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La invasión de los vampiros
(1963)

Superior sequel to "The Bloody Vampire"
1962's "The Invasion of the Vampires" was the direct sequel to "The Bloody Vampire," a low budget epic storyline filmed in two parts by writer/director Miguel Morayta, with many of the same cast members, among them Carlos Agosti as the vampire Count Frankenhausen, Erna Martha Bauman as Countess Eugenia Frankenhausen in the first, daughter Brunhilda in the sequel, Bertha Moss as Frau Hildegard, and Enrique Lucero as manservant Lazaro. At the conclusion of the previous entry the Count had put the bite on his beautiful Countess then disappeared, leaving his daughter Brunhilda at the Haunted Hacienda owned by her grandfather, Marques de la Serna (Tito Junko). The old man has never informed the young girl of her undead parentage, and the arrival of Dr. Ulises Albarran (Rafael del Rio), skilled in the teachings of Count Cagliostro, means that Brunhilda has another protector to watch over her during nights of the full moon. Count Frankenhausen remains at large, using his lovely daughter as a lure for young men to meet their doom at his fangs as she wanders out to Dead Man's Lake in a hypnotic trance, but the doctor needs help in gathering the proper roots to put a stop to the growing cult of vampirism. Just as much bogged down with dialogue as its predecessor but definitely an improvement for a climax worth waiting for, once the Count perishes in hilarious bat form and all his previous victims (including his Countess) subsequently rise from their coffins to walk again, an army of the undead preying upon anyone venturing out in the darkness. Only by restoring the bat corpse to its previous human state via the scientific method prescribed by Cagliostro in the first film will the evil be stopped once and for all. This time a mostly silent Count Frankenhausen appears only sporadically, and in one chase sequence foreshadows Robert Quarry's better known Count Yorga in two AIP classics from the early 70s, while both the Marques and Brunhilda were mentioned yet never seen in the initial chapter. Had the convoluted storyline been pared down to a tighter single feature it would have been hailed an atmospheric masterpiece of Mexican horror cinema, but as it is there are many who champion both pictures despite their faults.

El vampiro sangriento
(1962)

Ambitious two part storyline bogged down by chatter that doesn't matter
Miguel Morayta wrote and directed this two part storyline shot back to back in Dec. '61-Jan. '62, concluded by direct sequel "The Invasion of the Vampires." Truth be told there wasn't enough incident for two pictures, and one may safely assume that at 99 often excruciating minutes "The Bloody Vampire" would have benefited had it been pared down to a more reasonable running time. The narrative focuses on Count Siegfried von Frankenhausen (Carlos Agosti), the feared vampire who has taken for his Countess Eugenia (Erna Martha Bauman), the daughter of Marques de la Serna, owner of the Haunted Hacienda near Dead Man's Lake. His mortal enemy is Count Cagliostro (Antonio Raxel), who possesses all the knowledge gathered by his ancestors on the destruction of the undead, using the black roots of a flower that only grows near a vampire's residence and beneath a hanged corpse, from which an elixir can be injected into the body to render it human rather than a victim of the cursed bite. None of this actually plays into this first chapter, which kicks off in fine atmospheric fashion with Count Frankenhausen traveling on a coach driven by the grinning skull of Death, after which it bogs down with expository chatter that really doesn't matter. Cagliostro's daughter Ines (Begona Palacios) is hired to be the new attendant for the Countess, aided by her fiancée Dr. Riccardo Peisser (Raul Farell), reluctantly welcomed by the Count as a way to keep his enemies closer. A protective servant gets his tongue cut out, and housekeeper Frau Hildegarde (Bertha Moss) throws a few tantrums when the Count shows an interest in replacing his wife with Ines as the new Countess. The Count's ultimate goal is to raise an army of the living dead but here there's no conclusion, escaping after putting the bite on the Countess, his comeuppance inevitably waiting for the sequel (Erna Martha Bauman returns not as Countess Eugenia but as her own daughter, who knows nothing of the undead state of her missing padre). The two features ambitiously combine for more than three hours, beginning in shuddery fashion and ending with two reels of spooky doings with an army of vampires emerging from their coffins, but in between it drags interminably with unceasing exposition that simply leads nowhere. Let's not even mention the bat on a wire with ears so large that one wonders how it can stay in the air!

La momia azteca contra el robot humano
(1958)

Last and least of the Aztec Mummy trilogy
In 1957 Abel Salazar's screenwriter brother Alfredo conceived of a trio of infamous titles helmed by director Rafael Portillo, "La Momia Azteca" followed by "La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca" and "La Momia Azteca contra el Robot Asesino." K. Gordon Murray imported both sequels while Jerry Warren got his hands on the first entry, going out in completely reedited form as "Attack of the Mayan Mummy" in 1963, "The Curse of the Aztec Mummy" and "The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy" literal translations of the original Spanish language titles, emerging fairly intact. Murray's decision to avoid the initial entry is understandable, as a whopping 15 minutes from "La Momia Azteca" kicks off this finale, nearly all the good footage of the mummy Popoca on the attack since he did not emerge from the darkness until the one hour mark (only three minutes from the climax of "The Curse of the Aztec Mummy" were included). The movie is almost half over once the new plot begins with villainous Dr. Krupp aka The Bat (Luis Aceves Castaneda) having escaped his own rattlesnake death trap (dropped in by Popoca) to again renew his campaign to claim the fabled Aztec treasure guarded by the protective mummy. Using two reels of stock footage and a story told in flashback, we jump five years ahead to find out what the long vanished Bat finally has in store for the Aztec mummy, lying in repose in a local cemetery, still in possession of Xochitl's breastplate and bracelet, the prize that will reveal the location of hidden riches. The Professor and his assistant are present to witness the unveiling of The Bat's 'human robot,' only up and walking the final reel, its long awaited showdown with Popoca lasting an underwhelming 50 seconds before the bucket of bolts bites the dust, in very dusty fashion indeed (the old Bat just wasn't what he used to be). For those unfamiliar with previous entries it's not difficult to follow, but both sequels feel rather pointless being hour long quickies repeatedly discussing events already shown, and the robot turns out to be a complete nonentity (Universal twice used Karloff footage to reprise the origin of Kharis in both "The Mummy's Hand" and "The Mummy's Curse," while much of "Hand" was recycled for "The Mummy's Tomb"). As close as he came to executing the heroine in "La Momia Azteca," it bears repeating that Angel Di Stefani's Popoca becomes the hero in these two follow ups, and returns to his final resting place for the fadeout, only revived with a new name for 1964's "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy."

La maldición de la momia azteca
(1957)

