Re-Animator – Amazon Prime Week

This week I thought I’d cover some of the films available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Re-Animator is currently available on Amazon Prime.

Re-Animator (1985) – Rated R

“A student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus.”

“You killed him.” – “No I did not – I gave him life.”

The prologue in Zurich sets the tone for the whole movie. You have over-the-top gore, serious performances from the supporting players and a winking performance from Jeffrey Combs. That opening scene is Re-Animator in a nutshell and is immediately followed by Richard Band’s Herrmann-esque score over the colorful credits.

Re-Animator is adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s story, Herbert West, Re-Animator but actually bears little resemblance to it. I am not sure who to give credit for the very wacky and witty writing as Dennis Paoli, William Norris, and director Stuart Gordon are all credited with the script.

Jeffrey Combs plays Herbert West, the titular Re-Animator. Combs channels a delightful Vincent Price-type performance though with a little less flamboyance and a little more intensity. The film is excellent but Combs’ performance is what pushes Re-Animator into classic territory. It is a shame that Combs did not become more famous although he is sought after in the horror and science fiction genres.

Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton play the nominal leads, Dan Cain and Megan Halsey, and they do a fine job. Cain ends up playing second fiddle to West and Megan is our damsel in distress. Crampton does have a particularly uncomfortable and darkly humorous scene late in the film that has not been repeated before or since.

David Gale is a hoot chewing up the scenery as West’s rival, Dr. Carl Hill. It is pretty astonishing that he can hold his own against Combs. Robert Sampson rounds out the main cast as Megan’s father, Dean Halsey (of Miskatonic University naturally).

There are so many wonderful moments in Re-Animator but telling any of them beyond the opening would be a spoiler. The film is a rollercoaster ride of crazy dark humor with each scene of horror trying to top the last. Re-Animator does have a lot of gore, some nudity and a couple of sexual situations, one of which is unprecedented.

People Watch: Peter Kent plays Melvin the re-animated (the first one at the morgue). He was Schwarzenegger’s stunt double on 14 of his films from Terminator to Jingle All the Way.

Sequel-itis: While From Beyond was clearly built to capitalize on the success of Re-Animator, Re-Animator did have two actual sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003). Although both featured wonderful performances from Jeffrey Combs as Dr. West, neither were very good.

Shocktober Additions to Netflix – Mid-Month Flood

The mid-month flood of titles from Netflix arrived promptly on the 15th. This being October, the movies are mainly horror.

Italian horror fans rejoice, Mario Bava’s catalog just started streaming: Baron Blood (1972), Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, 1971), Black Sunday (1960), Lisa and the Devil (aka The House of Exorcism, 1974), Kill Baby…Kill! (1966), The Girl who Knew Too Much (aka The Evil Eye, 1963). Even some of Bava’s non-horror movies show up like Knives of the Avenger and Roy Colt and Winchester Jack.

Horror magazine Fangoria has a film imprint and, like the AfterDark and Ghost House labels, these are available for streaming: Grimm Love, Pig Hunt,Hunger, Road Kill, and Dark House.

Miscellaneous horror includes: Girls Gone Dead, Hidden, Cornered, Slave, ATM, Intruders (w/ Clive Owen), Die, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, and The Devil’s Rock.

There is a bit of stand-up comedy to lighten the mood: Ben Bailey: Road Rage and Accidental Ornithology, John Pinette: Still Hungry, Pablo Francisco: They Put it Out There, and Rickey Smiley: Open Casket Sharp.

For the military minded we got: Beneath Hill 60, Attack on Leningrad, Legend of the Patriots, Age of Heroes, and Ultimate Force.

As if you did not get enough television love last month, you can try Wild at Heart or The Palace and more episodes of: Happy Tree Friends, Raising Hope, The Cleveland Show, Glee, and The League.

Creature from the Black Lagoon – Classic Horror Week

Creature from the Black Lagoon is currently available on instant Netflix.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

“A legend in the history of B-movie fare. How many female scientists travel the Amazon bedecked in bikini-wear calculated to charm an anaconda off a branch? That’s what happens when Julie Adams and fellow scientist Richard Carlson happen upon the black lagoon and the amphibious creature inhabiting it. Casting a gimlet eye on Adams in backstroke, it’s love at first sight for the scaly beast.”

