Saturday, October 31, 2009
It's Halloween and I want to wish everyone a fun holiday. The two covers above are from Eclipse Comics and they feature vintage horror stories from the 50's by the likes of Toth, Cardy, Roussos, Meskin, and others rendered in fantastic 3-D under some lush and evocative covers by Dave Stevens and Berni Wrightson. I just found these for very nice prices a few weeks ago, just in time to enjoy them for the season. That Stevens image is one that will linger in your mind long after the holiday has passed.
Actually after gazing at these together it almost seems as if Berni Wrightson's misbegotten chap has fallen for the Stevens chick and his soggy trip to the bottom is the eventual outcome of desiring such a dangerous dame.
This is a terrifically fun movie from Rankin-Bass. Their holiday specials were something to always anticipate back when I was young. Rudolph is still the absolute best holiday show ever, and I make a point to watch every year. And Mad Monster Party is just as good. I never saw this one on TV, but I did find it on VHS several years ago. More recently I started looking for it on dvd and was disappointed when the Halloween season started and I couldn't turn it up. Seems they were whipping up a new version with some extras. They're pretty good as these things go, giving you a pretty good glimpse of how this show was made and how it got on the air.
I'm a huge Boris Karloff fan, and so this is a must for my collection. Boris is oustanding in this movie, his rich voice giving it a gravity it would otherwise lack. Phyllis Diller is in this movie, and while she's pretty entertaining, her presence does unfortunately distract from the overall monster-rally effect of the show. I do like that they made her the Monster's Mate, an inspired notion and used her to best effect if use her they had to do. The guy who does the voices for most of the other characters is fantastic, and the chick who voices Francesca is amazingly sexy in such an offbeat role. This is a real treat.
With a script by Harvey Kurtzman and character designs by Jack Davis, this one has a lot of punch, more than the typical Rankin-Bass offering.
I'm also a King Kong fan, and so this movie though it can't use Kong's name does feature the big ape in I guess what you'd have to call a cameo. It's a curious addition to any Kong fan's collection, and a necessary one.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Here's a fun bunch of covers for comics adapting the classic Universal movies. I have the classic flicks of course and I have these comics both in the original form and a handy-dandy trade. I need to dig those classics out and give them another look for the holiday!
No one would think that the American Godzilla King of the Monsters was a horror film. It has Godzilla of course demolishing Tokyo under the watchful eye of inserted American prop Raymond Burr, but the movie is just that a "monster movie" and not a "horror movie". There is too much gusto, too brisk pacing in the story to evolve much of a horror mood. Outside of some great music it's really not very scary.
Not so with Gojira the original from which the American flick is derived. That's a horror movie, a movie that somberly takes you into a nightmare world of monstrosities that rip homes and terrorized children. In Gojira the pain and suffering is felt to the soul as people die under Gojira's power. The destruction of one man's dreams also makes you empathize with the sacrifice it takes to subdue the existential threat. The Oxygen Destroyer is a gimmick, but not one that will work minus the ultimate sacrifice, giving the story a scope the American verison avoids.
Both are dandy flicks, both are fun. But Gojira is scary, scary right down in your soul.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
This is a collection of minor movies with a single exception. Boris Karloff was a great actor, and when paired with Bela Lugosi a magnetic screen presence they made some beautiful movie music indeed. They don't get paired save in one flick, but it's still fun.
The Walking Dead is a great old horror flick. It offers up a very sympathetic Boris as a felon drawn into an underworld scheme to murder an honest judge. Karloff's character is convicted and executed for a crime he didn't commit, but thanks to the science of Edmund Gwynn he gets a new lease on life though his connection to the grave seems most potent indeed. Karloff's character of Ellman here becomes an avenging angel of sorts who seems to have God's blessing to return from the darkness and wreak revenge on those who plotted against him. Though he never lays a hand on any of them, he nonetheless has his revenge. It's a surprisingly tense movie and Boris has never been better.
Frankenstein 1970 is a fun bit of fluff from the 50's and offers up a much older Boris as the grandson of the infamous Baron Frankenstein. Of course he's still involved in the family business and uses the presence of an American TV show cast and crew to both finance and supply more personal donations to his evil cause. The movie is a bit slow, but it's got a solid cast and while some accuse Boris of overacting in this one, I loved his scene chewing a lot. There are few scares in this one but some interesting twists on the classic tale nonetheless.
