Haunted Horror- A trip into Pre-code madness!

For all those that wonder in amazement over the horror comics they see today, do yourself a favor if you already haven’t. Go back in time (thanks to IDW and Yoe Books), before the CCA (Comics Code Authority) was instituted, and revel in the brilliant, thought-provoking, and outright envelope pushing work that was done in the era before that foolish code was created.

Kudos must be given to the creators of this incredible work, but also to Craig Yoe, for putting this all together, and reminding us all of those great times. Getting this material back in front of comic book buyers in this day through a big publisher like IDW is something to be lauded.

The stories are various in their subject matter, but the resounding theme was horror, straight up. Zombies, murderers, radioactive insects, vampires, werewolves, etc. These wild comic books were carefully hidden under the beds of kids everywhere back in the 1950’s, in hopes that mom wouldn’t find them and throw them away. Don’t let that fool you though, they’re still pretty edgy even in this era. Do yourself a favor, grab these issues before they get too expensive, because we all know how expensive the original comics are from this age!

 

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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: 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: Diary of a Madman (1963)

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Title: Diary of a Madman

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Robert E. Kent

Director: Reginald Le Borg

Producers: Robert E. Kent, Edward Small

Starring: Vincent Price, Nancy Kovack, Lewis Martin, Chris Warfield, Ian Wolfe

Released: March 1963

MPAA: Approved

 

It’s no secret I think Vincent Price is one of the bet film stars of all time. Not just in the horror genre, but all of them. You can debate if you’d like, but I promise you that the people who will debate most wholeheartedly are the ones that haven’t seen many (if any) of his films. He’s definitely one the top horror icons, and along with Cushing, Lee, Lugosi, Karloff, & Chaney, his place is forever cemented in the industry.

This film has Price, but no other really bankable stars (Ian Wolfe was established, but not a household name), so when you watch this one, you really get a sense that he brought everyone else up to his lofty standards for acting. The film is another gem from Price, and everyone that’s a fan needs to see it. Alright, let us journey into the past…

 

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The film begins with a funeral for a man named Simon Cordier (Vincent Price). His family and friends stand by and watch the priest finish the service, and one woman remarks that she’s glad he’s dead. The same small group of people meet at an art gallery, and read the last wishes of Simon Cordier. The diary tells them that Cordier believed he was possessed by an evil spirit, called “horla,” and it forced him and others to commit unspeakable acts. We then flashback to when Cordier first encountered the horla…

 

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We learn that Cordier was a magistrate, and that his first saw evidence of this abomination, it was while visiting a prisoner (image above) that was only days away from execution. The prisoner pleads with Cordier, telling him that he didn’t really want to murder people, but that an evil spirit forced him to do it. At first, Cordier doesn’t believe him, but then the man’s eyes begin to glow with a green hue, and the man savagely attacks Cordier. They struggle for a moment, but then Cordier manages to push him away. The guards come running in, and discover that the prisoner died when he hit his head against the stone wall. Cordier is in shock over what he’s seen and done.

 

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The following day, Cordier is upstairs in his home, and he sees a picture of a woman and a boy (apparently his wife and son that are deceased). He freaks out, and calls his butler, Pierre (Ian Wolfe), about the picture. Pierre explains that he doesn’t know how the picture came to be there (it had previously been stored away). Pierre then calls to Louise (Mary Adams), the cook, and questions her about the matter. In the next moment, Cordier sees some writing on a dusty shelf in the same room that reads…”hatred is evil.” These are the same words that the prisoner spoke before he attempted to kill Cordier. Cordier thinks he sleep walked, and did these things.

 

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The following day, Cordier goes to his office, and finds the case file for the recently deceased prisoner. He doesn’t remember leaving it there, and can’t figure out why it’s there. He then hears a voice call out to him, warning him that because he killed the prisoner, he will now be the host for this specter. After excusing himself from the court that day, he begins to write in his diary about the strange goings-on. Once again, the voice calls out to him, and then possesses him. It tells him that he must kill his pet bird, and he does. The spirit then leaves, and Cordier sees what he’s done.

