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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31- House of Usher (1960)

In the 1960's, director Roger Corman decided to make eight movies based on the works of the legendary Edgar Allen Poe. The first of these films was House of Usher, based on the Poe short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher." This movie was made by MGM Studios, shot in just 15 short days, and had a budget of $300,000. For comparison, take the Frankenstein budget of $250,000 almost 30 years sooner, which was in the middle of the Great Depression for a major movie production, and it's clear that the budget for this film was incredibly small. Yet, what would come from that would be one of, if not the greatest, adaptation of a Poe work ever made on film.

That house just looks like crazy stuff goes on inside

Winthrop, Roderick, and Madeline.
The film begins with Philip Winthrop (played by Mark Damon) arriving at the House of Usher to visit his fiance, Madeline Usher (played by Myrna Fahey). The butler, Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) explains to Winthrop that Madeline is very sick isn't receiving any visitors. Nonetheless, Winthrop demands an audience with Madeline's brother, Roderick (Vincent Price), who urges Winthrop to leave, but Winthrop refuses. In an attempt to get Winthrop to rethink his idea of marrying Madeline by explaining that there is a family curse, in which 75% of the entire family ends up going mad. Roderick explains that he, himself, has extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and taste; adding that Madeline supposedly does, as well. Winthrop is insistent on staying at the house, which is when a number of strange things start occurring around the house. It's difficult to tell if these things are really happening because the house is really cursed, or if it's a fabrication of Winthrop, who is going mad, himself.

Mourning the death of Madeline
Seeing that Roderick is a bit unhinged, Winthrop intends on taking Madeline away from him, and she is glad to be leaving. Before that could happen, however, an argument breaks out and Madeline dies suddenly. In a conversation shortly after burying Madeline, Bristol reveals to Winthrop that Madeline suffers from occasional bouts of catalepsy, where she slips into a comatose state and appears to have  
died. Winthrop searches for and eventually finds Madeline, who, angry that Roderick would bury her alive, seeks revenge on her brother. During the ensuing fight, the house catches fire and both Ushers perish. Winthrop escapes and sees the house sink into the swamp.

Madeline strikes back
This movie was simply incredible and would stand out against anything else as a quality film, but the fact that the budget was so small and the shooting time so short is a true testament to just how incredible this film is. Vincent Price is brilliant as the crazy Roderick Usher. The way he flips from sane to completely unhinged is just incredible. Also, the way that Price portrays Roderick's illnesses is also genius, and it had me watching the movie, waiting to see what crazy stunt he'd pull next.

In terms of special effects, this movie proves that less is more. For the most part, the only special effects are the use of different colored filters, doors closing by themselves, fog, and a little fire. Nonetheless, this movie was really psychadelic and trippy in spots. The dreamlike sequences made me feel like I was going a little crazy myself while watching this film. My favorite part of the movie, though, was the atmosphere that every scene had. The creepy Usher house, along with the soundtrack, really set the stage for a Grade A chiller that had me wanting to turn the lights on. All in all, this is an incredible film, and a true classic. So good, in fact, that in 2005, the film was listed with the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." If you ever have a chance to watch this movie, I highly recommend it.

The always incredible Vincent Price as Roderick Usher

House of Usher receives a 5 out of 5.

Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 30- House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Today, we have a classic film by director William Castle. Castle was known for creating low-budget, yet fun and entertaining horror movies. He'd often use actors in the movie theaters and a swinging skeleton to enhance the "scare" factor for the rest of the audience. This made these movies a unique cinematic experience.
Vincent Price makes any movie better.

Frederick and Annabelle Loren

Considered one of Castle's best films, House on Haunted Hill stars Vincent Price as millionaire Frederick Loren, who propositions 5 individuals to attempt to stay the night in an allegedly haunted house. Anyone who manages to stay the whole night would receive $10,000 each. These 5 people arrive by hearse to the house, and it's explained that they might need those later. After the whole rundown of the rules, Annabelle Loren, Frederick's wife (played by Carol Ohmart) tells all the guests that her husband is psychotic. None of them listen, and they decide to attempt the challenge. The result is a series of crazy events that, while I'm not going to divulge any plot points, include murder, ghosts, vats of acid, disembodied voices, and skeletons.

