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Month: December 2015

Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1958)

Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1958)

“You mustn’t let these ridiculous superstitions get the best of you!”

Daughter of Dr Jekyll Poster

Synopsis:
On her 21st birthday, a young woman (Gloria Talbott) brings her fiance (John Agar) to the home of her guardian, Dr. Lomas (Arthur Shields), who tells her a dark and devastating secret: she is the daughter of the infamous Dr. Jekyll, and may have inherited his violent proclivities. Talbott calls off her engagement and begins having terrible nightmares — but is she responsible for the recent spate of murders in the village?

Genres:

  • Edgar G. Ulmer Films
  • Falsely Accused
  • Horror
  • John Agar Films

Review:
B-level director Edgar Ulmer helmed a handful of beloved cult classics — including Detour (1945), Bluebeard (1944), and The Black Cat (1934) — as well as lesser efforts like this mash-up of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with werewolves and vampires. As in her best-known film — I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1956) — Talbott is nicely cast as a vulnerable woman made crazy and paranoid by the men around her, and Shields is fine as a seemingly kindly guardian with nefarious ulterior motives. The film’s primary problem is that the “mystery” is broadcast in the opening teaser, as we see Shields transforming into a werewolf-like Mr. Hyde and chortling at the camera; there’s really no question that he will ultimately be exposed as a murderous, monstrous crook. With all that said, this is a swiftly paced B-flick with atmospheric cinematography, and worth a one-time look by fans of Ulmer’s work.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The freaky nightmare sequences
    Daughter of Dr Jekyll Nightmare
  • Effective cinematography
    Daughter of Dr Jekyll Cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958)

I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958)

“Is pride something monsters don’t understand?”

I Married a Monster Poster

Synopsis:
A newlywed (Gloria Talbott) whose husband (Tom Tryon) suddenly acts emotionless learns that he has been possessed by an alien whose dying species hopes to propagate by marrying women on Earth — but no one will believe her story.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “intelligent, atmospheric, subtly made, deliberately paced sci-fi thriller” is one “of the best of the fifties ‘paranoia’ films”. He points out that director Gene Fowler, Jr.’s history as “an editor [for] Fritz Lang” is shown through “his use of shadows and bizarre camera angles to heighten tension” as well as “his ‘invisible’ editing (time passes on the screen, although it appears that the camera never shuts down).” He notes that Talbott — “an excellent heroine for sci-fi and horror films” — “gives a solid performance, exhibiting intelligence and a rare combination of strength and vulnerability”, but argues that “Tryon, years before becoming a best-selling author, is better as the alien than as the human counterpart”. (The fact that Tryon was gay in real life, thus truly lacking a desire for sexual intimacy with women, adds an interesting spin to this assertion.) To that end, some viewers have pointed out the subtle “gay undertones” to the film, given that Talbott is continuously sexually frustrated (she can’t get Tryon interested in sex or reproduction) and the men are more eager to spend time with each other than with their wives. Finally, I agree with Peary that this film’s “outrageous title is unsuited” for it: Tryon and his fellow aliens are devious and determined, but not particularly monstrous in their actions; why not call it I Married an Alien From Outer Space instead?

Note: The final shot in the film (of Tryon) seems inexplicable, but I suppose it was a necessary if illogical concession for a happy ending.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effectively atmospheric cinematography
    I Married a Monster Cinematography
    I Married a Monster Cinematography2

Must See?
Yes, as a well-made entry in a specific genre and era. Discussed at length in Peary’s Cult Movies book.

Categories

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Coma (1978)

Coma (1978)

“Medicine isn’t perfect — we all know that, don’t we?”

Coma Poster

Synopsis:
When her friend (Lois Chiles) goes into a coma during a routine operation, a medical resident (Genevieve Bujold) begins an investigation that causes everyone around her — including her boyfriend (Michael Douglas) and supervisor (Richard Widmark) — to worry she is becoming neurotic and unbalanced; but she quickly learns her concerns are legitimate, and struggles to get anyone at all to believe that healthy patients at her hospital are being deliberately killed and sent to an institute for unknown reasons.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “Nancy Drew-like murder mystery” — “based on Robin Cook’s best-seller” — offers French-Canadian Genevieve Bujold “her best role in an American film” as Dr. Susan Wheeler, “an unusually appealing heroine”. He notes that the film itself “is a real nail-biter”, with director Michael Crichton putting “us in a setting where we should feel secure… and suddenly things go wrong”. Indeed, it’s genuinely freaky how plausible a scenario like this one actually is, given that we have little choice but to trust that doctors have our best interests at heart, and to accept tragic “accidents” as part of the price we pay for the advantages of modern medicine. Without unusually plucky and persistent people like Dr. Wheeler, how would we find out what our supposed medical saviors are up to?

In his review, Peary writes that while the “hospital atmosphere and operation-room scenes” are “very true to life”, “you’ll have to suspend your disbelief at every turn” — which is somewhat true but not really a problem, given how innately appealing Bujold is. (Cinematic heroines almost always manage to discover elusive information and escape by the skin of their teeth, don’t they?) Meanwhile, I disagree with Peary’s assertion that the “dialogue relating to Bujold being a woman in a man’s world” is “now trite”: regardless of how gender relations currently function in modern hospitals (and I’m sure they’re still far from ideal), there is no doubt that female doctors in the 1970s dealt with many of the patronizing and sexist attitudes Dr. Wheeler faces but refuses to accept.

Note: Watch for Tom Selleck in a pre-“Magnum, P.I.” role as a doomed patient and Ed Harris in a small role as a pathology resident.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Genevieve Bujold as Dr. Wheeler
    Coma Bujold
  • Many tense, exciting scenes
    Coma Tense
  • Excellent sets
    Coma Sets

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable and gripping thriller.

Categories

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Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)

Manchurian Candidate, The (1962)

“Do you realize, comrade, the implications of the weapon that has been placed at your disposal?”

Manchurian Candidate Poster

Synopsis:
Upon his return from the Korean War, Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) is awarded a medal of honor and referred to by his men — including Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) — as “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being” they’ve ever known. But Marco is plagued by disturbing dreams about Shaw, and soon learns that Shaw is part of an elaborate Communist brainwashing conspiracy involving his scheming mother (Angela Lansbury) and her politician-husband, Senator Iselin (James Gregory).

Genres:

  • Angela Lansbury Films
  • >Cold War
  • Frank Sinatra Films
  • Janet Leigh Films
  • John Frankenheimer Films
  • Laurence Harvey Films
  • Mind Control and Hypnosis
  • Political Conspiracy
  • Veterans

Review:
John Frankenheimer’s suspenseful political thriller — based on a 1959 novel by Richard Condon, and remade by Jonathan Demme in 2004 — was considered a flop at the time of its release, and remained mysteriously out of circulation for 20 years, but has since become a cult classic. Lansbury’s Academy Award-nominated performance as Mrs. Iselin — one of cinema’s most memorable sociopath mothers — is truly chilling, as is the lengthy, creatively filmed Manchurian “garden party”/brainwashing sequence, which effectively puts the audience on edge from the get-go. George Axelrod’s screenplay (hewing fairly closely to the novel) is at times perplexing, but likely intentionally so: I believe we’re not meant to fully understand what’s happening at times (is what we’re seeing flashback or dream?), and instead simply remain caught up in the suspense of the narrative as it unfolds.

With that said, the screenplay isn’t without flaws. My least favorite characters are Lansbury’s political rival (John McGiver) and his gorgeous daughter (Leslie Parrish), who Harvey is immediately smitten with; I can’t quite get a read on how they’re meant to be viewed, though they clearly serve an integral function in the storyline. Meanwhile, Janet Leigh as Sinatra’s love interest is oddly opaque: she approaches the distressed Sinatra with motherly compassion, speaking in what can only be interpreted as some sort of mysterious code — “I was one of the original Chinese workmen who laid the track on this train.” — then becomes simply a mother-figure Sinatra can lean on for unconditional support during a time of crisis. However, it’s likely she serves a more important function than appearances would indicate (see DVD Savant’s review for an outline of various theories about her character).

