Category Archives: Universal Horror

Universal Pictures unveils a new world of gods and monsters – Dark Universe

Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters…

Universal Pictures has announced that its series of films reviving the studio’s classic monster characters for a new generation will be known as Dark Universe. The motion logo for the new initiative features a musical theme composed by Danny Elfman and will debut in theaters preceding The Mummy, which will be released on 9 June.

Dark Universe was begun by core creatives Alex Kurtzman, who also serves as director and producer of The Mummy, the inaugural film in the new classic monster series, and The Mummy producer Chris Morgan, who recently saw The Fate of the Furious, the sixth film he wrote for the Fast & Furious franchise, claim the biggest opening in history at the global box office when it opened on April 14. Also joining the enterprise to inspire and entertain a new generation are such visionary talents as Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp.

“When Universal approached us with the idea of re-imagining these classic characters, we recognised the responsibility of respecting their legacy while bringing them into new and modern adventures,” said Kurtzman and Morgan.

In another exciting development, Oscar winner Bill Condon will follow his worldwide smash Beauty and the Beast, one of this year’s biggest hits—which crossed $1 billion at the global box office and became the most successful musical of all time—by directing Bride of Frankenstein, from a screenplay by Koepp, which will be released on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

“I’m very excited to bring a new Bride of Frankenstein to life on screen, particularly since James Whale’s original creation is still so potent,” stated Condon. “The Bride of Frankenstein remains the most iconic female monster in film history, and that’s a testament to Whale’s masterpiece—which endures as one of the greatest movies ever made.”

Dark Universe films will be distinguished by performances from some of the most talented and popular global superstars stepping into iconic roles, as well as electric new talents whose careers are starting to break through.  The Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s Monster will be played by Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem, who appear together later this summer in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Those actors join Tom Cruise as soldier of fortune Nick Morton and Russell Crowe as Dr Henry Jekyll, who lead the all-star cast of The Mummy, along with Sofia Boutella, the actress who embodies the title role in that film.

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Universal’s Complete Legacy Collection | Four Classic Monsters Blu-ray Box Sets featuring 22 HD firsts

Universal Classic Horror Legacy Collection

Universal Pictures’ stable of classic monsters featuring Frankenstein (and his creature), Dracula (and his kin), the Mummy (and his tanna leaf-chewing disciples) and the Wolfman (and his brood) have all been unleashed again onto Blu-ray in the UK in four new box sets containing 27 classic creepies, (*22 of them Blu-ray firsts) and all digitally restored so that fans, both old and new, can witness just why this monster club remains one of cinemas finest creations.

Now, back in 2012, I rushed out and bought the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection featuring 8 classics and a host of bonus content. It was a beautiful release featuring all my old favourites gorgeously restored. This one includes many of those special features (all marked ! below), but the big plus is including ALL of the sequels of each of the four monster legacies.

Mind you, there’s no Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon or Phantom of the Opera this time round, but hopefully Universal will eventually release them under their Complete Legacy Collection banner – which will be most welcomed by film completists like myself.

So here’s what you get… (*) is new to Blu-ray

The Frankenstein Legacy Collection

Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein* (1939), Ghost of Frankenstein* (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics!
• The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made A Monster!
• Karloff: The Gentle Monster!
• Monster Tracks (subtitle file, interactive pop-up facts about the making of Frankenstein)!
• Universal Horror (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)!
• Frankenstein Archives!
• Boo!: A Short Film!
• Feature Commentary With Film Historian Rudy Behlmer!
• Feature Commentary With Historian Sir Christopher Frayling!
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics!
• She’s Alive! Creating the Bride of Frankenstein!
• The Bride of Frankenstein Archives!
• The Bride of Frankenstein commentary with Scott MacQueen!
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott And Costello Theatrical Trailer
• Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein commentary With Film Historian Gregory W. Mank

The Dracula Legacy Collection

Dracula (1931), Dracula’s Daughter* (1936), Son of Dracula* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• Dracula (1931) Spanish Version!
• Introduction to the Spanish Version by Lupita Tovar Kohner!
• Dracula: The Restoration!
• The Road To Dracula!
• Lugosi: The Dark Prince!
• Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal!
• Alternate Score By Philip Glass with the Kronos Quartet!
• Four Unrestored Trailers!
• Dracula Archives!
• Monster Tracks Pop-Up Facts (subtitle file)!
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein commentary With Film Historian Gregory W Mank

The Wolf Man Legacy Collection

The Wolf Man (1941), She-Wolf of London* (1946), Werewolf of London* (1935), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• Centennial Trailer
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• Monsters By Moonlight!
• The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth!
• Pure In Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.!
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce!
• The Wolf Man Archives!
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott And Costello Theatrical Trailer
• Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein Commentary with Film Historian Gregory W. Mank

The Mummy Legacy Collection

The Mummy (1932), The Mummy’s Hand* (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb* (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost* (1944), The Mummy’s Curse*, (1944), and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy* (1955)

Special Features
• The Mummy Feature Commentary with Film Historian Paul Jensen!
• Mummy Dearest Featurette!
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce!
• Universal Horror (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)
• Unravelling the Legacy of the Mummy!

 

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The House of the Seven Gables (1940) | When Universal adpated Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic Gothic novel

House-of-Seven-Gables_LC_1_edited-1-1024x790-1024x790-1

AN ANCIENT HOUSE! A MURDER SECRET! A HIDDEN TREASURE!
For 160 years the New England Pyncheons have lived under a curse after an ancestor had a man called Matthew Maule condemned to hang so that he could steal his land and build his dream house in Salem. When patriarch Gerald (Gilbert Emery) dies during a heated argument with his aspiring songwriter son Clifford (Vincent Price), his other son, Boston lawyer Jaffrey (George Sanders) seizes on the opportunity to claim the house for himself and have his brother sent down for murder.

But when Clifford’s intended bride Hepzibah (Margaret Lindsay) inherits the family estate, she kicks Jaffrey out and locks herself up in the house and from the outside world. Two decades later, Hepzibah has turned into a bitter sinister, but the arrival of orphaned niece Phoebe (Nan Grey) and the machinations of a mysterious lodger Holgrave (Dick Foran) could prove to change her fortune, and reunite her with her beloved Clifford.

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

‘What a pity man must inherit their ancestors ignorance, instead of their wisdom’
This 1940 Universal melodrama, directed by Joe May, is a handsome adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, but fuses its Gothic themes of guilt, retribution and atonement with a contemporary take on Cain and Abel and a bittersweet romance over three acts.

Appearing in one of his earliest screen roles, Vincent Price’s native midwestern accent comes through, especially in the first act, where he brings an educated, theatrical quality to his happy-go-lucky bohemian Clifford who despises his family’s dark history. And this is used to great effect in his trial scene (a travesty of justice that infers the Salem witch trials of 1692), in which he evokes Maule’s curse (‘God has given him blood to drink’) on his brother Jaffrey, who has used the most degenerate means to keep the house on the belief a fortune in land deeds and gold lies hidden within its walls. And following Clifford’s incarceration, Price’s voice takes on a melancholy timbre to denote his weariness at his captivity. He would go on to use this sombre tone to great effect in his more famous roles, in which he played cads and villains, but here he shows his mettle as a romantic leading man.

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

Keen eyed viewers might recognise a scene in which Vincent Price’s Clifford points out the unsavoury professions of his ancestors whose portraits decorate the walls of the family home, for it was later used by Roger Corman in his first Poe picture, The House of Usher, and then spoofed by Price in 1966’s Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.

Vincent’s voice also comes in fine form in singing the theme tune, The Color of Your Eyes, by Frank Skinner and Ralph Reed. But it’s not the only time that Price would display his wonderful baritone on screen. He filmed a musical sequence for 1944’s Laura, but it was removed in the final cut, while for many years his singing at the end of Dr Phibes Rises Again (Somewhere Over the Rainbow) and Madhouse (When Day Is Done) went missing in action during the VHS era.

While Vincent Price and George Sanders (at his slimy best) are the star names here, they were virtually unknowns at the time, while 1930s star Margaret Lindsay is a revelation, and watching her Hepzibah change from light and gay sweetheart to bitter crone (whose rasping voice sounds very much like Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives in Penny Dreadful) is pathos personified.

As Matthew Maule, a direct descendant of the man who cursed the Pyncheons and a committed abolitionist who helps Clifford get his revenge, Dick Foran makes for a engaging hero, but his character also gave the film’s screenwriter Lester Cole the chance to inject some personal political views with lines like: ‘How is it possible to arrest a man for speaking freely of freedom in a country whose constitution guarantees freedom – and justice?’. These left-wing views would later earn the film some notoriety when it was shown on TV in the 1950s during the McCarthy communist witch-hunt era.

