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Showing posts from October, 2016

The Maniac (1963)

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I am always excited when I run into something from Hammer that I haven't seen before, and even more so when it isn't a Gothic horror tale or monster movie.  The studio did try to branch out where it could, and often times they succeeded, even though many of the films outside their normal ouvre get ignored these days.

Then, of course, there are those which are forgotten for a reason.

Annette Beynat (Lilianne Brousse) is sexually assaulted by a neighbor who gives her a ride home from school.  A schoolmate runs and gets her father, who hauls the offender back to his blacksmith shop and goes to work on him with a blowtorch.

Four years later Annette is working as the bartender at the inn owned by her mother Eve (Nadia Gray).  When American expat Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Mathews) rolls into town, he is at first taken by Annette, but then seduced by Eve.  It turns out that Eve believes that she still owes her husband a debt of gratitude, and talks Jeff into helping her break him out of …

The Mad Magician (1954)

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If there is one thing that I have been surprised about, it's that the 3D craze finally became a viable, and marketable, method of presenting movies.  The reason I am amazed is that it has been tried a number of times, and each time it was a short-lived gimmick. 

The 1950s were the first time it was attempted on a mass scale.  Most of these movies are forgotten, as the gimmick often outweighed the movie.  At this point, the remake of House of Wax with Vincent Price is one of the few such that still gets any play from this period, and that has less to do with how it was presented and more to do with how great Price is as the villain.

It was largely Price that drew audiences at the time, and so they decided to rush out another 3D movie with him it. 

Don Gallico (Price) designs some of the best tricks in the magic business.  He is also a great mimic and an expert at constructing disguises.  Billing himself as Gallico the Great, he acts out tricks that he has made for other magicians,…

Eye of the Devil (1967)

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This is an example of a production that went through the wringer.  It had been in the planning stages since 1964, and was actually finished and ready for release in 1966, but for some reason it was shelved.  That's why you may be wondering why it says this film is introducing Sharon Tate, when you are sure a movie with her came out before this. It turns out this was made first, but it took some time to come out.

Another thing that delayed it was that Kim Novak was supposed to be the female lead.  She largely did film her parts for the movie, but was injured when she fell off a horse, leading to her being replaced by Deborah Kerr and all that filming having to be done again, only to have the film shelved. 

Whatever the reason it finally got released (most likely because David Hemmings had just got some major notice with Blow-Up), it is good that it was, even if it is another typical "aristocrats in a castle with a secret" movie. 

Philippe de Montfaucon (David Niven) is c…

The Hypnotic Eye (1960)

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Although many people have long lamented the death of drive-ins, one of the best things to come of the 1980s was direct to video movies.  Occasionally these were of high quality and just didn't have enough of an audience to warrant a theatrical release.  Other times they were the equivalent of the poverty row movies of the 1940s or many of the b-movies that were churned out in the 1950s and 1960s that seemed to be mostly narration over stock footage.

Then, of course, there are the bandwagon films.  They are still around, but they tend to get stuck on DVD or the SyFy Channel, where people typically know what they are getting into.  Back in the age of drive-ins and when going to the movies was a typical weekend diversion?  Well, the theaters were jam-packed with quickly manufactured trash like The Hypnotic Eye, which does its best to rip off William Castle, of all people.

A young lady sets her hair on fire in front of a mirror.  She turns out to be one of many young women who have r…

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

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Andy Warhol, and members of his entourage, were making short films that were distributed on the underground circuit as far back as the early 1960s.  I know there is an ongoing project to rescue as many of them as possible.  Still, although Warhol's name is all over them, Paul Morrissey is the one most associated with directing the movies that bear his name.

The other name most associated with these films is Joe Dallesandro, a traditionally handsome leading man with an almost Greek physique that received attention for two of Morrissey's previous films, Trash and Heat.  These were earned both the director and actor some critical accolades.  So, what's next?  Of course!  Run off to Italy and update the Universal movie catalog.

Baron Frankenstein (Udo Kier) lives in Serbia with his sister/wife Katrin (Monique van Vooren), his children (Nicoletti Elmi, Marco Liofredi) and his perverted assistant Otto (Arno Juerging).  Being a Frankenstein, the one thing he is most interested i…

Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

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I could have sworn I was watching a William Castle movie when this came on.  For a movie that obviously wants to be taken seriously, I cannot honestly say why they would open with a narrator casting a fake "spell" to remove evil spirits from the screen.  American International may have been a studio that churned them out, but, at least in the '60s, most of it was quality. 

