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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

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.

Fantastic Films of the Decades – Volume 1: The Silents | A cult film fan must-have!

Fantastic Films of the Decades: Volume 1 - The Silent EraFrom film historian, Wayne Kinsey, comes the first in an ambitious nine volume series, which sets out to present an informative, pictorial history of cobweb cinema (including horror, fantasy, sci-fi and spine-tingling thrillers), from the silent era to the blockbusters of the 1970s.

Kinsey begins his epic journey with the seminal silent era, where many a cinematic mad doctor, monster and screaming heroine were first given life by early film pioneers like George Méliès, FW Murnau and Fritz Lang.

Providing the same kind of detailed background information (production history, credit lists, and fascinating facts on the cast, crews and film-makers) that he employs in his many Hammer history tomes, Kinsey unearths and revisits 65 genre films, a mixture of classics and obscurities, and seven famously lost gems.

Fantastic Films of the Decades: Volume 1 - The Silent EraDesigned with ‘Fantastic’ film fans in mind, Kinsey packs his labour of love with tons of wonderful images (many new to my well-informed eyes – and pristine thanks to the superb Blu-ray scans), as well as some vintage poster repros.

He also intersperses the filmography with sections honouring the era’s Legends: including actors Lon Chaney Sr, Conrad Veidt and the Barrymores; directors Karl Freund, Alfred Hitchcock and Tod Browning; make-up artists Perc, Wally and Bud Westmore, and iconic studios like Universal. There are also Series Link pages devoted to a range of themes (including supernatural, vampire and dinosaur films) and iconic characters (Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Opera Ghost).

Fantastic Films of the Decades: Volume 1 - The Silent EraThough Kinsey tends to end his series around the time The Exorcist inexorably changed the horror cinema landscape and before the 1980s VHS boom put the final nail in the coffin of the ‘classic’ Fantastic genre, I would have preferred his Series Link pages to be more up-to-date. But that’s a minor niggle (as are the odd typo).

Overall, Kinsey has conjured an impressive, informative and – above all – invaluable film reference book, one that belongs on every film fans bookshelf, and right next to those seminal Alan Frank and Denis Gifford’s books which many a 1970s Monster Kid (myself included) still treasure.

Fantastic Films of the Decades Volume 1: The Silent Era is limited to 500 copies and is available only from Peveril Publishing

Click HERE to place an order.

Here Come The Munsters (1995) | It’s back to Mockingbird Lane for some silly old-school slap-shtick

Here Come the Munsters

Back in 2012, Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller tried to resurrect America’s first family of fright and fun, The Munsters, with Mockingbird Lane. But it wasn’t the first time that the cult CBS TV show, which ended its run after two season in 1966, was dusted off and reimagined.

Thanks to syndication, the popularity of the series was such that three members of the original cast – Fred Gwynne, Yvonne De Carlo and Al Lewis – were reunited for the 1981 made-for TV movie, The Munster’s Revenge, in the hope that a sequel series would be picked up.

But the jokes were old hat by then and nothing came of it, until seven years later when The Munsters Today ended up airing for three seasons, with John Schuck, Lee Meriwether and Howard Morton playing everyone’s favourite monsters: Herman, Lily and Grandpa.

Here Come the Munsters

Then came the TV-movie, Here Come The Munsters, which was first screened in the US on Halloween night in 1995, and starred Edward Hermann (The Gilmore Girls), Veronica Hamel (Hill Street Blues) and future Mad Men actor Robert Morse in the lead roles. Serving as a prequel and a reinvention of the original TV series, it found the family forced to flee their native Transylvania for America, where they settle down in the home of Herman’s comatose sister Elsa (Judy Gold) at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

While Lily tries to win over the neighbours, including the nosey Mrs Dimwitty (Mary Woronov), and Herman finds his perfect job at the local undertakers, it’s down to Grandpa to find an antidote for Marilyn’s dad, Norman Hyde (Deep Space Nine‘s Max Grodénchik), who has accidentally turned himself into a xenophobic Republican, Brent Jeykll (Jeff Trachta).

Here Come the Munsters

Hermann, Hamel and More do a great imitation of the original characters as played by Gwynne, De Carlo and Lewis, who great a neat cameo in a restaurant scene with Pat Priest and Butch Patrick (the original Marilyn and Eddie).

The slap-shtick comedy is lifted straight out the 1960s series, as are many of the puns and visual gags that made the series so memorable. Mind you there are also some new ones like Lily’s creaking stair-climber to bring it up to date (1990s style). The film’s script, from future Big Bang Theory co-creator Bill Brady, meanwhile, errs on the side of caution in making fun of Republicans, low-fat diets and anti-immigration laws.

Here Come the Munsters

Playing Marilyn is Ben Stiller’s future wife, Christine Taylor, who is so annoyingly chirpy that she seems to be channeling her Marcia Brady character from the Brady Bunch movies, while cult favourite Mary Woronov is wasted as the Neighborhood Watch busybody and deserves more scream time.

Unfortunately, the Munster Mansion that was used in the TV series (and which ended up being redressed for Desperate Housewives) doesn’t make an appearance here. Making welcome return, however, is the original Munster Koach, designed by George Barris, who also did the Batmobile for TV’s Batman, the show that help sealed The Munsters premature burial back in the 1966s.

The Munster Koach

While Here Come the Munsters can’t beat the original series, or indeed the first screen outing (in colour), 1966’s Munster, Go Home! (also available from Fabulous Films), its old school charm pays a nice homage. Yet another TV movie, The Munsters Scary Little Christmas, was made in 1996, again with a different cast and a different house (it was shot in Australia).

Here Come the Munsters is available on DVD in the UK from Fabulous Films

 

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

Ninjas vs Monsters (2013) | Universal’s classic monsters have nothing to fear from these amateurs

Ninjas Vs Monsters (2013)

The world’s greatest monsters have just met their match…
Hot on the heels of taking down a nest of vampires, a group of suburban American Ninja heroes take on Dracula, the Werewolf, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and a coven of witches using their newly acquired supernatural powers. Let the games begin…

Ninjas Vs Monsters (2013)

‘It’s a joke and you’re the punchline’
Remember that scene in Disney’s Bambi where Mrs Rabbit asks Thumper what his father said about being impolite and Thumper replies: ‘If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all’? Well that’s how I feel about Ninjas vs Monsters.

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I’m sorry, but this really is just a ‘home’ movie featuring a bunch of friends larking about like 10-year-olds play-acting an episode of Power Rangers. How and why Eduardo Sanchez, the director of the DIY cult hit The Blair Witch Project and the excellent Lovely Molly, put his name to this amateurish effort is anyone’s guest. And did you know it’s the final film in a ‘trilogy’ that began with something called Zombie Contagion (aka Ninjas vs Zombies)?

Ninjas Vs Monsters (2013)

I’m afraid to admit, but I turned off after 20minutes. I just couldn’t handle the overacting, the terrible dialogue and the poor sound (though the makeup and sfx are actually better than you’d expect). Then I got to thinking about all the other films that have attempted to bring Universal’s classic monsters together. And looking down the list, they’re all pretty hit and miss. For me, you can’t beat House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and (yes!) Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). But what do you think?

Assignment Terror (1970)Assignment Terror (1970). Paul Naschy’s werewolf defeats an alien plot to use a vampire, a mummy and Frankenstein’s monster to take over the world. Michael Rennie’s also in this weird Euro trip, which I loved as a kid.

 

 

Dracula vs Frankenstein (1971)Dracula vs Frankenstein (1971). J Carrol Naish’s mad scientist revives his ancestor’s creation with the help of his mute assistant (the original Wolfman, Lon Chaney Jr), Dracula – and Forest J Ackerman!

 

The Monster SquadThe Monster Squad (1987). A group of monster kids save their hometown from Dracula and his army of monsters that include The Mummy, The Gill-Man, The Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster (all re-imagined by Stan Winston). Now this cult classic showed its worth when Lionsgate’s 2009 Blu-ray sold out in no time. There’s even a remake in the works. Nuff said!

 

House of Frankenstein (1997)House of Frankenstein (1997). Adrian Pasdar’s LA detective battles Greg Wise’s vampire and the Frankenstein monster while trying to save his werewolf girlfriend (Teri Polo) in this so-so TV movie.

 

Van HelsingVan Helsing (2004) Hugh Jackman’s vigilante monster hunter joins forces with Kate Beckinsale to take down Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in Stephen Sommers’ tongue-in-cheek blockbuster which filmgoers loved, but critics hated. I so wanted this to work out!

 

House of the Wolf Man

 

House of the Wolf Man (2009) Five strangers discover Dracula, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster and Lon Chaney Jr’s grandson (Ron Chaney) hiding out in an old castle that they’re in line to inherit.

THE LEFT FILMS RELEASE
The UK Blu-ray of Ninjas vs Monsters includes 2010’s Ninjas Vs Vampires, the second film in the trilogy (urgh!). Left Film’s Blu-ray and DVD releases also include commentaries with director Justin Timpane and co-producer Michael Dougherty, and comedy Trekoff commentary; auditions, deleted scenes, funny (its not, actually) alternative ending, a tribute to Brian Anderson (who did the visual effects), trailers and the Until We Drop Down Dead music video.

Check out the official website: NinjasVs.com

Kiss of the Vampire (1963) | Hammer’s batty horror takes flight on Blu-ray

Kiss of the Vampire (1963) on Blu-ray

Shocking! – Horrifying! – Macabre!
In 1910 Bavaria, honeymooners Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) head for a local inn after their motorcar breaks down. But when they accept an invitation by the mysterious Dr Ravna (Noel Willman) to stay at his nearby castle, they soon discover their host and his family are part of blood-sucking cult. Can the hard-drinking Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) save the couple before its too late?

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Giant devil Bats… summoned from the caves of Hell to destroy the lust of the Vampires!
Following the disappointing Phantom of the Opera (also out on Blu-ray from Final Cut) and These Are the Damned (one of my favourites – reviewed here), Hammer decided on a third Dracula film. Borrowing elements from Anthony Thorne’s 1947 novel So Long at the Fair (which became a 1950 crime thriller directed by Terence Fisher) and the draft screenplay of 1960’s Brides of Dracula, Anthony Hinds (writing as John Elder) conceived Kiss of the Vampire.

Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

On his first assignment for Hammer, Aussie director Don Sharp handles the proceedings with intelligence and flair and makes it all pretty chilly with the help of some skillfully bleak colour camerawork from Alan Hume (who directed the famous Endor forest chase scene in 1983’s Return of the Jedi). While there’s no Lee or Cushing returning as Count Dracula or Van Helsing, Noel Willman’s charming, but creepy Ravna and Clifford Evans’ drunken puritanical vampire hunter make pretty good substitutes. Meanwhile, both Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel make a great double act as the newlyweds (they also supply the entertaining audio commentary on the Final Cut Blu-ray release).

Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Films & Filming gave the film its best review: ‘All credit to Don Sharp for turning what could have been a creaking, monotonously predictable story into an exceptionally well made (with some beautiful framed shots) and entertaining film’, while David Pirie, in The Vampire Cinema (1977), called it ‘a deftly constructed, occasionally Hitchcockian thriller, which is only married by an exaggerated performance from the hero Edward de Souza’. For me, it’s an underrated Hammer horror and a new personal favourite, and that climax in which the swarm of bats attack Ravna’s coven (actually latex toy bats from Woolworths) is truly iconic.

Kiss of the Vampire was originally released in the US in September 1963, followed by the UK in January 1964, where it double-billed with Paranoiac (reviewed here). For its US TV airings, it was severely cut which required new scenes to be filmed and inserted to make up for the lost minutes. Those scenes are not included in this release.

Kiss of the Vampire 1

THE UK BLU-RAY RELEASE
According to fans on a couple of online Hammer forums, Universal’s old US DVD transfer master was used for Final Cut’s blu-ray version rather than a transfer from the original negative, as such the quality varies from scene to scene, with noticeable edge enhancement/sharpening and grain. The colours and overall brightness have also been ramped which makes some scenes zing while others appear washed out. But the night scenes are very effective. Final Cut also released a DVD version of the film back in 2012.

Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

TRIVIA
• If you look carefully at the stained glass window that features in the film, among the satanic symbols and astrological signs is what looks like the logo for the London Tube.

• The film’s masked ball sequence inspired Roman Polanski to copy it for his 1967 spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of the Vampires).

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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