The House of the Seven Gables (1940)

But the film’s politics are overshadowed by the film’s two romantic storylines which see Hepzibah and Clifford finally reuniting after so long apart, and Matthew (masquerading as Holgrave) courting and catching Phoebe, while providence and fate work against the vile Jaffrey.

The direction might be a touch too sentimental for modern audiences, but the solid lead performances, Frank Skinner’s Oscar-nominated musical score, the atmospheric photography and the authentic recreation of the original 16th-century Turner-Ingersoll mansion in Salem that inspired the Hawthorne novel, makes this Universal melodrama a classic worth repeating.

The House of the Seven GablesTHE UK DVD RELEASE
The Screenbound Pictures Region 2 DVD release presents a pristine transfer of the 89-minute black and white film in a 1:37:1 aspect ratio.

The only extra is a 10-minute interview with star Vincent Price on Aspel and Company (1984) in which he looks back at some highs and lows of his screen career, and reveals to the British chat show host Michael Aspel what frightens him most.

Available from: http://www.classicfilmsdirect.com/product/the-house-of-the-seven-gables

The Leech Woman (1960) | Staying young forever comes at a deadly price in the Universal B-movie classic

The Leech Woman (1960)

Old women always give me the creeps!
When US endocrinologist Dr Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry) encounters 152-year-old Malla (Estelle Hemsley), he discovers she may hold the key to eternal youth. Accompanied by his alcoholic wife June (Nightmare Alley‘s Coleen Gray), Talbot takes Malla back to her African tribe, the Nandos, where she transforms back into her youthful self (To Kill A Mockingbird‘s Kim Hamilton) with the help of a ring filled with a miraculous elixir. However, there’s a deadly price to be paid: as the ring’s secret ingredient is secretion of the male pineal gland that can only be obtained by killing its host.

On learning that she is to be the next test subject, June kills her husband, steals the ring and heads back to the US under the guise of her own niece Terry Hart. But settling into her double life, June/Terry discovers she must kill and kill again to retain her beauty. But one of her victims proves her undoing when tries to win the affections of her lawyer Neil (Grant Williams aka The Incredible Shrinking Man)…

The Leech Woman (1960)

‘She drained men of their loves and lives’
Produced as a second feature to the US release of Hammer’s The Brides of Dracula, 1960s The Leech Woman is curious entry in Universal’s classic horror cycle. Helmed by screenwriter Edward Dein (who worked on the 1940s Tom Conway Falcon movies) it’s a strange brew of jungle adventure (cue stock footage of African wildlife and tribal dances), marriage meltdown soap drama and sci-fi fantasy.

While not exactly a spoof, the film doesn’t play it entirely straight, and this is evident from the outset as Coleen Gray and Phillip Terry trade acidic insults as bitter couple June and Paul Talbot in the film’s first act, which contains all of the film’s best dialogue, including: ‘I can’t reach you without crawling into a bottle’ and ‘As I doctor I resent the word butchering as much as I resent looking at you!’ Of course, being the first husband of Joan Crawford, Terry probably had a lot of material to use for these hilarious scenes.

And as a pertinent reminder of Universal’s horror pedigree, there’s some in-joke references to 1941’s The Wolf Man and 1942’s The Mummy’s Tomb that will tickle the fancy of classic horror fans, while 1950s scream queen Gloria Talbott is super fiery as Gray’s love rival, Sally.

The Leech Woman (1960)

‘I’ll show you! I’ll becoming beautiful again!’
With vanity, Gerascophobia (the fear of growing old), and modern society’s obsession with halting the aging process at the heart of the thriller, the most revealing line of the film: ‘There’s only one trouble with running away – you always meet yourself when you get there’. Which is what eventually happens to June when, cornered by the police after killing Sally, decides to leap to her death rather than face the horror of seeing herself age and shrivel up (courtesy of make-up legend Bud Westmore’s box of tricks). However, she does get to take her swan dive in a chic silver lamé culottes-styled evening dress creation by Bill Thomas (the same costume designer who also did all the fab gowns in Douglas Sirk’s big-budget soapy 1950s melodramas).

This is campy B-movie fun with an acid tongue and one important lesson: never try to steal Nandos’ secret recipe for their delicious chicken marinade.

The Screenbound Pictures DVD release features a pristine print of the black and white horror, with Dolby Digital mono sound.

