Vincent Price

Vincent Price is my favorite overactor (perhaps I should say theatrical actor). His most restrained performance in his career is nevertheless one of his best – Witchfinder General (butchered in the U.S. as The Conqueror Worm). After starring in a number of horror movies in the 1950s, Roger Corman hired him for a string of successful Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the 1960s. Vincent Price is so good in these that to this day they are generally considered “Vincent Price movies” and not Poe or Corman movies. Late in life, those that grew up on his horror movies sought him out for small roles (notably Tim Burton for Edward Scissorhands and Michael Jackson for his famous Thriller narration). Instant Netflix has 5 Vincent Price movies available to view as well as several TV appearances and clip shows

Laura

1. Laura (1944) – “Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney) has been murdered, and as New York Det. Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) investigates, he finds that everyone seems to be in love with her — and he, too, gradually falls under her spell. But things aren’t always as they seem. Otto Preminger’s classic mystery received four Academy Award nominations, including a nod for Best Director, and won the Oscar for Best Cinematography”

It’s very difficult to describe Laura without spoiling the surprises but the actors are all good (especially Clifton Webb).  Gene Tierney is absolutely gorgeous and lights up the room in every scene that she is in – definitely the kind of woman you can see all three men obsessing over. The dialogue is excellent – the kind of snappy patter that only exists in 1940s movies – one of its Oscar noms is for Best Writing, Screenplay. As long as you don’t mind black & white movies and can appreciate the ‘stagey’ acting that was the standard in the 1940s, you won’t go wrong with this one – especially if you are familiar with the Hays code.

Leave Her to Heaven

2. Leave Her to Heaven (1945) – “This 1946 Academy Award winner stars Gene Tierney as Ellen Berent, a woman who bedazzles writer Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) when the two meet on a train. Their courtship is sweet and swift, leading to a hasty marriage, but sadness displaces the joy when a series of tragedies befalls the couple. Could these horrid events have anything to do with Ellen’s burgeoning and all-consuming jealousy?”

It sounds like a cheap cop-out but if you enjoyed Laura – a semi-film noir with snappy dialogue and nice twists starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price then you’ll enjoy Leave Her to Heaven – a semi-film noir in Technicolor with snappy dialogue and nice twists starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price. Laura is definitely the better film but this one is quite good as well.

House of Wax

3. House of Wax (1953) – “In this spine-tingling film — one of the first 3D movies ever made — Vincent Price thrills as Professor Henry Jarrod, the creepy curator of a wax museum who loses his beloved business to a fire and then rebuilds it. This time, though, he doesn’t use wax models, but a ghoulish alternative: dead bodies.”

Please note that while Netflix lists this as House of Wax/Mystery of the Wax Museum, Mystery is only available on the disc version. House of Wax is fun if a little slow-moving. It lags whenever Vincent Price isn’t on-screen or when they throw in extra scenes just to show off the 3D gimmick (such as the barker with the paddleball). Look for a very young Charles Bronson (Buchinsky) as Igor (with a name like Igor what can you do but be an evil henchman?)

The Fly

4. The Fly (1958) – “Scientist André Delambre (David Hedison) has invented a matter transporter. To perfect his machine, he decides to test the device on a human subject — himself. He steps into the chamber unaware that an ordinary housefly has accompanied him. His head and arm become horrifically switched with those of the fly. Now Delambre and his wife (Patricia Owens) are faced with a gruesome dilemma in this classic sci-fi horror co-starring Vincent Price”

This time around Vincent Price takes a backseat to David Hedison and Patricia Owens who are both excellent as the leads. One of the best double-endings of all time is still chilling to this day. This was clearly an influence on James Cameron’s The Terminator and The Fly spawned two inferior sequels (though still worth watching) and a wonderful reimagining by David Cronenberg in 1986 (which spawned an inferior sequel of its own)

