From the DVD case: A hormone intended to alter the breeding cycle of rabbits overrunning ranchlands instead turn them into flesh-eating, 150-pound monsters. Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun and DeForest Kelly are among the intrepid humans facing the behemoth bunnies. They use guns, flames, and dynamite to subtract them, but the rampaging rabbits know how to multiply. Can anything stop these hare-y, scary monsters? (1972, color)
Mark says: The most amazing thing about Night of the Lepus is that it is not played for laughs. Instead, the film is approached as a cautionary ecological tale regarding the fragile balance of nature. Director William F. Claxton (who directed a lot of television, including several episodes of The Twilight Zone), and a cast of veteran actors, among them, the great Janet Leigh (Psycho, The Fog), treat the script earnestly, as if the premise is not utterly ridiculous. I mean, the movie is about giant, bloodthirsty bunnies. That’s funny, right? Even the book it is based on, The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Russell Braddon, is described as, “a savagely humorous indictment of War, Nationalism and Capitalism.” Savagely humorous! This movie may have had some success if it were created as a spoof of the giant, radiated, mutant bug/animal horror flicks that gained popularity in previous decades, but it is played absolutely straight.
So, how did MGM decide to make a picture like Night of the Lepus? Tom Weaver, in his book, Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes, put this very question to lead actress, Janet Leigh. Her response:
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From the DVD case: A terrified young babysitter, an incessantly ringing phone, and whispered threats set the stage for one of the most suspenseful filled chillers ever filmed. Carol Kane stars as the babysitter who is tormented by a series of ominous phone calls until a compulsive cop (Charles Durning) is brought on the scene to apprehend the psychotic killer. Seven years later, however, the nightmare begins again when the madman returns to mercilessly haunt Kane, now a wife and mother. No longer a naïve girl, though still terrified, but prepared – she moves boldly to thwart the maniac’s attack in scenes that culminate in a nerve-shattering conclusion. (1979, color)
Mark says: When a Stranger Calls (written by Steve Feke and Director Fred Walton) is based on an urban legend that has been around at least since the 1960s (see The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs). The story is told in three parts, with Carol Kane’s character serving as bookends to a detective drama played out in the midsection.
The opening sequence sets the tone immediately. A teenage Jill Johnson (Carol Kane, who’ll I’ll always affectionately remember as Latka’s bride, Simka, on TV’s Taxi) strolls with a stack of schoolbooks to a babysitting job. It’s an early misty evening, and streetlamps shine predominately in the eerily quiet suburban neighborhood. By the time Jill reaches her destination, the credits have rolled and her employers are giving her last minute instructions and updating her on the condition of the two children (both getting over colds and sleeping upstairs).
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From the DVD case: It sits there, shrouded in mist and mystery, a nesting place for living evil and terror from the dead. It’s Hell House. Roddy McDowall heads the cast of this exciting chiller about four psychic investigators and the dark, brooding mansion they themselves call “the Mt. Everest of haunted houses.” It’s already destroyed one team of researchers. Now this brave quartet ventures in for another try at unraveling its secret. (1973,color)
Mark says: The Legend of Hell House is another film adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson (Duel, The Incredible Shrinking Man). Matheson wrote the screenplay himself, though many of the explicit scenes from his novel (Hell House) had to be toned down to receive its PG rating. This was particularly true of the sexual scenes.
Matheson had high hopes in regards to assembling a cast:
At one time I had in my mind a dream cast of Richard Burton and his wife Elizabeth Taylor to play the two mediums, Rod Ststeiger and his wife Claire Bloom to play the professor and his wife. Just after they made The Legend of Hell House people began making the really classy, A-picture-type horror films, starting with The Exorcist, so if I had held onto Hell House a few more years, it might have gotten that kind of treatment, too.
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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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From the video case: After a team of surgeons botch his beloved wife’s surgery, leaving her for dead, the emotionally distraught Dr. Phibes creatively concocts a fatal prescription for revenge. Using the Good Book as his guide, Phibes unleashes a score of Old Testament atrocities – from a plague of locusts to an attack of rats – on his enemies that climax in what may be one of the eeriest endings on screen record. (1971, color)
Mark says: When my sister and future brother-in-law took me to Dr. Phibes at a drive-in theater as a kid, the playfulness of the story was lost on me. I just thought it was one of the scarier Vincent Price movies I had ever seen (I was already a fan by the age of 10).
As an adult, you can’t miss the wonderful tongue-in-cheek quality of the film. It could have been played as a straight horror, and been moderately effective, but it’s the skillful combination of horror and dark humor that makes this film so unique and memorable.
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From the video case: Two lovers, Paul and Erica, make a grave mistake. When they park their van outside of a foreboding, vine-covered manor, the new owner – a vampire – decides to feed on the trespassers. The next morning, Paul has a terrible headache and Erica has two mysterious puncture wounds in her neck. Now, Paul must figure out just what happened before he loses the love of his life – and his own life – forever! (1970, color)
Mark says: Though this is not my favorite vampire movie, it does have some redeeming qualities.
Count Yorga is probably one of the first films to bring vampirism into the modern day. The setting is Los Angeles during the 1970s. In an opening scene a truck hauls a coffin-shaped crate through city streets. As we watch the truck weave through traffic, the narrator (George Macready) informs us of vampire legends and suggests that vampires may not only be an ancient phenomenon, but a modern one as well.
Though Count Yorga is full of vampire cliches (howling wolves, flashes of lightening, a spooky mansion, etc.) it also provides some unusual backdrops. The juxtaposition of Count Yorga, in full vampire attire, climbing into a Volkswagen Minibus to attack a pair of lovers is somehow startling, and a bit amusing, at first. However, I have noticed with more frequent viewings, that a vampire in a minibus does not seem that out of place.
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