Cinema Sunday: Top Ten Hammer Films!

Lets cut to the chase, I’m a Hammer studios addict, and that being said, we all know they’re the greatest studio to produce horror films that ever was, is, and will be. With stars like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Veronica Carlson, then adding great character actors like Michael Ripper, Oliver Reed, Andrew Keir, Andre Morell, etc., and under the direction of Terence Fisher, John Gilling, Anthony Hinds, and Jimmy Sangster, their films have no competition (overall in the broad sense).

Obviously an argument could be made for Universal, but I tend to look at it as Universal being the foundation and Hammer being the house. Yes, you do need a solid foundation but no one looking to be a home owner is excited about stone and mortar. When is the last time a party-goer entered a house and complimented the owner on the cinder blocks? Important, yes. The best part, I think not.

So, with all that being said, here are my top ten Hammer Studio films! Keep in mind, just straight up horror films here for the most part! Enjoy!

 

10. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

  • This film isn’t perfect by any means, and the rape scene is absolutely ludicrous (Dr. Frankenstein would never commit that act). But when there is action a-plenty, gruesome murders, and one scene of dialogue in particular that sums up the good doctor perfectly. Cushing is on top of his game for sure in this film, as usual. Oh, and the gorgeous (and most beautiful Hammer girl in my humble opinion) Veronica Carlson is in this film.

9. The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)

  • A Hammer film about a Yeti? Yes! This black and white gem is nothing short of incredible. It’s not because a Yeti invades an encampment and starts tearing people’s limbs off, then beating them over the head with them (although that would be cool), it’s because the film builds tension and the suspense is great. Think John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Yes, in that film there are plenty of gruesome moments, but its the suspense he builds that makes the film outstanding.

8. The Reptile (1966)

  • 1966 was a great year for Hammer studios. Five films and four of them were very solid films. This one in particular is a favorite of mine because of Jacqueline Pearce. She portrays a young woman who is seemingly kept prisoner by her own father. We later find out why he’s so overbearing. Her performance is quite good along with a larger than usual role for Hammer stalwart, Michael Ripper. Anytime he gets more screen time, the film is better for it! Good sets and atmosphere in this flick.

7. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

  • Not wanting to be typecast, Christopher Lee bowed out of playing Dracula after Hammer’s first film starring the count (more on that one later). The franchise did suffer without him briefly, but he returned to the role that put him on the map a few years later in this film. With no dialogue (Lee has his version why and so does Jimmy Sangster (the writer) about why), Lee manages to be extremely menacing and cements himself as the best Dracula ever.

6. The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

  • In this movie, André Morell shows us just how good he can be in a horror film. Not only is he the “hero,” but also a concerned, loving father, a friend, a smartypants, and a gentleman, all at once. throw in another appearance by the lovely Jacqueline Pearce, along with Diane Clare, John Carson (a great lout in this one!), and once again, Michael Ripper! Great atmospherics, music (James Bernard), and sets in this one.

5. The Gorgon (1964)

  • This one is based on a classic Greek myth of old and stars Cushing, Lee, Shelley, and had Terence Fisher directing, and John Gilling writing. The gang’s all here for this one, and it really does put on quite a show. An insane asylum, a corrupt town hiding a secret, Cushing in more of a heel role with Lee more of the hero along with a fine performance by Richard Pasco. This is a film that can be watched every so often and never get tiresome. Another film with a noteworthy musical score as well as excellent sets.

4. (Horror of) Dracula (1958)

  • The first Dracula film by Hammer, and it’s still probably the best Cushing/Lee team up of all time. Cushing is an excellent Dr. Van Helsing, and Lee was born to wear the fangs and hiss at audiences with blood dripping from his lips. Michael Gough is also on top of his game here with George Woodbridge in a small role as he had in multiple Hammer films. Never miss an opportunity to see this film.

3. The Mummy (1959)

  • Hammer really went away from the original 1932 film (Boris Karloff), borrowing elements from other films and adding in their own ingredients, and mixing it all together. This film is definitely in Peter Cushing’s top five performances of all time. He really commands the scenes and shows why he, along with Lee are the faces of Hammer films. Very good sets, and the action scenes are tremendous.

2. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

  • Another film with the dual threat of Cushing and Lee, we also get André Morell as well! In this adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel, we see Cushing (Sherlock Homes) and André Morell (Dr. Watson), play off of each other wonderfully. Throw in a solid performance by Christopher Lee, an incredible score by James Bernard, all under the watchful eye of director Terence Fisher, and you get one of Hammer’s best films no matter what genre you compare it to!

And the number one film is…

 

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

  • In this first horror film collaboration between Cushing and Lee, you can see the teamwork and power these two have together. Cushing is perfect for his role as the morally ambiguous doctor, as is Lee in his depiction of the unfortunate creature. Good performances by Robert Urquhart, Hazel Court, and Valerie Gaunt, add to the great gift this film truly is for film addicts. The beginning of the film, the flashback that dovetails around right back to the beginning/end is marvelous in every sense that a film can be. This is the one that started it all (the great horror run for Hammer)!

Honorable mention for films that didn’t quite make the cut (pardon the pun)!

Brides of Dracula (1961)

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

 

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)

Title: The Flesh and the Fiends (Mania- U.S. title)

Distributor: Regal Film Distributors

Writers: John Gilling (and Leon Griffiths)

Director: John Gilling

Producers: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman

Starring: Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasance, George Rose

Released: February 1960 (U.K.)

MPAA: UR

 

 

By the time the year 1960 rolled around, Peter Cushing was blooming into a horror film star. He’d already launched Hammer Studios into the atmosphere (along with others like Christopher Lee), with films such as Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959). As if his incredible presence wasn’t enough, we get a very young Donald Pleasance (Circus of Horrors– 1960, Halloween– 1978, Escape from New York– 1981) as one of the main players as well!

Based off of a true story (Burke and Hare), this film is considered a horror film but is more like a noir film with other elements, like mystery, crime, etc. Let’s get on with the synopsis!

