Silent Night (2012)

Steven C. Miller

Jaime King - Aubrey Bradimore
Malcolm McDowell - Sheriff James Cooper
Donal Logue - Santa Jim Epstein
Ellen Wong - Brenda
Brendan Fehr - Deputy Jordan
Andrew Cecon - Deputy Stanley Giles
Curtis Moore - Reverend Madeley
Courtney-Jane White - Tiffany Revie

- Horror/Slasher/Holiday

Running Time - 94 Minutes

In Cryer, Wisconsin, the small town is celebrating their annual Christmas festivities without a care in the world. However, there's a lunatic out there dressed up as Santa Claus, using a sharp axe and a flamethrower to murder certain townspeople who seem to be on his Naughty list this year. A recently widowed cop named Aubrey Bradimore (Jaime King) is on the case, although her jerk of a sheriff (Malcolm McDowell) tends to put her down every chance she gets. They learn one of their own has been tortured and murdered by this demented Santa Claus, which makes their case difficult since a bunch of men in Cryer are dressed as St. Nick for the holiday season. As Santa crosses off more names on his naughty list, Aubrey must face her fears of insecurity and solve the case before Christmas is ruined forever.



- The gore effects. If there's anything SILENT NIGHT, a loose remake of 1984's controversial SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, has going for it, it's the gore FX. Being a true slasher film, we get some great visuals involving people getting killed in multiple ways. We get a homage to the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT involving a pair of antlers. We get an electrocution. We see someone being speared. We get several people get burned by a flamethrower. We get severed hands and decapitated heads. We get someone getting mutilated in a woodchipper. We get stuff with a scythe. We get other stuff with an axe. Someone gets his head bashed in by brass knuckles. Some of it is CGI, but I believe most of these effects were practical. I thought they all looked great - some making me "ooh" and "ahh" even. It's not the goriest film ever, but it'll satisfy gore hounds who enjoy violent slasher films.

- Most of the visual presentation. I thought Steven C. Miller did a very job directing SILENT NIGHT, even though it wasn't perfect. I like the look of the film, with its bluish and greyish hues. While a lot of the film takes place in daytime, there is still something bleak about it. The editing is good and a lot of the framing and composition works for me. The death scenes are shot very well and are pretty graphic. I also think the pacing is pretty good as well. I thought the direction was more than fine. I had issues with certain things, which I'll get into later, but Miller did a very good job presenting the story visually.

- Most of the acting. While the acting of some of the supporting actors are hit-and-miss,
most of the main actors do a good job in their roles. Jaime King, in my opinion, is one of the better actors in the film. While the other actors are a bit more "out there" in terms of their performances, King plays it straight and is very sympathetic as Aubrey. She's no stranger to modern slashers, especially after 2009's MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D and 2010's MOTHER'S DAY, and used that experience to make her character likeable and down to earth amid chaos. I bought her performance from beginning to end and rooted for her all the way. Donal Logue is also great as a fake Santa Claus. He's a great comic actor, and really brings a sense of sarcastic humor that I really liked. Andrew Cecon is kooky as Deputy Giles, as he made me laugh a few times. Curtis Moore is very convincing as a creepy, perverted priest. Ellen Wong is likeable as the sassy police secretary. The actors are playing pretty standard adult stereotypes in SILENT NIGHT, but I thought most of them were fun to watch.

- The homages and the humor. The remake of SILENT NIGHT isn't really a scary film, but it does have some good black humor and a nice use of homages from the first two SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT movies. Most of the characters are really over the top in how they act and in what they say, to the point where you just laugh at certain things. Aubrey's character is taken seriously, but everyone around her is a jokester and very sarcastic and perverted. I do have a certain issue with this kind of portrayal, but I did appreciate that SILENT NIGHT wasn't too heavy handed and had a light hearted feeling about it.

As for the homages, I got a kick out of them. The catatonic grandfather waking up to scare his grandson about Santa Claus and Christmas was a great throwback to the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. So was that moment involving the antlers and Santa Claus greeting the little girl after the fact. And of course, you can't have a SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT remake without the iconic "Garbage Day!" from part 2 somewhat in the script. I thought it was a nice show of respect to the films that inspired this loose remake that fans would get and enjoy.


- The backstory and the ending. Probably the best thing about the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT was the backstory of the killer. While Billy did some evil things dressed up as Santa Claus, you clearly understood why he behaved the way he did. Watching Billy go from an innocent child, to him seeing his parents being murdered by Santa Claus, to being abused by nuns at his orphanage, to never dealing with his trauma and snapping at the sight of any Santa Claus motif created an interesting character study for an 80s slasher film. Billy didn't kill people out of revenge or because he was pure evil. He had no outlet to confront his past demons, losing himself within the trauma and becoming a murdering Santa Claus himself. It was a sad story to see this poor guy suffer with what happened to him as a child.

And here's where SILENT NIGHT misses a huge opportunity. The killer's backstory is severely flawed, not focused on much, and underwhelming when you learn the killer's identity and their justification for what he/she has been doing. We get a story about some urban legend where a disgruntled husband dresses up as Santa and uses a flamethrower to murder his cheating wife. But it's never really confirmed or elaborated upon until it's too late.

Which leads me to the film's ending. I absolutely hated it. It just points out this annoying trend where a film ends later than it should. SILENT NIGHT's "epilogue" just ruined the mystery of the killer for me, especially when I stopped caring who the guy was by the halfway point since not much was done within the script to leave clues as to this person's identity. I think if the killer's identity was given more of a spotlight and was built up more, instead of just forcing 10 minutes of the film on some urban legend and a three minute reveal that won't make you care either way about the killer, the narrative would have worked better. I'm glad it was revealed, but the execution was poor here.

- Shaky cam and flares. I was pretty annoyed by the shaky cam in SILENT NIGHT. I'm usually okay with it in action oriented films and some horror films where the shaking intensifies what we're seeing on screen. But here, it's more distracting than anything - especially during the final act when Aubrey and the killer go head-to-head. I wanted to see the action, but the shaking and the quick cuts were a bit too much for me.

Also, can we stop with the light flares? It might look cool in some films, but they shouldn't be used when they're not needed. SILENT NIGHT is an example where it isn't necessary.

- The characters. As I stated earlier, I liked the humor from the over-the-top characters in SILENT NIGHT. But is it too much to have some multi-dimensional characters in a horror film? Jaime King's Aubrey is likeable because she takes the situation seriously and wants to stop this killer from ruining Christmas in her community. But everyone around her are either perverts, idiots, or just hateful people. All the fake Santas are sex fiends. The priest steals and seems to enjoy living a life of sin rather than preaching against it. The sheriff of the town is a total prick. And there's a little brat of a girl who orders her mom around, and she just takes it. The Bradimore family were the only real likeable people in the town. I guess Ellen, the secretary, as well. If I was supposed to want to see 95% of the characters die horrible deaths, then it was successful.