House on Haunted Hill

5. House on Haunted Hill (1958) – “Millionaire Frederick Loren offers five people $10,000 to stay a night in a remote haunted house, giving each of them a loaded gun as a “party favor.” Throughout the night, they’re terrorized by skeletons, disembodied heads and other grisly apparitions. Will any of the guests survive to win the prize? Or will the house scare them to death? The legendary Vincent Price stars in one of director William Castle’s most famous chillers”

The ensemble cast led by Price appears to be having a fun time, never taking anything too seriously. The unbelievably prolific Elisha Cook Jr. (mentioned earlier in Humphrey Bogart post) has a small but juicy role here. Director/showman William Castle throws in almost every haunted house stereotype

John Carpenter

John Carpenter is one of my favorite directors. I’ve been a horror junkie since I was a little kid watching the Universal classics on the Saturday TV matinee. My mother’s boyfriend took my sister, mom and I to see Halloween during its initial run and it was the first movie that ever scared the crap out of me. My friends Chuck, Mike, Calvin and I enjoyed Escape from New York and the Fog growing up

For my 18th birthday Mike and I went to see what I feel is Carpenter’s masterpiece, The Thing and it was the third film to ever really scare me (Alien was the 2nd). The effects were outlandish and completely over the top but what has really stuck with me through years of repeat viewings is how marvelous a portrait of paranoia this is. Other well-done paranoid films deal with the hero/heroine not being able to trust people/organizations/government. Carpenter took that a step further – while Kurt Russell is nominally the hero, the entire ensemble cast can’t trust each other and the film’s ending reflects that mindset.

I’ve really enjoyed John Carpenter’s films. He made some more really good films (Big Trouble in Little China, In the Mouth of Madness, Vampires) and even his not-as-good films are fascinating (Village of the Damned, Ghosts of Mars). 3 of John Carpenter’s films are available on instant Netflix as well as 2 episodes of Showtime’s Masters of Horror that he directed.

Assault on Precinct 13

1. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) – “This taut action flick from writer-director John Carpenter pits an understaffed police station against a bloodthirsty gang’s angry horde gathering outside the precinct’s walls… Assault on Precinct 13, co-starring Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston, is among his best”

This early effort is very tense and co-stars two of Carpenter’s regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Kyes. It is essentially an urban update of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo. Carpenter would of course go on to remake Hawks’ The Thing from Another World. Look for the early scene in which John Carpenter breaks one of the Hollywood cardinal taboos.

Starman

2. Starman (1984) – “In this sci-fi love story from John Carpenter, Jeff Bridges — who received an Oscar nod for his work — plays Starman, an alien who crashes on Earth and takes the form of a recently deceased man in order to evade authorities. On seeing the image of her dead husband before her, widow Jenny (Karen Allen) is frightened. But eventually, Starman wins her trust — and her affection — and she agrees to help him return to his home planet”

A rare light-hearted film from Carpenter, this story really works because of Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen. A sweet romance with a science fiction background and a dollop of humor, this is a good date movie.

Prince of Darkness

3. Prince of Darkness (1987) – “A cylinder of mysterious, green liquid is found in an abandoned church. It may contain the ultimate evil: an ancient iniquity that longs to escape. Several physicists try to comprehend what’s happening and race to save the world, even as they’re being turned into zombies one by one. Director John Carpenter fills Prince of Darkness with his trademark mix of horror and humor.”

One of my favorite horror movies (I’m a sucker for apocalyptic movies), this one does suffer from the somewhat wooden performance of the two young lead actors but is redeemed by  wonderful performances from Donald Pleasence (Halloween) and Victor Wong (Big Trouble in Little China). Though the movie is serious horror, many of the names are in-jokes such as written by Martin Quatermass (actually written by Carpenter).

Cigarette Burns

4. Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns (2006) – “Hired by a millionaire collector (Udo Kier) to retrieve the infamous Le Fin du Monde — a violent movie that reportedly causes viewers to turn into homicidal maniacs after they watch it — an unsuspecting theater owner (Norman Reedus) begins to fall under the film’s spell. John Carpenter directs this unsettling installment of the “Masters of Horror” series, following one man’s search for the holy grail of horror cinema.”

