IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GORGO (1961)

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When you think of giant monster movies, you most likely think of Godzilla and King Kong, arguably the two most famous giant movie monsters of all time, and you probably think of Japan’s Toho Studios, who made so many of those Godzilla movies we love, as well as plenty of other giant monster adventures.

But today’s movie, GORGO (1961), hails from the United Kingdom, a country that historically did not churn out a whole bunch of giant monster movies. And while in some ways the plot borrows heavily from the original GODZILLA (1954), except in this case rather than Godzilla emerging from the ocean to destroy Tokyo, we have Gorgo emerging from the ocean to pummel London, GORGO is a good enough giant monster movie to stand on its own.

In fact, the special effects in this one depicting Gorgo’s assault on London are right up there with Godzilla’s more famous attack on Tokyo. Topnotch stuff! So much so, that this sequence which pretty much takes up the entire second half of the movie, ranks as one of the best monster-attacks-city sequences ever put on film! The movie is only 78 minutes long, and so at the end of the day, GORGO is one action-packed giant monster movie!

But it’s also rather odd in that it’s one of the few monster movies— or any movie for that matter— that doesn’t really feature any women! There are no female main characters, and I think there’s only two women in the film who even speak any lines of dialogue!

Then again, giant Gorgo is a female, as she is a mommy monster in search of her baby monster which gets kidnapped and taken to London. Hmm. Maybe Gorgo’s contract stipulated that she would be the only prominent female in the cast?

Anyway, GORGO is the story of Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) who helm a salvage vessel, and when they discover a sea monster off the coast of Ireland, they capture it and decide to bring it back to London in order to make money off it. These guys obviously went to the Carl Denham school of business! Little boy Sean (Vincent Winter), who lives on the island where Gorgo is discovered, tells Joe and Sam that they shouldn’t capture the monster and take him away, but the adults don’t listen to him. So, Sean secretly stows away on the ship, and when Joe and Sam discover him, they decide to take care of him and pretty much adopt him for the rest of the movie. Er, Sean, where the hell are your parents?

They bring Gorgo to London where he is shown off at a circus and much to Joe and Sam’s delight, makes them lots of money. But it turns out, this is only a baby Gorgo, and when mommy Gorgo emerges from the ocean, she’s none too happy about her son being abducted, and so she swims to London and attacks the city in order to get him back.

And there’s your plot!

GORGO was directed by Eugene Lourie, who must have loved giant monster movies, because this was the fourth time he directed a movie about a giant monster! His first, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), is probably his most famous, as it featured the special effects of Ray Harryhausen and was based on the short story “The Fog Horn,” by Ray Bradbury. Lourie followed this up with THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), a film about a giant robot, and then he made THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959), which featured the special effects of KING KONG creator Willis O’Brien, which told the story of a yet another giant sea monster.

And then he made GORGO. Overall, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is probably his best movie, mostly because it did feature the effects of Ray Harryhausen, but GORGO is a close second, and the attack on London is far more intense than any of the scenes found in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

Even more interesting, these are the only four movies Eugene Lourie ever directed! He should have directed more, because all four of these movies are very good, and two of them, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and GORGO are downright excellent! Lourie passed away in 1991 from heart failure.

Robert L. Richards and Daniel James wrote the screenplay which tells a decent enough giant monster story, with the one glaring oddity being that there are no women in this story whatsoever!

Young Vincent Winter, who played Sean, would become disappointed with acting and turn to working behind the scenes where he would serve as an assistant director for many movies, including the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN (1978). Winter died in 1998 from a heart attack at the age of 50.

Also in the cast is Martin Benson, who played the circus owner who promotes Gorgo in London. Benson is no stranger to genre films, having played doomed Father Spiletto in THE OMEN (1976), and, in the role I remember him most for, playing the weasel-like Mr. Rash in NIGHT CREATURES (1962), Hammer’s pirate adventure starring Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. Benson also had a “pressing engagement” in the Sean Connery James Bond classic GOLDFINGER (1964), as his character ends up being crushed in a car by Oddjob.

And speaking of Hammer Films, in the scene where baby Gorgo is paraded around London, you can see Hammer’s THE MUMMY (1959) playing at the theater at Piccadilly Circus.

The impressive special effects were created by Tom Howard, who would later work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Interestingly enough, the same monster suit was used for both mommy Gorgo and baby Gorgo, and the size difference was achieved with different sets and models, as well as different roar sound effects.

When GORGO was released in 1961, there had only been two Godzilla movies released, the original and its sequel GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), but the filmmakers must have had Godzilla in mind because they premiered GORGO in Japan rather than in the United Kingdom.

Japan returned the favor by basically remaking GORGO as MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967) (Its original and better title is GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTERS), a tale in which a mommy and a daddy monster attack Tokyo in order to bring back their baby monster which had been taken to Japan.

The lesson from both these movies is, if you’re going to put a young giant monster in a show, you’d best ask its parents’ permission first! You might also want to include them in the contract and give them a piece of the proceeds!

GORGO is one of the better giant monster movies of yesteryear. In spite of the dubious decision not to feature any female characters in its story other than the giant monster Gorgo herself, this one features really good special effects and a second-half giant monster assault on London that can’t be beat!

The title, by the way, comes from the Gorgon, as Gorgo is short for Gorgon, and it refers to the Medusa tale of the creature so hideous one look at her would turn people to stone. While Gorgo is not that hideous looking, the creature is indeed monstrous and is impressive to behold.

So, you don’t have to be afraid of Gorgo’s face. It won’t turn you into stone. On the other hand, you probably should be afraid of Gorgo’s feet, which will turn you into some itty-bitty pieces of crushed flesh and bone when they step on you.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942)

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This is a reprint from 2013:

 With apologies to Michael Myers, Kharis the Mummy just might be the scariest monster who can’t outrun a turtle ever to lumber across a movie screen!  And he’s never been more frightening than in today’s SPOOKLIGHT feature, THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).

THE MUMMY’S TOMB has always been my favorite Kharis MUMMY movie.  The make-up here on Kharis by Jack Pierce, the man who created most of the iconic Universal monsters, including Boris Karloff’s Monster in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), is by far the best MUMMY make-up of the Kharis series.  

