Film / TV


Benighted: Book vs. film

Benighted by J.B. Priestley

While growing up in the 1960s, I used to love whenever one of the local TV channels would show one of British director James Whale’s Big 3 horror movies, all from Universal Studios: Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and, perhaps best of all, the eternal glory that is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). What I was unaware of back then was the fact that there was a fourth Universal horror film directed by Whale, and that bit of youthful ignorance was not entirely my fault. Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) was, for many years, considered a lost film, and it was not until 1968 that Curtis Harrington (himself the director of such horror gems as Queen of Blood, What’s the Matter With Helen? and Read More

Abel Salazar Triple Feature: Three doozies from south of the border

Abel Salazar Triple Feature directed by Chano Urueta and Rafael Baledon

Are you ready to settle in with an absolutely dynamite and horrifying triple feature one weekend this autumnal season? Well, then, have I got a doozie for you! These three terror treats from south of the border, all made in the early 1960s, may come as a stunning surprise for the jaded horror viewer who thinks he/she has seen it all. The Mexican filmmakers in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were enjoying a kind of Golden Age, certainly as regards as the horror film, and the three pictures that I have chosen to spotlight here, all from producer/actor Abel Salazar — and all to varying degrees influenced by the Universal horror outings of the 1940s — are some of the very best of the bunch. I will give my brief thoughts on these three wonderful films in the order that I first saw them, which also happens to mean that I will be discussing the least of the three first, and the film that I dee... Read More

The Devil’s Hand: The Hole shebang

The Devil’s Hand directed by William J. Hole, Jr.

In the 1943 film The Seventh Victim, just one of nine brilliant horror films produced by Val Lewton for RKO that decade, a character played by Kim Hunter comes to NYC to look for her missing sister, and discovers that that sister has joined a secretive, devil-worshipping cult in the heart of Greenwich Village. It is a superior horror outing, as are all the other Lewton horror outings, featuring wonderful acting, a sharp and compact script, and – typical for these Lewton affairs – a deliciously eerie atmosphere throughout. Flash forward 18 years, and we find still another film dealing with a secret devil cult hidden away in the heart of a great American metropolis, but with nowhere near the previous film’s artful skill and enduring class. That later film is The Devil’s Hand, which was shot in 1959 but not distributed until two years later. Originally released as part of a double bill th... Read More

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy: Diez perfecto on the fun scale

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy directed by Rafael Portillo

It was at NYC’s legendary Thalia Theater on W. 95th St. in Manhattan where I first saw the Mexican wonder known as The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964), paired with the Ed Wood-scripted The Bride and the Beast (1958) to make for one truly mind-boggling double feature. Ah, what a great theater that was! OK, time for Tales From My Misspent Youth, chapter 135: The Thalia, back when (I’m talking about the late ‘70s/very early ‘80s here), was a wonderful place to see a double feature of this sort, its rear section (a “balcony” reached by climbing one or two steps, if memory serves) permitting smoking…of all manner of dry goods. As for the first film on the bill, my main recollection of that showing was the stoned-out audience laughing uproariously every time one of the characters therein mentioned the word “codex,” an object that served as the Hitchcockian MacGuffi... Read More

Wolfen: There goes the neighborhood…

Wolfen directed by Michael Wadleigh

I well remember loving Whitley Strieber’s 1978 novel The Wolfen, back when it was first released. The book was atmospheric as could be and managed to do something that all good horror novels of its ilk should do: make the reader believe in the possibility of the supernatural. The book was most assuredly unsettling, and one that this reader has not forgotten, even 40+ years after experiencing it. But despite my love of that book, somehow, I never got around to seeing the film that was made from it, three years later. Released in July ’81, Wolfen (why the name was changed is a matter best asked of the Hollywood production team that doubtless spent hours wondering if the dropped “The” would lead to more ticket sales) turned out to be something of a box office flop, pulling in only $10 million after being produced for $17 million. Today, the viewer can only wonder why, as it is most assur... Read More

