Horror movies


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

BLACK MOON. Columbia Pictures, 1934. Jack Holt, Fay Wray, Dorothy Burgess, Clarence Muse. Screenplay: Clement Ripley & Wells Root. Directed by Roy William Neill.

   Despite the attitudes of the time, this Columbia horror film is almost a companion piece to Val Lewton’s classic, I Walked With a Zombie, and an effective and suspenseful tale of horror and mystery.

   Jack Holt is well to do businessman Stephen Lane, married to the mysterious Juanita Perez (Dorothy Burgess) who is obsessed with the voodoo culture of the island where she grew up. As the film opens she is playing the voodoo drum for their young child Nancy (Cora Sue Collins), while downstairs a psychiatrist warns Stephen to let her obsession play out on its own, causing him to put off joining her on her planned return to visit her plantation owner Uncle Dr. Raymond Perez (Arnold Korff) who raised her after her parents were killed in a native uprising.

   The next day Stephen’s secretary Gail Hamilton (Fay Wray) presents him with the passports needed, adding that she would like to resign because of a romantic entanglement, not telling him that reason is that she is helplessly in love with him, but he persuades her she is needed by his wife and she reluctantly agrees to accompany her to the island.

   Meanwhile Juanita loses her temper when a friend of her Uncle tries to prevent her from going to the island. Things are bad there, and her presence can only make things worse. While a child there it seems that she became deeply involved in voodoo ceremony thanks to a black nursemaid Ruva (Madame Sul-Te-Wan) and the local voodoo priest Kala (Laurence Criner). Her Uncle fears for her safety and sanity.

   Turns out he is right.

   Once on the island things proceed to get worse. Gail is frightened for Nancy and Anna (Eleanor Wesslehoeft), Nancy’s nurse, clashes with Ruva. When Gail cables Stephen to hurry to the island the native who sent the cable is murdered.

   Stephen arrives on a schooner captained by an American, “Lunch” McClaren (Clarence Muse) who is going to marry a local girl and warns Stephen the locals are in a dangerous mood. Stephen’s arrival is joyful for his daughter and a relief for Gail, but only for a short time. Anna has died in an unlikely accident and now Ruva is Nancy’s new nurse.

   Meanwhile Juanita has gone completely native as the priestess of the voodoo religion.

   When Lunch asks Stephen’s help to try and rescue his girl friend who is the sacrifice for that nights ceremony he witnesses Juanita in her guise as priestess before shooting and wounding Kala. Having failed to kill the high priest they now face an uprising as Juanita wants Nancy and plans to sacrifice Stephen and Gail. Forced to barricade themselves in the house they are driven out by a fire. Dr. Perez and Lunch escape but Nancy, her father and Gail are taken.

   Perez and Lunch manage to rescue the adults, but Nancy is still with her mother, and now the high priest has chosen to sacrifice the child with Juanita wielding the blade.

   Stephen and Lunch return for the child, will they be in time, will Juanita sacrifice her own child in her maddened hypnotic state…

   With an intelligent screenplay by Clement Ripley and Wells Root, atmospheric direction by the always interesting Roy William Neill, and a good cast, the film builds fine suspense, a real sense of impending doom. True Holt is a bit too old and stout, but he’s always good as a stalwart hero. Fay Wray doesn’t have much to do but look scared and pretty, and she does that just fine. Dorothy Burgess is quite good as the increasingly mad and cruel Mrs. Lane.

   More interesting for a film of this time is Clarence Muse. Despite his nickname “Lunch,” he is far from the usual comedy relief. In fact, other than a few lines his role is absolutely straight and courageous. He doesn’t have a single scene when he shows any more fear or concern than anyone else in the film, in fact he is the hero’s greatest ally, far more competent and intelligent than the white sidekicks in most films, all of which is unusual for a film from this era and goes someways from the simple superstitious natives in revolt elements of the plot.

   In fact, Dr. Perez is hardly presented as a Colonial paragon, and the screenplay brings out that he and those who came before him have oppressed the locals and driven them to extremes, nor or Ruva or Kala punished for their roles in the revolt, something fairly remarkable considering the fate of most such characters even in films today (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom).

   Black Moon isn’t a perfect film. It meanders here and there, the screenplay could use tightening, it doesn’t always live up to Neill’s atmospherics and inventive camera work, but on the whole it is a terrific little movie that compares well to Lewton’s more masterful I Walked With a Zombie.