And I know slasher films are supposed to have one-dimensional characters. But at least they're stereotypes I can somewhat identify [or at least want to identify] with. None of these victims deserved any sort of sympathy because there's was nothing about them you can relate with. The characters needed more variety here and I don't blame this Santa Claus offing them one by one.

- Malcolm McDowell. I love McDowell. He's a great actor that usually steals any scene he's in. But I thought he was on and off here. I felt he was trying too hard to be this douche Sheriff. In fact, it was as if he was still in faux-Dr. Loomis mode here, hamming it up and destroying any seriousness the narrative was attempting to establish. I guess I should expect that from McDowell since that is what he does. And in most films, this type of trademark performance works in the movie's favor. But I thought it hurt SILENT NIGHT more than it helped it. I don't think his performance was terrible as some people said after they watched it. I just felt it didn't fit within the context of the story and the tone. Sometimes less is more and I wish McDowell would have toned it down a notch. 


I didn't know what I was going to get with SILENT NIGHT. While SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT isn't the greatest slasher ever, I do have a certain level of fondness for it. While not the best remake out there, at least SILENT NIGHT separates itself from the original and tries to be its own film with its own tale to tell. And while the remake isn't perfect, SILENT NIGHT is probably my favorite film in the series after the second one. The death scenes are cool. Most of the acting works. Steven C. Miller's direction is pretty strong. And I respect the fact that SILENT NIGHT pays homage to the original while making its own mark. Could it have been better? Sure. But I was entertained by the film and that's all I can ask for these days. SILENT NIGHT is a flawed, yet fun film. And I'm sure even a killer Santa Claus can appreciate that.

2.5 Howls Outta 4


6 Degrees of Hell (2012)

Joe Raffa

Corey Feldman - Kyle Brenner
Jill Whelan - Jill Hudson
Nicole Cinaglia - June
Kyle Patrick Brennan - Erik Sanborn
Joe Raffa - Kellen Hudson
David J. Bonner - Chris Allen
Ashley Summer - Kelly
Nikki Bell - Stacey Sanborn
Faust Checho - Chief John Hansen
Brian Gallagher - Uncle Jack
Brian Anthony Wilson - Deputy Hendricks

Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Demons/Possession

Running Time
- 90 Minutes

[Taken from the synopsis from Breaking Glass Pictures]
In Northeast Pennsylvania, "Uncle Jack's House of Horrors" is besieged by a dark presence after two friends of Uncle Jack (Brian Gallagher), Chris (David J. Bonner) and Kellen (Joe Raffa), unwittingly release a deadly evil by transporting local psychic Mary Wilkins' (Susan Moses) collection of haunted objects as props for the popular tourist attraction. At the same time, a local TV ghost hunter (Kyle Patrick Brennan), confronts an evil that has haunted him all his life - one he believes is responsible for his sister's (Nikki Bell) death years ago.

The search puts him in the path of a rogue police chief (
Faust Checho) and June (Nicole Cinaglia) - a girl who seems to be the eye of this supernatural perfect storm. They all find themselves connected to the old hotel with the threads of their own personal horrors draw paranormal investigator Kyle Brenner (Corey Feldman) to pull the threads together...


I've been hearing about 6 DEGREES OF HELL for the past few months now. It was much hyped by horror websites and social networking, especially Facebook and YouTube. The fact that it stars Corey Feldman gave the film a nostalgic feeling and cult buzz about the project, gaining many likes on the film's Facebook page and its trailer many views on YouTube. Getting the screener from Breaking Glass Pictures, I was excited about watching this to see what all the buzz was about. I wish I wasn't, because 6 DEGREES OF HELL disappointed the hell out of me. 6 DEGREES OF BOREDOM is more like it.

The problem, without question, lies within the film's screenplay. The narrative is a mess in every way, confusing the viewer with flashbacks, dream sequences, and psychic visions. I honestly couldn't get into the film because of this, as I wasn't sure where the film was going and why I should even care. It took me multiple sittings to watch this film from beginning to end, with me pausing it to do something else before pressing "play" and watching the rest. I shouldn't feel that way about a film, especially a horror movie.

Flashbacks, dreams, and visions don't normally bother me. In fact, they can enhance a film's story if introduced right and used correctly. However, 6 DEGREES OF HELL just introduces these moments without any sort of real set up. In fact, I felt as if I just stepped into someone's story that has been ongoing for a while now. It's like getting the punchline without hearing the joke first. How am I supposed to react when I have no clue what the backstory is? Why is this important? How will it matter at the end? Some of these moments do manage to answer those questions, but they pop up so out of the blue that you're thrown for a loop. It messes up the flow of the storytelling, which took me out of the viewing experience.

It didn't help that the characters - well 95% of them - were really unlikeable and annoying to me. You had a bland teen psychic who didn't really come alive until the final act. You had these two best friends who wanted the same girl. One of them is a total douchebag to everyone, including his parents and any form of authority figure. This guy didn't exit the film quick enough for me. The other friend is traumatized by losing his girlfriend and deals with it by screwing the psychic chick, to which she doesn't bother opposing. There's this dick head for a sheriff. Uncle Joe is a selfish opportunist who only cares about fame and money, not caring the stuff he uses inside his hotel is cursed with evil. The only one that I had any semblance of sympathy for was the TV ghost hunter, Erik. Why? Because he wasn't annoying and he had a backstory I could understand, which allowed me to justify his actions throughout the film. The presence of the evil and why it was attracted to the main characters also made sense, although it made me wonder why it had decided to act now instead of earlier in time. I guess if it did that, there would be no story to tell.

The way the story is presented to the audience is also a flaw. The events we see on screen are told by a deputy, who claims to have witnessed our main story, to a paranormal investigator. This type of narration could work if it was told the right way, but 6 DEGREES OF HELL has trouble doing that. It doesn't help that this narrator is very unreliable. Yes, the ending may explain why this person would know as much as he does. But how does he know the personal moments between the main characters if he wasn't there to witness them? How does he know about the visions? The flashbacks? The dreams? It's kind of odd. Also, this character kind of gives away who survived this ordeal. If the paranormal dude wasn't able to get the story from any of the main characters, their fates don't look very good, do they? It also felt very forced as well, as if this is the only reason why these two characters were even in the film to begin with. I wish the story would have just been told with more of a straightforward direction. It probably would have been more inviting to the viewer, instead of boring them and making them get distracted with other stuff.

Luckily for 6 DEGREES OF HELL, the rest of the film is more hit than miss. The final act of the film, involving the Hotel of Horrors, is actually pretty good and full of action. It's shot like a madhouse, with the workers of this hotel becoming possessed by evil and killing all the guests who came to tour the attractions. If the film was just about this, I would have been more favorable towards it. It's the only time where I felt something substantial happened and was leading towards something good. I also felt the opening segment was just as good as well. It's everything in between that was a mess.

The visual FX is pretty decent for a low budget flick. Whenever someone is possessed by evil, their eyes are completely black. This is done through CGI, which looks pretty good and makes the actors look creepy. We get some gore as well, mainly blood splatter. But what we do see of it is done with practical effects and looks better than okay. The make up work is decent as well.

The visual presentation by director Joe Raffa is actually very good. The pacing is a challenge though. And the screener I received was very pixelated, supposedly due to piracy issues that occurred, which I understand fully well. And while I wish I could have seen a crisper version of the film, I could tell 6 DEGREES OF HELL was shot very well. Framing, composition, and editing worked for me. The bleak look of the film was solid as well. Raffa does have an eye when it comes to filming, so I'm hoping his next project is more successful than this one.

The acting here was a mixed bag. Some people, like Kyle Patrick Brennan, David J. Bonner, and Faust Checho were pretty good in their roles. I thought lead actress Nicole Cinaglia was very bland, until the end, when it was too late. You would think Corey Feldman is the film's lead, since his name is plastered on the poster and promoted along with the film. But I think he had more screen time in the prologue of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING than he does in this film. And until the end, his character doesn't add much to the film. Feldman isn't terrible here, but he isn't great either. It's hard to talk about his performance when all he does is sit behind a desk, smoke, and quote generic dialogue. I'm sure his name will get people to see this film though, so good for the filmmakers on that.

6 DEGREES OF HELL is only worth maybe two of those degrees. The story is pretty terrible and pretty boring, except for the action-filled final act. The visual presentation is better than average, but the acting is a mixed bag. And if you're expecting to see Corey Feldman in a substantial role, you'll be greatly disappointed as he's barely in the film for five minutes. Not the worst film I've seen this year, but it's not one I would watch again anytime soon. Only watch if you're a Feldman fan and want to support independent horror. Otherwise, these are 6 degrees not worth experiencing.

1.5 Howls Outta 4


Dust Up (2012)

Ward Roberts

Aaron Gaffey - Jack
Amber Benson - Ella
Jeremiah Birkett - Buzz
Devin Barry - Mo
Travis Betz - Herman
Mike C. Nelson - Keith
Al Burke - Mr. Lizard
Ezra Buzzington - Sheriff Haggler

Genre - Action/Adventure/Comedy/Exploitation

Running Time - 93 Minutes

Jack (Aaron Gaffey) is a one-eyed former soldier who has traded that life for one of tranquility. He does odd jobs to occupy the time, while hanging out with his Native American inspired friend, Mo (Devin Barry). One day, a young mother named Ella (Amber Benson) needs help with a plumbing issue and calls Jack for help. The two instantly connect, but there's a problem - Ella has an absentee husband named Herman (Travis Betz) who would rather get high off of his ass than spend time with his wife or young baby daughter.

When Herman doesn't have the money to pay off his drug dealer, the weird and twisted Buzz (
Jeremiah Birkett), Ella pleads with Jack and Mo to help him get it settled. When Jack tries to make a peaceful deal with Buzz by paying off some of Herman's tab, Buzz threats them by using Ella and her baby as bait. This forces Jack to leave his peaceful life and help out Ella and her family by using violence to gain a bit of justice.


Usually when I get low budget films to review, they are of two varieties - films that want to be THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and films that want to be a second coming of the grindhouse exploitation film due to the cult success of GRINDHOUSE from 2007. Most of the time, these films fail because they don't have the atmosphere that made those kind of films memorable. Just because you watched THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE doesn't mean you can make an exploitation film just like it that will elicit the same type of response. And while Ward Roberts' DUST UP isn't the perfect new wave grindhouse/exploitation film, it's one of the few that's the exception - it's actually a good, entertaining flick for the most part!

The script by Roberts is pretty clever and well written. The highlight of the narrative are the colorful characters that make up the twisted story. Jack, our one-eyed hero, is pretty much the stoic straight man who has a tragic past that resulted in the loss of his eye and a good friend. He's the quiet bad ass that will go against his code in order to make sure the right thing is done. He also has a cool patch, which a lot of the characters seem impressed by.

Mo is Jack's Native American friend - well I think he's Native American. Still, he and Jack exchange great banter and dialogue with each other [one of the highlights of the film], and Mo can throw a mean projectile whenever he can get hold of one.

Ella is the most normal of the characters. She's a struggling young mother who is frustrated with raising her child alone because her husband is a pathetic drug addict. She finds an instant connection with Jack, seeing how responsible and in control he is. While she does get to be a damsel-in-distress for a moment, she eventually becomes on the crew by the movie's end.

Herman is Ella's husband. He's also a massive speed addict who seems to not want any responsibility of anything or anyone. Herman pretty much believes everything is a joke, which results in a lot of conflict with the others.

My favorite character, however, was the villainous bar owner Buzz. This guy is just a whack job in every way. He's bisexual, screwing both men and women without shame. He snorts drugs off of his bar counter. He enjoys eating human flesh. And he believes the Government is after him for whatever reason. Buzz has no morals, no filter, and no conscience. Roberts created a great exploitation villain with this character.

As I mentioned, the dialogue is well written with each character sounding distinct. The story is easy to follow and paced so well, the 90 minute DUST UP breezes right by. There are a lot of touches to the film that show how inspired Roberts was. The character with the eye patch. The crazy drug dealers. The crooked sheriff. The young mother who toughens up in order to survive. Certain sexual and racial issues that the mainstream would frown upon, but fit right in a grindhouse type of movie. DUST UP does really well when it hits the intended target.

Does the narrative has issues? Sure. DUST UP does take some time to get going, but it does this to establish the characters and the situation. So I can let that slide. However, I felt Buzz's motivations for what he does to justify his crazy and evil actions felt a bit forced. Like I mention earlier, he has this issue about being anti-Government that seems to motivate what he does to the people he encounters and surrounds himself with. The reasons aren't what is wrong. It's just how it's brought up and presented. It's as if Roberts realized he didn't have a reason for his villain, so he came up with this idea about Buzz hating authority. It never really goes anywhere and never feels natural within the context of the story. I would have been okay if Buzz was just a crazy drug dealer who wanted to do these messed up things just to show how powerful he thought he was. The fact that our heroes accidentally do something that threaten Buzz's livelihood should be enough motivation for the character. So the whole Government deal took me out of the film a bit.

