Redemption of the Mad Monster Party at 23:59 – A Whole Lotta Meh

Just a quick mention of some things I’ve watched recently on Netflix that fit no particular category.

Mad Monster Party

 

Mad Monster Party (1967) – Not rated

Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller lend their vocal talents to this bizarre stop-motion animated parody of horror films. Dr. Frankenstein makes plans for his retirement and convenes a meeting of all monsters to announce his replacement. As word spreads that the doctor is going to choose his young nephew for the position, the visiting creatures plot a coup d’état that would leave Dr. Frankenstein retired … permanently.

A movie featuring all of the classic Universal monsters (Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Werewolf, The Creature, and The Invisible Man)? Yes, please. Mad Monster Party also featured one of the performances by Boris Karloff that I had yet to hear. Top all of that off with this feature being the precursor to the beloved Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and you have quite the winning formula.

Sadly it all comes out half-baked. Boris Karloff is not in much of the film but the egregious sin is that even at a scant hour and a half, this is terribly boring and overstays its welcome. The other voices are grating as Allen Swift does most of them, giving one a fake Peter Lorre, another a fake Sydney Greenstreet, and the main character a terrible Jimmy Stewart impression.

All in all, Mad Monster Party comes across as an extended (over-extended) tech demo.

23:59 (2011) – Rated R

When an army recruit is found dead during a routine march at exactly 23:59, his fellow soldiers are forced to confront the terrifying secret that’s haunting their jungle island training camp.

Normally I like Asian horror movies but this one is rather generic. There isn’t much in the way of horrific imagery and nothing about this was memorable. Add in that you’ll have to read subtitles throughout and I really can’t recommend it.

Redemption (2013) – Rated R

Back home after a harrowing tour in Afghanistan and haunted by his dark past, veteran Joey Jones takes on an assumed identity and tries to atone. But when his pregnant girlfriend is murdered, he must risk stepping into the light to get revenge.”

I like Jason Statham. I really do. Unfortunately, he has been in only a few really good films. He is the new Charles Bronson (in more ways than one as Statham played Arthur Bishop in The Mechanic, a remake of one of Bronson’s best films).

Sadly, Redemption, like so many other Statham movies, is just meh. Redemption is a change of pace but it is still an incredibly cliched, by-the-numbers picture. Statham at least gets to stretch by playing, at various points, a Special Forces operative, a hobo, an enforcer, and an avenging angel.

This is not Statham’s Redemption.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Black Sabbath (1963)

“In this 1963 trilogy of chilling tales, a beautiful woman’s ex-lover terrorizes her, a father returns home a vampire, and a ghost haunts a nurse. The vampire story — probably the most famous of the three — stars a poignant Boris Karloff, who also plays host for the anthology. Italian horror impresario Mario Bava served as writer, director and cinematographer for the film, and composer Les Baxter serves up the martini-soaked lounge score.”

First off I have to admit that having an aging Boris Karloff narrate the film as a disembodied head is more than a little cheesy. I love portmanteau films but having Karloff narrate as a framing device for these three stories does not work very well.

As noted in the Netflix description, Mario Bava wrote, directed, and did the cinematography for Black Sabbath. He loved using colored lighting to great effect, something Roger Corman quickly picked up on and many horror directors have since adapted. Bava was extremely influential on modern horror.

Bava was also literary minded. While he was one of the writers for Black Sabbath, the stories themselves are not originals, but adaptations. The first story, “The Drop of Water” is from Chekhov. No, not Anton but rather Ivan though they carefully omit that part. The best segment, “The Wurdalak”, is an adaptation of a story by Tolstoy. No, not Leo but rather Aleksei (though strangely introduced in the movie as Ivan).

“The Drop of Water” is a good tale of greed and, naturally, comeuppance. The distractions are reminiscent of Poe but it is the body of the Countess that is most striking. I could see children having nightmares from it and it is very creepy, especially for 1963. The distorted features of her face appear to have an influence on films as recent as The Gravedancers.

The second story, “The Telephone” is a disappointing mess. It does not fit in with the Italian version of Black Sabbath as it is really just a noir with a lesbian subplot. For the American version, they make it supernatural by stating that Frank is dead (in the Italian version Frank just got out of prison) and completely eliminating all lesbianism, though you can pick up much from the body language and the rather strained, dubbed dialogue.

The final story, “The Wurdalak” is the real reason to watch Black Sabbath. The story is about a rather different sort of vampire. Boris Karloff appears in this story and gives one of his better performances. Mark Damon, who made a career out of being the American ‘star’ in Italian productions, is the male lead here.

People Watch: Yes, this Italian horror movie is where heavy metal rockers Black Sabbath got their name.

