10.26.2012

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

DIRECTED BY
William Castle

STARRING
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.

PLOT
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?


REVIEW

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.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE USING THE $10,000 I WON FOR THERAPY

- 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?

THE FINAL HOWL
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.



SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4




10.24.2012

When Wrestlers Act: Monster Brawl (2011) [The Lair of the Unwanted Podcast]

DIRECTED BY
Jesse T. Cook

STARRING
Dave Foley - Buzz Chambers
Art Hindle - "Sasquatch" Sid Tucker
Robert Maillet - Frankenstein
Kevin Nash - Colonel Crookshank
Lance Henriksen - Narrator
Herb Dean - Himself
Jason David Brown - Cyclops/Swamp Gut/Cyril Haggard
Kelly Couture - Lady Vampire
R.J. Skinner - Werewolf/Mummy
Rico Montana - Zombie Man
Holly Letkeman - Witch Bitch


Genre - Horror/Action/Monsters

Running Time - 90 Minutes


I was honored to be a guest on The Lair of the Unwanted podcast earlier this week, which is hosted by the always awesome Jason Soto of Invasion of the B Movies and Nolahn of the Bargain Bin Review. We discussed 2011's MONSTER BRAWL, which features eight monsters beating the crap out of each inside a wrestling ring. Listen to the podcast to hear our thoughts on what should have been a much better film.

The Lair of the Unwanted - Facebook Page


10.20.2012

Zombie [a.k.a. Zombi 2] (1979)

DIRECTED BY
Lucio Fulci

STARRING
Tisa Farrow - Anna Bowles
Ian McCulloch - Peter West
Richard Johnson - Dr. David Menard
Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti) - Bryan Curt
Auretta Gray - Susan Barrett
Olga Karlatos - Paola Menard


Genre - Horror/Voodoo/Zombies

Running Time - 91 Minutes


In 1978, George A. Romero had a huge hit on his hands with his sequel to 1968's zombie opus NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - DAWN OF THE DEAD. Not only did it do well in the United States, but it also had a massive following overseas. This was due to Romero forming a partnership with famed Italian filmmaker, Dario Argento, who had helped finance the film since he was a huge fan of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and wanted to see the story continue. After meeting Romero and Romero's producer, Richard P. Rubinstein, Argento agreed to finance the project in exchange for international distribution rights. Romero would control the editing of the film for English-language countries, while Argento could edit DAWN OF THE DEAD his own way to match the sensibilities for the foreign markets [which has now resulted in many versions of DAWN, depending on where you live]. Argento added the band Goblin to the film's soundtrack, while cutting many of the expository scenes that focused on character development - creating a quicker paced, action-oriented film. Now titled as ZOMBI, the film was a huge success overseas.

Because of the success of ZOMBI overseas, many foreign filmmakers wanted to jump on the bandwagon and capitalize on the film's success. One of these filmmakers was Italy's Lucio Fulci, who was better known as a western and giallo director. Fulci wanted to make a zombie film and felt the timing was perfect. Using ZOMBI and older zombie movies as an inspiration, Fulci made an unofficial sequel of sorts that he released as ZOMBI 2 in Italy in 1979. The film, being a success in Italy due to its many scenes of gore and awesome looking undead characters, was eventually released in 1980 in the United States as ZOMBIE. Other titles include ZOMBIE: FLESH EATERS, ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD, ZOMBIE 2: THE DEAD ARE AMONG US, and countless others depending on where you live.

ZOMBIE [which I'll call ZOMBI 2 for the rest of the review] is the film many consider to be Fulci's breakthrough, as it's probably his most seen work worldwide and considered a zombie classic in the horror genre. ZOMBI 2 is also claimed by some as Fulci's best film, although I would put 1981's THE BEYOND above it. And while it's not as intelligent as Romero's zombie films, you can't deny that ZOMBI 2 is an entertaining film with several highlights that keep it memorable.

PLOT
An abandoned boat sails towards New York City, almost colliding with other ships in the harbor. The coast guard reports it, which two guards getting on the boat to investigate it. One guard goes into the cabin, finding nothing but a mess inside. Suddenly, a large zombie appears and attacks the guard. As he surfaces, the other guard shoots the zombie off the boat and into the harbor.

After some investigation, it's learned that the boat was owned by a Dr. Bowles, who was experimenting with some sort of voodoo practices on an island called Matool before disappearing. His daughter, Anne (
Tisa Farrow), wants to know what really happened. She bumps into a nosey British reporter named Peter West (Ian McCulloch), who was ordered by his newspaper editor (cameo by Lucio Fulci) to write a story on what he finds. The two decide to work together to seek out answers, knowing they lie on Matool.

They meet up with a couple (
Al Cliver and Auretta Gray) who are vacationing on a boat to help them get to the island. When they finally arrive, they meet up with Dr. David Mernard (Richard Johnson), who was a friend of Anne's father. Mernard reluctantly reveals that the reason Anne's father is missing is because of the dead suddenly rising from the graves due to some voodoo spell that's making them hunger human flesh. Knowing now that they're trapped on an island full of zombies, the survivors must group together to ward them off.

REVIEW

ZOMBI 2 is considered by some to be a rip off of DAWN OF THE DEAD, using it's Italian title to create an unofficial sequel of sorts in order to capitalize on that film's success. And while, yes, it does try to capitalize on DAWN OF THE DEAD and the influence it had on horror and zombie films at the time, I have never considered it to be a rip off like other European films would do later with blockbuster movies. Since it doesn't take anything from DAWN OF THE DEAD, instead doing its own thing and making a name for itself, I respect the hell out of this film even if it isn't perfect or as good as George A. Romero's original DEAD trilogy. And I'm sure many other horror fans feel the same way about ZOMBI 2.

To discuss the narrative of ZOMBI 2 would be like discussing Paris Hilton's idea of virginity - pointless. What's in the plot summary is pretty much what the story is about. There's no social commentary. There's no deep themes or meaning. This film is about people going to an island filled with zombies waiting to feast upon them. That's not necessarily a bad thing at all. Without any distractions, the story is easy to follow and takes its predictable path towards its violent and bleak conclusion. It's just that Romero proved that zombie films could be intelligent. Those looking for something with more substance will be disappointed.

I do feel the characters could be developed better than they are. If this was a non-stop zombie bloodfest, this wouldn't be an issue. But much of the film requires you to watch the journey of these characters as they seek out answers on Dr. Bowles' disappearance. And you probably don't know anything about these people other than their names, their occupations, and/or the stereotypes they're filling in. Anne is the daughter of Dr. Bowles, likes British reporters, and looks dead in the eyes anytime she's scared. Peter West is British, a journalist, and likes girls with daddy issues. Bryan has a cool beard and can shoot a mean gun. Susan likes scuba diving topless and letting zombies eat her. The only two characters that had any sort of "depth" were Dr. Menard and his wife, Paola. While we don't see the two interact much with each other, at least I can understand who these characters are somewhat. Menard stays on the island to figure out some cure or treatment for the rising of the dead, feeling more pessimistic each time he has to shoot a zombie [who used to be a colleague or a friend] in the head. His wife, Paola, wants off the island to escape, what she knows, will be a terrible fate at the hands of the undead [I'll get to her fate in a moment]. The two have a strained relationship because of this, although it may have started before this epidemic. Either way, these two may be the most developed characters and actually have a relationship that has some substance to it. I know some people don't care about substance in their horror, just wanting to see gore and nudity. But if I'm spending an hour with characters who are just discussing expository ideas, I want to care about them. Are they unlikeable? No. But I didn't feel anything when most of these characters bit the big one.

