Archive for the In the Spooklight 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

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

In the Spooklight: THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2010, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Deformed Freaks!, Drive-in Movies, In the Spooklight, Mad Doctors!, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by knifefighter

The following IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2010.  Look for it and all 115 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in the IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook due out from NECON EBooks later this year!
 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT:
THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971)
By Michael Arruda

 

Are two heads really better than one?

Not when one head belongs to an insane murderer, as is the case in THE INCREDIBLE 2- HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971), a lurid little film which for some strange reason I happen to like a lot.

Bruce Dern, one of my all-time favorite film crazies, is cast against type as Dr. Roger Girard, a scientist who has devised a method to create two-headed beings.  Why?  I have no idea, and the movie doesn’t really give us a reason either.

I wish they had.  It would have made things really interesting.  I mean, think of the things you could do with two heads:  read twice as fast, eat your meal and dessert at the same time, drive while texting, and kiss your wife while flirting with the blonde at the next table.

When an insane killer named Cass (Albert Cole) breaks into Roger’s home, attacking his wife Linda (Pat Priest – Marilyn from TV’s THE MUNSTERS!) and murdering the gardener, Roger and his assistant fight back, and the assistant shoots Cass.  Before the killer dies, they attach his head to the hulking body of Danny (John Bloom), the simple-minded son of the slain gardener.  Nice going!

What is it with mad scientists in the movies?  Why do they always settle for less?  If you were on the verge of some amazing medical breakthrough, wouldn’t you want only the best materials for your experiment?  In this case, these guys have been planning for months to construct a two-headed person, and they choose for one of the heads a murderer?  Don’t you think they could do a little bit better?

Our two-headed friend eventually breaks loose from the lab and goes on a murderous rampage, as the movie becomes a straightforward “monster on the loose” story during its third act.

If you can get through the horrible theme song—a song so bad it makes you wonder what racy photos the songwriter and singer had of the director—you’ll be rewarded with a deliciously lurid movie that will tickle your horror movie funny bone.

Bruce Dern is always worth watching, even in movies as bad as this.  And John Bloom who played the giant Danny actually went on to appear in many genre films.  He played the Frankenstein Monster in another infamously bad low-budget shocker, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), and he also appeared in HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987) and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991).  He passed away in 1999.

And hey, Casey Kasem plays the hero in the film!  That’s right, the Casey Kasem, of America’s Top 40 fame, and the voice of Shaggy from the SCOOBY DOO cartoons.

He has two heads, but only half a brain!

The screenplay by James Gordon White and John Lawrence never rises above standard low-budget 1970s horror fare, but that’s part of the fun.  Believe it or not, these same two guys also wrote the screenplay for THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) (starring Ray Milland and Rosie Grier!)

Director Anthony M. Lanza does an adequate job with the material, but his idea of a scary scene is the 2-headed monster fighting chain wielding biker dudes.  This is the type of movie best watched at the Drive-In Theater.  You can go for the same effect by watching it at home late at night on a hot summer evening with the windows open.

The special effects are pretty bad.  You’ll laugh at the long shots of the obviously fake rubber head bouncing up and down on John Bloom’s shoulder.  It looks like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT isn’t really all that incredible, unless you interpret “incredible” to mean unbelievable.  But it is an entertaining little piece of 70s horror cinema, and it’s a nice reminder of what low-budget horror movies were like back then.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

In the Spooklight: ALIEN (1979)

Posted in 2006, 70s Horror, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Classic Films, Cult Movies, Horror, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Outer Space, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2012 by knifefighter

Since we just reviewed PROMETHEUS (2012), here’s an IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on ALIEN (1979), first published in the HWA NEWSLETTER in January 2006. It will also be appearing—shameless plug! —in my new IN THE SPOOKLIGHT ebook, set to come out later this year by NECON EBooks!

—Michael Arruda, 6/13/12

In The Spooklight: ALIEN (1979)
By Michael Arruda

When I first saw ALIEN (1979) at the movies in the summer of ’79, as a 15-year-old kid and budding movie critic, I remember leaving the theater disappointed. I thought the scares were too few and far between, and it simply wasn’t as gross and disgusting as I had been led to believe. See, in those days, there was nothing like the thrill of being grossed out at the movies ah, youth!