It’s also my favorite due to nostalgic reasons, as I owned an 8mm Castle Films copy of it when I was a kid.  The film also boasts the most exciting ending of any MUMMY movie, period.

Kharis the Mummy was featured in four Universal Mummy movies, and in the Hammer Films remake THE MUMMY (1959) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as Kharis, but it was Lon Chaney Jr. who played the definitive Kharis, appearing in three Universal Mummy movies, the first being THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB opens with a comprehensive synopsis of the previous film in the series, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), so if you’ve missed this first movie, no need to worry!  The initial ten minutes of THE MUMMY’S TOMB brings you up to speed on previous events quite nicely.  You can almost hear the voice-over narration, “Previously on THE MUMMY’S HAND.”

Stephen Banning (Dick Foran) the main character from THE MUMMY’S HAND recounts his adventures in that first movie to his son John (John Hubbard) and his future daughter-in-law Isobel (Elyse Knox), and his story is shown via flashbacks.  Little does Stephen know that over in Egypt the high priest he thought he killed, Andoheb (George Zucco) still lives, albeit he’s now an old man, as thirty years have passed since the events of THE MUMMY’S HAND.  Hmm.  With this timeline, shouldn’t THE MUMMY’S TOMB be taking place in 1970?  Where are all the hippies?

Andoheb now turns over the Mummy-caring duties to his young protégé, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) because Kharis the Mummy didn’t die either.  Not only is Kharis still alive, but he’s put on some weight!   Has he been eating too many tanna leaves?  No, he’s just being played here by the husky Lon Chaney Jr. rather than Tom Tyler, who played him in THE MUMMY’S HAND.

Chaney has been criticized over the years for being too big and thick to look like an authentic Mummy, but I’ve always liked this look, as it made him scarier.  I mean, Chaney isn’t flabby and overweight.  He’s solid and huge, like he could crush a man with his fists.

Mehemet Bey brings Kharis to the United States, to Massachusetts to be exact, to hunt down and kill the members of the Banning family.  

And that’s pretty much it in terms of plot.  The screenplay by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher is pretty standard.

The strength of THE MUMMY’S TOMB is not its plot but its visuals.  The movie contains some really neat scenes, and Kharis has never looked creepier.  Shots of Kharis closing in on his victims still make me shudder, and some of the murder scenes in this one are downright brutal.  Director Harold Young, not known for his genre work, really deserves a lot of credit for making a very chilling monster movie.

Young also makes good use of shadows here.  Many times we see Kharis only through his shadow.  In fact, when Kharis creeps across the countryside at night, he is unseen except for his shadow which falls upon several unsuspecting townsfolk.  The shadow is used so frequently I’ve often wondered if the shooting script was entitled THE SHADOW OF THE MUMMY.

There’s a curious moment in the movie in the scene where Kharis attacks Babe (Wallace Ford), another character from THE MUMMY’S HAND.  After Babe shouts out Kharis’ name, Kharis’ lips move as if he’s saying something in response.  It looks almost as if a scene of dialogue has been cut from the film.  I’ve never read anything to support such a cut, and it wouldn’t make sense in terms of the story anyway, since Kharis had his tongue cut from his mouth in the previous film, and is mute.  But if you watch this scene, you definitely will see Kharis’ mouth move, and a cut does appear to have taken place right at this moment.  Interesting.

The ending is exceedingly memorable.  The torch-wielding villagers, in a chase scene reminiscent of the ending to FRANKENSTEIN (1931)- in fact, some of the footage from FRANKENSTEIN is used here— chase Kharis, who’s carrying an unconscious Isobel, and trap him inside a large house.  John Banning, the sheriff, and another man run inside the house to rescue Isobel.  The climactic battle on the second story porch between John, the sheriff and Kharis, while the villagers fling burning torches from below, is pretty exciting.  I can’t think of another MUMMY movie that has a better ending than this one.

The cast is standard, and other than Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis, no one really jumps out at you.  However the beautiful Elyse Knox who plays Isobel is notable because she’s Mark Harmon’s mother.  Ms. Knox only recently passed away, in 2012 at age 94.

Lon Chaney Jr. actually does a stand up job as Kharis the Mummy.  Chaney played all four main movie monsters:  The Wolf Man, the Mummy, Dracula, and the Frankenstein Monster.  While he’s most famous for his portrayal of Larry Talbot aka the Wolf Man, and rightly so, his three performances as Kharis the Mummy are more effective than his work as either Dracula or the Frankenstein monster.

He makes Kharis damned scary.  His look is such that when he enters a room, he almost paralyzes his victims with fear, which is a good thing for him, because with his limp, he’s not going to catch anybody.  You can outrun Kharis running backwards.  But Kharis always seems to corner his victims, and once he’s blocked the exit, his prey is as good as dead.

Very few of the old Universal monster movies are frightening.  I would argue that THE MUMMY’S TOMB featuring Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis the Mummy is one of the scariest.  

I dare you to watch it alone this summer without having nightmares of Kharis the Mummy breaking into your bedroom in the middle of the night.  

Over there, by the wall!  Is that the Mummy’s shadow I see?  

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

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Let’s talk about HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), the sole movie in the HALLOWEEN franchise not to feature masked killer Michael Myers.

The story goes that John Carpenter was never interested in making a series of movies about Michael Myers. His original plan was to make a series of HALLOWEEN movies with different plots, each having something to do with Halloween. In retrospect, that seems like an idea that was ahead of its time and would be more at home today as a TV series on one of the streaming networks.

Anyway, after the phenomenal success of HALLOWEEN (1978), there was demand for a sequel that did indeed feature Myers. Carpenter wrote the screenplay, but he killed off both Myers and hero Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), paving the way for him to return to his original vision of another Halloween-themed horror movie, and that film was HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, the subject of today’s IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.

Because fans couldn’t get enough of Michael Myers, they were cool to HALLOWEEN III, and the film did not perform well at the box office. It also didn’t do well because it was largely panned by critics. I still remember watching Siskel and Ebert tear the film apart, and one of their biggest criticisms was that the plot about Halloween masks which would be used to murder children worldwide was far too ugly to warrant a positive review. After the box office failure of HALLOWEEN III, John Carpenter sold the rights of the franchise, and eventually Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis were inexplicably resurrected and brought back to the big screen in HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988). That film was a box office success and was also well-received by critics. The rest is history, as the series continues to this day with numerous remakes and re-imaginings, all featuring the unstoppable and apparently immortal Michael Myers.