The strength in the narrative lies with three very memorable moments that are always brought up whenever ZOMBI 2 is discussed.


The first one, and I'll go in chronological order, is the surreal zombie vs. shark sequence. The set up for this is Susan, scuba diving topless, encounters a shark and hides from it. While hiding, she's attacked by a zombie living on the ocean floor. She escapes, which causes the zombie to encounter the shark to munch on him. They do a dance where they bite each other, but nothing is really resolved. It's a strange, yet memorable, scene that really doesn't add anything to the narrative whatsoever. Susan does make mention of it, but nothing is followed through with it. However, Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati film it so beautifully that you can't take your eyes off of it. Besides, it's a fuckin' shark against a zombie! It deserves your undivided attention! It's no accident that this scene is considered one of the best zombie moments in horror history. It doesn't do much for the story, but it's a definite visual highlight.

The second one is the infamous splinter to the eye scene. Just a moment of sheer terror and gore, it's no wonder it's the first thing that comes to mind when ZOMBI 2 is mentioned. It seems Fulci, Dario Argento, and other Italian directors had a thing for eyes and putting sharp objects into them to make the audience cringe. Sure, seeing a dummy take the sharp piece of wood into the eye is clearly evident and takes you out from the scene a bit. But just the thought of it happening to you is enough to make you feel horrified. Plus we see Olga Karlatos [as Paola] with the piece of wood still in her eye as she screams in terror. It's a classic moment in horror - so much so that Bravo listed it the number 98 Scariest Horror Movie Moment. It's also the scene that really begins the gorefest the film would become in the last half of ZOMBI 2.

The last moment is the first appearance of the Maggot-Eyed Zombie that has been the film's cover boy for many of the film's marketing promotions. The scene is probably not as mentioned as the previous two, but I just love this zombie and how he looks. This dude looks DEAD. Like really DEAD. I think there is where ZOMBI 2 has over DAWN OF THE DEAD - the zombie appearances. Anyway, Maggot-Eyed Zombie rises from his grave and chews the neck of one of the main characters like a boss. He's probably a third below Bub and Tar Man, but this guy is what I would picture a realistic zombie to look and act like. Just great make up effects by Gianetto de Rossi and Maurizio Trani.

Speaking of make up and special effects, the gore here is just beautiful. Good lord is the violence here bloody. We get a bunch of chewed throats. We get heads smashed and cut in two. We get bullets to bodies. We get a shark biting off a zombie arm. We get zombie fingers getting cut off. We get zombies burning. And of course, that damn piece of wood in Paola's eye before zombies decide to devour her corpse. De Rossi and Trani did a fantastic job making the gore look realistic for its time. I loved it.

Lucio Fulci's direction is very good. ZOMBI 2 feels bleak from beginning to end, thanks to its morbid mood and atmosphere. I thought the framing and shot compositions were strong. There was some really nice tension during the gorier scenes and the zombie sequences. The close ups were great too. I thought having the camera stay still on frightened characters who become too frozen to move away from danger was a bit repetitive, and also kind of funny. But Fulci really films a great zombie film here visually. I don't think this is Fulci's best film as a director, but probably his most mainstream and accessible work in his filmography.

I also liked the score by Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci. It has some cool synthesizer that adds to the film's atmosphere. I also liked the jungle theme as well, which pretty much told the audience that there was some voodoo stuff going on here. I thought it was effective.

ZOMBI 2 isn't about the acting here. For the most part, it's pretty weak and the dubbing doesn't help either. Mia Farrow's younger sister, Tisa Farrow, plays the female lead Anne. She's not a good actress and pretty much has one face the entire time. Looks like I found Kristen Stewart's role model. Ian McCulloch is decent as Peter West, although he doesn't have effective dialogue most of the time. Al Cliver, a regular in Fulci movies, doesn't get to do much but shoot guns and show off his beard. Auretta Gay has great boobs. I thought Richard Johnson was pretty darn cool as Dr. Menard. He has some decent material to work with and did a good job making his character interesting. I also liked Olga Karlatos as well, although her best moment was being bullied by a zombie and a piece of wood. If you're watching this film for the thespian work, you're S.O.L.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE STANDING FROZEN IN FEAR SO A ZOMBIE CAN BITE MY DUMB ASS


- The first shot of the film is a gun pointing towards the screen. I wish this happened before every BOMB rated film I've seen so far. Would have saved me a lot of time, energy, and brain cells.

- A big zombie chewed off the neck of a New York Coast Guard. Not only does the undead like human flesh, but they also enjoy bacon!

- To cover up their reason for being on Dr. Bowles' stranded boat when they were caught by a police officer, Peter and Anne faked making out with Peter blaming Anne for being on the boat, wishing he was in a boxcar instead. But I thought the point of making out was eventually parking the "car" in her "box". I'm so lost.

- A zombie was excited to attack topless Susan while she scuba dived at the bottom of the ocean. His rigor mortis settled in one special area, it seems...

- Paola had her eye driven into a piece of sharp wood by a zombie. When it came to a splinter, the Ninja Turtles won the coin toss.

- A few zombies were eating Paola after the wood incident. By doing that simple act, they were better husbands then Dr. Menard ever was in the bedroom.

- While Peter and Anne were making out in a cemetery, a hand rose out of the ground to grab Anne. I had no idea Carrie White burns in Hell in Matool.

THE FINAL HOWL
It may not be the smartest or deepest zombie film ever made, but ZOMBIE/ZOMBI 2 is still one of the best ones you could watch. The narrative is really simple and the characters could have used some development, but the memorable moments are so entertaining that I could somewhat look past it. The gore and make up effects are still awesome. Lucio Fulci's direction is very good here. The acting isn't a highlight, but you're not going to be watching this film for that. If you love zombies chewing on some stupid human flesh, this film is for you. Can you smell the Italian exploitation? Ah, I love it.



SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



10.17.2012

[Halloween Fifteen 2012] Madhouse (1974)


Ryne Barber of The Moon Is A Dead World is doing his annual HALLOWEEN FIFTEEN theme, where he asks bloggers to share their thoughts on selected films he plans on seeing each October. He was kind of enough to let me share my thoughts on a Vincent Price film I had never seen until a few weeks ago called MADHOUSE from 1974. Click on Ryne's take on the film and then read mine and see if you guys agree. Thanks Ryne for the opportunity! Look forward to contributing again next year, bro!


Ryne's Take



DIRECTED BY
Jim Clark

STARRING  
Vincent Price - Paul Toombes
Peter Cushing - Herbert Flay
Robert Quarry - Oliver Quayle
Natasha Pyne - Julia Wilson
Adrienne Corri - Faye Carstairs
Linda Hayden - Elizabeth Peters
Ian Thompson - Bradshaw
John Garrie - Inspector Harper
Jenny Lee Wright - Carol Clayton


Genre - Horror/Mystery/Slasher/Giallo

Running Time
- 91 Minutes
 

First of all, I want to thank Ryne Barber, of The Moon Is A Dead World, for letting me contribute to his annual Halloween Fifteen list - a list where Ryne picks 15 random films and has other bloggers share their opinions on one of those 15. When I saw the list, I had watched most of them and even reviewed some. But one film had caught my attention for several reasons.

One, I had never seen it before and figured October's All Horror Month on Full Moon Reviews would be a perfect time to review it. Two, it's a co-production by American International Pictures and Amicus Productions - two companies I've barely scratched the surface with on this blog. And three, it stars one of my favorite horror actors, the late, great Vincent Price [with a bonus of the awesome Peter Cushing added in!]

