Sunday, October 31, 2010

Well, I'm back from my trip to Massachusetts so I thought I'd post a few photos of my favourite place on earth:
Naturally we start with Motif # 1
A view of the Point off Bearskin Neck
Looking back into Rockport from the Point
The Old Stone Fort on Bearskin Neck - looking quite a bit refurbished since the last time I was here
A couple views of the shops on Bearskin Neck
Looking back into town from Bearskin Neck avec shops
The beautiful 200 year old Tuck's Inn where we stayed - my room is the top window - Room # 2 otherwise known as the Peach Room - obviously named after me cuz I'm such a
Tuna Wharf avec Motif # 1 and boatsies
The stone gazebo off Front Beach
The view off the far end of Front Beach
Another view looking back into town with the church steeple

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941). Justly famous as one of the best Monograms ever -- and that rest solely on the capable shoulders of the magnificent Mantan Moreland; who simply steals the film. Now, I'm not saying that KING OF THE ZOMBIES wouldn't be a good movie without Mantan; it's actually one of the more competently-made Monogram B-pictures in the stable: Jean Yarbrough's direction is snappy and eliminates all draggy bits. However, it's debatable whether the film would be what it is now -- a horror comedy -- without the virtuoso performance of Mantan Moreland. And surely the director and the studio knew what gold they had because they gave Moreland free reign in KING OF THE ZOMBIES to become it's de facto star. Naval intelligence agent Bill Summers (John Archer), his valet Jefferson Jackson (Mantan Moreland) and pilot "Mac" McCarthy (Dick Purcell) are flying to the baHAYmas (that's the way they pronounce it) searching for a missing admiral when they hear a mysterious radio broadcast in a foreign language eminating from a tropical island below. When they go lower to investigate, the plane crashes -- into a creepy cemetery! Nearby is the equally creepy house of Dr. Miklos Sangre (Henry Victor) -- yes, the name means "blood" -- who offers the crash survivors lodging until the next boat to the island arrives in two weeks' time. There is a cadaverous butler Momba (Leigh Whipper), a cackling witch-like voodoo woman Tahama (Madame Sul-Te-Wan), a beautiful and sassy servant Samantha (Marguerite Whitten), Dr. Sangre's somnambulistic wife (Patricia Stacye) and Sangre's lovely niece Barbara (Joan Woodbury). There is also, as Jeff soon learns, a passle of zombies trudging around the house. Of course, we know Dr. Sangre is up to no good and he's actually "cultivating" zombies for the Nazis as an unending supply of cannon fodder. Wacky as it seems, certain Nazis actually considered such an option: the term for it was "todenkorps". But of course we're not watching the movie for the plot, really, are we??? No, we're watching it for the sheer joy of Mantan Moreland; whose wisecracks and putdowns lift the movie to another level. It really is a showcase for the comedian and everyone seems to have realized that and let Moreland run with it. For a particular treat, click here to listen to a medley of Mantan's "loquacious" quips!
The film has a particularly strong cast before you fold Mantan Moreland into the mix. Top-billed Dick Purcell was the first actor ever to portray Captain America on screen in the 1944 serial. He also appeared alongside Mantan Moreland and Joan Woodbury in 1942's PHANTOM KILLER as well as with Mantan and Frankie Darro in their first buddy film together: 1939's IRISH LUCK. KING OF THE ZOMBIES' ingenue Joan Woodbury, besides appearing in the aforementioned PHANTOM KILLER also appeared alongside Mantan Moreland in CHARLIE CHAN IN THE CHINESE CAT as well as BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (she was the uncredited little queen in the jar), ROGUES TAVERN (1936), ALGIERS (1938) alongside Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr, THE LIVING GHOST (1942), BRENDA STARR REPORTER (1945) in the lead role, DeMille's 1956 THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and 1964's THE TIME TRAVELERS. KING OF THE ZOMBIES co-hero John Archer appears oddly far down in the credit list considering his leading role here. Archer, in addition to appearing on radio as THE SHADOW for about a year or so also featured in the films BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT (1942) with Bela Lugosi, SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON (1943) with Basil Rathbone, THE EVE OF ST. MARK (1944) with Vincent Price, WHITE HEAT (1949) with James Cagney, DESTINATION MOON (1950), and Budd Boeticcher's 1957 western DECISION AT SUNDOWN with Randolph Scott. The role of Dr. Sangre was actually originally meant for Bela Lugosi -- and imagine what a treat KING OF THE ZOMBIES would've been with both Moreland AND Lugosi vying for screen time! However, Lugosi instead was shunted off into THE INVISIBLE GHOST and Henry Victor replaced him. Having said that, Victor is no disappointment and plays the role rather well; he plays it completely straight with real Nazi menace. Victor, of course, appeared as the nasty strongman in Tod Browning's FREAKS (1932) as well as NICK CARTER MASTER DETECTIVE (1939), TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942) with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard (in her final film) and SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (1943). Director Jean Yarbrough is no stranger to genre features as well: his credits include THE DEVIL BAT (1940) with Bela Lugosi, THE GANG'S ALL HERE (1941) with Mantan Moreland and Frankie Darro, FRECKLES COMES HOME (1942) and LAW OF THE JUNGLE (1942) both with Mantan Moreland, several Abbott & Costello comedies, Universal's HOUSE OF HORRORS (1946) with Rondo Hatton and Martin Kosleck, SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946) the worst Universal horror film ever made, THE BRUTE MAN (1946) and THE CREEPER (1948) both with Rondo Hatton as "The Creeper" and the abyssmal HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967). As I've said repeatedly, KING OF THE ZOMBIES (which you may watch in its entirety by clicking here for the Internet Archives) may be an above-average Monogram B-picture that would've been worth watching in its own right but with the addition of Mantan Moreland the film becomes a star vehicle for a comedian who took the limitations of war-time Hollywood and eliminated them with nothing but his talent, his charm and his great humour.

King of the Zombies (1941) - Trailer

Monday, October 25, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: PAPERHOUSE (1988). I've always loved this little film since I first saw it sometime in the early 90's. Yes, it is one of the best horror/fantasy films of the 1980s and yes you've probably never seen it or even heard of it. That's frankly your loss. And mostly due to the film being criminally unavailable on DVD in this country! No real synopsis of the film could be of any real use since one must see the film for one's self in order to appreciate the deft way in which it avoids any missteps into cliche. The basic story concerns an eleven year old girl named Anna, a bit of a willful girl, who likes to draw. Anna draws a picture of a house. Later, while in school, she faints. Then later she faints again. The doctor comes and confines Anna to bed for the rest of the week. In passing, the doctor mentions that she has another patient, a little boy named Marc, who has been confined to bed for a year with muscular dystrophy; Anna draws the sick boy into her picture. Anna begins to have dreams in which she visits the house in her drawing; she soon finds out that anything she draws in the picture becomes real when she visits the house in her dreams. The sick boy Marc also appears in her dreams after Anna draws him into the house. Anna also discovers that, once she draws something on the paper, it cannot be erased. Anna gets more and more ill with some kind of a strange fever and her dreams begin to turn into nightmares as a shadowy, sinister figure menaces the children. Eventually, Anna becomes more ill; she suddenly finds herself unable to wake up from her dream. And the terrifying man is coming. . .
PAPERHOUSE was based upon the book "Marianne Dreams" by Catherine Storr and I'd love to read it one day. If it's anything like the film, it is a masterful combination of horror, fantasy, and children's character study (a la CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE). PAPERHOUSE was directed by Bernard Rose with great skill and sensitivity and, as I've said, avoids all pitfalls towards sentimentality or cliche. Unlike most, this film is REALLY a family film which can be watched by adults and children with equal enjoyment. The fantasy elements are beautifully handled while the characters are drawn quite realistically -- and there are indeed several moments of genuinely scary horror. The looming, scary figure in Anna's dream is photographed in such a way as to remind one of similar shots of Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. PAPERHOUSE also reminds me quite a lot, in mood and spirit, of the much later DONNIE DARKO. In fact, the perfect triple feature marathon would be a showing of these three movies in a row. The acting is, without exception, excellent. Charlotte Burke, as Anna, is necessarily the backbone of the film and the casting of a less-than-effective child actor would've been ruinous. Thankfully, Burke is absolutely sensational in the role; which makes it puzzling that she apparently never made another film before or since! Glenne Headley (an actress I've always had a lot of time for) is superb as Anna's confused yet supportive mother and Ben Cross is excellent as well as Anna's absentee father. Then, of course, there's my beloved Gemma Jones who is wonderfully empathetic as Anna's (and Marc's) doctor. Even young Elliot Spiers is great as Marc; and he even has a passing resemblance to a young Jake Gyllenhall -- so there's even more of a tie with DONNIE DARKO in my mind! I really can't say enough about this wonderful little film; it is just so good that it should've found an audience but somehow never did. Of course, anything I can do to raise awareness of the film. . .
While the movie is, as noted, ridiculously unavailable on DVD, you can in fact watch the entire film on youtube. I am usually reluctant to suggest such a thing because the viewing experience (and picture quality) is not what I would wish for someone watching PAPERHOUSE for the first time. However, it's better you see it in any way possible than to miss it completely. Therefore, I highly recommend you venture over to youtube and watch the movie (broken up into parts, naturally) by clicking on this link here. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Paperhouse Trailer 1988