The film is quite dark — at times satirically so (as in the depiction of Gregory as a spineless political puppet), and at times much more violently (i.e., the disturbing finale to the brainwashing flashbacks, as well as the cold-blooded assassination scenes). This shifting between tones — along with the continuous edits back and forth in time and between perspectives — add to the overall sense of paranoia and unease. Also instrumental to the film’s success are atmospheric cinematography and strategic direction, including good use of extreme close-ups and deep focus to exaggerate the surrealism of the nightmarish situation. Sinatra’s real-life friendship with the Kennedy family simply adds to its historical intrigue.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many genuinely creepy, nightmarish moments
    Manchurian Candidate Creepy
  • The “garden party” scene
    Manchurian Candidate Garden Party1
    Manchurian Candidate Garden Party2
  • Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Iselin
    Manchurian Candidate Lansbury
  • Frank Sinatra as Major Bennett Marco
    Manchurian Candidate Sinatra
  • Lionel Lindon’s cinematography
    Manchurian Candidate Cinematography
    Manchurian Candidate Cinematography3
    Manchurian Candidate Cinematography2

Must See?
Yes, as a well-made cult favorite. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book. Selected in 1994 for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Categories

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Legend of Hell House, The (1973)

Legend of Hell House, The (1973)

“This house… It knows we’re here.”

Legend of Hell House Poster

Synopsis:
A physicist (Clive Revill), his wife (Gayle Hunnicutt), and two mediums (Pamela Franklin and Roddy McDowall) are solicited by a wealthy older man (Roland Culver) to visit an infamous haunted house and investigate the secrets it may possess about life after death.

Genres:

Review:
Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, this highly atmospheric “old dark house” flick — a mash-up of The Haunting (1963) with The Exorcist (1973) — delivers plenty of bang for its buck. It’s creatively directed (by John Hughes and DP Alan Hume), finely acted, and genuinely suspenseful. Franklin is particularly effective in a challenging role: her self-possessed demeanor contrasts nicely with her youthful appearance, and her character transformations are both believable and shocking. The film’s main’s disappointment is its climactic “reveal”, which viewers have apparently been debating for years (see IMDB’s message boards); but it’s easy enough to forgive in light of the satisfying tale we’ve witnessed until then. The score is exceptional, too.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Pamela Franklin as Florence Tanner
    Legend Hell House Franklin
  • Alan Hume’s cinematography
    Legend of Hell House Cinematography2
    Legend Hell House Cinematography
  • Fine direction
    Legend Hell House Direction1
  • An effectively spooky electronic score by Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

Links:

Clonus Horror, The / Parts: Clonus Horror (1979)

Clonus Horror, The / Parts: Clonus Horror (1979)

“This is your chance for immortality! You don’t need to worry, because there is a duplicate of you!”

Clonus Horror Poster

Synopsis:
A physically fit young man (Tim Donnelly) living on a compound with guards and a patronizing doctor (Dick Sargent) begins to question the Utopian “America” he will eventually be sent to, and soon learns he and others — including his new girlfriend (Paulette Breen) — are being bred as clones for wealthy patrons wanting spare organs.

Genres:

  • Androids and Clones
  • Escape
  • Horror
  • Keenan Wynn Films
  • Science Fiction

Review:
This low-budget sci-fi thriller is probably best known both for its spoofing by MST3K in 1999, and for the copyright infringement lawsuit brought by its producer against Dreamworks for making The Island (2005) without acknowledging its similarity to this film. Unfortunately, despite a provocative premise, The Clonus Horror comes across as amateurish and poorly acted; even cameo roles by Keenan Wynn and Lorene Tuttle as concerned citizens who try to help Donnelly are laughably overdone.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A provocative and creepy premise
    Clonus Horror Still

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look if you’re curious.