 

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In the next scene, Cordier is visiting a psychiatrist about his troubles. The doctor believes that the strain of work, and the death’s of his family have driven him to this problem. He tells Cordier to return to his hobby of sculpting, take a vacation, and to immerse himself in art. He does just that, and walks around a neighborhood, looking at art. He’s approached by a beautiful woman, Odette Mallotte DuClasse (Nancy Kovack – image above), who asks him to buy the portrait of her. They strike up some conversation and he tells her that he’s a sculptor. One thing leads to another, and she agrees to pose for him later that night. Odette heads inside to see her husband, Paul DuClasse (Chris Warfield), the artist. She tells him that she’s going to pose for another artist, and her husband gets jealous. She tells him that her lifestyle needs more income, so she’s taking the job, to the dismay of her husband.

 

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That night, Odette travels to the home of Cordier to pose for him, and after a quick conversation, the two head upstairs to the studio. Pierre and Louise are overjoyed that Cordier is happy again. In the studio, Odette asks if she needs to “disrobe” but Cordier tells her it’s not a nude. She seems slightly disappointed for a split second, and then tells him that nothing should distract from the face, and he agrees. Cordier compliments her on her beauty, and she smiles.

We then get some more from the diary, as Cordier writes down how happy he is, with his work, sculpting, and that his nightmares are gone. Days pass, and things seem fine, and he finishes the sculpture. There’s some mild flirtation between the two, and then she leaves. Cordier is left alone, but then suddenly, he hears the voice of the specter once again. The two have a conversation about good and evil. The spirit implies that Cordier drove his wife to commit suicide, and that he basically is a murderer. The spirit tells him that he wants his soul, and he knows that Odette is truly evil. Cordier wont believe it, and as he cries out, the spirit leaves the room. Cordier contemplates the reason for this spirit’s existence, but as he does, the spirit shows up, and tortures him some more. The spirit tells him that Odette is evil, and that he’ll force him to punish her if he’ll keep denying the fact.

 

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After a day or so, we see that indeed Cordier is courting Odette, and that has plans for her, or the spirit does. Cordier gives her a brooch and tells her that it belonged to his wife. We then cut to a scene where Odette’s husband, Paul, is telling his woes to another woman, Jean D’Arville (Elaine Devry). He tells the woman that Odette has moved out and into her own apartment. They both surmise that she is stepping out with Cordier because he has money, and power. Paul decides he’s going to go to Cordier’s home, and confront him about the matter. As the two meet, Paul is enraged that Cordier wont stop pursuing his wife, but Cordier doesn’t care. Paul then threatens to make the affair public, and storms out. The spirit tells Cordier that Paul must be killed, but he refuses.

 

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Cordier tells Odette that they’re going to run away, and marry overseas. He thinks he can avoid the spirit’s influence, but the spirit tells him otherwise. Cordier pulls out a gun, and tries to kill the spirit, but to no avail. The spirit then possesses Cordier, and orders him to murder Odette. Paul shows up at the apartment, and gets rough with Odette but she convinces him to leave. Moments later, Cordier shows up and brutally murders Odette. He returns home, and wakes up from the trance, aware of nothing. Paul gets the blame, and the spirit is just getting started!

Will Cordier be able to stop the spirit, or will he also be a victim of its insanity!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is a must-see for any fans of Price, horror, or just classic cinema. Price was excellent in this film, and really commanded every scene. Nancy Kovack was brilliantly evil in this one, and really matched up well with him. Their on-screen chemistry was something special. The other cast members were solid as well, especially the butler, played by Ian Wolfe.

The most remarkable thing about this film (other than Price), was the outstanding sets. Whether it was the home of Cordier (Price), where most of the film seemed to take place, his office, the street, or even the other houses/apartments in the film, the sets were great (Victor A. Gangelin). The costumes, music, and makeup were all spot on, and really delivered.