Second in the Aztec Mummy trilogy
"The Curse of the Aztec Mummy" (the literal translation for "La Maldicion de la Momia Azteca") follows the story from "La Momia Azteca," second in a trilogy concluding with "The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy," all directed by Rafael Portillo and scripted by Alfredo Salazar. It's essentially a 1957 Mexican take on the then-current Bridey Murphy craze, which inspired Hollywood cheapies like Roger Corman's "The Undead," W. Lee Wilder's "Fright," Alex Gordon's "The She-Creature," Peggie Castle's "Back from the Dead," Michael Landon's "I Was a Teenage Werewolf," Ed Wood's "The Bride and the Beast," and Lon Chaney's "The Alligator People." Like the later incarnation of the Aztec Mummy in 1964's "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy," the monster's origin is virtually identical to Boris Karloff's in the 1932 version, a high priest who dared to love virgin handmaiden to the gods Xochitl, his name in this series Popoca, played in all three by Italian actor Angel Di Stefani. The main thrust of the initial narrative is Professor Almada (Ramon Gay) putting his young fiancée Flor (Rosina Arenas) into a hypnotic state to learn about her past life as an Aztec princess, put to death for loving Popoca, wearing a breastplate and bracelet, items that reveal more hidden treasures within the Great Pyramid of Yucatan. Of equal importance is the masked villain The Bat, who covets the Aztec riches for himself and is caught by police at the film's conclusion, unmasked as mad doctor Krupp (Luis Aceves Castaneda), in search of the treasure for some great experiment. The mummy doesn't actually come to life until an hour into its 80 minute running time, spending the last 12 minutes venturing out to recapture the stolen artifacts plus the reincarnation of his beloved princess to sacrifice her to the gods a second time just as Karloff's Imhotep sought to do (this mummy resembles photos of the real thing, and despite the brevity of its appearances is rather effective). The girl is rescued before an explosion buries the mummy and her father inside the tomb, not seen in the US until Jerry Warren's patchwork "Attack of the Mayan Mummy," which jettisoned most of the 1957 footage for lengthy talking head scenes featuring the usual suspects like Bruno Ve Sota. This first sequel kicked off with Dr. Krupp's henchmen aiding his escape to kidnap Flor and use his own hypnotic powers to make her lead him to the tomb and the breastplate left behind. Also present for this lone entry is the caped crusader The Angel, a non wrestler in need to rescue from a teen accomplice, who gets himself unmasked as Almada's supposedly cowardly assistant, along for the ride once the villains invade the tomb with 15 minutes left in an hour long feature. Krupp takes what he needs among the rubble, the mummy rising for a couple minutes of menace, reappearing in the final 180 seconds to put The Bat in his place by tossing him into his own death trap filled with poison snakes. Only one five minute sequence depicting the sacrifice of the Aztec princess is recycled from "La Azteca Momia," while the series finale would wind up using more stock footage to pad out its hour long running time.

La horripilante bestia humana
(1969)

From wrestling to eye gouging
1968's "Night of the Bloody Apes" closed out the brief series of six Mexican efforts highlighting Las Luchadoras aka The Wrestling Women, equal parts muscle and eye candy. As part of the series however we only have one for this finale (Norma Lazareno), who gets three bouts in the opening half hour then is dispensed with until the climax (she also gets a couple of brief nude shots in her dressing room). The main character is your typical mad doctor, this time a surgeon who seeks to cure his dying son of leukemia by transplanting the heart of a gorilla into his body (gorilla blood is much stronger than a man's). To absolutely no one's surprise except his, the once sickly lad becomes a muscular ape man with face to match (Gerardo Zepeda, a specialist in monster roles), whose exploits were augmented by Jerald Intrator for the dubbed US version with necks torn, a head ripped off, a naked woman raped and mutilated, a man whose hair is ripped from his scalp, and a close up of an eye gouged out (the heart transplants a display of open heart surgery). All this brutality rather spoils the innocence of the original series entry "Doctor of Doom," the police investigation conducted without the attractive and decidedly feminine wrestler, sporting a Batgirl-like mask similar to Yvonne Craig's on BATMAN. Attempts at pathos fall flat, as the father continuously repeats his initial mistake, replacing the gorilla's heart with one belonging to a vanquished foe from the ring, so the monster becomes an ape man/ape woman, or does he/she? The masked men would continue into the 1980s but the girls became mere spectators from here on, much like the one in this picture, reduced to a helpless victim stalked by the monster before picture's end, no crime fighting heroine like Batgirl but an all too ordinary everyday character.

Las luchadoras contra la momia
(1964)

Probably the best of Las Luchadoras
1964's "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy" was the second in a six film series featuring beautiful women wrestling in the ring like their male counterparts but without masks to hide their identity or their good looks. Lorena Velazquez and Elizabeth Russell return from "Doctor of Doom," and instead of a masked villain dubbed 'The Mad Doctor' we have an Oriental baddie ingeniously calling himself 'The Black Dragon,' his henchmen in search of several parts of a cut up map that will reveal the location of a hidden Aztec treasure. The big bout features Loreta Venus and the Golden Rubi against the Dragon's judo expert sisters (guess who wins?), and then at the 70 minute mark we finally get to the tomb where the valued treasure is guarded by the mummy Tezomoc (Gerardo Zepeda, who played Gomar in the previous entry), his origin resembling that of Boris Karloff in the 1932 original, here a sorcerer able to transform himself into other creatures, cursed to an eternal existence enslaved to the corpse of his virgin beloved wearing the bejeweled necklace. Once Tezomoc exits the tomb he makes quick work of the Dragon's feeble gang (the Dragon is never seen again) before turning into a bat and returning to his sarcophagus at sunrise like a vampire (he also becomes a tarantula in a later scene). For all his scary appearance he kills no one but the villain's henchmen, and earns another burial for his comeuppance, still an improvement over the one introduced in "The Aztec Mummy," "The Curse of the Aztec Mummy," and "The Robot vs the Aztec Mummy." Las Luchadoras will return in four more features by decade's end but only "Night of the Bloody Apes" would see wide distribution outside Mexico.

Las luchadoras contra el médico asesino
(1963)

Seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1968
After 30 years of masked wrestlers and just a few feature films starring the renowned Santo, somebody had the bright idea to duplicate those rasslin' moves with gorgeous gals instead of masked marauders in a short lived series of six films, kicking off with 1962's "Las Luchadoras Contra el Medico Asesino," better known in its initial dubbed US form as "Doctor of Doom," more recently granted the title "Sex Monster" perhaps in a nod to its 1968 remake "Night of the Bloody Apes" (Rhino's redubbed take from the 80s was called "Rock 'n' Roll Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Ape"). Like Santo, Lorena Velasquez as Gloris Venus and Elizabeth Campbell as the Golden Rubi are essentially two fisted action heroines right out of an old movie serial, the costumed and hooded villain conveniently identified as 'The Mad Doctor' having transplanted the brain of a gorilla into a human being, the final ape-like result Gomar (Gerardo Zepeda) kept locked in a cage for periodic feeding, and quite a meat eater. From there the MD decides that low IQ females should be his next targets for brain experimentation but they lack the stamina to survive the operations, guess who he figures will be next to be kidnapped? For the unenlightened the wrestling scenes that are so integral to the genre merely grind the picture to a halt, Gomar goes out on the hunt on just two occasions, the last dressed in an impregnable outfit impervious to bullets, finally disposed of when his brain is encased in the skull of a wrestling rival known as Vendetta, born to beat the tar out of Gloria Venus. The surprise revelation of 'The Mad Doctor' wouldn't surprise a 5 year old, who might at least find it amazing how much action gets crammed into an 80 minute running time, the most hilarious death trap a spiked wall that tries to crush its victims before Gomar can get them first. It's a novelty to see helpless males rescued by fist fighting femme fatales, lacking only the 'BAM!' 'POW!' later popularized by BATMAN, with one direct sequel for the same two leads, "The Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy."

The Corpse Vanishes
(1942)

Partially remade as "Voodoo Man"
1942's "The Corpse Vanishes" came fourth in the 9 picture Monogram series starring Bela Lugosi, and despite its numerous flaws emerges as one of the better ones. Reunited with the actor were Luana Walters and Joan Barclay from his 1936 Sam Katzman serial "Shadow of Chinatown" (Barclay had just completed "Black Dragons," Monogram's third with Bela), with Angelo Rossitto back from "Spooks Run Wild," 1946's "Scared to Death" still to come. Brides mysteriously die at the altar, and newshound Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) discovers the only clue to be a special orchid giving off a curious scent. This in turn leads her to the home of Dr. George Lorenz (Lugosi), expert horticulturist and scientist deeply devoted to his aging wife (Elizabeth Russell), an insufferable Countess who needs periodic injections of a serum mixed with the glands of virgin maidens to retain her youthful appearance (that's assuming that the best place to locate a virgin is at the altar!). Adding to this menagerie are Fagah (Minerva Urecal from "The Ape Man," even funnier here) and her two sons, mute imbecile Angel (Frank Moran) and dwarf Toby (Angelo Rossitto), describing them as his 'little family' before ultimately killing the two boys. Much of the picture stays in the noisy newsroom, then the focus shifts on the Lorenz home where the reporter spends the evening wandering through hidden passageways until a convenient fainting spell finally puts her to bed. Both the doctor and his wife also sleep in coffins, a morbid touch that ultimately goes nowhere, and the final third involves setting up another bride to bring out the culprits, only for Patricia to be the one kidnapped (Lou Costello's older brother Pat delivers the deadly orchid at the second wedding). The characters are strictly cardboard, Bela's incompetent assistants offer guffaws galore, and even his earnest efforts can't raise much on the drama meter, but thanks to a plucky turn from Luana Walters it's at least watchable when the star is offscreen (a shame Joan Barclay exits too soon). It must have been a hit as the actor's final Monogram entry "Voodoo Man" was at least a partial remake, featuring the unfortunate casting of John Carradine in place of Frank Moran's imbecile (granted some dialogue at least), and poor old George Zucco chanting incessantly in ridiculous headdress to the less than great god Ramboona.