   

THE NIGHT WALKER. Universal Pictures, 1964. Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Judith Meredith, Hayden Rorke. Rochelle Hudson. Opening narration: Paul Frees. Screenplay: Robert Bloch. Director: William Castle.

   “…when you dream, you become … a Night Walker!” Or so goes the closing line of the opening narration, by the voice that also often did the lead-in to Escape, the greatest suspense radio show of all time. Sorry to say, in spite of all the talent that was involved in the making of this movie, it’s all downhill from here.

   It might have the murky reception our local cable company gives us of WTBS, but I think the plot was pretty murky to begin with. Barbara Stanwyck is married to an older man, rich, blind, and jealous – a dangerous combination — who, from overhearing her talk in her sleep, accuses her of having an affair with another man. He strikes her, she leaves, he goes upstairs and immediately dies in a laboratory explosion.

   Is she free? Not exactly. She begins to have nightmares, nightmares so real she is convinced they really are. Robert Taylor, who was her husband’s lawyer, is sympathetic, but he’ s hard to convince that she is doing nothing but dreaming. In the meantime, visions of Irene’s dead husband, even more badly disfigured than before, continue to haunt her.

   Is it real or is it all a dream? With Robert Bloch’s credentials as a combination fantasy/horror/mystery writer, it’s impossible to say in advance. Unfortunately, it was also almost impossible for me to stay awake. I’m awake now, but I really don’t think this movie will keep me awake later.

   I think that dreams are too personal to bring them very effectively to the screen. It’s been done, but with bigger budgets than this. Phony-looking make-up jobs and spinning cameras just don’t cut it, at least not any more.

– Reprinted from Mystery*File #32, July 1991, in slightly revised form.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE GORILLA MAN.  Warner Bros., 1943. John Loder, Ruth Ford, Marian Hall, Richard Fraser, Lumsden Hare, Paul Cavanagh, John Abbott, Mary Field and Charles Irwin. Written by Anthony Coldeway. Directed by D. Ross Lederman.

   Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it seems to me that if you watch a movie titled The Gorilla Man, you should expect to see at least one Ape Suit in the picture. Imagine then, my disappointment to learn that the eponymous anthropoid is just the nickname hero John Loder got from fellow-soldiers in recognition of his climbing skills on a commando raid.

   Well, life is full of disappointment, especially for those of us looking for cheap thrills. But in fact, Gorilla Man does offer a modicum of shivers, thanks mainly to character actor John Abbott, who plays a particularly sadistic henchman to mildly-mad doctor Paul Cavanagh.

   The whole thing gets a bit over-complicated, thanks mainly to writer Coldeway’s efforts to turn a then-topical spy story into a monster movie, but here goes:

   Doctor Cavanagh runs a sanitarium on the channel coast, where he gets secret orders from Berlin. You see he’s really one of those respectable-looking Nazi spies, who seem to have overrun England in wartime movies like this. Anyway, he’s warned by radio signals that Loder and his men are en route back home from a raid, and that Loder has vital information that must at all costs be kept from Army Brass. Quick as a button, henchman Abbott greets the returning raiders as they land, finds Loder slightly wounded, and spirits him off to Cavanagh’s phony hospital.

   Bwa-(as they say)-ha-hah!

   But Loder does get Germany’s secret invasion plans to the General, so Cavanagh switches to Plan B — there’s always a plan B in these things — which involves making Loder look crazy, so he won’t be believed. To this end, they release Loder and follow him around, killing helpless young ladies he comes into contact with, a task that psycho Abbott is just tickled plumb to death to carry out.

   Add a dubious General into the mix, stir in a sneering Police Inspector, a jilted girlfriend who meets a grisly end, and you have an hour that moves briskly enough, served up with Warners’ usual polish. And as I say, John Abbott is really quite creepy, lurking about with google-eyed glasses and a sick grin.

   But damn, where’s a Gorilla Suit when you need one!

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: I had a nickname in my unit too, where my comrades affectionately called me “that sorry sunuvabitch.” But I digresss….

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE UNDYING MONSTER. 20th Century Fox, 1942. James Ellison, Heather Angel, John Howard, Bramwell Fletcher, Heather Thatcher, Aubrey Mather, Halliwell Hobbes. Screenplay by Lillie Hayward and Michael Jacoby, based on the novel by Jessie Douglas Kerruish (Heath Cranton, UK, hardcover, 1922. Macmillan, US, hardcover, 1936). Directed by John Brahm.