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The Black Cat (1941) | This vintage horror whodunit is a nostalgic laugh riot

The Black Cat (1941)

There’s something wrong in the house of Winslow
Wealthy eccentric Henrietta Winslow (Cecilia Loftus) loves her cats more than anything or anyone, and when it comes to the reading of her own will, Henrietta discovers ‘she has more relatives hanging around her than a dead sheep has surrounded by vultures’, so remarks antique dealer Mr Penny (Hugh Herbert) when he accompanies estate agent Gil Smith (Broderick Crawford) to Henrietta’s crumbling mansion to take inventory of her estate.

But she’s not dead yet, fellas! Well that little matter doesn’t stop one of Henrietta’s money-hungry relatives from stabbing her to death with a hatpin… But what they don’t know is that there’s a clause in her will that prevents all of them getting anything until her beloved pets and housekeeper Abigail are dead. And that’s the killer’s cue to use secret passages and a storm as cover to do just that…

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This 1941 black and white horror whodunit was Universal’s answer to Paramount’s 1939 comic creeper The Cat and the Canary, and it was just as successful at the box office.

Providing the sinister stares are Bela Lugosi as gloomy gypsy manservant Eduardo and Gale Sondergaard as surly housekeeper Abigail (who has a puss like a lemon rinse), while Basil Rathbone takes time out from his Sherlock Holmes’ duties to play an adulterous cad ‘who should have been actor’, (according to Henrietta). Of course, Universal’s resident ghouls are just red herrings as the real killer is eventually unmasked as… Alan Ladd, Claire Dodd, John Eldredge or Gladys Cooper (you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out).

As flirty niece Elaine, Anne Gwynne makes for a sparky heroine, while burly Broderick Crawford tries to be Bob Hope but comes off more like Lon Chaney Jr. Then there’s veteran comic Hugh ‘Whoo-hoo!’ Herbert who acts like he’s in another movie altogether.

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Featuring atmospheric camerawork that landed Stanley Cortez the cinematography gig on Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (check out the cat lamps that turn a fireplace into a giant feline face); a script that crackles with one-liners; and a creepy mansion that comes with it own crematorium dedicated to deceased pussies, The Black Cat is a nostalgic laugh riot.

And while it may have nothing to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story, save for some eerie cat howls, and the film’s gags run out of steam towards the end, the energy of the classy cast certainly makes up for those minor oversights.

The Black Cat is released on DVD in the UK from Final Cut Entertainment

Monster on the Campus (1959) | Jack Arnold’s hairy rather than scary sci-fi

Monster on Campus (1959)

From the master of 1950s American sci-fi, Jack Arnold, comes the science gone awry black and white horror chiller, Monster on the Campus.

‘You will see evolution in reverse’
California college professor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) acquires a prehistoric fish fossil from Madagascar called a coelacanth, whose irradiated blood causes a dog to sprout large canines, a dragonfly to grow two-foot long, and Blake to revert into a subhuman from 100 million years ago. But when it goes on a killing spree, how long will it take for Blake to work out that it’s the beast within him that’s causing all the mayhem on his doorstep?

Monster on the Campus (1958)

Man-monster Campus Terror!
If  the UK’s Hammer Films were known for their Home Counties gothic horrors set in the confines of Bray Studios, then director Jack Arnold (1916-1992) was best known for setting his many of his US sci-fi’s (It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, The Monolith Monsters) in cosy California townships, where evil alien forces cause chaos in impossibly wholesome ‘mom and Apple Pie’ communities. And the evil in question in this college town is the oozing blood from a defrosted coelacanth (or ‘silly-canth’ as it’s pronounced here) that turns our good doctor into the hairy pawed Beast of Dunsfield, but only for brief periods, in which he drags young women by the hair to their fright-induced early deaths.

Monster on the Campus (1958)

Franz’s professor Blake gets nil points for health and safety awareness. He smokes while examining specimens, never wears gloves, and doesn’t even have a first aid kit in his lab. He’s also terrible at problem solving, as it takes two murders before he realises the truth.

The other characters aren’t that clued-up either, including Donald’s forgiving fiancé Madeline (played by Joanna Moore, whose real-life story is truly tragic) or the dumb detective (Judson Pratt), who thinks either a deformed maniac is responsible or someone is out to frame the professor. Wrong! He never considers the fact that Blake is always found at the scene of each crime, having blacked out, and with yet another torn shirt (a la The Hulk) to show for it. Duh!

Monster on the Campus (1958)

Teen idol Troy Donahue puts in a early screen appearance as college jock Jimmy, who, along with Nancy Walters (of Blue Hawaii fame) witness the fossil’s transformation abilities in the film’s best moments, a scene in which Blake traps and kills the mutated dragonfly.