Sunday, October 24, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (1939). Columbia made a trilogy of mad doctor movies starring the ever-reliable Boris Karloff beginning in 1939. Strictly B-productions, these films are usually little regarded; thought of by most as rather minor, bland and cookie-cutter concoctions utilizing basically the same plot and requiring quite a bit of patience and indulgence on the part of the impatient viewer. On the whole this is probably not too unfair of a definition. However, when it comes to the first of the three films, I think a little re-evaluation is in order. THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG was the first and best of the three. Crisply directed by Nick Grinde, the film finds Karloff playing Dr. Henryk Savaard who has developed an artificial heart of glass which can actually revive the dead. In order to prove the mechanism's worth, Savaard convinces a young man (Stanley Brown) to allow himself to die in order to be revived by Dr. Savaard. Once Savaard and his assistant Lang (played by coke-bottle-lensed Byron Foulger) have stopped the young man's heart his fiancee Betty Crawford (Ann Doran) calls the cops. The police arrive and arrest Dr. Savaard for murder; not allowing the doctor the hour he requests to revive the young man thus assuring that it all amounts to murder by default. The boneheadedness of the authorities is deliberately played up; in fact, every authority figure in the film is shown in an unflattering light. After all, what would the police have to lose if they allow Dr. Savaard the opportunity to revive the young man? He's already dead anyway and I'm sure it would save them on a lot of paperwork if there was no murder to investigate. But Savaard's pleas are ignored. The doctor is tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Savaard is not worried, however, as he has arranged for Lang to take possession of his body after death in order for it to be revived. Which, of course, it is. Reminiscent (if monumentally less grim and creepy) of the revived "Rollo" scene in MAD LOVE, the scene in which Lang revives the broken-necked Savaard is played without a hint of the supernatural implications one might expect in such a scenario. The scene is played fairly scientifically matter-of-fact with Dr. Savaard (understandably hoarse) congratulating Lang on his skill. The focus of the scientific reasonableness of Savaard's revivification rather than any occult mumbo-jumbo underlines the reasonableness of the Doctor's theories and accentuates the hysterical unreasonableness of the authorities in this matter. Savaard's glass heart apparatus works without even the slightest hitch causing the powers that be who question the doctor to be seen as genuine obstacles to progress. Soon enough, six of the jurors who convicted Savaard "commit suicide"; if "air quotes" had been invented back in 1939 I'm sure some of the characters would have used them at this juncture. Obviously these hapless jurors "committed suicide" with more than a little help from the "legally dead" Dr. Savaard. The remaining jury members (minus those who fought for a not guilty verdict) as well as the judge and district attorney in the trial are lured to Savaard's mansion along with Betty Crawford. Intrepid reporter Scoop Foley (Robert Wilcox) manages to sneak in just as the place is locked down with boiler plates over the windows and doors. The "dead" Dr. Savaard makes his entrance and escorts the group into the dining room where he reveals each guest's place card stating the order and time they will be killed tonight. The first to get it is the judge (Charles Trowbridge) who is zapped by an electrified grill. Fifteen minutes later, snivelling coward Mr. Kearney (played by the snivelling unlikeable Dick Curtis) gets a poison needle in his brain from a telephone earpiece. The sequence of events inside Savaard's house in which each person awaits his death is in fact the best part of the movie; fairly gripping in a deliciously nail-biting way. How are they gonna get it and how is Savaard going to manage to get each victim while they are on their guard? This part of the film owes little to the horror genre and more to Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. While THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG doesn't come close to the classic film version of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE several years later, it does provide a nicely sinister yet multi-layered role for Karloff and a strong supporting cast -- plus it moves along at quite a brisk pace. Karloff is given more to do than one might expect; as he is one moment sinisterly evil seeking revenge on those who condemned him and the next moment believeably tender in a reunion scene with his daughter Janet (Lorna Gray). This scene is particularly fine and offers a nice contrast with the mayhem preceding it. Immediately after the offing of Kearney, Janet arrives unexpectedly at the mansion. The terrified victims-to-be behind the electrified grill plead with Janet to help them. Stunned that her father is alive, Janet goes upstairs to find her father levelling a gun at her. "What brought you here?!?" Karloff demands at once conveying Savaard's sense of anger, shame and affection at seeing his daughter again. Janet tentatively steps forward in disbelief. As she closes the distance, Karloff slowly lowers his gun and father embraces daughter. This scene of tenderness amidst violence is very effective. Janet sobs with joy but soon realizes what her father has done. "Dad, why did you do it?" she demands, "Are you going to throw this miracle away only for a cheap revenge?" "Not revenge, " Savaard insists, "Retribution!" Janet insists that Savaard's mere presence alive again is enough to prove his naysayers were wrong (and she is, in fact, correct). "You only have to show yourself and the world will beg your forgiveness." "Not this world of savage cruelty." Karloff intones in perhaps the finest speech in the film; delivered with a believable gravitas which compels audience sympathy for the doctor's now understandably soured opinion of humanity: "We gave them wings to fly and they rained death on us. We gave them a voice to be heard around the world and they preach hatred to poison the minds of nations. Even the medicine we gave them to ease their pain is turned into a vice to enslave half mankind for the profit of a few. Oh, Janet dear, don't you see? Every gift that science has given them has been twisted into a thing of hate and greed." By the time Karloff is finished with this speech, we as viewers want to stomp downstairs with him and bump them all off. All this also on the very eve of the outbreak of the Second World War; pretty valid stuff for a little B-horror picture. However, no matter how much we understand and sympathize with Dr. Savaard, two wrongs still don't make a right and we are thrilled when Janet goes down to the high voltage grill and informs her father that she is reaching out to unlock it; it is up to Savaard whether he cuts the power and lets her free them or watches her electrocute herself. Janet remains altruistic in spite of her father's jaundiced outlook. It is thus through his daughter's actions that Savaard regains the humanity he has lost in a wash of vengeance. Unfortunately, he is too slow to turn off the current and Janet is electrocuted. Running to her now still form, Savaard is shot by one of the jurors. Before he dies, he is able to restore her to life with the help of his former prisoners and his glass heart device. As Janet comes back to life, Savaard blasts his mechanical glass heart to smithereens with his final breath. THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG is really a super little film which deserves a much better reputation than it generally has. I must admit to not expecting much when I watched the film for the first time but I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. The horror elements are admittedly very slight but the movie stands up as a whole and shapes up to be one of Karloff's best B-pictures of the era. If you've avoided the film up to now, give it an honest try. I think you'll find yourself rewarded by a cracking little mad doctor picture.

