which he does as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Xavier’s coffin turns up empty of course, whereupon the cops compound the stupidity by showing up to arrest Morris and Morgan for stealing the copse! Faced with all this, the notion of raising the dead seems but another improbability, and hardly noticeable.

   For those who don’t know how horror films end, I’m going to throw out a SPOILER ALERT! here and add that in deference to Bogie’s image, the writers allow him to perish shooting it out with the Law in a hail of police bullets. And it’s done well, an exciting moment in a film that can be fun if you’ll let it.


RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK. Hammer Films, UK, 1966. 20th Century Fox, US, 1966. Christopher Lee (Grigori Rasputin), Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Dinsdale Landen, Renée Asherson, Derek Francis. Director: Don Sharp.

   The physically imposing Christopher Lee is at his theatrical best in Hammer’s 1966 Rasputin: The Mad Monk. Filmed at England’s Bray Studios several days after shooting for Dracula: Prince of Darkness wrapped up, this biopic blended historical drama with Hammer’s trademark atmospheric Gothic horror. Although not one of the legendary British production studio’s most impressive releases, Rasputin: The Mad Monk benefited strongly not only from Lee’s nearly flawless performance, but also from Don Sharp’s workman-like direction which keeps the proceedings moving forward at a good pace.

   Before delving further into the plot, some historical background might prove useful to those less familiar with Russian history. There are few figures in 20th-century European history that loom larger in the collective imagination than the mysterious Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.

   Although he never held an official position in the Russian Orthodox Church, Rasputin is best remembered as a bearded monk dressed in a long robe. Born to a peasant family in Siberia, Rasputin made his way to St. Petersburg and somehow manipulated his way to the royal family’s inner circle and became close to the Tsarina, spouse of Nicholas II, the last Romanov czar. Acting as a mystical healer to Alexei Nikolaevich, heir to the Russian throne, Rasputin gained enormous power in Russian politics. So much so that a group of conservative noblemen, unnerved by his influence over the Tsarina, plotted and carried out his assassination in 1916.

   That’s the official story, true to history. There have also been a series of theories, most of which have been debunked, about Rasputin’s murder at the hands of his political enemies. As for the character of Rasputin as portrayed in Rasputin: The Mad Monk is an amalgam of both the historical Rasputin and a mad villain very much in the Hammer mold. Christopher Lee’s Rasputin is larger than life, a raving megalomaniac, and very possibly an agent of the Dark Prince, Satan himself.

   When we first encounter Rasputin very early in the film, it’s under inauspicious circumstances. An innkeeper’s (Derek Francis) wife has taken very ill. Enter Rasputin, a tall, bearded, unkempt man in a long robe. Villagers had heard of a man with mystic, healing powers and sent for him to come to the assistance of the innkeeper’s wife. Somehow, someway this mysterious man is able to put his hands on the sick woman and bring her back from the brink of death.

   But who is this visitor and what does he really want? He is, we learn, Rasputin and he’s a hard drinking, lecherous sort who has his eyes on one of the young girls at the inn. When his attempts to seduce her are interrupted by a jealous young man who attacks him, Rasputin shows just how far his soul has fallen and that his rapacious appetite is not limited to food and drink. Not only does he lash out violently against his attacker, severing the man’s hand, Rasputin also ends up raping the girl who has clearly changed her mind about this dark seductive, mysterious stranger who, just hours ago, was lauded as a miracle worker for restoring a woman back to life.

   What happens next is the movie’s inciting event. Summoned in front of a church elder, Rasputin is asked to explain his violent, sexual behavior. This is not the first time that the film takes liberties with the historical record, for Rasputin never held an official position within the church. That said, the scene in question is a pivotal one for it gives the character of Rasputin to deliver a quasi-soliloquy in which a stunning tacit admission of the origins of his unique powers is proffered. It is through Lee’s physically imposing presence and deep voice that the depth of evil in Rasputin’s soul comes to the fore. By acknowledging that his power may not come from any divine source, but from Satan, the Rasputin as portrayed in this Hammer production enters the studio’s pantheon of villains.

   Lee portrays Rasputin as a wild man, capable of charming ladies and bending them to his will. He’s as much a Russian peasant monk as he is a counter-cultural guru, a bearded mystic that wouldn’t have looked so completely out of place in late 1960s London or San Francisco. Indeed, the Rasputin portrayed here is almost a proto-Charlie Manson. He’s clearly deranged and not a particularly polished individual. And yet he is able to somehow to cast a devilish spell over young women, including one of the Czarina’s ladies in waiting, Sonia (Barbara Shelley). Not only does he seduce her, he also hypnotizes her into injuring young Alexei, heir to the Romanov throne. This is part of Rasputin’s plot to ingratiate himself with the Tsarina (Renée Asherson): have Sonia injure Alexei and then have her convince the Tsarina to invite him into the royal palace to heal the young boy. Rasputin is nothing if not devious.

   It’s clear that Rasputin thinks he can charm his way into the royal family’s good graces. And it’s not as if he doesn’t seem to have the power. One of his biggest coups is convincing the Czarina to drop her current physician and employ the services of Dr. Boris Zargo, a physician that he met in a drinking hall and has taken on as a sidekick. This haughtiness eventually catches up to the mad monk. For it is when Boris realizes the degree to which Rasputin poses a clear and imminent danger not only to the Romanovs, but also to Russia itself, that he joins forces with two noblemen, Sonia’s brother, Peter (Dinsdale Landen) and his friend, Ivan (Francis Matthews) in a plot to take down Rasputin once and for all.

   The final sequence, in which Ivan invites Rasputin to a secluded cottage under the pretense of giving the sexually depraved mystic a chance to seduce his sister Vanessa (Suzan Farmer), is worth the wait. Up to that point, the movie advances at a good clip, but there’s little in the way of action or the authentic Hammer horror aesthetic. Not so in the unforgettable scene in which Rasputin, despite being poisoned and shot, refuses to die. It is a stellar performance that Lee pulls off. It worked as well as it did simply due to the British actor’s imposing stature.

   Still, despite the climatic ending, Rasputin: The Mad Monk doesn’t quite feel like the horror movie it could have been. It’s a biopic and an historical drama with palpable horror overtones rather than a straightforward horror film. As a biopic, the movie works well enough. But it suffers the problem inherent in many biographies adapted to celluloid; namely, that the protagonist becomes larger than life and the antagonist ends up a rather forgettable, minor figure so matter how much screen time he is given. Such is the case with the characters Peter and Ivan. Overall, forgettable and mediocre characters both.

   In many ways, the film was a stark departure from Hammer’s usual fare and one that doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of Lee’s vast output with the British studio. That doesn’t mean that Rasputin: The Mad Monk is not deserving of serious attention. In many ways, Lee’s Rasputin has been one of his more underappreciated performances, and it’s nothing if not captivating. Still, the movie could have benefited from stronger hero. Peter Cushing as a Russian nobleman? One can only imagine what the final product might have been.


THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE. Phoenix Cinematografica, Italy, 1971, as La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba. Phase One, US, 1972; dubbed. Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Enzo Tarascio (as Rod Murdock), Giacomo Rossi Stuart. Direcctor: Emilio Miraglia.

   The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave starts off as an uncomfortably sleazy enterprise before transforming into a gripping, moody Gothic thriller. Directed by Emilio P. Miraglia, this stylish Italian giallo film has the typical sex and violence that is prevalent in the genre. But what it also has – what gives the film a little something extra – is a Gothic atmosphere that owes as much to Roger Corman’s cinematic adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems as to the emerging Italian proto-slasher genre of which it is indubitably a part.

   Although an Italian film with dialogue in Italian (there’s also apparently an English language version), the movie is set in England. Aristocrat Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) lives a decadent lifestyle in his family’s estate. His wife, the beautiful redheaded Evelyn, has recently died. But not before he was able to confront her about her infidelities. So Alan is a little … mentally unbalanced. So much so that he has a penchant for bringing red headed prostitutes back to his lair so he can have his way with them.

   All that changes when he meets Gladys (Marina Malfatti), a stripper who Alan decides is going to be his next wife. All seems well finally for the tormented Alan. But when Alan’s family members begin to die in horrifically mysterious ways, it seems as if he may be cursed. Perhaps his wife Evelyn has indeed come back from the grave to exact revenge. Or maybe someone is playing a giant prank, a cruel trick to send the wealthy Alan over the edge in order to inherit his large fortune.

   If you can manage to overlook the giant plot holes in the story, you might just find yourself a bit enthralled with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. Although it’s not nearly as good a film as Dario Argento’s output from the same era, it has a stylish flair, some really dark humor, and an effective score composed by Bruno Nicolai.


DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Paramount-Artcraft Pictures, 1920. Silent film. John Barrymore, Brandon Hurst, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane, Cecil Clovelly, Nita Naldi, J. Malcolm Dunn. Based on the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Director: John S. Robertson.

   Originally published in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde introduced the reading public to two of the most well known characters in modern literary history: the conventional Victorian physician, Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego, the uninhibited and cruel Mr. Hyde. Stylized as a detective story, one in which the reader does not discover that Jekyll and Hyde are merely two parts of the same man until the story’s ending, Stevenson’s novella highlighted the duality of man: That lying underneath man’s civilized, urbane exterior is a bestial side, one that later critics identified as lurking not far beneath a highly repressed Victorian society.

   Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, however, doesn’t read as if it was designed to impart any emphatic moral lesson. Instead, the work unfolds as a mystery tale and, to a lesser extent, an early work of the emerging genre of horror fiction. In that sense, it is as much of a thriller as the shudder pulp stories that it influenced decades later.

   Indeed, Stevenson’s novella is written from the point of view of a society lawyer, Gabriel John Utterson who begins an amateur investigation into the strange happenings concerning his friend, Dr. Jekyll. By the end of the tale, Utterson has learned that Dr. Jekyll and his strange friend, Mr. Hyde, are one and the same person. Two divided halves of the same self. This was a concept that Stevenson, who is still best known for his adventure fiction, apparently wanted to incorporate into his writings. In that sense, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been not only a literary success, but also a personal triumph for Stevenson as Jekyll and Hyde are now among the best known fictional characters in Anglo-American literature.