So realizing that MADHOUSE would be an interesting film to review, I decided to sit down and watch it. While it wasn't the best film I have ever seen and it didn't really thrill me from beginning to end, I still got a kick out of the camp and mystery [or lack thereof] of it all. Let's take a look at one of Vincent Price's less seen and/or talked about films to see if this movie is worth getting mad about.

 


PLOT  

In Hollywood during the 1960s, one of the biggest horror icons named Paul Toombes (Vincent Price) hosts a New Year's Eve party, showing his latest Dr. Death film to his guests. As the guests applaud the film, Toombes thanks his writer, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing), for pretty much being responsible with doing all the hard work when it came to the Dr. Death films. He also announces his engagement to the beautiful Ellen Mason (Julie Crosthwaite). Unfortunately, some prick for a producer, Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry) reveals to Toombes that Ellen used to work for him in his 'adult' movies. Feeling betrayed, Toombes lashes out at Ellen, who runs away crying. Up in her room as she tries to get herself back together, someone dressed as Dr. Death enters her room and murders her. Obviously, all evidence points to Toombes. Toombes himself believes he may have done it, although he has no memory of the murder. 

For many years after a mental breakdown, Toombes has been in a mental institution. But feeling better and with no evidence that could prove he was a murderer, he's released back into society with his reputation now ruined. Coincidentally, Herbert Flay and Oliver Quayle [now a television producer] are working on a Dr. Death television series in England, inviting Toombes to reprise the role [although he's not too eager to do so]. Once the project starts filming, more people start dying by someone dressed as Dr. Death. Is Toombes really the murderer, or has he been framed all along?

 

REVIEW  

MADHOUSE is the last film Vincent Price made for American International Pictures, as the horror landscape was changing by this point - especially after the massive success of the big budgeted 1973's THE EXORCIST, which scared away a lot of producers of low budget films. Probably due to its similarities to Price's THEATER OF BLOOD from 1973 and his two Dr. Phibes films [1971's THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES and 1972's DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN], MADHOUSE wasn't as well received or as well remembered as those films I mentioned. MADHOUSE also isn't as memorable or as well made as those prior films, so I can understand that. Still, MADHOUSE isn't all bad and is worth a look if you enjoy seeing Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Robert Quarry all in one film together sharing scenes.

MADHOUSE is supposedly based on an Angus Hall novel from 1969 called Devilday, although the film differs from its source. For example. the Toombes character is a sexual predator who is pretty much implied to be his wife's murderer under the guise of his cinematic alter geo, Dr. Dis. The film makes it pretty clear whether Toombes did the deed or not, while using Price's very own films to create this character of Dr. Death for him. Both the novel and the film are pretty tongue-in-cheek and self-aware when it comes to the horror genre, which helps and hurts it at the same time. Later films like 1996's SCREAM would perfect this, but MADHOUSE makes a solid effort even if it doesn't fully succeed.

What hurts MADHOUSE the most is the pretty routine and disjointed narrative. This is most likely due to the fact that the film attempts to be three sub-genres at once without really realizing it, making certain subplots implausible and certain important aspects fairly predictable sooner than they should be. The mystery aspect, in particular, is disappointing since you'll figure out the identity of the killer before the halfway mark. The film is still fun after that knowledge, but with a short list of suspects, it's not a head scratcher as to what's really going on in this film. It's also disappointing in terms that MADHOUSE plays out like a pre-slasher film. Or more likely, since the killer wears a mask and black gloves, the film is a English giallo film. Giallo films have convoluted storylines, but the identity of the killer is usually one you can't figure out and makes you re-examine everything that came before that revelation. MADHOUSE is too generic to allow that to happen, even if the killer does make sense in a logical way. I guess I was expecting more out of it.

There are other issues I had with MADHOUSE. The ending, in particular, kind of bugged me. It was like SCREAM 4 - where you think the film should have ended at a certain point, but it continues with some extra minutes to create more of a happier ending. I did dig the twist at the very end, but I could have lived without it. I also love the fact that a director gets murdered on a television set by a gimmicked bed and the production continues the very next day without any sort of consequences. Only in the movies! I also found the neighbor characters that were trying to extort Toombes to be really annoying. I also thought the subplot with the spider lady, who was Herbert Flay's crazy wife or something, was a bit out there as well. Plus a lot of the middle act was pretty slow and not particularly interesting in terms of story and characterization.

However, I do love the idea of a horror movie icon being haunted by what has made him a star. In many ways, the narrative uses Toombes as a character who gives us a reason as to why audiences make and flock to horror films. Toombes says that these kind of films serve as a way for all of us to get out all those latest desires for fear and violence, releasing that energy in a safe and sociable way. However, someone is using his Dr. Death character in an unsafe and dangerous manner. It haunts Toombes throughout the film, having trouble watching his past work since it reminds him of the pain it has caused him and others for years. Although he enjoys playing Dr. Death somewhat, he wants nothing to do with its legacy. It gives the character [and the film] a lot of depth. A man haunted by his own success - definitely a miserable way to live.

I also dig the nods to Price's past working for AIP, with the use of clips of his previous movies as a way to create credibility for his Dr. Death persona. We see scenes from 1961's THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, 1962's TALES OF TERROR [with cameo by Basil Rathbone], 1963's THE RAVEN [with cameo by Boris Karloff] and other films. I like how meta it was, by using real life Vincent Price films that passes off as Paul Toombes' films as well.

There's another nod I loved as well. At a party for Toombes, the guests are dressed in costume. Toombes is obviously dressed as Dr. Death. Robert Quarry's Oliver Quayle is dressed as Count Yorga, which was Quarry's vampire character in 1970's COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE. And probably the most ironic one of all, Peter Cushing's Herbert Flay is dressed as his nemesis, Dracula. There are also nods to horror films, where characters threaten others by saying they'd be dead if they were inside of a horror movie. The script had its issues, but when it was smart, it was very smart.

MADHOUSE had a low production, so it's not a very gory film. We do see a decapitation, some slit throats, and objects being impaled into necks [such as a pitchfork and a letter opener]. There's also that bed scene, which is quite funny for multiple reasons. But hey, it's original and inventive! I loved the make up of Dr. Death as well, especially the Dr. Death costume the killer wore. I have a thing for skulls, so I thought it was awesome. I want to wear that for Halloween just to scare people. There was a definitely creep factor.

The direction by Jim Clark, who's much more known for being an editor, is slightly above average. There's not a lot of style to the film, making Clark's work a point-and-shoot affair. Still, there are some nice stalk-and-chase scenes that have nice tension. The editing is solid, especially during one scene where real life and reel life are mixed together to create a thrilling sequence. The film looks nice cinematography wise. But other than that, the pacing is off at times and it's not the most interesting presentation visually. I don't think Clark directed a film after this, which is a shame. His work isn't all that bad and could have gotten better with more films under his belt.

The acting is the reason why people still talk about MADHOUSE. Vincent Price is excellent in a very understated performance as Paul Toombes. He plays the role with some nice subtlety at times, but does get to chew the scenery in some memorable moments. It also helps that the Toombes character seems to be a role Price would be comfortable in playing, as MADHOUSE sort of plays as his farewell from AIP. I enjoy anything Price is in, and this is no exception.

The other actors don't get as much to do, but they're fine with the material they're given. Peter Cushing isn't in the film as much as I'd like, but I really enjoy seeing him interact with both Price and Robert Quarry. Quarry gets to do more as a sleazy producer, playing the character to perfection. The female actresses, like Natasha Pyne, Adrienne Corri, and Linda Hayden, are good in their roles. It’s a very cool cast that raises the watchability of MADHOUSE.