This movie is as well.  It is just that when you get a campy opening like that you expect something cheap, and not a production that questions the power of belief and leaves a number of things hanging about what is real and what is not.  It was originally called Night of the Eagle, which sounds eerily like Night of the Demon, a movie that it shares more than a little with.

Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a professor at a prestigious college.  He teaches a class on superstition, largely explaining why it is all just the human need to believe in the supernatural.  He is up for a chair in the humanitie…

Scream of Fear (1961)

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Hammer is well-known for its adaptations of the old Universal horror menagerie, often featuring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  There is a certain type of style that one typically expects from the studio, from Gothic settings to lurid sexuality.  Occasionally one of their movies bucks this trend.

After her companion dies in a freak swimming accident, Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) accepts an offer from her estranged father (Fred Johnson) to visit him at his estate in Nice.  She is greeted by his handsome chauffeur Robert (Ronald Lewis) and her stepmother Jane (Ann Todd).  Penny never really knew her stepmother, nor did she approve of her father remarrying, but she does her best to get on.

Despite his invite, Mr. Appleby is away on business when Penny arrives.  Jane has a room set up for her in her father's den, and makes the house as friendly as possible.  Penny was thrown from a horse a number of years earlier, breaking her back and confining her to a wheelchair.  This prov…

Horror Castle (1963)

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I am constantly amazed by the amount of material that has come from Italian cinema.  For an industry that, except for a few well-known names, has never achieved the prestige that France has, I am always discovering new films that have somehow slipped by everyone over the years.  Horror Castle, also known as The Virgin of Nuremberg, is one of those, and happily someone in the mid '00s saw fit to dig it up and restore it.

Mary Hunter (Rossana Podesta) is an American woman who has just moved with her German husband Max (Georges Revière) to his ancestral castle.  Three centuries prior the castle had been notorious for a man known as the Punisher.  Rather than a skull t-shirt, he wore a traditional executioner's hood and tortured women to death.  Many of the implements of torture remain in the castle, including the Virgin of Nuremberg, an iron maiden like device.  Also present is a statue of the Punisher.

Mary hears a noise downstairs and goes to investigate, finding a dead woman …

Blood for Dracula (1974)

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Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s artist Andy Warhol branched out into film making, largely with the assistance of director Paul Morrissey.  I say that because, if you came searching for this movie under its larger release title of Andy Warhol's Dracula, you are going to be sorely disappointed to find out that Warhol neither starred nor directed this film.  Morrissey and Joe Dallessandro were part of his inner circle, so you might say that Morrissey's films were large inspired by his aesthetic, although the main Warhol contribution is a (small) infusion of cash.

That said, this was done largely to cash in on the underground success of Flesh for Frankenstein, also known as Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, which had been released a year prior and also directed by Morrissey.  Filming had gone well, so they decided to do another one and take advantage of filming locations in Italy. 

Count Dracula (Udo Kier) is dying.  He needs an infusion of virgin blood, something he can't…

The Sadistic Baron von Klaus (1962)

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I may have said it before, but it is worth saying again.  You really never know what you are getting into when you sit down to watch a Jess Franco film.  What can usually be expected is a non-linear narrative and a fair amount of sleaze.  During his heyday he, along with Jean Rollin, was treated as a hack, someone who churned out films just to cash in on trends and make a quick buck - something that was largely anathema to the industries in which they worked.  If Jess Franco had been working largely in the British or Italian film industry, he would probably get much more respect.

I think it is a sense of disillusionment that led him (and other directors) to just turn out about anything they could and see if it stuck.  It's a pity, since if we look back on Franco's early films, we clearly see that he was a budding talent that could have gone much further during his lifetime.  At least he did live long enough to see public perception of many of his films change.

The Sadistic Bar…

Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

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Godzilla, after 21 years, had come full circle from an angry force of nature awakened from the deep by nuclear bomb tests to a defender of the earth.  Aliens, supervillains, corrupt government officials and a virtual menagerie of monsters had attempted to bring him down.  They all failed, although Mechagodzilla came pretty close.

After the events of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, those pesky aliens from the third planet of the black hole are back again.  Scientists pilot a mysterious submarine to find the remains of Mechagodzilla, only to be attacked by Titanosaurus, an aquatic reptile that had been theorized by Dr. Shinzo Mafune (Akihiko Hirata).  His theories about the monster, and attempts to control it, got him thrown out of the institute in which he worked. 

Biologist Akira Ichinose (Kastuhiko Sasaki) and Interpol Agent Jiro Murakoshi (Katsumasa Uchida) attempt to find the doctor, only to be told by the doctor's daughter Katsura (Tomoko Ai) that the doctor had died.  Truth is, …

Night of the Cobra Woman (1972)

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When I saw that one of the actresses in this movie was named Joy Bang, I got concerned that this movie was going to end up with me spending a night on the couch.  While it does have some nudity and sexual themes, I found out that falling asleep on the couch was a much more likely scenario. 

