Archive for the 1950s Horror Category

In The Spooklight: TARANTULA! (1955)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2013, Atomic Accidents, Classic Films, Giant Spiders, In the Spooklight, Insect Horror, Mad Doctors!, Man vs. Nature, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by knifefighter

NOTE: This is a reprint of a column which originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2012.  If you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks! —Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
By Michael Arruda

tarantula_movie_poster_artDon’t you just love furry little critters like— tarantulas?  No?  Find them a bit scary and repulsive, do you?  Well, then you’ll just cringe at the colossal star of Universal’s TARANTULA (1955), a spider so big it can step on a house! 

TARANTULA is one of the best giant monster movies from the 1950s.  It’s certainly the finest one produced by Universal Studios.

Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) is called to the coroner’s office in the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona, by his friend Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva) to investigate the death of a man found in the desert.  The victim resembles a man they know, Eric Jacobs, but his facial features are swollen and contorted.  Hastings believes Jacobs’ symptoms resemble the disease acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland, but this doesn’t make sense to Hastings since the disease takes years to develop and Jacobs wasn’t showing any symptoms just days before.

When Jacobs’ employer, the eminent Professor Gerald Deemer, (Leo G. Carroll), arrives, he insists that Jacobs was indeed suffering from acromegaly, and he refuses to allow an autopsy on the body.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Hastings, who finds the diagnosis wrong, and Deemer’s behavior baffling.

Yep, Deemer is the town’s resident mad scientist, and he lives just outside Desert Rock in a huge mansion, complete with a laboratory full of oversized animals in cages, including a tarantula the size of a dog.  When yet another malformed insane human attacks Professor Deemer, the laboratory is set on fire and destroyed, but not before the tarantula escapes from the house.  This hideous human also injects an unconscious Deemer with some unknown drug, before collapsing and dying himself.

Later, when a new assistant arrives in town to work for Professor Deemer, the beautiful Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday), Matt Hastings accompanies her to Deemer’s place, where he learns all about the professor’s research.  Professor Deemer is attempting to stamp out world hunger by using atomic energy to create a “super” food nutrient, which he has injected into various animals, and as a result they have grown in size.  Hmm.  Supersized fried chicken!  Yummy!

Deemer tells Steve and Matt that his lab was destroyed in an accidental fire, and he believes all his caged animals were killed.  He doesn’t realize that his tarantula is free in the desert growing bigger by the minute.  When next seen, the spider is gigantic, the size of a house, and it’s hungry, eating everything in its path, including horses, farms animals, and people.

Eventually, the giant tarantula sets its hairy sights on Desert Rock, and suddenly the town has to scramble to defend itself against the humongous marauding arachnid.

TARANTULA is one of my favorite giant monster movies.  First off, the screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley presents a story that is more creative than most.  There’s more going on in TARANTULA than just the basic “giant bug on the loose” storyline.  There’s all the mystery surrounding Professor Deemer’s research, and the strange misshapen men lumbering in and around his property, which adds some genuine intrigue to the story.  Screenwriter Berkeley also penned the screenplay for two other Universal monster classics, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

Director Jack Arnold, who directed several genre movies, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), is at the top of his game with TARANTULA.  He creates some memorable scenes.  One of my favorites occurs at night at a farm, when suddenly a group of horses begins to grow very nervous.  In the distance we see a darkened hill, and very slowly, onto that hill from the other side, creeps the massive tarantula.  It’s one hair-raising scene!

Another effective scene has Steve walking back and forth in her bedroom, not noticing the enormous tarantula through her window as it makes its way towards the house.  She doesn’t notice until the beast is on top of the house, literally!

And the tarantula looks terrific, as it’s menacing and scary.  I’m sure the special effects team was helped by the black and white photography, because with shades of light and dark, the tarantula fits into its scenes naturally and realistically.  The special effects team did a phenomenal job in this one.

The make-up on the acromegaly victims was done by Bud Westmore, and it reminds me a lot of the work he did on ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953) and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), as his monstrous creations in both these movies resemble the folks in the desert in TARANTULA.

There’s also an effective music score by Herman Stein.

The cast is decent enough.  Though I’m not a huge fan of John Agar, his performance in TARANTULA is one of his best. He makes his Dr. Matt Hastings a very likeable fellow, and rarely has he seemed more natural in front of the camera.  I just want to know what he keeps inside his briefcase.  It must be valuable, because young dashing Dr. Hastings doesn’t go anywhere without it, even grabbing it before he runs out the door!

Playing Sheriff Andrews is character actor Nestor Paiva, who appeared in a ton of movies and TV shows over the years.  I’ll always remember him as Lucas, the captain of the Rita in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955).

Leo G. Carroll, another veteran of movies and television, is also very good as Professor Deemer.  Carroll appeared in many Alfred Hitchcock movies, including NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and SPELLBOUND (1945), and he played Alexander Waverly on the 1960s secret agent show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).

And for added fun, Clint Eastwood appears unbilled in one of his first roles as an air force pilot leading the attack on the tarantula, arriving just in time to save the folks of Desert Rock from the deadly arachnid.

Do you feel lucky, tarantula?”

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

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In the Spooklight: THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2010, Christopher Lee films, Classic Films, Evil Doctors!, Frankenstein Movies, Hammer Films, Horror, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Peter Cushing Films, Reanimated Corpses with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by knifefighter

This is a reprint of my 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, which originally appeared in the HWA Newsletter in December 2010.  It’s on THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, one of my all-time favorites, and one of a handful of movies that influenced me at a young age and got me into this horror business in the first place.  Hope you enjoy it.  And don’t forget, my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection – 115 reviews in all— is now available as an EBook at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Thanks for reading.

—Michael Arruda

 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

The_Curse_of_Frankenstein_poster

Welcome to the 100th IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.  Woo hoo!  It’s been a fun ride.  Thanks for coming along.

In honor of the occasion, let’s look at THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), Hammer Films’ first horror hit.

To make their Frankenstein movie different from the Universal 1931 original starring Boris Karloff, Hammer Films decided to concentrate more on the doctor rather than on the monster.  Enter Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein.

Hammer Films’ signing of Peter Cushing to play Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was a major coup for the tiny studio which made low-budget movies.  In the 1950s, Peter Cushing had become the most popular actor on British television.  To British audiences, he was a household name.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was Cushing’s first shot at being the lead actor in a theatrical movie, and he doesn’t disappoint.  In fact, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN belongs to Peter Cushing.  He dominates this movie and carries it on his shoulders.  He’s in nearly every scene.

Cushing succeeded in creating a character who was the perfect shade of gray, a villain who was also a hero.  He’s so convincing in this dual persona that we want to see Victor Frankenstein succeed in his quest to create life, even though he murders a few people along the way.

Peter Cushing went on to become an international superstar.  He delivered countless fine performances over the years until his death from cancer in 1994.  Yet, his performance as Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is arguably his best.

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein

Like the 1931 version of FRANKENSTEIN before it, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, while based on the book by Mary Shelley, is not overly faithful to the novel and takes lots of liberties with the story.

Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) enlists the aid of his former tutor Paul (Robert Urquhart) to conduct his experiments, to “create the most complex thing known to man- man himself!”  Victor wants his creation to be “born with a lifetime of knowledge” and so he invites the brilliant Professor Bernstein (Paul Hardtmuth) to his house for dinner.  After dinner, Victor promptly murders him.  Later, when Paul confronts Victor and says he’s going to stop him from using the brain, Victor replies with one of the better lines from the movie, “Why?  He has no further use for it.”

Lightning strikes and starts the lab equipment, while Victor is out of the laboratory, and the Creature (Christopher Lee, also in his starring role debut) is brought to life without Victor present, saving him from an “It’s alive!” moment.

Victor opens the door to the laboratory and finds the Creature standing in the doorway alive.  In the film’s most memorable scene, the Creature rips off the mask of bandages covering his face, and the camera tracks into a violent grotesque close-up of the Creature’s hideous face.  It’s a most horrific make-up job by Phil Leakey, and it’s unique to Frankenstein movies, since in all six of the Hammer Frankenstein sequels to follow, this Creature, so chillingly portrayed by Christopher Lee, never appears again.

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein's Creature

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein’s Creature

Lee’s Creature is a murderous beast, and he quickly escapes from the laboratory.  Victor and Paul chase him into the woods, where Paul shoots him in the head, killing him.  Or so he thinks.  Victor promptly digs up the body and brings it back to life again.

Victor performs multiple brain surgeries to improve the Creature, but eventually things get out of hand, as Paul goes to the police just as the Creature escapes again.  The film has a dark conclusion which I won’t give away here.

Over the years, Christopher Lee has been criticized for his portrayal of the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Sure, Lee’s Creature is not the Karloff monster.   However, the Creature, who appears fleetingly here and there, has an almost Michael Myers quality in this movie, a killer who creeps in the shadows, here one moment, gone the next.

Lee is scary in the role.  His Creature is an insane unpredictable being.  As the Creature, Lee doesn’t speak a word, and he hardly makes a sound, using pantomime skills to bring the character to life.  His performance has always reminded me of a silent film performance, a la Lon Chaney Sr.  Lee captures the almost childlike persona of a new creation born into the world for the first time, albeit a child that’s a homicidal maniac.

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN has a great music score by James Bernard.  It’s haunting, ghastly, and memorable.

Director Terence Fisher, arguably Hammer’s best director, is at the helm here.  As he did in all his best movies, Fisher created some truly memorable scenes in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  The Creature’s first appearance is classic, one of the most memorable scenes of its kind.  The scene when Victor murders Professor Bernstein features a great stunt where Victor pushes the Professor off a second floor balcony to his death, and we actually see the stunt double hit the floor head first with a neck breaking thud.  It’s a jarring scene.  And this is 1957.

There are lots of other neat touches as well.  When Victor’s fiancée Elizabeth (Hazel Court) peers into the acid vat in which Victor has been disposing unwanted bodies and body parts, she covers her nose- a great little touch.

Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay is one of his best.  Probably the best written scene is the one where Victor tries to convince Paul how well he has trained his Creature by having the Creature stand, walk, and sit down.  Paul is unimpressed, saying “Is this your perfect physical being, this animal?  Why don’t you ask it a question of advanced physics?  It’s got a brain with a lifetime of knowledge behind it, it should find it simple!”  It’s also a great scene for Christopher Lee, as it’s one of the few times he invokes sympathy for the Creature.

But THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN sinks or swims with Peter Cushing.  Rarely has an actor delivered such a powerful performance in a horror movie.  Cushing is flawless here.  He draws you into Frankenstein’s madness and convinces you he’s right.

If I could give you one gift this holiday season, it would be to watch THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.  Rediscover it today, more than 50 years after it was made.  It’s time this movie received its due as one of the best ever, which isn’t news to those who saw it in 1957. After all, it was the biggest money maker in Britain that year.

One of its original lobby cards reads “THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN will haunt you forever.”

It will.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

Quick Cuts Presents: Movie Ideas for HALLOWEEN NIGHT!

Posted in 1950s Horror, 1980s Horror, 2012, 70s Horror, Classic Films, Evil Kids!, Frankenstein Movies, Quick Cuts, Satan with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  Halloween Movies
With Michael Arruda, L. L. Soares, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Paul McMahon, and Mark Onspaugh

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Tonight on QUICK CUTS, we ask our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters,

What are you watching this Halloween night? 

Specifically, if you could line up a triple feature this Halloween, which movies would you be watching?

 *****

SHERI SEBASTIAN-GABRIEL:

This Halloween, I would highly recommend a trio from Hammer Films. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the over-the-top camp of Hammer productions.

I would start out my Halloween triple feature with a viewing of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962). Herbert Lom, who played the Phantom in this exceptional version of the Gaston Leroux novel, died earlier this year. This makes the film even more poignant to me. Andrew Lloyd Webber this is not. Lom’s phantom is genuinely frightening, a menacing killer. The film gives us an added bonus with Michael Gough, who went on to play Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton’s BATMAN (1989), playing a truly nasty fellow.

PARANOIAC (1963) would be the meat in my Hammer sandwich. This film is a solid example of British psychological horror. Call it Hitchcock Light. Oliver Reed portrays a drunken, bitter aristocrat with ease. It’s the role he was born to play. If you’re looking for a gripping break from creature features, this one will satisfy.

I would round it all out with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). I’m a huge fan of Peter Cushing. I do love his heroic roles, but it’s nice to see him play a villain. In this case, he portrays Baron Victor Frankenstein, a cold, obsessed scientist who will stop at nothing to bring a creature comprised of the best parts from corpses back to life. The plan goes horribly wrong when the brain he intended to use is damaged, and the monster escapes. Christopher Lee plays a chilling, disturbing monster, a true original even for those who have seen Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN (1931).

Christopher Lee as The Monster in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

*****

PAUL MCMAHON:

 My Halloween triple-feature is a feast of monster movies from the “S” column.

First is SLUGS (1988) based on the Shaun Hutson novel.

I’m following that up with 2006’s SLITHER, directed by James Gunn.

Closing things out will be the creepily unusual SPLINTER (2008) directed by Toby Wilkins.

*****

MARK ONSPAUGH:

I’d like to cheat a little bit and offer two classics as an appetizer—THE WASP WOMAN (1959)  by Roger Corman and William Castle’s THE TINGLER (1959) — if had to choose just one, I’d  keep THE TINGLER because you’ve got to have Vincent Price on Halloween.

I LOVE all the Universal monsters, but they’re more like old friends at this point and I want to feel uneasy—So next up would either be Cronenberg’s THE BROOD (1979) or (if that weren’t available) THE CHILDREN, that 1980 oddity where kids exposed to a toxic cloud get black nails and a lethal touch—and people cut their hands off! Dang!

Finally, BURNT OFFERINGS (1976), because it still creeps me out.

Happy Halloween, ev’rybody!

*****

L.L. SOARES:

Well, first off, I’d choose Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968). Why? Because it just got a special release from The Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray. No matter what you think of Polanski, ROSEMARY is a movie all horror fans should see at least once, because it’s an amazingly well-made flick, with a great cast, very strong atmosphere, and even some scares. In it, an innocent woman (Mia Farrow) learns she may be carrying the child of the devil. You won’t soon forget this one. Check out the brand new edition(s) with tons of the usual Criterion extras.

Keeping with the theme of horrific children, I’d continue with Larry Cohen’s mutant baby classic, IT’S ALIVE (1974). This time a woman gives birth to a man-eating monstrosity. I remember the TV commercial for this one being even scarier than the movie (back in the 70s, they knew how to make movie trailers that scared the hell out of you). You can even get this one on a “Triple-feature DVD” with its sequels IT LIVES AGAIN (1978) and IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE (1987). And if you get that DVD set, then you’d already have a Halloween triple feature in one box.

And you can top the night off with the Spanish classic, WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976) where a couple find themselves on an island full of homicidal children. Can they bring themselves to fight back? This one will send shivers through your spine.

And, of course, any of these are interchangeable with William Friedkin’s mega-classic THE EXORCIST (1973), with Linda Blair as the ultimate child possessed by the devil, or David Cronenberg’s monster-kid masterpiece, THE BROOD (1979).

*****

 MICHAEL ARRUDA:

This year I’m in the mood for some 80s horror.  So, my triple feature would kick off with HELLRAISER (1987), written and directed by Clive Barker.

Pinhead and his Cenobite pals from HELLRAISER (1987).

Next up, David Croneberg’s THE FLY (1986), one of those rare instances where the remake is better than the original.  Featuring Jeff Goldblum’s finest performance.

And to finish things off, I’d go with CREEPSHOW (1982), directed by George Romero, written by Stephen King, and with Leslie Nielson in the cast, good for some laughs as well as some chills.

Happy Halloween, Everyone, from all of us here at Cinema Knife Fight!

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Paul McMahon and Mark Onspaugh

Monstrous Question: BEST MAD SCIENTIST MOVIE? (4 of 6)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2011, Frankenstein Movies, Hammer Films, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monstrous Question with tags , , , , on August 6, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION
(Part 4 of 6)
Created by Michael Arruda

This month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION comes to us courtesy of our good friend Pete Dudar.

PETE:  Okay, so what’s the best ‘mad scientist’ movie? Is it FRANKENSTEIN? RE-ANIMATOR? THE FLY? We fans want to know.

****

Our panel answers:

MICHAEL ARRUDA:

 

Best mad scientist movie?  Well, for me it’s a no brainer:  THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Hammer Films’ first horror hit.  It remains my favorite Frankenstein film, and also ranks as one of my all-time favorite horror movies, period!

The main reason I like this one is Cushing’s performance as Baron Victor Frankenstein, and while he can be categorized as a mad scientist, I’ve always felt that one of the strengths of his performance is that Cushing convinces his audience that Victor Frankenstein isn’t mad at all!  He’s just a determined, driven scientist.  So when he says lines like “What am I doing?  I’m harming no one!  Just robbing a few graves!  What doctor or scientist doesn’t do this?  How else are we to learn the complexities of the human body?”  We believe him.  Hands down, best mad scientist:  Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957).

And while his performance in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is my favorite, you can’t go wrong with any of his other 6 movie performances as Baron Frankenstein.

Of course, there are plenty of other notable movie mad scientists. Here are a few I like a lot:

-I’m a huge fan of Frankenstein movies, so I’d certainly place Colin Clive high on this list, for his performances as Henry Frankenstein in both FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935).  He’s always been overshadowed by Karloff’s tremendous performance as the Monster in these films, but he’s quite good:  “If I could learn just one of these things, what eternity is like, for example, I wouldn’t care if people did call me crazy!”  And when the monster first comes to life, and after he’s shouted his famous “It’s alive!” lines, he adds in a line cut from the final print for decades and only recently restored, “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”  Madness at its best.

-Fredric March in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931)

-Boris Karloff as Dr. Neimann in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944)

-Lionel Atwill as Dr. Bohmer in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942)

-Boris Karloff as Dr. Janos Rukh in THE INVISIBLE RAY (1936)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda