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 Tingler (1959)

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Title: The Tingler

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Writer: Robb White

Director: William Castle

Producer: William Castle

Starring: Vincent Price, Judith Evelyn, Darryl Hickman, Patricia Cutts, Philip Coolidge

Released: July 1959

MPAA: Approved

 

After a double-dip of Amicus films, I thought it had been too long since I’d visited a film starring one of my all time favorite actors, Vincent Price! I still have quite a few films of his that I want to spotlight, and this one is right at the top of the list, so I figured, why not? By this time in his career, Price had been working diligently and built up a good reputation. He had also begun to do almost nothing aside from horror films, which was a big deal for him, and would’ve been for any actor of that time (the genre was very well-respected back then).

I’d like to think that the relationship between William Castle and Price was one that helped vault both of their careers into the stratosphere, and it definitely helped the genre tremendously, and the industry. Castle was known for his cheaply made films that used a gimmick to get the audience to squeal, and more often than not, he accomplished that feat and more. OK, without further interruption, here we go…

 

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The film begins with it’ Producer/Director, William Castle warning the viewers that he’s obligated to warn us that we (the viewers) will also be experiencing some of the sensations physically that the actors in the film did. He urges you to scream at the top of your lunges to help alleviate this sensation. The screen is then bombarded by floating heads that scream loudly, and the film begins.

We see a man in a jail cell, and he looks as though he’s about to go mad. He’s led from his cell to a room (execution), and then the scene switches to a room marked “autopsy” and we see Dr. Warren Chapin (Vincent Price), as he’s readying the room for another customer. A few minutes alter, and a body is rolled out of the room, and towards the autopsy room. Once the body arrives, Chapin begins his work. He notices that the dead man’s back is broken in two different places, and he theorizes that something other than electrocution did this. The other man in the room, Oliver Higgins (Philip Coolidge), tells Chapin that this man is a serial killer that also happens to be his wife’s brother. Chapin discusses his fascination with fear, and experimenting on people to figure out the effects from it.

 

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After the autopsy is over, Chapin gives Higgins a ride into town. They walk by a movie theater that Higgins and his wife own. Higgins uses sign language to tell his wife that he’s going to have a cup of coffee with Chapin at their apartment across the street. Eventually, Mrs. Higgins (Judith Evelyn), comes in and Oliver explains that she cannot speak or hear, so she must read lips or use sign language. As they talk, Chapin gets cut, and the mere sight of blood causes Martha to faint. later, Chapin tells Oliver that the reason she faints when she sees blood, is because she cannot scream and release the fear inside of her. Chapin, after Oliver asks him about the tingling sensation, dubs this condition “the Tingler.” Chapin leaves and heads for home.

 

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Over at his house, Chapin enters and is greeted by Lucy (Pamela Lincoln), and then his partner, David (Darryl Hickman). He tells David about his interesting experience today with the deaf-mute woman, and the two theorize about the effects of fear. Lucy gets mad and wants to leave, so David eventually complies. Later that night, Isabel (Patricia Cutts), Lucy’s older sister (and guardian), and apparently Chapin’s rich, estranged/ex-wife. Chapin and Isabel exchange quips, and then after Isabel gets cranky, Chapin pulls out a gun, and threatens her with a pistol. He leads her down to the lab, and threatens her. He demands that she leaves Lucy and David alone, and that gives half of her father’s fortune to Lucy. She tells him she wont do it, and lunges for the phone to call the police. Chapin shoots her, and while the body is still warm, he begins to experiment on her.

 

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He quickly takes x-rays of her spine to see what causes it to break suddenly when someone is struck by a terrible fear. A moment later, she leaps up from the table and shrieks. He tells her it was only blanks in the gun, and that she passed out from the situation. Meanwhile, a cat that David procured for the experiment hops in the window and scares Isabel. He tells her that the cat was originally intended for the experiment but he thought she’d make a better volunteer. He also asks her is she’s seen this cat before in any of the local alleyways. She threatens him and gives him an ominous forecast for his future.

 

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The following day David comes over to the lab, and shows him the x-rays of Isabel just as she was scared stiff. David is astounded by this find as they both see that there is indeed something in the spine just as someone is frightened. Chapin wants to push forward, but David is worried. Chapin convinces him to follow along, and the two try concoct a plan to extract a “tingler.” Chapin gives David the night off, and he and Lucy get the impression something is amiss.  They’re right, and they peek in on Chapin as he injects himself with some drugs (LSD?) to induce a fear in himself.

 

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Chapin starts to go on a trip, and is trying to record all of this, but is having trouble keeping up with things the longer he’s under the influence. He starts to hallucinate that the walls are closing in on him, and he begins to panic. He feels like he can’t breathe, and sees the skeleton in his lab come after him. He tries to stop himself, but cannot, so he screams out. After he wakes, he tells David and Lucy that there isn’t anyway possible for someone to stop themselves from screaming from fear. He then gets a sinister idea, and leaves. David is worried he might experiment on Oliver’s wife, since she cannot scream.

Will Dr. Chapin resort to experimenting on Martha? Will he prove his theory about the Tingler? Check out this classic to find out!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is another good one from Castle and Price. House on Haunted Hill is better, mostly because of the cast, but also in plot. You can’t dismiss this one though, and I’m sure the gimmicks helped this one be even better when it was in the theaters. The special effects were pretty cool, especially the scene with the blood. Of course the “Tingler” by today’s standards would be judged as cheesy, but in all honesty, it looks as good comparatively speaking to the face-hugger in Aliens (1986).

The film is a must see for any Price fan, but also for anyone that loves old school cinema, especially of the thriller/horror variety. You do get a cool twist late in the film, and if you love House on haunted Hill, this one has some of the same elements to it that made that one great. Lets be honest for a minute, Price could carry any film, and his reputation was built on performances like this one!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Creeping Flesh (1973)

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Title: The Creeping Flesh

Distributor: Columbia Pictures (World Film Services – U.K.)

Writers: Jonathan Rumbold, Peter Spenceley

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Michael Redbourn

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Norma Heilbron, Marguerite Hildern, Michael Ripper

Released: February 1973

MPAA: PG

As it’s my blessing and curse, I can’t stay away from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for very long! In this film, both men are on-screen a lot, and really get to play off of each other quite a bit. As it was nearing the mid-1970’s, Cushing was slowly starting to wind down the torrid pace of movie making he’d been at for the last couple of decades. Lee, however, was still going strong and still is to this day! This film was produced by a small company (World Film Services, started by John Heyman), but had bankable stars with Cushing and Lee. This one isn’t as well-known as most that these two gentlemen have been in, but we’re going to take a look at it right now!

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The film begins with a man painting  picture of a horrific looking creature (Lovecraft inspired?), and some other very odd things. A knock at the door startles the elderly gentleman that is painting, and a young man walks in, and the old man tells him that he needs him to listen to what he has to say, because no one else will. Professor Emmanuel Hildern (Peter Cushing) begins to tell the young doctor a story about a time, three years ago, when he had just returned from New Guinea (flashback to three years earlier)…

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At a sprawling estate, Professor Hildern returns to his home, and with the skeleton of a Neanderthal-type man. He’s greeted at the front door by his daughter, Penelope (Lorna Heilbron), and a colleague, Professor Waterlow (George Benson). Two men, one of them named Carter (Michael Ripper), then bring in a large box, and in it, is the skeleton. The two men pry it open, and Waterlow is stunned by the behemoth. Penelope was hoping to have breakfast with her father, but the excitement of the skeleton has him only thinking of its possibilities. She’s quite disappointed by this development. He eventually relents from his work, and joins her. She tells her father that she had to dismiss the help because they can’t afford them anymore. He assures her that things are going to change very soon because of this new discovery.

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Penelope believes that her mother died a while back, but in reality, she was committed to an insane asylum, run by her uncle, and Professor Hildern’s brother, Dr. James Hildern (Christopher Lee). Professor Hildern receives a letter that his wife died in the asylum, so he departs to see what happened. James tells his brother that she died while he was away, and that he’ll apparently be stopping the financial help he was giving him to help his research. It’s quite an awkward moment, and Emmanuel leaves feeling unsettled, and almost betrayed.

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Back at the house, Emmanuel reprimands Penelope for going into her mother’s room. He’s apparently forbade her from even mentioning her name, as well. He then retreats to his laboratory, and inspects the skeleton further. He gets some water and begins to clean the skeleton, but within seconds finds out that the skeleton reacts to water in such a way that’s astounding. Wherever water touches the skeleton, flesh begins to appear. One finger completely regenerates, and Professor Hildern quickly cuts it off. Over at the asylum, Dr. Hildern and his associates are conducting Frankenstein-like experiments on the patients, and we see what true horror is. One of the patients jumps him, and grabs the keys, but the good doctor pulls out a pistol and shoots him dead. One of the patients actually manages to escape, and now the police are helping with the search.