The Incredible Petrified World
(1959)

John Carradine debuts for Jerry Warren
Schlock director Jerry Warren was a real hustler who started out making real movies then realized it was much easier and cheaper to take other people's films and splice them together with just a few minutes of new footage. Of course the presence of John Carradine was a plus for this initial entry, 1957's "The Incredible Petrified World," as well as "Invasion of the Animal People," "Curse of the Stone Hand," "House of the Black Death," and the truly infamous "Frankenstein Island" (Katherine Victor was also a major player, usually available for Warren's call). Only here was he top billed and for once actually deserving it (barely involved for three of the other four), as Dr. Millard Wyman, a noted scientist and oceanographer whose latest diving bell breaks from its cable in the Caribbean, falling deep into a supposedly uninhabited cavernous world. Robert Clarke, Allen Windsor, Phyllis Coates (Superman's Lois Lane), and Sheila Carol ("Beast from Haunted Cave," "A Bucket of Blood") play the intrepid quartet, all set to explore before they can figure out how to return to the surface. Unfortunately, Carradine himself remains aboard ship away from the 'action,' which, truth be told, amounts to very little. Tucson's Colossal Cave in Arizona gets a plug for location shooting, yet the visuals aren't enough for a sluggish narrative of endless talking heads. The scariest item kicks things off after the opening credits, actual scenes of a shark battling an octopus, obvious padding for even this hour long feature but more exciting than what follows (generic music cues later heard in Toho's "The War of the Gargantuas"). Carradine reaches a solution using a second bell and it's a wonder how convincing an actor he is delivering just so much claptrap, otherwise beware.

The Ape Man
(1943)

Lugosi's lowest ebb at Monogram
1943's "The Ape Man," coming on the heels of Bela Lugosi's disastrous turn as The Monster in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man," sadly ranks near the bottom of all his starring vehicles for Monogram, above only the two opposite Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall's East Side Kids (later The Bowery Boys). After the humiliation of inheriting the Monster role from Karloff he had snubbed in 1931, here he's reduced to wearing more facial hair and walking with a stooped posture, swaying back and forth in a kind of simian fashion, in a feature inspired by another Karloff film from 1940, "The Ape," a Curt Siodmak throwaway where the Boris researcher needed human spinal fluid to effect a cure for polio, the crippling disease that killed his wife and daughter and afflicts his next door neighbor. The story "They Creep in the Dark" was credited to Karl Brown, a name associated with Karloff's Columbia 'mad scientist' quintet, but Siodmak's name is nowhere to be found among the writers, producer 'Jungle Sam' Katzman truly earning his moniker in dumbing down his fifth Lugosi 'idiot picture' (his words), way too much monkey business with spinal fluid again the key. We never learn the nature of this 'great experiment' that involved self injections for Bela's Dr. James Brewster, and his confederate Dr. George Randall (Henry Hall) refuses to try what he considers a possible cure to reverse the disastrous results, not a permanent one, since the necessary spinal fluid requires the donor's death. Most of the picture is taken up by Wallace Ford's typical obnoxious reporter (the same type that plagued Lugosi in "Night of Terror" and "The Mysterious Mr. Wong"), tempered somewhat by the attractive Louise Currie as photographer Billie Mason, she was affectionately known as 'the Katharine Hepburn of Poverty Row' for her equally prominent high cheekbones (also familiar from previous Monograms is Minerva Urecal as Brewster's sister, once referred to as a 'hatchet faced barnacle' for obvious reasons). The 'actual' ape was obviously a man in a gorilla suit, Emil Van Horn's familiar costume getting more of a workout than his usual gag appearances like Abbott and Costello's "Keep 'Em Flying" (he kept busy until his livelihood was stolen). Most infuriating of all is a curious character identified only as 'Zippo' (Ralph Littlefield), peeking through windows and offering unsolicited advice from beginning to end, finally confessing to the joke in the final shot: "I'm the author of the story, screwy idea wasn't it!" It's easy to agree with one critic's assessment that it wasn't a matter of wiping off the dust but raking off the mold, and as a partial remake of "The Ape" it too managed to earn an unrelated follow up costarring John Carradine, "Return of the Ape Man," its central menace a revived prehistoric missing link.

The Stranglers of Bombay
(1959)

Terence Fisher's least appreciated Hammer horror
1959's THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY is easily director Terence Fisher's least known Hammer horror, and one rarely screened until its revival in the 2000s. Shot in gritty black and white rather than the usual color, it foreshadows a similar effort the following year, "The Terror of the Tongs," a star vehicle for Christopher Lee as Hong Kong tong leader Chung King, while this film boasts the underrated George Pastell as the High Priest of the secret cult of Kali, leaving behind millions of victims all garroted by the sacred cloth. Top billed Guy Rolfe ("Mr. Sardonicus") plays Captain Harry Lewis of the British East India Company, who has spent months in 1829 Bombay trying to find answers as to the mysterious disappearances of traveling caravans of various goods robbing the English of their profits (the corpses swiftly and ruthlessly buried in shallow graves). His superior, Colonel Henderson (Andrew Cruickshank), appoints an old school chum as chief investigator rather than Lewis, Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson), a supremely pompous twit who simply conducts interrogations while seated behind his desk. Lewis decides to resign after his manservant, Ram Das (Tutte Lemkow), suffers a terrible fate (his hand cut off and sent to Lewis) while searching for his brother Gopali Das (David Spenser), revealed not only to be the newest recruit to the cult but also tasked to strangle his own beloved sibling. The level of brutality is unprecedented even for Hammer, and all the better for being so effectively rendered, though possibly cut for television. Two careless followers are punished for betrayal to Kali by having their eyes gouged out (we see the eye sockets following the gruesome deed), corpses have their stomachs slit prior to burial, all sadly historically accurate. It looks like curtains for a captive Lewis, staked out under the mercilessly hot sun waiting for a cobra to strike...surprise! He just happens to have brought along his pet mongoose, ably dispatching the venomous reptile, an ill omen that forces the high priest to set Lewis free. It's amazing how tiny Bray Studios could manage to convey far off places when never venturing far from the Thames, their professionalism led by production designer Bernard Robinson, who often lent his own props for a scene (for instance, the huge globe in the Castle Dracula library in "Horror of Dracula").