“We didn’t come here to fight monsters, we’re not equipped for it. “

What was Universal to do? They had made a series of iconic monsters in the 1930s and then proceeded to milk them to death in the 1940s with various match-ups and finally making them the butt of Abbott & Costello’s jokes. Not only the monsters but the horror icons themselves had been used up.

Thank goodness for science! In addition to the Creature series, Universal made Tarantula (1955), Cult of the Cobra (1955), The Mole People (1956), The Deadly Mantis (1957), Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Monolith Monsters (1957), The Land Unknown (1957) and Monster on the Campus (1958). Perhaps because none of these spawned sequels, they are not as celebrated today.

Director Jack Arnold did a fabulous job keeping Creature from the Black Lagoon tight and exciting while also exploiting the 3-D and underwater sequences. The previous year, he had directed the 3-D movie, It Came from Outer Space and the following year he would direct the 3-D Creature sequel, Revenge of the Creature. He would go on to direct Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Monster on the Campus.

The Netflix version of Creature is not in 3-D. The restored version on Universal’s pricey Blu-Ray horror collection does have a 3-D option but I am not sure it adds much to the experience. Arnold gets things moving swiftly. No sooner do we see the remains of a creature’s hand then we see the hand of the titular creature while experiencing the familiar theme music. While it is just a tease, that occurs at the three minute mark.

Kudos to Milicent Patrick for her design of the eponymous creature. Ricou Browning does a fantastic job in the suit underwater and Ben Chapman does a good job on land. Chapman gets a little less kudos as he did not have to hold his breath for up to four minutes while acting. They did correct this design defect for the next film.

Richard Carlson and Julie Adams are just fine here as the romantic leads. Genre stalwart Whit Bissel (I was a Teenage Werewolf, Target Earth, Invasion of the Body Snatchers) plays his usual scientist self. Nestor Paiva has a fun time playing Lucas.

Sequel-itis: As with most of the Universal monsters, Creature from the Black Lagoon spawned some sequels. Revenge of the Creature came out in 1955 and The Creature Walks Among us in 1956. Revenge of the Creature is notable for being the debut of noted chair-whisperer Clint Eastwood as Jennings. The Creature Walks Among Us not only drops the 3-D but also changes the suit.

The Wolf Man – Classic Horror Week

The Wolfman is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Wolf Man (1941)

“Upon returning to his ancestral home in Wales, Larry saves a local girl from a werewolf but is bitten during the attack. Cursed by the werewolf’s bite, Larry suffers torturous full-moon transformations and tries to escape the townsfolk who hunt him.”

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. “

Universal made Werewolf of London in 1935. Jack Pierce developed the Wolf Man makeup for that film but Henry Hull refused to sit in the makeup chair that long. Pierce’s iconic makeup would go unused for six years. The werewolf transformation showcased in The Wolf Man blows away that used in Werewolf of London.

Lon Chaney Jr. was not a very good actor but he did excel at portraying depressed-types. He is wonderful as the doomed Lawrence Talbot and would reprise this role repeatedly. Even when he isn’t playing Talbot, his characters come across as maudlin. His Son of Dracula was the biggest sad sack of a vampire until Twilight.

Universal seemed unsure of Chaney as a horror icon. Chaney started out acting as Creighton Chaney but in 1935, a producer insisted he change his name to Lon Chaney Jr., a ruse he hated. For The Wolf Man, Universal even had him drop the Jr. from his name. Even at that, Chaney is last/eighth billed here. This is not surprising as he was a last minute replacement for Dick Foran, who himself was a replacement for Boris Karloff.

While Lugosi is always a welcome sight, he receives fifth billing for what amounts to a cameo. Claude Rains is excellent here, returning to Universal after a string of films including The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk. He anchors the picture as Larry’s father, the no-nonsense Sir John Talbot. Patrick Knowles, playing Frank Andrews here, would return in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man as our Dr. Frankenstein substitute, Dr. Mannering. Finally a young Ralph Bellamy plays Colonel Montford.

The women receive short shrift here. If you look on the poster, their billing is in tiny print. Evelyn Ankers plays Gwen Conliffe, the woman at the center of a romantic triangle. She would go on to be a Universal horror star in Son of Dracula, Captive Wild Woman, The Mad Ghoul, The Frozen Ghost and others. The delightful Maria Ouspenskaya plays Maleva the gypsy fortune teller, a role she was born for. She would reprise it in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Universal has all the normal accoutrements here except a castle: fog-shrouded moors, graveyards, an old-fashioned village, and gypsies. Chaney’s German Shepherd gets a cameo as the wolf Larry fights with.

Sequel-itis: Larry Talbot continues his story in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1950).

Son of Frankenstein – Classic Horror Week

Son of Frankenstein is currently available on instant Netflix.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

“When Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), son of the infamous madman, returns to the estate to claim his inheritance, he finds the deranged Ygor (Bela Lugosi) hiding in the castle with the comatose monster (Boris Karloff). On Ygor’s pleading, Frankenstein revives his father’s creation. And Ygor takes his revenge on those who condemned him. Lionel Atwill and Josephine Hutchinson also star in this third tale in the classic horror franchise.”

“One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots. “

By 1938, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were in terrible career slumps. In spite of, or perhaps because of, the wonderful horror movies of the early 30s, Britain imposed an embargo on Hollywood horror films in 1936. This caused Universal and other studios to not make horror movies and Karloff and Lugosi were left with little to do.

Thankfully, in 1938, there was a double-bill re-release of Dracula and Frankenstein that was phenomenally successful. Son of Frankenstein was quickly rushed into production with both horror stars.

The third of Universal’s eight movie Frankenstein series is the last one that can be taken seriously. It is also the last time Karloff would portray the monster in a movie. Basil Rathbone is fun as the titular son of Frankenstein but is easily upstaged by Karloff, Lugosi, and even Lionel Atwill.

Bela Lugosi is simply riveting as Ygor and is more of a reason to watch the film than Karloff. Lugosi’s Ygor would be almost as iconic as his Dracula even though he would only play him twice. Karloff is just fine as the monster but they have dumbed him down a bit in both senses. With Ygor being evil and Frankenstein (Rathbone) being misguided, the monster ends up being more of a force of nature and plot device than an actual character. Lionel Atwill steals the show as the suspicious Krogh.

This is the fun Frankenstein – the first two films are better but don’t hold up well to repeated viewings (too many long plot stretches and endless fiddling with scientific machinery) and the ones that follow this descend into camp. Digression – the same can be said of Alien. Alien is a better movie than Aliens – a whole new world is developed from scratch and explored in a stately manner but Aliens is undoubtedly the more fun movie as the initial concepts do not need to be explained at length.

Set design is also quite wonderful. The rooms are ridiculously tall, angles are often skewed, stairways appear to go nowhere, and doors appear to be medieval siege gates.

If you have not seen this but feel a sense of deja vu that is because Mel Brooks drew most of his inspiration for Young Frankenstein specifically from this film with Kenneth Mars doing an uncanny Atwill.

Sequel-itis: The Monster would appear again in The Ghost of Frankenstein with Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman with Bela Lugosi as the monster, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and, ultimately, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The monster was played by Glenn Strange in the final three movies.

The Mummy – Classic Horror Week

The Mummy is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Mummy (1932)

“When British archaeologists uncover the ancient sarcophagus of a mummified Egyptian priest (Boris Karloff), they foolishly ignore its warning not to open the box, and the mummy is brought back to life. Taking the form of a modern Egyptian, he quickly begins his quest to resurrect the soul of his love, which he believes has been reincarnated in a modern woman (Zita Johann). Noted German cinematographer Karl Freund makes his directing debut.”

“He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face! “

The Mummy – a story of undying love, or stalking as we call it in the real world. Netflix’s instant play of The Mummy has a better picture quality than my Mummy DVD from the Legacy box.

Karl Freund finally gets out from behind the camera and directs here. His direction is good – there’s a wonderful scene at the beginning where a character goes mad at seeing the Mummy come to life (yes overacted as was the stagey style of the time) and the camera tracks over to watch the last bits of bandage go out the door. There are many nicely filmed spots like that but there are at least as many that are static stage play setups.

King Tut’s tomb and the rumored curse were very popular at the time so sets are crammed with as much Egyptian bric-a-brac as possible. Jack Pierce’s makeup jobs on the Mummy (only briefly seen) and Ardath Bey are fabulous and make the film worth watching by themselves. It took Pierce eight hours each day to do Karloff’s makeup.

Boris Karloff dominates every scene he is in, as is to be expected. He is absolutely riveting whether he is expressing his love for Helen or calmly threatening the archaeologists. Zita Johann is fascinating as Helen. In spite of being only 28, Zita appeared in only a handful of films after The Mummy.

The movie bears a remarkable resemblance to the previous year’s Dracula – the same piece of music opens both films, the wise benevolent character is played by Edward Van Sloan in both films, David Manners plays the young lead in both films, the stories are quite similar and Karl Freund also helped direct Dracula. While this movie is wonderful, the mummy per se is hardly featured at all. Conversely the four sequels (five if you count the Abbott & Costello one)¬†feature much more of the titular mummy but are a big step down in quality – they do beg the question of why can’t you just outrun him?

People Watch: Look for the wonderful character actor Noble Johnson in a bit part as the Nubian. While he was often given bit parts, a frequent problem for African-American actors through the 1960s, Noble did get to play the native chief in King Kong and Son of Kong. Also due to the magic of black and white filming, he got to play native Americans, Latinos, Arabs, even the devil himself in Dante’s Inferno (1935).

Sequel-itis: The titular Mummy changes from Imhotep to Kharis and would go on to appear in The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’ Curse. Tomb, Ghost and Curse all feature Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis. As usual the Universal series was finished off in Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1950).

Dracula – Classic Horror Week

Dracula is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dracula (1931)

“Bela Lugosi turns in a landmark horror performance in this 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Revisit Transylvania for the eerie mood created by spectacular cinematography and Lugosi’s oft-copied take on the infamous Dracula. Dwight Frye as Renfield also helps define the grotesque and sniveling sidekick role.”

“For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man, Van Helsing.”

Universal made plenty of horror movies prior to Dracula. Their big silent horror star was Lon Chaney who not only played all the horrific roles but designed his own makeup for them as well. His Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera are iconic.

Even though Bela Lugosi was famous as Dracula in the Hamilton Deane stage play, Universal planned this for Lon Chaney. With Chaney’s untimely death (is anyone’s death timely?) in 1930, the role passed to Lugosi. Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan were the only two actors carried over from the play.

Lugosi’s performance is obviously wonderful. The actors who would later play this role for Universal (Gloria Holden, Lon Chaney Jr., and John Carradine) are positively anemic (teehee) in comparison. His accent works for him in this role and he had a very successful three-year run playing Dracula in the theater to help him know which lines and syllables to emphasize. In film, he would only repeat the role once more, in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Acting is generally stagy as this is an adaptation of a popular stage play. Edward Van Sloan is amusingly professorial as Dr. Van Helsing. Dwight Frye is a delight as the cringing Renfield and steals all of his scenes. Helen Chandler makes for a very delicate and fragile Mina and David Manners is a standard stalwart John Harker.

While he did not get credit, cinematographer Karl Freund ended up directing portions of the film as Tod Browning was still quite distraught over Chaney’s passing. Freund brought a wonderful sense of expressionism over from Germany in filming Dracula. The scene where the three brides advance on Harker is haunting.

The sets are impressive, especially the open expanses of the castle. The catacombs beneath the castle are fantastic. The atmosphere is appropriately thick and the matte paintings are quite good. The music is nice but unfortunately the sound is tinny and hissy. Universal recently released a classic horror blu-ray set that hopefully corrects this but it is very pricey.

Every night after filming was finished, a hispanic crew came in to film the Spanish version on the same sets. The Spanish version featured the same sets and essentially the same script but with a completely different cast. The Spanish version is available in the Legacy collection.

People Watch: Director Tod Browning plays the voice of the Harbormaster. Carla Laemmle, niece of Universal head honcho Carl Laemmle, gets to speak the first line of dialogue as a coach passenger.

Sequel-itis: Universal followed up with Dracula’s Daughter (1936) w/ Gloria Holden as the titular daughter and Edward Van Sloan returning as Van Helsing. Lon Chaney Jr. played Son of Dracula in 1943. After the offspring were disposed of, Universal brought back Dracula, albeit an emaciated John Carradine, with House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Bela Lugosi finally returned to the role in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

The Invisible Man – Classic Horror Week

Time for a classic. The Invisible Man is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Invisible Man (1933) – Not Rated

“Scientist Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) terrorizes the British village of Ipping in this classic horror film. After a drug experiment gone awry, Griffin becomes invisible and must hide out in the local inn, his face completely bandaged. By the time Griffin confides in friends Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) and Flora (Gloria Stuart), it’s too late — the drug has turned him into a homicidal maniac who must be hunted down.”

“Look, he’s all eaten away”

Dracula was supposed to be Lon Chaney (Sr.). He passed away in 1930 so the role went to Bela Lugosi, who had achieved fame in the play. Lugosi was supposed to be the monster in Frankenstein but turned it down because it was a non-speaking part (and required a ridiculous amount of time in the makeup chair). The role gave Karloff his big break. The Invisible Man was supposed to be Karloff but he turned it down because he would barely be seen in the movie and there were some pay disputes.

Claude Rains gets his big break here, even if it is mainly aural. His wonderful speaking voice, inflection and presence really make The Invisible Man a classic. In spite of this Universal ill used Rains. Once Rains fulfilled his contract, he went over to MGM where he had much better luck in such classics as The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Casablanca.

The heroine/damsel in distress Flora is played by a young Gloria Stuart. You young whippersnappers may know her as the old Rose in Titanic. She lived to a glorious 100, passing away in September of 2010. The Invisible Man was her second time working with director James Whale – her first being The Old Dark House.

H.G. Wells halfheartedly approved this version of his novel – enjoying it but disapproving of changing the amoral yet rational scientist into a lunatic. He did especially enjoy the performance of character actor Una O’Connor as Jenny Hall. The movie does take some liberties with the novel but not nearly so many as Island of Lost Souls (Island of Dr. Moreau) did, which Wells hated.

The Invisible Man is brilliantly directed by James Whale. The special effects are a marvel for the era, the performances are good if theatrical, Claude Rains is fantastic and the film is filled with a sly dark humor. The Invisible Man starts quickly and also never overstays its welcome at a slight hour and eleven minutes.

People Watch: John Carradine, who would himself become invisible in The Invisible Man’s Revenge, plays a villager suggesting ink here. Dwight Frye, Renfield in Dracula and Fritz in Frankenstein, only gets to briefly play a reporter here. Character actor extraordinaire Walter Brennan only plays a bicycle owner here but he would go on to win three Oscars for supporting roles in Come and Get It, Kentucky, and The Westerner.

Sequelitis: The Invisible Man is followed by The Invisible Man Returns (1940) w/ Vincent Price, The Invisible Agent (1942) w/ Peter Lorre, The Invisible Woman (1940) w/ Virginia Bruce and John Barrymore, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) w/ John Carradine. These are not quality pictures but have their charms. The death knell of the Universal series was Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951).

Dr. Phibes Rises Again

Dr. Phibes Rises Again is currently on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime

Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972)

“The eminent Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) awakens from several years of suspended animation and heads to Egypt with his mute assistant (Valli Kemp) and the corpse of his dead wife, determined to track down the stolen papyrus scrolls he needs to bring his spouse back to life. In this sequel to The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Phibes is up to his usual tricks, murdering people in strange and heinous ways; meanwhile, a team of inspectors is hot on his heels.”

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is an absolute classic and is probably Vincent Price’s best film, though not his best performance (Witchfinder General). Everything worked perfectly from Price’s Dr. Phibes sparring with Joseph Cotton’s Dr. Vesalius to the comic relief of Terry-Thomas to the assistance of Virginia North as Vulnavia to the wonderful traps.

Rarely is a sequel as good as the original. Dr. Phibes Rises Again is not an exception but is close enough to receive a firm recommendation. Dr. Phibes opens with a nice recap of the end of the first film, narrated by Gary Owens. Vincent Price as Phibes is fantastic as always, in spite of periodically being silent and encased in gruesome makeup.

Virginia North was pregnant so Valli Kemp was tapped to play the silent Vulnavia. Her initial appearance in a kaleidoscopic tunnel is wonderful. She was Miss Australia in 1970 and this was her first film. She is certainly attractive but is not as good a Vulnavia as Virginia North. Shortly after this Miss Kemp abandoned her film career for one in art and fashion.

AIP was desperately trying to groom Robert Quarry to be the next big horror star. They featured him in two Count Yorga films before this and Deathmaster, Sugar Hill, and Madhouse after this. While a decent actor, it never really worked out. He is good but not great as Phibes’ nemesis, Dr. Biederbeck.

While on board the ship there is a brief cameo from horror icon Peter Cushing as the Captain. Cushing was originally slated to play Dr. Vesalius in the first film but had to bow out. I think he would have made a fine Vesalius or even Biederbeck.

As in the first film, the deaths here are all hysterically over-the-top and campy. I hate to describe any of them as each is a delight but I’ll just mention that the first involves clockwork snakes. The odd mixture of art deco and what can best be described as steampunk (if Phibes had not actually predated the term) makes the Phibes movies a visual feast.

Although The Abominable Dr. Phibes is not available, Dr. Phibes Rises Again works as a standalone movie. There were many attempts to mount a third Dr. Phibes movie, which Vincent Price was interested in doing. Unfortunately none of them got off the ground.

People Watch: Caroline Munro is uncredited but she plays Victoria Phibes in both movies. She would go on to star in a slew of genre films: Dracula A.D. 1972, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter, At the Earth’s Core, Starcrash, and Maniac. She also played Naomi in The Spy who Loved Me.

Also look for John Thaw briefly as Shavers. He would go on to become famous as Inspector Morse from 1987-2000.

The Fog

The Fog is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The Fog (1980) – Rated R

“While an old, weather-beaten fisherman tells a ghost story to fascinated children huddled by a campfire, a piece of driftwood in a child’s hands begins to glow, and an eerie fog envelops the seaside community of Antonio Bay. From its midst emerges demonic victims of a century-old shipwreck seeking revenge on the small town. Director John Carpenter’s follow-up to his breakout film, Halloween, stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh.”

“Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream.”

“There’s no fog bank out there.” – ” Hey there’s a fog bank out there.”

One of the things I love about John Carpenter is that he does not beat ideas to death. After Halloween, he could have made a sequel but instead made The Fog. In spite of also being horror and also starring Jamie Lee Curtis, The Fog is very different from Halloween. Both of those films are quite different from his next two films, Escape from New York and The Thing.

John Houseman puts in a special appearance long enough to tell a wonderful campfire ghost story to a group of children. Naturally that serves as a prologue relating the story of the Elizabeth Dane, a ship that sank a hundred years ago.

John Carpenter assembles a wonderful ensemble cast here. In addition to Jamie Lee Curtis, he also brings Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis over from Halloween. Cyphers, Sheriff Brackett in Halloween, plays Dan O’ Bannon, the weatherman. Loomis, Annie Brackett in Halloween, is Sandy here.

John Carpenter cast his wife Adrienne Barbeau as Stevie Wayne, the local disc jockey and lighthouse keeper. Hal Holbrook is absolutely wonderful as the tortured, alcoholic Father Malone. Tough Tom Atkins gets leading man status as Nick Castle playing opposite Jamie Lee Curtis’ hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley. Finally Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh (yes Psycho), plays town matriarch Kathy Williams.

The beginning of the film where all the cars start honking, jars fall off shelves, gas pumps start themselves, etc. seems a little pointless. The first two acts are uneven – the campfire story, the attack on the boat, the discovery of the journal in the church, the coin turning into a piece of wood are all great scenes but many other scenes are just filler to pad time until we get to the siege of the town.

Carpenter’s use of the 2.35:1 widescreen format is wonderful. He has a great eye for composition and both of those set his horror films apart from those of this era. The visuals of the fog, the undead sailors, and the ship are amazing. The siege of the town takes up the last third of the film and is where The Fog really shines. It is good enough to make you forget the early flaws and is quite memorable. I try my best not to spoil endings so I will just say that The Fog has one of the best endings of any horror movie.

While not nearly as iconic as Halloween, John Carpenter’s electronic music for The Fog, mostly heard during the third act, helps raise the tension. His music stings are good as well. The sound effects are chilling particularly those in the early attack on the boat.

People Watch: Look for writer/director John Carpenter in a cameo as Bennett. Darwin Joston, the star of Carpenter’s low-budget Assault on Precinct 13, has a cameo as Dr. Phibes. Carpenter loves joke character names.

Sequel-itis: The Fog was remade by Rupert Wainwright in 2005 using state of the art CGI. The film is filled with young actors such as Tom Welling and is not very good. With Carpenter’s The Fog having a perfect ending, it is surprising that the remake blows that too.