Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Movie Reviews 470 – It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973)

February 19, 2021

The Italian ‘giallo’ genre of thriller-horror (giallo all’italiana) films had spread to Spain by the ‘70s creating a mini cottage industry of its own with prolific stars like Paul Naschy and director Jess Franco to name a few. While few of these films can claim to be classics by any standard, many are none the less highly entertaining, It Happened at Nightmare Inn (natively titled Una vela para el diablo and perhaps better known as “A Candle for the Devil”) is a fine example of an absorbing giallo that hits all the right nostalgic notes.

Following the tradition of having one or two English speaking stars in these foreign language films, Judy Geeson arrives at a small Spanish villa in search of her sister who is supposed to be staying at one of the local hotels run by sisters Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Verónica (Esperanza Roy). Laura (Geeson), surprised to learn that her sister had left suddenly and without any message or forwarding address, begins a search that will have disturbing results.

Marta and Veronica are middle aged, bun haired spinsters that share a prudish attitude, especially when it comes to the young women tourists who come and stay with them. While Veronica shares her sister’s respectable outlook, it is Marta who cracks the whip and openly confronts those who do not meet with her highly critical eye.

As Laura continues to search for her sister another young tourist, a brazen hussy comes to town. Not only does Helen (Lone Fleming) have the audacity to wear skimpy hot pants, giving all the men in town an eyeful, but she purposefully flaunts her lifestyle in front of her puritan hostesses. Helen’s sudden surprising ‘departure’ adds to Laura’s suspicions that something is amiss. When yet a third , this time supposedly modest mother of a young child,  joins the list of unanticipated exits, Laura who by now has left the hotel, sets in motion a plan that will get her back in and solve the mystery once and for all.

Gorehounds will be disappointed as this film does not rely on flashy kills although there are a few onscreen deaths and one surprise ‘eyeful’ that will figure into the resolution. Neither is this a whodunit as the sisters divulge their complicity early on but without going in details or specifics. This film slowly hints at Marta and Veronica’s back history, surprising and unexpected, which cultivated their current motivations and actions.

Director Eugenio Martín (who also gave us Horror Express) metes out hints at just the right pace and portions to have viewers guessing what the big picture is going to be. And speaking of pictures we get treated to some ghoulish frescos from a Museum which Laura frequents as part of her investigation as well as some devilish artwork adorning Marta’s bedroom. I must confess that Bautista was the standout among the two sisters and I hoped she had many other such films to look forward to, but it seems that aside from one other major starring role in an acclaimed thriller (La Tía Tula) she never featured in any other giallo.

On the other hand in trying to find out more about this film I discovered that there are lots of other Spanish giallo out there that sound interesting and that I hope to catch at some point. Another reminder that some films that are not in the top echelons of fandom are still worthy of a watch.

 

Movie Reviews 467 – Dr. Giggles (1992)

January 29, 2021

Dr. Giggles is one of those films that you occasionally hear about in horror forums and discussions that neither gets lavish praise, nor negative vibes. To be honest, before watching it, the only thing that I heard or read that stuck with me regarding this film was that it stars Larry Drake, most notable as the villain in Darkman and it’s sequel Darkman II (or for the non-horror inclined folk, the mentally challenged office messenger in the L.A. Law tv series for which he won several Emmys).

I think one of the reasons for that unremarkable status is that the film’s plot is cobbled up from a long list of horror clichés strung together to form a cohesive, yet pedantic story. To be sure, that is the case for many other horror films, but how does this one stand up against those? The question as to whether it has any ‘heart’ is particularly relevant but in this case the hearts are literal as we will soon learn.

The list of checkmark clichés that constitute this film begins with a bunch of highschoolers being let out for summer vacation. Jennifer (Holly Marie Combs) isn’t nearly as enthusiastic as the rest of the gang who are already in party mode and looking forward to leisure summer fun. Part of her gloom is attributable to a heart condition, dismissed by her doctor as nothing to worry about, but one that took away her mother when Jen was still a child.