Bunnies: Night of the Living Dead

A Bit of Fry and Laurie - Halloween

Thursday, October 21, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972). This bizarre little movie I first saw way back in the early 80's on a cheapo VHS tape I probably bought in a bin at K-Mart. And it was worth every penny. This is what my late friend Peg used to call a "lunch time production" but it's extremely low budget doesn't hold back the enthusiasm and imagination of those involved. Made only 4 years after George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD showed us all how to do it, writer/director Bob Clark gives us a wacky movie with a first half that is pure black comedy and a second half which is scary zombie movie. The truly wacky thing is that the movie works; as schizophrenic as it is. The plot finds a group of "jaded young deviants" belonging to a theatrical group who take a small boat to a burial island in order to summon the devil and raise the dead (which is, frankly, all we ever did in the 70's before there was an internet). The group is led by the outrageous Alan Ormsby (and his pants ALONE should raise the dead!) as the dictatorial head of the theatrical group. Alan has brought along a grimorry (he mispronounces "grimoire") full of spells and digs up a corpse named Orville. Alan being Alan, he decides to brings the corpse back to the abandoned caretaker's house on the island and marry it. Orville the corpse is made to wear a veil as well as being subjected to other indignities. Unfortunately for our jaded deviants, the grimoire spells actually works and the disrespect shown Orville causes all the island's corpses to rise from the dead to conduct some bloodthirsty revenge on the living offenders. The amateur cast actually does quite a good job with the comedy as well as the fear-acting and there's a nicely electronic Gershon Kingsley-like music score by Carl Zittrer. When things start going from jokey to serious and people are being eaten by zombies, it might be startling to remind yourself that the writer/director of this movie is Bob Clark: the director of A CHRISTMAS STORY!!! Sadly, Clark and his son were killed in a car crash in 2007. However, he has left behind a truly Halloweenie horror movie for us all to enjoy these dark October nights.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) trailer

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

ANNOUNCING THE BIGGEST AUDIO POST EVER ON OUR SISTER BLOG "BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA"!!! Yes, folks, it's going to stay up until Halloween and contains nearly FOUR AND A HALF HOURS of music -- that's over 100 tracks!!! The perfect soundtrack for any Halloween Party! There's a song for every piece of candy in your trick or treat bag. So run on over and listen to the Trick Or Treat Grab Bag over at "BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA". You have nothing to lose but your sanity!

The Mighty Heroes - Monsterizer

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Opening to "The Fog"