One of the many scares in this movie

Overall, I have a lot of good things to say about this film. Besides Vincent Price, who plays the "eccentric millionaire gone crazy" perfectly, another standout performance was given by Elisha Cook, who played the owner of the house Watson Pritchard. Cook did a fantastic job at portraying just how paranoid Pritchard was about the house being haunted and about the murders that occurred there. At one point, Pritchard even announces that the ghosts of the house are coming to get him. Turning to the audience, he then says, "and they'll get you, too." Simple things like that in an old classic movie really get to me and make enjoy the movie all the more. The special effects in the film, while cheesy, are done well and create an effective response in the viewer.

Elisha Cook as Watson Pritchard

This film would have been great to see in theaters, with all the gimmicks that William Castle did to make them more enjoyable. Even without those gimmicks, though, this film is still a great one to watch. If you ever have a chance, it's a great classic. It even inspired Alfred Hitchcock to use the low-budget approach to making Psycho, arguably one of his best films. If Alfred Hitchcock was inspired by it, that's a good enough reason to watch it.

The brilliant William Castle

I give this film 4.5 floating skeletons out of 5.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October 29- House of Wax (1953)

What would a horror movie marathon be without including some of the Prince of Horror, Vincent Price. House of Wax was made by Warner Bros. and was one of the first movies to be filmed in 3-D and was one of the films that started the 3-D craze that lasted from 1953 to about 1955. It is also a remake of the 1933 film, Mystery of the Wax Museum. The movie takes place in New York City with Vincent Price playing Henry Jarrod, a brilliant and talented wax sculptor who is turned into a killer by a traumatic event.

Jarrod adored his sculptures...
The story begins at Henry Jarrod's wax museum, where his business partner, Matthew Burke (played by Roy Roberts) comes to discuss ways that the museum could attract more customer, by showing more gruesome sights (such as crimes or executions). Jarrod refuses to comply with Burke's idea. A few businessmen come to see the museum and offer to buyout Burke's stake in the museum. After they leave, however, Burke announces to Jarrod that he's not willing to wait that long and attempts/succeeds in burning down the museum for the insurance money. Jarrod tries to fight back, and an epic battle ensues, but he is beaten and left for dead in the museum, stuck watching his beloved creations melt away.

Only to be made to watch them burn.
While Jarrod is presumed to be dead, a mysterious burned man kills a number of people, including Burke and his fiance Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones). Meanwhile, Jarrod is revealed to have survived the fire, but with severe burns all over his hands, he can no longer sculpt. Jarrod is shown to be opening a new museum, called the House of Wax, with sculpting help from his deaf mute assistant Igor (played by Charles Bronson) Instead of taking a historical stance to the art, Jarrod decided to create the "Chamber of Horrors," which contains wax depictions of notable crimes from both the past and more recent. One of the exhibits is actually Burke's death, where he was hung in an elevator shaft.

A friend of the late Cathy Gray, Sue Allen (played by Phyllis Kirk) visits to the museum and eventually makes the gruesome discovery that almost all of the sculptures in the House of Wax were simply dead bodies of people with wax shells. Jarrod tries to turn Sue Allen into his new Marie Antoinette sculpture, which was his favorite before it was destroyed when the first museum was burned down. Jarrod, however, falls into a vat of hot wax and Sue Allen is saved.

Jarrod attempts to turn Sue Allen into a sculpture, but fails

Overall, I thought this movie had some issues. First of all, the fight scene between Burke and Jarrod at the beginning of the film felt like the climax event of the film, which no moment in the entire rest of the film stands up to. Also, the fact that Burke is killed very soon afterwards gives the audience almost nothing justified to look forward to for the rest of the film. Jarrod just becomes a cold-blooded killer, killing people simply to include them in the museum.

A fun scene that plays on the 3-D effects.

On the upside, this movie played the 3-D gimmick perfectly. There was enough exploitation of the 3-D effects in the film to keep you interested, but not too much that it takes away from the credibility of the movie itself. Also, Vincent Price is incredible as Henry Jarrod; the way he portrays the character throughout the film really helps the audience get into his mindset, which is key for a thriller like this. This film was praised when it was first released, and today, it is heralded as one of the classics of the genre.

Vincent Price, the icon that made this movie good.

I give House of Wax a 4 out of 5.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 28- The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)

The final film overall in what is considered the "Golden Age of horror movies." The Creature Walks Among Us features the creature known as the Gill-man for the final time. Again, Ricou Browning plays the Gill-man in the underwater scenes,with Don Megowan playing the creature on land.