But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthoodALIEN grew scarier.

ALIEN is a film that, in spite of its reputation as an all-out-stomach-churning-gross-fest back in 1979, really draws its strength from a combination of strong acting performances and taut direction.

The alien itself isn’t really on screen that much, but when it is, it scares the you-know-what out of you. Watching the alien in ALIEN reminds me of watching Christopher Lee as Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). Both menaces are so scary they trick you into believing they’re on screen more, because when they’re off screen, you’re still frightened and carry that fright with you, similar to the way a flash bulb remains in your vision after it’s flashed, only longer.

ALIEN sports an outstanding cast, led by Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt, as the leaders on the spaceship, The Nostromo, which answers a distress call in deep space from a mysterious derelict spaceship on an equally mysterious planet. The strong cast also includes John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, and Veronica Cartwright, all playing crew members of The Nostromo.

The trek along the alien landscape towards the derelict ship is weird and creepy, and is another reason why ALIEN works so well. It gets under your skin long before the titled alien even appears.

A strange squid-like creature attaches itself to the head of one of the crew (John Hurt) and lays an egg inside his body, which leads to the most famous scene from the movie, where the baby alien bursts through the chest of actor John Hurt. This scene is gross, and still packs a punch. Thus the alien is born, and now the fun really begins. Of course, for the rest of the film, the crew has to fight for their lives against a seemingly unstoppable creature. (Too bad the makers of the recent ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) forgot this and reduced the aliens in that film to target practice.).

The direction by Ridley Scott is right on the money. He makes ALIEN a nail-biter and fills the film with suspense scenes that make you very uncomfortable. My favorite is crew member Dallas’s (Tom Skerritt) search for the alien inside the air ducts, which, suffice to say, doesn’t end in the man’s favor.

There’s a great music score by Jerry Goldsmith, which also adds to the mood, and the sets are dark and grim. They give the film a real gritty feel. You get the sense this is the way a spaceship of the future would look, as opposed to the fantasy images from say, STAR WARS. The special effects won an Oscar.

Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay is full of realistic dialogue, and the crew members seem like real people, even griping about low pay.

ALIEN is a fine example of how some films get better with age. Today, years after its initial release, it’s scarier than ever. “In space no one can you hear scream,” warned the tagline in 1979, but in your living room they sure can, so to be safe, when you watch ALIEN, you might want to warn your neighbors.

—END—

© Copyright 2006 by Michael Arruda

In the Spooklight: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)

Posted in 2011, 70s Horror, Amicus Movies, Anthology Films, Christopher Lee films, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Peter Cushing Films, Vampires with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2011 by knifefighter

This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee anthology movie THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is from 2004, and it was actually reprinted in October 2010 in the HWA NEWSLETTER, so this marks the third time this particular column has made it into print. Not sure why I chose this one today, except that I figured now was as good a time as any to finally review a Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee movie for CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.

—Michael Arruda, October, 2011

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)
By Michael Arruda

There’s a lot to like about THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971), the third anthology movie by England’s Amicus Productions.

Amicus is England’s lesser known horror film company, having operated in the shadow of the more famous Hammer Films. Amicus made horror movies during the same years as Hammer, and even used some of the same stars, such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but never quite made it as a phenomenon.

Yet, Amicus churned out quality horror movies in abundance throughout the 1960s and 70s, and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is no exception.

There are four tales in THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, plus a linking story, all of them written by the great Robert Bloch, which is one of the main reasons why the film is as enjoyable as it is. It goes without saying, it’s a well-written movie! The stories all take place in the titled house, each chronicling a different owner’s experience within its walls.

The first story, “Method for Murder,” is a neat little tale in which a horror writer (Denholm Elliott) creates a sinister murderer in his latest novel, a strangler by the name of Dominick. The writer is excited about his latest work, until the strangler he created shows up outside his window! A very creepy tale that works surprisingly well.