But back to HALLOWEEN III.

Over the years, not only has the film aged well, but among many horror fans, HALLOWEEN III is now considered to be the best in the series. I don’t agree with this assessment. The original HALLOWEEN is still the best of the lot. However, HALLOWEEN III has indeed aged well, and since it is the only film in the series not to be about Michael Myers, it’s certainly the most intriguing of the HALLOWEEN movies.

Also, the plot about the deadly Halloween masks is far less ugly today than it first seemed back in 1982.

The story is basically about a doctor, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) who treats a patient at the hospital who is raving about mass murder and doom, sounding an awful lot like he walked off the set of an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS movie, and Challis thinks he’s delusional and simply sedates him. But later that night, the man is murdered under mysterious circumstances, and when Challis meets the man’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) and she wants to investigate her father’s death, he decides to help her.

Their investigation leads them to the Silver Shamrock company, which produces the most popular Halloween masks on the planet, and also keeps running an annoying television commercial that seems to play every time someone turns on the TV. They also meet the owner of the company, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), who in spite of his reputation of being the nicest guy in the world, is really up to no good. Yup, he really does have a plan for mass sacrifice on Halloween night, to be carried out by his masks which will be worn by children all over the world.

Gulp!

Well, this is a horror movie after all.

One of the reasons HALLOWEEN III has aged so well is because, simply put, it’s not about Michael Myers! The countless sequels and re-imaginings have become exhaustingly redundant. HALLOWEEN III does not suffer from any of this.

Tom Atkins has starred in a lot of horror movies, from Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980) to CREEPSHOW (1982), and over the years he became a fan favorite. He’s excellent here in the lead role in HALLOWEEN III, the down to earth doctor who suddenly finds himself trying to stop a supernatural plot to mass murder children. Atkins continues to make movies today.

Stacey Nelkin is an effective heroine, and Dan O’Herlihy makes for a very sinister Conal Cochran.

HALLOWEEN III was written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, and while Wallace is no John Carpenter, there are some chilling and cool scenes in this movie.

There are also some fun nods to the first HALLOWEEN. A scene from that movie featuring Michael Myers is shown on TV at one point. Jamie Lee Curtis provides the voice of a telephone operator, and Nancy Kyes, who played Annie in the original HALLOWEEN, under the name Nancy Loomis, has a small role here.

Is HALLOWEEN III the best of the Halloween movies?

Nope.

But it is one of the more entertaining films in the series, mostly because it stands on its own and as such tells a compelling and disturbing horror story in its own right.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE (2015)

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Killer grizzly bear movies are a thing.

Sure, maybe not as widely known as the killer shark genre, thanks to JAWS (1975) and the SHARKNADO movies, but they’re still a thing. Probably the most famous of these flicks is GRIZZLY (1976), which while a complete rip off of JAWS, is still a lot of fun in spite of its low budget and total lack of originality. It was also wildly popular in its day, making a ton of money when it was released, and it’s also quite gory for a PG rated movie.

Then there’s my personal favorite, THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966), a western in which a rancher played by Clint Walker has to protect his family and farm from a giant marauding bear. This is an exceedingly entertaining film. There are a host of others as well, and probably my favorite movie scene with a killer grizzly is from THE REVENANT (2015). The fight between Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and the bear is as intense as it gets.

Which brings us to today’s movie, INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE, a horror adventure available on Netflix which I chose to watch because… well, yeah, because there was a grizzly in it. I was curious. Fight me!

Anyway, let’s get right to the point: INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is… not as intense as it gets. Not even close. It’s also not among my favorite grizzly bear movies, nor is it much of a horror movie, which I guess isn’t its fault. The film doesn’t appear to be advertised as a horror movie, but it did show up on Netflix in their horror category. So, there’s some false advertising in there somewhere!

INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is the story of two estranged brothers, Rowan (James Marsden) and Beckett (Thomas Jane). Rowan has returned to their small town after leaving under controversial circumstances, which doesn’t sit well with his older brother Beckett, since he’s a deputy for the sheriff’s department and thinks his brother is up to no good. But actually, Rowan’s a stand-up guy, a tracker, and he’s back to track someone lost in an area of the woods known as the grizzly maze, an area in which his and Beckett’s dad had taught them all about.

But there’s a new bear in town, and he’s stalking the woods and is hungry for humans. Everyone in the woods is in danger, so it’s up to Rowan and Beckett to put aside their differences and take down the killer bear.

That’s pretty much it for plot. There are more subplots involving other characters, including female characters played by Piper Perabo, Michaela McManus, and Kelly Curran, but none of these three ever take center stage. Scott Glenn plays the sheriff, and in the most intriguing bit of casting, Billy Bob Thornton plays a grizzly bear tracker and hunter.

Sadly, he’s not a particularly good grizzly bear tracker and hunter. That should give you a clue about his fate in this movie.

James Marsden, who plays the lead role, younger brother Rowan, is probably best known for playing Cyclops in the original X-MEN movies. He also starred in the recent THE STAND (2020-21) miniseries.

Thomas Jane, who plays big brother Beckett, played the lead role in THE MIST (2007), and he also played Frank Castle in the 2004 version of THE PUNISHER.

Both actors are decent here, as is the entire cast.

The biggest problem with INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE is that its story isn’t so hot. The screenplay by Guy Moshe and J.R. Reher gets the set-up right. The characters are all introduced well enough, and the story of the murderous grizzly in the woods is intriguing, but the payoff just isn’t all that exciting. In fact, most of the grizzly scenes disappoint.

Director David Hackl is handed the perfect setting but doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot with it. The grizzly scenes just never go for the jugular.

Which brings us to the grizzly. Hackl used a real grizzly bear here, which should have been a plus, a step above CGI in the realism department, but for some reason, the bear here just doesn’t come off as all that terrifying. I’ve seen Winnie the Pooh look creepier.