The next boilerplate element is the fenced in, run down haunted looking house that has a history of a mad doctor who once lived there. But the town rumors regarding that sordid history lean more towards the doctor’s young son who disappeared the night the doctor was ‘dispatched’ by the community. That boy, of course turns out to be the titular Dr. Giggles (Drake) who later became an asylum inmate escapee but without the authorities making the connection to the long lost child.

Aside from a few flashbacks to the kid’s bizarre upbringing, the film is basically Giggles on a ‘heart wrenching’ rampage in town that for one reason or another all center on Jen, her family and her friends. Her torment induces real or imagined heart/‘panic attacks and in the end it’s up to Jen, her boyfriend (Glenn Quinn) and a few cops to terminate Giggle’s current ‘operation’.

The only thing really keeping any interest in the film is Drake’s beady eyed performance which is mostly conveyed under an incessant stream of doctor, medical and heart one-liners. His maniacal hunting of victims, largely opportunistic and without any real reason or motive, are not even all that creative although he does whip up an array of specialized demonic surgical tools towards the end. And yes, he does his nasty best while giggling in character.

On a cardiac scale I’d have to rate this as a ‘flatlined’ and is only to be watched only if you’re in the mood for shits’n’giggles. More of the latter, but you must endure some of the former along the way.

On a parting note, the opening credits list one Brian May for Music and I wondered if this was Brian May of Queen fame but started doubting it as the lacklustre soundtrack played on. I later checked and it was not him but some other dude with the same name. Too bad because this one could have used a bit more adrenaline.

Movie Reviews 463 – The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

December 30, 2020

I already discussed in my review of The Invisible Man the so called ‘second tier’ of classic Universal studios monsters after the triumvirate of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman. Not only does The Creature From the Black Lagoon fit into that second tier, but many fans consider it the top second banana so to speak, superior to its peers, even The Mummy.

Based loosely on folklore of a reputed man-fish in the amazon, the story was conceived by the movie’s producer and was released in both 3D and regular formats as the novelty of 3D was wanning. It was an instant hit that spawned (see what I did there?) two successive sequels each following year. While the film series was short lived, the ‘gill-man’ has remained a consistent cult mainstay ever since.

A geological expedition comes across a fossilized webbed hand and upon being presented to marine biologist Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), he is able to convince his boss Dr. Williams (Richard Denning) to back an expedition deep into the amazon jungle. Joined by Reed’s assistant and girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams), the expedition hires out an old, worn-out trawler operated by a salty captain. Upon some of the hired hands being attacked right at the beginning, the captain tells the academics of reputed sightings of a living relic of the prehistoric creature.

Once they get to the lagoon it becomes clear that Williams is not as interested in study of the creature but more the monetary benefits of bringing him back alive. The creature not only proves to be elusive but equally intelligent and the expedition soon finds themselves as the prey rather than being the hunters.

The film is known for some of it’s great underwater scenes, the most notable featuring the blissfully unaware Adams lithely swimming and doing acrobatic maneuvers while the creature is mere inches away and swimming in parallel. The design of the reptilian monster is all the more admirable given that it had to be underwater most of the time, and in fact seems out of place in the few scenes it is on land, which is how it should be. There are some nice touches like seeing the pulsating gills and an inflating/deflating mouth when breathing above water and even the glazed look in it’s beady eyes when immobile, much like a frog.

The plot has a bit of a throw-in challenge to Reed’s affections for Kay by Williams and a hint of a Beauty and the Beast angle, but thankfully those are not dwelled upon. There is a bit of scientific analysis punted around to validate the creature’s existence but the main events are clearly the battle of wits and muscle between the party and the creature.

The legacy of the creature is still going strong today, most recently by Guillermo del Toro who upon seeing this film decided he wanted to make his variant of the gill-man. The resulting The Shape of Water not only sweeped Oscar nominations in 2018, but won the coveted pinnacle Best Picture award (as well as Best Director for del Toro and two other Oscars).

My viewing of this DVD was from the Universal Monsters Legacy box set so I was able to watch the sequels Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us, the latter being a creature morphing into a human. The rule of declining returns applies to these sequels, but I still found them entertaining when taken with a bit of salt. Perhaps salt-water in this case.