   Although it wasn’t the first effort to adapt Stevenson’s novella into a motion picture, Paramount/Artcraft’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) has ended up the default template for nearly all the subsequent movie versions. Arguably based more upon Thomas Russell Sullivan’s 1887 stage adaptation of Stevenson’s novella than the literary work itself, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stars John Barrymore in the dual title role, a performance that by all accounts solidified his Hollywood star power. Barrymore, who at the time was still best known as a stage actor, delivers an exceptional performance in his portrayal of two halves of the same individual man.

   The Dr. Jekyll that the audience first encounters in the film as opposed to the novella is both a physician and a philanthropist, a Victorian man of science who devotes considerable amount of time to helping the poor. He is a rather stiff, that is to say not particularly relaxed individual, who seems to be more interested in expanding his knowledge than in the more mundane, let alone sensual, aspects of life.

   Jekyll is, however, engaged to a charming lady named Millicent (Martha Mansfield). Millicent’s father, Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst) in the presence of friends Edward Enfield (Cecil Clovelly), Dr. Lanyon (Charles Lane) and Utterson (J. Malcolm Dunn), tempts the ascetic physician with the possibility of exploring London’s less refined, if not downright seedy, locales. Observers have rightly noted that Carew’s temptation of Jekyll into the proverbial dark side seems to be based more on the character of Lord Henry in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) than on Stevenson’s work itself.

   Furthermore, at least some of the silent film’s intertitles include text that are directly borrowed from, or inspired by, Wilde’s literary portrait, and philosophical study of libertinism. Indeed, Sir Carew’s admonition that “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it” comes directly from Wilde.

   The turning point for Dr. Jekyll is when he meets Gina (Nita Naldi), a dance hall girl he encounters when Sir George Carew takes him to the seedier side of town. Jekyll is fascinated by her, but is actually somewhat embarrassed, if not repulsed, by the degree to which he finds himself attracted to her.

   Before he absconds back into the London night, Jekyll engages in a short conversation with Gina during which she shows him a large ornamental ring that she wears on her finger. She tells him that the ring acts as a vessel and that it contains poison. When Jekyll ends his encounter with Gina, it seems as if her poison ring is all but forgotten. The audience, which is familiar with foreshadowing, knows that this ring will very likely end up playing a prominent role in what follows.

   It is Jekyll’s encounter with Gina, a character that doesn’t appear in Stevenson’s novella, that sets him down a path from which he will never return, for it is his interaction with this dance hall girl that guides his decision to manufacture a chemical compound that will separate his good, philanthropic self from his baser, lecherous self – a part of him that he never acknowledged existed until he met her.

   Barrymore’s transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is perhaps the highlight of the film, for it showcases both his raw theatrical talent, specifically his ability to convey meaning with his facial expressions.

   The remainder of the film follows Dr. Jekyll and his diabolical alter ego, Mr. Hyde, as the latter embarks upon a path of death and destruction. Barrymore’s Hyde, dressed in a top hat and cape, lurks through London’s back alleys. Initially, Hyde seems to not only relish his inhibited self, but also appears to get away with his bad behavior.

   Things change, however, when he first injures a child, then escalates to murder, beating a man to death with his cane. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is as much a tragedy, as it is a horror story. It’s the story of a man, who in his quest for scientific knowledge, ends up both becoming and subsumed by his repressed, animalistic self.

   Mastered in high definition from archival 35mm elements, the Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that I recently had the opportunity to watch provides movie aficionados with an opportunity to watch a relatively clean, uncluttered version of this silent film, one that exists in the public domain.

   Released in 2014, the Kino Classics version also features a serviceable, but by no means outstanding, score by Rodney Sauer, one that is performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. There are moments during the film when the music seems intrusive, as if it were disconnected from what was occurring on screen.

   Still, for the most part, Kino’s Blu-Ray release is quite watchable, despite some elements that were clearly degraded in the course of time. There’s also the tinting factor. Although most of the film was photographed in standard black and white, there are several sequences that are now bathed in either a reddish or bluish hue. Given that the workmanlike photography by cinematographer Roy F. Overbaugh is not particularly artistic – certainly not on the level of his German Expressionist contemporaries – the tinting does little to either elevate or to decrease the overall rather flat, staid visuals.

   Indeed, apart from the sequences featuring prosthetics in which Jekyll transforms into Hyde and the fever dream scene in which Jekyll is confronted by a giant crawling spider, there’s little in the way of outstanding visual effects in this film. In many ways, it’s Barrymore and Barrymore alone who carries the movie. At the end of the day, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Barrymore’s vehicle, one to which both Fredric March and Spencer Tracy were truly indebted.

   Without Barrymore’s uncanny transformation from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, it also remains uncertain whether the two characters in one would have lived in through not only March and Tracy, but also such disparate actors as Jack Palance, Kirk Douglas, and Michael Caine, all of whom took turns in portraying the quintessential man divided against himself.

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