 

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE CANCELLING MY PHYSICAL CHECK UP WITH DR. DEATH
 

- Toombes is getting married to a hot blonde. He really takes his Dr. Death character seriously, because this step is one closer to the grave.  

- Some wannabe actress stole Toombes' watch. Since she messed with Dr. Death, it wouldn't surprise me if her time’s almost up.  

- Some redheaded nut lives in the basement with plants and spiders. BATMAN & ROBIN really messed up Poison Ivy! Or is this Mary Jane Watson after SPIDER-MAN 3? I can't tell the difference anymore...  

- Dr. Death strangled the actress playing Dr. Death's assistant. Judging by her performance, I'm not surprised she choked. 

- Dr. Death was able to stop an elevator from closing that occupied his victim 

- a scared Julia Wilson. Obviously this place does not take place in Haddonfield. See: HALLOWEEN II (1981)
  

THE FINAL HOWL  

MADHOUSE is pretty much a forgotten little movie from the Vincent Price days working for AIP - although Rob Zombie remembered it fondly for Bill Moseley in HALLOWEEN II (2009). While the narrative is convoluted and has issues that hurt it more than help it, the nods to the main actors' pasts are welcomed. I also enjoyed the acting, the make up, the death sequences, and most of the direction. So it definitely warrants a recommendation if you enjoy this era of horror, especially if you're a Vincent Price fan. Not the best Vincent Price film you could ever see, but a worthy 90-minute time waster.




SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4


10.15.2012

Dracula [a.k.a. Horror of Dracula] (1958)

DIRECTED BY
Terence Fisher

STARRING
Peter Cushing - Dr. Van Helsing
Christopher Lee - Count Dracula
Michael Gough - Arthur Holmwood
John Van Eyssen - Jonathan Harker
Melissa Stribling - Mina Holmwood
Carol Marsh - Lucy Holmwood
Valerie Grunt - Vampire Woman


Genre - Horror/Action/Vampires

Running Time
- 82 Minutes


When audiences think about the character of Dracula, usually the 1897 Bram Stoker novel and the 1931 Universal Pictures adaptation starring Bela Lugosi come to mind before anything else. It's no surprise. The Universal representation of this horror character has become iconic, to the point where modern interpretations of the character still maintain some of the elements Bela Lugosi made famous. Many actors have played the character within many adaptations on film, on television, and in other forms of media. But my personal favorite comes from the British based film studio known as Hammer.

Hammer Film Productions was founded in 1934. Even though they had a few successful films that dabbled in multiple genres, mainly mysteries and thrillers, they had issues with finances due to slumps in the British film industry and trying to move their studio. It wasn't until 1955 with The Quartermass Experiment on BBC Television [as well as Quartermass 2 in 1957] that Hammer Film Productions started to catch momentum. In 1957, the studio received a script for THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Although the novel by Mary Shelley was public domain, the script was too similar to the 1939 Universal film, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. Realizing that Universal had the rights to the look of the Frankenstein monster and how the story was told, Hammer Films realized they had to present their version much differently. This included using color film instead of black and white, designing a different look for the monster, and pushing the envelope a bit in terms of violence and sexuality. The film was a giant success in both the UK and in the USA, influencing filmmakers at the time.

In 1958, DRACULA [or HORROR OF DRACULA in the United States] was released. But the film had its own share of problems during it's pre-production phase. Universal, who had the rights to the look and the stage play adaptation, wrote an 80 page legal agreement to Hammer with provisions that Hammer had to follow in order to avoid copyright infringement - and this was AFTER the film was already completed. The Hammer version of DRACULA couldn't use the same storyline as the Universal film. The Hammer version also had to present the story differently. Hammer felt that Universal would want to finance the film, so they can make some money off of this new version, but the studio had no interest [although the studio would financial the remainder of the budget while the National Film Finance Council made up the rest]. HORROR OF DRACULA changed the adaptation somewhat, changing relationships and characters while focusing more on an action feel with horror elements. It was also in color and had no shame in showing blood and seductive women. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing signed on for the project and the film was a massive success all over the world. In essence, HORROR OF DRACULA was the film that really made Hammer Films into what it is known today.

After 54 years, HORROR OF DRACULA still manages to be considered the best adaptation of the Bram Stoker story, even with the liberties the script took with the original narrative. It's due to its presentation, incredible acting, and taut direction that keep HORROR OF DRACULA a favorite among horror fans. I will always respect Bela Lugosi for his portrayal of Dracula. But when I think of the character, I think of Christopher Lee and this awesome movie.

PLOT
Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at Count Dracula's (Christopher Lee) castle, posing for a job as his librarian. While getting settled in, it's revealed that Jonathan is really there to kill Dracula, who he knows is a dangerous vampire that must be stopped. When Jonathan is distracted by one of Dracula's "brides" (Valerie Grunt) who tries to bite him, Dracula reveals his true form and eventually turns Jonathan into a vampire. What Dracula doesn't know is that Jonathan had kept a diary of his thoughts and actions on Dracula, sending it to Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

Van Helsing, finding Jonathan as a vampire, stakes him. He then tells Arthur (
Michael Gough) and Mina Holmwood (Melissa Stribling) about Jonathan's passing, since Jonathan was engaged to Arthur's sister, Lucy (Carol Marsh). At the same time, Lucy has been feeling under the weather, concerning her brother and sister-in-law. What they don't know is that Lucy has been bitten by Dracula and is now seduced by him. When Lucy dies and turns into a dangerous vampire, Van Helsing convinces Arthur about the existence of vampires. The two decide to hunt down Dracula to kill him, not realizing that Dracula has his dangerous sights on Mina.

REVIEW

HORROR OF DRACULA is one of Hammer Films finest productions, and still holds up very well today. Unlike the stagey and static adaptation Universal had released back in 1931, this adaptation is horror-action at its finest. I could just imagine how this movie effected audiences back in 1958. The vibrant colors, the sight of red blood, the low cut dresses, and a Dracula that's more killer than a charming lover - this must have really opened eyes and caused an outcry that many would find humorous today. While there have been many versions of the Dracula story done on film since, HORROR OF DRACULA may be its best one.

Due to budget reasons and Universal's legal documents, the narrative in HORROR OF DRACULA had to be changed. There's no Renfield here. Dr. Seward barely makes an impression in a small cameo. The relationships have been switched with Mina now with Arthur and Lucy with Jonathan - it should be the opposite. The journey to Transylvania to Count Dracula's castle at the beginning of the story has been taken out. There's no asylum. Dracula also isn't a supernatural being, supposedly unable to transform into a bat or a wolf. You would think that these changes and omissions would ruin the traditional story. However, it allows the film to maintain a certain focus while screenwriter Jimmy Sangster maintains the essence of the novel.

HORROR OF DRACULA is only focused on one thing - the revenge plot against Dracula. The entire movie is a cat-and-mouse chase where certain characters are after Dracula for turning their friends into vampires. Unlike most adaptations, HORROR OF DRACULA feels more like an action film than a horror film, which works well in this installment. While the characters aren't as developed like they are in the novel, we know enough about them to care and understand their roles within the story. Jonathan Harker sets up the story fairly quickly, as we learn through him that Dracula is a vampire. Mina and Lucy are there to be victims of Dracula, which gives Arthur and Van Helsing reason to go after the vampire. Arthur is the skeptic who doesn't believe in vampires until he sees it for himself, becoming a hero afterwards. Van Helsing is the protagonist of the story, the Captain Ahab to Dracula's Moby Dick. He knows all about vampirism and how to combat it. He's a completely active character who will fight to survive, even if the odds are against him.