Notice the smoother skin
The film begins soon after the conclusion of Revenge of the Creature. Another expedition, this time led by Dr. William Barton (played by Jeff Marrow) is searching for the Gill-man in the Florida Everglades. The team eventually finds the Gill-man and captures him, but the Creature is burned badly during the capture. While being cared for at the hospital, Dr. Thomas Morgan (played by Rex Reason) notices that the Gill-man is slowly shedding away his gills and using a lung system to breathe. Having usable lungs and that the monster is beginning to look a little more human (apparently, the Gill-man's skin color is also becoming more human), the doctors dress up the Creature in human clothes. Another goal of the doctor's is to teach the Creature to live in harmony with humans.
Leigh Snowden plays Marcia Barton

Meanwhile, Jed Grant (played by Gregg Palmer) becomes infatuated with Marci Barton (played by Leigh Snowden), and he actually makes sexual advances on her, so far as to be considered sexual assault. Luckily, the Gill-man had just escaped and manages to save Marcia from any harm. This is the Creature showing compassion for someone, though this time, he won't try to kidnap the female. Even though he has survived the ordeal, the Gill-man is unhappy and constantly stares at the ocean.

Things are turned upside down when Dr. Barton, being an abusive and jealous husband, kills Jed Grant, suspecting that Grant and Marcia were having an affair. Barton blames the Gill-man for the crime, but the Creature, having witnessed the murder, somehow understands that he is being blamed and viciously attacks Barton, killing him. The last shot of the movie has the now land dwelling Gill-man moving forward towards the ocean.

Jed Grant, Dr. Barton, and Marcia Barton
Overall, this movie was decent. I didn't like the fact that the movie tried to justify the reasoning behind the Gill-man having both lungs and gills, as well as both human skin and scales. I did, however, enjoy the fact that the Gill-man is shown as a compassionate and at least semi-intelligent being. Also, the concept that the Gill-man could potentially be introduced to society and learn things. The acting in this film was decent. A low point was Jeff Morrow's portrayal of Dr. Barton. Barton is supposed to be unstable and immoral, but I never really got that vibe from Jeff Morrow.

This film stands as the last of the classic Universal horror movies. An interesting note is that Ricou Browning, the only person to play the Gill-man more than once, is still alive and is the last survivor to have been a classic Universal monster. Anyway, all in all, this is a decent movie with an interesting story. Not great, but also not bad.

The end of an era

I give this film a 3.5 out of 5.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

October 27- Revenge of the Creature (1955)

In 1955, Universal Studios (technically Universal International Pictures) decided to release a sequel to the wildly popular Creature from the Black Lagoon. Revenge of the Creature details the events that occurred directly after the first film. Ricou Browning again plays Gil-Man in the underwater scenes, with Tom Hennesy playing the Creature on land this time around.

Gill-man in his holding tank
The movie begins with a return to the Black Lagoon, with Lucas (Nestor Paiva) ferrying another expedition to capture the Gill-man. Lucas explains the background of the first film and basically what happened. One year after the events of the first movie, this expedition manages to find and capture the Gill-man in a comatose state. After the capture, Gill-man is transported to the Ocean Harbor Oceanarium for study. The Creature is brought in and revived by Joe Hayes (John Bromfield). When the Gill-man awakes, he attacks everyone around in a blind rage, but is eventually subdued and placed in chains in a "permanent" holding tank.

The two individuals in charge of studying the Gill-man are Professor Clete Ferguson (played by John Agar), an animal psychologist; and Helen Dobson (played by Lori Nelson), an ichthyology student. During their studying of the Creature, Dobson and Ferguson start to fall in love, which angers Joe Hayes. Also, the Gill-man takes an instant liking to Helen.

Ferguson, Dobson, and Hayes.

After some conditioning by the two scientists, Gill-man manages to break free from his chains and in the process of escaping to the ocean, murders Joe Hayes. After escaping, the Gill-man stalks Dobson and Ferguson down the St. John's River to Jacksonville, where he kidnaps Dobson while she's at a dance. After that, a series of events occurs that culminates in the rescuing of Helen Dobson, but what happens to the Creature is something you'll have to find out yourself.