 

 

The film begins with some grave-robbers in a cemetery. They’re digging up a corpse, but for what purpose, we do not know. The scene then switches to a street in Edinburgh, and the Academy of Dr. Knox (the year 1828). We see a beautiful young lady, Martha Knox,  (June Laverick) the niece of Dr. Knox, as she’s exiting a coach. She knocks on the door, and is greeted by Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell (Dermot Walsh). They exchange pleasantries, and he explains that he didn’t recognize her at first because she’s been gone for three years (she’s matured a lot apparently).

 

Inside the classroom, Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing) is teaching a room full of students hoping to become doctors themselves one day. He jokes with them, but also tries to impress upon them the importance of striving to push forward and break down barriers. He gets a standing ovation, then exits the hall. He’s pursued by one student in particular, a young man named Chris Jackson (John Cairney). He wants some input about how he can get better and graduate, something he believes he would’ve done by now. Dr. Knox tells him that he can get some extra tutoring but must pay for it by helping out around the school to earn extra money.

 

Afterward, Dr. Knox comes into the living room (apparently the school is attached to his home), and i surprised by his niece. Before they can get the conversation going, Chris comes in and tells Dr. Knox that some gentlemen are around back with a “stiff.” Knox chides him for using such terms, and then heads back to inspect the corpse. He pays the men for it, then sends them on their way.

Later that evening, the men are at a local pub (The Merry Duke) getting drunk and tell about how Dr. Knox pays well for cadavers. Two other men that are on hard times financially overhear this. Both William Burke (George Rose), and William Hare (Donald Pleasance) realize this is a way to make a quick buck, so they begin digging up fresh corpses for the good doctor to use at his school. Burke and Hare are an unscrupulous lot, and after a short spell, the fresh corpse market dries up. The two then resort to murder, and their reign of terror haunts the back alleys of Edinburgh.

 

Meanwhile, the good doctor to be, Chris, finds himself a girlfriend. The only problem is that Mary Patterson (Billie Whitelaw) is a rather seedy type herself, and eventually breaks his heart. She just cannot turn away from her promiscuity and drinking, no matter how much Chris seems to love and care for her. As this is going on, Burke and Hare manage even to murder a poor, local boy, Daft Jamie (Melvyn Hayes), but as they do, a witness sees the deed going on, and informs the authorities.

 

Will Burke and Hare pay for their crimes? And what fate will befall Dr. Knox for his role in this murderous scheme? You must watch to find out the surprise ending to this film!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This story is a good one, and the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it all the better. Another fact is that the film being in black and white is for the best as well. As usual, Cushing delivers a rock-solid performance, and his fans expect nothing less. His ability to lift inferior scripts, casts, etc., to greater heights. Not that he needs to necessarily in this film, but the cast isn’t over the top great. There is one other outstanding performance, and that is the one portrayed by Donald Pleasance. He really turns on the creep factor, and is a very evil person in this film. Billie Whitelaw is also quite good in her role, if not slightly outrageous.

The sets, costumes, and music (Stanley Black), are all splendid. There are a couple of surprises in this one, and they’ll not be spoiled in this review, so no worries. The director, John Gilling, is most known for his work with Hammer Studios, as is Cushing, of course, but this film was actually put out by a smaller production company (Triad Productions). But don’t let that fool you, the film is a winner, and more than worth your time! This company had a few good films including one of my favorite sci-fi/horror films, The Trollenberg Terror!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: It Came from Outer Space (1953)

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Title: It Came from Outer Space

Distributor: Universal-International

Writer: Harry Essex (novel by Ray Bradbury, and perhaps the screenplay as well)

Director: Jack Arnold

Producer: William Alland

Starring: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Russell Johnson, Joe Sawyer

Released: May 1953

MPAA: Approved

 

 

After a long winter hiatus, I wanted to return to my roots and review a film from the classic sci-fi (B-movie) genre! Along with classic horror, this category is near and dear to my heart, for reasons that would take forever to explain. Suffice to say they both are treasures from my youth that I still hold close, and got me through some adverse times.

One thing that makes B-movies from the 1950s and 1960s so good, was the “tough guy” lead actors. Perhaps none more so than Richard Carlson. A real life bad apple, serving in the United States Navy as a pilot, Carlson brought his fearlessness to the big screen (and small screen). A cigarette smoking, fist fighting, ladies man who had a very short list of peers in those categories (probably only John Agar), Carlson epitomized everything about that far gone era of films.

In this film however, Carlson is more of the reasonable man, than throwing punches every five minutes. Yes there is some action on his part, but he’s mostly the voice of reason that doesn’t use violence. OK, let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with a spaceship crashing to Earth, on the outskirts of a small, middle-American town. A voice tells us that a little about the town, and the scenery there. We see inside the voice’s home, and as John Putnam (Richard Carlson), and his girlfriend, Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) are sharing a quiet moment together, they head outside to stargaze. Putnam has a huge telescope, and he peeks through it, hoping to see something. Ass the two are about to start making out, they see a meteorite (or so the think)rocketing towards the nearby desert. It smashes into the Earth, and Putnam, being an amateur astronomer gets riled up about it.

 

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We the viewers get to see that it was no meteorite, but a space ship that crashed. As the smoke clears, we see a terrifying looking alien pop out of a door on the ship! It searches the nearby area, leaving a trail of slime behind it as it scares off the desert animals. The following day, John, Ellen, and a chopper pilot (Dave Willock) investigate. John heads down inside the crater to get a closer look, and when he does, he’s shocked to see an alien space craft! He approaches the open door, but it slams shut, causing some loose rocks to slide down over the craft. John manages to crawl out unscathed, but Ellen and Pete don’t believe him.

 

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As they’re trying to figure things out, Sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake) shows up with his deputy, and of course they laugh at Putnam, saying he’s nuts. Of course Ellen and Pete can’t verify the story since they didn’t go down to see it themselves. As they’re driving home, one of the creatures is standing right in the middle of the highway! It forces them off of the road, causing them to almost smash into a rock. As John gets out to investigate, the creature is in the brush, watching him.