The story may be about a vicious grizzly bear, but his actions as captured on film here are all rather tame.

So, if you’re looking for a horrific grizzly-bear-on-the-loose monster movie, you’re going to have to dust off that old JAWS-on-land chestnut, GRIZZLY, because you won’t find it here with INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE.

Instead, you may find yourself stuck in a grizzly daze.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970)

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For the first time ever, starring in the same movie together, on the big screen, it’s Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing!

The movie? SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970).

Imagine being able to make that claim. Now imagine botching things so badly, making a movie so awful, that barely anyone today even knows this film exists, let alone that it starred Price, Lee, and Cushing.

The movie? SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

Years ago, when I first watched SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, I hated it. And why shouldn’t I have? The movie boasts Price, Lee, and Cushing, but they are hardly in this one at all. The film runs 95 minutes, and the total screen time for all three actors combined is just about 20 minutes! Price is in the film the most, and his character has the biggest connection to the main plot. He and Lee do share one brief scene together, right near the end, but Lee is hardly in the film, and Cushing has only one brief scene.

Then there’s the plot, which makes so little sense it’s ridiculous. Vincent Price is on record in later interviews as saying he never understood the script. He’s not alone.

For someone who was used to Hammer Films which gave Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee the signature roles of their careers, and the Roger Corman Edgar Allan Poe films which starred Vincent Price and largely defined Price’s career, to sit down and watch something like SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN was an insult. What. A. Waste.

But hold the negative review! Why? Because a funny thing has happened over the years.

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, has… dare I say it?… aged well.

There’s something unique about the time period between 1965 and 1975, which places SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN smack dab in the middle, where life wasn’t the way it was before or since, and the arts during that decade were different, and so looking at a film like SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN today, it stands out because it is so unlike the structured Hammer Films and Roger Corman movies which came before it. It’s very similar to how Hammer’s own DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) has aged so well. There’s a newfound appreciation for the oddball groovy style of both these movies that didn’t exist before.

So, I gotta say, watching SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN here in 2022, I…. oh boy… actually really liked this movie!

Okay. It still has its ridiculous plot. And Price, Lee, and Cushing are nowhere to be found for the most part, but knowing this going in, and knowing that they’re just going to show up briefly and add what they do to the insanity of this wild, wild plot, is kind of a fun thing.

So, about that plot. Ready? There are multiple storylines going on, and none of them are laid out all that clearly, but that’s okay, because it’s 1970, and that’s how things were. The main plot is about a vampire killer on the streets of London who sexually assaults women and then drains them of blood. He’s also incredibly powerful and would have fit in quite nicely in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) universe in Las Vegas giving Darren McGavin’s Carl Kolchak a hard time. It’s also interesting to note that the superhuman vampire who outmuscles squads of police officers and scales the side of a massive hill a la Spiderman predates THE NIGHT STALKER by two years!

Here, his name is Keith, and he’s played by Michael Gothard, who would go on to play another strong silent killer in the Roger Moore James Bond flick FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981). Hot on this killer’s trail is Detective Bellaver (Alfred Marks) and his squad of Scotland Yard’s finest, and if there’s anyone who is at all close to being a main character here, it’s Bellaver. Alfred Marks delivers a strong performance as the wise-cracking no-nonsense detective who seems like he would be at home having his own 1970s cop TV show. Tonight it’s BELLAVER, followed by COLUMBO at 9 and KOJAK at 10. He gets some of the best lines in the movie, and he’s actually really, really good. Unfortunately, he’s not Price, Lee, or Cushing, but he is still really, really, good.

Meanwhile, in an undisclosed fascist country, which resembles Nazi Germany, a crackpot of a leader Konratz (Marshall Jones) is busy killing off all his superiors so that he can become top dog on the food chain. He seems to possess a supernatural power for killing.

Then there’s Dr. Browning (Vincent Price) who in his secluded mansion is performing mysterious experiments involving removing the limbs of his patients while they’re still alive, and a la Dr. Frankenstein creating beings piece by piece who have not yet lived.

What do these three plots have in common? Nothing! Actually, that’s not true. They are tied together, and before this one ends, the film does attempt to make sense of it all, and it largely succeeds, although you have to scratch your head for nearly 90 minutes wondering what the f*ck is going on??? But, it seems our maniac friend Konratz is hiring the good Dr. Browning to create superhumans for him, one of which, Keith, has been on the loose in London draining women of their blood.

Far out man. Like, groovy!

And SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN is far out. Like waaay far out. Like past Neptune far out!

For Price, Lee, and Cushing fans, Price fares the best and actually has a few good lines, and of the three horror icons is the only one who gets to really strut his stuff on screen, even if it’s only briefly. Christopher Lee spends his time as Fremont, a top man in the British government, talking on the phone and looking worried. He does show up at the end and has the pleasure of delivering the final plot twist, as if this unstructured script really needs another direction! And, sadly, Peter Cushing has only one scene, to be a victim, done in by the overly ambitious Konratz.

The crazy far out script was written by Christopher Wicking, who also wrote the screenplay for Hammer’s last Mummy movie, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1972), which is also kind of far out, as well as the screenplay for TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976), Hammer’s last horror movie until 2008, which is really far, far out! So, he has lots of experience with this kind of thing.

Gordon Hessler directed SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Hessler also directed Vincent Price and Christopher Lee in THE OBLONG BOX (1969), a film I like much more than SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN. Probably Hessler’s best movie would be THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1973), featuring the special effects of Ray Harryhausen.

In spite of its ludicrous and choppy plot, SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN does enjoy some neat scenes. There are a couple of really well-done police chases, featuring Detective Bellaver and his Scotland yard crew in hot pursuit of the vampiric Keith. Whenever Vincent Price is onscreen, he provides a vibe in the movie that only Price can, and it’s a shame he’s not the actor who is anchoring this one.

Christopher Matthews as a young doctor snooping around on his own trying to learn the secret of what Price’s Dr. Browning is up to also enjoys some quality scenes. Matthews played Paul in SCARS OF DRACULA (1970), the most violent of the Christopher Lee Dracula films, and he was one of the better parts of that one, until he makes the mistake of discovering Dracula’s coffin.

