From the video case: Botonist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) travels to Tibet in search of a rare flower, the “Marifasa Lupina,” which blooms only in moonlight. Despite warnings that the region is dangerous, Glendon continues his quest until finally locating the exotic flower, but not before he has to defend himself from an attack by a howling monster.
Back in London, Glendon is visited by the enigmatic Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), who tells him a current rash of murders is the work of two werewolves. Yogami also claims that the only antidote is the blooming Marifasa flower, which keeps the werewolves from harming the ones they love. Glendon scoffs at Yogami’s stories, until the next full moon! (1935, b&w)
Mark says: Universal’s Werewolf of London has gotten a bad rap for a couple of reasons. For viewers of the time, it was too similar to 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March. For modern fans, it is inevitably compared to the superior The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr. Either way, Werewolf of London, Hollywood’s first werewolf flick, isn’t getting the individualized attention it deserves. I’m not saying this is a great movie, or that it should even be included with Universal’s other monster classics, but it does have some interesting facets.
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From the DVD case: People in an old dark house on a stormy night are menaced by a killer ape. (1932, b&w)
Mark says: If I had to describe The Monster Walks in one word, it would be cliché. The events of the film take place during a dark and stormy night in an eerie mansion. The rich master has died suspiciously and the family is gathered for the reading of the will. The house is full of unsavory characters, including an old, invalid uncle, and two creepy house servants. There’s also a fearsome ape locked in the basement, which has a renowned hatred for the deceased’s daughter.
In addition to all of this, the mansion is full of hidden passages and paintings that move so eyes can peer through. Of course, the young daughter inherits everything. If she should die, all the money goes to the repugnant old uncle. Any of this sound familiar? I had a feeling it would.
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From the DVD case: A mad scientist accidentally decapitates his pretty fiancée in a car accident and then rushes her head to his secret laboratory to keep it alive. Needing a replacement body for his beloved, the doctor visits various strip-clubs and girlie shows in order to pick just the right body for his needs. Meanwhile, the revived head is conspiring with a grunting thing that is locked away in the doctor’s closet, seeking revenge on her boyfriend. (1962, b&w)
Mark says: If you’ve ever bought a compilation horror DVD, you probably already own a copy of The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. It’s one of those films that is included in almost all “classic horror/cult” collections. I own several copies of the movie myself, but the one I most often refer to is produced by Diamond Entertainment and comes as a duel pack with The Amazing Transparent Man. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die was filmed in 13 days during 1959, but was not released until 1962.
As a child, this movie terrified me. The opening sequence where Virginia Leith whispers the words, “Let me die,” inspired genuine chills. I was also horrified by the image of a human head detached from its body, speaking, blinking, and undeniably angry. Add to that a mystery monster in the closet and you have a frightening movie experience for a pre-adolescent boy.
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From the video case: Starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne, this classic horror/comedy tells the beastly tale of two American youths whose European adventure turns to terror after they are attacked by a werewolf. One of the travelers is killed, but the other’s fate is worse than death as every full moon now seems to “bring out the beast in him.” (1981, color)
Mark says: 1981 was a great year for me. Not only did I graduate from high school, but two of my favorite werewolf flicks were released. One was The Howling, which I’ve already reviewed, and the other was An American Werewolf in London, which I have the pleasure of reviewing now.
An American Werewolf in London has a lot going for it: a simple but intriguing story, a strong script and good direction, characters we care about, and perhaps most of all, groundbreaking special effects engineered by Rick Baker. The film is both written and directed by John Landis (Twilight Zone: The Movie, Animal House).
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From the DVD case: Severely shaken after a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer, TV newscaster Karen White (Dee Wallace) takes some much-needed time off. Hoping to conquer her inner demons, she heads for “the Colony,” a secluded retreat where her new neighbors are just a tad too eager to make her feel at home. Also, there seems to be a bizarre link between her would-be attacker and this supposedly safe haven. And, when, after nights of being tormented by savage shrieks and unearthly cries, Karen ventures into the forest to find answers, she makes a terrifying discovery. Now she must fight not only for her life, but her very soul! (1981, color)
Mark says: 1981 was a stellar year for werewolf movies. Lycanthropes were featured in such ground-breaking films as Wolfen and An American Werewolf in London. But first out of the gate was The Howling, based on the novel by Gary Brandner and directed by Joe Dante.
The Howling is a living tribute to everything that came before it. Not only are roles given to classic horror/sci-fi stars like John Carradine (Invisible Invaders, House of Frankenstein), Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Kenneth Tobey (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Thing from Another World), and Dick Miller (It Conquered the World, A Bucket of Blood), but there are enough cameos here to endlessly entertain film buffs. My favorite cameo is by famed horror producer/director Roger Corman, featured, in a reference to his miserly approach to film producing, checking a pay phone’s coin slot for spare change. Also look for Forrest J Ackerman (creator/editor of “Famous Monsters of Filmland”) as a bookstore customer.
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From the DVD case: Filmed in England and Yugoslavia, it [Dracula] stars three-time Academy Award nominee and 1991 Best Supporting Actor Jack Palance as the immortal vampire, Count Dracula, whose centuries-old existence is threatened after he attacks the lovely Lucy Westenra (Fiona Lewis). When Lucy’s fiance (Simon Ward) calls in Dr. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) to investigate, a spine-tingling hunt for the vampire follows. (1973, color)
Mark says: Fans of monsters and TV are lucky that Dan Curtis came along. Not only did he bring the vampire series Dark Shadows to the small screen, but he also produced innovative TV movies like The Night Stalker and 1968′s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In 1973, Dan Curtis directed and produced Dracula, casting Jack Palance (who also starred in the Jekyll and Hyde TV movie) as the famous bloodsucking Count.
What Curtis brought to the Dracula table is romance. He believed Dracula needed proper motivation to pull up his Carpathian Mountain roots and transplant himself in England. That motivation, in Curtis’ version, comes in the form of Fiona Lewis (Dr. Phibes Rises Again, The Fearless Vampire Killers) as Lucy Westenra. Lucy is a (ahem) dead-ringer for Dracula’s true love from the 1400s. In fact, Curtis suggests that Lucy is the reincarnation of Dracula’s long-dead lover.
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From the DVD case: William Shatner stars as veterinarian “Rack” Hanson in this cult classic about an Arizona town infested with eight-legged killers, which turn on the humans whose insecticides have depleted their normal food supply. Woody Strode is Rack’s friend, rancher Walter Colby, whose livestock first fall victim to the angry arachnids. Entomologist Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) arrives and tries to help Rack deal with the crisis, but with the big county fair fast approaching, Mayor Connors (Roy Engel) refuses to let them quarantine Colby’s ranch. Soon, the remaining residents are barricaded at Emma Washburn’s (Lieux Dressler) lodge, fighting for their very lives, in this skin-crawling chiller featuring Shatner’s then-wife, Marcy Lafferty, as his sister-in-law, Terry. (1977, color)
Mark says: It would be easy to dismiss Kingdom of the Spiders as another schlocky 70′s B-movie, except for the fact that so many of the scenes are genuinely creepy. Viewers ultimately find themselves laughing and cringing throughout the picture. Though the acting is what you’d expect from a low-budget production, I have to give the cast credit: almost all of those spiders crawling on them are real tarantulas. Reportedly, 5,000 of the creatures were wrangled for the film.
Kingdom of the Spiders features a strange love triangle between “Rack” Hansen (William Shatner), his late brother’s wife, Terry Hansen (Marcy Lafferty), and entomologist, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling). Though Shatner is supposed to be a macho, witty, irresistible, down-home fellow, he comes off as rather lecherous. Rack’s amorous interludes with his sister-in-law are particularly disturbing. If I were an actress, I think I’d prefer to have the spiders crawling on me.
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From the video case: A traveling businessman (Dennis Weaver) is suddenly menaced on the highway by a huge diesel truck. Although he can never see the psychopathic driver of the truck, he soon realizes that this guy is out to kill him! Duel is a classic of the action-suspense genre which helped launch the career of director Steven Spielberg. (1971, color)
Mark says: After seeing Duel for the first time as a child, I had sore muscles from tensing up so often. Thank God for commercials, or I may have petrified permanently. Viewing the film as an adult, I am still struck by how much suspense Mr. Spielberg conjures with a simple story and sparse dialog.
Duel was originally a 74 minute made-for-TV movie that later, with added footage, became a cinematic film distributed throughout Europe. Spielberg cast Dennis Weaver in the lead role of David Mann after seeing him in the movie, Touch of Evil. Of course, most of us fondly remember Mr. Weaver as Chester from the old Gunsmoke TV series, or as the title character in TV’s McCloud.
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From the video box: Las Vegas is a town where the unusual is considered normal. However, when former top reporter, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), meets with police reluctance while covering the murder of a showgirl, his curiosity is aroused.
Suddenly, there is a series of murders, apparently committed by the same killer. When the police again refuse to reveal any facts, Kolchak gets the details on his own and begins to put the deathly pieces of the puzzle together. However, the police and his own editor, Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), make every effort to suppress what Kolchak has learned. The closer he gets to the truth, the less he is able to reveal and the more frightened he becomes. (1972, color)
Mark says: A lot of people remember Darren McGavin as the father from A Christmas Story, but I will always primarily remember him for his role as Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker.
I was 10 years old when The Night Stalker was released as a made-for-TV movie. I still remember the anticipation of its airing. The TV ads teased us with the scene where Kolchak yells at his editor, “This nut thinks he’s a vampire! He has killed four, maybe five women! He has drained every drop of blood from every one of them!” The Night Stalker did not disappoint, and it left an indelible mark on the psyches of almost everyone who saw it.
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From the DVD case: In a small village in the remote English countryside, several young maidens have been found dead – their beautiful young faces horribly aged almost beyond recognition. Suspecting a supernatural evil at work, the local doctor calls on Army friend and famed vampire hunter Captain Kronos, an expert swordsman formerly of the King’s Imperial Guard. Aided by his expert assistant Professor Grost, the two quickly confirm the gruesome murders are the work of a unique type of vampire, one who drains its victims not of their blood, but of their youth! (1974, color)
Mark says: Captain Kronos was meant to have been (and should have been) the beginning of a Hammer Films’ series, similar to their Dracula productions. Unfortunately, feeble box office sales kept the series from being realized.
Being a bit of a dullard, the originality of Captain Kronos was lost on me in my boyhood (I was 12 when it was released). The concept of a vampire which drains its victims of youth rather than blood was confusing to me, and Captain Kronos, being a swashbuckler rather than a Peter Cushing-type vampire slayer, seemed odd and unpalatable.
Now, as old age creeps up on me like a bat on the back of a chair, I find the concept of a “youth vampire” more menacing. I’ve also come to appreciate the comic book approach to the film. Captain Kronos is a true adventurer, complete with sidekick in the form of Prof. Hieronymos Grost.
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