Gill-man (Hennesy) carrying Dobson

Although this movie is well-made, it just doesn't seem to live up the reputation of the first film. It does, however, have a special place in history as being the only 3-D film released in 1955 and the only sequel to a 3-D film also released in 3-D. Releasing this film in 3-D was an attempt to revive the 3-D brand, which had been popular during the early 1950's, but had run its course by this point. Another fun fact is that this film marked the first film appearance by Clint Eastwood, who plays a lab technician named "Jennings," although he is uncredited for the role. In terms of cinematography and camera work, I only have one comment. The underwater scenes were done well again in this film, but the shots just didn't blow me away like in the first film.

Lori Nelson was incredible as Helen Dobson

Regardless of the Gill-man's actions, I still feel bad for how terribly he was treated in this film. He was taken from his habitat, put in a pen, chained up, put on public display, and hit with a cattle prod repeatedly. Nonetheless, he did show incredible intelligence and the ability to show compassion/restraint, as shown by him bypassing attacking a child after first escaping his holding tank.

Even big stars started out small.
To me, this movie had little to no scare factor, it was more of a "what if" scenario. Essentially, the writers must have simply thought, "what would happen if the Gill-man was brought back to civilization." Personally, I like the idea of a "what if" movie, and it definitely gives it a B-movie feel. The overall atmosphere of this film is that of a stereotypical science fiction film of the 1950's, with huge groups of people running away at once from a monster (this time, the Gill-man). I still liked this movie a lot for that atmosphere and the scenario that's presented.
Still, I prefer the first film better, but just by a little bit.

I give Revenge of the Creature a 4 out of 5.

Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26- Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

With the onset of the 1950's, horror movies became more predominantly science fiction. In 1954, Universal would release a film that mixes the monster/sci-fi horror genres. Creature From the Black Lagoon features an amphibious humanoid named the Gill-man, who was so popular, he is often included with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Wolf Man as one of the classic monsters. This would also make him the last. Gill-man was played by two people. On land, Ben Chapman played the part on land, while Ricou Browning played Gill-man in the underwater scenes.

Ben Chapman as the Gill-man
The movie begins with a very interesting opening sequence, explaining the origin of the earth and the evolution of creatures from the ocean onto the land. The Amazon Rainforest is then presented as the backdrop for where unknown creatures still live, just waiting to be found. In the Amazon is an expedition led by Dr. Carl Maia (played by Antonio Moreno), and one of the scientists on the expedition, ichthyologist Dr. David Reed (played by Richard Carlson) finds a skeletal hand that has webbed fingers. Intrigued by the find, the scientists return to the biological institute to secure funding from their financial backer Dr. Mark Williams (Richard Denning) for a return trip. After convincing Williams, the group returns to the site, which they discover had been attacked while they were gone.

Finding nothing further at the site, the team decides to venture to the end of the tributary to the Black Lagoon, where the fragments could have washed down to. Meanwhile, Gill-man has become interested in Kay Lawrence (Julie Adams), a scientist and Reed's girlfriend. Gill-man stalks Kay while she is on a swim in the Lagoon and becomes trapped in the ship's line. He manages to escape, but leaves behind a claw, proof of his existence.

Mark Williams, Kay Lawrence, and Dr. David Reed

After a few encounters with Gill-man, the team manages to capture him, but he escapes and terrorizes the group further, even going so far as to block the team's escape route from the Lagoon. While the men try to clear the river, Gill-man kidnaps Kay and takes her to his underwater cave lair. What happens next? Well... you'll have to watch it to find out.

Gill-man attempting to kidnap Kay Lawrence

I found this movie to be very well done. The story is nearly flawless, providing just enough information to keep the viewer interested and has the perfect amount of action to keep the story flowing along nicely. In terms of visuals, I thought the the underwater scenes were done very well, looking so clear that you would suspect that the shots weren't actually filmed underwater. Gill-man takes the cake here, though. In the end, you feel sorry for him, and begin to see that he is just confused and the team is invading his habitat, which his is trying desperately to defend. Also, Gill-man only attacks when provoked or attacked first. Nonetheless, Gill-man is presented as the quintessential monster.

Ricou Browning as the Gill-man
For about half of the 79 minute-long movie, Gill-man is never in the shot for more than a few seconds at a time. You can't even see Gill-man's face until 25 minutes, only being shown the creature's hand or shadow. Added to this, the soundtrack creates the perfect atmosphere of suspense, terror, and intrigue; and manages to accompany the events of the movie very well. Another interesting fact is that this movie was originally filmed and shown in  3-D, being one of the first Universal movies of its kind. Overall, this is a fantastic movie with an amazing cast and an incredible place in horror movie history.

I give it 5 claws out of 5.