Unfortunately, the plot involving Konratz and his fascist cronies stands out like a convoluted contrived plot device that seems phony and out of place. It’s the weakest part of the movie. Interestingly enough, in the novel The Disoriented Man by Peter Saxon, on which the screenplay is based, it was a group of aliens who were hiring out Dr. Browning’s handiwork, not dictators in the making. Aliens might have made more sense.

But if it’s sense you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place. You won’t find any in SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

You also won’t find much of Price, Lee, or Cushing. Sadly, they would appear all together in only one more movie, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983), which while giving them much more screen time and plenty of scenes together, isn’t any better of a movie than SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

But SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN has aged rather well. It’s still a convoluted confusing mess, but somehow with the passage of time it’s become more fun.

This winter, if you’re looking to liven things up a bit, check out SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN.

You’ll be screaming all right, loudly, at your TV, but not for the reasons you expect.

—END–

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933)

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Ready to go batty?

Good!  Then check out THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), an atmospheric vampire movie from the 1930s starring Lionel Atwill in the lead role of mad scientist Dr. Otto van Niemann.

In THE VAMPIRE BAT, Atwill demonstrates that had the stars been aligned differently, he might have become a major horror movie star, rather than just a supporting actor, playing as he so often did police inspectors in the Universal Frankenstein and Dracula movies.  He delivers a fine performance in THE VAMPIRE BAT, and there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t have continued to play lead roles in future films with similar success.

A small village is up in arms over a series of vampire-like murders, in which the victims have been drained of all their blood.  Karl, the local police inspector (Melvyn Douglas) doesn’t believe in vampires and instead insists the crimes have been committed by a human culprit.

His girlfriend Ruth (Fay Wray) works for Dr. van Niemann (Lionel Atwill) whose strange experiments should have raised some eyebrows, but since he’s such a respected member of the community, he escapes suspicion.  Instead, the villagers accuse the town simpleton, Herman (Dwight Frye) of being the vampire, since he loves bats and is seen regularly handling the creatures.  

The villagers chase Herman through the countryside with hunting dogs, in a scene clearly reminiscent of the chase scene at the end of FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  In fact, if you happen to stumble upon this scene unaware of what you are watching, you might suspect you are seeing some long lost footage from FRANKENSTEIN of the villagers chasing Henry Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz (also played by Dwight Frye).  At the end of the chase, Herman falls from a cliff to his death, and the villagers then drive a stake through his heart.  They are ecstatic that they have killed the vampire, but this only lasts a few hours, until another victim is drained of blood.

Eventually, Karl’s investigation leads him to Dr. van Niemann, and he discovers that the doctor has been hypnotizing his assistant to commit these murders in order to obtain human blood for his experiments.

The plot of THE VAMPIRE BAT is nothing new, nor is it very exciting.  The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, who also wrote the screenplays for HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), is average at best, and the biggest strike against the story is that it’s not about a real vampire.  Heck, it’s not even about a real vampire bat!  

Director Frank Strayer does little at the helm to make this one stand out, as THE VAMPIRE BAT contains nary a memorable scene.  

The reason to watch THE VAMPIRE BAT is its cast.  Lionel Atwill is more than satisfactory in the lead role as Dr. van Niemann.  Although Atwill’s signature role, his defining moment in horror cinema remains his one-armed police inspector in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939), a supporting role, in the early 1930s Atwill was getting lead roles, and he was shining in them, including 1933’s MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, which also starred Fay Wray.  He’s a convincing mad scientist here in THE VAMPIRE BAT, sinister yet likeable enough to hide his madness from those around him.  Atwill does a good job of not going too over the top with the role.

Also in the cast is Dwight Frye, who sadly was already being typecast in 1933 playing weird madmen.  Frye of course stole the show as Renfield in the Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and nearly repeated the effort as Henry Frankenstein’s hunchback assistant Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  Here, he’s Herman, the man who loves bats, who tragically gets chased to his death because the villagers feared he was a vampire.  Frye seemed to be able play these parts in his sleep.  

It was a busy year for Fay Wray.  In addition to appearing in both THE VAMPIRE BAT and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM in 1933, she also of course had a notable encounter with one Mr. King Kong in KING KONG (1933).  Interestingly enough, Wray was not a natural blonde and wore a wig in KING KONG.  She has her natural brunette hair here in THE VAMPIRE BAT.  Wray was actually a very good actress and could do a lot more than just scream.  She’s relaxed and very natural in THE VAMPIRE BAT.

The other main star on hand was Melvyn Douglas who went on to make many, many movies and win two Academy Awards.  He had starred the year before in the atmospheric Boris Karloff film THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), and Douglas would return to the genre many years later with two notable performances, with George C. Scott in THE CHANGELING (1980) and in Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY (1981).  

And then there’s Lionel Belmore as the Burgomaster, playing nearly the same exact role he enacted in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), providing yet another connection to the Boris Karloff classic (as well as the fact that both films were shot on the same Universal village set giving both films similar exterior shots.)

When it comes to early 1930s vampire movies, I prefer DRACULA (1931), MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) and VAMPYR (1932) to THE VAMPIRE BAT, which doesn’t have as much atmosphere or story as these three classics.

But it does have a great cast, including vintage Lionel Atwill.  I like Atwill a lot, and it’s a shame he didn’t have substantial roles in more movies.  He rarely disappoints.

And for that matter, neither does THE VAMPIRE BAT.  While it’s not a classic of the genre, it is a showplace for some terrific performers working at the top of their craft.

—END—

—This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column was originally published in 2010 in THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION. It was recently republished within those same pages in November 2021.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CRIMSON PEAK (2015)

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You can’t ask for a better looking horror movie than CRIMSON PEAK (2015), Guillermo del Toro’s atmospheric ghost story flick.

Set in the early 20th century in both New York and later England, the sets, colors, costumes, and general look of the film have Hammer Films written all of them. Plus Tom Hiddleston in his period piece get-up does resemble Peter Cushing at times. And the lead character played by Mia Wasikowska is named Edith Cushing. Hmm… Okay, so, sure I’m a Hammer Film fan, but I certainly was thinking about Hammer Films while watching this one.