Movie Reviews 460 – Innocent Blood (1992)

December 3, 2020

Comedies often resort to mixing elements that are immiscible, like oil and water, and having them collide to generate laughs.  Director John Landis was well versed and successful with the formula for such films as Trading Places (rich vs. poor) and Animal House (nobility vs. plebeians).  For Innocent Blood he cast a wider net and made a horror comedy in which a vampire accidentally transmogrifies a mobster kingpin to join the undead, and consequently raises the prospect of him passing on the superpowers that go along with being a bloodsucker onto his underlings and henchmen.

Marie (Anne Parillaud of La Femme Nikita fame) is a conscientious and benevolent vampire roaming the streets of Pittsburgh who carefully chooses her victims, sparing good souls and feasting only ‘less admirable’ human specimens. Venturing out onto the streets for new blood only when absolutely needed, she also makes sure her victims do not fully transform into vampires themselves and end up cursed as she is and creating more victims in their wake.

It is on such a feeding-time night stroll that she bumps into ‘wiseguy’ Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) as a group of mafiosi leave a restaurant. But sensing Gennaro’s inner righteousness she spares him, instead ending up getting a Limo ride from the don himself, “Sal the Shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia). She has no qualms taking a bite out of him when given the opportunity, but is interrupted before she can deliver a permanent death. Whisked to a mortuary and awaiting an official autopsy, Sal awakens and soon realizes that he no longer has to worry about hindrances like knives or bullets. He then latches onto the idea of turning his own men into vampires eventually creating an unstoppable ‘famiglia’.

Gennaro it turns out, is not a hood at all but an undercover cop who had been working for years to take down Sal’s operation. But recent events have exposed his infiltration and he now intends to fulfill his quest despite being thrown off the case. He finds a surprise helping hand from Maria trying to undo the damage her own actions have unleashed.

Interestingly this comedy sports an R rating, a rarity for that genre, due to scenes of Maria prancing totally nude. But if there were any doubts about it being a comedy the casting of Don Rickles as Sal’s legal beagle should put those thoughts to rest. Other offbeat casting choices that mirror the content include everyone’s favorite Muppetteer Frank Oz (with the unmistakable voice of Bert, Fozzie Bear and Yoda), a cameos by horror stars Dario Argento, Tom Savini, Linnea Quigley, Sam Raimi and even Forrest J. AckermanAngela Bassett plays Gennaro’s boss and you can also check out Tony Siroco, David Proval and Anthony Sisto as goombas long before they were reunited in similar roles in The Sopranos.

The casting is evidence of Landis’ reverence for horror cinema classics and those homages are also seen on the various background television sets playing horror classics throughout the film that you can enjoy as an added drinking game. There is plenty of carnage among the chuckles if any of the aforementioned weren’t enough to warrant a view.

Vampires can also learn a lesson or two such as if you’re going to eat “Italian”, watch out for that garlic.

Movie Reviews 456 – The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

October 29, 2020

While it is no secret that I’m a huge fan of the horror films produced by Hammer studios from their golden age of Gothic classics, when it comes to naming my favorite films produced by them the selection becomes murkier. While one can easily name any of their Frankenstein or Dracula films starring Peter Cushing or Christoher Lee (or even better, both of them together) as great films, I find myself repeatedly going back to other movies that have neither of their marquee stars. I’ve discussed my fondness for The Reptile, but that was mostly from a sentimental perspective as is the case for other favourites like Quatermass and the Pit or The Mutations.

I realized that one reason so many of those are appealing to me is because they all present stories that are unique and original. The Curse of the Werewolf is something in between in that it is a rethread of a common mythological creature and yet the narrative is far from your typical furry werewolf tale, so you get the best of both worlds.

From the very beginning of the film we get a very different ‘origin’ story from the typical bite of a wolf, the definitive genesis of all other werewolf stories I’ve ever seen or read. The film proffers a rather convoluted but intriguing introduction, set in 18th century Spain, that has a dimwitted beggar interrupt a marquis’ wedding ceremony. The outraged marquis has the beggar thrown into the castle dungeon, to be tended to by the dungeon master and his mute daughter. There the beggar is soon forgotten and over the years degenerates into a ragged, raving lunatic, to be cared for by the daughter, now a voluptuous young woman, until she herself is cast into the cell and raped by him. She manages to escape and gain refuge in the home of an academic and his servant where she gives birth to a boy, Leon, only to die moments later to the sounds of a distant howling wolf.