DUST UP has its share of gore and blood FX here. We get stabbings. We get gunshots. We get scalpings. We get genitals getting impaled. We get people getting raped by Buzz. There's man on woman violence as well, if anyone is into that for whatever reason. Some of it was CGI, but I believe most were done with practical effects. For a low budget feature, it looked pretty damn good. There's a lot of insane stuff going on in this film when it comes to sex and violence here, but I really enjoyed how campy it all was.

The direction by Ward Roberts is very cool. While I wish it had that film grain that grindhouse films usually have to make it look more authentic, I felt the visual presentation was pretty solid. The colors are vibrant and nice to look at. The framing, composition, and editing is top notch. The pacing is great. I like how flashbacks were more saturated. During a chase scene in the final act, more blues and purples were used that ended up being visually interesting. I really liked the direction here.

The acting wasn't the greatest, but it still worked for me. I think Amber Benson and Jeremiah Birkett were the best actors here. Benson, best known as Tara on TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer, is really sweet here and is easily likeable. Birkett is fantastic as Buzz. He seems to be having the time of his life being the ultimate villain. And while Birkett plays a creep, there's something to like about his performance and his character as well. The other main actors were more hit than miss and I enjoyed their acting for the most part. Pretty cool cast and who probably had a ton of fun making DUST UP.

It's not a perfect cult exploitation film for modern times, but DUST UP has more than enough to satisfy those genre fans looking for something new. It has sick humor. It has some cool violence. The characters are all colorful and likeable in their own way. And it's a quick moving film at 90 minutes. If you like campy, violent films that pays homage to the grindhouse era, DUST UP is definitely for you. Hell, maybe it's worth losing an eye over.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


The Gate (1987)

Tibor Takacs

Stephen Dorff - Glen
Christa Denton - Al
Louis Tripp - Terry
Jennifer Irwin - Linda Lee
Kelly Rowan - Lori Lee
Sean Fagan - Eric

Genre - Horror/Demons

Running Time - 85 Minutes

A part of Guts and Grog's...

After I thought I was done with themes for a while, Guts and Grog suck me back in with their Look Back On Horror With Training Wheels - otherwise G or PG rated horror that was marketed to a younger, more innocent audience. I've been burnt out on these themes, which is why I haven't been reviewing much late. But when Eric Martin asked me to contribute, I couldn't say no.

While I do like my share of horror aimed for children and young teens, I personally watch more mature, cerebral, gory, and/or violent horror - even when I was part of the younger demographic. But there are some good-to-great horror aimed for kids and teens that I still find some enjoyment in even today. Films like THE MONSTER SQUAD. Films like POLTERGEIST. Films like LITTLE MONSTERS. Or the one I'm reviewing for the theme - the 1987 Canadian production known as THE GATE.

Ah yes, THE GATE - a film I remember quite fondly from the VHS rental days of the late 1980s. Hell, I still remember when I watched the advertisements for it on television, thinking the special effects were freakin' cool as hell! THE GATE was a smash in its native Canada, although a modest hit here - even though it did launch the career of Stephen Dorff [who starred in his first film here] and Kelly Rowan [who would later become the mom on TV's The O.C.]. For the past 25 years, THE GATE has had a pretty big cult following, to the point where it even got its own sequel in 1990. But is THE GATE still as awesome today as it was back when I watched it as a child? Well...yes and no. Let's see why THE GATE may be still worth playing your vinyl backwards for.

Young Glen (Stephen Dorff) has a weird dream about his treehouse being struck by a lightning bolt, leaving a strange hole where the tree once stood. After waking up frightened, he's shocked to see that his dream may have been real. City workers are cutting down and gathering what's left to Glen's treehouse, which has left a strange hole in the backyard. The workers cover the hole up as best as they could, but Glen suspects that there's something wrong about the entire situation. His best friend, Terry (Louis Tripp), goes along with Glen's suspicions, investigating the hole. The two kids dig through it, revealing a pit that seems to go so far down, it may hit the Earth's core. Glen and Terry find a sliver, but it ends up breaking - with a shard going down the pit. A scary growl is heard after Glen and Terry leave the scene.

Like normal kids, Glen and Terry forget about the hole for a few and go on their separate ways. Glen and his older sister, Al (
Christa Denton), learn that their parents are going away for the weekend. Both protest the need for a babysitter, as Al is sixteen and feels she can take care of Glen and herself while they're gone. In other words, Al wants to throw a party for her friends, including the Lee sisters (Jennifer Irwin and Kelly Rowan).

During the night of the party, weird things start to happen. A friend of Al's decided to perform a levitation trick on Glen, which creeps him out when it works. Later that night, Terry's dead mom appears to him. But when reality sets in, the mother becomes Glen's dog, Angus, who is now a corpse. Glen wants to call his parents, but Al refuses to and deal with Angus herself. Unfortunately, one of Al's friends dumps the dog inside of the mysterious hole, activating it somewhat. Terry realizes through his death metal records [
by playing them backwards] that all evidence they have encountered implies a demon invasion coming out of the hole, which leads straight to Hell. A group of tiny demon creatures begin to pest Glen, Terry, and Al and infiltrate the house. Realizing they need to stop these creatures from causing more damage and releasing their leader, the kids decide to put their heads together and close this gate from Hell.


Whenever I think about horror films I clearly remember from my youth in the 1980s, THE GATE will usually be one of the first films to pop up in my mind. It's one of those movies that stuck with me due to its visual presentation and cool special effects for the time. I find it weird that two horror films involving some sort of demonic hole in the 1980s, THE PIT from 1981 and THE GATE, were both made in Canada. I don't know what's going up in the Great White North but I'll be bypassing any strange potholes, thank you very much. But I won't be bypassing THE GATE whenever the mood for some childhood nostalgia hits anytime soon.

When I think about what keeps THE GATE memorable today as it did for me 25 years ago, it has to be the special effects. Sure, CGI is all the rage these days. But nothing beats practical effects and stop motion animation for me, especially when it's done well. And THE GATE does it really well - so well that the effects hold up extremely great today. Hell, it still looks pretty cutting edge today and puts many CGI inflicted films to shame.

The little demon creatures are well designed and choreographed so well with the human actors, thanks to Randall William Cook - who had also worked on 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT and later on THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, which he won an Academy Award for. My favorite scene is still the zombie guy falling to the floor, only breaking apart into a large group of these demons. That moment used to be shown during all the television advertisements for the film, making me want to watch this sooner than later at the time. I also love the giant demon creature who appears at the end, trying to take Glen down to Hell with him. The blue screen effects aren't as evident as other films who used these type of matte effects back in the day. You'd think they were real people interacting with the actors instead of something added in during post-production. Just really great stuff visually in THE GATE.

I also think the makeup work by Craig Reardon, who designed Sloth in THE GOONIES, is real cool too. The zombie construction worker and the zombie parents look pretty eerie, adding to the surrealism of the film. I also dig the eye on the palm of Glen's hand and a cut off hand turning into maggots as it disintegrates. Just really awesome stuff that proves that imagination will always be superior to clicking a mouse on a computer screen to make cool looking things happen. We need more practical effects in modern movies. Today's generation of moviegoers have been spoiled by lazy effects.

These visuals wouldn't be able to happen if it wasn't for director Tibor Takacs given them the freedom to bring his vision perfectly to life. In fact, Takacs really makes THE GATE stand out from other kid horror films of the time. The film never feels upbeat, creating a gloomy, bleak atmosphere right from the start. Nothing ever seems to feel right in THE GATE, as there's always something lurking in the background that's full of menace and terror. The action set pieces with the effects are shot fantastically, really elevating the mood of the film from its much slower first half. The use of shadows and editing put you on the edge of your seat. The use of people living within the walls, the presence of ghosts, and all the dream sequences are presented with a ton of surrealism due to the way they're lit and edited within the film. The cinematography is also pretty good as well. It's just a really good visually presented film.

I also think THE GATE appealed to me back in 1987 because of the cast of children and/or teenagers in the lead roles, as opposed to twenty-somethings dealing with a psychotic killer wearing a scary mask. As a six-year-old, I could identify with Glen and/or Terry due to our similar ages, putting myself in their shoes as they deal with a demon invasion. I don't have that identification now that I'm older, but I do understand why so many people my age still have a lot of love for THE GATE. The characters are likeable enough [besides the Lee sisters, who are meant to be annoying so it's okay] and come across as vulnerable, yet active and intelligent to their situation. They don't let things happen to them. They research ways to stop these demons. They gather weapons to protect themselves. They communicate with each other in their own way. Glen, Al, and Terry aren't stupid kids and you respect them for that. They never dealt with this kind of situation, but they refuse to play the victim. That was encouraging as a kid and I find it a bit encouraging today.

It helps that the actors portray the characters well enough. Stephen Dorff, in his first film role, is very good as the lead Glen. He gives the character a ton of personality, whether he's giving other people a ton of attitude, or crying when he starts feeling helpless. You believe every bit Dorff portrays on film, making him one of the more natural and favorable child actors ever in the industry. It's no surprise he's still acting today, as he definitely has leading man written all over him.

The others are good too. Christa Denton is very credible as Al, but she doesn't have the best dialogue to convey. Still, her performance is very natural. Louis Tripp, who would reprise Terry in THE GATE II: TRESPASSERS, is the metal kid I always identified with the most. He's great in the role and plays the best friend perfectly well. I think all three leads have tremendous chemistry with each other, which makes THE GATE work more than it should. We also get Jennifer Irwin and Kelly Rowan being annoying as the Lee sisters. Just a great cast of younger actors here.

As for the narrative, that's where the flaws I never noticed as a child begin to spring up as an adult. I think the characters are well written. I think the situation itself is great and works from beginning to end. There's not much depth to it or substance, but it's entertaining as a straightforward horror demon movie. But there are things about THE GATE that bug me now that never did when I was a kid.

For example, how does Glen dream about this invasion before it even happens? How does he even sense this is happening, while no one else in his family does? Why is he the target of the demons?

Also, how come characters act normal when strange things happen? There's a levitation scene that shocks the teens at first, but they brush it off after Glen is freaked out by it. Also, the Lee sisters are traumatized by the demons attacking them and the others in one scene, while in the next scene they act normal and want Al to go out and party with them like nothing surreal happened. Do none of these characters react like real people? Does this sort of thing happen every other day? It doesn't seem natural to me.

There are a couple of other issues I have with THE GATE. But even after 25 years, it still manages to be really entertaining and a lot of fun to watch. It's got everything you would want in a demon film besides a ton of gore, which is understandable since this is a PG-13 rated film [which was originally written as an R rated film - that would have been interesting to see]. And while the story doesn't make sense in the traditional sense, the fact that it gives you nightmares, ghosts, heavy metal, demons, zombies, melting telephones, and eyeballs in hands makes it one of my horror highlights of the 1980s. THE GATE still holds up extremely well and I won't wait too long to sit down and watch it again.

Now if you'll excuse me, I plan to play some of my vinyl records backwards. Maybe they'll tell me how to stop Justin Beiber. One can only hope...

3 Howls Outta 4


Frankenstein (1931)

James Whale

Colin Clive - Dr. Henry Frankenstein
Boris Karloff - The Monster
Mae Clarke - Elizabeth
Edward Van Sloan - Dr. Waldman
Dwight Frye - Fritz
Frederic Kerr - Baron Frankenstein
John Boles - Victor Moritz

Genre - Horror/Monsters

Running Time - 71 Minutes

The year 1931 is probably considered the genesis of the popularity for horror cinema. Universal had the extremely successful Bela Lugosi DRACULA. Paramount Pictures released the great DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, starring Frederic March [which MGM had bought the rights of until Warner Brothers rebought those rights recently for home video distribution]. But I think the most popular, and beloved, horror film of the year was probably James Whale's take on the 1818 Mary Shelley novel, FRANKENSTEIN.

There was a lot of buzz for this adaptation. The main buzz was about the casting of the Monster. Bela Lugosi, who had become a major horror star due to DRACULA, was originally cast for the role. Until the time of the film's release, much of the media and press had still believed that Lugosi was in the film, playing Frankenstein's creation - which led to some people feeling misled, seeing that they went to watch Lugosi in the role. In actuality, Lugosi hated the make up process required to transform him into the character. So he dropped out of the project [at least according to him], although Lugosi would play the Monster in 1943's FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN. However, many say that Lugosi [as well as the first hired director for the film, Robert Florey] were fired, as they weren't a fit for the movie. Lugosi has stated that the character of The Monster was nothing like the character he had read for in Florey's script, with that version of the monster being a sociopathic murderer without remorse or conscience.

Boris Karloff and director James Whale were hired to replace both Lugosi and Florey respectively. The script had changed quite a bit once these two were added, making the Monster more of a sympathetic figure. Jack R. Pierce created the trademark look for the Monster, which required Karloff to wear 13 pound shoes that were 4 inches high. Karloff also had to sleep with the makeup on, so the look could remain consistent. There's controversy whether the "flat head" look was either Pierce's or Whale's idea, but nothing had ever been confirmed either way.