And then there's Dracula. Before this film adaptation, Dracula was portrayed as more of a charming, seductive character who came off as an aristocrat who just happened to be a legendary vampire. In HORROR OF DRACULA, the charm and seduction are downplayed for an animalistic take on the character. Like in the novel, Dracula comes across as a sexual predator, taking advantage of proper and prim women and turning them into sexually aggressive beings. Besides his first appearance, Dracula is never portrayed as a human being. He hisses and growls like an animal, always on the hunt and not caring who he has to charm to get his way. This Dracula is a parasite that needs to be stopped, as he doesn't mess around when it comes to getting a midnight snack. The character is ruthless and vicious, which makes Dracula a great villain and a perfect foil to the more calm and collected Van Helsing. While I'm sure this portrayal of Dracula shocked audiences in 1958, it's honestly the best way to go with the character. He's a monster in every sense of the word, just in human form. It makes the chase to stop Dracula that more interesting and exciting, building to a satisfying ending.

The set design and the use of blood are also highlights in HORROR OF DRACULA. Seeing blood in Technicolor must have been quite a sight in 1958, but it adds a lot to the film and shows how different this adaptation is from the 1931 Universal one. I also liked the Gothic sets and the wardrobe that reflects this period in time. The exterior shots are also quite lavish as well. I also loved the scene where Dracula turns into dust via sunlight. For its time, the special effects are quite good. It would all be CGI now, but I love practical effects like this one. I liked the burn scars of crucifixes on vampires whenever they were touched by one. It's obviously influenced other vampire adaptations ever since, especially in 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT and certain Buffy The Vampire Slayer episodes. The production values are really good here.

The direction by Terence Fisher, who is thought of as the best filmmaker in Hammer Film Productions history, is excellent. The pacing is great, as the film is only 82 minutes long. It's well shot, with great framing and composition. Loved the angles as well, especially when Dracula appeared. The film has atmosphere in spades. The action centered moments were paced and shot well. The color is vibrant. Fisher really wastes no time getting to the nitty gritty and sinking his fangs [pun intended] into the revenge portion of the film. There's no time to reflect on subtlety or Romanticism. This version of Dracula is violent action, which works in Fisher's energetic favor. Just a really solid job.

The acting is also very good here. Carol Marsh and Melissa Stribling are good as Lucy and Mina respectively. While prim and somewhat virginal, they still carry this quite seductive air about them that I liked. It's easy to see why Dracula was so eager to bite their necks. The ladies did a nice job. John Van Eyssen is cool as Jonathan Harker. He doesn't get to do much, but I liked his performance and his narration. Michael Gough, best known for his four portrayals as Alfred Pennyworth in the original BATMAN series, is okay as Arthur. He was a bit bland at times, but got better towards the end of the film.

Honestly, HORROR OF DRACULA belong to two people: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing, in my opinion, is the definitive Dr. Van Helsing. No one comes close to Cushing's portrayal of the character. He's charismatic, intelligent, fearless, and extremely convincing as a man who can kick a vampire's ass. He would only play Van Helsing two more times - in 1960's THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and 1972's DRACULA A.D. 1972 - as he was more focused on Hammer's FRANKENSTEIN franchise. Still, no one since has come close to matching Cushing's intensity and performance in the role.

And Christopher Lee, for me, is also the best Dracula out there. He's not in the film as much as people probably think, but it doesn't really matter. His performance creates a presence within the film that one could feel even when he isn't on screen. Lee creates an evil and animalistic Dracula, with a face that screams "don't fuck with me," - with bloodshot eyes and bloody fangs. It's no surprise he would play Dracula six more times in this franchise. He's fantastic in the role.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE HOPING I'M NOT DRACULA'S BLOOD TYPE

- Dracula hired Jonathan Harker as a librarian. I guess Dracula needs his 50 Shades of Grey collection ordered from "Hole in the Sheet" to "How in the Hell Did You Fit Your Entire Fist In There?" That last volume is extremely hardcore.

- Dracula likes to throw around his women around when they don't obey him. Now I know who Chris Brown is going as this Halloween...

- When you stake a vampire, they sometimes turn old. Now I know what happened to Lindsay Lohan.

- Beautiful women don't mind when Dracula enter their rooms unannounced. It must be because he's good with handling his lightsaber.

- In this version of DRACULA, the Count can't turn into a bat or a wolf. But he can turn into a powerful wizard and a Jedi. So fickle.

THE FINAL HOWL
HORROR OF DRACULA is one of the better, if not the best, Dracula film adaptations one can watch. It has two powerful performances by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Terrence Fisher's direction creates mood and atmosphere through his framing, composition, and energetic pacing. The special effects are pretty neat for its time. And the narrative, while not the most faithful adaptation to Bram Stoker's novel, still works well as a cat-and-mouse revenge flick. This film, after all these years, is still worth swinging a Hammer for.



SCORE
4 Howls Outta 4




10.11.2012

The Tingler (1959)

DIRECTED BY
William Castle

STARRING
Vincent Price - Dr. Warren Chapin
Philip Coolidge - Ollie Higgins
Patricia Cutts - Isabel Chapin
Judith Evelyn - Martha Higgins
Pamela Lincoln - Lucy Stevens
Darryl Hickman - David Morris


Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/B-Movie/Creature Feature

Running Time - 82 Minutes


This month's theme has already been a huge success so far. A lot of you seem to be enjoying my reviews on these older horror films - films that the genre owes a lot of gratitude to and many fans seem to take advantage of. I guess I'm on that boat since I haven't really discussed many films prior to 1970. In fact, I'm actually pissed at myself for not reviewing more films starring one of my favorite horror actors ever - Vincent Price.

In my eyes, Vincent Price is "The Man". His tall 6'4" stature, his distinct voice, and his charismatic presence still capture audiences today - long after his passing. I'll watch anything Price is in, and have not regretted any of his films that I have watched. While he's done some great stuff with American International Pictures, I also enjoy his efforts with William Castle.

William Castle was one of the most clever filmmakers of his time. While his direction wasn't anything special, it was his promoting and marketing skills that led to his success and pop culture status. When his films were in theaters during the late 1950's and early 1960's, Castle would accompany them with gimmicks that would interact with the audience watching. Each film had their specific one, which brought in audiences and made Castle a rich man [I'm sure producing ROSEMARY'S BABY in 1968 helped too].

For his second collaboration with Price, THE TINGLER from 1959, Castle used a gimmick called Percept-O, which added electroshock treatment to theater seats, shocking people into screaming to paralyze the The Tingler that's "attached to our spinal cords". It was a successful gimmick that added a ton of fun to Castle's film. The film became a cult classic because of it, as well as for the rubber monster that is the title character. Unfortunately, watching THE TINGLER without the gimmick does feel like the movie is missing something, especially during certain points in the final act of the film. Still, the film is entertaining enough and one of William Castle's better works.

PLOT
Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is a pathologist who is experimenting on the effect of fear on living things, believing there's a creature called a "tingler" that's attached to the spine and grows every time we're afraid. Ollie Higgins (Philip Coolidge) meets Warren while claiming the body of his brother-in-law, who was executed in an electric chair. Ollie is fascinated by Warren's beliefs and his obsession to capture a living tingler. Warren takes X-rays of his unfaithful wife (Patricia Cutts) after scaring her, getting a glimpse of the creature. Realizing that screaming will only paralyze it, Warren has to find someone who can't scream in order to prove his theory.

After meeting Ollie's deaf-mute wife, Martha (
Judith Evelyn), Warren wants to use her for the experiment, not really considering that she would have to die in order for him to study the tingler. After some surreal events one night, Martha dies of fright. Warren examines her and manages to cut out a living tingler out of her. However, the tingler has a mind of its own and decides to escape, threatening anyone nearby.