The Beast’s first transformation happens 11-minutes into the story, but we only ever see a hairy hand until the big climax, when we get that really bad joke shop mask, behind which is the legendary Hollywood stuntman Eddie Parker.

Monster on the Campus (1958)

This evolutionary variant on Jekyll & Hyde isn’t the greatest sci-fi for Jack Arnold to go out on, but it does have its moments, particularly the excellent use of library music which carries the action, and the hilariously corny dialogue that includes lines like:

‘That’s impossible. Nobody’s got a footprint like that’.
‘Unless it was someone who had strange hands too’.

After this film, director Jack Arnold dabbled in comedy (The Mouse That Roared with Peter Sellers), teen exploitation (High School Confidential), westerns and light sex comedies before heading to TV, where he helmed many a childhood favourite, including Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch (he did the episode The Tiki Caves, which introduced me to a certain Mr Vincent Price), Wonder Woman and, oh dear, The Love Boat.

Monster on the Campus is out on DVD in the UK from Screenbound Pictures from 15 February 2016

 

 

The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) | The B-movie monster movie classic claws its way onto DVD

Creature Walks Amongst Us

This Universal sci-fi adventure was the final film in the studios monster trilogy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and its now out on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films, as part of their Fabulous Frights series.

A CITY SCREAMS IN TERROR!
In his quest to further man’s conquest of space, the obsessive Dr Barton (Jeff Morrow) leads a team of scientists into the Florida Everglades to track and capture the infamous Gill Man. But when the creature sheds his gills after being burned in a fire, the team discovers a lung system that’s more human than fish-like. Locked up in a secure medical facility, the Gill Man suffers more experimentation under Barton’s watch, but the unhinged doctor starts losing the plot when he becomes convinced his abused wife Marcia (Leigh Snowden) is having an affair.

The Creature Walks Amongst Us (1956)

ALL NEW UNDERWATER THRILLS!
While it’s certainly not as iconic as the 1954 original, The Creature Walks Amongst Us makes a strong statement against animal experimentation and is a chilling reminder that’s its more often man who is the real monster walking amongst us. Underwater cinematographer and stuntman Ricou Browning returned for a third time as the Gill Man, while 6ft 6in actor Don Megowan got to play the creature transformed.

The Creature Walks Amongst Us (1956)

DID YOU KNOW?
The iconic costume ended up being dumped after production finished on this picture, but the mask and claws were saved from destruction when a studio janitor retrieved them to give to his son to use as a Halloween costume. They were later bought by well-known film memorabilia collector, Forrest J Ackerman, aka Uncle Forry, the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

The Fabulous Films UK DVD release includes original trailer and three galleries.

Curse of Chucky (2013) | A new reign of terror begins in a fiendishly dark and deadly reboot sequel

Curse of Chucky (2013)

‘It’s a doll, what’s the worst that can happen?’
After five films spanning over 25 years, Chucky is the demonic red-headed Good Guy doll that horror fans can’t get enough of. After laying low since 2004’s Seed of Chucky, he’s back with a vengeance in a sixth offering that dispenses with the black comedy of the previous two films to deliver a deliciously dark and deadly reboot/sequel.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’
This time round, the seemingly indestructible serial killer trapped inside a plastic shell has a score to settle and begins his new reign of terror soon after being delivered to the gloomy Addams Family-esque mansion of wheelchair-bound Nica (Fiona Dourif), where the homicidal plaything kills off her not-so-nice mum before the opening credits.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

The body count rises, however, when Nica’s self-serving sister Barb (Danielle Bisutti) lands on her doorstep, along with husband Ian, baby-sitter Jill (with whom she’s secretly shagging) and five-year-old daughter Alice (Summer H Howell), not to mention a local priest whose suspicions about the Good Guy doll results in his grisly demise – by decapitation – after being taken ill from eating vegetarian chilli laced with rat poison. It’s the film’s most inspired death scene, btw.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

Brad Dourif is back as the the voice of Chucky, but he also gets to play notorious serial killer Charles Lee Ray in human form in a flashback which reveals why he has a score to settle with Nica and her family. Dourif’s real-life daughter Fiona plays his intended victim, who, despite her disability, gives the kitchen knife-wielding Chucky a merry chase before the final showdown.

Curse of Chucky (2013)

Curse of Chucky also sees the return of Don Mancini and David Kirschner (the franchise’s original creator/director and producer), and kudos go to them for crafting a suspenseful thriller that not only puts a stylish spin on old tropes, but whose creepy, shadow-filled production design and editing also pays homage to Hitchcock and Argento by way of some classic women in peril psycho-thrillers like Lady in a Cage, Wait Until Dark, and even Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that Chucky survives to slay another day (Mancini says intends on writing a seventh filn, although he’s currently busy working on Hannibal), but the big question is – whatever will become of little Alice?