However, everything fell into place and FRANKENSTEIN was released on December 4, 1931. It was a smash hit right out of the gate, and is considered the film to really solidify Universal Studios as the studio for quality horror cinema. And after 81 years, FRANKENSTEIN is still a great film that holds up surprisingly well and resonates quite effectively today.

At a funeral, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his hunchback assistant Fritz (Dwight Frye) are hiding, spying on the ceremony. Once it's over, Frankenstein and Fritz dig up the buried body to gather some dead tissue. The two have been doing this for a while - plundering graves and morgues in order to gather up the body parts of corpses for an experiment. As a doctor in Electrobiology and Chemical Galvanism, Frankenstein wants to prove that he can re-animate dead tissue with electricity. He and Fritz have stitched up all the dead tissue they have gathered, creating a large body that he plans to restore back to life.

Frankenstein's inner circle, including his beautiful fiancee Elizabeth (
Mae Clarke), has been worried sick about him. Rather than planning for their wedding and spending time together, Frankenstein has secluded himself more and more with this experiment. After a strange letter from Frankenstein, Elizabeth and others - including Victor Moritz (John Boles) and Frankenstein's teacher and mentor, Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) - barge to an old watchtower that happens to be Frankenstein's laboratory. As Frankenstein feels threatened by their presence and worries that they'll discredit his achievements, the mad scientist decides to let them stay to watch him bring his creation to life. During a thunderstorm, Frankenstein takes the opportunity to use the lightning to charge up the dead tissue with electricity. When the body begins to move, everyone is shocked except for Frankenstein - who worries the others when he claims to be a god.

When Frankenstein learns that Fritz
's mistake had given his creation an "abnormal brain" rather than a "normal" one, the scientist succumbs to stress and exhaustion. The creature, like a child, has no idea how to adapt to this world he's been brought into, lashing out and having tantrums. It doesn't help when Fritz torments him with a whip and fire, which the Monster is highly afraid of. As Frankenstein attempts to recover and realizes what he has done, he and Dr. Waldman decide to restrain the Monster in order to destroy it. Now feeling alienated and frustrated, the Monster escapes from the restraints, leaves the laboratory, and enters town with the rest of civilization. As the Monster tries to adapt and learn through experience within a normal society, his mistakes start to haunt him as the villagers can't accept what he is - leading to a violent manhunt that doesn't have a happy ending.


FRANKENSTEIN was the first Universal Monsters film I had ever watched as a child. I think that's why I prefer it over DRACULA and 1941's THE WOLF MAN, although I'm not saying that FRANKENSTEIN is the best Universal Monster film that was made. Still, I had always found FRANKENSTEIN to be an appealing watch, even years ago. Not only was the look of the Monster freakin' cool, but I think even at that age I was able to understand the themes that run throughout this movie. It's one of those films that's beautiful to look at, yet the messages it's trying to express through the visual presentation resonate with me a lot more.

Just like DRACULA before it, FRANKENSTEIN is more based on the stage productions adapted from Mary Shelley's novel rather than the novel itself. The difference between the film and the novel is mainly the lack of philosophy that novel had about the Monster's creation - whether it was right or wrong and when do morals come in when man attempts to play the role of God. Also, the book had a lot of moments where Frankenstein and his creation would argue over his existence and the way the world perceives him. The film dumbs it down a bit, with the creation being nothing but a child-like brute. There's also not much time for any sort of philosophical debate about the Monster's existence. But unlike the adaptation of DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN still manages to maintain the essence of the novel with themes that continue to be as powerful today as they were back in 1931.

One of the main themes is obviously the idea of man wanting to become God. But isn't that what every Mad Scientist story is about anyway? Frankenstein is obsessed with this idea of creating a person out of dead tissue, just to bring it back to life - as if this will make him feel like he's better than everyone else. He's corrupted by the power of this knowledge he has, believing that this is the new evolution of humanity and he's the one making it happen. While I'm glad the first act of the film plays around with this theme, I do wish it could have been explored more. That's not to say that the lack of depth hurts the film, because it doesn't. But you could do a whole lot with a theme like this. Just the simple fact that Frankenstein is trying to be God by using science, which is something religion is pretty much against, can be a topic all on its own. Also, his "Godhood" fails because his creation isn't perfect in his image [thanks to Fritz]. I also feel that Frankenstein never really gets punished for his actions of creating this Monster, besides maybe that bit of exhaustion he suffered with and getting injured while trying to stop the Monster in the film's final act. But the man pretty much gets away with it unpunished. He still goes through the wedding, which brings the entire town together in celebration. He doesn't die at the end. And he's never blamed for bringing the Monster to life when tragic things happen. The lack of morality is questionable, but it still doesn't take away from the film's enjoyment. FRANKENSTEIN is obviously meant to be a film to scare people, not exactly make them think deeper and look between the lines. But if you take the time, those issues are definitely evident.

Probably the stronger theme of the film is the idea of acceptance and tolerance. Because the Monster wasn't created by the hands of God, and because he looks different and acts different, he's treated like an outcast. And honestly, it's no fault of his own because he was forced into a cruel world that's too afraid to take the time to understand him and teach him social norms. Frankenstein is proud of his creation until he learns that the brain he asked for was bumbled by Fritz, stealing an "abnormal" brain instead. Instead of having an intelligent creation, he has to deal with one who is slow to learn and adapt, with the mental capacity of a child. Because of this, Frankenstein washes his hands of the whole matter, letting Fritz and Dr. Waldman to deal with the Monster instead. Great parenting! This is a terrible move since Fritz harrasses the Monster, abusing him with glee. Dr. Waldman wants to kill him so he can study him, which doesn't please the Monster at all. When your own creator abandons you because you aren't his perfect "child", that does a lot to someone's psyche, regardless if they have an adult brain or a child brain. Because of this neglect and lack of love and compassion, the Monster lashes out and runs away from the laboratory.

Now in the real world, the Monster begins to experience the world outside of the laboratory. The only one who embraces his presence is a little girl named Maria, who is shocked by his appearance at first but decides to befriend him anyway. This is a pivotal scene, as we finally see the Monster finally happy due to the fact that someone, a child no less, has accepted him regardless of his appearance. They play by the pond, throwing flowers into the water, as she teaches him how to make them float. Unfortunately once he runs out of flowers, he grabs Maria and throws her into the pond. She eventually drowns and is rightfully blamed for it by Maria's father and the rest of the village. However, this scene shows that the Monster didn't mean to murder Maria, as he's worried about her while she drowns, but has no idea what to do. He panics and runs away, knowing what he did was wrong. This shows that the Monster is not some killing machine who has no conscience. This Monster feels embarrassed and horrible about what he did, not understanding that his actions had consequences. Because of this, you gain a ton of sympathy for him because he didn't kill Maria out of Malice.

