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Georgia Schmidt

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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Legend Hell House

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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Marla English in The She-Creature

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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Indestructible Man (1956)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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Herny Hull as the Werewolf of LondonFrom 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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The Monster Walks

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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Virginia Leith is Jan in the Pan

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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David Naughton is An American Werewolf in London, 1981.

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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The Howling, 1981.

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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Jack Palance is Dracula, 1973.

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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