The following day, the news media has found out about the “meteorite” crash, and is going crazy. Scientists, the military, and even the sheriff and his men are there lurking around. They continue to make fun of John, and even harass Ellen. The sheriff also tries to warn off John about being with Ellen (as he worked for her father and told him he’d look out for her after his death). John tells the sheriff that Ellen does what she wants, and that he isn’t telling her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.

 

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On their way home, John and Ellen run into a couple of friends that work for the utilities company. One of them, George (Russell Johnson) tells them that everything has been calm as far as they’ve seen. He and Frank (Joe Sawyer) let John listen to some strange noises over the phone lines, but they can’t figure out what is causing it.

Over the next few days, townspeople, begin to disappear for a day or so, only to return in a dazed state like they’ve been hypnotized. They seem to have an ulterior motive for everything they do, and that eventually gets the skeptical sheriff to wonder what is going on. John eventually searches the desert area by the crater, and finds an old abandoned mine. He tries to enter but is confronted by one of the aliens. The alien tells him they mean no harm but recruited the townspeople to help repair their ship, so they can return to the cosmos. Putnam believes the creature, but will the sheriff?

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

One of the earliest films about this subject (you did already have The Thing from Another World, and The Day the Earth Stood Still at this point, plus some other notables), the angle of aliens that were not evil is something you really need to consider. That was not the norm and quite frankly still isn’t. We have Ray Bradbury to thank for that, and from some reading I’ve done, the man credited as screenwriter pretty much just took what Bradbury wrote and made extremely minor changes. We all know Bradbury is a beast at writing scary, weird stories, but he should get the credit for this one.

Most of the films from this era don’t have very notable music but Herman Stein did a good job on this one. Very threatening, and melodramatic when needed. Clifford Stine was on top of his game with the cinematography as well, especially in the scenes with the aliens.

Carlson is his usual awesome self. He’s a very strong presence in every film he’s been the lead in, and that is a fact. Barbara Rush is quite good as well. She does a fantastic job as John’s girlfriend, a concerned citizen, trying to balance being a school teacher and that usual form of reasoning versus her feelings for John and his beliefs and so on. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a very beautiful woman either (image below), as she’s basically the only woman in the entire film!

 

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Don’t hesitate, look this one up and give it a viewing. Set aside a rainy afternoon and check out this classic! You won’t be disappointed!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Nightmare Castle (1965)

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Title: Nightmare Castle

Distributor: Allied Artists Pictures (U.S.)

Writers: Mario Caiano, Fabio De Agostini,

Director: Mario Caiano

Producer: Carlo Caiano

Starring: Barbara Steele, Lawrence Clift, Paul Miller, Helga Line

Released: July 1965 (Italy)

MPAA: UR

 

Taking a break from the Boris Karloff addiction, and roaming across the seas for a look at one of my favorite scream queens of all time, Barbara Steele! A while ago I reviewed Black Sunday, another film starring Miss Steele, and that one was a product of the late, great Mario Bava. This film didn’t have his legendary vision, but I’ll bet it will surprise you! Alright, let’s get down to business!

 

The film starts with a mad scientist guy experimenting on frogs. A beautiful woman approaches, and we find out then that Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) is on the precipice of a break through. His wife, Muriel (Barbara Steele), taunts him, as he’s about to leave on a trip to a science conference. The maid interrupts their little spat, and then later, Stephen leaves in a carriage. Before he leaves, he leaves instructions with the gardener, David (Rik Battaglia), that he needs to take care of a few things while he’s gone.

 

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After he leaves, David comes into the house and at this time we find out that he and Muriel have had an affair. As they run to the greenhouse to make whoopie, they’re both seen by the maid, and she has a sinister look on her face. The two begin making out in the greenhouse, but before things can get to crazy, they’re surprised by Stephen. Apparently he knew something was up and faked his departure earlier. He smashes the gardener over the head with a poker, then the next time we see the trio, Stephen has the two adulterers chained up in the basement, and is whipping the beejeesus out of them.

 

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As the torture is continuing, Muriel tells him that she knew that he was a beast, so she tore up the old will she had made that bequeathed everything to him, and made a new one that leaves every penny to her sister (who’s apparently mentally unstable).  Stephen then tries to get Muriel to tell him where the will is, and that if she does, he’ll not kill her and things can go back to normal. She refuses of course, and then we see him and the maid, Solange (Helga Liné), trying to formulate a plan. They resolve that they’ll kill the two in the basement, and then set their sights on the sister.

 

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He concocts a plan, and then executes it. He ties Muriel to the bed, then drops some acid on her! He then releases her boyfriend, who lunges to her side. At that moment, he electrocutes the two of them! Time passes, and we see Stephen continuing his experiments. He uses the blood from his dead wife and her lover to reverse the aging process on the maid, Solange (who’s now beautiful, and not old and decrepit).

 

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The scene changes again (some time passes I believe), and the carriage approaches the home. We now see Solange, as she comes outside to greet Muriel’s sister, Jenny (Steele again, but now blond, instead of her trademarked jet-black hair). Solange is startled at the uncanny resemblance of the girl, but also the fact that Stephen is with her, and announces that the two were married just this morning. The two then set out to drive Jenny insane, and then they’ll have the family fortune all to themselves. Stephen and Solange think they have Jenny trapped like a fly in the web of a spider…but what they don’t realize is that sometimes the spider becomes the fly, and can become the victim as well!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is one that fits into the category of being better than it gets credit for. Of course you’ll have those that will say it’s cheesy, or cheap, or that it lacks quality in certain areas. While that may be true at times, you cannot deny the foundation of the film, which is the actors. Barbara Steele does a great job in her dual role (actually triple role, but I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself). She really has a knack for playing someone who is truly sinister. Between this film and Black Sunday, she should be mentioned in the same breath as the other female horror greats that have graced the screen.

The film is also slightly esoteric, but this is part of its charm (and all movies of this type). Some get put-off by dubbing, but this film does a decent job compared to some atrocities that are out there. The home where the film largely takes place, is atmospheric enough to lend some weight to help things along. A mediocre sound track also helps in a couple of spots as well. The two leading ladies are nothing short of gorgeous (images below), and that is something this era is spectacularly known for, and is expected by fans. Murder, betrayal, possession, ghosts, torture, you name it, you get it all in this must see film for any Barbara Steele fan!

 

Click here for the trailer (even though I believe the film is public domain)!

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Ape (1940)

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Title: The Ape

Distributor: Monogram Pictures

Writers: Richard Carroll, Kurt Siodmak

Director: William Nigh

Producer: William Nigh, William Lackey

Starring: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gertrude W. Hoffmann

Released: Septmeber 1940

MPAA: Approved

 

The list of films I’d like to watch and review is about ten miles long. That’s OK though, as I’m only half way shot. Speaking of getting shot, Boris Karloff has been shot, stabbed, electrocuted, etc., more times than I can count. He’s really been in every situation you can imagine in his films, and he always looks brilliant doing it. Who else could star in a film called “The Ape” and sell tickets? No, this isn’t the most cerebral film you’re ever going to see, but Karloff can take any film and make it rise above an inferior script, cast, whatever. He was that great. OK, on with the film…

 

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The circus is in town! Of course everyone is excited, and the kids are jacked up to see the ferocious beasts. They sneak over to the “crazy doctor’s” house for some mischief. Over inside the town drug store, the townspeople are discussing this same doctor. They feel as if this doctor is using people and not healing them. Nobody seems to have the courage to do anything about it though. Just then, the doctor comes in, and everyone clams up. He then sees the druggist for some meds he needs. The two men retreat to another room for privacy, and the druggist tells him the townspeople are getting inquisitive about his motives.

 

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Later, Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) visits a patient of his named Miss Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon). She’s wheelchair bound, and reminds him very much of his daughter, who passed away years ago. He buys her gifts to show his affection for her, but he also experiments on animals to try to find a cure for her affliction. He promises her she’ll walk again, and she tells him she’s scared when he talks so crazy. Her boyfriend Danny (Gene O’Donnell) shows up, and the doctor tells him that they’ll take Frances to the circus tonight.

 

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Later that night, the town is bustling as opening night is here. Dr. Adrian bows out from the trip though, and Danny and Frances go alone. Meanwhile, that same group of kids are sneaking to the front of the crowd. They remark at how big the gorilla is and that he’s the size “of six men.” Danny and Frances are having a good time, but back at the Doctor’s lab, we see him experimenting on a dog. The circus ends, and Danny and Frances head out. After everyone leaves, one of the employees is checking to make sure everything is as it should be. Over at the gorilla cage, an employee taunts the beast, and it begins to get wild. The owner comes by and reprimands him, but after he leaves the gorilla grabs the man and almost kills him. A cigar dropped by the man starts a fire, and they release the animals so they don’t get killed. The gorilla escapes in the confusion.

 

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Over at the doctor’s office, the circus men bring the man in that was almost killed by the ape. The doctor agrees to help the man, who’s clearly delusional. At this moment, the doc gets a sinister look in his eyes. We then get the impression that he’s going to use him as a guinea pig for his experiments on how to cure Frances. Meanwhile, the circus and townspeople are searching for the beast. Dr. Adrian visits Frances to encourage her that he’s found a way to cure her paralysis. He tells her it will be painful, but it will be a miracle. The following day, Frances actually has feeling in her legs after never having that sensation before.

 

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That evening, the doctor gets a surprise visit…from the ape! He bursts through the Doc’s window, and attacks him. The doctor quickly grabs a flask and tosses the liquid into the ape’s eyes. It blinds him and then the doctor kills the beast with a knife!

 

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I’m going to stop here because the thing that puts the film in a completely different direction begins here (plus the movie is public domain, so you can watch it for free anytime!).

 

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Here are my thoughts:

As I stated in the beginning, this film won’t win any awards for its script but the acting of Karloff brings the film to a good level. His interactions with Maris Wrixon (image above) are very good, and you really believe he’s a doctor trying to do everything he can to help her walk again. Of course his methods are unethical, but his heart is in the right place. Miss Wrixon is absolutely stunning and plays the part of the invalid very well.

The supporting cast isn’t too exciting, but they manage to keep the film rolling along. The sets are standard fare and don’t add or subtract from the film. The film is all about the oral dilemma Karloff’s character is in, and the sad turn it takes eventually. As i said, the film is public domain so get out there to Youtube or wherever and give it a screening. Any fan of Karloff or quirky B movies will enjoy it.

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Black Cat (1934)

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Title: The Black Cat

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Writers: Edgar G. Ulmer, Peter Ruric

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

Producer: E. M. Asher

Starring: Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Julie Bishop (Jacqueline Wells), Lucille Lund

Released: May, 1934

MPAA: Approved

 

Welcome, fiends! Here we are on the cusp of Halloween, and I’ve selected another film starring the great Boris Karloff! Not only that, but we also get none other than Bela Lugosi as well! Without giving too much away, this film has both men as former friends, but those days are over (at least for one of them). Universal paired these two giants together for a few films over the years, and this one is right there at the top for me! Alright, let’s travel back in time to 1934!

 

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The film begins at a busy train station, where Peter and Joan Allison (David Manners and Julie Bishop) are getting cozy after getting aboard their train and into its compartment. These two honeymooners are settled in when a baggage man tells them that there’s been a mistake, and the compartment was double booked. After some deep sighs, they agree to let the man share with them for the ride. Enter Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi). He tells the couple that he’s going to Hungary as well, to visit this old friend. He also tells them that he spent fifteen years in a Siberian prison after being captured during the war.

 

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After arriving at the train station, they all get on a bus to reach their destination. The bus driver tells the occupants about the atrocities that went on in this area during the war, and of someone who built a house nearby…suddenly, the bus veers off the road, and plummets down an embankment. The driver is dead, and Joan is unconscious, with a bad wound. They walk on foot to a nearby home, and the doorman answers and lets them in, with slight reluctance. After the doorman calls on a radio, we see a figure rise out of bed (with a beautiful blonde woman next to him sleeping). Dr. Werdegast then administers first aid to Joan, and as he’s finishing up, the door swings open, and  Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff) walks into the room.

