Horror


The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer: Strickland phones it in

The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer appears to be the final book in the LEWIS BARNAVELT series of horror novels for middle graders. The series was started in 1973 by John Bellairs but most of the novels were actually written by Brad Strickland after Bellairs’ death. There’s nothing in The Sign of the Sinister Sorcerer which indicates that it’s the last book but, since it’s been 13 years, I’m just assuming.

Despite all of Lewis’s heroic experiences in the past 11 novels, he is still full of anxiety and lacks self-confidence. This time, Lewis becomes superstitious, believing that bad things come in threes. Since a couple of bad thin... Read More

Night of the Living Dummy: Very scary

Night of the Living Dummy by R.L. Stine

R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS is a series of stand-alone short horror novels for children. I’ve been listening to the audiobook versions with my teenage daughter who loves to read scary stories in the couple of months before Halloween.

The seventh GOOSEBUMPS novel, Night of the Living Dummy (1993), is especially terrifying, but that may be because I’m one of those people who gets a bit freaked out by circus clowns, Chucky dolls, and, in this case, ventriloquists’ dummies. I’m not sure if it’s the Uncanny Valley effect or some repressed traumatic memory from my childhood but, whatever, I don’t like them.

12-year-old twin sisters Kris and Lindy ar... Read More

Earth vs. the Spider: BIG trouble in River Falls

Earth vs. the Spider directed by Bert I. Gordon

As I believe I have mentioned elsewhere, there was more than one reason why Wisconsin-born producer/director/special FX wizard Bert Ira Gordon was popularly known as Mr. BIG. Of course, his acronym alone might have ensured him that title for life, but it was rather the series of remarkable cinematic entertainments that Gordon came out with starting in 1955, many of them dealing with oversized monstrosities, that resulted in this loving appellation. And what a string of films it was: King Dinosaur (’55), Beginning of the End (’57, and dealing with giant grasshoppers), The Cyclops (’57), The Amazing Colossal Man (’57), Attack of the Puppet People (’58, and going small for a change), War of the Colossal Beast (’58), Earth vs. the Spider (’58), Village of the Giants (’65), The Food of the Gods (’76) and Empire of the ... Read More

The Ship of Monsters: Asombroso!

The Ship of Monsters directed by Rogelio A. Gonzalez

There are certain films that are so outrageous, so bizarre, so very unique or dumbfounding, that the viewer cannot believe what he or she is looking at while watching them. Such motion pictures leave the viewer wondering things like: What were those filmmakers thinking? How can a movie like this possibly exist? Some of those films, such as The Great Gabbo (1929), The Shanghai Gesture (1941), Blood Freak (1972) and The Worm Eaters (1977), leave the viewer slack-jawed but with the desire never to see them again; they are unique but either tiresomely boring or unpleasantly repugnant. Others, such as Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), Gonks Go Beat (1965) and Barbarella (1968), similarly leave the viewer stunned by their outre quality, but with the desire to watch the films again sometime; films that must be placed into that dubious category “s... Read More

Monster Blood: Choose the audiobook for this one

Monster Blood by R.L. Stine

Monster Blood (1992) is the third short children’s horror novel in R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS series. It’s a stand-alone, so no need to read the previous books.

While his parents are out of town, Evan has to go live with Aunt Katherine. She’s a scary one — a large hulking deaf woman with a deep voice who is often seen carrying her meat cleaver. Evan hates living at Aunt Katherine’s house, especially because she insists that his elderly dog stay chained up outside and there are bullies in Aunt Katherine’s neighborhood.

Things get a little better when Evan meets a girl named Andrea who likes to do the kinds of things that he likes. One day Evan and Andrea are shopping in a shabby toy store where they purchase a can of a slimy substance called Monster Blood. It provide... Read More

Captive Wild Woman: Lions and tigers and Cheela … oh, my!

Captive Wild Woman directed by Edward Dmytryk

1942 had been a very good year for the Universal horror film, with the releases of The Ghost of Frankenstein, Invisible Agent, Night Monster and The Mummy’s Tomb, and as 1943 began, and America entered what was very possibly the bleakest year of the WW2 era, the studio continued to pump out scarifying entertainments for its audiences. In March of that year, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was released; June saw the premiere of Captive Wild Woman, the first film in what would eventually be a trilogy; August saw the studio’s rendition of The Phantom of the Opera; October would witness the opening of Son of Dracula; and November would see the studio’s release of The Mad Ghoul. (December ’42, I might add, was also the month in which producer Val Lewton, at rival studio RKO, began to offer the public his own... Read More

The Screaming Skull: Portrait for Jenni

The Screaming Skull directed by Alex Nicol

It was at NYC’s revival theater extraordinaire Film Forum that I first got the chance to see the 1958 horror wonder known as The Screaming Skull. On that day, back in 1990 or so, the film was shown as part of a double feature, playing with another 1958 doozy, Earth vs. the Spider. And really, this was a most apropos pairing, as these two films, when first released in August ‘58, were indeed shown as a double feature. Somehow, though, the passing of three decades had sufficed to allow me to forget pretty much all the incidents in both films, and recent rewatches of the two have made me wonder how I could possibly have forgotten all the many fine qualities in them. (I really do need to start taking ginkgo biloba to improve my memory capacity!) But while Earth vs. the Spider continues to have many defenders today, despite its being a mere “B picture,” The Screaming Skull... Read More

Stay Out of the Basement: Creepy but annoying

Stay Out of the Basement by R.L. Stine

One of my kids loves Halloween – she starts celebrating in September – and, since she wanted to read some horror for children during October, we listened to a few of R.L. Stine’s GOOSEBUMPS books together. Each is a standalone short novel with a pretty hefty scare factor.

Stay Out of the Basement (1992) is the second novel in the series (which contains dozens of stories) and there’s no reason to read the first one first. It’s 144 pages long in print format and just over 2 ½ hours long in the scholastic audio version we listened to which is narrated by Elizabeth Morton.

Margaret and Casey’s father is a botanist who’s been fired from his university for some reason the kids don’t know. But that has not stopped his research program. Though, now that he ... Read More

The Giallo Films of Edwige Fenech

The Giallo Films of Edwige Fenech

Born on Christmas Eve 1948 in the town that is now known as Annaba, in coastal Algeria, the daughter of a Maltese father and a Sicilian mother, Edwige Fenech is today regarded as something of a cinematic legend in Europe, although she is still hardly a household word here in the United States. But thanks to the advent of the VHS and DVD revolutions, her popularity and fame have managed to spread even to these American shores. Today, Fenech wears no fewer than two impressive crowns, being known not only as The Queen of the Italian Sex Comedy, but also as The Queen of Giallo … that wonderfully distinctive Italian film genre featuring stylish and often grisly stories of murder, serial killings, and assorted violence and mayhem. But even those laurels hardly tell her whole story. During the 1980s, Edwige also became something of an Italian television personality, and later a film producer in her own right. And, of course, she must... Read More

The House Where Nobody Lived: The kids learn some Hawaiian mythology

The House Where Nobody Lived by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The House Where Nobody Lived is the eleventh (and penultimate) novel in John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series. These are stand-alone horror mysteries for kids. I’ve been listening to Recorded Books’ audio versions with my daughter. We love George Guidall’s performance.

This story starts with a flashback to the beginning of the series when Lewis is 11 years old and it’s been just over a year since his parents died and he moved in with Uncle Jonathan. Lewis and his best friend, Rose Rita, are exploring New Zebedee, their hometown which is still new to Lewis, when they discover an odd-looking house that nobody lives in. They get scared off w... Read More

The Vampire: A novel kind of bloodsucker

The Vampire directed by Paul Landres

Fairly recently, I had some words to say about the excellent Mexican horror film The Vampire (or, as it was known upon release, El Vampiro), which came out in 1957 and starred Spanish actor German Robles as the Count Lavud, a bloodsucker in the very traditional, uh, vein. This South-of-the-border neck nosher, thus, could turn into a bat, cast no reflection in a mirror, could hypnotize his victims from afar, suffered from crucifixaphobia, spent the day sleeping in a coffin, and could only be killed by a stake through the heart. But that same year, in the U.S., another film entitled The Vampire would be released, telling of a very UNtraditional blood feeder with not a single one of the above-mentioned attributes. It is a film that I had long wanted to see, and a recent viewing has served to demonstrate to me what a really fine pi... Read More

Gorgo: Mother and child reunion?

Gorgo directed by Eugene Lourie

Although the Russian-born French filmmaker Eugene Lourie has dozens and dozens of credits to his name as a production designer and art director, it is for the three “giant monster” films that he directed in the early ‘50s to early ‘60s that he is probably best remembered today. I have already written here about the first of that trio, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), which, thanks largely to the incredible stop-motion special effects provided by Ray Harryhausen, remains to this day my favorite monster movie of all time, and one that I have watched on dozens of occasions. I have also written here of Lourie’s second dinosaur extravaganza, The Giant Behemoth (1959), which, even as a kid, I found to be second rate as compared to The Beast, featuri... Read More

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost: Very scary but too similar to previous books

The Whistle, the Grave, and the Ghost by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

In the tenth installment in John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series, Lewis is camping with his fellow Scouts (who are bullying him, of course) when he finds an old whistle near a grave and puts it in his pocket. The whistle has a Latin encryption on it and, when he asks the priest at his church to help him with the translation, the priest (who Lewis isn’t particularly fond of), becomes suspicious and strangely interested in the whistle.

Lewis’s best friend Rose Rita is also interested, of course, so the two kids hit the library for some research. Their investigation takes them to the ghost stories of Read More

Night Monster: The silence of the frogs

Night Monster directed by Ford Beebe

1941 had been a very good year for the Universal horror film, during which time the studio released Man Made Monster, Horror Island and The Black Cat in the spring, and the eternal glory that is The Wolf Man in early December. And as America geared up for war at the beginning of 1942, the studio continued to crank out impeccably crafted horror films to entertain the masses. March would see the release of the fourth film in its Frankenstein franchise, The Ghost of Frankenstein; July would feature the well-nigh-forgotten picture Invisible Agent (a very loose Invisible Man se... Read More

Blood of Dracula: “Her name was Nancy, her face was nothing fancy….”

Blood of Dracula directed by Herbert L. Strock

In the memorable cult horror film I Was a Teenage Werewolf, future Bonanza star Michael Landon plays the part of hotheaded adolescent Tony Rivers, who goes to Dr. Alfred Brandon (the ubiquitous Whit Bissell) for help with his temper problems and is turned by the doctor, via a mysterious serum, into the titular monstrosity. Released in July ’57 and written by its producer, Herman Cohen, along with Aben Kandel, the film was such a hit that it induced the team to come out with three more cinematic wonders in a similar vein; films in which a diabolical adult causes an innocent teen to become a homicidal and monstrous killer. In I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, released four months later, Bissell was at it again, building a monster using the young and muscular Gary Conway. In How to Make a Monster (7/58), Robert H. Harris plays a Hollywood makeup artist who turns two teenage bo... Read More

The Nesting: Gloria’s swan song

The Nesting directed by Armand Weston

It sits on the crest of a hill overlooking the Hudson River to the west, a mere 18 miles north of NYC … the truly bizarre-looking structure known as the Armour-Stiner Octagon House. Built from 1859 - 1860 in Irvington, NY by financier Paul J. Armour, and expanded from 1872 - ’76 by tea importer Joseph Stiner, the structure is one of the few remaining octagonally shaped Victorian residences in the world; is now the site of a museum that is open for touring by the general public; and has deservedly been designated a National Historic Landmark. It is a site that I have long wanted to visit. OK, that last bit is an exaggeration. Actually, it is a site that I have wanted to visit for the last five days … ever since I watched the truly superior horror outing The Nesting, which features the Octagon House prominently in its story. Released in May 1981, The Nesting is a film that I never got a chance to see du... Read More

Some Horror Films by Ted V. Mikels: A quintet of horrific trash

Some Horror Films by Ted V. Mikels directed or produced by Ted V. Mikels

It has long seemed to me that Poughkeepsie, NY-born director, producer, screenwriter and novelist Ed Wood has gotten a bum rap over the years. The one-of-a-kind filmmaker has, starting with his very first picture in the early ‘50s, garnered for himself a reputation of the very worst kind, even going so far as to be almost universally regarded as “The Worst Director of All Time.” And indeed, with such films as Glen or Glenda? (’53), Jail Bait (’54), Bride of the Monster (’55, and the very first horror film that I can recall seeing, when I was 5), Plan 9 From Outer Space (’57, and the undeserved winner of the “Worst Film of All Time” prize), Night of the Ghouls (‘59) and The Sinister Urge (’60) to his credit, it is difficult to refute the claim of his being a filmmaker of the very lamest kind. But was Ed Wood actually... Read More

Nightmare: A minor masterpiece from The House of Hammer

Nightmare directed by Freddie Francis

1964 was a very good year for Hammer Studios in the UK. On April 19th of that year, remarkably, the studio released two films, The Evil of Frankenstein (the third entry in an ongoing series) and the psychological horror thriller called Nightmare. The following month, the little-seen entry known as The Devil-Ship Pirates was released, and on October 18th, the cinema juggernaut would do it again, by releasing two films on the very same day: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (the second Mummy movie in that series) and a picture that would go on to become a fan favorite, The Gorgon. But it is of Nightmare that I would like to speak here, a film that this viewer had never seen before until recently, but one that has just made a hugely favorable impression on me. Clocking in at 82 very efficient minutes and impressively shot in ubercreepy B&W, the film is su... Read More

And What Can We Offer You Tonight: Dreamlike, angry horror

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

Premee Mohamed’s novella And What Can We Offer You Tonight (2021) is set in a drowning city where human life is not cheap — it’s worthless. If starvation, violence or disease doesn’t kill you, probably one of the routine government “culls” will, unless you are one of the uber-wealthy, living elsewhere and treating the city like a personal playground/hunting-ground, or a person who services the very wealthy. This leads us to Jewel, our first-person narrator, a courtesan in an elite, exclusive and very expensive “house,” the House of Bicchieri.

Jewel gets a portion of every client’s payment, and a share of any tips; it seems like she would have enough money to escape the “gilded cage” in which she lives, if she wanted to, but the courtesans ... Read More

The Snake Woman: Cold-blooded, but not chilling

The Snake Woman directed by Sidney J. Furie

In John Gilling’s 1966 film The Reptile, produced by Hammer Studios, the audience was presented with the spectacle of a young woman (the great Jacqueline Pearce) who, thanks to the ministrations of a Malaysian snake cult, could turn into a serpent at will. The film was set in the Cornwall area in the early 20th century and had been brought in at a budget of over 100,000 pounds … and with terrific and scarifying results. But, as it turns out, this was not the first time that the Brits had given us a story about a young woman who could turn herself into a snake, and who terrorized her vicinity in the early 1900s. Five years earlier, an infinitely smaller and lesser film, nearly forgotten today, had appeared, by name of The Snake Woman, and a recent watch has only served to impress upon this viewer what an inferior product it is, in comparison. Whereas The Reptile had featured sumptuous colo... Read More