The Ghoul

The Ghoul is currently available on Amazon Prime

The Ghoul (1933)

“Egyptologist Boris Karloff is buried with a rare jewel that is supposed to give its owner eternal life. When it is stolen, he rises from the dead to get it back. In HD.”

“We all know that dead men don’t come back.”

The Ghoul was the first British horror ‘talkie’. Boris Karloff was fresh off his starring roles in Universal’s Frankenstein and The Mummy. The opening gives him top-billing in a way too busy title card. The story is really intended to capitalize on the success of The Mummy with Egyptology, tombs, and rising from the dead all playing a part.

Although derivative of The Mummy, I really love the irony that the plot is propelled by someone breaking into an Egyptologist’s tomb and robbing the dead. The story is very good but the ending is fairly weak (and did I mention derivative of The Mummy yet?).

Boris Karloff plays Egyptologist Professor Henry Morlant. Karloff’s performances are a lot more subtle and a lot less stagy than those of Lugosi. Unfortunately Karloff all but disappears from the second act and just skulks in the third. Thankfully there is a good cast backing him up.

Ernest Thesiger, who had worked with Karloff on The Old Dark House and would again in The Bride of Frankenstein, plays Laing, Professor Morlant’s butler. Amusingly in The Old Dark House, Karloff plays his butler. Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays a rather unscrupulous character named Broughton. Hardwicke would go on to appear in Universal’s Ghost of Frankenstein (without Karloff), The Invisible Man Returns, Invisible Agent, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The makeup jobs on Karloff (pre- and post-mortem) and Thesiger may not be Jack Pierce iconic but are quite well done. Music is serviceable but unremarkable.

The print here has been considerably cleaned up. This is a very good looking picture for a 1930s horror movie. Sound is equally impressive.

People Watch: Sir Ralph Richardson makes his film debut as young Nigel Hartley (the parson). Although he has a slew of memorable roles, I like him best as Ulrich in Dragonslayer and the Supreme Being in Time Bandits.

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).

Boris Karloff – Horror Movie Month

William Henry Pratt is not a moniker to conjure monsters with but Boris Karloff is a wonderfully spooky stage name for the British actor. Here are some of his instant Netflix films.

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.

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. 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 wonderful as Ygor and is more riveting than Karloff as the monster. 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 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.

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.

Comedy of Terrors (1963)

A financial crisis forces undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) to start taking extreme measures. Rather than waiting for new clients to show up naturally, Waldo and his assistant (Peter Lorre) attract new business by killing wealthy individuals in their sleep. Now if only Waldo could just do away with his wife, Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson), and annoying father-in-law (Boris Karloff).

This is a Vincent Price and Peter Lorre film and they are wonderful as always but Karloff steals the show as Price’s aged father-in-law. This features much of the same cast as The Raven but is not as funny – or rather the humor in it has not aged as well. Still Price, Lorre, and Karloff have a lot of fun and even Basil Rathbone shows up briefly. It is well crafted if cheaply shot by Jacques Tourneur.

Black Sabbath (1963) – Not rated

In this 1963 trilogy of chilling tales, a beautiful woman’s ex-lover terrorizes her, a father returns home a vampire, and a ghost haunts a nurse. The vampire story — probably the most famous of the three — stars a poignant Boris Karloff, who also plays host for the anthology. Italian horror impresario Mario Bava served as writer, director and cinematographer for the film, and composer Les Baxter serves up the martini-soaked lounge score.

A wonderful film and a great starting point if you haven’t experienced Italian horror. The best Italian horror movies feature incredible atmosphere but are often nonsensical plotwise. This one has both and Mario Bava is a master of mood. The wurdalak segment is easily the best and Karloff gives one of his best performances ever.

 

TV Anthologies – Horror Month

 

Twilight Zone (1959-1963)

Hosted by unflappable creator Rod Serling, each episode of this groundbreaking series stands alone as a complete story, relating humor-tinged tales that touch on supernatural subjects such as alien invasions, xenophobia, time travel and dream logic. This classic show, with its superb writing and haunting music, brought science fiction to the masses and was a forerunner of genre-bending favorites such as “The X Files” and “Lost.”

I’m not sure why but currently seasons 1, 2, 3, and 5 are available on instant Netflix but not season 4. There is a wealth of classic horror and science fiction here – “Monsters are Due on Maple Street” being a particular favorite of mine. The theme music is classic and Rod Serling’s narration is wonderful.

Thriller (1960-1961)

The legendary Boris Karloff serves as host for this vintage television series, which began as an anthology of crime dramas and mysteries but later morphed into chilling tales of the supernatural and gothic horror. With episodes based on novels and short stories, the show features a roster of guests ranging from big-screen veterans such as John Carradine and Mary Astor to soon-to-be-stars such as Cloris Leachman and William Shatner.