Zombies on Broadway has an outstanding title and it has Bela Lugosi, so I'm going to watch it. But this one has quite a bit of material by the Abbott & Costello wannabe team of comedians here and too little Bela. Bela is good but needs much more screen time. There are some pretty good zombies here though, the guy from the classic Val Lewton movie is on hand. But the humor ain't much to laugh at aside from a great gimmick Bela has with a monkey and some filing drawers.
You'll Find Out starring Kay Kiser was the surprise of this set to me. I thought this would be the weakest offering but it's full of zest and having Boris, Bela and Peter Lorre all three on hand makes it worthy indeed. Kay Kiser is the star and he's not bad as an actor. The Kay Kiser band gets stranded at an old mansion filled with mystics and evil doctors and the usual haunted house shenanigans ensue. It's funny in places it supposed to be and mildly creepy where it ought to be. Karloff, Lugosi, and Lorre seem to play their parts straight and that helps immensely, letting the comedy come from the others. This movie was entertaining.
All four flicks are worth the time and for the price it's hard to go wrong.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I recently picked up a collection of Universal horror flicks, movies that didn't really fit into any of their other broad categories. They were diverting for the most part.
The Black Cat was a fun whodunnit, with a cranky old heiress who lives among many many cats and spiteful relatives. She's knocked off, but not before the mystery of her will creates havoc throughout the household. There's the obligatory outsider who tries to solve the mystery and some comedy relief brought by a guy who spends the whole movie appraising the antiques in the house. Wouldn't get this one by itself, but as part of this collection it was fun. The movie has a neat creepy quality. That's no doubt due to the presence of Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone, who are minor players in this one, but nonetheless are pretty good.
Captive Wild Woman was a bit of a disappointment. I'd long read about Acquanetta and her exotic beauty and these movies that cast her as humanized gorilla. That's the plot, a beautiful woman is created by John Carradine in his lab from an African gorilla. That's a pretty good basis for a horror movie, but this one spends way too much time as a standard jungle movie with Clyde Beatty inserts from other movies used to prolong the action. There's way too much screentime featuring lions and tigers fussing around, and it stops the movie dead in its tracks. Nonetheless there are a few great scenes. I'd still like to see the sequels some day; I'm a glutton I guess.
Horror Island was a lot of fun. There's some humor and a mysterious old castle on a distant island that becomes used as a minor tourist attraction by our dashing hero and his assistants while they look for a reported treasure somewhere on the grounds. It's pretty complicated and there's a mysterous phantomish figure acting out but never really posing that much of a threat. A nice cast of solid performers makes this a diverting entertainment with limited ambitions. This movie knows it's just there to pass the time and it does it very well.
Man-Mad Monster is a pretty interesting spin on the classic Frankenstein model. A man, played with surprising energy and aplomb by Lon Chaney Jr., is used as a guinea pig by a unscrupulous scientist played by Lionel Atwill because he has an unusual affinity for electricity. Through many treatments the man is transformed into an electrified zombie and much suffering is had before he is able to regain some measure of control. This is a pretty tragic tale as from the first you like the hero and you know he's lost. Neatly done little triller.
And finally there's Night Monster a movie that is really pretty creepy in places. A man suffering from paralysis calls in the doctors who failed to cure him and begins a long process of revenge. How that revenge is able to manifest itself is the secret of the movie and involves Eastern mysticism. There are several likeable folks here and most of them get killed, and the finale is pretty exciting in a classic Mummy movie kind of way. Bela is in this one, but he doesn't have hardly anything to do. Lionel Atwill is great, but doesn't stay long enough either. This one has a really good cast all the way through.
These movies aren't anything to get to hopped up about, but they are what they were meant to be, reasonly solid entertainment. I was mostly entertained mightily by them.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" is supposedly his favorite short story and it's mine too. The blend of classic Lovecraftian atmosphere and the sprinkle of science fiction background gives this one a luster the more purely supernatural stories miss by a fraction. The development of the tale is relentless and the utter destruction of the poor Gardner family is difficult to abide, but like a horrific scene of any kind you cannot take your eyes away.