Five Star Final
(1931)

Edward G. Robinson and Boris Karloff
Warners' "Five Star Final" was among 1931's Best Picture nominees, and a chance for Edward G. Robinson to break away from gangster characterizations in "The Widow from Chicago," "Outside the Law," "Little Caesar," and "Smart Money." Producer Hal B. Wallis painstakingly duplicated the look and exact dimensions of a real newspaper office, the script adapted from the successful Louis Weitzenkorn play, based on an actual scandal sheet called the New York Evening Graphic where the author had worked after leaving the New York Times and New York World. Robinson's Joseph Randall is chief editor of the Evening Gazette, a rag that uses strongarm tactics against vendors who fail to place their paper above all others, more interested in circulation and profit by virtually any means. Randall has spent a number of years in his office, the last four of them with secretary Miss Taylor (Aline MacMahon), secretly in love with her boss and urging him to move on to a decent paper. The hard working and hard drinking Randall obsesses about washing his hands, particularly after encountering the sleazy T. Vernon Isopod (Boris Karloff), a former student who was expelled from divinity school for drunkenness and sexual misbehavior. This coincides with the arrival of Kitty Carmody (Ona Munson), whose attractive figure is enough to earn her a position as reporter, complaining about how Isopod's fervent attentions left her with no skin on her knees! (he winks at her: "you got something in your eye?"). Randall's newest assignment is to revive the 20 year old killing committed by Nancy Voorhees, 'The Love Mad Stenographer,' who shot her boss when he fathered her child but refused to marry her. It is implied that the jury's subsequent acquittal was simply due to the baby, who grew up knowing nothing of her mother's crime and is in fact about to be wed to the son of socialite parents. Nancy (Frances Starr) now goes by the name Townsend, husband Michael (H.B. Warner) willingly throwing away his snobbish family wealth out of love for her, raising her child Jenny (Marian Marsh) as his own. Jenny's impending marriage to Phillip Weeks (Anthony Bushell) is at present unknown to Randall's paper, Isopod insinuating himself into their home posing as a reverend conducting church business, quickly sneaking off with Jenny's photograph and a story of how this 'murderess' is determined to marry off her daughter into a distinguished family. Once the Gazette's Five Star Final hits the streets the Townsends go into a panic, Michael seeking aid from the minister conducting the wedding, while Nancy tries vainly to implore Randall to put down the story for Jenny's sake. Michael returns home to find his wife dead from a suicidal overdose, determined to join her once he concocts a story to get rid of Jenny and Phillip. Randall is stunned by this double tragedy, while Isopod determines to 'comfort' the now orphaned daughter with some financial remuneration, only to shake in his shoes once the distraught girl shows up armed with a pistol to ask: "why did you kill my mother?" Only scenes depicting the overly cute antics of the daughter and her fiancée, plus the unrealistic, over the top reactions from the parents, bring this powerful film down a notch, a thoroughly repellant role fitting Boris Karloff very well, following his previous appearance as a luckless gambler in Robinson's "Smart Money," shooting April 14-May 11, just over three months before "Frankenstein" (he had a credited part in an actual Best Picture, 1927's "Two Arabian Knights"). Marian Marsh debuted as Trilby opposite John Barrymore as "Svengali," moving on to "The Mad Genius" with Karloff, then finally his leading lady in 1935's "The Black Room" (Anthony Bushell had his shot at Boris in 1933's "The Ghoul"). One can spot the pretty Gladys Lloyd (Mrs. Edward G. Robinson) as the publisher's secretary, and Polly Walters earns a few chuckles as the telephone operator speaking in a dead monotone.

The Magic Christian
(1969)

Ringo Starr adds a second Terry Southern character to his Beatles era resume
1968's "Candy" marked the first non-Beatles film appearance for Ringo Starr as an actor, nearly lost in a sea of superstar cameos such as Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, and John Astin in dual roles. As Emanuel, the Mexican gardener who deflowers title virgin Ewa Aulin on the pool table (Astin: "wish I'd been there with my Polaroid!"), Ringo is more amusing than those with greater screen time, and in 1969's "The Magic Christian" actually graduates to costar billing with former Goons legend Peter Sellers. The Beatles were great fans of Sellers' Goons, and there's no doubt that this production was a lot more fun for the performers than the unwary viewers who basically shunned it at the time. Director Joseph McGrath assisted Southern on the script, along with Sellers, John Cleese and Graham Chapman (shortly before Monty Python), and the lack of a cohesive narrative may grate on some while others will find the patience to enjoy a few gems among the many gags. Sellers plays Sir Guy Grand, richest man in the world, who meets Ringo's vagrant and takes a paternal interest in his welfare. Renamed 'Youngman Grand' as his adopted son, Ringo joins the tour to educate the masses that everyone has their price, the only question is how much. That's all there truly is, and for some the point is hammered home with unsubtle clarity, all designed to shock and outrage people both on screen and in the audience. Making it more palatable are the numerous cameos from familiar faces, even the John and Yoko lookalikes boarding The Magic Christian, a new ocean liner set to embark from London to America, charging $5000 per guest (this section begins at the 65 minute mark). Laurence Harvey opens with an unlikely performance as Hamlet, stripping nude for less than enthusiastic theatergoers; Dennis Price, Jeremy Lloyd and Peter Bayliss become flummoxed aboard a train ("I've been fired before, but never in Afghanistan!"), David Hutcheson is enraged at the amount of firepower required for 'a good clean kill,' John Cleese and Patrick Cargill earn laughs at Sotheby's, while Graham Chapman's Oxford team follows the lead of coach Richard Attenborough to sabotage the race with Cambridge. The Cruft's dog show finds the contestants devoured by an African black panther disguised as a canine, Spike Milligan's traffic warden gleefully swallows his parking ticket before the offer runs out in 10 seconds, the world heavyweight championship winds down as the two boxers express their affection in the middle of the ring ("the crowd appears to be sickened by the sight of no blood!"). By the time the Christian sets sail most of the stars appear out of nowhere: Christopher Lee speaks a mere six words of dialogue as 'Ship's Vampire,' stalking the corridors all too briefly before attacking Wilfrid Hyde-White's doddering drunken captain; Leonard Frey as Laurence Faggot (pronounced fah-GO) shows off a sample of hemp, then arrests the man he casually hands it to; a silent Roman Polanski is serenaded at the bar by a bewigged Yul Brynner; Raquel Welch as Priestess of the Whip lashes out at intruders who enjoy being masochists. The final sequence was typically cut from all TV prints, as Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air" puts an exclamation point on the proceedings as bowler hatted, umbrella carrying citizens brave a vat filled with blood, urine and animal manure for Grand's advertised 'free money.' Very much a relic of its time, this marriage of the Goons and The Beatles earned little regard from critics but continues to gain a following for its cultural importance. From the beginning the soundtrack found favor with three tracks produced by Paul McCartney and performed by Apple band Badfinger, "Come and Get It" (written by Paul and heard throughout), "Carry on Till Tomorrow" (heard over the opening credits), and "Rock of All Ages" (heard briefly on two occasions), all issued on the first official Badfinger LP MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC in January 1970. The two stars are a good match, already good friends well before filming started in February 1969, though the picture continued the Sellers box office losing streak that only ended with a revival of the Pink Panther series. At the urging of new manager Allan Klein Ringo kept the Apple film division going over the next few years, playing a supporting villain in the Spaghetti Western "Blind Man," directing the T. Rex concert feature "Born to Boogie," and producing "Son of Dracula," casting Harry Nilsson as Count Downe (he'd just released his album SON OF SCHMILSSON dressed as Dracula on the cover). Christopher Lee enjoyed meeting all four Beatles on the set and later appeared on the front cover of Paul's acclaimed Wings LP BAND ON THE RUN.

From Hell It Came
(1957)

Barking up the wrong tree
The growing cult of 1957's "From Hell It Came" is based on the simple fact that this is one awful movie that literally grows on you one branch at a time; dare I say it, its bark is worse than its bite? From the same Milner brothers responsible for 1955's "The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues," their cinematic farewell at least boasts a monster devised by the busy Paul Blaisdell, whose creations adorned entries from producers such as Alex Gordon ("The She-Creature," "Voodoo Woman") or Roger Corman ("Day the World Ended," "It Conquered the World"), actor Chester Hayes inside the bulky suit. This 71 minute marvel set on a South Sea island inhabited by white actors in dark makeup kicks off with the execution of Kimo (Gregg Palmer), whose friendship with the American scientists aiding his people's battle against radioactive fallout from atomic testing now results in his death. The ceremonial dagger is hammered into his heart, but not before he vows revenge from the grave against the three deceptive enemies who falsely condemned him. 49 year old ingenue Linda Watkins as the two-time widow can't rouse the two scientists out of their wooden stupor, but the arrival of pretty blonde doctor Terry Mason (Tina Carver) does help Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews) spring a woody of his own (naturally finding time to interrupt the girl in her shower). Were it not for Terry we would never have seen Kimo's vengeance, as she suggests uprooting the stump growing out of his grave, seemingly alive withn a beating heart, brought to full walking life with an injection of serum. If one has the audacity to come up with such an outrageous idea you'd better answer with something that at least looks memorable, and the Tabonga is certainly that, described by the natives as a 'tree monster,' complete with perpetual scowl and fixed bulging eyes (looking like an apple orchard reject from "The Wizard of Oz"), finally up and walking at the 43 minute mark, claiming only its three intended victims before deciding to menace the very doctor who gave it life (alas, her pitiful scream leaves much to be desired). So popular is this item that the blog features over 20,000 responses on this film alone (not even "King Kong," let alone Karloff or Lugosi can boast such devotion). The Tabonga even turns up in a later Allied Artists release from 1959, "Arson for Hire," but was apparently thrown out afterwards, so much for his family tree. Tod Andrews may not be a name genre buffs will recognize, but as 'Michael Ames' he'd already appeared in two Bela Lugosi Monograms from 1944, "Return of the Ape Man" and "Voodoo Man," I always lumped this in with "The Disembodied," another South Seas mélange of menace, which was actually its original co-feature from Allied Artists in 1957 (there was another entry in the tree monster sweepstakes, if one includes a passel of them in 1965's "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters").

The Boogie Man Will Get You
(1942)

Fits Peter Lorre's improvisational style best though Karloff is a delight
One would hope that in combining the talents of Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre in a horror comedy styled after Karloff's current Broadway sensation ARSENIC AND OLD LACE it should result in a better film than "The Boogie Man Will Get You," last of the five 'Mad Scientist' vehicles for Boris at Columbia from 1939 to 1942 (all were included in SON OF SHOCK). Producers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse would not allow Karloff to reprise his cherished Jonathan Brewster opposite Lorre in the Frank Capra movie version (Warners nixed their idea of borrowing Humphrey Bogart to temporarily replace him!), so Boris remained in New York as Raymond Massey essayed the part instead. Columbia's attempted cash in arrived some nine months later, and must have seemed a pretty poor crumb indeed by comparison, despite offering the actor a more lighthearted rendition of his stock mad scientist as Prof. Nathaniel Billings, merely trying to preserve life by transforming unwary salesmen into supermen who will never age and be able to fly on their own as perfect weapons against the Axis. He conducts these experiments in a basement laboratory in the old Billings lodge dating back to 1775, with a housekeeper who imagines herself an egg laying hen (Maude Eburne), and a handyman who lives with pigs (George McKay). Among this menagerie arrives pretty Winnie Slade (Jeff Donnell) and her ex-husband (Larry Parks), trying to adjust to a new career running this old tavern as a hotel; add a would be choreographer (Don Beddoe), a powder puff salesman with an inferiority complex (Maxie Rosenbloom), and an inept anarchist (Frank Puglia), all the ingredients for cinematic disaster. Only Peter Lorre provides the saving grace as Dr. Arthur Lorencz, who performs all the functions of this tiny New England community, terminating the Billings mortgage with Winnie's unlikely cash payment before playing sheriff when he looks into the professor's murderous activities (it's all right so long as he can turn a profit by it). All ends well for everybody in a way, as none of the corpses actually stay dead, the whole soufflé collapsing in a heap after an hour of cloddish behavior. Karloff proves a delight though Lorre's improvisational style suits the nonsensical surroundings best, it's just the other characters that wear out their welcome in no time. '(Miss) Jeff Donnell' was an underrated actress who brightened a number of the studio's pictures over the following decade, but Boris was now finished with Harry Cohn, not returning to Hollywood until ARSENIC's run concluded in the spring of 1944 (my rating is 2 stars, one for each chuckle).

The Black Cat
(1934)

Karloff and Lugosi, plus an unbilled John Carradine
After the massive success of both "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" helped save Universal from the Depression crisis of 1931-32 it was only a matter of time before their two iconic stars finally worked together in the same film. 'Karloff' (as the actor would be billed for the first of five times, all for Universal) had been away from the studio since 1932's "The Mummy," the Laemmles failing to honor his promised pay raise, while 'Lugosi' had gone missing even longer, since the failure of his lone follow up to "Dracula," "Murders in the Rue Morgue," emerging triumphantly from bankruptcy waiting for the next offer from Uncle Carl. By February 1934 the stars had aligned to team the genre legends in what promised to be a duel to the death between Karloff's Austrian architect Hjalmar Poelzig and Lugosi's Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast in "The Black Cat," the brainchild of recently signed director and production designer Edgar G. Ulmer. Junior Laemmle indulged the young maverick with his bold Bauhaus blueprint for the Poelzig residence, hardly the cobwebbed, crumbling castle of Gothic legend but a spotless modern home with doors that slide open, and the space to shelter a cult of devil worshippers in service to High Priest Poelzig. Bela's Werdegast refers to Poelzig as 'an old friend' to American mystery author Peter Alison (David Manners) and newlywed bride Joan (Jacqueline Wells), having spent 15 years in a Siberian prison during the Great War only to emerge with renewed hope of finding his lost wife and daughter. Far from being a 'friend,' Poelzig had been a traitor to the cause at Fort Marmaros, selling out to the Russians and allowing one of the 'great battlefields of the war' to be strewn with thousands of corpses, now living at the same location in an abode of his own architectural creation. Werdegast has followed the trail here, forced to make an unexpected call upon Poelzig after a road accident in the rain results in a dead bus driver and wounded Joan Alison. The Majordomo (Egon Brecher) announces this untimely arrival and we see Karloff for the first time, rising in his private bedchamber, straight up like a vampire from his coffin, remaining silent much of the time while observing others with sardonic intent. Since the next Satanic orgy takes place the following evening Poelzig is quite entranced by the virginal Mrs. Alison (she covers herself up from one of his sidelong glances), having preserved the corpses of numerous female sacrifices over the years...including the wife of Vitus Werdegast, with whom he was also wed (and, perversely, has subsequently married the woman's daughter). In his quest for vengeance Werdegast must tread lightly on his enemy's home turf, victimized by ailurophobia (Poelzig: "an intense and all consuming horror of cats"), instructing his servant Thamal (Harry Cording) to serve the master, and finally demanding the whereabouts of his wife. In revealing the horror of her fate Poelzig also succeeds in luring the psychiatrist into a trap, the sight of a black cat preventing Werdegast from shooting his foe ("are we any less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder, are we not both the living dead?"). Poelzig also claims victory in a chess game for the life of Joan Alison, a prisoner until the evening's unholy festivities, meeting Madame Poelzig (Lucille Lund), the daughter of Vitus Werdegast, instantly earning her husband's wrath and paying a fatal price. One unknown actor in a mustache playing a tall cult member can be spotted as Karloff descends the staircase, seen on the left with his back to the camera, then walking behind Boris before seating himself at the organ, his hands and the back of his head shown close up; this was the third Universal title for John Carradine, granted a few lines in both "The Invisible Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" but unfortunately silent here. With the helpless Joan unconscious on the altar, Poelzig is only distracted by a scream from one exuberant female, allowing Werdegast and Thamal to abscond with her for escape through the cellar. Peter Alison is already armed and able to defend his bride, who manages to inform the doctor of his daughter's fate from a few hours before, Poelzig intent on a final showdown from which no one shall survive. The sight of a half naked Karloff held captive upon his own rack as Lugosi prepares to flay him alive (depicted in shadow of course) amazingly reached the screen intact, one of the last pre-code titles to escape relatively unscathed from censorship trauma though Uncle Carl himself was appalled, at least until the box office rang loud and clear. Initially reluctant to return to horror after acclaimed performances in John Ford's "The Lost Patrol" and George Arliss' "The House of Rothschild," Boris Karloff was enamored with the opportunity to portray such a repulsive character in silky clothes and offbeat prowling demeanor, he never played another quite like it. For Bela Lugosi this Karloff villain enabled him to finally essay a heroic role, followed closely by the lead in the Sol Lesser serial "The Return of Chandu" (doing the same in "The Invisible Ray"), and even Mrs. Bela Lugosi exalted in his performance: "God he was beautiful in that!" (seven years passed before another Universal title "The Black Cat" cast Bela as a caretaker in an old dark house, but in a comedic setting). Incredibly, Universal's biggest hit of the entire year was also the one with the lowest budget, yet Edgar G. Ulmer was already banished prior to release due to his devotion to future wife Shirley, at the time newly wed to a Laemmle, working essentially on Poverty Row for much of the rest of his days, even starring John Carradine in PRC vehicles "Isle of Forgotten Sins" and "Bluebeard."