Definitely look this one up, you wont be disappointed. After all, it is Vincent Price!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Fly (1958)

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Title: The Fly

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: James Clavell (Screenplay), original story by George Langelaan

Director: Kurt Neumann

Producer: Kurt Neumann

Starring: Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall

Release: August 1958

MPAA: Approved

OK, so, I know this film isn’t exactly in the same sub-genre as the three previous films I reviewed this month, BUT it does have a monster that kind of fits the bill. Oh, and it has Vincent Price, so it’s automatically worth watching. Even though Price isn’t the main character in this film, his presence is enough to vault this movie into the awesome category!

Without giving too much away, this film features a gruesome beginning, and then the rest is in flashback. A couple of twists at the ens definitely make this film one I’ll never forget. Well, at least the famous line from one particular scene! Alright, let us journey back in time to 1958…

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The movie begins with a night watchman, as he’s making his rounds at an electronics factory. He hears a piece of equipment being operated, and heads in the general direction to investigate. As he opens a door, a young woman (Patricia Owens) looks at him, then dashes off through the back door. The man discovers that she was apparently operating an industrial press, and there’s a man squished underneath it! The next scene shows the same woman, making a phone call to the owner of the factory, Francois Delambre (Vincent Price), claiming that she’s killed her husband, who happens to be Francois’s brother. At first he thinks it’s a joke, but then she reiterates what she’s done, and he quickly calls an inspector friend of his, Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) to help him out of this situation.

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The inspector shows up with the coroner and few other policemen. They see that Mrs. Delambre wasn’t just telling some crazy story, as we see a body, half squished under the press. Francois is shocked, and tells them that his brother had a big scar on his left leg, so they can identify the body (the head and left arm are underneath the press). The scar is found and Francois is grief-stricken. They then travel to the home of Mrs. Delambre, to question her about the nights events. She tells them that she activated the press, and exactly how she did it, showing that it very well could’ve been her. The Inspector asks her why she did it, and she tells him that she can’t answer that question. He asks another question, and again, she refuses to answer. He then tells Francois and the doctor to give them a moment alone. He questions her further on the events at the factory, but she’s still very mysterious about her motive. She does get rattled when a fly enters the room, and the inspector notices this immediately.

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The inspector decides on the advice of the doctor, to let her rest, and see if her mind improves (they think her insane). He and Francois then check out his lab, and see that it has been wrecked for some reason. Francois can’t believe it, because his brother was always so careful with the equipment. The inspector then asks Francois if his brother ever used animals in his experiments, and Francois tells him no. He then asks about insects, and Francois pauses for a moment, then tells the inspector that his brother wouldn’t even hurt a fly.

A few days later, the police have sent in a “nurse” to keep an eye on Helene. Everything seems to be fine, until a fly enters the room. Helene is very agitated, and the nurse tells her to not worry, because she’ll kill it. Just as she swats it with a newspaper, Helene screams out in agony, and smashes her breakfast tray. She crumples to the floor, sobbing. The nurse puts her back in bed, and calls the doctor. They can’t understand the situation, and Francois wants to speak with her. The doctor asks Francois if he’s in love with Helene, and he says yes. he admits to loving her, but not interfering with his brother. The doctor tells Francois that he’ll recommend to the police that Helene is guilty, by reason of insanity. At dinner, Francois talks with Phillipe (Helene’s son), and the boy tells Francois that his mother was looking for a specific fly, one with a white head. The boy says that she asked him to look for it the day his father disappeared. Francois stiffens, and realizes that something rather heinous is afoot.

Francois then goes to Helene’s house to speak with her and after some prodding, she relents and tells him the story of what really happened to her husband…

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The two men sit and listen to her story. She tells them that a few months ago, her husband, Andre (Al Hedison), was working on a secret project, but invited his wife into the lab to see the results of his latest experiment. He’s invented a molecular/matter displacement device, but not yet perfected it. He demonstrates it by using a plate with writing on the bottom of it. He turns on the machine, and it transfers the plate from one cabinet, across the room to another. Helene is fascinated but thinks it’s a trick. He assures her it isn’t, and they both are very excited. She looks at the bottom of the plate though, and the writing is backwards. He realizes this is a stumbling block, and immediately works on perfecting the process.

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A few weeks later, he thinks he’s done just that, but wants to test something else, something living. He uses the family cat, but with varying results. The cat is placed in the cabinet, but doesn’t make it to the other one. He hears the cat crying out, but we never see where it ended up. Days later, Andre bursts out of his lab, claiming success. He takes Helene to the ballet to celebrate, then home to see his latest accomplishment. He puts some champagne in the machine, and transfers it to the other cabinet without any problems. Next, he uses the little boy’s pet guinea pig, and at first, Helene is upset, and doesn’t want him to do it. He convinces her it will be fine, and then he shows her it is, and transfers the animal. He does tell her about the cat, and she makes him promise to not use animals anymore.

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A few weeks later, Francois is coming over for lunch, and Andre is ready to unveil his new invention. Helene and Francois head downstairs to the lab, but there’s a note on the door, saying that he wont be up for lunch. At that moment, Phillipe runs in and calls to his mother. He tells her that he’s caught a fly, and not just any fly, but one with a white head, and a white leg. She tells him to run along, not thinking anything of the boy’s exuberance. The boy then releases the fly, and walks away sad about the situation. Later, the maid tells Helene that Andre didn’t eat his supper, and Helene wonders why not. She goes downstairs to investigate, and calls to Andre. he doesn’t answer, and she’s perplexed. She sees a note that was slipped under the door, and reads that he’s had a terrible accident. He asks for some milk, and she gets it, and the note also says to leave the milk on his desk, but not to bother him. It says that he’s looking for a fly, but not just any fly, but one with a white head!

 

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Will Andre be able to reverse the horror that he’s created? I hope you’re not in the mood for a happy ending…

OK, here are my thoughts:

If there’s anyone out there that hasn’t seen this flick yet, please, do yourself a favor and check this out. The three main players in this film are fantastic, and never waver in their performances. Of course, Price really commands the scenes he’s a part of, but he’s more of a secondary character in this one. You can’t honestly find anything wrong with this film. The acting, sets, music, everything, is top-notch here. The make-up is nothing short of brilliant for the 1950’s, and we have Ben Nye (RIP) to thank for that. Just incredible work by that man.

Even fans of newer films of this genre will appreciate this one.It would be impossible to not like this film, because of its simplicity, but over abundance of great moments that will never leave your mind after watching it. Do yourself a favor, check out Netflix or grab this one in a DVD bin at a Big Box store. it’s well worth whatever they’re asking, trust me! The fact that the film has a beautiful leading lady doesn’t hurt either!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: Devil Doll (1964)

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Title: Devil Doll

Distributor: Associated Film Distribution Corp.

Writer: Ronald Kinnoch (screenplay)

Director: Lindsay Shonteff

Producer:  Richard Gordon, Kenneth Rive

Starring: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain

Released: September 1964

MPAA:  Approved

With Christmas in the rear-view mirror, I thought I’d take a look at something a bit more odd than I usually review. This little-known film has one of the creepiest things in it that can make a lot of people freak out. A ventriloquist dummy is one of those things that looks harmless enough, but just the mere thought of it acting independently, gives most the creeps (me included)!  Throw in a little mystery and  murder, and voila, you have an eccentric film with more than most big budget films can offer.

Admittedly, Yvonne Romain was the only face I recognized right away. Bryant Haliday did look a bit familiar, but looking at his list of credits, I’m not quite sure where I may have seen him pop up in the past. Well, let us not delay any further. I now present to you, the doll that would make Chucky shake in his boots, Devil Doll!

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The film begins with the Great Vorelli (Bryant Haliday – image below), in a cab, heading to the theater for a performance. We see that the main attraction of his show is a ventriloquist dummy, that he uses with astonishing results. He somehow drinks a glass of wine, while the dummy still speaks! The crowd is in awe, and the performance ends with that feat. Vorelli then retreats to his dressing room, and we see something that seems a bit off. Vorelli locks “Hugo” in a cage, and not just putting him a case or on a table. His assistant, Magda (Sandra Dorne), seems unsettled, but also as if she knows something about this strange ritual.

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The next day, a newspaper reporter, Mark English (William Sylvester), is discussing the buzz around London about the great Vorelli. He and a coworker have a young woman lined up to go on stage as a volunteer, to try to figure out his secrets, but the girl backs out. In a pinch for a good-looking young lady, Mark calls one of his flames, Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain), and she accepts. The two then go to the next performance, and Marianne volunteers, just as planned. Vorelli hypnotizes her, and makes her dance with a man. He also seems to be aroused by her as well, and you get the impression that he wants to do more than just make her dance. And once again for the finale, he brings out Hugo, and the two talk. Vorelli then pours some wine, and Hugo asks for some, but Vorelli tells him that he cannot have any. He then orders Hugo to go to the edge of the stage, and take a bow. After some prodding, he does just that, and the audience is amazed. Vorelli then commands him to return to his “master,” and he does.

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Back stage, Vorelli locks up Hugo once again, and Vorelli tells Magda that he’s going to get Marianne in his thrall. She seems less than excited. On the drive home, Mark puts the moves on Marianne, and the two get jiggy in the car. Marianne agrees to help him prove that Vorelli is a phony. They make a plan to invite him to Marianne’s aunts party, and then Mark will sneak into Vorelli’s room and examine the dummy. Marianne then goes to Vorelli’s room to invite him to the party. He then hypnotizes her, and tells her that she’ll obey his commands, and when he calls, she must come to him. He recognizes her family connection, and knows she’s rich, so he not only wants her because she’s beautiful, but because she’s loaded as well.

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Vorelli puts on his show at the party, and Hugo is even more disobedient than normal. At one point, Hugo picks up a knife and almost stabs Vorelli! The crowd is shocked, and gasps with fear, but Vorelli commands him to put down the knife and apologize to the crowd. He then puts Hugo away, and then starts to seduce Marianne. In the meantime, Mark heads upstairs to check out Hugo. Vorelli takes this opportunity to entrance Marianne even more, and now she’s completely under his control. Mark inspects the dummy, but can’t find anything unusual with it, so he leaves.

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Later that evening, Vorelli mentally calls out to Marianne, and she comes to his room. he then seduces her. As mark is sleeping, Hugo comes to his room, and tells him a secret. He tells him about Berlin, in 1948. The next morning, Mark is telling a coworker about this, and the girl thinks it was a dream. Mark tells her it wasn’t but the girl won’t listen to him. Mark gets a call that Marianne isn’t well, so he heads over to her place immediately. When Mark arrives, she’s in some sort of coma, but wakes up momentarily, and tells Mark that “he keeps calling me” and she wants “him” to stop.

The next day, Vorelli scolds Magda for not getting the job done. She then threatens him with the police, but he puts on the charm, and then they make whoopee. The next morning, a friend of Mark’s, Dr. Heller (Karel Stepanek), shows up, and mark tries to convince him of Vorelli’s madness. He tells him about the encounter with Hugo, and the talk of Berlin. Back at Vorelli’s place, he tells Hugo that Magda said he was ugly, and apparently this is enough for Hugo to become enraged and murder her. Vorelli has an airtight alibi, we assume from hypnotizing others. Mark theorizes that Vorelli killed her, and won’t rest until he exposes Vorelli!

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I’ll stop here, but rest assured that there’s more to the dummy than meets the eye, and in the end, Vorelli gets what is coming to him!

OK, here are my thoughts:

This little film is a good creepy watch on a Saturday afternoon. There isn’t a ton of intrigue, and you can kind of figure out what’s going on before the big reveal. This doesn’t take away much from the movie though, and it has a certain charm that movies from that era possess (for the most part). Towards the end of the film, two of the characters travel to Berlin, and do some investigating. That’s a really solid part of the movie, and gives it some credibility. There is some cheesy/creepy scenes that are overtly sexual (for the 1960’s), but they don’t override the rest of the flick.

As far as sets go, there wasn’t anything too exciting. The scenes of Vorelli during his performances were pretty good, and the theater looked authentic enough. The music score was below average, but you really didn’t need anything over-the-top to enhance the film. The last scene was pretty cool, even though the “fight” was kind of silly. Any way you slice it, the movie is worth checking out, so do it!

 

Click here for the trailer!