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: THE FOG (1980). This was John Carpenter's spooky follow-up to the box office-smashing HALLOWEEN (1978). Naturally, THE FOG wasn't quite the success HALLOWEEN was; how could it be since HALLOWEEN was the highest-grossing independent film of all time. For some reason, THE FOG seemed to come and go without making that much of a splash. However, as time went on people began to look at it fondly and say that it was a pretty damn good horror movie. I'm one of them. Actually, I thought that way from the beginning . . . or at least ALMOST from the beginning when I first saw it on TV in the early dawning days of cable on HBO in 1981. All of us who were teenagers back then can relate to the fact that we would watch a movie over and over and OVER on HBO because this whole uncut, commercial-free movie watching thing was brand new and pretty exciting! And how can you not be sucked in immediately by that pre-credits storytelling sequence by John Houseman?!? And talk about economical; there's the whole premise for the film laid out for you before the campfire by old salt John Houseman in a creepy "Inner Sanctum" voice. Houseman as "Mr. Machen" (obviously an homage to horror story writer Arthur Machen) tells the terrified kiddies how the clipper ship Elizabeth Dane met its doom off the coast of Antonio Bay when it followed a campfire (much like THIS one) on the beach; the resulting wreck (and the gold which was found) causes the town to become a town. Now, on Antonio Bay's 100th anniversary, the restless dead (with salt water in their lungs) seems to be returning for some good old-fashioned revenge on the descendents of the 6 people responsible for wrecking the ship. Adrienne Barbell (sorry, Barbeau) stars as Stevie the owner/DJ of a local radio station operating out of the town's lighthouse (a spectacularly wonderful set idea). There's also local boy Nick Castle (ha ha) played by Tom Atkins who picks up hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis); while sharing a can of Activia, Nick's pickup truck suddenly has all it's windows blown out. You see, between the hours of 12 midnight and 1 am (the witching hour) strange things are happening: telephone booths ring, gas pumps pump, hydrolic car lifts lift, convenience store products shake and quake and car alarms go off; basically the restless spirits are announcing that tomorrow night's centennial celebration is going to be a night no one ever forgets. 15 miles out on the ocean the small craft "The Sea Grass" meets a fog bank; sadly for them, inside the fog are the dripping, seaweed-encrusted ghosts of the Elizabeth Dane and they're carrying swords and meat-hooks. Scratch one three-man boat crew! Local soused priest Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) finds his ancestor's journal describing how the clipper ship was deliberately wrecked by the townspeople and that the hour from midnight till 1 am belongs to the dead. Meanwhile, Mrs. Williams (Janet Leigh) is trying to set up the 100th anniversary celebration with her assistant Sandy (HALLOWEEN's own Nancy Loomis). As the eerily-glowing fog bank slowly inches its way over the town, Stevie pieces together that there is something in the fog -- vengeful, bloodthirsty spirits stepping right out of an E.C. comic book -- and tries to warn the town via her radio broadcast. The fog effects are quite nicely done as are the seen-in-silhouette drippy ghosts holding their rusty meat-hooks. John Carpenter and co-writer/producer Debra Hill apparently got the idea for the film when on a trip to England; they looked out over the moors and saw a fog bank sitting out there and Carpenter said, "Wow, I wonder what's IN that fog!" Carpenter, as always, manages to include a tribute to his hero Howard Hawks when he has Stevie broadcast over the air at the end of the film to watch for the fog . . . there's something in the fog . . . which, of course, echoes the ending of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951). Even though the film takes place in April, THE FOG has the best "Halloweenie feel" to it and makes for great, atmospheric October viewing!