That being said, CRIMSON PEAK wouldn’t be a particularly very good Hammer Film, and that’s because as good as this one looks, it’s just not as impressive at telling its story. I saw CRIMSON PEAK at the movies upon its initial release and was cool to it then, and upon watching it again for the purposes of this review, I still am not that crazy about it.

The biggest reason is the story it tells doesn’t really wow me all that much. Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) had a horrifying experience as a child with the ghost of her deceased mother. As an adult, Edith is an aspiring author living in Buffalo, New York, when she crosses paths with Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). The Sharpes have a business proposition for Edith’s father Carter (Jim Beaver), who is immediately troubled by the pair and doesn’t trust them, and so he turns down their proposal. Edith, however, is swept off her feet by Thomas and agrees to marry him, much to the chagrin of her good friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) who has been trying and failing to get Edith to date him.

Carter Cushing is then mysteriously and brutally murdered, but this doesn’t stop Edith from marrying Thomas and returning to England with him and Lucille to live in their haunted…. er, ancestral mansion. Once there, Edith once again begins to have strange encounters with overactive ghosts, and as it turns out, these encounters are the least of her problems.

The story told in CRIMSON PEAK is simply meh. I never bought into Edith’s plight, partly because Mia Wasikowska’s performance here never won me over. The skinny of it is Edith never comes to life for me as a character. So, that’s a major reason why this movie doesn’t work for me.

I also didn’t enjoy the love story between Edith and Thomas. They have about as much chemistry together as two adjacent floor boards. The ghost story I could see coming a mile away, and the sinister plot involving Thomas and his sister Lucille fell flat for me as well.

Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins’ screenplay goes through the motions but never evokes emotions.

Tom Hiddleston delivers the best performance in the movie as Thomas Sharpe. He at least brings his character to life and when he expresses his true feelings towards Edith he’s believable. Second to Hiddleston is Jim Beaver in a supporting role as Edith’s father Carter. He brings a strength and edge to the role, and his scenes are the most authentic in the movie, so it’s too bad he’s killed off midway through.

As I said, Mia Wasikowska never won me over as Edith. I just never believed her character was real. Jessica Chastain is pretty much one note as Lucille Sharpe— icy cold. And Charlie Hunnam, as enjoyable as he can be at times, also tends to be a one-note actor. Here, as Dr. Alan McMichael, he’s the noble best friend who will even travel to England to save the woman he secretly loves. Hunnam is fairly good, but you certainly don’t feel any real passion from the guy.

Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of Guillermo del Toro. Visually, you can’t go wrong with his movies. They are always treats for the eyes. But his stories tend to need help. Even his much celebrated and Oscar-winning THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) didn’t completely work for me. I much prefer his HELLBOY movies.

If you’re a fan of del Toro, you will enjoy CRIMSON PEAK. For the rest of us, it looks great, calls to mind the gothic horror films of both Hammer Films and Roger Corman’s 1960s Vincent Price Edgar Allan Poe movies, but as a horror story, it goes through the motions but never strikes a chord.

CRIMSON PEAK colors but never peaks.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE WIND (2018)

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It’s just the wind.

How many times have we heard that line before? In this case, it’s true.

Or is it?

I hadn’t heard much about THE WIND (2018), a slow burn horror flick which takes places in the 1800s western frontier, when I stumbled upon it on Netflix, so I had no idea what to expect. Usually when I pick a movie I haven’t heard of, I am disappointed. That wasn’t the case this time around. THE WIND is an exceptional horror movie.

Let me tell you about it.

THE WIND is a thinking person’s horror film, and its persistent low key style is similar to some other recent horror films, flicks like THE BABADOOK (2014), THE WITCH (2015), HEREDITARY (2018), and MIDSOMMAR (2019). Now, THE WIND wasn’t quite as disturbing as these other movies, but that didn’t stop it from getting under my skin, which it did, in the most subtle and effective of ways.

In the late 1800s, married couple Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard) and Isaac Macklin (Ashley Zukerman) live in their modest farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. They have no neighbors until another young couple move into a cabin across the way, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee). When Lizzy and Isaac invite them over, they immediately realize there is something off about the couple.

What follows is an intriguing tale which through the use of flashbacks jumps back and forth in time and chronicles the efforts of an unseen demon in the wilderness which primarily seems to affect the women. Lizzy definitely is aware of some force haunting them, but Isaac tells her it is just her imagination. This demon wants to force them off the land and also has a keen interest in their unborn children. This combined with Emma’s eccentric behavior and unusual interest in Isaac creates a wedge between the two women and complicates the couples’ relationships, while seemingly fueling the demon’s actions. And it all leads to violence, bloodshed, and death.

By far, my favorite part of THE WIND was the way it was shot by director Emma Tammi. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, and there are some truly hauntingly framed scenes which really resonate. THE WIND may not be scary, but it is so, so haunting, which is exactly the way a slow burn horror movie should be.

The screenplay by Teresa Sutherland is smart and effective. The way it frames its story…is it really a demon? Or is it just inside Emma’s mind?… works well, as it keeps the audience guessing all the way down to the final shot of the movie. The dialogue is lean and efficient. There are lots of spots in the film where no one talks. Where you just hear the wind. The film also uses sound winningly. The wind becomes a character in the movie just by our hearing it.

Caitlin Gerard is excellent in the lead role as Lizzy Macklin. She exudes strength and endurance and is the perfect character to suddenly find herself facing a demon in the wilderness. And later when doubts begin to seep in, when one begins to wonder if it really is just Lizzy’s mind playing tricks on her, Gerard is more than up to the task of capturing the self-doubts the woman endures. It’s a mesmerizing performance by Gerard. She really does bring the audience inside Lizzy’s head, making you feel like you too are alone on the prairie, hearing and seeing strange things in the wind in the middle of the night.

Ashley Zukerman is stoic and strong as Lizzy’s husband Isaac. For the most part, Isaac is there for his wife and supports her, except when he leaves her alone for an extended period of time to conduct some business. While he’s gone, the film really plays up Lizzy’s feelings of isolation.

Julia Goldani Telles is cold and weird as Emma Harper. She is certainly the creepiest human character in the movie. There’s just something about her personality that’s off putting and gets under one’s skin, like the entire movie does.