Links:

Fearless Vampire Killers, The or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967)

Fearless Vampire Killers, The or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967)

“I am a night bird; I am not much good in the daytime.”

Fearless Vampire Killers Poster

Synopsis:
Vampire-hunting Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his nebbishy assistant Alfred (Roman Polanski) arrive in a small Transylvanian town where Alfred falls for the beautiful, bath-loving daughter (Sharon Tate) of an innkeeper (Alfie Bass) and his wife (Jessie Robins). When Tate is bitten and kidnapped, Professor Abronsius and Alfred travel to the castle of Count Von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne), who is hosting a gala vampire ball.

Genres:

Review:
Critical and popular opinions seem to be enormously divided on this “genre outing” by Roman Polanski, who both starred and directed. Cult-like fans adore its quirky sensibilities, while detractors are annoyed by its over-reliance on slapstick and find its fame incomprehensible. Polanski himself apparently disowned the film (also known as Dance of the Vampires) when it was cut down from its original 148-minute running time to just 107 or 91 minutes. (Missing from the version I watched was this animated opening sequence, though I’m not sure what else was taken out.) Peary is clearly a fan, given that he lists it as a Personal Recommendation in the back of his book — but I happen to fall in the camp of detractors. I find the lead protagonists insufferable, and grow weary of the physical “knock-about” humor almost immediately.

With that said, I do appreciate Douglas Slocombe’s gorgeous cinematography — much shot in the snowy outdoors, which lends a unique atmosphere to the proceedings — and I also admire Polanski’s attempts at satirizing a beloved genre. The culminating vampire ball is quite a sight to behold, with the presence of decrepit and decaying aristocrats making one question the trope of vampires as invariably gorgeous young men and women. And Krystov Komeda’s score is mesmerizing. But none of this can make up for the inane slapstick and nincompoop leads. As a final thought, I will cite Time Out’s reviewer, who writes that “With all its faults, [it’s] an engaging oddity”; ultimately, all film fanatics should see it once to craft their own opinion.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography
    Fearless Vampires Cinematography
  • The creepy yet humorous vampire ball sequence
    Fearless Vampire Ball1
    Fearless Vampire Ball2
    Fearless Vampire Ball3
  • Krystov Komeda’s score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

Links:

Asphyx, The (1972)

Asphyx, The (1972)

“Having lost Clyde, your brother, I must never lose you.”

Asphyx Poster

Synopsis:
After the tragic loss of his son (Ralph Arliss) and fiancee (Fiona Walker), a British squire (Robert Stephens) becomes obsessed with the notion that a mythological spirit known as an asphyx can be viewed and captured at the moment someone is about to die. With the help of his daughter (Jane Lapotaire) and adopted son (Robert Powell), he conducts increasingly risky experiments in the name of achieving immortality for himself and the remains of his family.

Genres:

Review:
This Victorian-era sci-fi/horror flick is based on an unusual and provocative premise, but suffers from a few too many gaps in logic. The titular entity itself — an “asphyx” (spirit) that arrives just as a person is dying and can somehow be trapped, thus leading to immortality — doesn’t really make much sense, and neither do the workings of the contraption used to view and secure the asphyx (which inexplicably involves blue crystals and a water supply). Even if we accept this odd process and phenomenon as part of the movie’s unique logic, the behavior of the primary character doesn’t convince, either: Stephens is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress after losing his son and fiancee, fixating on the mystery of the asphyx to gain a sense of control over the whims of mortality — but his actions are extreme, and hint at deeper psychological issues that aren’t sufficiently explored. Meanwhile, Powell’s overly stoic performance (think Buster Keaton) prevents us from empathizing with him; while it’s clear he’s under the sway of his beloved foster father’s influence, this can’t quite explain the extreme risks he takes with his fiancee. Speaking of risks, the presence of a guillotine at one point is explained away as allowing the (immensely likable) would-be victim to “feel fear” (!) — but couldn’t another, less vicious method have been secured for her near-death experience? In the film’s favor are lovely sets, vibrant Todd-AO cinematography, and some nifty special effects — but overall, this one is a disappointment.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Freddie Young’s cinematography
    Asphyx Cinematography2
  • Fine period sets and special effects
    Asphyx Cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look as an unusual horror outing.