As a young lad Leon experiences nightmarish episodes especially after odd incidents such as when he tasted the blood of an animal after a hunt. Now a young man, Leon (Oliver Reed) endeavours to seek his fortune and find a job. He soon lands a position in a small winery and immediately falls for the owner’s daughter Cristina (Catherine Feller) despite the fact that she is engaged to an aristocrat. Around this time some of the shepherds in the area have had their flock attacked at night, but the attacks are attributed to a shepherd’s dog. Leon’s seizures which had ceased by then return with a vengeance, and now with deadly consequences. Even while not being able to recall his actions, Leon knows all too well that he is responsible. He basically begs that he be locked up, which the authorities only agree to after finding evidence of his involvement in the most recent attack. Leon discovers that there is one thing that will soothe his inner beast and the answer lies with Cristina. But that remedy is now out of his reach as he awaits the next full moon in his cell.

The non traditional lycanthropy story presented rejects a number of other conventions and horror tropes which make this film particularly satisfying viewing. Werewolf staples that we are familiar with such as the deadly silver bullet are preserved but presented in a novel manner, likewise the ‘forbidden love’ aspect that has a surprise twist here. Reed makes the most of his starring role, his very first, and would go on to have a stellar career including many other classic horror films, These are the Damned, The Shuttered Room, and Burnt Offerings to name a few.

Aside from a few crude special effects, the wolf transformation to the fully altered creature is not only realistic but the end result look is exceptional. Viewers are treated with Hammer’s usual resplendent Gothic imagery as well other scenes set in squalid accommodations. The finale takes a page from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame accentuated by a thrilling, teetering rooftop chase with a howling, torch wielding vengeful mob below.

While the film is available in several editions I would heartily recommend getting the Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection that contains seven other equally entertaining Hammer films. Included are Brides of Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, The Kiss of the Vampire, Paranoiac, Nightmare, Night Creatures and The Evil of Dr. Frankenstein. The one drawback to the set is that it is totally bereft of any special features that I would have loved to view, but the price of this edition really can’t be beat, being available in the $20 range. Make it a weeklong Hammer film binge. I did.

 

Movie Reviews 455 – The Lost Boys (1987)

October 23, 2020

 

 

Up until the 70’s any depiction of vampires in films were almost uniquely those in Victorian Gothic settings, the classical representation true to the mythological origins of the creature. The 70’s did give us a few counter-culture ‘modern’ vampires living in contemporary times, but even those were not the typical next door neighbours so much as ‘groovy’, hyped up caricatures of the beast. At least they were no longer confirmed to stormy castles and melodramatic “Good evening!” marble stairway entrées.

It wasn’t until the 80’s and the release of The Lost Boys that we not only got a heavily updated and modern take on the vampire, but a great story and dynamic casting to match for what is now considered a cult classic.

Diane Wiest plays a recently divorced single mother who hauls her two boys, comic book aficionado Sam (Corey Haim) and the older laconic Michael (Jason Patric), from cozy urban Phoenix to the boardwalk seaside community to Santa Carla California to live with her geriatric, hippy taxidermist father (Barnard Hughes).

Cruising the amusement park one evening Michael is awestruck by a beautiful young girl who just goes by the name ‘Star’ (Jami Gertz), but his attempt to get friendlier is interrupted by a quartet of motorcycle hooligans. Their leader (Kiefer Sutherland) entices Michael to join and play along with their daring wild rides. Eventually settling into their cliffside cave abode, a remnant fissure from a long forgotten earthquake, Michael is tricked into drinking blood. This begins a cat-and-mouse game of Michael trying to deal with and concealing his slow transformation into a fully fledged neck bitter from mom while enlisting the help of Sam who in turn engages his new vampire savvy friends from the comic shop, the inimitable Frog brothers; Edgar and Alan [get it?] (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander).