I always feel bad when the village have no hesitation when they grab their torches and attempt to kill the Monster. Sure, the Monster did kill Maria - accidentally. But they never blame Frankenstein for creating him. He's never really held accountable. But since the Monster is a creature created by unholy [a.k.a. scientific] means, he's pure evil and must be stopped. I find it funny that when Maria's father brought her drowned corpse to the village and blamed the Monster for her death, everyone jumped on the bandwagon, even Frankenstein. How did they even know the Monster did it? Maria's father wasn't even watching her! Shouldn't he be just as responsible? It's obvious that because the Monster is different, he's the scapegoat. Not sure if I find it fair or not, but that's what makes FRANKENSTEIN work so well. You can either watch the film for what the story tells on the surface, or you can look between the lines and debate about the moral and thematic issues that are clear to see here.

For a 1931 film, the make up and the effects used are very well done. Jack R. Pierce's look for the Monster is simply iconic, with the flat head and the bolts coming out of the Monster's neck. It also helps that Boris Karloff just has the perfect face for the Monster's look. The special effects include lightning, which isn't too impressive today but probably was back in 1931. Also the thrilling fire scene where the villagers set the Monster's hiding place down in flames, as the interior construction falls down on the Monster and traps him to his death is choreographed really well. The film is definitely more exciting to look at than DRACULA.

This excitement is also helped by James Whale's direction. Whale, usually known for his eccentricity and humor, gives FRANKENSTEIN a ton of atmosphere due to a German Expressionist influence, like done in the 1919 film, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI. This is plainly seen at how some of the sets are structured, with circular stairwells and machinery only a mad scientist could appreciate and want. The laboratory, in particular, is composed and framed so well. Even the backdrops look painted on [they probably were], really giving off this surreal vibe as if this story doesn't take place in any reality we're used to. I also love that Whale really creates a lively film that's not too stagey like DRACULA is. There's more action sequences and the camera has some nice style going for it. I love the scene where the Monster enters for the first time, using close ups to show the monster's face. And the use of no music really adds to the film for me. There's something cold, yet inviting, about FRANKENSTEIN and how it's filmed. James Whale really did a wonderful job bringing the story to life here - one that still holds up better than modern adaptations of the same story.

The acting is pretty good here as well. Colin Clive is really over-the-top for most of the film as Dr. Henry Frankenstein. Usually this sort of thing would bug me if it was out of context, but I think it works here because he's how I would picture a mad scientist to behave. The "It's alive! It's alive!" scene is so great and Clive really makes it work to show how obsessed his character had become. The other actors, like Mae Clarke as Elizabeth, Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Waldman, and Dwight Frye [Renfield from DRACULA] as Fritz [not Igor] do well in their roles.

But the main star here is Boris Karloff, billed as "?" in the opening credits, as the Monster. For a character who utters no dialogue besides the occasional grunts and groans, Karloff sure makes him charismatic and sympathetic without even trying to do much. His subtlety really makes his character work, as the Monster is both scary and gentle. His fear of fire and his guilt over Maria's death is conveyed perfectly through Karloff's facial expressions, even underneath all that make up. It's no surprise Karloff would become a star after this film and would even portray the Monster a couple of more times in his career. Like Bela Lugosi's performance in DRACULA, Karloff is iconic as Frankenstein's Monster. As a matter of fact, I don't think anyone has even come close to matching Karloff in the role even after all these years. He's that good.


- Dr. Frankenstein and his assistant, Fritz, like to steal corpses from cemeteries for Frankenstein's experiment. The whole idea is pretty grave, don't you think?

- Frankenstein's Monster is afraid of fire. He must have dealt with a horrible case of chlamydia in his previous life.

- Before Dr. Waldman could dissect him, the Monster strangled the doctor to death. In this case, the Monster was a lot sharper than Waldman's scalpel.

- The Monster threw Maria into a pond after he ran out of flowers to throw. If this was during the age of To Catch A Predator, the Monster would get arrested for trying to get this girl wet...

- The Monster frightened Elizabeth prior to her wedding to Frankenstein. Those kind of screams ought to be saved for the honeymoon!

FRANKENSTEIN is just a classic. It's a fun watch, it has great direction, great acting by Boris Karloff, and themes that still resonate as much today as they did back in 1931. This is everything you would want from a classic horror film from this era. James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN is probably my favorite Universal monster film that isn't a sequel of sorts. DRACULA may have gave Universal Pictures a ton of attention when it came to horror, but FRANKENSTEIN is the film that put it on the map without hesitation. There's no reason why any horror movie lover shouldn't go out of their way and watch this. Essential viewing in my opinion.

4 Howls Outta 4


House on Haunted Hill (1959)

William Castle

Vincent Price - Frederick Loren
Carol Ohmart - Annabelle Loren
Carolyn Craig - Nora Manning
Elisha Cook Jr. - Watson Pritchard
Richard Long - Lance Schroeder
Alan Marshal - Dr. David Trent
Julie Mitchum - Ruth Bridges

Genre - Horror/Suspense/Ghosts/Haunted House

Running Time - 74 Minutes

As I had mentioned in an earlier review for 1959's THE TINGLER, director William Castle knew how to promote his movies by presenting gimmicks that only worked for their respective films. THE TINGLER, which is about a creature that grows on one's spine and will kill its owner if they can't scream, used a gimmick called Percept-O - where certain theater chairs had devices that released shock waves onto those audience members whenever the Tingler creature would appear. Because of these crazy gimmicks, Castle would have huge successes on his hands. It also helped his films are usually good.

Prior to THE TINGLER's release was the release of the iconic HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. Most people are probably more familiar with the 1999 remake [which I like quite a bit] and its 2007 average sequel. But the 1959 version of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is considered one of the best haunted house films ever filmed, and deemed influential in the horror genre. It was the first collaboration between Castle and star Vincent Price. It also had an interesting take on the 3D gimmick called Emergo! - which involved a fake skeleton "coming out" of the screen during the point of the film [at the end] where the skeleton emerges from an acid pit inside the house's cellar. It would hover over the audiences' heads, attempting to scare them. Sounds like a fun concept, and it actually helped make HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL a box office success.

Unfortunately, Emergo doesn't happen as you watch HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL at home. But unlike THE TINGLER, the gimmick probably doesn't enhance the viewing experience all that much. It's fine, since HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL still manages to be a good time after all these years, even if it isn't a perfect film.

Millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) has invited five strangers to join him and his wife Annabelle (Carol Ohmart) at a haunted house party in celebrate Annabelle's birthday. The incentive for these guests - $10,000 if they stay the night inside this House on Haunted Hill...and survive. The guests include a jet pilot named Lance Schroeder (Richard Long), innocent Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig), drunk journalist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), and doctor David Trent (Alan Marshal). Trent, in particular, wants to test his theories on what trauma and fear can do on the human mind if the rumors about the haunted house are true. Also in attendance is Watson Pritchard (Elisha Cook, Jr.), who has spent a night in the house before and is afraid to be inside again due to the ghosts that haunt it.