   This is a B-movie. Don’t get confused because it is well done, it’s a B by a director, John Brahm, who was about to breakout into a brief A career (The Lodger, Hangover Square, The Brasher Doubloon) before eventually ending up directing television. What he does here is to bring an A sensibility and skills to a B film for all its B trappings and cast.

   The novel, by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, is among other things, one of the best werewolf novels ever written. Admittedly that isn’t a very wide area, there’s Dumas’s The Wolf Leader, Stevenson’s updated Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Guy Endore’s Werewolf of Paris, and in modern times, a handful of books by Poul Anderson, Stephen King, Robert McKinnon, Gary Brander, and Richard Jacoma, but for all their popularity in film, there are relatively few literary werewolves worth noting.

   I guess they are too hairy and smelly to be as sexy as vampires.

   The novel is somewhat more serious and better than the film, though the basic story is the same. John Hammond is the scion of cursed family haunted by a monster that takes the life of the oldest born. He brings in a friend to help and it is discovered an ancient Viking curse turns the Hammond men into ravening beasts at a certain age. Much of the novel is uncovering that curse and then finding a way to reverse it before it is too late.

   It is an excellent supernatural novel that comes close to actually making werewolves halfway believable and is full of invention and ideas. Of its kind it is a small and distinguished classic.

   The film keeps the central idea, but loses much of what makes the novel a classic of its kind.

   Yet in its own way the movie, B as it is, is a minor classic too, standing comfortably only just behind The Wolfman and The Werewolf of London despite its cheaper production values.

   John Howard (Paramount’s Bulldog Drummond) is John Hammond, scion of the Hammond family, and “victim” of the family curse when his little dog is killed by something in the dark on a foggy night. Not much later there is a human death and Scotland Yard is brought in.

   Inspector Craig (Aubrey Mather) thinks this is the perfect case for scientific detective Robert Curtis (James Ellison who had a relatively brief career as a minor leading man and cowboy star) and his female assistant Christy (Heather Thatcher), who is a bit on the screwball side and something of a suffragette (the period is Pre-WW I), who is dispatched to Hammond manor to lay the beast, or the murderer, whichever it may be.

   Largely set-bound, Brahm does a good job with dark and light and fog to keep everything swirling around all the fuzzy edges. There is a claustrophobic feel to the film of something awful in the shadows that is well contrasted with Ellison’s bright scientific mind trying to shine light in all those dark corners, even if that light may reveal something science isn’t ready for

   This film is as close as you get in the period to “Sherlock Holmes Meets the Wolfman.”

   Things aren’t easy either, Hammond’s beautiful sister (Heather Angel) is endangered, butler Halliwell Hobbes is hiding something, and Dr. Bramwell Fletcher is downright suspicious — is he just jealous of Curtis attraction to Heather Angel, or is there something more going on? He is certainly hiding something.

   He knows something.

   And why is he poisoning John Hammond?

   It’s a fast moving movie, and builds to a fine finish on the cliffs with the mystery of the Hammond curse laid at last, very nearly finally for Curtis.

   In some ways the most interesting character in the film is Heather Thatcher’s Christy, Watson to Curtis Holmes. She is a modern mature woman, not a helpless young thing, and she has some actual skills though she is in part comic relief. For once though you can actually see why Curtis might have her around. She isn’t just there to point a gun at the bad guy after Curtis exposes him or look good around the office.

   This is no masterpiece. Younger viewers may not have as much patience with it as those of us who grew up on B films.

   I would still like to see a more faithful adaptation of the Kerruish novel, but this is damn good on its own and hold up fairly well.

   For now you can catch it on YouTube, and it is actually worth a look.

   

REVIEWED BY DAVID FRIEND:

   

SCREAM OF FEAR. Columbia Pictures, US, 1961. Originally released as Taste of Fear (Hammer Films, UK, 1961). Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee. Writer: Jimmy Sangster. Director: Seth Holt. Currently can be seen on YouTube.

   Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) is a beautiful young paraplegic who hasn’t seen her father in almost ten years. Following the suicide of her nurse in Switzerland, she is invited to his estate on the French Riviera, where she meets stepmother Jane (Anne Todd) for the first time. Apparently, Mr Appleby has been called away on business and is not expected back for several days.