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Professor Hildern begins to read up on the folklore of the native people of New Guinea, and then understands that this skeleton is the personification of evil, and the water will restore it to life. Waterlow is befuddled by all of this, and Hildern begins to talk of playing God, and wiping evil off the face of the Earth. He then looks at the blood from the finger he cut off of the skeleton under a microscope, and then compares it to his own. Next, he mixes the two together and discovers that he could stop “evil” from spreading by an inoculation. Meanwhile, Penelope has stolen her fathers keys, and heads into her mother’s bedroom (a place she’s been strictly forbidden to enter). She rummages through her mother’s things for a while, but then discovers a newspaper article that tells of her mother’s mental illness.

Back in the lab, the two doctors are experimenting on monkey with the blood of the skeleton. It’s getting late, so the two men pack it in for the night. The blood under the microscope however is yielding results contradictory to what Professor Hildern originally saw when he tested it. He then heads upstairs and sees that someone is in his wife’s room. He freaks out about it, and then he and Penelope get into an argument. He begins to have a flashback of when his wife was still alive and was a “dancer” that went insane (drugs, alcohol?).

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The next morning, Professor Hildern decides to use his new serum on his daughter, suspecting that her mother’s mental disorder may be hereditary. We then check in on the escaped patient from the insane asylum, as he’s wandered into a local pub. He thrashes most of the male customers, and then makes his way out. The next day, Waterlow calls to Hildern and both men see that the serum has driven the monkey mad. Hildern runs upstairs to see Penelope, but she’s already gone. We see her, as she travels through the seedy parts of London, but so is the escaped patient. Hildern is making his way there as well, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. A young man sees Penelope at the bar and starts buying her drinks. Eventually, they go upstairs, but Penelope wont put out. The guy tries to force himself on her, but finds out how sharp her claws are after she rips part of his face off!

She then heads downstairs, and begins to dance around for the crowd. One sailor gets so aroused that he grabs her and tries some shenanigans. She grabs a bottle, breaks off the top, and slashes the guy’s throat!  They chase her out of the pub, and through the streets. She goes into a warehouse and bars the door. As the police and crowd are trying to break the door down, Penelope runs into the escaped patient, Lenny. As the police search the place, Lenny tries to help her escape. They go to the top of the building, but there’s no escape. Lenny looks over the edge and the people below see him. Penelope goes completely off her rocker, and grabs a two by four, and cracks Lenny over the head, and it sends him plummeting to the ground, and his death. A few seconds later, the police surround and capture Penelope.

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Of course, she’s labeled insane, and taken to her uncle’s asylum. He sees a sample of her blood, and sees the foreign agent that as introduced by her father. Uncle James realizes he has his brother cornered, and once he sees the skeleton, he strong-arms his brother into an alliance. Emmanuel doesn’t want to do it, but he may have no choice.

Can Emmanuel somehow redeem himself in the eyes of his maker? Or will James be able to force him into the world of evil? Oh yes, and what about the monster?

OK, here are my thoughts:

For a horror film, this one is more suspense than anything, well, until the end that is. Cushing and Lee are their normal selves, in that you get what you expect. Cushing is torn between morality and his love of science. Lee is a straight up villain in this one, and it was cool to see him in that role and not wearing makeup or a costume that hid his menacing faces. The supporting cast didn’t offer much, but Lorna Heilbron did give some good moments before and after her insanity took hold. A quick appearance of Hammer Studios stalwart, Michael Ripper, was comforting, and even another familiar face from that company, Duncan Lamont (Evil of Frankenstein- 1964 and Frankenstein Created Woman– 1967).

One thing of note that I must mention, was that of the musical score. Paul Ferris did an outstanding job with the music for this film, and he had to be mentioned! The makeup was headed up by none other than Mr. Roy Ashton, and anyone that knows their Hammer films, knows that name! The sets were also very good, and it should be noted that this film wasn’t financed by one of the big studios of the day, but by one that was very tiny.

Give this one a watch, if for no other reason than it was one of the last films that Cushing and Lee did together, and it holds up quite well in my estimation!

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Werewolf (1956)

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Title: The Werewolf

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Writer: Robert E. Kent

Director:  Fred F. Sears

Producer:  Sam Katzman

Starring: Don Megowan, Joyce Holden, Steven Ritch, Harry Lauter

Released: July 1956

MPAA: Approved

 

 

OK, so, after a few weeks of giant bugs, then on to more of a classic theme, I’d like to take a look at something a little more off the beaten path this week. And so we shall see The Werewolf, from 1956. There’s a unique spin on this flick, that instead of a wolf bite changing the man, a lab experiment results in the ability to transform. No big stars in this one, so the film had to use the sci-fi/horror craze to try to entice audiences. An experienced crew behind the camera helped get this one off of the ground, and you can see that through the entire film. Alright, let’s get to the film!

 

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The film begins with a voice (Fred Sears), narrating. He tells the viewers about Lycanthropy, and its dangers! Next, we see a man, Duncan Marsh (Steven Ritch – image below) walking down the street, and then he ducks into a pub. He downs a few shots, then heads over to the fireplace to warm his hands. Another man sits at the bar with a creepy look on his face, and he seems to be taking quite an interest in the other man. The man leaves the bar, and the other gentleman goes after him. He stops him in the street and the two exchanges some words. The man who was at the bar first, asks him to buy a couple of drinks because he’s broke and saw the other man had some cash. He then tries to mug the guy and take his money. The scene shifts to the dark alley, and all we hear is some growling and screaming, and only one man exits the alley. An old woman is walking by and sees the man leave, she screams, and the people from the pub come to see what’s wrong. She claims two men were fighting in the alley but only a beast emerged. Deputy Clovey (Harry Lauter) heads in along with the others for a look. They see a dead man with his throat torn out.

 

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The men then head into the forest to hunt this wild animal, and get more than they bargained for when they set out. They see wolf tracks in the snow, and two of the men get scared. Deputy Clovey tells them to head back into town and get the sheriff. A short time later, the sheriff comes back to town with Clovey, and his shirt is ripped into pieces. He was attacked by a wolf, but Sheriff Haines showed up and scared the animal off with his gun. He takes him to the local doctor, and Dr. Gilchrist (Ken Christy – image below) administers some first aid. His niece, Amy Standish (Joyce Holden – image below), is his assistant, and she’s also coincidentally engaged to Sheriff Haines.

 

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The next day, Marsh waking up out in the woods. He’s extremely disoriented, and in pain. For some reason his shoes are missing, and it’s very cold outside. He cries out in agony, as it seems he remembers what he did while he was “changed.” Back in town, the sheriff informs the townspeople that no one is allowed in the woods until further notice. This upsets all the local hunters, but he tells them too bad. Some reporters make their way from the big city to Mountaincrest after they heard about the murder. The sheriff initially keeps them out, but then decides to let them through to try to find the story. Over at the doctor’s house, Amy is startled by Marsh, who’s come to get some help with his amnesia. he goes inside, and tells the two of them that he can’t remember anything about his past except a car accident, and two doctors taking him in to a room. He then confesses to the murder from the night before. The doctor and Amy look puzzled, and then try to give him something to calm him down, but he slaps it away and runs off.

 

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Back in town, Amy and the doc tell the sheriff what happened. They ask him to not kill the guy because he’s out of his mind. The scene changes to a mad scientist-type laboratory. One man is working on a machine, and then another calls to him, and refers to him as “Morgan” (George Lynn). He and the other man, Emery (S. John Launer), read a newspaper and realize that the man they worked on has committed this murder. These two doctors have apparently been running experiments using a formula containing radiation. A ring at the door interrupts their conversation about what to do with Marsh. As Morgan answers the door, he’s greeted by Mrs. Marsh (Eleanore Tanin), and she’s wondering where her husband is since she hasn’t seen him since the car accident. Morgan lies and tells her that after they treated him, he took off and they haven’t seen him since.

 

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Out in the wilderness, the hunting party isn’t having any luck finding this ravenous beast or Marsh. Morgan and Emery set out to try to find him as well, and have better results because they think like an animal. Emery finds him, but once Marsh realizes they’re here to kill him, he wolfs out, and tries to kill them. The sheriff and his posse show up and shoot at the beast, and he runs away. They question the two doctors, and their story is kind of shady, but they allow them to stay. The sheriff and his men then head back to town, and then post guards around town to stop any more slayings. The werewolf then turns to killing sheep, and the sheriff warns all the local farmers to get into town as quickly as possible. Amy is still trying to convince the sheriff that Marsh needs help, and not to be killed.

 

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The sheriff and his men begin to set traps around the perimeter of town, in hopes of capturing the beast. Another problem arises when Mrs. Marsh and her son are on their way to Mountaincrest as well. Will the sheriff and his men be able to capture the beat or will they have to put him down…if they can!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

For a low-budget flick, this is a pretty solid film. Yeah, it’s mostly your standard fare from the 1950’s, but the angle of science creating the werewolf, and not a wolf bite was pretty cool. Having the two doctors get crazy and try to kill the werewolf was very different as well. Typically the doctors want to capture the beast, dissect it, and figure out how to do it better next time. Not here though. As far as the acting goes, most of the roles were pretty good, and even though none of the faces/names were familiar to me, I’m definitely going to seek out more from this crew! Well, definitely Joyce Holden (image below)!

The sets were OK, but nothing spectacular. The outdoor scenes were are alright, and the town settings were slightly better. The lighting was kind of low at a few points when they were filming indoors, but overall, it was nothing terrible. The music score didn’t do the film any favors, but had one or two high points. Producer/Director Sam Katzman has a list of credits a mile long, and when you look at it, his status in the industry is well deserved. Fred Sears (Director) is no slouch either, and made his mark in the film industry with some other solid movie credits. One note about the cast. The sheriff, Don Megowan, was also the Gill-Man in the third Creature from the Black Lagoon film!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Mad Magician (1954)

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Title: The Mad Magician

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Writer: Crane Wilbur

Director: John Brahm

Producer: Bryan Foy

Starring: Vincent Price, Mary Murphy, Eva Gabor, John Emery

Released: May 1954

MPAA: UR

 

This past Halloween has me completely focused on one actor – Vincent Price! I can’t get enough of his films, and that will continue today with a look at another one of his classics. This film has quickly ascended to near the top on my favorite films of Price, and won’t likely be pushed backwards any time soon. The film’s director has a pedigree in the entertainment industry, and we’ll touch on that a bit later.

For Price, this film was one that followed his huge hit, House of Wax, so you know that his name was slowly becoming a household name, and could begin to draw in moviegoers by the droves. Price almost went explicitly horror after this film, with a few minor exceptions. That genre would cement him as one of the biggest  horror icons of all time. Now, let’s get to the plot!

 

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The film opens with a typical street scene of that era (turn of the century). People muddling around, without a care in the world. A poster for a show running adorns the side of a building, and announces that Gallico the Great will perform many illusions, and the most dangerous of them all is the “Lady and the Buzz-saw” trick! Inside, the crew is bustling around, attempting to ready for the show. On stage, a man, Don Gallico (Vincent Price), is giving instructions to the musicians on how he expects them to follow his lead. Meanwhile, at the front door, a man, Detective Alan Bruce (Patrick O’ Neal)  is seeking entrance but the doorman tells him that no one is allowed in during rehearsal. He mentions that he’s there to see a friend, Karen Lee (Mary Murphy), and the doorman lets him in to see her.

Back on stage, Gallico talks to Karen and Alan about this being his first performance, so he’s very nervous. Karen explains to Alan that Gallico has been in the industry for a long time, but behind the scenes, building the marvelous contraptions that other magicians use to mystify the crowds. He felt it was high-time he stepped out from behind the curtain, and was the star  of the show!

 

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That night, the show opens, and back in the dressing room, Gallico prepares for his big night. He’s wearing a disguise, one that mimics one of his competitors. The magician he impersonates is the Great Rinaldi. He does a few simple illusions, one involving his assistant, Karen. He leaves the stage to prepare for his next big illusion (the buzz-saw trick), and everyone readies themselves. As he removes his makeup, he returns tot he stage, and demonstrates his saw. It tears right through a wooden post, that slightly resembles the shape of a human body/head. Just as the trick is about to begin, a curtain falls, and Gallico is furious. The building manager tells him that two men have arrived with an injunction, stopping him from doing this trick. Ross Ormond (Donald Randolph), owns the company that Gallico works for, and he tells him that the machine belongs to him. He demands that Gallico takes it to his warehouse in New York City, or he’ll never work in the industry again (he insinuates that Gallico will be blacklisted). Gallico snaps, and tries to grab Ormond, but Karen’s boyfriend Alan, stops him. You can literally see the hate in Gallico’s eyes, and we know this will not end well.

 

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The next day, Gallico and Alan are looking over the contract, and see that there is no way out. Alan feels bad for Gallico, and tells him that he’ll help any way he can. Ormond and the Great Rinaldi (John Emery) show up, and tell Gallico that they will be using the buzz-saw trick at his next show at the same theater Gallico had booked for his big show. Rinaldi leaves, and Ormond then informs Gallico that he knew about the machine well before the night before, but wanted to teach him a lesson in humility, so he waited until he was on stage, then humiliated him at the worst moment. To make matters worse, Gallico had a beautiful wife, but Ormond stole her away from him (with his money). As the two men recount the past, the face of Gallico reveals his incendiary feelings towards Ormond. In a fit of rage, Gallico chokes Ormond, then places him on the buzz-saw machine, holds him down, and activates the saw…

A while later, Gallico is cleaning up the studio, and Karen knocks at the door, he finishes cleaning up, and lets her in, but is obviously rattled. He thanks her for her help with the show, and writes a check to her for her work. She leaves to go and meet Alan for dinner, but grabs Gallico’s bag by mistake (they look very similar), and heads out. After a minute or so, Gallico realizes that she took his bag instead of her own, which shouldn’t be a big deal, accept that Ormond’s head is in his bag! He rushes to the restaurant and finds Karen and Alan. He asks her for the bag, but she left it in a cab. Frantically, Gallico tracks down the cab that took her to the restaurant, but he tells her that he saw it was left in the cab, so he gave it to a cop. He tracks him down, and retrieves the bag before anything goes awry.

 

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Next, we see that Gallico saved the head for a specific reason. He uses it to make a model and then a mask, replicating Ormond exactly! He then tosses the body on a bonfire (the town is celebrating a football game victory) to get rid of the evidence. We then see him with his “Ormond” mask on, and he then assumes that identity. He rents a room at a nearby building, and begins to build something. out of the blue one day, his ex-wife shows up, and immediately begins to hit on him. She questions him about the whereabouts of Ormond. Gallico tells her that he doesn’t know where he is, and when she goads him, he slaps her, then warns her to get out. She then goes to the police, asking for their help in finding her missing husband.

 

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Soon after, Mrs. Ormond gets call from the landlords where Gallico (disguised as Ormond, but using an assumed name) is now living. The landlords out him, and then allow her to wait in his room, and surprise him. She surprises him alright, but then the surprise is on her when she realizes that it’s Gallico. He listens to her talk about how she only wanted Ormond for his money, and now she’ll hook back up with him, because she’s also deduced that Ormond is dead. Gallico snaps, and throttles her to death. The landlords bust in, but Gallico jumps out the window, and escapes. The next day, the police have Gallico, the landlords, The Great Rinaldi, and Kate, in a room for questioning. The group basically feels as if Ormond killed his wife, and the police say that they have fingerprints that corroborate this theory.

 

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Gallico then finishes his latest trick, and shows it off to a few people. It’s a device called “the Crematorium,” and it looks spectacular. Lurking behind a curtain is the Great Rinaldi, and you just know he plans on stealing this new trick. As the trick is finished, Rinaldi pops out, and declares that he’ll be using the new device at his show. This is the last straw for Rinaldi, and Gallico has had enough of his pompous blustering. We don’t see the heinous act, but soon after, we see the Great Rinaldi, performing on stage, is actually Gallico in disguise.

As the police start closing in on the real killer, Gallico seems to be coming more and more unhinged. Will they catch him before he commits another murder? Watch the movie and find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This has to be considered one of Price’s best films. If you watch this one, it gives you chills when Price goes off the deep end. Why you ask? Because put yourself in that situation, and think about it for a moment. Everything you ever loved, worked for, or cherished gets taken away from you in a very humiliating manner. Yeah, exactly. Price has always played a good crazy person, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The ancillary characters don’t really give stellar performances, but Price gives such a grand one, that it doesn’t even matter. That’s not to say that they bring it down, but most of them are just bland.

The direction, production, and overall crew did a fantastic job at selling this film. The budget wasn’t very high, so you had to have a great show put on by Price, and of course, being the consummate pro, he did just that for audiences around the country. This film is one I’d love to see on the big screen and in 3-D (as it was originally released). I believe the film is in public domain, give the link below a click, and have at it! You will be more than satisfied after the seventy-two minutes are up! As I spoke of briefly earlier, the director, John Brahm, has a family history in the entertainment industry, including the work of his father, Ludwig Brahm, an actor himself, and also his uncle, Otto Brahm, who was a theater man, director, and critic as well!

 

Click here for full movie!