Horror


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

Night of the Bloody Apes: Eye-popping fun

Night of the Bloody Apes directed by Rene Cardona

Although the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema is generally said to have lasted from the years 1936 - ’59, it wasn’t until the very end of that glorious run that the country really began to excel in the realm of horror. Indeed, it was only in the mid-‘50s that Mexico began to make an impact in the fright arena, but in a very big way; I have already written here of such marvelous Mexican horror entertainments as The Vampire (’57), The Vampire’s Coffin (’58), The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (’58), Ship of Monsters Read More

The Tower at the End of the World: A weak sequel

The Tower at the End of the World by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

In The Tower at the End of the World (2001), the ninth novel in  John Bellairs & Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series, Strickland once again pays tribute to the late Bellairs by returning to, and expanding the plot of the first novel in the series, The House with a Clock in its Walls.

At this point, Lewis is 13 years old and has just finished reading Sax Rohmer’s FU MANCHU series. (I ... Read More

The Monster of Piedras Blancas: A truly memorable monstrosity

The Monster of Piedras Blancas directed by Irvin Berwick

It is truly remarkable how a cinematic image can make a lasting imprint on a young and impressionable mind. Take, for example, the 3-year-old me, who witnessed, in a movie theatre, the image of a man falling on a dynamite plunger and causing a bridge to blow up, resulting in a devastating train wreck. It is an image that I have never forgotten, despite all these intervening decades; one of the final scenes, of course, from the great David Lean film The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), which I have since verified my folks did take me to see, although why my parents deemed a 2 ½-hour war movie appropriate fare for such a young child is another matter. Flash forward five years or so, and we have another lasting cinematic image from my childhood, this one of a bit more grisly nature: a hideous monster advancing toward the camera, clutching in its mitt the dangling head of its latest... Read More

Horror Island: A rum time on Morgan’s Island

Horror Island directed by George Waggner

Just recently, I had some words to say about the Universal horror movie Man-Made Monster, a rather pleasing little film that featured some top-notch special effects and is primarily remembered today for the debut horror role of the great Lon Chaney, Jr. The film was first released on March 28, 1941, along with the expected cartoons, trailers, news reel, film shorts and heaven knows what else; the crowds surely got their 15 cents’ worth back when! But also on that same bill, 80 years ago as of this writing, was yet another Universal horror film, one that featured little in the way of effects, and one that is virtually forgotten today. That second film on the fright bill was Horror Island, and my recent, first-time watch has revealed the picture to be a somewhat silly, lighthearted horror comedy that just barely manages to entertain ... Read More

The Beast Under the Wizard’s Bridge: Lewis learns about H.P. Lovecraft

The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Beast Under the Wizard's Bridge (2000) is the eighth novel in the LEWIS BARNAVELT series for middle graders which was started by John Bellairs in 1973 and finished up by Brad Strickland after Bellairs’ death in 1991. I’m listening, with my daughter, to the excellent audio editions by Recorded Books which are narrated by George Guidall.

Remember that scary car chase scene, I think it was in the first book The House with a Clock in its Walls, where Lewis, Rose Rita, Uncle Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman, were saved when they crossed a bridge tha... Read More

The Specter from the Magician’s Museum: Might be the scariest story yet

The Specter from the Magician's Museum by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Specter from the Magician's Museum (1998) is the seventh novel in the LEWIS BARNAVELT horror series for middle graders. The first novel, The House with a Clock in its Walls, was written by John Bellairs and published in 1973. There was a 17-year hiatus after the third book, The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, was published in 1976 while Bellairs was focused on his JOHNNY DIXON series. Bellairs died in 1991, leaving both series to be finished by author Brad Strickland. I haven’t read the JO... Read More