 

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Later, Werdegast accuses Poelzig of betraying the Hungarians to the Russians. Poelzig sits silently and listens to Werdegast talk about his theories on what went down years ago. Eventually he brings up his wife, and how he knows that Poelzig told her that he was dead, in order to steal her away. As the two seem to be ready to come to blows, Peter walks in and they calm down. As they’re all having a drink together, a black cat walks into the room and frightens Werdegast. He picks up a letter opener, and hurls it like a dagger, killing the cat. At that moment, Joan walks into the room in a zombie-like state. She talks briefly, but then Peter takes her back to her room.

 

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In the middle of the night, we see Poelzig, as he’s creeping around the house. He then stops at a glass case, and its contents are not china or crystal, but the corpse of a woman, then proceeds to look at a few more he has standing around. We also see that he has another black cat to keep him company. He then enters the room where Werdegast is sleeping, but quickly finds out that he’s switched rooms with Peter so he could be in the adjoining room with his wife. The two then go to the other room and Poelzig agrees to show Werdegast his wife. He takes him to the basement where he shows him his wife, as she’s been preserved. Werdegast blames him for her death (he also tells him that their daughter is dead too), and pulls a gun out and tells Poelzig he’s going to kill him now. Suddenly, the black cat creeps in, and scares the crap out of Werdegast. He drops the gun, and falls into a glass case. Poelzig tells him that they’ll have time to settle things after the other guests have left.

 

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As Poelzig returns to his room, we see a beautiful blond woman again, and he calls her Karen (the daughter of Werdegast, Lucille Lund). He tells her to stay in her room all day tomorrow, so as not to arouse Werdegast. We also see him reading a book on satanic cults and such. The following morning, Werdegast is getting ready to check on Joan, and Poelzig comes in, and stares at her eerily. Werdegast knows that his look has something sinister behind it, and wants to stop him, whatever the cost.

 

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I’ll stop here, because going any further would ruin the film’s ending and grandiose show!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is the culmination of the non-monster horror/thrillers of this decade. You cannot find a film with more atmosphere, or better performances from these two giants. Karloff is simply evil in this film, but Lugosi is as well, although he’s driven by revenge, not from a devilish perspective. There is also a ton of great music in this film, and not just at parts but from beginning to end.

The content of this film is more than edgy for its time. How many movies in 1934 were showing (in shadow) someone being skinned alive? There were other elements too, like the satanic cult angle, the dead woman being kept “fresh.” Other elements as well, but I’ll leave it at that.

This film is a “must see” for any horror fan, or the team of Lugosi and Karloff. Both men shaped this genre and forever left a stamp on the industry with very few other actors in their company. Get this film on DVD or BluRay immediately.

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Black Sabbath (1963)

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Title: Black Sabbath (The Three Faces of Fear)

Distributor: Warner Bros./AIP

Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato

Director: Mario Bava

Producer: Salvatore Billitteri, Paolo Mercuri

Starring: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michele Mercier, Susy Andersen, Lidia Alfonsi

Released: August/November 1963 (Italy/France)

MPAA: UR

 

 

As October arrives, so does another movie review! To say that I’m obsessed with Boris Karloff films at the moment would be an enormous understatement. Upon watching this film for the first time a few weeks back, I was in awe because this anthology film is introduced and concluded with Karloff himself revving up the audience for the horror they are about to encounter (and possibly see outside of the theater!), plus he stars in one segment as well! I must confess that I’m not a big fan of anthology (or portmanteau, if you prefer) films. But there are a select few that I do enjoy (Amicus Productions, of course), and this film is probably at the top of that short list.

Let us now journey into the mind of Mario Bava

 

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The first tale (“The Drop of Water”) begins with a woman (Jacqueline Pierreux) answering a phone. There’s a wicked storm rolling through, setting an incredibly eerie mood. The woman on the other end of the phone is calling to ask for help with a dead body that needs to be dressed. The woman is apparently a nurse (or an assistant), and is quite put off by the request at such a late hour. She does agree to come over though.

 

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The door is answered by a pale looking servant, who seems frantic. She explains to the woman who the dead woman was a medium, and very mysterious. And also that if anyone should try to desecrate the home or her corpse, they’ll be cursed! The woman enters the bedroom where the dead woman is lying. She immediately sees the hideous face of the medium, but then her eyes shift to a huge ring on the corpse’s finger that looks valuable. She’s immediately bothered by a fly, and it seems no matter what she does, it won’t stop harassing her. She then returns home, but begins to see things that cannot be explained. As the night goes on, her chances of living through the curse diminish.

 

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The second installment “The Telephone,” shows a beautiful young woman (Michèle Mercier) (in the Italian version, she’s a prostitute, but the American version doesn’t mention it at all), returning to her apartment for the evening. She receives two phone calls where the caller simply hangs up on her. The third time though a voice calls her by name, and tells her how beautiful she is, and that he’s watching her. He claims that she knows him but acts as if she doesn’t. The calls continue and get more explicit with each one. Rosy eventually finds out that the voice on the phone is Frank (Milo Quesada)(in the foreign version, Frank is her former pimp that she testified against and he went to prison-in the American version it’s ambiguous, and you get the impression Frank is a former lover perhaps, and he’s supposed to be dead).

 

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Rosy then calls her friend, Mary (Lydia Alfonsi), and asks her to come over because she’s frightened. Mary does come over, and believes that Rosy has gone off the deep end. After they talk, Mary provides Rosy with a knife for protection. After they have tea, Mary tells her that she slipped her a sedative to help her sleep. Later that night, an intruder breaks into the apartment and attempts to murder both women.

 

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Finally, we “The Wurdalak (a Russian term for vampire).” In 19th century Russia, we see Count D’Urfe (Mark Damon), riding through the countryside. He comes upon a horse with a man slumped over it, and a knife in his back. Upon chasing down the horse, he sees that the man also has been decapitated. He pulls the knife from the dead man’s back, and finds the nearest residence. He enters and is greeted harshly by Giorgio (Glauco Onorato), who claims that the blade belongs to his father. The Count takes Giorgio outside to explain things, and then another man, Pietro (his younger brother), appears and plunges a sword into the corpse. They tell the Count that they’ve been waiting for the return of their father as he’s been gone for a few days, trying to fight the wurdalak. They offer him shelter for the night, and he accepts.