The Beast Within: Born on the bayou

The Beast Within directed by Philippe Mora

In the February 1974 TV movie A Case of Rape, Ronny Cox portrayed a man whose wife, played by Elizabeth Montgomery, is raped and beaten not once, but twice by the same man. The film was an enormous success, and indeed remains the most-watched TV film in NBC history. But few could have foreseen that almost precisely eight years later, Cox would again play the part of a husband whose wife undergoes a violent rape, but this time with far more dire results. The film in question is The Beast Within, which was initially released in February 1982. This film, far from being a hit, was something of a flop at the box office, pulling in a mere $8 million, and has gone on to be critically reviled ever since. Thus, it was with a sense of what I like to call “cinematic masochism” that I sat down to watch this film just the other night for the first time. And after all the bad word of mouth, including the esteeme... Read More

Horror Rises From the Tomb & Panic Beats: Talking head

Horror Rises From the Tomb & Panic Beats directed by Carlos Aured & Paul Naschy

Looking for a good creepy double feature to help you pass the time one stormy October evening? I’ve got a doozy for you. Hang tight!

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB

As if to prove the old adage "you can't keep a good man down," the 1973 Spanish film Horror Rises From the Tomb gives us the story of 15th century Satanist Alaric du Marnac. When we first encounter this demonic figure, he and his consort, Mabille de Lancre (Helga Line), are about to be executed by torture and decapitation in the France of 1454. (This opening scene, it must be noted, almost seems an homage to the similar opening in Mario Bava's classic Black Sunday, except here, we have a male Satanist and a female helper, instead of the other way around.) Flash forward 520 years or so, and Alaric's blood descendant (also played by the film's screenwriter, Paul ... Read More

The Babadook: The horror from Down Under

The Babadook directed by Jennifer Kent

When the Australian horror film The Babadook was released here in the U.S. in November 2014, 10 months after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, it was moderately successful at the box office and received almost universal praise from the critics. Somehow, I managed to miss the film back then (I happen to miss most new releases, actually, in my quest to see as many great classic/old films on the big screen as possible at NYC’s several revival houses), but have wanted to see it ever since, especially inasmuch as the film holds an almost unprecedented 98% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website! A recent showing on one of the Showtime stations has finally enabled me to catch up with this truly frightening picture, however; one that has grown into something of a cult item and cause célèbre since its release six years ago. I knew absolutely nothing about the film when I sat down to watch it t... Read More

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?: Psycho biddy, qu’est-ce que c’est?

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? directed by Curtis Harrington

Ever since the Brothers Grimm recorded the fairy tale forever known afterward as “Hansel and Gretel,” way back in 1812, its story has been well known to successive generations. We have heard the story since childhood: how the two poor children are lured into the witch’s gingerbread house and trapped therein, only to be fed all kinds of goodies by the evil witch to fatten them up, and of how the two kids ultimately turn the tables on the evil crone, stealing her treasure and burning her alive in her own oven. Flash forward around 160 years, and the world was given what is in essence a modern-day retelling of this classic tale, in the British film Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? A horror story that manages to keep a fairly light tone throughout, never really rising to the level of shocks that one might hope for and expect, the film yet manages to please, largely by dint of its talented players and a co... Read More

The Entity: A nerve-racking horror wringer

The Entity directed by Sidney J. Furie

According to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey of 2016, a full 80 percent of all rapes in the U.S.A. go unreported. When asked to account for this staggering statistic, 20 percent of all victims surveyed said that the reason for this lack of reporting was a fear of retaliation; 13 percent said they felt the police would be ineffective at helping them; another 13 percent said that it was a personal matter that they wished to keep private; 8 percent seemed to feel that it was no big deal (!); and, stunningly, 7 percent did not wish to get their attacker into trouble with the law. The net result is that out of every 1,000 rape attacks in this country, only five of the perpetrators ever wind up going to jail. And these statistics, as I say, are from just four years ago. So one can only imagine the stigma that a rape victim might have endured 40 years ago, and the hesitancy that that victim might ... Read More

Demons and Demons 2: Show me Demoni!