Man Made Monster: High-tension thrills

Man Made Monster directed by George Waggner

In the 1956 film Indestructible Man, the great Lon Chaney, Jr. portrayed a character named Butcher Benton, who is sent to the gas chamber after a botched robbery but is later brought back to life by a mad-scientist type who supercharges his body with 300,000 volts of juice. Benton is thus turned into the seemingly unkillable creation of the title, with skin impervious to bullets and even to a bazooka blast. But as many filmgoers have known for decades, this was not the first time that Chaney had played a character who was dosed with an abundance of electricity and turned into a kind of supercreation. Fifteen years earlier, we find Chaney, in his very first horror picture, playing a similar role, but with far more impressive and artistic results. The film, Man Made Monster (the lack of a hyphen is annoying), was initially released as part of a double feature in March ’41 along with another picture fr... Read More

The Return of Dracula: Welcome back, champ!

The Return of Dracula directed by Paul Landres

Contrary to popular belief, the great Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi only portrayed the world’s most famous vampire twice, both times for Universal Studios: first in the creaky yet eternal glory that is Dracula (1931) and next in what many of us consider to be the greatest horror/comedy of all time, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). And then, for a solid decade, that infamous character, the dreaded Transylvanian bloodsucker, would disappear from the world’s screens (with the single exception being the little-seen, 1953 Turkish curio Dracula In Istanbul) until the spring of ’58, when two films would mark the character’s return in a very big way. In April ’58, United Artists in the U.S. released a picture with the very apropos title The Return of Dracula, while in the U.K., the following month, Hammer Studios would release its highly influential film ... Read More

Lady Frankenstein: Neri fiddles while the castle burns

Lady Frankenstein directed by Mel Welles

Of all the great quotes ever uttered by Hollywood royalty, one of my favorites has long been a line that was uttered by the great Virginia-born actor Joseph Cotten, who once said, “Orson Welles lists

Citizen Kane as his best film, Alfred Hitchcock opts for Shadow of a Doubt, and Sir Carol Reed chose The Third Man … and I’m in all of them!” And it’s so true … Cotten, at the height of his career, got to work with the cream of Hollywood, and appeared in some of the very finest pictures of the age. But as the actor got older, he found, as had so many before him, that the availability of choice roles was limited (you might recall that the great Basil Rathbone’s final film was, uh, 1967’s Hillbillys in a Haunted House!), and during his final decade, he perforce appeared in any number of questionable/outre projects. Case in point: the 1971 Italian film Read More

Three Great Gialli by Luciano Ercoli

Three Great Gialli by Luciano Ercoli directed by Luciano Ercoli

It seems possible to me that even those fans of the genre known as the giallo film — that uniquely Italian cinematic product marked by stylish mayhem, gorgeous soundtracks, mind-bogglingly recomplicated plotting, outrageously violent set pieces, and fiendishly wackadoodle serial killers — might be unfamiliar with the director whom I would like to shine a spotlight on here. Though they might be very familiar with such giallo mainstays as Mario Bava (whose 1963 film The Girl Who Knew Too Much is often cited as the very first giallo picture), Dario Argento (who has arguably done more for the genre than any other single director, and who remains wildly popular to this day), Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi and Massimo Dallamano, they yet might not have experienced the three gialli created by one Luciano Ercoli (1929 - 2015), who also helmed film... Read More

The Black Cat: A very well-done horror comedy

The Black Cat directed by Albert S. Rogell

As the new decade of the 1940s got under way, Universal Studios in Hollywood continued to pump out frightening movies that have since become a distinct film genre unto themselves: Universal horror! The ‘30s had seen the studio get the ball rolling with its Frankenstein, Invisible Man, Mummy and Dracula franchises, and as the new decade began, audiences would continue to be thrilled and amused by their continued antics. The year of 1940 saw four sterling entertainments released: The Invisible Man Returns, Black Friday (starring the studio’s two leading horror stars, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi), The Mummy’s Hand and The Invisible Woman,... Read More