This is a perfect showpiece of 80’s horror that delivers on the creepy elements while keeping a foot in the tamer, flashy aspects of high school comedies of the era, a blend of The Goonies and John Hughes films. It’s macho punks on motorcycles with long flowing hair wearing more earrings and stuffing more shoulder pads any of the girls. While the depiction is ephemeral 80’s, the harrowing score borrows from the past with a cover of The Doors’ People Are Strange, but is indelibly associated with the even chillier theme song Cry Little Sister.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the film is what turned out to be perfect casting from both veterans and newcomers alike. Sutherland had just come off Stand by Me and the two back-to-back films cemented him as the villainous archetype that serves him to this day.  The mousy Wiest and Edward Herrmann who plays her boss and romantic interest seem odd choices at first for a horror movie and yet they both took advantage of the opportunity and managed to fit their square blocks into round hole roles seamlessly. Grandpa Hughes not only steals every scene he’s in, but delivers the surprising memorable last line of the film. The film also marks the humble beginnings of the phenomenon that was thereafter known as “The Two Coreys”, Haim and Feldman becoming teen idols and starring in a string of films together. Sadly, that relationship would eventually succumb to drug fueled lifestyles and darker claims of sexual abuse in the industry that would ultimately claim Haim’s life. Ironically that tumultuous onscreen collaboration would end with Lost Boys: The Tribe, one of a number of sequels, but one in which Haim was so far gone that only a cameo in the end credits could be salvaged from what was already intended just to be a minor role.

Movie Reviews 451 – Empire of the Ants (1977)

September 25, 2020

I’ve already mentioned my myrmecological ventures when I reviewed Phase IV, one of my favorite science fiction movies featuring ants. The high bar of excellence for giant sized ants however was set by magnificent film Them! back in the 50’s but it was only a matter of time before lowbrow American International studios caught up to cash in and give us Empire of the Ants.

While billed as “H.G. Wells’ Empire of the Ants”, let me assure you that this has absolutely nothing to do with the venerated author’s novella other than sharing a title. Instead of normal millimeter sized threats, this film ups the ante (see what I did there?) with Volkswagen sized six-legged Formicidae – that’s fancy talk for ants!

After a minute or two of documentary style scenes of ants in their natural habitats, the varied unique looking genus and species, and sounding off their scientific names the film begins with the requisite biological disaster setup. In this case it is a scene of an offshore boat unloading clearly marked radioactive waste into the ocean soon followed by said oozing barrels washing ashore some nearby beaches and being feasted on by ants. All this before the opening credits, so you know they’re not messing around here.

The film stars a pre-Dynasty Joan Collins, clearly having already mastered playing über bitch roles, as a shady real estate sales lady trying to hawk some Florida swampland to a group of prospective buyers. Having been invited for a free tour of a remote island in the Keys, most of the guests are really there for the free lunch and alcohol which is followed by a boat trip to the designated island which is nothing more than a mock development site with signage for future promised installations. It doesn’t take too long before some start disappearing while on the tour and eventually they have some up close encounters with the buggers that have them heading back to their boat. Of course the ants have already swarmed and destroyed that escape which leads the party – well the dwindling number of survivors anyway – trying to make it across the island to the one other boat there.

Surprisingly they do make it out and are even escorted to the nearest town, but that’s when they encounter things even stranger than the giant ants nobody seems to believe when they try to warn others. I don’t want to spoil where the story goes from here but let’s just say the Alien franchise took a page from this one.

Most of the characters are as phony as the his and hers matching leisure suits they wear (Hey, it was the 70’s man) on top of the equally implausible relationships they forge along the way. Equally ridiculous are the clearly delineated projections in scenes where the behemoth ants occupy a portion of the screen as the actors ‘react’ to non-existent threats. The few scenes where humans do physically engage the insects, they are poorly made flopping fuzzy armatures. Even the periodic pinhole bug’s eye view shots look more like they were filmed with holes from a spaghetti colander than a multi faceted lens.

Now you might think that all these negative comments are to be taken as a warning to avoid this film. Au contraire! This is one of those ‘you must see it to believe it’ films for which I highly recommend at least one viewing. Just have a can of RAID handy. You may want to use it.