Demons and Demons 2 directed by Lamberto Bava

Originally released in October 1985 under the Italian title Demoni, Lamberto Bava’s fifth film enjoyed a marginal success in the director’s native Italy, and the following year was released in the U.S. under the title Demons. The film was popular enough to spawn a sequel, 1986’s Demoni 2, which was very much in keeping with its predecessor; a perfect follow-up, really. Here are some brief thoughts on both of these cult items, for your one-stop Demons shopping … just in case you are thinking to yourself now “Show me Demoni!”

DEMONS

Old-fashioned horror fans who still esteem such cinematic virtues as characterization, logic and explanations may come away from director Lamberto (son of Mario) Bava's first film, Demons (1985), a trifle disappointed, as this film contains ... well, none of those attributes. This loud, ... Read More

White Zombie: The original zombie film

White Zombie directed by Victor Halperin

As I mentioned in my recent review of the 1936 nonthriller Revolt of the Zombies, this film was a belated follow-up of sorts (it is hardly a sequel, as many claim) to 1932’s White Zombie, the original zombie picture, but whereas that original had been an artfully constructed wonder, the latter film was something of a labor to sit through; a movie about the revivified living dead featuring terrible editing, laughable thesping, risible special effects and, worst of all, not a single scary moment to be had. The contrast between the two films, despite the fact that both were products of the Halperin brothers (Arkansas-born director Victor and producer Edward), is a striking one; a contrast that was only strengthened for this viewer yesterday, after watching the 1932 film once again. Released in July of that year, Whit... Read More

The Couch: A chip off the ol’ Bloch

The Couch directed by Owen Crump

In November 1960, filmgoers were presented with a very unique film, Girl of the Night. In it, we meet a call girl/prostitute named Bobbie Williams, played by the great Anne Francis in the screen role that she would go on to cite as her personal favorite of all her many performances. We learn about Bobbie via her visits to the psychiatrist (Lloyd Nolan) who is treating her, and these intimate encounters are alternated with glimpses of the young woman’s sordid daily life. Flash forward around 15 months, and another film would be released with very much the same modus operandi, but in this later film, the subject was male, and his life is shown to be more disturbing, as well as a lot more dangerous to the populace at large, than Bobbie’s ever was. That film was indeed The Couch, a little-discussed film today (not to be confused with the Andy Warhol film of 1964 that was simply entitled Couch) ... Read More

Love Me Deadly: Daddy’s girl meets the Deadheads

Love Me Deadly directed by Jacques Lacerte

When C. M. Eddy, Jr.’s infamous short story “The Loved Dead” first appeared in the April/May/June 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine, with its necrophilic protagonist, it so shocked and scandalized readers that — or so it is told — sales of the beleaguered pulp magazine rose dramatically, thus rescuing it from financial failure. The better part of a century later, the subject of necrophilia is no less taboo and discomfiting. I have reviewed several films on various film sites that I have almost been embarrassed to admit having watched (such as The Worm Eaters, The Double-D Avenger and Please Don't Eat My Mother, among many others), and I initially thought that the necrophilia horror film Love Me Deadly,... Read More

The It’s Alive Trilogy: Mama’s little bundle of Hell

It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry Cohen

The birth of a child is usually the high point of any parent’s life; one of the most blessed moments that he or she could ever imagine. The blessed newborn is a little adorable bundle from heaven, one that is showered with instant and eternal love by the doting mother and father. But what if that newborn is not all that one could have hoped for … is, in fact, a killer mutant monstrosity, with a very nasty and homicidal temper, to boot? That was the premise of Larry Cohen’s ingenious 1974 offering It’s Alive!, a film that turned out to be so popular that it resulted in no fewer than two sequels. Here, for your one-stop, monster-baby shopping needs, are some brief thoughts on each of the films in this three-part affair. And no, you will NOT be needing formula or talcum powder as we proceed…

IT’S ALIVE!