As the guests roam the house, they encounter some strange phenomena that can't be explained or believed. They also have to deal with the tension between Frederick and Annabelle, who despise each other and seem to be implying each other's deaths. Nora, afraid for her life, decides to leave. But the doors and windows close by themselves, trapping all the guests inside. If this just a game? Or is this house really haunted?


HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is considered by many to be William Castle's crowning achievement as a filmmaker, although I personally prefer THE TINGLER over this one. It's not a perfect film and is definitely cheesy and schlocky. But it's also a lot of fun, with cool moments that will make you jump or laugh, never boring you at all. Even without the Emergo! gimmick, the film succeeds for the most part.

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was inspired by Shirley Jackson's novel, The Haunting of Hill House - which would also later inspire 1963's THE HAUNTING and 1973's THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. What could play out as a modern reality competition program on television, the guests intend to stay the night to win $10,000 [although each person has their own agenda as well] but have to face obstacles such as ghosts, guns, bloody ceilings, a bickering married couple, and an animated skeleton who rises from an acid pit in the cellar. It's like being in one of those funhouses at a local carnival, expecting weird things to pop up and disorient you at every turn. I won't really discuss the narrative any more than that, since I would be spoiling things if I got too much in depth with this film. So for those two people who haven't watched the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, you're welcome. I will say that the 1999 remake does play with the concept of the $10,000 survival prize a bit more, but the original is still a fun ride.

What really makes the film work are the characters. Nora, in modern horror terms, would be considered the film's Final Girl. She's innocent, naive, but sweet and good hearted as well. She also seems to be the main target of the ghosts in the house, probably due to her supposed pure nature. She's also the smartest one in the group, as she realizes she's way over her head and wants to leave the house, not caring about the money. Unfortunately, the house closes itself so she's locked in. But at least she has common sense. Lance, the jet pilot, is pretty much Nora's best friend in the house. He obviously has a crush on her and is the only one who is willing to believe her stories about seeing ghosts. He also catches the eye of Annabelle, which causes a tiny bit of tension between him and Frederick - although it's never really explored to add some needed drama between the characters. Ruth is a columnist who enjoys drinking, which aids her skepticism over the entire situation. She also has a puddle of blood dripping on her wherever she goes, which takes a while to gain a reaction out of her. Dr. David Trent is there to study the behavior of the other guests in terms of how they embrace fear. He also has a very personal relationship with one of the other characters that no one else is aware of, which leads to the fun conclusion of the movie. And Watson is pretty much the guy who's already been through the terror, warning the others about what's about to happen. He also likes to drink, as it helps him cope with the memories of what happened to him.

The best characters, however, are the Lorens. Frederick and Annabelle waste no time showing their lack of affection towards each other, having fantastic banter [the dialogue is really great for these two] and always implying murdering each other eventually. It seems Frederick sees Annabelle as a golddigging wife, while Annabelle sees Frederick as an easy means to a rich life once he's dead. Their relationship is the catalyst to the events that occur in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. The reason the guests are because of the couple due to Annabelle's birthday party. And Frederick seems to want everyone there, almost as if he plans on killing Annabelle and needs alibis. The entire relationship is twisted fun.

I do think the ending of the film is pretty lame though. The special effect moment is cool. The twist, while interesting, doesn't really work as well as it should since it comes out of nowhere. And the very end itself is just weak, in my opinion. It's as if the film didn't know how to end and relied too heavily on the gimmick. Everything before the final moments are effective, and the ending doesn't really match up to the level of anything before it.

The film is also very dialogue heavy. So those expecting a lot of ghosts and murder will probably want to look elsewhere. But when the spookier moments do appear, they're pretty cool. Ghosts pop out of nowhere, looking more hilarious than scary. The scene where a ghost tries to wrap Nora with rope from outside the window is pretty neat. The skeleton is cool looking for its time, and probably the most memorable "effect" of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. We also get a hanging, a bloody ceiling, people boiling in acid, and a decapitated head in a suitcase. So while there's a lot of talking, there are also those moments where you'll either be creeped out, or just enjoy while laughing at them.

The direction by William Castle is very good here. It's a black and white film [at least the version I watched - there is a colored version out there], so the film has to rely on a lot of shadows and light. HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL succeeds in doing that visually, as the way certain scenes and objects are lit play a trick on your eyes at times. The pacing is pretty good and never feels long [it's only 74 minutes long]. There are cool "boo" scares and pretty creepy moments. There's also a ton of atmosphere that we don't really get in horror these days, which is what Castle always excelled at. The Von Dexter score also aids in the mood and tone of the film. I really enjoyed the visual presentation.

The acting is good as well. Vincent Price, without a doubt, is the best actor in the film as Frederick Loren. It's one of Price's most famous roles of his awesome career, as his voice mesmerizes you every time he speaks. He also maintains his massive charisma and makes Frederick somewhat sympathetic, even when you know the character's intentions are less than pure with his creepy mannerisms and delivery. Just as good is Carol Ohmart as Annabelle Loren. Her banter with Price is fantastic, as you can really taste the dislike the two actors have for each other through their characters. Ohmart is also very sexy and it's easy to see why the men in the film would do what she says. Carolyn Craig is good as Nora. She doesn't do much but scream and look cute, but she does both well. Richard Long is good as Lance, playing off Craig really well. Elisha Cook Jr. was kind of annoying as Watson, but I can understand the performance since he was playing a specific character. The other actors are fine as well. A good cast overall.


- Whoever stays inside the haunted house all night will be given $10,000 if they survive. I never got any money when I stayed over Neverland Ranch! What the hell? That pain was so not worth it...

- Frederick, although throwing his wife Annabelle a birthday party, hates her guts. Sounds like this marriage is just fine.

- Nora found a decapitated head in her suitcase. I guess Al Snow stayed there during a prior visit.

- Annabelle supposedly hung herself, which shocked the other guests. Ted Stryker must have told her about his drinking problem again...

- A skeleton rose from the acid pit inside the cellar. Um...Fatality?

While not William Castle's best film, in my opinion, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is still a fun, imaginative movie that still deserves love after 53 years. The acting, especially by Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart, is very good. The direction has a lot of atmosphere. The story is simple, yet it works and creates memorable moments. The ending is pretty bland and more could be done with the "win $10,000 for surviving the house all night" concept. But overall, it's an entertaining B-movie that's a pleasure to watch.

3 Howls Outta 4

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