 

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The Count was given a warning though, and he didn’t understand it. He then asks Sdenka (Susy Andersen), what the warning was all about. She explains the terror of the wurdalak, and how her father told them that if he didn’t return by 10pm on the fifth day of his leaving, they were not to let him in the house and should drive a lance through his heart. Around midnight, Gorca (Boris Karloff) returns. The family is wary but he does look normal…at first. He refuses food, talks about being very cold, etc. Before the night is over, Gorca will reveal his true colors.

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

 

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As I stated earlier, I’m not a huge fan of anthology films. This one is pretty awesome though, and Karloff has a lot to do with that fact. Just his segments before and after each tale are cool, but his presence in one of the tales is the icing on the cake. Quite honestly though, that tale was the one I felt went on a bit too long compared to the others. All three are solid though, and have good acting, sets, and musical score (Roberto Nicolosi).

Mario Bava is one of the most influential directors/writers of the century without question. Even in films with too many hands in the pot (like this one), his vision rises above the other noise, and generates something unique. I’ve only seen a few of his films, but the man had a knack for using low budgets to bring forth astounding horror films.

Look this one up if you haven’t seen it yet. The dubbed version is a little rough but definitely watchable, but if you can find the original version, definitely go that route. Oh, and did I mention Michèle Mercier (above and below) is in this film…

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

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Title: Die, Monster, Die!

Distributor: American International Pictures

Writer: Jerry Sohl

Director: Daniel Haller

Producer: Pat Green, James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff

Starring: Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Suzan Farmer Freda Jackson

Released: October 1965

MPAA: Approved

 

 

My addiction to Boris Karloff continues! I just can’t stop watching his films (horror) now, and I’ll definitely review a couple more between now and Halloween! Whether he’s the main character, or not, does not matter, I just need a fix of his acting! The rest of the cast in this film is a help as well though and they will most certainly be mentioned at the conclusion of my review.

This film a loose adaptation of a story written by H.P. Lovecraft (The Color Out of Space). I haven’t read that story myself, but would love to because I understand it’s incredibly creepy and trippy. I won’t parse hairs over the legitimacy of what a true “adaptation” is, but I will say this…I don’t care in this case because it’s Boris Karloff starring in a horror film. Simple, no? Alright, without further delay, let’s get down to business!

 

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The film begins with a young man, Stephen Reinhart (Nick Adams), as he arrives in a small village in the English countryside. He attempts to get a cab, then rent a bicycle, but every time he attempts to make his way to a certain local castle, he’s rebuffed by the townspeople. No explanation, just basically told to sod off. He must then walk all the way to the home, which takes a few hours. As he arrives at the Witley estate, he notices signs telling people to keep out. Disregarding the signs, the gloomy, dark setting seems to scare him a bit, but he approaches the front door and knocks. No one answers, so he lets himself inside. He’s quickly approached by Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff), and his manservant. Nahum tells him to get out, but Stephen tells him that his daughter (and wife), Susan (Suzan Farmer) invited him to come and stay with them for a while (apparently they were school mates in the US).

 

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Susan takes Stephen upstairs and he meets her mother (sort of). She’s apparently an invalid and her bed is shrouded in drapes to conceal her visage. She tells Stephen that she’ll deal with her cranky husband, but also that she wants to talk to Stephen alone. Once Susan leaves, Mrs. Witley (Freda Jackson), begins to cryptically tell Stephen about some strange goings-on at the house. Meanwhile, Nahum and Merwyn (Terence De Marney) make their way to the basement where it appears very dungeon-like, and that there is some pulsating power source in a shallow well of some kind. Mrs. Witley tells Stephen specifically about her maid, and how she went insane and was never seen again. She then begs him to take Susan away immediately, before something terrible happens.

 

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Later that night at dinner, a scream comes from upstairs, Stephen is shook up by it, but Nahum and Susan act as if they’ve heard it before. Suddenly, Merwyn falls over, as if he’s either unconscious or dead. Stephen and Susan run to him, but Nahum assures them that he can take care of it (being wheelchair bound, I’m not sure how), and tells them to leave. Stephen comes upon a library, and begins reading a book about “old ones” (here’s where you get the Lovecraft tie-in), dark forces,  and horrific things that plague mankind. Susan then looks out the window, and sees a dark figure leering at her. She screams and then Stephen comes to her aid. He tries to get her to leave, but she won’t leave her mother.

 

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As the night gets older, Stephen is reading in his room, then once again hears a violent scream. He and Susan investigate, heading toward the basement. The scream sounded unlike any shriek a human being could make. Before they can get there though, Nahum cuts them off. He tells them that Merwyn is dead, and it was terrible. Stephen pushes Nahum to explain what’s going on, but he gets a door slammed in his face. As he heads back towards his room, he hears a rustling sound, and sees Nahum, pushing his own wheelchair out the front door. He then checks Merwyn’s room to check things out. He finds no corpse, but a burn mark on the floor in the shape of a man.

 

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Outside, Nahum digs a grave for Merwyn, as Stephen watches. From the corner of his eye, he sees a greenhouse, glowing with a green/blue light. Nahum makes his way towards the greenhouse, but sees the light on in Stephen’s room, and decides to head back indoors to see if he’s still awake. Stephen runs back and hops in bed, pretending to sleep. Nahum is unaware that he’s been out, and leaves quietly.