Links:

Twins of Evil (1972)

Twins of Evil (1972)

“They are all slaves to Count Karnstein — and he is their evil master!”

Twins of Evil Poster

Synopsis:
A recently orphaned set of identical twins — timid Maria (Mary Collinson) and adventurous Frieda (Madeleine Collinson) — come to live with their kind aunt (Kathleen Byron) and puritanical uncle (Peter Cushing), who leads a viciously ruthless brotherhood of witchhunters. When Frieda becomes enamored by Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) — a hedonistic vampire who has recently resurrected Carmilla (Katya Wyeth) from her coffin — she becomes her uncle’s newest target; meanwhile, Mary falls for a visiting schoolteacher (David Warbeck) who is confused about which twin he longs for.

Genres:

Review:
Following The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire (1971), Twins of Evil was the third and final installment in Hammer Studios’ “Karnstein trilogy”, and is primarily notable as the first movie to feature twin Playboy centerfolds (!). The Collinson sisters — while not great actors — are pretty, charming, and do a decent job embodying facets of “good and evil” in one visage (much like Olivia De Haviland in The Dark Mirror). Meanwhile, Cushing has never been more sober or skeletal, and Thomas is effectively sociopathic as a playboy count with truly sadistic tastes. Given its atmospheric sets and fine cinematography, Twins of Evil will certainly appeal to fans of period horror flicks, though the script fails to elevate the material above predictable fare with plenty of gaps in logic. Watch the extended documentary The Flesh and the Fury: X-posing Twins of Evil (2012) for more background information than you ever thought possible about this cult flick (and its two predecessors).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Dick Bush’s cinematography
    Twins of Evil Cinematography2
    Twins of Evil Cinematography
  • Atmospheric sets and direction
    Twins of Evil Sets
    Twins of Evil Sets2

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look for its cult status.

Links:

Lust for a Vampire / To Love a Vampire (1971)

Lust for a Vampire / To Love a Vampire (1971)

“Do you know who it was, Mircalla? The portrait of Carmilla Karnstein — it was you!”

Lust for a Vampire Poster

Synopsis:
An author (Michael Johnson) visiting a finishing school becomes enchanted with Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard), a resurrected vampire from the nearby Karnstein castle. Meanwhile, a sycophantic instructor (Ralph Bates) uncovers Mircalla’s secret identity and is determined to become her disciple, while a concerned gym teacher (Suzanna Leigh) worries about the mysterious disappearance of Mircalla’s beautiful roommate (Pippa Steele).

Genres:

Review:
Following in the footsteps of Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire was the second of Hammer Studios’ three “Karnstein vampire flicks”, based on the novella by Sheridan Le Fanu. As many have noted, Danish beauty Yutte Stensgaard is sexy but lacks charisma, and her character pales in comparison to Ingrid Pitt’s more nuanced portrayal as Carmilla in The Vampire Lovers. Meanwhile, Bates — so compelling in the same year’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) — simply comes across as silly, and the film’s obvious replacement for Christopher Lee (Mike Raven as Count Karnstein) merely lurks menacingly in the shadows. The entire film is essentially an extended excuse to show off nubile young women with heaving bosoms in various states of skimpy dress and undress. The most laughable moment by far: Johnson and Stensgaard get romantic (he cares not a whit about her inconvenient status as a vampire) while a ballad entitled “Strange Love” suddenly begins playing in the background.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lush cinematography
    Lust for a Vampire Cinematography

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for vampire-flick completists. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.

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