Dylan McTee plays Emma’s husband Gideon, and he’s also an odd one. And Miles Anderson makes his mark in a small role as a travelling reverend.

All in all, THE WIND is a satisfying low key thriller that takes its time unsettling its audience. It tells a tale of isolation, horror, and maybe even madness, as one woman squares off against haunting forces which seem to everyone but herself to be simply sounds in the wind.

—END–

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944)

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THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) was the last of the serious Universal INVISIBLE MAN series. There would be one more, but that one would include Abbott and Costello in the cast, in the appropriately named ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951).

Previous films in the series include THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (1940), which was also played for laughs, and INVISIBLE AGENT (1942). The best film in the series remains, by far, the first one, THE INVISIBLE MAN, which was directed by James Whale and starred Claude Rains as the invisible one.

THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is considered to be the weakest of the series, and while I can’t disagree, I do still enjoy this one. It has its moments. Its biggest flaw is its story just isn’t very good.

It also has no connection to the previous films. And while the main character’s name is Robert Griffin— Griffin being the surname of the original Invisible Man and his various relatives in later movies— in this film, the character in spite of his name is no relation to the Invisible Man Clan.

In THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, shady character Robert Griffin (Jon Hall) recently recovers from amnesia and remembers that his “friends” owe him half their fortune. When he returns to their mansion, both Lady Herrick (Gale Sondergaard) and Sir Jasper Herrick (Lester Matthews) are shocked to see their former friend, who they believed was dead. They are even more shocked when he not only demands half their fortune but also their daughter Julie (Evelyn Ankers), even though she’s engaged to a reporter Mark Foster (Alan Curtis). Rather than call their attorneys, they drug Griffin and toss him out of their home.

Infuriated, Griffin happens to stumble upon a house in which a scientist Doctor Peter Drury (John Carradine) lives, who just happened to discover the secret to invisibility! How convenient! So, Griffin becomes invisible, and with the help of a comical local sidekick Herbert Higgins (Leon Errol) attempts to coerce the Herricks to give him their fortune and win back Julie. Standing in his way is heroic reporter and fiance Mark Foster, and when he can’t get the job done, it’s up to Dr. Drury’s loyal pet dog (Grey Shadow) to save the day!

It’s never a good sign in a movie plot that the film’s hero turns out to be a dog. Don’t get me wrong. I love dogs. A lot. But when this happens, and it’s not a movie about a dog, that’s just not saying much about the film’s human characters.

And overall, the entire story in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is not a very good one. The screenplay by Bertram Millhauser doesn’t give us much of a conflict or characters that are all that interesting.

Robert Griffin isn’t the most sympathetic character, and for most of the movie is a demented villain, which is par for the course for an invisible man in these stories, but there’s just something unlikable about him throughout the movie. Not that a character has to be likable. But some characters you enjoy watching them be evil or dark, but that isn’t quite the case here.

This was Jon Hall’s second time playing an invisible man. He played an entirely different character, also invisible, in INVISIBLE AGENT.

Leon Errol chews up the scenery as the comedic Herbert Higgins who decides to assist Griffin enact his revenge, as long as there is some money in it for him. The dart throwing contest is one of the highlights of the movie, where Higgins challenges the local dart champion and receives help from his invisible friend.

But the best performance in the movie… no surprise… is from John Carradine as Dr. Drury. It’s a small role, but Carradine is on point throughout, and he makes for a really interesting scientist, not your cliche movie mad scientist. It’s a shame he’s not in this movie more.

Evelyn Ankers, who appeared in THE WOLF MAN (1941) and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), among others, has very very little to do here as daughter Julie Herrick. She’s hardly in this one. Another Universal monster movie veteran, Lester Matthews, who starred in WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and THE RAVEN (1935) is very good here as Sir Jasper Herrick.

THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE was directed by Ford Beebe, and like most of the Universal classic monster movies, looks terrific. The black and white photography, the huge mansion, the raging thunderstorm outside Dr. Drury’s laboratory, keep this one steeped in creepy atmosphere.

The special effects, while not as impressive as the effects in the original INVISIBLE MAN, are still pretty good, and make for a lot of fun.

Again, the biggest knock against THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE is its story just isn’t all that exciting or interesting, and the same can be said for its characters, with the possible exception of Dr. Drury and his pet dog, and Drury just isn’t in the movie all that much.

Yup, when all is said and done, when summing up THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE, it’s pretty clear that regarding this movie, there simply isn’t a lot… to see.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)

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HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) is the second of the Universal Monster series to feature all three of the major Universal monsters, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Frankenstein Monster. It’s also the last of the serious movies in the series, as the next one also starred Bud Abbott and Lou Costello— but that’s no knock, as ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) is a better movie than both HOUSE OF DRACULA and its monster-fest predecessor, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944).

HOUSE OF DRACULA is also the fifth Universal DRACULA movie, the seventh Universal FRANKENSTEIN movie, and the fourth Universal WOLF MAN movie. There’ll be a math quiz right after the column!

The jury is still out as to which of the two Universal monster party movies, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or HOUSE OF DRACULA, is the better film. In my conversations with horror writers, film critics, and fans, it’s pretty much even-steven. I slightly prefer HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, for a number of reasons, chief of which is it stars Boris Karloff as the menacing Dr. Niemann, and his evil presence is missed in HOUSE OF DRACULA.

One way that HOUSE OF DRACULA is superior to HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is its Dracula scenes. John Carradine enjoys his best on-screen moments as Dracula in this movie. While I’m not a big fan of Carradine’s noble and well-mannered Dracula, I do like him here. In fact, he gets most of the movie’s best moments. His conversation with his intended victim Miliza Morelle (Martha O’Driscoll) at the piano is mesmerizing, and later, when Dracula attempts to abduct her from the home of Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens), director Erle C. Kenton pulls out all stops and imbues the sequence with plenty of suspense, complete with on-target music beats for the Dracula/bat transformations for maximum effect.