   She becomes concerned and, gradually, even suspicious. One night, Penny sees her father’s corpse in the summerhouse, propped in an armchair and staring blankly ahead, but the place is empty upon her return. Jane believes it was a hallucination brought on by grief and that the death of Penny’s nurse is causing unnecessary concern for her father. The family physician, Dr Pierre Gerrard (Christopher Lee), suspects this too and even suggests her paraplegia may be psychosomatic.

   Penny is adamant that she is sane and that her disability, due to a horse-riding accident, is nothing but serious. After seeing her father’s body again, Penny is even more terrified, and finds her only support in the sympathetic chauffeur Bob (Ronald Lewis). They begin to suspect that Anne has murdered her father, or at least may have covered up an accidental death, and that she wants to drive Penny insane in order to seize control of the Appleby estate. The pair investigate, and Penny’s quest to prove her sanity thrusts her into a situation that is dangerously real.

   Hammer Studios may be best known for their horror films, principally involving Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster shot in lurid Pathecolor, but they had an extensive list of black and white thrillers to their name. Many of these are tremendously gripping – though most, nowadays, are all too easily overlooked.

   Christopher Lee once said that this was the best film Hammer ever made, and that is no surprise. It was certainly scripted by their best writer, Jimmy Sangster, who also serves as producer for the first time. Its success led to further thrillers in a similar vein, most notably the Oliver Reed-starring Paranoiac and The Nanny with Bette Davis, and though Scream of Fear (its US title) doesn’t boast such star names (Christopher Lee’s role is more of a recurring cameo), it doesn’t need any, offering instead strong performances, a relatable protagonist, plenty of atmosphere and a tense, beguiling story that will keep viewers guessing.

   The disabled-person-in-jeopardy angle may be a familiar one, but it serves the picture well, framing Penny as a stoic character, resolutely defiant in the face of easy condescension and the risible assumption that a physical disability may in some way hamper a person’s intellectual faculties. This, needless to say, proves to be the undoing of certain characters, and that third-act twist is like a sock to the jaw. Highly recommended.

Rating: ****

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

MAN MADE MONSTER. Universal, 1940. Lon Chaney Jr, Lionel Atwill, Anne Nagel, Frank Albertson, Samuel S. Hinds, and Corky. Screenplay by Harry Essex, Sid Schwartz, Len Golos and George Waggner – who also directed. Currently available on YouTube here.

   The distillation of all earlier “Mad Scientist” movies and the template for those that followed.

   Lon Chaney Jr, in his first horror film, stars as “Dynamo” Dan, a circus performer whose act enabled him to survive a crash into an electric line pole that killed five others. Recruited by kindly old Electro-Biologist Hinds, he quickly falls into the clutches of Hind’s assistant, the redoubtable Lionel Atwill, who is convinced he can create a race of mindless, obedient Supermen—if only he can find the right subject.

   Bwaa-(as they say)-ha-haaah!

   No surprises here, but a bit of actual pathos as Lon becomes increasingly dependent on Atwill’s “treatments” and ends up a super-charged (and somewhat preposterous) zombie. He kills kindly old Hinds at Atwill’s bidding… and is sent to the Electric Chair, with rousing results.

   All this is much less awful than it sounds, thanks to a fast-moving script, Waggner’s brisk direction, and some moody lighting by Elwood “Woody” Bredell, who went on to define the look of film noir with classics like Phantom Lady, The Killers, and The Unsuspected.

   And credit must also be given to “Corky” an incredibly expressive little dog, who went on to Criss-Cross, The Danny Thomas Show, and Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost.

   

Reflections on Halloween Movies Past
by Jonathan Lewis

   

   For my Halloween movie viewing this year, I revisited two films that I had previously watched and reviewed for this blog. United Artists’ White Zombie (1932), reviewed here, and Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935), reviewed here.

   Both are films that I had enjoyed and appreciated. Both also were movies that I had the chance to see screened in 35mm here in Los Angeles, the former at UCLA and the latter at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema.

   White Zombie, in which Bela Lugosi plays the ultra-sinister Haitian villain named Murder Legendre, was the first proper zombie movie released by a Hollywood studio. (How zombies went from creations of Haitian voodoo to that of viruses and outbreaks merits a whole different discussion). And Werewolf of London, starring Warner Orland and Henry Hull, was the first proper werewolf movie.