The Giant Gila Monster
(1959)

A showcase for Don Sullivan
1959's "The Giant Gila Monster" served as half a regional double bill with another Ken Curtis production, "The Killer Shrews," produced by Dallas radio legend Gordon McLendon's Hollywood Pictures Corporation. Still five years away from becoming a regular as Festus on the long running GUNSMOKE, Curtis was still known as mostly a singer with the Sons of the Pioneers, and cast another Pioneer in this minor effort, Shug Fisher, keeping his usual stutter in check in providing some drunken comic relief. With special effects expert Ray Kellogg at the helm one wishes for a little horror relief, but the titular creature, a Mexican beaded lizard, never interacts with cast members and moves too slowly to even work up enough tension for the climax (location shooting in Cielo, Texas). It really works best as a showcase for top billed Don Sullivan, previously the hero in Jerry Warren's 1957's "Teenage Zombies" and Irwin Berwick's 1958 "The Monster of Piedras Blancas," both of which had yet to see release by the time this one was in the can (he only had two more credits after 1959, using his degree from the University of Idaho to become 'one of the top creative cosmetics chemists in the hair industry'). Not only does he carry the film with a natural, unforced performance, he also composed and sang all three tunes as well, which not too many aspiring actors could accomplish on a low budget picture. As Chase Winstead, resident mechanic in a small Texas town (taking care of both his mother and a little sister afflicted with polio), Chase pretty much also looks after 'the gang,' and when a couple disappears he finds their wrecked car with no sign of blood. Sheriff Jeff (longtime Western veteran Fred Graham) is pressured into finding out what happened, but apparently the only folks who actually spot the overgrown iguana become lizard lunch meat. A few platters spin on the turntable, a little dancing, singing, pounding out the spare parts for drunks, it's not such a bad view were it not intended as a sci/fi movie, and Lisa Simone's accent grates on the ears (she too had a very short career, after losing as French contestant for Miss Universe 1957). The budget was $15,000 higher than "The Killer Shrews," a double bill that still enjoys cult status today (Ken Curtis passed away in 1991, Don Sullivan in 2018).

Night of the Demon
(1957)

First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1966
1957's "Night of the Demon" was shot in England by a Hollywood director (Jacques Tourneur), producer (Hal E. Chester, "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms"), and star (Dana Andrews). Emerging the same year that Hammer introduced color to their distinctive brand with "The Curse of Frankenstein," this was a serious take on witchcraft and black magic, in the understated Val Lewton style Tourneur became noted for on RKO pictures such as "Cat People," "I Walked with a Zombie," and "The Leopard Man." The screenplay was the work of Charles Bennett, an early collaborator of Alfred Hitchcock now working in tandem with Irwin Allen, quite the last truly exceptional piece with his name attached, owning the rights to M.R. James' original story "Casting the Runes," alternate titles "The Haunted" and "The Bewitched" (had it been made in Hollywood the lead could have been played by Robert Taylor or Dick Powell). Both writer and director were livid with Chester's changes to the final script, namely showing the demon in all its glory and fairly early on as well, but even so it remained a character driven piece building a sense of dread and inevitability for the one man who all his life scoffed at the supernatural, intentionally walking under ladders and such. Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham), in a very agitated state, calls upon Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) to prevent a dire appointment from taking place at 10:00, now choosing not to expose Karswell's circle of devil worshippers, and that he won't confide in professional skeptic John Holden (Dana Andrews) when he arrives from America. Karswell assures him there's nothing to worry about but it's too little, too late; we see a curious cloud form in the darkness, flapping sounds like that of a gigantic bat, the terrified Harrington backing out of his garage into a power line certain to be electrocuted, yet what remains of his corpse was mutilated to a much greater extent. John Holden learns of the sudden death, meeting Harrington's concerned niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins), and eager to expose a man he believes to be just another charlatan. A chance meeting in the library allows the unassuming Karswell to introduce himself, for the express purpose of ensuring that Holden meets the same fate as Harrington, passing on a small parchment with ancient runic symbols written on it, having deciphered their meaning to place a fatal hex upon his enemies. Once the paper is passed on to the victim without his knowledge and is reduced to ashes by any means, there is no escape from the demon's wrath, taking place in exactly three days. Holden calls upon Karswell at his sprawling estate, finding the portly mama's boy genuinely fond of children yet still a man filled with fear, demonstrating his powers by whipping up a sudden windstorm. His elderly mother (Athene Seyler) does what she can for the nonbeliever, but as time edges closer to the appointed hour it isn't long before Holden's grasp of reality is changed forever, particularly after a midnight visit leads to a terrifying encounter in the dark woods. The climax on the train was certainly worthy of Hitchcock, Joanna's presence under hypnosis, Karswell for obvious reasons reluctant to accept anything proffered by Holden, the unexpected intervention of Scotland Yard proving surprisingly helpful to our beleaguered protagonist. The stone face of Dana Andrews did not lend itself well to this particular role, but Niall MacGinnis was a fantastic actor who occasionally dabbled in the genre and often worked with Peter Cushing: "Hamlet," "Alexander the Great," "Sword of Sherwood Forest" (playing Friar Tuck opposite Richard Greene's Robin Hood and Cushing's Sheriff of Nottingham), "The Man Who Finally Died," "Island of Terror," and "Torture Garden," plus the episode "Jack the Ripper" for Boris Karloff's THE VEIL, "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure," Hammer's "Never Take Candy from a Stranger," "The Devil's Agent," (Christopher Lee), "Jason and the Argonauts," and Hammer's "The Viking Queen." His Julian Karswell isn't your average ordinary Satanist (James based the character on Aleister Crowley), a man who has earned his vast grounds and power through inflicting fear upon others, determined to maintain his status quietly without public exposure or risk being 'hoist with his own petard.' He's clearly the film's villain yet he started out as a magician using white magic for children, passing out candy and puppies from his hat, and his mother is especially gratified to help on these occasions; but once he translates the ancient runic symbols he proves just as terrified with the evils unleashed as his enemies. Among the few occult classics that popped up the only other comparable entries are 1962's "Night of the Eagle," a similar tale centered on another noted skeptic, and Hammer's 1967 adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's "The Devil Rides Out," Christopher Lee the hero, Charles Gray the villain.