The second tale “Waxworks” starring Peter Cushing is probably the weakest of the movie and involves strange goings-on inside a wax museum. Director Peter Duffell said the story was basically a “contrivance to get Peter Cushing’s head on a plate” which is one of the more famous images from the film, and later immortalized on a cover of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine.

The third story stars Christopher Lee and is called “Sweets to the Sweet.” It’s about Lee’s strange relationship with his young daughter. He’s terribly frightened of her, and as we find out in the story, with good reason.

The last tale, “The Cloak,” is the story of a horror movie actor (John Pertwee) who buys a cloak for his role as a vampire. When he puts on the cloak, he becomes a real vampire. He has the best line in the film when he’s talking about classic horror movies, he says “That’s what’s wrong with your present-day horror films, no realism! Not like the old ones—the great ones! Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula—the one with Bela Lugosi, of course, not that new fella!” This tale also stars Ingrid Pitt who also gets to wear the cloak and strut her stuff as a vampire. Mostly played for laughs, “The Cloak” is the most fun tale of the movie.

First-time director Peter Duffell does a very good job, imbuing the film with both atmosphere and genuine shocks, though he wanted to call the film DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, because he felt THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD was too trashy. Personally, I kinda like THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD.

But the main reason the film succeeds so well is the same reason why so many of the Hammer/Amicus films work, and that is, the people involved take them very seriously. Actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing play it straight, so when Lee fears his young daughter, as silly as it seems, you see the look on his face and you believe it too.

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is a good Halloween movie, spooky, well-made, well-acted, well-written, and fun.

This Halloween, why not stop by for a visit? I hear they’re looking for new tenants.

—END—

© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda

In The Spooklight: THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN!

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, B-Movies, Drive-in Movies, Giant Monsters, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mutants! with tags , , , , , , , on June 10, 2011 by knifefighter

This column on THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN originally ran in the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION (HWA) NEWSLETTER way back in 2003.  I’ve selected it tonight to serve as a companion piece to L.L’s review of THE CYCLOPS which appeared on this site a few weeks back.  Both are Bert I. Gordon films about giant bald men.  I wonder if there’s a story behind this. —Michael Arruda

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN (1957)
By Michael Arruda

When one thinks of THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, the 1957 science fiction horror film about a plutonium explosion gone wrong, one generally dismisses it as just another radiation-causes-giant-monster flick from the 1950s.  One certainly doesn’t compare it to the excellent thought provoking THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (also made in 1957), which contains a remarkable script by Richard Matheson. And rightly so.  THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN is in a class by itself.

However, THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN is more than just a giant monster movie.  Director Bert I. Gordon, who also did the film’s special effects, co-wrote an intelligent script with Mark Hanna that really examined the horror of what it was like for a man to wake up one day and find that he had become a 60-foot giant.

Sure, the final third of the film shelves intelligence for the more traditional monster-battles-the-army finale, and can’t compare to Richard Matheson’s philosophical conclusion to THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, but it still manages to work, somehow.  It’s fun, and the film’s switch to camp is almost a welcome relief from the seriousness that preceded it.

THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN tells the story of Glen Manning (Glen Langan, in a terrific performance), an army colonel who is accidentally exposed to a deadly plutonium bomb blast.  When Manning awakens after the explosion, he finds that he has grown to almost 18 feet tall.  Eventually, he reaches a height of 60 feet.

Bert I. Gordon’s script really delves into what it’s like for Manning to go through this ordeal, and it’s clearly the best part of the movie.  Actor Glen Langan also has a field day with the dialogue.  We feel his pain as well as laugh when he pokes fun at himself.  For example, when he jokes about his wardrobe, his expandable shorts, “Army ingenuity,” he says.

The best line, though, and my favorite from the movie, comes when Manning’s loyal girlfriend (Cathy Downs) encourages him not to give up.  His response, “What sin could a man commit in a single lifetime to bring this upon himself?”  That says it all.

Pay attention to these scenes of anguish and you can actually forget you are watching a 1950s science fiction film called THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.  The script is far and away above where you’d expect it to be.