Curse of Chucky (2013)

Curse of Chucky is available to stream on YouTube from Universal Movies UK, and also screens on Sky Movies Premiere HD from Friday 26 June 2015

THE TRAILER

The Mad Ghoul (1943) | A look back at the vintage Famous Monsters of Filmland filmbook

With the 1940s Universal horror The Mad Ghoul out now on DVD in the UK (check out my review here), I thought I’d share with you something from my personal collection. It’s the filmbook that appeared in Issue 130 (featuring Basil Gogos’ fab Peter Cushing painting on the cover) and Issue 131 (with Christopher Lee on the cover baring his fangs as Dracula) of the cult magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. Truly of its time, the article by Eric Ashton perfectly sums up the silly fun that this vintage Universal oldie had to offer.

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul Famous Monsters of Filmland Filmbook

The Mad Ghoul (1943) | Murder, mutilation – and mirth? George Zucco’s nutty professor is on the prowl in the vintage Universal horror

Mad Ghoul DVD cover

A NEW SENSATION IN HORROR
Chemistry professor Dr Alfred Morris (George Zucco) has rediscovered an ancient nerve gas that was used by the Mayans during rituals of human dissection to appease their gods. When he discovers his new assistant, medical student Ted Allison (David Bruce), is in love the same woman, concert pianist Isabel Lewis (Evelyn Ankers), he devises a fiendish plan to break them up. He deliberately exposes Ted to the nerve gas, turning him into a mindless living dead slave, and only periodic heart transplants can return him to normal.

Thinking he is desperately ill, Ted breaks off his engagement with Isabel. Regretting the decision, Ted follows her six-city concert tour to try and win her back, but in each place he visits, corpses from local cemeteries start turning up with their hearts cut out.

With the Mad Ghoul now making the headlines, wisecracking reporter McClure (Robert Armstrong) and clueless detectives Macklin (Milburn Stone) and Garrity (Charles McGraw) set out to solve the mystery. Dr Morris however has a new rival for Isabel’s heart, her pianist Eric (Turhan Bey). Time to send out the ghoul again…

The Mad Ghoul (1943)

‘There’s something strange about the whole thing’
Throughout the 1940s, it was staple viewing to catch a Universal horror at your local cinema. The same year that The Mad Ghoul was released, the studio brought out Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, its first attempt to stir up dwindling box office receipts by multiplying its monsters, Son of Dracula (both starred Lon Chaney Jr), and the extravagant musical Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains. It also had a rival in RKO, whose haunting and intelligent horrors I Walked With A Zombie and The Leopard Man were breaking new ground.

Despite its B-movie budget and familiar mad scientist story The Mad Ghoul is whole lot of fun and has its roots in 1930s serials and screwball comedies. It also gives popular supporting actor George Zucco one of his few starring roles. In fact, he’s at his unctuous best playing the subtly evil Dr Morris that makes this otherwise mediocre affair worth checking out. The final shot of Zucco’s mad doctor frantically scratching at the dirt in the cemetery gives the film its biggest – and only real – chill. The film’s pro animal experimentation story however is certainly another one, and subtly alluded to by Bruce’s Ted: ‘I can’t help feeling a sense of evil in all this’.

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This was the last film by ‘quota quickie’ director James Hogan (he died a week before the film’s release aged 53 from a heart attack). Bruce’s white-faced wrinkle make-up effects are by the legendary Jack Pierce (who probably did it in his sleep or after having oatmeal porridge for breakfast). Lillian Cornell dubbed Ankers’ singing voice, while the stylish gowns worn by Anker’s Isabel are by Vera West. Robert Armstrong, best known for his turn in King Kong, has one of film’s funniest scenes – he hides in a coffin to catch the ghoul.

Favourite cornball line: ‘She was tearing their hearts out with music’

Favourite non-PC line: ‘You can never tell with these musicians, a lot of them are pretty queer ducks.’

THE UK DVD RELEASE
The OEG (Odeon Entertainment) DVD release, part of their Hollywood Studio Collection, features a pristine print in a PAL 4:3 picture mode (Region 2), with Dolby Digital mono audio (although the soundtrack is quite scratchy in the first couple of reels and on the songs). All in all a great addition to any classic horror film collection.

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