   The movies are, in some ways, clunky by today’s standards. (One might say they were even clunky for their time.) But that doesn’t really matter. While Werewolf of London is a bit more stylish and grounded, both movies have a timeless, nearly dreamlike quality to them.

   They are both, in many ways, fairy tale romances as well. It wasn’t until I watched both consecutively that I realized that, fundamentally, both movies are about doomed love triangles. In both movies, a man ends up sacrificing himself so that the woman he loves could be with her one true love.

UNIVERSAL’S CREEPER SERIES:
Three Movie Reviews by Dan Stumpf.

   

THE PEARL OF DEATH. Universal, 1944. Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Doctor Watson), Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade), Evelyn Ankers, Rondo Hatton.
Based on the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Director: Roy William Neill.

HOUSE OF HORRORS . Universal, 1946. Robert Lowery, Virginia Grey, Bill Goodwin, Martin Kosleck, Alan Napier, Virginia Christine, Howard Freeman, Joan Shawlee and Rondo Hatton. Screenplay by George Bricker & Dwight V. Babcock. Directed by Jean Yarborough.

THE BRUTE MAN. Universal/PRC, 1946. Rondo Hatton, Tom Neal, Jan Wiley, Jane Adams. Screenplay by George Bricker and M Coates Webster, from a story by Dwight V Babcock. Directed by Jean Yarbrough.

   Universal is fondly remembered as the home of Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, and other classic horrors, but they had their share of misfires too. Kharis was more wet blanket than monster, no one could decide what Paula the Ape Woman looked like, the Mad Ghoul stalled out early…

   And then there was The Creeper.

THE PEARL OF DEATH

   A certain amount of controversy has attached to Rondo Hatton, some seeing him as a victim of crass exploitation, others as a man who willingly used his misfortune as best he could. Scott Gallinghouse’s perceptive biography (RONDO HATTON: Beauty Within the Brute, Bear Manor, 2019) paints a picture of a man who enjoyed his brief and tenuous stardom, was celebrated in his home town, and played it up, entertaining guests, and visiting wounded GIs in Army Hospitals.

   Hatton played bits and extras in Hollywood for years until someone spotted him for a choice part in PEARL OF DEATH (1944: reviewed here ) a superior entry in the Sherlock Holmes series which used Hatton sparingly and to eerie effect as “The Hoxton Creeper” a hulking, silent, spine-snapping killer.

   Finding a new Horror Star dropped in their laps, Universal slipped him into JUNGLE CAPTIVE (1945) and THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946, a spin-off from the Sherlock Holmes series, with Gale Sondergaard) then somebody looked back at PEARL OF DEATH and decided it was impressive enough for Universal to launch a series, produced by Ben Pivar (of the Mummy movies) who brought his own working-class perspective and lack of interest to bear, with the usual tepid results.

   Pivar’s series kicked off with HOUSE OF HORRORS and a better-than-average cast. Alan Napier does a dead-on Waldo Lydecker impression as an art critic, and Howard Freeman is even better as his effeminate replacement. Top honors, however, must go to Martin Kosleckd sculptor.

   Kosleck occupied a niche in horror movies somewhere between Peter Lorre and Dwight Frye, and his greatest moment came in HOUSE OF HORRORS, as a demented sculptor at odds with the Art World, who sends the Creeper out to murder his critics — an idea that recalls various versions of THE GOLEM. Kosleck’s art isn’t much good, but it is sort of interesting, and I’d like to see how his style might have developed… but any semblance of atmosphere is dispelled as soon as Rondo Hatton opens his mouth to speak and there is just No Talent here. It wouldn’t have taken much brains to write a script where the Creeper stays silent – just some interest and maybe a little imagination – but that was obviously more than Pivar wanted to invest.

   THE BRUTE MAN, released later the same year, is even tackier and less interesting. Hatton died soon after it wrapped, and Universal, with tastefulness rare for them, decided not to release it. Instead, they sold it to PRC (an even cheaper studio) who put it out as part of their steady trickle of sub-B flicks. Historians of both studios (and there are some) usually use this as an excuse not to discuss BRUTE MAN, which is probably the kindest cut of all.

   I have to say, though, that BRUTE and HORRORS set their monster loose amid flophouses, tenements and seedy second-hand stores, bad as they are (and maybe because of Ben Pivar’s penny-squeezing) these movies evoke that seamy background kind of effectively; it’s like David Goodis wrote a monster movie.