Needless to say, I was eager to at long last see the film adaptation starring Boris Karloff. The title was changed to the frenetic but meaningless Die Monster Die!. The story echoes the original, especially early on with an outsider played by All-American hero Nick Adams who finds a village terrified of the Whitleys, a family he's come to see because he has romantic interest in the young daughter. He finds a family falling apart, living beside a heath on which the plants are dead.
Boris is a scientist who seems to have found a way to make plants flourish using a mysterious meteor he keeps in the cellar, but that same stone is giving off rays that are killing everything around it eventually. There's madness and violence but rarely pacing. The story drags along with Nick Adams doing a better job in the lead than I expected. Boris is always good, but this character is limited. The ending is pretty lame really and has nothing to do with the Lovecraft original. The story deprives itself of the notion that the meteor was sentient, something that gives the original story a quality of the peculiar this movie ignores but making it all about boring old radiation.
"The Dunwich Horror" by Lovecraft made a big impression on me as a youngster. Reading it again, it has less power, but the sheer weirdness of the Whately clan is still among Lovecraft's best creations.
The movie version has very little to do with the original story. The Whately brothers are present, but beyond that it's a pretty standard devil-cult movie popular in the 60's. Wilbur Whately played by Dean Stockwell is an oddball, but alas has no chance to really become to truly bizarre Wilbur of the short story. He's just a cultist. His even more hideous brother is pretty effective when he's off screen, but when the monsterous sibling finally shows up there's no horror at all. It all falls pretty flat.
Ed Begley is okay as Armitage, and I'll give the movie credit for developing a mood early on. It just doesn't do much with all that momentum but squander it with scenes that maunder on. If it wasn't for getting a gander at Sandra Dee's gams, the movie's latter section would have little to offer.
When it comes to Lovecraft, the original is always best alas.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I was once upon a time a huge fan of AC Comics. I'm still a fan, but alas their few products have gotten a bit expensive for the spare entertainment contained. But back in the day, they were full of fun and light-hearted exploitative entertainment.
The core of AC Comics has always pretty much been Femforce, a collection of smart and beautiful superbabes who fight for right and sometimes even the American way. One thing AC is famous for, and it's because of Bill Black, the man behind AC, is the appreciation and revival of classic heroes from years gone by.
One old character they revived (sort of) was Dick Briefer's Frankenstein. For whatever reason, they couldn't or chose not to call him that, and instead called their version "Frightenstein".
Frightenstein showed up a few times in Femforce and then got spun out into his own horror one-shots which are really just old-fashioned ghost story anthologies. But the sport some fun covers, covers that show clearly what AC Comics are going for.
My plans changed yesterday quite by accident. While shopping at the local discount store for a few groceries, I checked out the bargain racks of movies. Things have been pretty slim there for some time. I found a few gems from the 80's, not a decade I normally collect. One was Strange Invaders , a quiet but surprisingly tense tale of alien invasion and smalltown America. The other was Toxic Avenger from Troma Pictures.
I saw this one time, many years ago after renting it on tape. I've never owned a copy of Toxic Avenger in any format, nor have I seen the two sequels. This is a fun but blistering movie. I don't have anything against boobs in a movie, they are great with me, and this movie offers up several handsome sets. There are several other sexual situations, but mostly the movie is infamous for its lurid violence.
There are no fewer than two heads utterly crushed on screen and assorted thugs have their eyes gouged out, skulls ripped off, guts plucked out, and so on and so forth. It's crude, but the special effects are so primitive that it has an almost school play charm to it. This movie is Halloween for sure, there's no way it's real, or pretends to be even in the moment.
The violence and the crude humor make for a shameless good time. Toxic Avenger (never called that in the actual movie save at the very end because the title postdates the movie's production) is a hero, a reluctant one who is torn between his desire to live a normal life (which for him means setting housekeeping in a garbage dump with his blind girlfriend) and his compulsion to hunt down and kill villains, which he does with gusto.
This movie was made for less than cheap, and it shows. The movie also is stranded helplessly in the decade of the 80's. The fashions scream, especially the lame health club gear that folks used to sport. Sheesh, what outlandish garb it was!