Before I Hang
(1940)

A weary Karloff gives his all
Seven of the 11 Columbia titles included in 1958's SON OF SHOCK all starred Boris Karloff, with 1940's "Before I Hang" the third of his five 'Mad Doctor' entries that concluded his run at the almost Poverty Row studio of hardheaded Harry Cohn (shooting title "The Wizard of Death"). After decent outings in "The Man They Could Not Hang" and "The Man with Nine Lives," this one opens with a direct statement in the courtroom without the preamble from prior efforts, Karloff's elderly, white haired Dr. John Garth convicted of murder in the eyes of the law, but only to end the suffering of a terminal patient dying from 'the ravages of old age.' Garth has dedicated years of research to finding a serum that could effectively reverse the process and thereby possibly achieve immortality, a mixture of certain chemicals with the blood of the individual. Sentenced to hang in only a few weeks, the despairing doctor is stunned by a request from prison physician Dr. Ralph Howard (Edward Van Sloan), allowed by Warden Thompson (Ben Taggart) to actually continue his research in what little time remains with Howard's assistance. A possible breakthrough emerges, Dr. Howard agreeing to use the blood of a soon to be executed killer for their serum, a three time murderer whose body will not be affected by hanging (thankfully not fried in the electric chair). On his fateful last day Garth must be the guinea pig to be injected with his own serum to learn the results before time expires, after which a reprieve from the governor commutes his sentence to life imprisonment, enough for him to collapse into a coma lasting several hours, his violent reactions requiring a strait jacket due to shock. He awakens to the friendly face of Dr. Howard, and the gradual realization that his body shows evidence of being at least 20 years younger, his hair merely streaked with grey rather than completely white as before. It is naturally assumed that Garth's serum is now a success and Dr. Howard volunteers to be next in line for inoculation, but watches the strange behavior displayed by this new, younger Garth, a difficulty in focusing and pain on the left side of his neck. Garth is unable to resist a homicidal urge under the murderous influence of the dead killer's 'bad blood,' using a handkerchief to strangle Dr. Howard before the intervention of janitor Otto Kron (Frank Richards), who winds up being blamed for Howard's death and attacking the presumably defenseless Garth. Unable to recall the circumstances of the attack, his recovery speeds along with another surprise, released from prison to return home to devoted daughter Martha (Evelyn Keyes) and former lab assistant Paul Ames (Bruce Bennett), but he is clearly a changed man, no longer sharing his love for Martha and thoroughly obsessed with using his serum on his three closest friends, all of whom reject being inoculated for religious reasons. Driven insane by impulses beyond his control, Garth's attempts to inject his piano playing confidante (Pedro de Cordoba) result in another strangulation, and it's not long before the police come knocking at his door, still more tragedy ahead as he succumbs to the very thing for which he was convicted. By this third series take it looks like the familiar tropes are starting to run dry, the first half moving with efficiency but the second half dragging in repetition to an entirely predictable conclusion. Karloff is forced to resort to a series of sinister asides and reaching for the back of his neck to convey his character's torment, very little to work with on this occasion (both the weeping Evelyn Keyes and Bruce Bennett draw a total blank despite close proximity to the lead character). Every time he tried to suggest improvements on the scripts he would be told that the profit margins were identical whether the pictures came out well or not; fortunately "The Devil Commands" would break from the first three and provide a suitably eerie vehicle on which to leave Hollywood for Broadway's ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. This marked the actor's final happy reunion with Edward Van Sloan, his old costar from "Frankenstein," "Behind the Mask" and "The Mummy," comrades working in tandem for a common goal rather than adversaries in opposition

Womaneater
(1958)

Nasty foreign influences on dedicated British scientist, or something
1957's "Womaneater" (one word) was such an underwhelming British effort that it took a couple of years to cross the Atlantic, a rare starring role for George Coulouris, whose career had kicked off with the sublime "Citizen Kane," only to sink to the Grade-Z level of "The Man Without a Body" (from the same director, Charles Saunders), Richard Gordon's "Tower of Evil," even Italian rip offs such as 1974's "The Antichrist." His mad scientist is given the generic name of Doctor Moran, believing that life can be restored to the dead through a serum requiring fluid from a plant god worshiped by a tribe of Incas in the Amazon, Tanga (Jimmy Vaughan) returning with Moran to England as its caretaker. It's an odd and rather disgusting idea to feature a carnivorous tree that demands the soft flesh of pretty young maidens, and didn't work much better for Cameron Mitchell's "Maneater of Hydra" a decade later, nor one that devoured nude couples in 1972's "Please Don't Eat My Mother." On the rare occasions when we see it in action its tendrils reach out for each victim, a visual predecessor for those familiar with Roger Corman's 1981 "Galaxy of Terror," its slimy maggot creature raping its buxom female target (Taaffe O'Connell). Apart from that disquieting effect it's a substandard love story between a garage mechanic and an out of work carnival girl (Vera Day), she applying as housekeeper for Doctor Moran, to the envy of his former lover and head housekeeper Margaret Santor (Joyce Gregg). This jealousy angle was rehashed with Michael Gough as an oversexed mad scientist in 1961's "Konga," not very interesting on that occasion either, and the local police prove to be absolutely clueless when it comes to searching for missing girls. The evil foreign influence represented by Tanga became a staple in British titles like "The Plague of the Zombies," "The Reptile," and Peter Cushing's "The Ghoul." There's little for any actor to sink his teeth into, Coulouris coming off as restrained in comparison to the lip smacking Gough, and by the time Columbia picked it up it slipped out on the bottom half with Toho's lively, colorful and gruesome "The H-Man."

House of Dracula
(1945)

John Carradine's increased role as Dracula, Lon Chaney's Universal farewell
By the close of 1945 the Second World War was at an end and Universal was ready to merge with William Goetz's International Pictures the following year. Although a half dozen more horror efforts still creeped out afterwards, "House of Dracula" marked the last stand for the studio's classic monsters, the fourth outing for Lon Chaney's Wolf Man, second for John Carradine's Dracula aka Baron Latos, and second for Glenn Strange's ill used Frankenstein Monster, sadly bringing up the rear again in swift, stumbling fashion. A dying Lionel Atwill was also a welcome presence in his final feature, only the serial "Lost City of the Jungle" still ahead before his death from bronchial cancer just six months later (his condition betrayed by an audible off screen cough). Boasting the same director (Erle C. Kenton), producer (Paul Malvern), and screenwriter (Edward T. Lowe) as the previous year's "House of Frankenstein," one can't help but miss the Karloff presence but The Lonster, fully aware that his starring days at Universal were now over, turns in a particularly melancholy performance as Talbot, and still supremely savage in two Wolf Man scenes (resulting from a shortage of yak hair), a grand transformation in Atwill's jail cell and final attack on Onslow Stevens' Dr. Franz Edlemann in the cavern. Carradine's Dracula enjoys twice the screen time that he had in "House of Frankenstein," and displays his evil cunning in forcing his contaminated blood into Eldemann's veins (it's a shame that with his coffin exposed, this vampire proves only too easy to dispatch). The main advantage over its predecessor is Carradine's expanded role, from a self contained vignette to a more integral presence until the 41 minute mark, quite fitting since this was supposed to be Dracula's House...and though it was uncharacteristic of him to seek treatment for his vampiric condition, his observation of pretty Miliza confirmed it was merely a clever ruse to gain access to the castle as no vampire can cross a threshold unless he is invited (of course that fails to explain how his coffin got into the basement!). Shortchanged even more than before is Glenn Strange, who remains comatose until required for the climax, and can only strike down one lousy constable before a chemical fire conveniently destroys the lab and all around it, utilizing stock footage of Chaney's Monster from "The Ghost of Frankenstein" (a single shot of Boris from "Bride of Frankenstein" pops up during the Edlemann hallucination). Leftovers they may be but were it not for Abbott and Costello this would have been a somewhat bittersweet farewell to the original Frankenstein series, a long way from James Whale's nightmarish vision of 1931.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
(1943)