This is definitely one of the best Masters of Horror shows.  Sadly that isn’t saying much – many of the episodes feel like they paid the directors to put their name on the show. Cigarette Burns is disturbingly creepy and darkly funny.

Pro-Life

5. Masters of Horror: Pro-Life (2007) – “When a scared 15-year-old girl (Caitlin Wachs) goes to an isolated clinic to end her pregnancy, her anti-abortion activist father (Ron Perlman) and brothers arrive, heavily armed and determined to force their way in and stop the procedure. But there’ll be hell to pay when the baby’s unearthly father gets involved. Emmanuelle Vaugier and Mark Feuerstein co-star in this episode of the spine-chilling Showtime series, directed by John Carpenter.”

Wow talk about your wasted potential. Take one of my favorite directors, add an underrated genre actor (Ron Perlman) and top with an interesting premise – this should have been knocked out of the park. Unfortunately it feels like John Carpenter was just in it for the paycheck. It is watchable but nothing special.

Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart is one of my favorite tough guys. Typecast as a heavy through the 1930s due to his rough looks, mean snarl and a breakout performance in The Petrified Forest (1936) and often playing second fiddle to fellow heavies James Cagney and Edward G Robinson, Bogart finally shifted from thug to tough guy with The Maltese Falcon (1941). He won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The African Queen (which is sadly not available in the US on DVD or Blu-Ray) in 1951. Humphrey Bogart has 7 films on instant play. Three of them aren’t really his but are clip shows Blushing Bloopers, Hollywood Musicals of the 40s, and Steve Martin’s wildly inventive Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. The other four are absolute classic Bogey:

The Maltese Falcon

1. The Maltese Falcon (1941) – “Humphrey Bogart stars as private eye Sam Spade in this Oscar-nominated noir classic that finds the sultry Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) seeking out protection from a man named Thursby. Spade’s partner (Jerome Cowan) takes the case — but he winds up dead, along with Thursby. Spade’s subsequent hunt for the killer leads him into a world of deception and double-crossing, as a trio of criminals searches for a priceless statue known as the Maltese Falcon”

The quintessential detective movie was actually a remake. The story had been filmed twice previously – The Maltese Falcon in 1931 with Ricardo Cortez in Bogart’s future role and Satan Met a Lady in 1936 with Bette Davis (neither of which is particularly memorable – both are available through Netflix disc service). Bogart’s performance is iconic and Mary Astor is a wonderful femme fatale. Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Gladys George, and Elisha Cook Jr. all turn in marvelous support.

Casablanca

2. Casablanca (1942) – “In this Oscar-winning classic, American expat Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) plays host to gamblers, thieves and refugees at his Moroccan nightclub during World War II … but he never expected Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) — the woman who broke his heart — to walk through that door. Ilsa hopes that with Rick’s help, she and her fugitive husband (Paul Henreid) can escape to America. But the spark that brought the lovers together still burns brightly”

This is essentially the perfect film. It is incredibly romantic without having the tacked on ending that romance movies seem to have (either they lived happily ever after or you set up a love triangle and resolve it by killing off one of the three in the last reel). It is filled with action without being mindless. It even slips a little social and political commentary in without being pedantic. The impressive cast is uniformly excellent. Humphrey Bogart is charismatic and Ingrid Bergman is breathtaking but the supporting cast steals the show. Arresting turns from Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and Claude Rains complement solid performances from Paul Henreid, Dooley Wilson, Conrad Veidt, and others. Final note: the oft-quoted line “Play it again, Sam” is not actually in the movie.

The Big Sleep

3. The Big Sleep (1946) – “A dangerous blackmailer has targeted the Sternwoods, a wealthy family once tucked away in the safety of their Los Angeles mansion. But while private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) works on the case, he ends up falling for the clan’s fiery daughter (Lauren Bacall). Crackling dialogue and the perfect pairing of Bogart and Bacall make this adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel a timeless classic. Howard Hawks directs”

The other quintessential detective movie actually has two versions – a pre-release 1944/5 one and the theatrical release from 1946. It was later remade in 1978 with Robert Mitchum in Bogey’s role. This time our stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are the main focus of the movie and the supporting cast, while excellent (especially Elisha Cook, Jr.), are actually supporting the leads. Sizzling performances from Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers, and Dorothy Malone really amp up the sex appeal of this classic. The Big Sleep in some ways seems like a precursor to the Bond films – the hero is unflappable and has snappy dialogue and all of the women are impossibly beautiful and constantly throw themselves at Marlowe.

The Caine Mutiny

4. The Caine Mutiny (1954) – “Captain Queeg: madman or misunderstood taskmaster? That’s the dilemma facing the first officer (Van Johnson) of the U.S.S. Caine when its stern new captain (Humphrey Bogart) drives the crew to the brink of mutiny. Part sea-going adventure, part courtroom drama, The Caine Mutiny is a tale that manages to be both thrilling and thought-provoking. Bogart shines in one of his last roles”

Essentially a one-man show, Bogart shines as the obsessive Captain Queeg. The supporting cast is still quite good (Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray) but Bogey dominates every scene that he is in. He was nominated for another Oscar but did not win.

Ray Harryhausen

THE visual effects maestro when I was growing up, his wizardry is still gorgeous today. Today’s CGI can range from laughably bad (almost any movie on the Sci-Fi – oops Syfy channel) to absolutely gorgeous (Sin City). Yes computers can do in hours what took him weeks to accomplish but his artistry is still unsurpassed. He was inspired by Willis O’Brien’s King Kong and worked with him on Mighty Joe Young. Sadly as Ray Harryhausen is neither an actor (cameos aside) nor a director, Netflix search engine isn’t helpful. Netflix has three of his films currently available on instant play.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

1.  The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – “The dauntless Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) heads to the island of Colossa, where only the egg of a giant bird can restore a pea-sized princess (Kathryn Grant) to normal size. The evil magician Sokurah (Torin Thatcher) accompanies him — with ulterior motives to retrieve a lamp and genie (Richard Eyer) he once lost. But before the group can return home, they must conquer a landscape of fantastic beasts, including a Cyclops that hungers for human flesh”

Harryhausen’s first color feature is an absolute masterpiece. This is my 2nd favorite Harryhausen movie behind only Jason and the Argonauts. The villain is nefarious, the damsel is alluring and in distress, and the hero is not as wooden as the next two Sinbads.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

 

2. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) – “John Phillip Law stars as the legendary sailor who finds a talisman and sets sail with his crew for an uncharted island. With a beautiful slave girl in tow, Sinbad takes on evil sorcerer Koura (Tom Baker), who wants Sinbad’s golden talisman to complete a spell. Once on the island, Sinbad and crew must battle a six-armed figure of Kali (courtesy of special-effects master Ray Harryhausen), an enraged Cyclops centaur and a winged griffin”

While Tom Baker (Doctor Who) is a hoot as the villain and the Kali fight is a wonderful highlight, I did not like this one as much as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (it is still excellent though).

Clash of the Titans

3. Clash of the Titans (1981) – “This epic mythological adventure stars Harry Hamlin as Perseus, son of Zeus (Laurence Olivier), who embarks on a series of perilous quests in the hopes of rescuing Princess Andromeda (Judi Bowker) and winning the keys to the kingdom of Joppa. With winged horse Pegasus as his steed, Perseus must answer vexing riddles, capture the head of Medusa and slay a ravenous sea monster. Burgess Meredith and Ursula Andress co-star in this classic tale”

The wonderful cast also includes Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Sian Phillips, and Flora Robson but they seem strangely wooden compared to Harryhausen’s creations. Ironically Flora Robson played Livia in Charles Laughton’s unfinished I, Claudius (1937) while Sian Phillips played Livia in the BBC miniseries. While there are many wonderful creations on display here, Ray’s Medusa is an absolute marvel.

Peter Cushing

Peter Cushing is my favorite actor. Hammer’s premier horror actor (even more so than Christopher Lee in England) for decades, he is little known now. He had 128 movie and TV roles and was a TV star before his first big Hammer role as Dr. Frankenstein in The Curse of Frankenstein. He played the role five more times for Hammer (Revenge of Frankenstein, Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell). Currently four of his movies are available on instant play.

The Flesh and the Fiends

1. The Flesh and the Fiends (1960) – “As full-time grave-robbers, William Burke (George Rose) and William Hare (Donald Pleasence) work tirelessly to supply eccentric university professor Dr. Robert Knox (Peter Cushing) with cadavers for his anatomy classes. But when supply starts running desperately short of demand, they’ll have to get creative to fill the doctor’s orders. Based on actual events, this creepy story details how two small-time crooks became murderers”.

Cushing’s performance is fine as the arrogant Dr. Knox (though perhaps a little too similar to his Frankenstein portrayal) but Donald Pleasence steals the show as the graverobber Hare.

The Blood Beast Terror

2. Blood Beast Terror (1967) – “Obsessed etymologist Dr. Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) creates a giant, blood-sucking mutant moth with the uncanny ability to transform itself into a beautiful but lonely woman (Wanda Ventham). When the evil doctor decides to create a mate for his moth lady, there are now two murderous moths stalking the small town in which he lives. The only one who can stop the bad bugs in this stylish thriller is the brilliant Inspector Quennell (Peter Cushing).”

Peter Cushing himself felt this was the worst movie that he ever did though I think Land of the Minotaur was worse.

Nothing but the Night

3. Nothing but the Night (1973) – “When elderly orphanage caretakers lose their lives through odd suicides and accidents, inspector Charles Bingham (Christopher Lee) and forensics expert Sir Mark Ashley (Peter Cushing) investigate the situation and unravel a diabolical conspiracy involving sadistic cult members. Based on a novel by John Blackburn, this movie masterfully weaves together elements of crime, thriller and horror genres”

Christopher Lee and  Peter Cushing’s performances are the highlight of this somewhat silly story. This film was the first and only film made by Christopher Lee’s production company. This is a must watch for old horror movie buffs as this film is not currently available on DVD in the US.
I, Monster

4. I, Monster (1973) – “Dr. Charles Marlowe (Christopher Lee) is on the verge of a medical breakthrough: He’s devised a drug capable of releasing people’s deepest inhibitions. But when the good doctor uses the drug on himself, he releases something else — a horrifying alter ego named Mr. Blake. With each transformation, Blake becomes more powerful and hideous. Dr. Marlowe is caught in a deadly struggle with himself in this thriller co-starring Peter Cushing

Hilariously this is simply Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All the secondary names (such as Cushing’s Utterson) are taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel but they changed the name of the protagonist/antagonist for some reason. Perhaps Amicus felt Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was too old or too often filmed to be profitable. Hammer’s earlier The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (also with Christopher Lee) did not fare well at the box office.

Hello world!

When our cable special GET EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD FOR ONE LOW PRICE! ended, we had to make a decision between keeping the cable TV and keeping the internet. Getting rid of the cable phone was a no-brainer as in an entire year, we had never used it. The cable internet was used by everyone in the house and the cable TV was mostly just for me so goodbye cable TV. We have Netflix because I’m a huge movie nerd so instead of a $50 or more cable TV bill, we have a $13.99 Netflix bill. $13.99 gets you two movies at a time but better still you get a zillion movies for free on instant play. Unless you are a sports fan, I really find it hard to see why anyone would prefer cable TV to Netflix Instant

My wonderful wife Jen blogs regularly about our family life and is teaching me how to blog (Welcome to the 21st Century!). My favorite hobby is movies and the kids complain that there is nothing (left) to watch on instant play so I decided to blog about the movies available on instant play. I plan on blogging about one of my favorite movie people or topics each day and will try to update previous topics as Netflix rotates through their collection.