I enjoyed the movie, and enjoyed it even more with the director's commentary. Lloyd Kaufmann, the guy who came up with the original concept is all over this dvd. He leads a tour of the Troma studios, a tongue-in-cheek bit of low comedy, and he does a very lively commentary with the expected behind-the-scenes stuff but also some sharp criticism of some folks involved. This movie has lots of extras, and I recommend it. It's not for everyone though, so be warned.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Above is a gallery of covers by the great Neal Adams. Adams utterly transformed the whole look of DC Comics in the 60's. He took their covers, which had been long well enough designed and interesting, filled as they were with purple gorillas and golden giants, and brought a powerful modern zest to the whole mishmash. His stuff smacked you on the noggin. Whether he was rendering the designs of Carmine Infantino, or working from scratch, his work had a depth of character unseen in comics at the time.
His Deadman covers for Strange Adventures are among his very best. They utterly demand that you read the stories underneath.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Jack Kirby is the "King" of comics. I'm sure he drew vampires more often, but two of my favorite Kirby comics are The Adventures of Jimmy Olsen #142 and 143featuring Count Dragorin (a Dracula lookalike) and his motley gang of monsters from the minature planet of Transilvane. Wild wacky stuff it was!
Also above is an image of Count Dracula by Kirby done as Topps cards given as extras in issues of Topps Comics Vlad the Impaler back in the 90's. Kirby is inked by Mike Mignola on this one.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Above are four very spectacular vampire chicks! All of them are the "Daughters of Dracula" in a manner of speaking. What a way to go!
And while I'm at it, here's a link to the trailer for the classic Universal movie Dracula's Daughter, the official sequel to the Bela Lugosi classic. But alas there's no Bela.
I've been wanting to see this movie pretty much my whole life. I can't remember exactly how old I was when I saw a still of the Sun Demon in a vintage issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland but I was a mere boy. At that time, there were literally hundreds of movies that I despaired ever getting a chance to see, isolated as I was in the hills of Kentucky. But the miracle of VHS hit when I was a young man and I've been collecting and watching these old monster flicks ever since. Now it's DVD but the search is the same. As more and more of these quaint old things become available it's fun to finally get around to seeing them.
Well in this instance it was a distinct disappointment. The movie is a spare offering with Robert Clarke in the lead. Clarke is a sure sign of an impoverished movie, and one that relies on talk instead of show. That's a given, but this story seems fragmented from the get-go. The accident that starts all the trouble is one we never see, nor really do we see the atomic lab where it happened. All we know is that our "hero" was exposed and now is sensitive to sunlight. We get this information in huge doses of really dull exposition from doctors, friend, and such of the hero. In the first few minutes of the movie the "hero" seems almost a bit character in the movie and I suspected that maybe the exposition bits were done after the original show. I'm still convinced that Clarke and his leading lady were only in one or two scenes together really in the whole thing.
The only thing that sets this mopey thing apart is the distinct unlikeability of the "hero". He's a drunk, and it's suggested this might have caused the accident. Well anyway this barfly is now sensitive to sunlight, so much so that it triggers a change in his DNA and he reverts to a lizard form. He runs around growling like the wolfman, then recovers after finding shade. Each time he changes it gets quicker and easier to do. Nonetheless despite the obvious need to stay inside and avoid the sunlight, he of course keeps heading out to the nearest bar and getting a drink and as we find lots of trouble. Trouble that keeps getting him stuck in the daylight.
All this guy has to do is stay inside the house and he's safe. Sheesh. There are pretty girls in this one, and a really fast car. But mostly there's talk, talk, talk. The movie alas is really rather dull. Even the action sequences are edited in such a way as to draw out the time and so undercut the sense of tension. Rarely does the movie really get compelling. The finale is okay, but it took a long time to get there.
The make-up on the creature ain't bad for a movie of this vintage and budget, and it's the only thing that recommends this movie even a little. I like monster movies, and I'm willing to listen to lots of exposition, but I need more than this offers to really enjoy the show. I've waited a long time to see it, and I'm really sorry it wasn't better. It's still got a great title though.