Lena Aruza (Marlene Clark) is a nurse in the Philippines during World War II.  She is out exploring with a friend when she finds a cave, which contains a cobra with a particular diamond shape on its throat.  She is bitten by the cobra, and instead of dying, transforms into a creature of immortal beauty.  She is also able to use the venom to save her friend's life after she is raped and shot by a Japanese soldier.

30-some years later Joanna (Bang) is a UNICEF worker in Manila, assisting Dr. Tezon (Vic Silayan) with his venom research.  She hears about the firebrand cobra, a species thought to be extinct, but that a mysterious woman in a small village might know where to find them.  She seeks ou…

King Kong (1976)

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"I not give you crap."  So said producer Dino De Laurentiis when promoting his 1976 remake of King Kong.  The original had become a classic, not just in horror and science fiction, but film-making in general.  When you watch the 1933 original today, it is just as exciting as when it came out 83 years ago.  Although Peter Jackson's version is nowhere near as good as the original, he had the vision of placing it in the same time period, and making Kong both vicious and sentimental.

De Laurentiis's Kong is practically a suave lady's man, and the sentimentality is slathered on like frosting.  No subtlety, no trust that the audience may get the subtext.  It is almost as if the script was written by a giant ape with a couple head wounds.

Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) is an oil executive for a company called Petrox.  Along with his scientist sidekick Bagley (Rene Auberjonois), he sets sail for a mysterious fog-enshrouded island that he is sure is rich with oil, as well …

From Within (2008)

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I think I could go on forever about how much I hate Twilight and anything to do with it.  There were many things that tainted horror in the 2000s, and that movie was one of the worst.  Suddenly sad-eyed emo boys were filling the screen, trying to fulfill 16-year-old girls' bad boy cravings - cravings they would inevitably regret a few years later, just like the albums by the boy band they liked when they were 13.

It is too bad that From Within falls within this category, as it did try to so something original.

Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice) is a good Christian girl in Grovetown, Maryland.  She is dating Dylan (Kelly Blatz), the son of the local pastor of their megachurch (Steven Culp).  In fact, the entire town revolves around the church, and outsiders that do not want to participate are not welcome. 

One of these outsiders is Paul (David Arniello), who is secretly off with his girlfriend Natalie (Rumer Willis).  Paul commits suicide in front of her.  Soon after, she runs into her fath…

The Terror Within (1989)

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I sometimes have to wonder what happened to Roger Corman in the '80s and '90s.  By his own admission, he really never looked at movies as art, but as opportunities to make money.  He would seize on any trend, often making thinly-veiled remakes of more popular movies just to turn a buck.  More often than not throughout his career it worked. 

So, why even bother with The Terror Within, a horrible clone of Alien that didn't even make back its production costs?  Never mind that it was 10 years after the fact.  Honestly, it was three years after the sequel, but Corman didn't even bother to rip off the sequel. 

After a release of a biological warfare agent kills or mutates 99 per cent of the population, only scattered survivors roam the land, with most holed up in government labs.  There is a vaccine, but really nobody to administer it to.  Those who do remain above ground fall victim to "gargoyles," virtually unstoppable mutants that do nothing but kill and repro…

Brain Dead (1990)

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I am quite aware of the memes involving confusion between Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton.  Long before the internet was a thing, there was a strange movie that actually starred both of them. 

Rex Martin (Pullman) is a respected neurosurgeon that has an office full of brains.  He hooks the brains up to a face to see what responses he gets, and so far he has had some success, specifically in figuring out what part of the brain causes paranoia.

The studies are funded by a grant from a large corporation called Eunice, of which his best friend Jim Reston (Paxton) is a board member.  Eunice has a problem: a mathematician named Jack Halsey (Bud Cort) has suffered a psychological breakdown.  He killed his entire family and was committed to a mental institution, where he believes Ramsen (Nicholas Pryor), the doctor in charge, is his boss Conklin from a mattress store at which he is an accountant.  He also believes that Conklin is a man in a bloody white suit that has been following him around.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

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There are times when I like something that almost everybody else hates.  If I haven't seen something for 25 years or so, I start wondering if the reason I liked it was because I was just too young to know better.  After all, there are many movies I like now that I hated when I first saw them, largely due to the fact that I am at an age where I can better understand them (a few Cohen Brothers movies come to mind). 

