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: 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: Curse of the Undead (1959)

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Title: Curse of the Undead

Distributor: Universal-International

Writers: Edward Dein, Mildred Dein

Director: Edward Dein

Producer: Joseph Gershenson

Starring: Eric Fleming, Michael Pate, Kathleen Crowley, John Hoyt

Released: May 1959

MPAA: UR

 

As promised, I’m delivering on my vampire/western movie review now! This classic was when  studios like Hammer were on the rise, and Universal was on the slide. Back in the 1930’s-40’s, Universal was king of the hill, but by the late 1950’s, they had definitely started to run out of ideas, and their stars were aging. But, this little gem was one that let people know they were still around!

This film is great for so many reasons, but also a grim reminder of the sad, tragic life of actor, Eric Fleming. If you read-up on his life, you’ll understand. Many people have written some good pieces on him, and you can find one of them by clicking here. The man did go on to star in the hit T.V. western series, Rawhide, alongside of people like Clint Eastwood. Another star of this film was also a western T.V.  staple, in Kathleen Crowley. She starred opposite James garner on Maverick. Well, enough about the cast for now, let’s get right to the movie!

 

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The film begins with a man and a woman riding a wagon. They stop at a home, and head inside. It’s the town doctor, Dr. John Carter (John Hoyt), and his daughter, Dolores (Kathleen Crowley). He’s there to visit a girl that has fallen ill, as have a few others in town recently. The town minister, Preacher Dan (Eric Fleming – image below), is also there, praying for the girl. She seems to have taken a turn for the better, and Dr. Carter doesn’t have a clue about why that is or what is plaguing her. As they all leave the room and head downstairs for a meal, they aren’t there for very long,and then a bone-chilling scream rings out from the upstairs bedroom where the sick girl is sleeping. As they walk in, they see that she is dead. The parents cry out in pain, and the doctor and Preacher Dan are left to figure out what’s going on. neither has any answers, but Preacher Dan notices some puncture marks on the girl’s neck, and wonders…

 

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As Dr. Carter and his daughter near their home, his son, Tim (Jimmy Murphy), shows up, and flips out. He’s been beaten up pretty badly by a local goon that has caused trouble for the Carter’s named Buffer, and is livid. Dr. Carter calms him down a bit, and heads off to talk to the sheriff about the situation. After Dr. Carter arrives in town, he talks with Sheriff (Edward Binns – image below), and the sheriff assures him that he’ll talk to Buffer about the problem. We then see a black-clad stranger on a horse, watching the two men go their separate ways. The sheriff heads into the saloon to confront Buffer (Bruce Gordon – image below) and his men. He tells Buffer to stop harassing the Carter’s, and then pulls out his revolver when Buffer gets jumpy.

 

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Meanwhile, Dr. Carter pulls in at his house, but as his family comes out to meet him, he falls out of the wagon. They rush him inside, but he’s dead. Tim flips out, but gets slapped down by Preacher Dan. The next time we see them is at the funeral, and we also see the black-clad stranger, watching in the shadows. He locks the gate, and then creeps into the coffin where Dr. Carter’s corpse has been laid to rest! After hearing there has been more shenanigans from Buffer (presumably), Tim goes into town to face him. Within minutes of Tim getting drunk, Buffer comes into the saloon, and the two have a gunfight. Tim ends up on the wrong end of that confrontation, and ends up six feet under.

 

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The following day, we see Dolores putting up posters all over town, advertising for a gunman to avenge her family losses. The sheriff tears them down, but Dolores won’t be stopped. We then see the slack-clad stranger, and he picks up one of the posters, and heads into the saloon. He tells Buffer and his men that he’s going to take the job, and that he always sees a job through to completion. One of Buffer’s men tries to shoot him, but after he shoots first, the stranger returns fire, and shoots the guy’s pistol right out of his hand!