Unfortunately, like HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN before it, HOUSE OF DRACULA kills off Dracula way too early in the movie. While the undead Count survives a bit longer here in HOUSE OF DRACULA, he’s gone for the entire second half of the movie, which is too bad, since he was clearly the best part of the first half. Edward T. Lowe Jr. , who wrote the screenplays for both HOUSE movies, for some reason keeps the monsters separate for the most part, with minimal interaction. That’s one of the best parts and reasons why ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is clearly the superior movie of the three, as the three monsters interact more and have ample screen time.

In HOUSE OF DRACULA…or as it could also be known as, DR. EDLEMANN’S GENERAL HOSPITAL FOR MONSTERS, Count Dracula (John Carradine) shows up at the home of Dr. Edlemann (Onslow Stevens) seeking a cure from vampirism… or so he says! He’s really there because he’s got his fangs…er, sights, set on the lovely nurse Miliza (Martha O’Driscoll) who he had met some time earlier and hence followed her back to the home of Dr. Edlemann, where she works. And evidently lives. Stalker! Night stalker, that is!

Anyway, Dr. Edlemann, being the kind-hearted doctor that he is, agrees. A short time later, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) arrives at the castle seeking a cure from lycanthropy. The doctor tells him no, that he is too busy trying so save Dracula, and he can only handle one monster at a time. Besides he’s not part of the network of doctors on Talbot’s health plan… no, I’m joking, of course! Edleman agrees to help Talbot as well.

Frustrated and impatient, Talbot attempts to kill himself by leaping from a cliff into the ocean below. Edlemann believes Talbot may have survived the plunge (of course he survived! He’s the Wolf Man! He can’t die! Which of course begs the question, what the heck was Talbot thinking by jumping in the first place? I guess he just wanted to go for a swim). Anyway, Edlemann makes his way down to the caves by the ocean, and there discovers the Wolf Man, who nearly rips out his throat, but strangely and without explanation, the Wolf Man changes back into Larry Talbot and all is well.

As they make their way through the caves, they discover the ailing body of the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) along with the skeletal remains of Dr. Niemann. So… Dr. Edlemann brings the Monster into his castle as well, and now he is taking care of three monsters at the same time!

As stories go, the one told in HOUSE OF DRACULA is pretty weak. It’s just an excuse to get the three monsters in one movie. The screenplay by Edward T. Lowe Jr. is not a strength.

While the appearance of the Frankenstein Monster is explained when he is discovered still alive with the skeletal remains of Dr. Niemann, no mention is made at all of how either Dracula or the Wolf Man overcame their deaths in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. They just show up, as right as rain.

As I said, Dracula fares best here, and John Carradine as Dracula delivers the best performance in the movie. Again the decision to kill him off midway through the movie is a puzzling one. As such, the first half of HOUSE OF DRACULA is really good, while the second half loses quite a bit of steam. Before he is destroyed, Dracula mixes his blood with Dr. Edlemann’s, and the result is the doctor turns into an evil Mr. Hyde-like creation, going into the village and wreaking havoc. A good deal of screen time is spent on this character, which works against the movie. It would have been far more interesting had Dracula continued to be the main menace in this one.

And while the big news in HOUSE OF DRACULA is that Dr. Edlemann proves to be the best doctor ever!!!…as his attempt to cure Larry Talbot of lycanthropy is… wait for it, wait for it!… is successful! Yes, in HOUSE OF DRACULA, Talbot is cured and walks away free from his curse of being the Wolf Man! The truth of the matter is however that Lon Chaney Jr. enjoys some of his worst moments as the Wolf Man right here in HOUSE OF DRACULA.

The Wolf Man scenes are few and ineffective. The best sequence, in the cave, where he attacks Dr. Edlemann, is marred by the ridiculous and inexplicable moment when he suddenly turns back into a human! Also, Larry Talbot’s scenes are among the worst in the entire series, as he’s stuck saying only his stock cliche lines of “living the life of the damned,” woe is me, blah, blah, blah. His scenes in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN were far better, and his brief love story with the gypsy woman was exceptional. Nothing like that here in HOUSE OF DRACULA. And in terms of acting, it’s one of Chaney’s weakest performances as the character. In fact, after this movie, his contract with Universal was not renewed.

Anyway, he was cured!

The Frankenstein Monster scenes are also negligible, as once again the Monster spends most of the movie lying on his back on a table unable to move until he’s zapped with electricity, to rise for a few seconds, before being killed off again in the film’s finale. Glenn Strange played the Monster three times, and it’s not until ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN that he actually gets to enjoy some decent moments in the role.

In the climax to HOUSE OF DRACULA, there is a little bit of suspense as the cured Larry Talbot emerges as the hero and confronts the newly revived Frankenstein Monster, and since fans had followed this sympathetic character through several movies, there’s some suspense wondering if Talbot would survive or succumb to the Monster. And since the fiery climax in the castle is actually footage from the end of THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), in which Chaney played the Monster, in this film, as Talbot and the Monster, he’s basically fighting against himself!

Erle C. Kenton directed HOUSE OF DRACULA, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, and THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN. HOUSE OF DRACULA is the weakest of the three. It’s also incredibly quick, clocking in at just 67 minutes. This one could have been fleshed out way more.

Lionel Atwill appears here once again as yet another police inspector, Police Inspector Holtz. Sadly, Atwill was suffering from lung cancer during production, and it shows. He would die a few months later.

HOUSE OF DRACULA also lacks any memorable female roles. Both Martha O’Driscoll as nurse Miliza, and Jane Adams as the hunchbacked nurse Nina fail to make much of an impact. In fact, they generally share the worst scenes in the film, unfortunately.

And a quick shout out goes to character actor Skelton Knaggs who nearly steals the movie as grumbling villager Steinmuhl. “Dr. Edelmann killed my brother.” When Knaggs says that, he’s scarier than any of the monsters in this one!

Taken as a whole, HOUSE OF DRACULA is a tepid entry in the Universal monster series. But its Dracula scenes are very, very good, and John Carradine gets to shine as the character, until sadly, the sun shines on him, turning him into dust once again, strangely right in the middle of the movie he was dominating so easily!

So, when visiting the HOUSE OF DRACULA, it’s highly recommended you spend time in the Dracula wing.

That is, before he develops a pair of wings and flies away as a bat!

And on that note, it’s time to say so long, before things get really… batty!

—END—