If you have run through all of Twilight Zone or the episodes are too familiar then give Thriller a try. Boris Karloff makes almost as good a host as Rod Serling. Thriller is not the classic that Twilight Zone is but has some very good episodes. The early episodes lean more towards Alfred Hitchcock Presents but later ones often have a supernatural element.

Since none of the episodes connect to each other, please start your Thriller viewing with Pigeons from Hell, episode 36.

The X-Files (1993-2001)

Tracing both their personal and professional lives, this award-winning Fox series centers on FBI agents Scully (Gillian Anderson), a skeptic, and Mulder (David Duchovny), a believer, and their efforts to uncover a government conspiracy to hide evidence of extraterrestrial activity. From voodoo curses to bodies found in California that are missing various internal organs, the chilling show also stars Mitch Pileggi and Robert Patrick.

All nine seasons of The X-Files are available on instant Netflix. While the main focus of The X-Files was science fiction, there are a large number of ‘spooky’ episodes. The influence of Kolchak on The X-Files is obvious and is even acknowledged when Darren McGavin guest-stars as an early X-Files investigator.

The quality of the writing began to be uneven after the first four seasons. The last two seasons are monumentally disappointing as Duchovny left to pursue a movie career (how’s that working out for you David?) and Anderson takes on a much reduced role due in part to her pregnancy.

Black Friday

Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff starred in 8 films together. This is the only one where they don’t appear together but hey it’s free on instant Netflix.

Black Friday

WATCH:Black Friday (1940) – “A life-saving act turns destructive in this haunting horror film by Arthur Lubin. In an effort to save his dying friend Professor Kingsley (Stanley Ridges), Dr. Sovac (Boris Karloff) transplants part of an ailing gangster’s brain into Kingsley’s. What the two didn’t expect was that Kingsley would start flip-flopping between his mild self and that of an angry gangster out for revenge. Bela Lugosi co-stars.”

Boris Karloff is the star here – Bela doesn’t have any lines until the halfway point but still receives second-billing. Stanley Ridges is quite good as Professor Kingsley/Red Cannon. Unfortunately this is a rather weak film – other than the two personalities in one body, this is a straightforward revenge story. Boris’ character is a scientist with little personality (and for that matter little science as well). The film isn’t bad but without Boris and Bela, it would have slipped into obscurity by now.

Frankenstein

This is Boris Karloff’s other iconic contribution to the Universal classic monster lineup.  Geek test – if someone says Frankenstein and you know that that is the scientist and not the monster then you are a geek.

Frankenstein

WATCH: Frankenstein (1931) – “Unbeknownst to his fiancée (Mae Clarke), young scientist Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) — aided by his hunchbacked assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye) — has been building a monster made of spare parts. But no one is prepared, not even the doctor, when the creature comes to terrifying life. Boris Karloff stars as the iconic Frankenstein’s monster in this classic piece of horror cinema, based loosely on the novel by Mary Shelley.”

Colin Clive is fun if a little over the top as Frankenstein and Mae Clarke (sans grapefruit) and Edward Van Sloan provide good support but John Boles is wooden as Victor. Character actor Dwight Frye (Renfield in Dracula) has a delightful turn as the hunchback Fritz but is unfortunately overshadowed by Bela Lugosi’s Ygor in Son of Frankenstein. After the success of Dracula, Bela was offered and turned down the role of the monster. Director James Whale gave the part to relatively unknown Boris Karloff (Karloff had been in over 60 movies already but mostly as a bit player or minor heavy). For such a star-making performance, Karloff doesn’t get off the table until almost the halfway mark and is fourth-billed. His first appearance backing into a room and then turning around slowly to show off Jack Pierce’s incredible makeup is startling. James Whale keeps the action moving at a brisk clip. The expressionistic sets are fantastic (in both the literal and figurative sense) and owe much to German horror cinema of the 20s.

Please note: this is the restored version – Colin Clive’s line comparing himself to god had been cut on rerelease during the Code years but is present here as is the scene where he throws the little girl in the lake. While I appreciate ‘lost’ footage being restored, I do feel that that scene works better with the implied violence.

The Mummy

Well it wouldn’t be October without covering one of Boris Karloff’s wonderful movies. Luckily Netflix has several available for instant play.

The Mummy

WATCH: 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.”

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’s 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. 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. Boris Karloff dominates every scene he is in as is to be expected. 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 watchers: look for the wonderful character actor Noble Johnson in a bit part as the Nubian.