   Strictly as an aside, imagine my surprise when I saw Rondo Hatton and Elena Verdugo, the campy Gypsy Girl in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, in a classy movie like THE MOON AND SIXPENCE (1942) which just goes to show what a many-splendored thing The Movies is.
   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE PREMATURE BURIAL. American International Pictures, 1962. Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel, Alan Napier, John Dierkes, Richard Miller. Screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell, based on the story by Edgar Alan Poe. Directed by Roger Corman. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, DirecTV and others.

   Put aside the plot for now. For this third entry into Roger Corman’s Poe cycle of films fundamentally revolves around an idea, a concept. And that is: what would it be like for a man deathly afraid of being buried alive to actually be buried alive? How would he act? What would he do to those who accidentally (or purposefully) entombed him? How could a filmmaker put reflect his psychological state cinematically?

   In terms of reflecting this morbid concept on screen, The Premature Burial succeeds admirably. And then some. Ray Milland, although too old for the part, does a great job in portraying a man who afraid of being buried alive that he allows all the life to be sucked out of him. Hazel Court, who portrays his long-suffering wife, is there to both support and scold him. She clearly doesn’t want to have to spend the rest of her years with a man with one foot already in the grave.

   Based on the eponymous Edgar Allan Poe short story, The Premature Burial is enriched with claustrophobic sets and a chillingly effective score from Ronald Stein. The film also makes ample use of a rich color palette, both in terms of set design and lighting. Corman’s use of jump cuts do not work nearly as effectively as do the lush atmospherics.

   The movie also benefits greatly from the presence of three great character actors. Alan Napier, who is now best remembered as the butler Alfred in the live-action Batman TV series, portrays the father-in-law of the protagonist. And John Dierkes and Dick Miller portray two graverobbers who end up being key to how the story unfolds.

   Back to the plot. I’ll be honest. It is a little more than creaky. The ending is simply a little too pat, even for a low budget horror film. That’s unfortunate given that the credited screenwriters were none other than Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell. But that’s not what this film is about. It’s a concept film. And a good, albeit not great one, at that.

   

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   

THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST. Republic Pictures, 1945. John Abbott, Charles Gordon, Peggy Stewart, Grant Withers, Emmett Vogan, Adele Mara, Roy Barcroft. Loosely based on the 1819 short story “The Vampyre” by John Polidori. Director: Lesley Selander.

   Make no mistake about it. This one is a cheapie. From the very first scene, you can see that it’s filmed primarily on a sound stage. And the running time – a total of 59 minutes – also solidifies the fact that this one was a quickie. Get it made, get it released, make some money, move on to the next film.

   Despite its low-budget origins, The Vampire’s Ghost remains a rather fun little horror film. A large part of that has to do with the somewhat unusual script. Not unusual in terms of its structure – this one fits well within the confines of the traditional Hollywood screenwriting formula – but because of myriad aspects, both big and small, that make this somewhat obscure vampire film more memorable than it could have been.

   Look no further than the original story writer and co-screenwriter. It’s none other than science fiction pulp writer Leigh Brackett. Her first credited work in cinema, The Vampire’s Ghost is hardly The Big Sleep (1946), let alone Rio Bravo (1959). But the devil, as they say, is in the details.

   Here, the vampire in question isn’t an Eastern European nobleman ensconced in his castle. No. Instead, he’s an urbane expatriate Englishman living somewhere in southern Africa. What’s his profession, you ask? He runs a bar/nightclub/gambling place where sailors come to drink and try their luck at the card table. Already unusual, right? There’s definitely a noir aspect to this vampire film, as well as a western one. Who would think that what motivated a vampire to murder would be his finding out that he was cheated at cards by both a sailor and a saloon waitress?

   Unfortunately, despite the better than average plot details, The Vampire’s Ghost remains an overall talky affair with a lot of mediocre acting. There’s just not that much action, let alone special effects. But the atmospheric moments are good – if stagey – and the final sequence is definitely memorable. In a fun way. There isn’t all that much to analyze in the film. It is what it is. If you like tropical settings and have the ability to immerse yourself in a fantastic world of vampires and voodoo drums pulsing through the steamy jungle night, then you might enjoy this one. There are far worse ways of spending an hour.

   

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