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is one of those.  I always maintained that people were wrong about this one, but my suspicions recently have been that I am the one who is mistaken.  I saw parts IV and VII in recent years, and they were both entries in the series that I liked when I first saw them, but find them both to be pretty mediocre at this point.  I don't hate the third one, but when it comes to the Friday the 13th movies I prefer to stick with one, two and 9.  Turns out that, even though it's not a great movie by any standard, I should be …

Maniac Cop 2 (1990)

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Writer Larry Cohen and director William Lustig came together to make Maniac Copin 1988. The film was not what you would call a hit, barely making back half of its meager budget during its short theatrical run.  It did better on the home video market.  Well enough, in fact, to warrant a direct-to-video sequel.  And, much to everyone's surprise, the sequel was in many ways superior to the original.

At the end of the first movie, undead police officer Matt Cordell (Robert Z'Dar) is impaled on a pole as the paddy wagon he is driving goes into the river.  His hand is briefly seen coming up from the water and grabbing the post of the pier.  As this movie starts, Cordell makes his way to a yard filled with old police cars, and finds a working one to aid him in continuing his quest for vengeance.

Meanwhile, no one will believe Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell) or Teresa Mallory (Laurene Landon) that the killer cop was Cordell, as everyone believes he died in prison three years prior.  Th…

Maniac Cop (1988)

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One thing I have always admired about Larry Cohen is that he often, often-times without a permit, filmed his movies on the grimy streets for New York.  And by grimy, I mean the Death Wish version of New York, where there is constant danger around every corner and citizens just seem to be going their lives avoiding whatever type of blind violence the city throws at them. 

That is also what I remember when I first saw Maniac Cop back in the early 1990s.  The film was low-budget, and the video transfer seemed to be even more so.  So much that I forgot that this was made so late in the 1980s.  For the longest time the cuts you would find on video made this look like a 1970s grindhouse flick. 

Cassie Phillips (Jill Gatsby) is accosted by two Puerto Rican youths shortly after leaving her job.  She fights them, off but is pursued.  She sees a police officer and thinks that she is rescued.  Instead, the officer lifts her up by the throat and brutally snaps her neck.

The young thugs are initi…

Annabelle (2014)

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The Conjuring was one of the best horror films in a long time, despite the fact that the Warrens are absolute frauds that have admitted that they profit from clients that aren't all there.  Happily, James Wan knows how to make a great horror film, and one of the subplots involved a doll called Annabelle, supposedly the most evil thing stored in their archives.

Naturally, when I heard that they were making a movie based on Annabelle, I was interested.  I became less interested once I discovered that Wan had nothing to do with it, and when the reviews came out saying what a rote horror film it was, filled with jump scares and everything else that was largely left out of The Conjuring.

Still, it is a creepy doll, and dolls are about the creepiest thing in the world this side of clowns.

The doll itself, pre-evil (but still creepy) is purchased by John Gordon (Ward Horton) for his pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis), who collects dolls and makes clothing for them in her spare time.  I…

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)

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Franchises can get old rather quick, especially when you stretch out the main plot over five movies when, truthfully, there was barely enough for two.  However, this series got a bit of a shot in the arm with an episode that was not a direct sequel in Paranormal Activity: The Marked OnesIt had surprisingly great performances and, though related to the main story, managed to stay on track and finish it in one movie.

With The Ghost Dimension, we are back to the main plot of a demon named Tobi and the mysterious doing of a cult of witches called the Midwives.  Problem was, part four was once again going over the same territory, with creepy children and things going bump in the night.  It was getting more than a little ridiculous sitting through a buildup when you already knew what was coming, and this time around it didn't really add anything.Much of that problem is remedied this time around.

Ryan (Chris J. Murray) and Emily (Brit Shaw) live in an inexplicably big house with thei…

It Follows (2015)

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Sometimes the measure of a good movie is how it stays with you afterwards.  Or, should I say, a good premise.  I have seen a number of mediocre movies with a decent premise that sticks with you, if only to ponder how much better the movie could have dealt with it.  In the case of It Follows, writer/director David Robert Mitchell manages to do well on both counts.

In a quiet residential neighborhood outside of Detroit, Annie (Bailey Spry) runs out of her house, seemingly chased by something.  She drives to a lake and waits, only to be left mutilated on the beach. 

Not far away Jay Height (Maika Monroe) has taken up with a new boy named Hugh (Jake Weary).  She seems to feel a special attachment with him, which leads to things happening as they usually do.  However, in this case, it is topped off with being chloroformed and tied to a wheelchair.  When Jay comes to, Hugh explains that he has passed something on to her.  She will be followed by something.  The thing walks, is slow, but is…