Monday, October 18, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927). This hoary old silent film was adapted from the popular stage play that was already poking fun at the "old dark house" genre years before talking pictures came in. The plot sounds like a step-by-step blueprint of all the tropes. Cyrus West is a rich old bugger whose family surrounds him eyeing his wealth like a bunch of cats eyeing a canary. When he dies, not only does he leave a will that cannot be opened for 20 years but also hides away the famous West diamonds. 20 years pass and the grasping family collects at the old dark house for the reading of the will one dark and stormy night. Since he despised his moneygrubbing family, Cyrus leaves all his fortune to the most distant relative with the name "West"; that is pretty young Annabelle (Laura La Plante). However, if Annabelle is examined by a doctor and shown to be insane, the fortune goes to another relative whose name is sealed in an envelope in the lawyer's pocket. Of course, while this is going on a guard comes to the door and informs everyone present that there is an escaped lunatic loose on the grounds who thinks he is a cat and rips his victims to shreds. Soon, while discussing things in the library alone with Annabelle, the lawyer Crosby (Tully Marshall) is snatched by a hairy claw into a secret panel and disappears -- with the envelope revealing the alternate inheritor. The usual old dark house chaos ensues. In one of the movie's set pieces, Annabelle discovers the missing West diamonds in a secret panel above the fireplace. She foolishly wears the necklace to bed and the Cat's hairy claw emerges from a secret panel in the headboard and snatches the jewels from her neck while she sleeps. Director Paul Leni keeps things moving along at a surprisingly brisk pace for a silent movie and his camera is extremely fluid and mobile; careening across rooms and down hallways. Speaking of hallways, the sets (handled by Universal Studios vet Charles D. Hall) are wonderfully creepy -- particularly the long, spooky hallway with multitudes of billowing, blowing draperies suggesting a murderer behind each and every one. The cast is up to the challenge and seems to be having a wonderful time. Ingenue Laura La Plante plays it mostly straight and upholds the "had-I-but-known" school of acting while Creighton Hale as cowardly Paul is good for some funny moments. Gertrude Astor as the flapperesque Cecily and Flora Finch as pinch-faced Aunt Susan are also quite watchable and engaging in their clinging fright. Veteran Arthur Edmund Carewe is typically menacing-looking; Carewe played Ledoux in the 1925 Lon Chaney PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (remember how he held his hand up next to his head while in the catacombs so the Phantom didn't fling a noose around his neck to strangle him) as well as the drug-addict in the talkie MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM and Dr. Rowitz in DOCTOR X -- both in two-strip technicolor starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray. But the biggest impact from the visual front is surely Martha Mattox as Mammy Pleasant the sinister housekeeper. Surely all subsequent sinister housekeepers have used Mattox as their templates! Think all the way up to 1963's THE HAUNTING with the housekeeper constantly saying "No one can hear you in the night . . . in the dark . . ." Mattox can also be seen by horror fans in such films as MURDER BY THE CLOCK (1931), THE MONSTER WALKS (1932), MURDER AT DAWN (1932) and the horror-western HAUNTED GOLD (1932) with a young John Wayne.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