REVIEW

THE TINGLER was William Castle's follow up to the highly successful 1958 classic, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. THE TINGLER has become a cult classic, doing good business upon its release and being considered William Castle's best film by many. Even though THE TINGLER was made to really make Castle's Percept-O gimmick chairs a reality, the film happens to be an entertaining and satisfying flick that rightfully earns its reputation.

While the narrative does take quite a bit of suspension of disbelief due to certain subplots that wouldn't make sense otherwise, I think THE TINGLER has a great premise and follows through with it very well. I like the idea of Dr. Warren Chapin experimenting on the idea of fear, what causes it, and what consequences it has on the human body. Sure, a living breathing creature that lives on our spinal cords because of this fear is a bit of a stretch. I mean, how would we NOT know there's something living inside out of us? Still, it's an interesting concept that any screenwriter could play around with. Thankfully, Robb White [who was Castle's long time collaborator] crafts a well-written script that's a monster movie, soap opera, and mystery all rolled up into one.

I think what I like the most about the narrative in THE TINGLER are the characters. They all play a role and are interesting to follow. Warren Chapin is White's take on the Mad Scientist character, but done in a more subtle way. It's obvious throughout the film that Chapin values his work and quest for knowledge over his own life or the lives of others. His marriage is strained due to his work. It also doesn't help that his wife, Isabel, is an adulteress who flaunts her lovers in front of Warren. Their relationship is quite complex and one based on blackmail and dislike for one another. Warren implies that Isabel may have murdered her father to gain his inheritance. Isabel implies that it's her money that funds his experiments. Warren shoots Isabel with blanks, which causes her to pass out and makes her an unwilling lab rat. Isabel drugs Warren and runs away after letting The Tingler loose on Warren. It's such a soap opera relationship that it adds humor and entertainment [the dialogue is actually quite well written in this film] every time these two try to hurt each other through their words and actions.

I also find it fitting that Warren also happens to be a pathologist, doing autopsies on the deceased - as he's not really concerned about the well being of others unless they'll help him prove his theories. He's willing to hurt his wife to X-ray the Tingler. He's willing to hurt himself by taking double the normal dose of LSD [THE TINGLER was the first film to mention the drug, which was legal at the time] to see how fear effects him and his own Tingler. Warren even seriously considers scaring a deaf mute, Martha, so she can die from fright [since she can't scream], just to cut her open and finally get his hands on a Tingler. There's a moment in the film where Warren sedates this poor woman, but we're never sure if he gives her an actual sedative, or some LSD as she has some really trippy visions to make her drop dead. It's never really confirmed, which makes Warren a shady character. He's in a shade of grey, which I like.

Speaking of Martha, her relationship with Ollie is also very strange. While Warren and Isabel make it very clear that they can't stand each other, Ollie is more passive-aggressive with his wife. Ollie would rather hang with Warren [learning about death and the Tingler] than spend time with his wife, never really paying her attention and sort of being dismissive with her. He's also tired of being Martha's care taker, almost as if her being deaf and mute is a huge burden on him. Ironically, both Ollie and Martha own and run a local theater that only plays silent movies. Ollie's behavior after Martha's death is also suspicious, making us wonder if Warren, Ollie, or even both managed to murder her.

The only normal relationship is between Warren's sister-in-law, Lucy, and her boyfriend [his assistant] David. While the two characters just seem to be in the film as spectators to the events that occur in THE TINGLER, they seem to have a relationship that represents what the previous two were supposedly like prior to Warren's and Ollie's change towards their wives. Lucy is understanding of Warren's and David's experiments, yet she's worried that David will be as obsessed as Warren is. David wants to help Warren and sort of idolizes him, but both Warren and Lucy try to make him live a more normal life. Warren seems to really like and trust these two, almost as if they have the life he's been wanting with his own wife.

And then there's the Tingler itself. More of a rubber monster than an actual character, it's a creature that doesn't really make a whole lot of sense but is fun to watch anyway. How Warren was the first person to figure out that this creature lives on our spinal column and grows when we're afraid is a pretty big hole in the plot. Yet, you're so drawn into the story that you don't really care. Also, the Tingler happens to be stronger than most humans and acts sort of like a boa constrictor, strangling its victims. It's paralyzed by loud screams, which seems to be its undoing. The image of this rubber monster [which moves mechanically it seems via strings - I liked how this B-movie used the creature convincingly] is more interesting than what the monster does in the film [which isn't much since it only appears in the final act]. But it's an interesting way to explain why we all fear things and scream when we're afraid [so we don't die from the Tingler].

I think my main issue with the story may have to do with the ending. It just feels tacked on and really doesn't make a whole lick of sense. I won't spoil what it is if you haven't seen THE TINGLER, but I guess it's supposed to be some "shock ending" that would leave audiences sort of freaked out as they leave the theater. I'm sure it worked back in 1959, but it ends up feeling pretty corny and lame in 2012. I know this ending was added in due to the Hays Code, which was enforced in 1934 and ended in 1968 when the rating system was finally in place. The Hays Code was this morality guideline where the villain of the story had to be punished in the end no matter what. Every ending had to be happy. So while the ending doesn't really do the story that took place before it justice, it satisfied the Hays Code at the time. I think there could have been another way around punishing Martha's murderer, but it is what it is. I'm not a big fan.

I also felt certain scenes don't work now due to the fact that there's no gimmick attached to THE TINGLER when watched at home. The final act, where the picture goes to black as Vincent Price yells everyone to scream to stop the Tingler from hurting them, probably works a lot better if my seat was shocking me in the spine. Nowadays, it's just a black screen with Price yelling. The Percept-O gimmick was a gift and a curse for THE TINGLER. I'm sure Castle and White didn't think of this when they created the film, but this portion of the film ruins the flow and pacing for me. Still, the rest of the film works on a story level besides these two issues.

The direction by William Castle is very good here, as THE TINGLER is definitely one of his high points as a director. The editing is sharp. I think the picture quality is very nice. It's paced really well and builds up nicely towards the Tingler's first appearance in silhouette. I thought the final act inside the theater, besides those stop moments where the gimmick probably would have been performed, had some nice tension throughout. We also get to see the first acid trip ever done on film, where Vincent Price drops LSD and sees things blurry, swirling, and his laboratory skeleton moving towards him. I think my favorite visual piece is where Martha dies. She starts seeing things move inside of her room, such as the windows opening and closing, as well as some deformed looking man with a weapon wanting to stab her. The visual highlight is the bathroom scene. The film was shot in black and white, but Castle bought some red tint and used it for this scene. As the sink is running, we see the water as red, symbolizing blood. Then her bathtub is full of red blood as a hand rises to the surface, scaring her to death. It's such a fantastic scene and so innovative for its time. Out of all the things that I had remembered from THE TINGLER since first seeing it during my childhood, it was this scene with the blood, not the monster, that stuck with me the most. Just a great horror moment. This may be William Castle's finest moment behind the lens.

The acting is also excellent as well. Vincent Price, not surprisingly, is amazing as Warren Chapin. He's one of the few actors who can take such silly and campy material, and make it seem like Shakespeare. He never fails to take his roles seriously, as he makes this idea about a Tingler seem authentic. Price has great delivery and incredible charisma. He also has great banter with Patricia Cutts, who plays his unfaithful wife Isabel. Cutts, in a small yet important role, matches up to Price and is convincing as a total, greedy bitch. Pamela Lincoln is sweet as Lucy and Darryl Hickman plays the typical good guy as David. Philip Coolidge is good as the nervous, yet strange Ollie Higgins. And Judith Evelyn is a standout as the deaf-mute, Martha. Her expressions of fear without being able to scream are just fantastic. Plus, a special shout out to William Castle, who introduces the film right at the start of the film. You keep smelling that money, Mr. Castle.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE GETTING ARRESTED FOR EXPOSING MY TINGLER

- Certain people who feel a tingly sensation should scream to protect themselves. Judging by the lack of screaming in the bedroom, no wonder many women end their relationships unsatisfied.

- Martha Higgins is a germaphobe. If this was today, she'd be a perfect host for America's Got Talent.

- Warren's wife, Isabel, has other suitors besides him. Apparently his Tingler doesn't hit the spot like it used to.

- Warren took 100mg of LSD to experience te effects, hoping he can feel fear to test the Tingler. Hey, it worked for The Beatles! Oh wait...

- Martha was frightened to death by a hand coming out of a bloody bathtub. When they told Carrie White to "plug it up", I don't think they meant her bath water!

- A lady in the theater screamed at the sight of The Tingler. Or maybe it was because she paid full price to see BATTLEFIELD EARTH. That'll make me shit my pants!

THE FINAL HOWL
THE TINGLER is one of my favorite William Castle and Vincent Price films. Besides having the lack of the Percept-O gimmick at home and its corny ending, the rest of the film still holds up very well today. Price leads a great cast of actors, the narrative [while silly and campy] works due to the performances, the special effects are cool, and Castle brings a nice sense of style to this B-movie. It's a cheesy movie that will entertain you for 82 short minutes. Just remember to scream when you feel that special tingle up and down your spine if you know what's good for you.



SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



10.09.2012

Dracula (1931) [English & Spanish Versions]


DIRECTED BY
Tod Browning [English]
George Melford [
Spanish]

STARRING
Bela Lugosi/Carlos Villar - Count Dracula
Edward Van Sloan/Eduardo Arozamena - Abraham Van Helsing
Helen Chandler/Lupita Tovar - Mina/Eva Seward
Dwight Frye/Pablo Alvarez Rubio - Renfield
David Manners/Barry Norton - John/Juan Harker
Frances Dade/Carmen Guerrero - Lucy/Lucia Weston
Herbert Bunston/Jose Soriano Viosca - Dr. Seward


Genre - Horror/Vampires

Running Time - 75 Minutes [English]/104 Minutes [Spanish]

While I'm proud of running this blog for as long as I have by covering horror, sci-fi, B-movies, and action/fantasy films, I do regret not touching a certain era of movies until this month. I've been blogging for six years this month, and I have yet to touch upon any of the classic Universal Horror movies that modern horror films owe a lot of debt to. And if I'm going to start reviewing this iconic films, I have to begin where it all started: 1931's immortal DRACULA.

DRACULA is obviously based on Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, which was adapted into stage production in 1927 that this film fashions after. DRACULA wasn't the first cinematic adaptation of the novel, as 1922's silent film classic NOSFERATU. However, Bram Stoker's widow hadn't allowed the rights of the title and characters for the 1922 film [she sued for copyright infringement], which is why the name was changed. Yet, its masterful presentation resonated - especially in 1931's DRACULA, which has many nods to its predecessor.

Universal hired Tod Browning, who had been a popular silent film director with 1925's THE UNHOLY THREE, and 1927's THE UNKNOWN and LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT [a film he would remake in 1935 as MARK OF THE VAMPIRE]. Browning had taken the assignment after being that Lon Chaney, who had starred in his silent films, would be playing the title character. However, Chaney was sick with lung cancer, succumbing to the disease in 1930. Browning then wanted to hire an unknown European actor who could carry a sinister presence on screen. But Universal Studios interfered with the project, cutting the budget somewhat and making cast and narrative changes. Universal, seeing the Broadway production of Dracula, hired Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi to reprise the role on the silver screen. And the rest is history.

DRACULA was released on February 12, 1931. Universal was afraid that audiences would want to sit through a feature length talkie, especially one about Dracula. But people were curious and word of mouth grew, becoming a box office sensation and making DRACULA the first successful horror talkie. This may a star [and also typecast] out of Bela Lugosi and made Universal the studio for quality horror films, further helped along later in the year with James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN [which is a much better film, in my opinion].

What many American audiences didn't know was that Universal had also filmed a Spanish language version at the same time as the iconic DRACULA, using the same sets and the exact same script - but with a different director and cast. It was widely seen once DRACULA hit DVD [as it's now part of the film's legacy in each release] and many consider it superior to the English version. Even Universal hated the English version, preferring the Spanish one.

So is that true? Is the Spanish language version of DRACULA much better than the Bela Lugosi version? I know I have my opinion. And you may, or may not, be surprised.

PLOT
Renfield (Dwight Frye/Pablo Alvarez Rubio) is a British real estate agent who travels through Transylvania to arrive at the creepy Castle Dracula. Looking for Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi/Carlos Villar) to lease him some property in London, Renfield falls under Dracula's spell, not realizing that Dracula is really a vampire. Dracula and Renfield arrive in England on a ship, where they are the only two survivors. Renfield is committed in a mental asylum where he eats spiders and flies, acting like a maniac. Dracula, however, makes a new home in his London estate, ready to spread his vampire ways onto new victims.

Introducing himself to some well known people in the area, Dracula finds his first victim in Lucy Weston (
Frances Dade/Carmen Guerrero) - who he turns into a vampire quite easily. He then focuses on Mina Seward (Helen Chandler/Lupita Tovar). However, Mina's transition into a vampire is more of a challenge since she's protected by her father, Dr. Seward (Herbert Bunston/Jose Soriano Viosca) and her fiancee John Harker (David Manners/Barry Norton). When Mina starts feeling sick and reveals bite marks on her neck, Dr. Seward's friend, Abraham Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan/Eduardo Arozamena) speculates that Mina has been bitten by a vampire - and points the blame at Count Dracula.


REVIEW

DRACULA isn't the best vampire film out there. It isn't even the best film that involves Dracula. But the horror genre wouldn't be what it is today if it wasn't for this movie, even if NOSFERATU had preceded it and was actually a creepier film. A lot of respect must be given to this movie - as the character still remains popular today, especially in its Bela Lugosi version of the character. Hell, every Halloween you'll spot a person dressed up as a Lugosi Dracula somewhere. It's classic status is well earned and well deserved. Still, it has issues [both versions do] that don't hold up as well today as they probably did back in 1931.

A lot of people have issue with the narrative of this version of DRACULA. Like I stated before, it's less based on the Bram Stoker novel and more on the 1927 Broadway stage production. Obviously, it's a truncated version of the actual Count Dracula story that doesn't elaborate on many things that fleshed out the legendary novel. It's not like that Universal didn't want to film an epic movie that was based on the novel. It's just that they didn't want to spend money on what they considered a "financial risk", especially during the time of The Great Depression. So realizing that many of the novel's scenes wouldn't be presented well on screen without a sizable budget, the studio decided to work with the less involved stage version narrative instead. It's not like the major players aren't in the story. And it does help that Dracula is more front-and-center here than he is in the novel. But many people expect a true adaptation when it comes to books and other forms of media. That's respectable. But it shouldn't cloud judgment on a film that takes the story and presents it in a different way. If it works, it works. Lucky for DRACULA, it most works on a story level.

Is DRACULA weak in story due to its source? Sure. Should some of the characters have had more emphasis? Absolutely. Lucy, for example, barely has time to make herself present before Dracula does what he does to her and she's found dead. Dr. Seward is just around to be a small obstacle in Dracula's way of Mina and tend to Renfield's manic actions. John Harker is just the naive boyfriend - his character is nothing like the more interesting one from the novel or other adaptations. Abraham Van Helsing knows about vampires and no one questions it. Mina is Dracula's last victim and is devoted to Dracula, although you barely see their relationship. She also tries to seduce John, but even that is underplayed. The only two characters that really get material to chew on are Renfield and Dracula himself. Renfield is an awesome character - someone who is a proper real estate agent who turns absolutely crazy due to Dracula's control over him, to the point where his loyalty often gets Dracula into trouble. Dracula is more of a presence than an actual character, but he's suave and mysterious, instantly making him an interesting villain. While I wish the supporting characters were fleshed out more, at least they're here and all have a role to fill within the story.

The truncated narrative also is easy to follow and understand, which is good. I do wish Dracula's origins were a bit more mysterious in its storytelling [you pretty much know he's a vampire from the start], but I'm sure audiences already knew who Dracula was. Its short running time allows the film to move briskly, never really wearing out its welcome.


However, the Spanish version is 29 minutes longer and expands on some of the dialogue and expands certain scenes. This allows the film to tell the story in a more natural way, never feeling as rushed as the English version. From what I hear, the Lugosi version was a bit longer, but edited due to the Production Code of 1934 since certain scenes were considered too explicit for the time. Still, the Spanish version is a lot stronger in terms of its story, even if both films used the same exact shooting script, due to its longer length. Did it need to be 29 minutes longer? Probably not. But at least it helps the story some.

And of course, the dialogue in the film has become iconic - especially anything Dracula quotes here. From Dracula's intro, "I am...Dracula," to "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make," - it's all memorable. I love Dracula's "I never drink...wine," line as well. It's probably the reason why DRACULA is still considered mandatory viewing Halloween time.

The set pieces in DRACULA are quite beautiful and stunning, especially for its time. The shots of the stagecoach traveling through the mountains of Transylvania look pretty cool, even if they still somewhat look a bit flat. Plus Dracula's castle has a ton of atmosphere. I also liked the exterior shots, especially when Dracula would seduce Mina with his hypnotic stare. I believe Karl Freund [who also worked on METROPOLIS, THE GOLEM, and THE LAST LAUGH] did the cinematography and these shots look great. The special effects only of a fake flying bat, but it looks better than any cartoonish CGI effect. It's a nice looking film - both versions are.

The real difference when it comes to both DRACULA films are in the direction and the cast. Tod Browning, who directed a masterpiece with 1932's FREAKS, doesn't really do this film justice visually. Now Browning doesn't do a terrible job. He did listen to Freund's tips and advice at times, as the film looks nice and there is some camera movement that helps certain scenes. But Browning had his problems here. For one, Browning wasn't used to directing "talkies", not realizing that silent film techniques weren't going to work as well here, especially for a DRACULA adaptation. Also, Browning had to struggle with Universal Pictures interfering with his film, telling him what he couldn't shoot and how to shoot certain scenes in certain ways so the film would appeal to the mainstream. That being said, Browning didn't do himself any favors by just shooting static shots for much of the film. I understand DRACULA was based on a staged play, but it shouldn't look like one on film. The shots look awkward at times, especially in how characters are framed within a composition. The editing is a bit weird too, but the studio did that after the fact. And the pacing is a bit off at times, especially during the middle portion of the film where it's mainly just people discussing Dracula. It didn't help Browning with James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN was released months later with more compelling and exciting direction. Not Browning's finest hour.

As for the Spanish version, George Melford bests Browning's work in almost every way. The shots move more in this version, as there's some nice camera style going on here. The film also looks nice. The editing is better. The framing and composition is more compelling. The special effects and atmosphere is more prevalent in this version [love the smoke any time Dracula rises from the coffin]. There's more depth in Melford's visuals than in Browning's. Yeah, Melford had an unfair advantage in that he was able to see the dailies of Browning's work, seeing where the flaws were to direct a better film. Also, Spanish media wasn't as conservative in terms of violence and sexuality as the American culture was at the time [which allowed for scenes with Dracula's Three Wives with Renfield to play out more, as well as Mina really being forward with Harker and not cutting away from the act]. Melford was allowed to do more in his direction than Browning was able to. Still, I feel that Browning's work is really dated in 2012, but Melford's work is still appealing today.


The acting is also different in both versions. While the cast is decent in Browning's version, I felt the acting was much better overall in the Spanish version besides one person. I thought Barry Norton made a better John/Juan Harker than David Manners. Manners is pretty wooden, while Norton was more lively. Helen Chandler is a pretty woman as Mina, but Lupita Tovar really captured the sensuality and sexuality of the character. I also dug Edward Van Sloan's performance as Van Helsing, who made his speeches about the supernatural seem very convincing. Eduardo Arozamena was pretty good as well. I though both Dwight Frye and Pablo Alvarez Rubio were very good as Renfield, although I think Frye had the better performance slightly.


Where the English version tops the Spanish version is the casting of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Carlos Villar is a decent actor, but he never really convinced me that he could pull off playing Dracula. It didn't help that Melford told Villar to watch Lugosi's performance and imitate it. Instead of being mysterious and acting creepy, Villar's performance is a bit more comical. This is no more true than when Dracula does the hypnotic eye trick. Villar looks like he's constipated each time, making me laugh whenever he would do it. It's like watching a spoof at times.


Bela Lugosi, however, definitely makes Dracula a classic and iconic character through his fantastic performance. His Hungarian accent is awesome and gives the character personality. His eyes are mesmerizing and I love the way they're lit each time. The way he moves is also quite great. If there's anything eerie about DRACULA, it's Lugosi in the role. Unfortunately he was so good as the character that he ended up being typecast. But I hope he was proud that he would always be immortalized as the king of the vampires.


THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE LISTENING TO THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT


- Count Dracula's horse carriage was navigated by a bat. It's sad when a small animal is more eligible for a driver's license than Amanda Bynes or Lindsay Lohan.


- The captain of the ship that Dracula and Renfield traveled on was dead against the steering wheel. Maybe he shouldn't have bought that vowel after all...


- Renfield enjoys eating small living things, mainly flies and spiders. Seth Brundle, Martin Brundle, and Peter Parker are not fans of this story.


- Dracula is able to mind control others to do his bidding. That explains it - Uwe Boll is a freakin' vampire!


- The once former Mina/Eva is now acting a lot freer and more sexual. I guess she's now turning into a vampire. Or she's getting screwed by someone better in the sack. Either way, she's doing a lot of sucking.


- Dracula had a stake driven into him while he slept. In modern times, this would be called rape.


THE FINAL HOWL

Watching both versions of 1931's DRACULA back-to-back was an interesting experience. The English version is a classic in the horror genre, and cinema in general. It put Universal on the map and they never looked back since. However, it's a very flawed film, especially when you compare to its slightly superior Spanish counterpart. George Melford's direction for the Spanish version bests Tod Browning's. The longer length for the Spanish version allows the narrative to resonate a bit more than in the English. And the acting in the Spanish is slightly better overall, except that the English version has the powerful performance by Bela Lugosi - who stands out amongst everyone else in his movie. Still, one can't call themselves a horror fan if they haven't watched the 1931 Bela Lugosi film. And I think the Spanish version deserves a look as well. Vampires are still as popular today as they were in the early 20th century - thanks to Bela Lugosi and DRACULA.



SCORE

ENGLISH

2.5 Howls Outta 4



SPANISH

3 Howls Outta 4





ENGLISH TRAILER




CINEMASSACRE'S LOOK AT DRACULA [SPANISH]
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