From the DVD case: In an act of cosmic irony, an enormous bird from outer space descends upon the Earth and begins chowing down on people. As usual, scientists and the military must team up to save our planet. This hysterically feathered fable stars sci-fi icons Jeff Morrow, Mara Corday, Morris Ankrum, and Robert Shayne, and is directed by Fred F. Sears. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: It was such a treat to find this movie on DVD. As a devoted fan of 1950’s schlock entertainment, I knew The Giant Claw was legendary in its appalling production values and “special effects.” I’ve seen stills and I’ve read articles, but until recently, I had never actually seen the film. I must say, it was worth the wait.
The Giant Claw starts out like countless other cheap sci-fi/horror flicks of the time. We get a lot of stock footage of military operations and rotating radar dishes. A narrator sets the scene: “An electronics engineer. A radar officer. A mathematician and systems analyst. A radar operator. A couple of plotters. People doing a job, well, efficiently. Serious. Having fun. Doing a job. Situation: normal. For the moment.”
Oh, we know its going to be bad, but there’s no way to anticipate how wonderfully terrible it’s going to get.
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From the DVD case: The sleepy seaside village of Antonio Bay is about to learn the true meaning of the word “vengeance.” For this seemingly perfect town masks a guilty secret – a past steeped in greed and murder. Exactly 100 years ago, a ship was horribly wrecked under mysterious circumstances in a thick, eerie fog. Now, shrouded in darkness, the long-dead mariners have returned from their watery grave to exact a bloody revenge. (1980, color)
Mark says: John Carpenter’s The Fog is actually a charming little tale about ghosts, betrayal, community, and revenge. Sure, there’s a lot of bloodshed, too, but what makes the movie work for me is the familiar Carpenter theme of a group of people coming together to combat a supernatural force. In this way, it reminds me of some popular films of the 1950s like The Monolith Monsters and The Thing from Another World (which Carpenter would successfully remake as The Thing in 1982).
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From the DVD case: This Halloween is very special for good ol’ Charlie Brown. He’s finally been invited to a party! Snoopy gets to join the fun, so look out, Red Baron! Linus will find out once and for all if the Great Pumpkin will rise up out of his pumpkin patch “with his bag of toys for all the good children.” (1966, color)
Special Note: The following isn’t so much a review as unabashed gushing praise for a Halloween favorite from my childhood. True fans of horror/science fiction may choose to skip this particular entry and wait for my next review. However, if you share my love of this cartoon, be sure to click on the words in bold to view images that would not fit within the confines of these meager paragraphs.
Mark says: I know what you’re thinking. What is a Peanuts cartoon doing on a site devoted to reviewing vintage sci-fi/horror films? Well just take a gander at the screen capture above and note how viciously (and gleefully!) Lucy chops into that pumpkin. This was years before slasher flicks like Halloween and Friday the 13th became popular. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that those movies weren’t directly inspired by Lucy’s sadistic assault on that pumpkin. Not to mention that opening sequence where the Peanuts gang is chased by skeletons, ghosts, floating pumpkins, a black cat, and witches. If that isn’t the true essence of horror, I don’t know what is.
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From the DVD case: A lovely blind and deaf teen reaches for a plate she just set aside. It’s gone. She reaches again and it’s back in its original place. Someone is playing a cruel game with her. That someone is the serial killer terrorizing Miami in this shocker from the production company behind the original Friday the 13th. Making memorable movie debuts are Jennifer Jason Leigh (Single White Female) as the impaired but not helpless girl, and Lauren Tewes as her TV newscaster sister whose investigation inadvertently leads the killer to her home. (1981, color)
Mark says: The most frustrating element of Eyes of a Stranger is that it reminds me of at least a half dozen other movies that I like better. Most notably, it resembles the Hitchcock classic, Rear Window. I even think the killer, Stanley Herbert (played by John DiSanti) looks like Raymond Burr from the Hitchcock film.
Besides Rear Window, the film has elements of When A Stranger Calls, Black Christmas, Wait Until Dark, He Knows You’re Alone, and even bits of I Saw What You Did. There are a lot of clever ideas here, but most of them were done better in earlier movies.
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From the DVD case:Dr. James Moran (George Coulouris) returns from the Amazon jungles with a sacred tribal tree that can produce a sap which will reportedly restore life to the dead. Unfortunately, the tree can only live and grow by devouring beautiful young women! (1958, b&w)
Mark says:Womaneater (aka The Woman Eater) is a British film that drips with a 1950’s sexuality that just borders on full exploitation.Beautiful women with heaving breasts, always adorned in dresses that leave one shoulder bare, are sadistically fed to a “miracle-working juju” plant.The plant (which resembles a hairy tree with tentacles) devours the women as men stand by with looks of pure orgasmic joy on their faces.But don’t get too excited, this is 1958 after all, and the luridness is much more implied than shown.
Bill Warren, author and genre critic, writes in his book, Keep Watching the Skies:
Charles Saunders’ ponderous direction makes a slow story painfully halting, in a point-by-point plodding technique of showing all actions. It makes Womaneater one of the dullest science fiction-horror thrillers ever made, almost unbearable to sit through. It isn’t even campy.
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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: Architect Scott Campbell (Ronald Foster) and his wife Nancy (Merry Anders) join another couple, Joseph and Loy Schiller (Richard Crane and Erika Peters), for what promises to be a pleasant stay at an empty castle set on a secluded California hillside. Soon, however, tension mounts as terrifying things begin happening: A group of ghoulish circus performers who once inhabited the castle become increasingly hostile towards their “guests,” turning their mini-vacation into a life-and-death challenge of wits! (1963, b&w)
Mark says: The premise of House of the Damned is not unique, but it did hold some promise. Lawyer Joseph Schiller (Richard Crane, The Alligator People) hires architect Scott Campbell and his wife, Nancy, played respectively by Ron Foster and Merry Anders (Women of the Prehistoric Planet) to survey the Rochester Castle, a piece of real estate saddled with a dubious past. Joseph and his wife, Loy (Erika Peters, undoubtedly thrown in for sex appeal), are to join the pair later in the week.
The Rochester Castle was built by a wealthy and eccentric woman, Priscilla Rochester (Georgia Schmidt, see image above), who was “put away” because of a scandal that embarrassed the family. We learn later that a bum ventured onto the property and she “blasted his head off.” Priscilla is a crafty old woman, though, and has been known to escape her sanitarium confines occasionally and return to the estate.
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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: A hypnotist resurrects a prehistoric female creature to kill his enemies. (1956, b&w)
Mark says: During the opening scene, watch the dog that barks at Dr. Lombardi. That dog’s acting is the best performance you will see in this movie.
OK, I’m being overly unkind, and I don’t want to give the impression that I did not find The She-Creature an entertaining movie, because I certainly did. Despite the lousy acting, the absurd plot, and a rather ridiculous monster, I found this movie has a certain kitsch charm that B movie aficionados cherish.
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From the DVD case: Brought back to life by a scientist after being executed, a violent criminal hunts down his foes. Lon Chaney Jr. is “The Butcher,” large, incredibly strong, newly mute, and seriously angry. (1956,b&w)
Mark says: Indestructible Man ineffectively blends film noir with a monster movie. Neither genre is elevated through the union due to a horrendous script, lousy acting, poor editing, uninspired direction, and just an overall rotten concept. If not for an affection for Lon Chaney Jr. and a fondness for camp horror, I would have never made it through its 70 minute running time.
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