 

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Over at the Cater ranch, Preacher Dan is trying to put the moves on Dolores, but then a knock at the door interrupts that idea. The stranger has arrived, and introduces himself as Drake Roby (Michael Pate). He and Preacher Dan have a bit of a verbal confrontation, but Dolores tells Dan that she’s going to hire him no matter what he says. She even agrees to let him stay at the house, too! Preacher Dan is furious, for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is because he likes Dolores. Later that night, while Dolores is sleeping, she gets a visit from Drake, and her puts the bite on her. In town, the sheriff, Preacher Dan, and Buffer are trying to figure out what this guy is all about. They formulate a plan to keep Buffer out of Drake’s cross-hairs, and to get Drake away from Dolores.

 

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Will Preacher Dan and the sheriff be able to find out Drake’s secret, and put a stop to his reign of terror or will Drake vamp the entire town?!?

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I heard about this film on a podcast, and it sounded great. I was not disappointed when I saw it for the first time or the second. It has some scenes that really let you know how simple, but also how wide open things were back then (1880’s). The actors in this one were already seasoned, especially in the western genre. It does seem more like a western than a vampire flick, but don’t let that fool you, this film is solid. Michael Pate, Eric Fleming, and Kathleen Crowley, all give wonderful performances. The role of Tim (Jimmy Murphy), is a little over-the-top, but nothing too distracting.

It’s definitely true that this film is better in black and white. It gives it that feel you need to be convinced of the era the film is supposed to be taking place in, for sure. The sets are all good, and really seem like an old western town that isn’t quite up to the times just yet. The music is about what you’d expect for this era of films. Nothing flashy, just standard bells and whistles. There is this creepy music that plays every time Drake appears, and that is a little different than usual.

Give this one a shot, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll like it. It’s a great way to spend a lazy afternoon!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: Nightmare (1964)

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Title: Nightmare

Distributor: Hammer/Universal Studios

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Jimmy Sangster

Starring: David Knight, Moira Redmond, Jennie Linden, Brenda Bruce

Released: April 19th, 1964

MPAA: UR

 

Here we are with another Cinema Sunday, and of course, another fantastic movie! This week, we’ll take a look at another one of Hammer Studios psychological thrillers in – Nightmare! This film is much more intense than last week’s offering, but in a slightly different way. You still get a good mystery, but in this film, you also get some vicious murder scenes, as well. The cast was very small, but I think after you’ve seen the film for yourself, you’ll realize it isn’t a bad thing. Okay, let’s disperse with the clouds and get right down to this one!

 

The film begins with a girl wandering around a sanitarium. She hears a voice calling out to her, and is frightened. The voice calls for help, and then Janet (Jennie Linden), hears the voice tell her that she knows where to find her. Janet then proceeds down a hallway and enters a padded room. Standing in the corner, is a woman, begging for help. The door swiftly slams behind Janet, and the woman laughs insanely. Janet begins to scream, and then we see this is only a dream, and Janet awakens in bed, at her prep school. One of her teachers, Mary Lewis (Brenda Bruce) comes in and settles her down, and she goes back to sleep.

 

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The next day, Janet is approached by the same teacher from the previous night, and she tells her that the faculty wants Janet to see a doctor. Janet tells her that she’ll refuse any appointment. She also tells her teacher that she wants her guardian, Henry Baxter (David Knight), to come and get her from school. She gets her wish, and John the butler/driver (George A. Cooper), picks her up, along with Mary Lewis, as the school believes Janet could use some guidance on the journey home. Once they reach home, Mrs. Gibbs (Irene Richmond), greets Janet, and she seems elated. They enter the home, and Mary is going to stay the evening, and go back to the school tomorrow. Janet is surprised to see a woman, Grace Maddox (Moira Redmond), in the house. Mrs. Gibbs tells Janet that her guardian, Henry, thought that Janet might like someone to spend time with at the house, instead of being alone.

 

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Janet goes to bed after dinner, and Mary and Grace talk. Mary asks Grace why Henry asked her to stay with Janet, and she tells her that it’s because Henry is worried about her, and she’s a nurse, so he believes she can help out. Grace then heads to bed for the evening, and Mrs. Gibbs and Mary have a talk. Mrs. Gibbs tells Mary that the reason Janet seems mentally imbalanced is because she saw her mother murder her father when she was eleven years old. She had a nervous breakdown after that, and has always worried that she might have inherited some of her mothers wickedness. Mrs. Gibbs tells Mary that even if didn’t inherit any of those traits, that even the persistent thought could drive a person insane. Mary goes to bed, and Mrs. Gibbs is tidying up, when she hears a sound near the library. She’s surprised by Mary, who claims to have come downstairs to get a book.

On her way back to her room, Mary notices that Janet’s bedroom door is open. She investigates, and finds Janet missing. She creeps down the hallway to looks for her, and then she’s surprised by Janet, who silently turns the corner right in front of her. Janet seems like she’s in a daze or perhaps sleep-walking. Mary talks to her, but gets little answers other than the fact that Janet seems to think she either saw someone or dreamed that she saw someone. Mary shows her back to her room, and then goes to sleep, pondering what might be happening. As Janet walks slowly into her room, she notices someone on the bed. It’s her mother (or so she thinks), and there’s a knife sticking out of her chest, and the birthday cake from Janet’s eleventh birthday (the same day her father was killed) on the table. She freaks out, and runs off, but is then stopped by Grace, who slaps her a few times to get her to snap back into reality.

 

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The next morning, Janet has been sedated by the local physician, and he recommends to Henry that she be institutionalized. Henry then checks in on Janet, who, upon seeing him, pulls him in, and kisses him passionately. He pulls back, and then apologizes for not being able to meet her at school. Janet asks if the reason is his wife, and he tells her that she (his wife) doesn’t like being alone. He makes his apologies, and tells Janet he must travel to London, and then leaves. As day turns into night, Janet’s mind begins to unravel. She thinks she sees someone trying to open her bedroom door, so she calls out and asks who’s there. She gets no answer, and then gets up to investigate. She looks down the hallway but sees no one at first, but after a moment, she does witness a shadow down at the end of the hall. She walks down slowly, and keeps following where the shadow leads. Eventually, she comes upon a bedroom, and she hears the voices of herself and Mrs. Gibbs from the day she saw her father killed. She runs off to her bedroom, and sees the corpse of her father, lying in her bed. She goes berserk, and falls down a staircase, and George and Grace find her there unconscious.

 

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Another day, and Grace is feeding Janet her pills, supposedly from the doctor. Grace asks her what happened, and Janet tells her that some woman is plaguing her dreams. Grace tells her to get some sleep, because it’s her birthday tomorrow. A new day comes, and Janet finds herself being confused after the last few night’s activities. She then heads out to see who is around, but only finds a strange woman in a hospital gown creeping around the house. The woman vaguely resembles her mother, but we know that she’s locked up in a sanitarium, right? Janet then returns to her room, looking completely unhinged. She then smashes her mirror, and uses a shard to slit her wrist. Henry, and Grace are speaking with the doctor in the next scene, and wondering what to do about Janet. As Janet comes out from her bedroom to see Henry, she sees the back of a woman, who is introduced to her by Henry, as his wife. As the woman turns around, Janet recognizes her face as the woman who has tortured her. She then snaps mentally, picks up a knife, and brutally stabs Henry’s wife to death!

 

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I’m not going to go any further because I’d have to go into crazy spoiler territory, and because things get slightly convoluted as well! Suffice to say that the killing doesn’t end here, and by the end of the film, there’s more than one person that’s gone off the deep end!

OK here are my thoughts:

This flick is a good one, but definitely inferior to Paranoiac. It is more grisly, and that’s pretty cool, but the twists and suspense aren’t as powerful as the aforementioned film. As I said above, it does also get a bit wacky at the end as well. This being my first viewing might have something to do with that, but I honestly don’t think so. There is another scene towards the end of the film, where Henry and Grace slap each other. It’s quite a shock to see especially for 1964.

The actors/actresses are quite good in the roles that they play. Janet’s character was played by Jennie Linden, and was a late replacement. She did a god job for someone stepping in at the last-minute. David Knight, and Moira Redmond also were very good. Both gave convincing performances. The music score was by Don Banks, and definitely worth noting. He did a good job setting a good tone, and a couple of thunderous interludes when it was right. The set was absolutely gorgeous, and up to the Hammer standard for sure. Check this one out if you haven’t yet, because it’s worth the watch!

 

Watch the trailer here!