Movie Reviews 447 – This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)

August 28, 2020

I was thrilled to finally get my hands on one of the late Josė Mojica Marin‘s films. Better known by his alter ego “Coffin Joe” or Zé do Caixão, the character he portrays in his films, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse is the second installment of a trilogy by the legendary Brazilian cult creator who perpetuated the mystique with his signature naturally long fingernails (there was a arcane reason for those), top hat and ghoulish cape.

It took more than forty years to complete the trilogy ending with Embodiment of Evil (2008) his very last feature film, and this one immediately follows the events in At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964), the first film. I have not seen either of those others but this film has enough context from the first to make that unnecessary. The entire series centers on undertaker Zé’s quest to find the perfect woman to conceive his child that will be immortal and perpetuate his bloodline, one that he considered sacred and superior to all others.

The film begins with Zé returning to his home shantytown after having been found innocent of a string of murders due to a lack of evidence. Shunned by almost everyone except a few women who find his rebellious nature appealing, Zé with the help of his trusted scar-faced, hunchback servant Bruno quickly returns to the task of finding suitable mates. They quickly manage to lure six prospective women to his home and begin subjecting them to tests of obedience, fortitude and courage. One in particular, Marcia appears to be a standout, but when the others are shackled in a pit with poisonous snakes, even she balks hearing their dying cries.

With none of the girls satisfying his prerequisites Zé then turns to Laura the daughter of a Colonel who wields the real power in town and is Zé’s main adversary. Despite knowing about all his crimes, Laura professes and even proves her total devotion to Zé, scurrying to him during the middle of a feast celebrating her imminent engagement no less. But Zé learns that he has inadvertently murdered an unborn child. There is nothing more revered to him than the sanctity of a young life and upon learning of his accidental act, he descends into a state of pain and misery culminating in a nightmarish dream of being brought to hell. Upon waking up his ruse has unravelled and must once again face the justice being meted by an unruly mob.

Don’t let the fact that this was largely a low budget labour of love filmed by Coffin Joe and mostly  friends as actors. The film does suffer from a few long winded existential speeches by Zé that touch upon morality, justice and his “Immortality of blood” theology. But those moments aside this is a captivating film with some brilliantly filmed sequences. Filmed in black and white, Coffin Joe chose to film the hell segment in  gloriously nightmarish vibrant colors that would make Dante proud. The plot is quite complex with Zé being cursed at one point, Marcia manipulating a character that looks like a circus strongman, and an attempt to frame Laura’s brother. On the more salacious side, the abducted women are seductive with just a hint of nudity, while the horror is bolstered by a variety of scenes with spiders, maggots, snakes and mice. But as silly as some of it sounds, the film presents a surprisingly entertaining and solid story.

Rue Morgue issue 85

For most of his career Coffin Joe languished in obscurity because his movies were considered subversive by the conservative military dictatorship that ruled Brazil and kept his films from being exposed both at home and abroad. Thankfully they eventually got foreign DVD releases during the eighties which immediately catapulted him into the limelight and earned him the horror cult icon status he richly deserved and which he was able to relish before his passing.

My DVD by Fantoma Films only contained one short interview with Coffin Joe and a few stills as  extra features on the disc, but that was made up by the inclusion of a really nice “DVD sized” mini-comic inside with a nice Zombie story.  One last shout out I’d like to make here is to Rue Morgue magazine in which they featured Coffin Joe in their December 2008 issue. It was my introduction to him and if you can’t track down any of his films I would urge you to track down that issue for a comprehensive overview of his career.

Movie Reviews 445 – The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

August 14, 2020

Roman Polanski is one one those polarising (no pun intended) people who is equally celebrated as an artistic genius and reviled as an accused child rapist. That being said, any time his name comes up it is just as likely that neither his accomplishments nor his deplorable past be the first thing that spring to mind, but an episode in his life that he has been indelibly associated with despite not even being present when it took place.

The event in question of course is the brutal slaying of his wife Sharon Tate, then eight and a half months pregnant with their child at the time, at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult in the first of a two night killing spree in which five people were murdered in early August of 1969. Most accurately filmed in the docu-drama Helter Skelter, and most recently turned on its head in a parody, alternate sequence of events in Quentin Tarantino’s masterful Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the shocking Tate-Labianca murders remain a historical defining milestone of human heinousness.

Directed by Polanski and starring both he and Tate, The Fearless Vampire Killers was the couples single professional collaboration, and with perhaps the exception of Valley of the Dolls, Tate’s most noted role. Dark associations aside, this movie is something of a standout in Polanski oeuvres as it is a comedy and a far cry from the drama that has been a staple of his illustrious career.

Featuring great cinematography by Douglas Slocombe, a vibrant color palette and assortment of odd looking almost caricature-like characters (I’m including the diminutive, barbed nose Polanski in that group), the film is a treat to watch, at least from a visual perspective. But the plot is a piecemeal of horror and vampire clichés and the comedy, bordering on slapstick at times, isn’t very funny.

A Van Helsing stand-in, Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) travels to Transylvania with his bumbling trusted assistant Alfred (Polanski) hoping to prove his discounted theories on the existence of vampires. After nearly freezing and being rescued and brought to a local pub, they notice the abundance of garlic strings, but any mention of nearby castles or ethereal spirits are rebuffed by the townsfolk. Only when the Innkeeper’s daughter Sarah (Tate) is whisked away in the middle of the night do Abronsius and Alfred have the opportunity to make their way to the mountaintop castle lair of Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) to rescue the dear girl and hopefully put an end to the local scourge.

The film consists of a lot of slinking around the castle, late night snowy sleigh rides, a hunchback to contend with, and last be not least a glorious midnight ball of coiffed and pasty vampires. And while the film has a PG rating there are a number of ‘booby’ close calls. One thing I really love is the theme music which is a catchy chant with a touch of harpsichord.

I suspect that Polanski purists may not revere this film when comparing it to the many great films he has given us over the years. There’s no comparing it to Chinatown, The Pianist, Repulsion, his one other pure horror, the acclaimed Rosemary’s Baby, which he made the very next year, or even The Tenant. Truth be told, most of the attention it does get is due to the historical aspect of Tate’s inclusion. And yet there is still something about it that draws me to rewatch it on occasion. If nothing else, it is unique in many ways.

Movie Reviews 444 – I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

August 6, 2020

Marriage is one of those long term commitments that you really have to consider wisely and make sure you have chosen a lifelong soulmate, a person you know from the inside out. But sometimes even the most arduous scrutiny can be thwarted when, for example, your groom to be is abducted and replaced by an alien entity the night before the nuptials.

Such is the case when newlywed Marge (Gloria Talbott) notices something has changed in Bill (Tom Tryon) the moment they tie the knot. While outward appearances have not changed, gone is his easy going demeanor as well as his passion for her. Instead she finds that her husband is now distant, quick-tempered and worst of all, reluctant to engage physical affection. There are other things too, like his fascination with storms and how dogs seem to take an immediate dislike to him. But her concerns are dismissed by those she tries to reach out to.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a poor man’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with less sophistication in a script that isn’t as taut, less frantic pacing and not nearly as visionary or novel in concept. However it has a few things that make it worth the watch. The story is a little more layered in the ‘aliens want to colonize Earth’ department with a conceptual twist that would later be swiped and reversed in Mars Needs Women. And while there isn’t a lot of it, the budget special effects work well and add a nice touch of genuine horror to the science fiction centric plot. In place of oozing pods we have a cool enveloping smoke sequence when humans are ‘assimilated’ by the aliens. The film also makes good use of ‘negative film’ when the aliens are portrayed, a technique that will be used often in later years and one that fans of the original Outer Limits television series will be all too familiar with. But by far the standout special effects are the glimpses of the alien ‘faces’ overlaying their human subjects whenever there is a lighting strike. The design of those faces and the aliens as a whole, with crisscrossing masses of musculature, is downright freaky.

With decent performances by the cast, especially the principals, there is enough mystery and intrigue in determining who are the ‘converted’ humans that are now aliens, Andromedans to be exact.. That said, the logic does fail completely in some scenes, notably one where a fellow ‘assimilated’ alien visits Bill who feigns ignorance when directly told to report to ‘the ship’ given other facts about the aliens dictate that he should have known immediately.

The ending is posse predictable but with a twinge of sympathy for the aliens, but as a whole the film is decent  nostalgic popcorn sci-fi horror fare.