 

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The following morning, Stephen rises early, and heads back towards town. He’s accosted by a robed, mutated humanoid that attempts to stab him. After that altercation, he goes to see the town doctor, Dr. Henderson (Patrick Magee). He questions him about the Witley family and the strange happenings. The doctor is tight-lipped but his assistant/secretary tells him that the doctor was a good man who went off the deep end after caring for Nahum’s father, who went insane, and then died mysteriously. Back at the house, Nahum attempts to get Leticia to come out and go to the doctor in town, but she seems to be too far gone, mentally and physically. Meanwhile, Stephen and Susan gain access to the green house, and they make a startling discovery. The plant life inside has grown to enormous size, which is unnatural. They then hear a shriek from deeper within the structure…

 

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What sinister forces lurk in the basement of this home? And, will Susan and Stephen live to tell about it?! Watch this classic to find out!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Alright first things first…I’m not a big Nick Adams guy. He kind of reminds me of another Nic…Cage. Both play “themselves” in every movie role they are cast. Adams is cocky, arrogant, and self-righteous. The guy just can’t act beyond that one persona. Other than him, this film is great. Karloff plays a great curmudgeon, and you really dislike him at first. Once things get a bit clearer though, you feel sympathy for him. Suzan Farmer (image below) is pretty good, as she plays an excellent damsel in distress. I would’ve liked to see more Freda Jackson, but her role didn’t allow for it. She’s such a good actress and always delivers in horror films.

One familiar name in the beginning credits was Don Banks (music). I recognized him from his work at Hammer Studios (and others). He does a solid job with the score and along with very moody sets, you really get a shiver from this one. I understand that the film is very loosely based on a Lovecraft book, and that probably turns off those who revere his works. I’m an admirer of his works but haven’t read much of them. In all honesty though, the film was great and even without being a direct adaptation it serves to give a positive light to his works.

Get a copy of this one and sit down one evening and let it rip. You’ll be glad you did!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Devil Commands (1941)

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Title: The Devil Commands

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Writers: Robert Hardy Andrews, Milton Gunzburg, William Sloane (novel)

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Producer: Wallace MacDonald

Starring: Boris Karloff, Richard Fiske, Amanda Duff, Ralph Penney, Anne Revere

Released: February 1941

MPAA: Approved

 

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I’d like to say that there’s a rhyme and reason to my movie selections, but alas, there is not. I will say that for now, I’m severely addicted to movies starring Boris Karloff. His filmography is fascinating to look at. Diversity, longevity, and power, make it nothing short of spectacular. The man is one of the true legends of the genre. And quite honestly, I’d say all that even if you removed “Frankenstein” from his list of credits!

After leaving Universal Studios when his contract expired, Karloff worked for Columbia Pictures, RKO Pictures, and AIP (with Roger Corman directing most of those). He hosted some television shows (Thriller, Out of this World, and The Veil), used his awesome voice on radio shows (Lights Out), and made cameo or guest appearances on a few different television series. The man, by all accounts, was a great guy that kept most of his personal life to himself, and even helped build the Screen Actors Guild from its infancy!

OK, now, I give you…The Devil Commands!

 

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The film opens with a the voice of a woman telling the audience her name is Anne Blair, and her father’s name was Dr. Julian Blair (we see a creepy old house, during a thunderstorm). She tells of how the townspeople were afraid of her father, and the strange goings-on at his abode. She tells of better times when her father was a professor at a local university, but that one night, an experiment changed all that…

We then see a scientist, Dr. Julian Blair (Boris Karloff), as he’s attempting to show five other scientists that his invention (a wild looking helmet, some wires, and a machine that looks like a polygraph), and research, have yielding fantastic results. He shows them how his machine, while hooked up to a human being’s head (one of the scientists at this time), can show brain activity, and possibly even thoughts! The scientists are skeptical, and Blair seems a bit put off. As the experiment winds down, his assistant, Karl (Ralph Penney) bursts into the room, along with Blair’s wife, Helen (Shirley Warde). He then straps her into the machine to show them that the brainwaves of a woman, are far superior to that of a man (the two of them make a a lot of jokes, but loving remarks as well). Again the crowd is skeptical that this means anything significant, but Blair and his wife must rush out the door to pick up their daughter.

 

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The two drive off, and speed toward their destination. Helen then remarks that they must stop to pick up a birthday cake for their daughter. There’s nowhere to park, so Helen (who’s driving) tells Julian to get out of the car and get the cake, and she’ll drive around the block and pick him up upon returning. He barely gets back outside after getting the cake, when a car slams into their car, killing his wife. After the funeral, you can see a marked decline in Dr. Blair’s demeanor. Not in the way any grieving husband would be, but completely lost in his soul.

 

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Later, he heads over to his laboratory, and for some unknown reason, he turns on his machines. The last person he used it on was his wife, so her brain patterns are still on the graph. Suddenly, the graph beings to move again, and the waves are in the same pattern as his wife’s were! He deduces that this means his wife’s spirit is trying to contact him. Just then, his daughter walks in, and his mistakes her for his wife for a moment. As Anne (Amanda Duff) walks in, he tells her that her mother’s spirit is alive and well, and made the waves on the graphs.

 

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He then brings his colleagues back to tell them, and they think he’s had a mental breakdown. He becomes angry, and even resentful of the fact that they don’t believe he’s discovered something astonishing. He flips out, and orders everyone t leave, including Anne, and her boyfriend (and former assistant to Dr. Blair, Dr. Sayles – Richard Fiske) to get out. Karl stays behind though, and tells Dr. Blair that he talks to his dead mother all the time, with the assistance of a medium named Mrs. Walters (Anne Revere – image above). At first, Dr. Blair doesn’t think she’s for real, but then he agrees to go see her. As the séance begins, we do see an apparition, that supposedly talks to Karl. After it’s over, Dr. Blair confronts the medium about some of her shenanigans, but does come to realize she has some latent psychic powers that he can use to talk to his dead wife.

From this point on, Dr. Blair does anything and everything it takes to achieve his goal. But is that goal so terrible?

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film definitely has one not so good thing going for it…the title. I don’t know who decided on the title, but it’s absurd. Not once is “the devil” mentioned that i can recall, or do they ever imply that Satan is in any way shape or form involved. It’s quite ludicrous. Other than that, this film is a real gem for Karloff. He plays a great mad scientist, but also it’s how he plays someone grief-stricken from losing a loved one. Bravo, Mr. Karloff.

The performance lifts this film to unbelievable heights, as the sets, music, and costumes are nothing above average. The atmosphere is quite good, especially after Karloff’s character begins his association with the medium. Speaking of that character, Anne Revere does a splendid job with her performance as well, and should be lauded for it. She’s a real creepy lady in this one! Oh, and Amanda Duff is absolutely gorgeous in this film (image below)!

I know this one is available online and in a DVD set you can grab cheap too if you’d rather go that route. No excuses, get this one ion your collection!

 

Click here for a clip!

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Lodger (1944)

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Title: The Lodger

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: Barré Lyndon

Director: John Brahm

Producer: Robert Bassler

Starring: Merle Oberon, Laird Cregar, George Sanders, Sir Cedric Hardwicke

Released: January 1944

MPAA: Approved

 

 

I’ll come right out and say that I love the lore surrounding Jack the Ripper. No, I’m not a fan of murder, but the fact that the killer evaded detection, while performing his hideous deeds is quite remarkable. It’s always been a fascination of mine, even to the point of watching and liking films that are loosely based (if that in some cases) on the murders in Whitechapel, London.

Another to be clear about is that none of these names ring a bell with me. Perhaps I’ve seen a film or two with one of the actors before, but the names definitely don’t seem familiar to me. One thing is for sure though, after watching this one, I’m a big fan of Laird Cregar! Alright, now for the movie!

 

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The film begins after a couple of murders have already taken place. London (especially the Whitechapel area) is full of panic. Outside a pub, two locals read a paper posted about the murders and a reward for help leading to the capture of the murderer known only as “Jack the Ripper!” A couple of Bobbies (cops), begin to patrol the area. We then see a few more of them on horseback. Close by, a few inebriated patrons spill out of a pub, singing and dancing in the street. One woman in particular walks by, and tells them that she lives just around the corner, so they let her go alone. A few others call out to “Katy’ to tell her goodnight. She sings playfully on her way home. As she turns around a corner (where we cannot see her, but only hear her), where she’s apparently run into by someone unknown to her. A few seconds later she cries out in horror, and she is presumably dead. A crowd gathers around the police as they arrive to find her dead body. A few people talk of how it must’ve been the Ripper again, as she’s apparently been cut up quite badly.

 

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The following day, a newspaper boy is selling copies of the latest edition, warning of another Ripper murder in Whitechapel. A woman supposedly got a look at him, but due to the darkness, couldn’t be of much help with a description. The people in that area are quick to buy copies to read about the horror. Out of the shadows, we see a man, “Slade,” walking towards a home. A man, Robert Bonting (Sir Cedric Hardwicke – image below) comes out of that home to buy a copy of the paper. Just as he returns inside, a knock on the door occurs. His wife, Ellen Bonting (Sara Allgood – image below), answers, and lets Mr. Slade (Laird Cregar – image above) into the house after he inquires about a room for rent. She tells him they do have one, and then she takes him upstairs to show him. He asks if there is any other rooms, and she says nothing except the attic. He gets visibly aroused when he sees how inconspicuous the room is and that there’s a back door to which he can use since he works late at night…

 

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Ellen also remarks that their niece lives in the house as well, and that she’s an “actress” singing and dancing in a cabaret. Afterwards, Ellen returns downstairs and informs her husband that Mr. Slade will be renting the room and attic, beginning tonight. He’s more interested in the Ripper murders, and theorizing about them. He’s had a nervous breakdown after losing his job, but knows they need money. A while later, Ellen brings some food to Mr. Slade, and she finds him very irritable, and turning over all the pictures in the room (they’re all of gorgeous actresses). He tells her that he doesn’t like actresses, but she hopes he’ll change his mind because her niece, Kitty (Merle Oberon – image below), is one. As the week winds on, one night Mr. Slade is on his way out to “work,” and runs into Kitty, Ellen, and Robert, as they’re exiting to go see one of Kitty’s performances. They ask him where he goes at night, but he’s quite mysterious about it. He seems to be smitten with Kitty, but most men probably would be (I know I am!).

 

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At the theater, Kitty is getting ready, when a former actress, Annie Rowley (Helena Pickard), comes to see her. She just wants to see her old dressing room again, as she apparently does every time a new girl gets to perform at this theater. Kitty appeases her, and invites her to stay, but Annie tells her she has other plans. Kitty throws her a few bucks, and Annie tries to refuse, but Kitty insists. The show goes on, and Kitty gets a thunderous applause. The show is a success, but during the performance, Annie Rowley is brutally murdered by the Ripper, in a nearby alley. One man, Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders), seems to be a bit ahead of the curve, and might just have a chance to figure out the riddle of Jack the Ripper!

The fear and panic are almost at a height where people are hysterical. There are hundreds of police combing the streets every night, but it seems they are at a loss to stop this fiend. Can Inspector Warwick and Scotland Yard catch the murder, or will he keep slaying unsuspecting women in London?

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

So, anyone with half a brain will obviously know that “Slade” is the killer 20 minutes into the film. Of course, they do a great job of keeping the illusion alive in the movie itself, so that makes it watchable. There are several good performances in the film, but none better than that of Laird Cregar. His portrayal of Jack the Ripper is exquisite. His cool demeanor when he’s trying to hide who he really is when the lights go down is excellent. The opposite is very menacing too, as he’s an extremely scary dude, due to his facial expressions and size. It sort of reminded me of Spencer Tracy in the 1941 classic “Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde.” Yeah, it’s that good.

 

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Merle Oberon is also very good. She excels at being a strong female character (for the time), and is also extremely vivacious (see image below). Hardwicke and Allgood also do a fine job at their parts. Even the maid, Queenie Leonard, is fantastic at playing a quirky secondary character. A standard soundtrack does lend a hand in some parts, but isn’t necessary to be honest. The atmospherics and acting lift this film above any other film about this subject that I’ve ever seen. Quite easily, to be perfectly honest.

 

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Hit up your local big box store or online at Amazon or some such sites. The film is definitely worth asking price!

 

Click here for the trailer!