Lots of parents call their children “little monsters,” but few o... Read More

Bug: Not a job for Terminix

Bug directed by William Friedkin

As I sat down to watch a movie in my living room last night, my hometown of NYC — not to mention the rest of America and around 180 countries around the globe — was in the middle of the Great COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. As of yesterday evening, there were around 67,000 cases in my city, over 1 million worldwide, and almost 60,000 deaths internationally. The peak has not yet been reached here, and fear and uncertainty reign, with no end to the scourge in sight. And, of course, the inevitable paranoia and conspiracy theories are beginning to emerge, with all kinds of crackpots coming out and declaring the virus to be some kind of foreign plot, and with NIAID head Dr. Anthony Fauci even requiring a security detail to guard against various wackadoodle threats. This, then, was the backdrop in which I sat down to watch some escapist entertainment last night. And what a film I chose for my evening’s leisure: Bug, in which ... Read More

The Strangler: See it for Victor

The Strangler directed by Bart Topper

I might be giving away my age here, but I am old enough to remember, young although I was at the time, the panic and news stories that were attendant during the scourge of the so-called Boston Strangler. Between June 1962 and January ’64, no fewer than 13 women, ages 19 all the way up to 85, were slain and, in some cases, sexually molested by the mad fiend. Finally, in October ’64, that fiend was apprehended and later confessed; a 33-year-old named Albert de Salvo. The incidents that shocked Beantown and the rest of the country would later be turned into a film, October 1968’s The Boston Strangler, starring Tony Curtis as de Salvo. But that had not been the only film inspired by the dreadful doings. In April ’64, a half year before de Salvo’s arrest and at the height of the Boston panic, another film was released that perfectly captured the unease of the period. That film was simply called The... Read More

The Cabin in the Woods: An over-the-top thrill ride with too few explanations

The Cabin in the Woods directed by Drew Goddard

When The Cabin in the Woods was released in April 2012, it almost immediately became something of a sensation, a hit both with the critics and the public, ultimately going on to gross around $67 million at the box office, after having been produced for $30 million. Despite all that, however, and despite the fact that I am an old fan of a good horror movie, well told, I managed to miss the film when it was first run, and only caught up with it very recently, at home. And now, I am most regretful that I did not run to the theaters back when, as this really is a film that would have benefited from being seen on the big screen. It is an eye-popping film, loaded with suspense, action, scares, laughs, and amazing special FX; one that would have been ideal for seeing with a good audience. Not since 1996’s Scream, perhaps, has a motion picture so knowingly and winkingly toyed with the conventions of the... Read More

Spider Baby: See it for Carol

Spider Baby directed by Jack Hill

When I was a wee lad, many decades ago, there were two female images that would inevitably give me the jitters as I lay down to sleep at night. The first was that of Vampira’s ghoulish character, advancing toward the camera with arms extended, in a nighttime graveyard, in the film that I much later realized was none other than Ed Wood’s notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). (This image was apparently frightening to other viewers besides myself; it was later used in the opening credits of the great television program Chiller Theatre back in the mid-‘60s!) And the other image that used to give the young me the willies was that of Carol Ohmart’s recently deceased Annabelle Loren character, noose around her neck and floating at the window, in William Castle’s baby-boomer favorite House on Haunted Hill (1959 again). Even today, decades later, those two images can manage to give me the... Read More

Anaconda: Hard to swallow

Anaconda directed by Luis Llosa

The unvarnished facts regarding the anaconda, the world’s largest and heaviest snake, are disconcerting enough … particularly the one species of the four known as the giant, or green, anaconda, aka Eunectes murinus. These monsters can grow to a length of nearly 30 feet and weigh in excess of over a quarter of a ton. They live for around 10 - 12 years in the wild, mainly in the watery regions near the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers in South America, and subsist on a diet of fish, turtles, pigs, jaguars, deer and other wildlife … up to 40 lbs. of small wildlife a day, one solid meal satisfying them for weeks. Of course, for most people, the most salient and scarifying feature concerning these beasts is their ability to constrict the life out of their victims, after which they consume their dainties whole. Truly, a creature to be feared and avoided, despite their nonpoisonous nature. And, to be sure, an animal that would ma... Read More

Innocent Blood: Add Marie to the Pantheon!

Innocent Blood directed by John Landis

It strikes me that your garden-variety vampires, as depicted on the big screen, usually have very few scruples as regards their diet of necessity, and the victims that they utilize to assuage those nutritional needs. Typically, vampires are shown sucking on the necks of any likely victim to come along … especially when that victim might be an especially lovely and, um, toothsome female. Ethical considerations and qualms of remorse hardly ever figure with these conscienceless creatures of the night. Thus, offhand, I cannot recall another vampire in cinema history who has chosen his or her prospective victims utilizing such clearly defined moral guidelines, only to regret one of those resultant food choices later on, as Marie, the French vampiress in John Landis’ hugely entertaining, very sexy and often remarkably gory Innocent Blood.

When we first encounter Marie (played by French actress Anne Par... Read More

The Thing: One of the few remakes that I prefer over the original

The Thing directed by John Carpenter

It is a debate that my buddy Jack and I have been having for decades now: Which is the better version of The Thing? The original classic from 1951, actually entitled The Thing From Another World and directed by Christian Nyby (and, it is conjectured, Howard Hawks), OR the 1982 remake directed by John Carpenter? People who know me, and of my love for all things pertaining to 1950s sci-fi, as well as my dislike of unnecessary remakes, will perhaps be surprised to learn that I have always been the champion of the latter film. The original, I have long maintained, is a slow-moving, overly talky affair that is only sporadically punctuated by a few bursts of excitement. Its overlapping dialogue, although realistic, is often incomprehensible, and its central monster something of a letdown, as played by James Arness with clawed hands. But perhaps my central attack on the film is the fact that it is hardly in keeping... Read More

The Amityville Horror: An ubercreepy mixed bag

It's Shocktober! As is our custom, Sandy will be providing a horror review every weekday morning.

The Amityville Horror directed by Stuart Rosenberg

I pass through it every time I take the Long Island Railroad to visit friends in Lindenhurst … the town of Amityville, which lies between the stops for Massapequa Park and Copiague, 66 minutes from Manhattan’s Penn Station. It is a charming little suburban town of some 10,000 people, with beautiful private homes and much greenery. But ever since 1974, the word “Amityville” has also been synonymous with one thing: horror. In November of that year, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo took a rifle and murdered six members of his family. Thirteen months later, the house in which this tragedy occurred was finally resold to George and Kathy Lutz, who moved in with their three kids, fully aware of what had transpired there previously. ... Read More

The City & The City: Dumbing down & Fridging hamper this adaptation

The City & The City (TV Adaptation)

The City & The City is one of my favorite China Miéville books. I love the conceit of the nested cities, Beszel and Ul Qoma, and I love the voice of our narrator, the smart, world-weary and not-always-so-honest Tyador Borlu.

Amazon Prime offers a four-part adaptation of the book. All four episodes are directed by Tom Shankland, with Tony Grisoni, who was also credited as a writer, as one of the producers. China Miéville shared a writing credit. The series first aired on BBC2 in 2018.

The show stars D... Read More

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell: How do you say “fun stuff” in Japanese?

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell directed by Hajime Sato

On the first day of August 1968, Toho Studios in Japan released a film that would go on to be embraced by generations of monster-movie lovers around the world. That film was Destroy All Monsters, and was of particular interest to "kaiju-eiga" fans around the world by dint of the fact that it featured no fewer than 11 famous creatures in one mad monster mash-up, including Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. Destroy All Monsters has today been accorded the Criterion DVD treatment, a recognized imprimatur of quality. But less than two weeks later, on August 14th, 1968, another Japanese film would be released that — despite the fact that it is more serious and more artfully produced than the Toho movie — has seemingly sunk into relative obscurity, even though it, too, has recently been given the Criterion ... Read More