DR. SHOCK'S HALLOWEENIE MOVIE OF THE DAY: THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). Bryan Senn makes the case that James Whale is simply the most successful director of horror's golden age and its hard to argue with the evidence. Think of any other director of the time who can match Whale's track record of four absolutely stone-cold classics: FRANKENSTEIN, THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE INVISIBLE MAN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and there's no one else in the running. Of the four, INVISIBLE MAN is probably in fourth place but that just illustrates the quality of the four films -- THE INVISIBLE MAN, an absolute classic and one of the best Universal horror films of the period and it comes in last among the other four. There is just something very very "Halloweenie" about THE INVISIBLE MAN and the other early Universal horrors; an atmosphere . . . a feeling to them that later films don't have. From the incredibly atmospheric opening as the bandage-swathed Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) trudges through the snow towards the Lions' Head Inn and then enters imperiously to the stunned silence of the punters, THE INVISIBLE MAN is offering maximum style AND substance on display. Then, of course, there's the delirious Una O'Connor sniffing and wailing to beat the band. The entire opening sequence as Griffin is shown his room and barks his demands is one of my favourites in all the Universal films. Of course, there's the wonderful Gloria Stuart as Griffin's put-upon girlfriend; unfortunately Stuart is rather too hand-wringingly theatrical in this part and shows up in a much better light in Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE. However, one of the unsung heroes of the film is, in my mind, William Harrigan as Griffin's snivelling rival Kemp. Chester Morris was originally slated to play Kemp but when he found out newcomer Claude Rains was going to get (after insisting) top-billing Morris dropped out. Frankly, I'm glad. Nothing against Chester Morris but I really love Harrigan's depiction of extreme cowardice; I think it's one of the nicest "unnoticed" performances in Universal horrors. Of course, I have to mention the incomparable voice of Claude Rains. Rains apparently had only appeared in one little picture in England and then had a disastrous screen test in America; no matter, James Whales insisted he wanted someone with an unforgettable voice. Well, he certainly found one. Rains' commanding tones completely sell the slowly-going-mad Griffin. In fact, even Rains' mimetic movements and carriage sell his character; the imperious Griffin seems to dwarf Kemp while, in reality, Rains was much shorter than Harrigan! Now, THAT'S acting! We never see Rains' face until the final frames of the film but it doesn't matter; the role still made him a star. John Fulton's special effects are still pretty impressive to this day; even if we know how most of them were done. R. C. Sheriff's screenplay is packed with more quotable lines than almost any other contemporary horror film: a particular favourite when Griffin raves that even the moon is afraid of him tonight. Then there's the mere look of "The Invisible One"; whether its Griffin bundled in an overcoat with his hat pulled down over his bandaged head or else the "relaxed look" Invisible Man in his natty robe and snazzy shades (borrowed from Vincent Price in THE TOMB OF LIGEIA obviously) -- The Invisible Man has that unforgettable (and overly used word) iconic appearance that makes a classic Universal monster. With not a slow patch in it, the film is a treat from start to finish!