First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1966
At the start of SHOCK! in the fall of 1957 many viewers were actually treated to Bela Lugosi's Monster before they ever encountered the Karloff original, while Lon Chaney improved upon "The Wolf Man" with what many (including this author) consider his finest performance from all the Universal horrors in the 1943 release "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man." More a sequel to "The Wolf Man" than a continuation of the further adventures of The Monster, screenwriter Curt Siodmak making a slight yet telling change to his poem from the year before: instead of 'the autumn moon is bright' it is now 'the moon is full and bright.' Closeups of Lugosi in various expressions alternate with long shots of the stuntmen, generally considered to be Gil Perkins for Bela and Edwin Parker (with dimpled chin) for Lon, the epic battle lasting little more than two minutes yet even for those who never saw it as children it still holds a certain fascination as no monsters interacted in "House of Frankenstein" and "House of Dracula." It's nice to see Dwight Frye announcing the imminent destruction of the nearby dam, all of Vasaria's problems swept away until Boris Karloff's ringmaster comes to town for the next go round. Chaney is so in tune with his role that he even evokes the pleasant memory of 'gentle giant' Lennie Small from "Of Mice and Men," wearing a cowboy hat while driving the horse drawn carriage with Maria Ouspenskaya. The character would be reduced in stature over his next two performances, only two transformations apiece and a great deal of tired hand wringing. Even worse will be the fate of The Monster, Lugosi's interpretation granted dialogue by Siodmak as he groped from scene to scene, bemoaning his ailing situation while dreaming of world domination; all of his lines were erased from the soundtrack (for the better), leaving only a spasmodic replica of what was intended, no fault of the actor but still the recipient of Universal's scorn, only returning for his beloved Dracula in 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Director Roy William Neill ("The Black Room") manages to keep things relatively serious despite Siodmak's shortcomings (mostly his shameless mistreatment of The Monster), a necessity since the climax deserves to be seen to be believed. As an adult one is tempted to laugh at Chaney's facial expressions after Lugosi's Monster tosses him aside time after time, yet somehow it plays absolutely straight and to this day remains as cherished as the late Paul Naschy's lifelong inspiration deserves to be.

The Maze
(1953)

Frustration is the word that comes to mind
Closely following the color epic "Invaders from Mars," director William Cameron Menzies shot 1953's "The Maze" in 3-D at Allied Artists, formerly Poverty Row Monogram, his last behind the camera. There are a few trick shots to demonstrate depth early on but it's certainly not in the same league as "House of Wax," a very low budget black and white feature whose sole interest is among the cast. As Gerald McTeam, from a long line of Scottish nobility known to die young, Richard Carlson's upcoming nuptials are called off after he learns of the death of his uncle at Craven Castle, his ancestral home. His intended bride (Veronica Hurst) and her aunt (Katherine Emery) are essentially the stars, arriving unexpectedly to see Sir Gerald now looking years older and decidedly unreceptive to having guests. Endless padding of identical talking head scenes drag the picture out to a merciless 80 minutes, far too long for patient viewers to be rewarded by what even then was a solution that invited ridicule (worst of all is the titular maze, barely featured at all). Foreboding manservant William is played by Australian Michael Pate, a Universal veteran from "The Strange Door," "The Black Castle" and "Curse of the Undead" (as the vampire gunslinger), while bottom billed Robin Hughes essayed the headless title role of Universal's "The Thing That Couldn't Die," then portrayed 'the Devil himself' opposite John Carradine in the memorable TWILIGHT ZONE "The Howling Man." For the likable Carlson it's a nothing role that requires a permanent scowl which the audience might understandably adopt by movie's end.

The Man with Nine Lives
(1940)

Chilling story of frozen therapy from Boris Karloff again at his best
1940's "The Man with Nine Lives" continues Columbia's Boris Karloff quintet of 'Mad Doctor' entries, all included in the 1958 SON OF SHOCK television package of 20 classics, 11 from Columbia, only 9 from Universal. Even the name for Karloff, Leon Kravaal, closely echoes Henryk Savaard from previous entry "The Man They Could Not Hang," similar working titles "The Man Without a Face," "The Man Who Would Not Die," and "Behind the Door." Cryogenics had not yet been coined at the time, so 'frozen therapy' is represented in the less than capable hands of Roger Pryor as Dr. Tim Mason, using a multitude of ice cubes and blowing fans to effect a hopeful cancer cure, using warm blankets and hot coffee as a simple way of revival. The unwanted publicity sends him on an unexpected vacation to locate the home of his pioneering predecessor Leon Kravaal, who mysteriously disappeared a decade before, along with several visitors who paddled across the lake to his laboratory and were never seen again. Within minutes of entering the deserted house Dr. Mason and his nurse Judith Blair (Jo Ann Sayers) not only find a hidden stairway taking them hundreds of feet below to an icy cavern (built over the remains of a glacier near the Canadian border), but they discover Kravaal himself frozen in time yet still alive. Kravaal is astonished to learn that ten years have passed since his encounter with the disbelieving authorities: Bob Adams (Stanley Brown), the foolhardy youth who insists that the doctor has killed his dying uncle, eager to collect his millions; District Attorney John Hawthorne (John H. Dilson), Sheriff Stanton (Hal Taliaferro), and coroner Bassett (Byron Foulger), all thoroughly convinced that Jasper Adams must be dead in his frozen solid state (he lived long enough to die a short distance away, alone and unattended). Kravaal prepares a serum with which he threatens to kill his persecutors, only for them to survive their icy tomb after breathing the protective fumes. Once all have been safely restored to life Kravaal reveals the formula that he inadvertently succeeded in finding after years of trial and error, only for the grasping Adams to burn the paper in a fit of pique. Armed with the sheriff's gun Kravaal decides to use the others as guinea pigs to recover the secret that was stolen from him, with Dr. Mason a reluctant assistant. Thoroughly unconvincing as a humanitarian doctor after playing the smarmy DA in "The Man They Could Not Hang," Roger Pryor also has the misfortune of carrying the first two reels on his own before Boris finally makes his entrance. Luckily he doesn't let us down, virtually the sole focus once revived, a far cry from taking a back seat to Stanley Ridges in Universal's "Black Friday," somehow able to vary each Columbia scientist in subtle but effective ways. Despite taking a dark turn with his captive audience, Kravaal's research and techniques are lauded in the final scene, a better conclusion for this character than Savaard's suicide in the previous entry.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb
(1964)

Dickie Owen as Ra-Antef
This sequel to Hammer's 1959 Terence Fisher original brings back three cast members for lesser roles this time around (George Pastell, Michael Ripper and Harold Goodwin) but lacks the star power of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee (it was issued as the second feature on a double bill with "The Gorgon"), and with Michael Carreras at the helm from his own script this picture shapes up as one of Hammer's lesser lights. The discovery of the tomb of Pharaoh Ra-Antef also reveals a curse placed upon those who were present to break the seal, including Alexander King (Fred Clark), Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim), and John Bray (Ronald Howard, son of actor Leslie Howard). At least two corpses are left behind in Egypt when the mummy and all its relics are shipped to London (Michael Ripper thrown away in a tiny bit), where wealthy scholar Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan) offers lodgings for both Bray and Annette Bubois (Jeanne Roland), whose father was recently murdered by religious zealots. Annette finds herself attracted to Beauchamp, relating the story behind the death of Ra-Antef, ambushed by assassins hired by his younger brother who cut off his hand as proof that the deed was done. The mummy itself does not walk until 53 minutes have elapsed, breaking up the lengthy exposition by taking out King in a well done sequence in the fog, after authorities scoffed at the mummy's curious disappearance. Fortunately things move quickly from then on, with even George Pastell (1959's high priest) not spared a gruesome demise by the wrath of Ra-Antef, played by stuntman Dickie Owen in a distinctly unimposing makeup job by Roy Ashton (at least Christopher Lee's Kharis was granted a mouth). Fred Clark's bombast proves just enough to maintain audience interest before the mayhem, and Carreras does provide one unique twist for the climax that doesn't quite raise the film from its routine origins.

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