The special effects are OK.  Seen better.  Seen worse.  The most memorable effect is when the two scientists who are trying to cure Manning attempt to inject him with an antidote by jabbing him in the leg with a giant needle.  Manning pulls the humongous syringe from his leg, and then hurls it down at the vulnerable scientists, impaling one of them through the chest.  It’s quick, but you see it go right through the guy!  Pretty gruesome for 1957!

In the mood for some colossal fun?  Check out THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN.  He’ll grow on you.

—END—

© Copyright 2003 by Michael Arruda

In The Spooklight: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935)

Posted in 2010, Classic Films, Horror, In the Spooklight, Remakes, Universal Horror Films, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2011 by knifefighter

The Bela Lugosi movie MARK OF THE VAMPIRE was mentioned in our recent FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE COLUMN in which L.L. and I debated Bela Lugosi vs. Christopher Lee as the screen’s ultimate Dracula.  I dug up this column on MARK OF THE VAMPIRE which was originally published in February 2010.~ Michael Arruda, 3/11

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935)
By Michael Arruda

Made four years after DRACULA (1931), by the same director, Tod Browning, and with Bela Lugosi again cast as the vampire, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) appears at times to be DRACULA II.

But it’s not.

I wish it had been a genuine sequel to DRACULA.  But even more so, I wish it had been a genuine vampire movie.

Generally heralded by critics as a classic of the genre, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, thanks to the talents of director Tod Browning, and a strong cast that included Lionel Barrymore, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill, is a well-made horror movie that does rival DRACULA.  However, its plot is largely disappointing.

You see, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is a remake of the silent lost classic LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), also directed by Browning, starring Lon Chaney Sr., in which Chaney plays a police inspector [SPOILER ALERT!!!] who dons the disguise of a vampire in order to catch a criminal.  In short, although MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is so rich in atmosphere you can almost taste the bed of vampire earth on your tongue, the vampire elements in this movie are false.  This is almost as bad as playing the “it was just a dream” card, which is too bad, because MARK OF THE VAMPIRE is one of the best-looking vampire movies ever made.

Sir Karell Borotyn (Holmes Herbert) is murdered, apparently by a vampire, in a village where everyone believes in vampires and lives in mortal fear of them, or would that be immortal fear?  Anyway, Inspector Neumann (Lionel Atwill) calls in Professor Zelen (Lionel Barrymore) to help dispel the vampire rumors, but the professor only adds fuel to the fire because he believes in vampires too.

Things get worse for the Inspector and his efforts to prove that Borotyn was murdered by an ordinary human being when members of Borotyn’s household begin seeing the suspected village vampire Count Mora (Bela Lugosi) and his daughter Luna (Caroll Borland) lurking around the house.  Borotyn’s daughter Irena (Elizabeth Allan) and her fiancé are also attacked by a vampire, and suddenly the entire household is terrified.

Of course, it turns out that the vampires are really actors, and the entire scheme has been part of a ploy by Inspector Neumann to smoke out the real killer.  This plot point does not work for me at all.

Still, there is an awful lot to like about MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.  Director Browning seems to pick up right where he left off with DRACULA. The scenes in Count Mora’s castle are reminiscent of the scenes in Dracula’s castle, complete with spider webs and scurrying creatures and critters.  Lugosi looks terrific as Count Mora in a mostly mute role, as he gets to lurk around dark corners and windows, and Caroll Borland is even more vampiric as Mora’s daughter Luna.

Lionel Atwill, as he always does, turns in a solid, enjoyable performance as Inspector Neumann.  Sure, he became typecast over the years, playing police inspectors in several of the Universal monster movies, most memorably in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) but truth be told, nobody did it better than Atwill.

The lead went to Lionel Barrymore, today most remembered for his performance as the villainous Potter in Frank Capra’s Christmas classic, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946), though his career spanned several decades.  He overacts here as Professor Zelen.  Edward Van Sloan is sorely missed!

The screenplay by Guy Endore and Bernard Schubert is very good and includes some memorable lines, but the real stars in this one are the atmospheric direction by Tod Browning, and the undead shenanigans of Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland.

With this one, they certainly left their mark, the MARK OF THE VAMPIRE!

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© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda

Bela Lugosi and Carol Borland in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE