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From the DVD case: Devil’s Island escapee Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) poses as a shop proprietress and uses secrets of miniaturization to turn humans into elusive minions who inflict revenge on all who sent him to prison. Tod Browning (Freaks) directs. Maureen O’Sullivan co-stars.

Mark says: The Devil-Doll begins with a ludicrous premise: Paul Levond escapes prison after 17 years vowing to get revenge on the three former partners who framed him. Lavond’s fellow escapee, Marcel, is a scientist who leads Levond to his laboratory. Marcel and his wife, Malita, have been working on an experiment to shrink living creatures. Marcel’s wants to shrink every creature in the world as a way to combat overpopulation. Marcel believes if he can shrink everything down to 1/6 its size, the world will have six times the food on which to live. The drawback is that the shrunken subjects (only dogs, so far) lose their own wills and have to be guided by mind control, effectively turning them into slaves. While Marcel is attempting to miniaturize his servant, Lachna (Grace Ford), he falls ill and dies. However, the experiment is a success and Malita vows to carry on her husband’s work. Malita begs Levond to assist her in this venture. Levond realizes he can use Malita and her miniature people in his plot for revenge, and moves the operation to Paris, where his former partners are still enjoying their wealthy lifestyles. Because Lavond is a wanted man, he takes on the guise of “Madame Mandilip,” an elderly woman and kindly doll shop owner.

Despite this preposterous setup, The Devil-Doll is an enjoyable and capable film. Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks) proves a competent director, and the cast is formidable. Lionel Barrymore (Mark of the Vampire) is superb in the duel roles of Paul Lavond and Madame Mandilip. I had the pleasure of seeing this movie without the foreknowledge of Lionel Barrymore’s cross-dressing scenes. I was completely taken off guard when he appeared in a wig, earrings, and frock,  speaking in a timbre similar to that of Aunt Bea’s from The Andy Griffith Show. Admittedly, this has a comedic effect, and proves somewhat distracting at first. I mean, here’s the great Lionel Barrymore, crotchety Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, shuffling about in a shawl and chapeau. However, and this is a testament to Barrymore’s acting, as the movie progresses, his scenes as “Madame Mandilip” become less and less of an issue. Barrymore makes a surprisingly believable old woman, and before long, we are drawn back into the story. Of course, there are still moments when his appearance elicits a chuckle. These moments usually occur when Barrymore is in full or partial drag but speaks in the decidedly masculine voice of Paul Lavond.

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From the DVD case: When a monster makeup artist is fired by the studio, he uses his creations to exact his revenge. (1958,b&w)

Mark says: Scripted by Aben Kandel (here as “Kenneth Langtry”) and producer Herman Cohen, this follow up to I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, follows a tried formula: An unbalanced adult manipulates a teenage youth (or, in this case, youths) to do his nefarious bidding (see Blood of Dracula for a female version of this theme).

In the case of How to Make a Monster, the dominating adult is disgruntled make-up man, Pete Dumond, played by Robert H. Harris. Pete finds himself out of work after 25 years as the studio’s head monster creator. Harris comes off as slightly eccentric at the outset of the story.  However, as the movie advances, Pete’s eccentricity gives way to creepiness, until he gradually flakes out completely by the film’s conclusion. Pete’s teenage patsies are Gary Clarke (Missle to the Moon) in the role of Larry Drake, and Gary Conway (who I will always fondly remember as Capt. Steve Burton in TV’s Land of the Giants) as Tony Mantell.

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From the DVD case: When Dracula (Francis Lederer) pulls up stakes from his native Europe and flees across the Atlantic, he tries to fit in by posing as the cousin of an unsuspecting American family. But when he starts sinking his teeth into every red-blooded thing California has to offer, he soon turns the Golden State into a Ghoulish state! (1958,b&w)

Mark saysThe Return of Dracula is one of four horror/science fiction films produced by Gramercy Pictures in the latter 1950s. Each picture (The Monster that Challenged the World, The Vampire, The Flame Barrier, and The Return of Dracula) is scripted by Pat Fielder and all, with the exception of The Flame Barrier, rank at least a notch above the standard fare that was being offered at the time.

The theme of an old, family relative arriving to bring evil to a small American town draws inevitable comparisons to Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943).  The relationship between naïve and trusting Rachel, played by Norma Eberhardt (Problem Girls) and the worldly Dracula (posing as Cousin Bellac), played by Francis Lederer (Pandora’s Box), invites further comparison to the Hitchcock classic. Pat Fielder, in an interview with film historian Tom Weaver, noted some of her influences:

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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: Beware Tabanga! On a remote South Seas island, no one is safe from this hideous and unique monster. Tabanga is part man, part tree, all doom. Formerly an island prince, he was unjustly put to death by a witch doctor. Now he’s returned to life with roots, branches, and a vengeance. A macabre medley of creature feature, Polynesian kitsch, and Atomic Age cautionary tale, From Hell It Came is the killer-tree movie you woodn’t want to miss! (1957, b&w)

Mark saysFrom Hell It Came is one of those movies that leave an indelible impression on a child’s mind. One of the joys of writing online reviews is being able to help readers identify movies they remember from childhood.  I’m often asked if I can identify the movie “about a tree monster brought to life” by a tribal curse. My own memories regarding this movie are vague, at best, though it did inspire one of my very first nightmares. Unfortunately, that nightmare was scarier, and more memorable, than the actual film.

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Mara Corday’s Wikipedia entry describes her as a “a showgirl, model, actress, Playboy Playmate and a 1950s cult figure,” however, readers of this blog will primarily remember her as the curvy love interest in the genre classics, Tarantula, The Black Scorpion, and The Giant Claw. Mara left the entertainment business to raise a family with her husband, Richard Long.  From Wikipedia:

Wanting a career in films, Mara Corday came to Hollywood while still in her teens and found work as a showgirl at the Earl Carroll Theatre on Sunset Boulevard. Her physical beauty brought jobs as a photographer’s model that led to a bit part as a showgirl in the 1951 film Two Tickets to Broadway. She signed on as a Universal International Pictures (UI) contract player where she met actor Clint Eastwood with whom she would remain lifelong friends. With UI, Corday was given small roles in various B-movies and television series. In 1954 on the set of Playgirl she met actor Richard Long. Following the death of Long’s wife, the two began dating and married in 1957.

Her roles were small until 1955 when she was cast opposite John Agar in Tarantula, a Sci-Fi B-movie that proved a modest success. She had another successful co-starring role in that genre (The Black Scorpion) as well as in a number of Western films. Respected film critic Leonard Maltin said that Mara Corday had “more acting ability than she was permitted to exhibit.”

Mara Corday appeared as a pinup girl in numerous men’s magazines during the 1950s and was the Playmate of the October 1958 issue of Playboy, together with famous model and showgirl Pat Sheehan. In 1956, she had a recurring role in the ABC television series Combat Sergeant. From 1959 to early 1961, Corday worked exclusively doing guest spots on various television series. She then gave up her career to devote her time to raising a family. During her seventeen-year marriage to Richard Long she had three children.

A few years after her husband’s passing in 1974, Corday’s friend Clint Eastwood offered her a chance to return to filmmaking with a role in his 1977 film The Gauntlet. She acted with him again in Sudden Impact (1983), Pink Cadillac (1989), and in her last film, 1990s The Rookie.

I’ve always thought it touching that after Clint Eastwood played a supporting role in her movie, Tarantula, he remembered her to play supporting roles in his films.

Read more about Ms. Corday at IMDb.

IMDb Filmography.

Mara Corday at Playboy Online.

Mara Corday Official Site.

Even if Nestor Paiva only played in Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature, as the lovable, and sometimes tough, Captain Lucas (pictured above), he would have secured a warm spot in my heart as a beloved genre actor. That he also had significant roles in other 1950s science fiction/horror classics such as Tarantula and The Mole People, as well as later camp classics like They Saved Hitler’s Brain and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter, makes him all the more legendary. That’s not even mentioning all of his television work in such series as The Addams Family, Bonanza, and The Andy Griffith Show.

IMDb mini-biography:

Veteran character actor Nestor Paiva had one of those nondescript ethnic mugs and a natural gift for dialects that allowed him to play practically any type of foreigner. Born in Fresno, California, he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and developed an interest in performing while hooking up with college theatrics. Making his debut in a production of “Antigone,” he played in a Los Angeles production of “The Drunkard” for 11 years, finally leaving the show as his workload grew in number and importance in the mid-40s. Film buffs remember him as the main villain, “The Scorpion” in the wartime classic serial “Don Winslow And The Caost Guard” (1943). In hundreds of film and TV roles from 1938-67 and in an overall career that spanned 40 years, the bald, dark and bulky Paiva played everything from Spaniards, Greeks, Russians and Portuguese to Italians, Indians, Arabs and even African-Americans (the latter on radio). Some were shifty, others excitable, many quite hilarious…and many of them undeserving and small. He died in 1966.

Some Trivia:

His wife Maxine was once Howard Hughes’ secretary. They married in 1941 and had two children: Joseph Caetano (born 1944) and Caetana Yvette (born 1947).

In 1965 he was diagnosed with stomach cancer and, despite extensive surgery that led to the removal most of his stomach, his condition deteriorated and he died the following year.

Parents Francisco Caetano Paiva and Marianna Luiza Freitas were Portuguese immigrants. Nestor was the tenth of twelve children — half of them dying in infancy. His parents owned a grocery store in Fresno.

Initially planned on becoming a teacher and enrolled at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution.

Look through images of Nestor Paiva’s films and television appearances here.

IMDb Filmography

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From the DVD case: Vengeance is sworn against six American G.I.’s after they witness a clandestine ceremony worshipping beautiful women who can change into serpents.

Mark says:  Tom Markel can’t catch a break.  During his last day of service he and his buddies crash a snake cult ritual resulting in a curse upon the gang and the sudden death (cobra bite) of one of his pals.  After returning to the states, he loses his girl to his best friend and roommate, Paul.  The very same night he meets the woman of his dreams who, it is eventually revealed,  transforms into a cobra at will and is methodically knocking off his friends one by one.  The brutalities of war must have paled in comparison.

It is difficult to watch Cult of the Cobra without being put in mind of Val Lewton’s Cat People, released thirteen years prior.  We have the haunted, alluring woman, in this case Faith Domergue in the role of Lisa Moya, who has the ability to transform into a deadly creature and who fears she’ll harm or kill the man she loves;  we have an American leading man, Marshall Thompson (Fiend Without A Face, It! The Terror from Beyond Space) playing Tom Markel, who tries desperately to understand his girlfriend’s hesitancy towards passion; and we have the “other woman,” Kathleen Hughes (It Came from Outer Space) as Julia who stirs jealousy in our shapeshifting friend.

What Cult of the Cobra lacks is the artistry of Cat People.  There is no ambiguity as to who or what the killer is, a prime source of suspense in Val Lewton’s productions.  Although Cult of the Cobra attempts to use some of Lewton’s techniques (i.e. the false scare often termed “the bus”), it just can’t seem to pull them off in a convincing manner.  The suspense created is almost negligible.

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Nancy Kelly

From the DVD case: Ever since the bus accident, nothing has been the same for Lorna Webster. She returns to the New England hometown where her family has lived for centuries. But no happy reunion awaits. She is convinced that she has become a witch, the target of a 300-year-old curse, and strange happenings soon persuade the townsfolk that she’s right. As desperately as she tries, she cannot shake the evil that seems to follow her everywhere. Caught up in a wave of hysteria, the entire town is driven to extremes. (1945, b&w)

Mark says: Any serious horror fan would be hard-pressed not to compare The Woman Who Came Back to the Val Lewton productions that were popular at the time. (See my review of Cat People for a quick background in Lewtonian plot/film devices.) Though The Woman Who Came Back follows the Lewtonian model closely, it demonstrates how delicate the scales of psychological terror and supernatural horror can be. If the scales are tipped too much on either side, the film can disintegrate before your eyes. Unfortunately, this is the problem which plagues the film at hand.

Nancy Kelly (The Bad Seed) plays Lorna Webster, a woman who left the New England town of Eben Rock under suspicious circumstances (apparently leaving her fiancé standing at the alter). The story begins a few years later and Lorna is returning to Eben Rock via bus trip. In a brief narrative we are told that one of Lorna’s ancestors, Elijah Webster, was a judge who 300 years earlier burned innocent women at the stake for witchcraft. One such woman was Jezebel Trister. Jezebel was burned with her “familiar,” a dog, and pledged to return one day to avenge her death.

Jezebel TristerAs Lorna’s bus approaches Eben Rock, it picks up a strange traveler and her dog. The woman is suspiciously witch-like in appearance and seems to know all about Lorna and her family history. When the woman introduces herself as Jezebel Trister and raises her veil, Lorna screams and the bus plunges off a bridge right into Shadow Lake. Lorna is the only survivor and no trace of the mysterious woman is found, except for a black veil which is returned to Lorna as her own.

The townsfolk are immediately suspicious of Lorna’s sudden return, especially in conjunction with the bus accident. We are given hints that Lorna has always been regarded as peculiar, a woman who keeps to herself, and that perhaps other accidents in the past have been attributed to her. The only people who seem genuinely glad to see Lorna again are her fiancé, Dr. Matt Adams (John Loder, The Mysterious Doctor) and Rev. Jim Stevens (Otto Kruger, Dracula’s Daughter). Lorna and Matt immediately resume their relationship, but Lorna has suspicions that the alleged witch, Jezebel Trister, has somehow possessed her. The townsfolk are only too eager to believe the same.

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Four Skulls

From the DVD case: The sins of the fathers rest heavily on the heads of the sons – literally – in this fun-filled frightfest that’ll keep you awake and screaming through many a traumatic night. Faced with an age-old family curse that beheaded their forefathers, two brothers attempt to unravel the family plot, even as sinister forces attempt to put them into it! (1959, b&w)

Mark says: The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake was an unknown film to me until a DVD (paired with Voodoo Island) from MGM’s Midnite Movies was released. When I noticed what amateur reviewers were writing at IMDb and Amazon, I started to take an interest. Apparently Four Skulls traumatized many a youthful audience member when it was first released. When a reader wrote me with a similar story concerning his history with the film, I knew I had to give it a view.

The DVD description is not quite accurate, and deserves some clarification. Jonathan Drake is the descendant of a man responsible for a massacre of an Amazonian tribe known as the Jivaro Indians, approximately 180 years ago. Drake’s ancestor (Wilfred Drake) slaughtered every man and male child of the tribe except for the tribal witch doctor, who escaped. The witch doctor placed a curse on the Drake family. Ever since, every male member of the Drake family, at the age of 60, succumbs to death and, more mysteriously, their heads are always removed before entombment. The skulls are eventually returned to the family tomb after each death. It is important to note that the Jivaro Indians are famous for their practice of shrinking heads.

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